Children's prospects in Britain are worse than most of their European neighbours, and the present government's austerity policies are making the situation worse, a United Nations organisation has said.
The UK came 16th out of 29 developed countries, but it ranked much lower on key indicators, coming last for involvement in further education, as well as 27th for teenage pregnancy and 24th for youth unemployment according to Unicef's report card on child well-being.
The children's rights organisation warned that a generation of British teenagers is being "sidelined" by the government's austerity agenda and called for more targeted state investment in young people.
The UK has crept up the child well-being tables since Unicef's last report in 2007, which controversially branded Britain the worst place in the developed world to be a child, ranked 21st out of 21.
Britain is the worst place in the developed world for further education prospects
The study came a day after it was revealed parts of Wales and the North East of England are poorer than regions in Romania, Poland and Slovakia, according to statistics from the EU.
West Wales and the Valleys are four-and-a-half times less prosperous than central London and failed to rank favourably against other Eastern European countries, according to figures from EU’s statistical office Eurostat.
Unicef UK warned that the improvement seen under the previous Labour administration risks being reversed by the cuts programme pursued by the Coalition over the past three years, which has hit young people hard.
It cited research by the Family and Parenting Institute and Institute for Fiscal Studies predicting that 400,000 more children will be in poverty by 2015/16 due to austerity measures.
In a blog for the Huffington Post UK, Director of UNICEF’s Office of Research Gordon Alexander warned: "Well intentioned attempts to avoid burdening future generations with the fall-out from current austerity measures may end up having the opposite effect, as more children are pushed into poverty now."
The deputy executive director of Unicef UK, Anita Tiessen, said: "There is no doubt that the situation for children and young people has deteriorated in the last three years, with the government making policy choices that risk setting children back in their most crucial stages of development.
"The government needs to acknowledge this and act now. While children and young people will be the first to bear the brunt if we fail to safeguard their well-being, over time society as a whole will pay the price."
Austerity may be clearing debt for future generations but it is pushing children into poverty now
The new report draws on statistics from 2010 and shows a general improvement in children's experiences over the first decade of this century, compared with the previous scorecard, which looked at data from 2001/2.
But the brighter picture for younger children is not matched among teenagers, who remain more likely than their peers in other developed countries to drop out of education and get involved in under-age drinking and teenage pregnancy.
Key UK failings identified in today's report include:
- The lowest rates of further education in the developed world, with fewer than 75% of young people studying, compared with more than 80% in all of the other populous developed countries;
- One of the highest rates of young people not in education, employment, or training (Neets), affecting 10% of 15 to 19-year- olds;
- The UK is one of only three OECD countries with teenage pregnancy rates of more than 30 per 1,000 and one of only three which saw rates rise rose over the course of the last decade;
- One of the highest alcohol abuse rates by young people, with around 20% of British 11 to 15-year-olds reporting having been drunk on at least two occasions;
- The UK is placed in the bottom third of the infant mortality league table with a rate of 4.4 deaths per 1,000 live births, approximately double the rate of Sweden or Finland.
- The US had a ranking of 27 for material wellbeing.
- The child well-being table was topped by the Netherlands, followed by Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, but the UK also trailed behind less wealthy countries like Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Portugal.
Unicef UK said that young people's position in Britain is "expected to worsen" as a result of government policies, warning that "since 2010 the downgrading of youth policy and cuts to local government services are having a profound negative effect on young people".
Without a "coherent" youth policy championed by central government, along with ring-fenced funding for young people at local level, any improvements in the well-being of young people in the UK "will be reversed", the organisation warned.