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New UNICEF report underlines how low wellbeing is in UK children

The UK branch of UNICEF very recently stated "In 2007, UNICEF's child well-being report put the issue of child well-being firmly on the UK's political agenda. When compared with 20 other OECD countries, including substantially poorer ones, the UK was at the bottom of the league table of child well-being.  Subsequent reports have shown that inequality among children in the UK is greater than in other countries. UNICEF UK commissioned Ipsos MORI and Dr Agnes Nairn to explore some of the reasons behind these statistics by comparing children's experiences in the UK with those of children in Spain and Sweden."

Findings released earlier this week said " ... children in the UK feel trapped in a "materialistic culture" and don't spend enough time with their families.  Following on from UNICEF's pioneering report in 2007, which ranked the UK bottom in child well-being compared to other industrialised nations, the research released today gives an in-depth comparison of over 250 children's experiences across three developed countries: the UK, Sweden and Spain.  Children in all three countries told researchers that their happiness is dependent on having time with a stable family and plenty of things to do, especially outdoors, rather than on owning technology or branded clothes.

Despite this, one of the most striking findings is that parents in the UK said they felt tremendous pressure from society to buy goods for their children; this pressure was felt most acutely in low-income homes.  The research also shows that parents in the UK are committed to their children but they lose out on time together as a family due in part to long working hours. They often try to make up for this by buying their children gadgets and clothes.  Consumer culture in the UK contrasts starkly with Sweden and Spain, where family time is prioritised, children and families are under less pressure to own material goods and children have greater access to activities out of the home.

"Right now politicians are grappling with the aftermath of the riots and what they say about our society, culture and families," said David Bull, the UNICEF UK Executive Director. "The research findings provide important insights, and it is vital that those in power listen to what children and their families are saying about life in the UK."  In response to the research UNICEF UK is calling on the UK Government to:

  • encourage businesses to pay a living wage, so parents don't have to take on several jobs to make a living, which affects the amount of time they can spend with their children
  • insist local authorities assess the impact of public spending cuts on children so that funding is protected for play facilities and free leisure activities
  • follow Sweden's example and stop advertisements being shown before, during or after programmes aimed at under-12s.

Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of The Mother's Union, who led an independent review of the commercialisation and sexualisation of children earlier this year, said: "If the Government is serious about creating a more family-friendly society - and it has repeatedly set out to do so - then this report is to be welcomed for its thought provoking challenges."

The full seven page report is freely downloadable.

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