Children in the UK have some of the highest levels of hunger and deprivation among the world’s richest nations, according to new research from Unicef.
The Unicef report is the first attempt to assess the status of children in 41 high-income countries in relation to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed last year.
The report showed that the UK has seen significant falls in the rates of teenage pregnancy and underage drinking has been cut by half.
However, the UK along with the majority of rich countries are going backwards on inequality indicators as gaps between rich and poor widen, it was found.
Sarah Cook, the director of Unicef research group, said the report was a ‘wake-up call’ to governments that even in high-income countries progress does not benefit all children.
‘Higher incomes do not automatically lead to improved outcomes for all children, and may indeed deepen inequalities,’ she said.
With rising obesity rates, the situation is worsening in terms of child health especially. One in seven children aged 11-15 in rich countries are obese or overweight, the report found.
Nearly 20% of UK children aged 15 or younger suffer from food insecurity, meaning their family lacks secure access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.
Britain ranked higher than the rich country average of 13% on this indicator. Food insecurity rates ranged from 1% in Japan to 20% in the US and 35% in Mexico.
‘Although the general availability of food is not a problem in any of these countries, too many families struggle to satisfy their children’s nutritional needs,’ the report says.
One in three children in the UK are living in ‘multi-dimensional poverty’, taking into account a combinaiton of their housing, clothing, nutrition and access to social and leisure activities, Uncief revealed.
However, the report acknowledges that rich countries have seen an overall decline in neonatal deaths, adolescent suicide, teenage births and child homicide rates.
The report finds that 20% of UK children live in relative income poverty.
How the UK ranked out of 41 rich countries:
- Number 16 on tackling poverty
- Number 34 on food insecurity
- Number 15 on health and wellbeing
- Number 31 on economic growth
- Number six on reducing inequalities
The highest ranked countries across all indicators were Norway, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Switzerland, South Korea and the Netherlands. The lowest were Chile, Bulgaria, Romania, Mexico and the US.
‘The presence of countries such as New Zealand and the United States in the bottom reaches of this table is proof that high national income alone is no guarantee of a good record in sustaining child well-being,’ the report states.
Following the new evidence, Lily Caprani, deputy executive director of Unicef UK has called on the Government to ‘re-double their efforts’ to implement the goals in the UK, as well as overseas. ‘This will make a critical difference to children.’