We’ve been pretty horrified by the UNICEF report on child well-being. Despite our relative affluence, it seems this is the worst country in the developed world to be a child in.
Partly this is down to the large rich-poor gap – 16% of UK children are living in relative poverty (compared to 3% or less in Scandinavian countries). Only the US does worse at over 20%. And the outlook’s not good elsewhere. In recent years, child poverty has risen in 17 out of 24 OECD countries for which data are available.
But it’s not just about material well-being (although that impacts on everything else). The report measures 6 dimensions of child well-being, and the UK does pretty badly in all of them. But we come bottom in ‘Family and peer relationships’, ‘Behaviours and risks’ and ‘Subjective well-being’.
I’m a bit doubtful about some of the assumptions they’ve made in coming up with those scores (is it really worse to be living in a stepfamily?). But our young people rate their health and their relationships with their friends poorly, spend little ‘quality time’ with their parents and drink, take drugs and have sex more than most other nations.
It often strikes me that one thing young people relish about I’m a Councillor is simply the opportunity to talk to an adult. They ask questions about the adult world or about work and they ask councillors for advice on everything from schoolwork and careers to friendships. It seems they don’t get to do this much the rest of the time. Are we, as a society, ignoring and marginalising our young people?
Libby Brooks, in the Guardian, argues that we are, "In many ways, simply to be young is to meet the definition of social
exclusion: no say in the political process, not contributing directly
to the economy, criminalised for offences determined by your status
rather than actions, vilified by the media." She thinks we need more emphasis on children’s rights. Surely actually engaging young people in the democratic process is key to that? There’s never been a greater need for ‘I’m a Councillor’.