UK ‘behind’ developed world on child inequality – UNICEF

Children interact with a light wall in the Ann Riches Healing Space for young patients at the Royal London Hospital in London. © Neil Hall
Britain is failing to address “concerning gaps” in children’s “health, education and income,” leaving the country far behind most of the developed world, a UN report has found.

Of the 37 nations studied by UNICEF, the UN’s child welfare monitoring body, Britain was placed 25th for inequality in education, based on assessing reading, math and science skills of 15 year olds.

Another key area of concern was healthy eating, where Britain was ranked lowest on the list. Children from poorer households were also found to be less physically active than their richer peers.

The findings were based on survey results and educational achievement data from EU and OECD countries.

Lily Caprani of UNICEF UK said: “We must be more ambitious for our children. Britain can and must do better.

“What really stands out for the UK is that children who are at the very bottom of the income distribution, so those with the most disadvantages, are doing particularly badly when it comes to things like healthy eating, because we are really slipping behind other nations.

“The UK Government should adopt, as a matter of urgency, a childhood obesity strategy that promotes and supports healthy lifestyles for low-income children.”

Despite the recent fuss surrounding Chancellor George Osborne’s volte-face on slashing disability benefit payments, the government is still committed to cutting £3 billion from the welfare budget by 2020, a move expected to impact one million households.

Critics have attacked Tory Prime Minister David Cameron for failing to live up to his promise to help the poor, instead putting tax cuts for his middle class support base ahead of the needs of the disadvantaged.

The PM’s own former Tory Health Minister Dan Poulter wrote in a column for the Guardian: “When there is so much still to be done to improve the life chances of the most vulnerable, it is difficult to justify putting middle class tax cuts before the needs of the working poor, and the socially disadvantaged.”

Thousands of people are expected to travel to London on Saturday to join a mass protest against austerity. Demonstrators will also demand Cameron’s resignation over his offshore tax affairs.