Education & Family

UK lags in children's well-being rankings

Image caption Sweden is the best country in the world for children's well-being, according to Save the Children

The UK is in the bottom half of an international league table of developed countries for "well-being" in childhood.

The rankings from Save the Children put Sweden in first place - with the UK in 23rd place out of 43 countries.

The report highlights the UK's relatively low rate of enrolment in education before school age.

A spokesman for England's education department, said Sure Start services would be "targeted at the poorest".

The report places Italy and Japan in joint second place, with the UK behind countries including France, Hungary, Slovenia and Estonia.

Worst place

There are also rankings for developing countries - with the overall worst place for childhood identified as Somalia.

The rankings for children's well-being are based on factors including enrolment in pre-school and secondary level education, and levels of infant mortality.

In terms of pre-primary education, the charity says the UK has a lower level of enrolment than many other developed countries - which it describes as a "national embarrassment".

"We can't be complacent about the state of early schooling for children in this country. If we are to catch up with our European neighbours, we have to take urgent steps to remedy this," said Save the Children's chief executive, Justin Forsyth.

"In particular, the government has to reverse the cuts to support for childcare it is imposing on poorest families," he said.

In response, a Department for Education spokesman said: "Tackling disadvantage and raising the life chances of the poorest children is critical to narrowing the gap and giving every child a fair start in life.

"We've increased the free entitlement to 15 hours per week of early years provision for all three and four-year-olds from last September - and are now extending it to all poor two-year-olds.

"We are also retaining Sure Start as a universal service for all - but want it much better targeted at the poorest families which need the most help."

The United States lags behind the UK in 34th place - with a considerably worse infant mortality rate than many countries in western and central Europe.

Mothers' index

There are also tables showing the relative best and worst places to be a mother.

The highest ranked place in this Mothers' Index is Norway, followed by Australia and Iceland. The UK performs more strongly in this table, being ranked in 13th place.

Afghanistan is in the lowest place for the Mothers' Index. While a typical Norwegian mother might expect to live to 83 and to have 18 years of education, a typical mother in Afghanistan will live to 45 and spend less than five years in education.

The United States also does poorly in the Mothers' Index.

The report says that this reflects that the US has the worst rate in the developed world for the proportion of women dying in childbirth or from complications in pregnancy.

It says that a woman in the US is seven times more likely to die of a pregnancy-related illness than in Italy or Ireland.

Children in the US are also twice as likely to die before the age of five than children in countries such as Finland, Greece, Slovenia or Singapore.

The report also identifies the US as having the "least generous" maternity leave arrangements among wealthier countries.

Looking at the gap between the top-ranking western European countries and those at the bottom, such as in Afghanistan and countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the report says: "Statistics are far more than numbers.

"It is the human despair and lost opportunities behind these numbers that call for changes to ensure that mothers everywhere have the basic tools they need to break the cycle of poverty and improve the quality of life for themselves, their children, and for generations to come."

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites