UNICEF – how Labour improved children’s lives

…. and how the coalition is making them worse.

UNICEF has just issued an update to its survey of the overall well-being of children in developed nations. The first survey showed Britain at the very bottom of the international league table. The new one shows us in mid-table – 16th out of 29 countries.

So, some progress but still a good deal to do. But what is also interesting about this report is how the material is being reported, misunderstood and distorted by government and commentators.

First there is the timing issue. BBC news presented the league table with 2013 in big type at the top. So the casual viewer might think the data includes the impact of the coalition. But actually not so. The data comes from 2010 and the report tracks “changes in child well-being over the first decade of the 2000s”. In other words it is to all intents and purposes a report card on the Labour government.

In fairness, the BBC’s Mark Easton recognises this in his more detailed coverage (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22087974) and concludes that “of course we shouldn’t hang out the bunting and cry “job done!” but there is surely value in considering where and how we have achieved success.”

The report shows a relative improvement in four of the five areas studied – poverty, health, risky behaviour and housing. Given that there was an improvement in most countries, to have improved faster than other countries in quite a few areas is a very good outcome.

The exception is education. No doubt Michael Gove is pricking up his ears. The serious issue however is not achievement (11th out of 29) or pre-school enrolment (8th out of 29) but post 16 participation (bottom) and NEETs (5th from bottom). These are of course areas that were being addressed towards the end of the Labour government with the raising of the participation age. They are also areas that are being watered down by the coalition which does not intend to monitor or enforce post 16 participation.

David Laws produced an absolutely breath-taking comment.   He says that “This report shows that Labour’s approach of simply pouring money into the system without meaningful reform has not been enough. The coalition government is making the vital reforms in childcare, schools and further education needed to improve children’s lives and increase their opportunities.”

So absolutely no recognition of any progress. Just a crude bit of political point scoring which is not remotely justified by the facts. He didn’t of course see fit to mention what UNICEF had to say about the policies of his government. In fact Anita Tiessen, deputy executive director of Unicef UK, 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. We know that many are facing a bleaker future. The government needs to acknowledge this and act now.”

One other notable feature of the report is that the USA is close to bottom by most measures despite its overall position as one of the wealthiest countries. Top of the tables generally are the Netherlands and all the Scandinavian countries. Which makes it strange that we have a government committed to following the American model in both education, welfare and rates of inequality.

Surely some mistake?