From hope to despair in 200 miles

Save the Children’s new report, The Well-being of Children in
the UK
, shows that the quality of children’s lives is
improving, writes Katherine Pinnock. Child poverty is starting to
fall and infant mortality is continuing its decline. But this
positive picture is undermined by increases in cases of obesity,
diabetes, asthma, HIV and sexually transmitted infections. And
although fewer children are entering care, those that do are
staying longer.

The study, carried out with York University, also highlights the
dramatic way child well-being varies by age, gender, ethnicity and
socio-economic group, as well as by country and region.

Using data from Oxford University’s Social Deprivation Unit, the
study demonstrates startling inequalities in child poverty rates
across England. In some electoral wards 89 per cent of the children
are living below the poverty line compared with 0.5 per cent in
others. By contrast, Northern Ireland has high rates of child
poverty in all wards.

For other aspects of well-being, it is also a mixed picture.
Northern Ireland has the highest infant mortality rate but the
lowest teenage fertility rate. Children in Scotland have the worst
diets and the highest youth suicide rate, yet the smallest
proportion of children reporting feeling low. Wales has a high rate
of infant mortality and teenage pregnancies and the worst problems
with alcohol and drugs.

This research also highlighted the lack of good quality comparable
data on a range of child well-being indicators. What evidence does
exist seems to reflect the interests of government policy, such as
youth crime and educational achievement. This contrasts with issues
which may be of more importance to children – such as free play,
children who go missing and children as carers – where data is

The government must continue what Save the Children and York
University have started. It must establish mechanisms for
monitoring child well-being across the UK. The need to improve the
quality of information on all issues affecting children underpins
this process. It is only when the government has an accurate,
up-to-date picture of how well our children are doing and where the
gaps lie that it can design policies and allocate resources

This is why Save the Children is calling for information on a range
of child well-being factors from across the country to be collated
into a regularly updated, comprehensive report on the well-being of
children in the UK. This could measure progress over time and show
comparisons between countries within the UK and the rest of Europe.
To do this well, and to fill many of the information gaps the
report found, Save the Children believes that the government would
have to develop a new sample survey of children covering the whole

Finally, the most important element in assessing the well-being of
children is to hear from the children themselves, about what they
think and experience.

Katherine Pinnock is UK/Europe policy and research officer
for Save the Children.

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