Wednesday, 10 April 2013

UK child well-being has improved – but will it last?

Jonathan Bradshaw[1]

When UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre published Report Card 7in 2007 showing the UK was at the bottom of the international league table of child well-being, UNICEF UK called a conference at Ditchley Park to discuss the findings. This resulted in the Ditchley Declaration which was supported by all the political parties. The Department of Children, Families and Schools published a Children’s Plan, more resources were found for child care, schools, child health and the child poverty strategy and there was all party support for the Child Poverty Act in 2010. We already knew from national data that things for children improved between 2004 and 2010 – out of 48 national indicators of child well-being covered in The well-being of children in the UK[2]only two had got worse and 13 showed no clear trend.

In order to know how well we are doing for our children we really need to compare their outcomes with children in other countries. Now UNICEF Innocenti Report Card 11[3]repeats the comparative analysis of child well-being six years later, and with more up-to-date data, and the UK’s comparative position has improved. In 2007 the UK was bottom of 21 rich nations in child well-being. In 2013 the UK comes 16 (or 14 if subjective well-being is included) out of 29 rich countries. In 2007 the UK was in the bottom third of the league table on children’s material well-being, education, family and relationships, behaviours and risks and subjective well-being and in the middle third on health and safety. In 2013 it is in the top third on housing and the environment (not included in 2007), middle third on all other domains except education, which is still in the bottom thirds thanks to mainly to our high NEET rates.

The Innocenti Centre has structured the indicators somewhat differently in RC11 but direct comparisons can be made for a number of indicators. The UK has moved up the league table on:
  • Life satisfaction
  • Finding classmates kind and helpful
  • Liking school
  • Subjective health
  • Family affluence
  • Child poverty rates and gaps
  • Child deprivation
  • Immunisation
  • Eating fruit
  • Eating breakfast
  • Smoking
  • Drinking
  • Cannabis
  • Fighting
  • Being bullied 

Things UK children still do not do well on comparatively include:
  • Infant mortality
  • Low birth weight
  • Staying on
  • NEET
  • Teenage fertility

So RC11 is a good news story. It shows that if the effort is made, children’s lives can be improved.

There is no room for complacency.

The UK is 16 behind, for example, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Portugal - all much poorer countries. We should still be doing much better.

Also the evidence in RC11 predates most of the policies introduced by the Coalition Government to cut the deficit. Unemployment has gone up and most of the cuts to benefits and services have been loaded on families with children (rather than pensioners) at a time when real living standards have been falling. Already there is evidence that child deprivation and absolute poverty have begun to increase. Evidence from the Understanding Society survey suggests that the subjective well-being of 11-15 year olds has begun to fall. NEET rates are up and there may even be a reduction in staying on rates in England. Just as the evidence emerges that we have made progress in comparison with other countries, we are once again moving backwards

[1] Professor of Social Policy, University of York. Contributed to the background research for Innocenti Report Cards 7 and 11.
[2]Bradshaw, J. (2011) The well-being of children in the UK, Bristol: Policy Press.
[3] UNICEF Office of Research (2013). ‘Measuring Child Well-being in Rich Countries: A comparative overview’, Innocenti Report Card 11, UNICEF Office of Research, Florence
Martorano, B., L. Natali, C. de Neubourg and J. Bradshaw (2013). ‘Child Wellbeing in Advanced Economies in the Late 2000s’, Working Paper 2013-01, UNICEF Office of Research, Florence.
Martorano, B., L. Natali, C. de Neubourg and J. Bradshaw (2013). 'Child Wellbeing in Economically Rich Countries: Changes in the first decade of the 21st century', Working Paper 2013-02. UNICEF Office of Research, Florence.
Bradshaw, J., B. Martorano, L. Natali and C. de Neubourg (2013). ‘Children’s Subjective Well-being in Rich Countries’, Working Paper 2013-03. UNICEF Office of Research, Florence.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Report highlights 'bleak' poverty levels in the UK

The Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) Project published its first report today. 'The Impoverishment of the UK' reveals significant levels of poverty and deprivation.
Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, it is a major collaboration between a group of UK universities including York and is the largest and most authoritative study of poverty and deprivation ever conducted in the UK.
The report is the subject of a special edition of Tonight titled Breadline Britain which is broadcast on ITV at 7.30pm on 28 March.

The PSE approach – now adopted by the UK Government and by a growing number of rich and developing countries - identifies people falling below a publicly-determined minimum standard of living. This method of measuring poverty was pioneered in 1983 and repeated in studies in 1990, 1999, 2002/03 and 2012. The project thus provides detailed, robust and definitive trends over 30 years.

Gill Main and Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, of the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at York, are members of the Poverty and Social Exclusion research team. They were responsible for developing the scale of child necessities and analysing the child poverty and deprivation results.
Professor Bradshaw says: “The findings of this study are shocking, indicating a level of poverty and deprivation which should be a wake-up call to policymakers and the public at large.”
Professor David Gordon, of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research in Bristol and head of the project, says: “The results present a remarkably bleak portrait of life in the UK today and the shrinking opportunities faced by the bottom third of UK society.  About one third of people in the UK suffer significant difficulties and about a quarter have an unacceptably low standard of living. Moreover, this bleak situation will get worse as benefit levels fall in real term, real wages continue to decline and living standards are further squeezed.”
Today 33 per cent of the UK population suffers from multiple deprivation by the standards. set by the public, compared with 14 per cent in 1983.
For a significant and growing proportion of the population, living conditions and opportunities have been going backwards. Housing and heating conditions, in particular, have deteriorated rapidly.
  • One in three people could not afford to adequately heat their homes last winter and 29 per cent had to turn the heating down or off or only heat part of their homes. The number of households unable to heat the living areas of their homes is at a record high – now 9 per cent compared to 3 per cent in the 1990s and 5% in 1983.
  • Overcrowding is as high as it was in 1983: today 9 per cent of households cannot afford enough bedrooms for every child aged 10 or over of a different sex to have their own bedroom (back up from 3 per cent in 1999).
  • The number of households unable to afford damp-free homes has also risen since 1983 – from 6 per cent to10 per cent.
  • One in five households can’t keep their home in an adequate state of decoration – up from 15 per cent in the 1990s.
  • Overall, across all these aspects of housing, around 13 million people (aged 16 and over) in Britain cannot afford adequate housing conditions, up from 9.5 million in 1999
Increasing numbers of children also lack items considered essential for a stimulating environment and for social participation and development.

  •  The proportion of school age children unable to go on school trips at least once a term has risen from 2 per cent in 1999 to 8 per cent today. 
 “Levels of deprivation today are worse in a number of vital areas – from basic housing to key social activities - than at any point in the past thirty years,” says Joanna Mack from The Open University, who, with Stewart Lansley, devised the study method in 1983. ‘These trends are a deeply shocking indictment of 30 years of economic and social policy and reflect a rapid growth in inequality. This has meant that, though the economy has doubled in size during this period, those at the bottom have been increasingly left behind.” 

There is widespread public agreement on what constitutes a minimally acceptable diet. Over 90% agree that, for children, this means: three meals a day; fresh fruit and vegetables; and meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent at least once a day. 

  • Yet well over half a million children live in families who cannot afford to feed them properly.
Our research shows that, in households where children go without one or more of these basic food necessities: 

  • In 93 per cent at least one adult skimp on their own food ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ to ensure others have enough to eat.
“It is not as a result of negligence but due to a lack of money that so many children are going without adequate food,” comments Professor David Gordon.

Significant proportions of the population find it difficult to cope on their current incomes:
  • One in four adults have incomes below what they consider is needed to avoid poverty
  • More than one in five have had to borrow in the last year to pay for day to day needs
  • One in three can’t afford to save
  • One in four can’t afford to replace or repair broken electrical goods (12 per cent in 1999).
Overall, people feel poorer:
More than one in three adults today say they genuinely feel poor some or all of the time compared to 27 per cent in 1999