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Material inequality in the UK leaves children further behind than differences in health and education

A new UNICEF report on child inequality in 24 developed countries has shown that income poverty has the greatest impact on child inequality in the UK. UK levels of income poverty push the most disadvantaged children further behind compared to similar countries, such as France and Germany.

UNICEF UK’s Executive Director David Bull said, ‘Tackling income poverty should remain the number one priority for Government to reduce child inequality in the UK. At a time of austerity we must not widen this gap. Children living in poverty must not pay the price for reducing the deficit and should be the first to be protected.’

‘Child inequality affects the children themselves the most, but everyone else pays through costs to business, the police, courts and health and education services. Household income must be central to next year’s child poverty strategy.’

Singling out the importance of income, the report comments that ‘one of the most disturbing aspects of changed economic times’ is that ‘full time employment no longer guarantees a life lived above the poverty line.’

Report Card 9, ‘Children Left Behind’, uses a new method of measuring how far the most disadvantaged children have been allowed to fall behind those at the median level in health, educational and material well-being. The report then ranks all 24 countries according to the size of this gap.

The UK is ranked alongside countries such as Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in the bottom two fifths of countries. Government spending has prevented many children from falling into poverty, but the UK has a particularly high level of inequality in access to basic educational resources at home. Only Greece and Slovakia do worse**.

The data in the report is the most up-to-date available, but is from before the current global economic crisis took hold. The report notes that the findings of the report should be a clear call to action to governments to protect vulnerable children from the effects of an economic crisis which they did not create but may well suffer the brunt of.

In response to the report UNICEF UK is calling on the Government to:

* Set ambitious interim targets in next year’s child poverty strategy that must include benefits and income.
* Apply a ‘fairness’ test to all proposed changes to the benefit, tax, health and education systems to ensure that new policies do not increase inequality between children.
* Design the new universal credit to ensure that no family with children has to live on less than a living wage.
* Promote the living wage.

A small group of countries – Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland – are found to be leading the way in promoting bottom-end equality in child well-being. Greece, Italy and the United States are on the other hand highlighted as allowing children to fall furthest from the median, with large gaps between children in the middle and at the bottom.

All 24 countries’ Governments are trying to increase spending and have succeeded in lifting millions of children out of poverty. However, all countries are rowing up stream against what the report cites as powerful currents in the wider economy. In particular, the fact that the benefits of economic growth in previous years have been felt by the most advantaged leaving those at the bottom even further behind.

How the UK is ranked

The UK does better than the OECD average in the following areas of inequality:

* Self-reported Health
* Healthy Eating
* Physical Exercise
* Mathematical Literacy

The UK does worse than the OECD average in the following areas of inequality:

* Household Income
* Educational Resources at Home
* Household Living Space
* Reading Literacy
* Science Literacy

Click here to download the full Report Card 9

Notes to Editor

For further information please contact:

Stephen Pattison
Senior Media Office, UNICEF UK
0207 375 6085

Interview Opportunities

UNICEF UK Executive Director David Bull, Deputy Executive Director Anita Tiessen

Prof Jonathan Bradshaw, expert on comparative child well-being, on what the report means for the UK.

** Basic educational resources:

A desk
A quiet place to study
A computer for school work
Educational software
An internet connection
A calculator
A dictionary
School textbooks

About the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre:

The Innocenti Research Centre works as UNICEF’s dedicated, independent research centre. Based in Florence, Italy, Innocenti pursues research in two thematic areas: Social and economic policies and children, and Child protection and implementation of international standards for children. 


UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation working for children and their rights in more than 190 countries. As champion of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF works to help every child realise their full potential. Together with our partners, UNICEF delivers health care, nutrition, education and protection to children in urgent need, while working with governments to ensure they deliver on their promise to protect and promote the rights of every child. UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations from individuals, governments, institutions and corporations, and is not funded by the UN budget. For more information, please visit www.unicef.org.uk.

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