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The government should be ashamed of its record on children’s well-being

The government should be ashamed of its record on children’s well-being

Students protesting the government's handling of the GCSE and A Level exam results. A study by the Children's Society has shown the UK teenagers are less satisfied than their European peers

3 min read

Childhood is meant to be a time of optimism, but too many British teenagers have not had that experience. It's time for the government to start listening to their concerns

Over the past decade, children and young people have been left behind by this Government.

Indicators of a happy, healthy and prosperous generation of young people are moving in the wrong direction: rising child poverty, rising numbers of children in care, rising youth homelessness and rising prevalence of mental ill health among young people.   

Young people and children have been left behind since long before the Coronavirus crisis.

It is perhaps by no coincidence then that a report released today by The Children’s Society finds that British teens are the least happy with their lives when compared to their European peers.

Young people from the UK are the most likely across Europe to feel afraid of failure and feel like their life has no meaning or purpose.

The Tories are failing our young people. Childhood is meant to be a time of optimism, but too many British teenagers have not had that experience.

And how can we ask our young people to be optimistic when for the tenth year in a row, children’s well-being has fallen and the proportion of children unhappy with their lives has spiked as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Children’s Society’s findings should provoke an urgent response from Government. There is nothing more important than the well-being of our children.

Well-being isn’t just about feeling happy or sad. It isn’t just about mental health. Low well-being can be linked to poorer outcomes in physical health and attainment at school.  And it is the most disadvantaged young people who are likely to fare the worst.

Where you’re from and your family background still dictates your life changes in this country, regardless of the Government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda.

No single policy announcement will buck the decline in children’s well-being. But one crucial change is needed if the government intend to make any tangible improvement.

The truth is, where the government tasks the ONS to measure and report on adult well-being, there is no regular and comprehensive data collection for children. So, the government itself knows with no certainty what is going on in children’s lives.

It knows how tall they are and how much they weigh through the national child measurement programme, but not how they feel about their appearance. It knows what grades they achieve, but it has no idea whether children enjoy school. It knows how many police officers are on the streets but not whether children feel safe.

The Government must finally provide a comprehensive measurement of children’s well-being in order to properly quantify changes and target resources where they are needed.

Children cannot be an afterthought in the recovery from a crisis which threatens their futures. Government must be proactive, putting young people at the heart of post-Covid recovery, instead of waiting until the point of crisis to act, as we saw in the exams fiasco.

With the economy in recession and the Comprehensive Spending Review upcoming, government must take purposeful action to bring down poverty and invest in services that support children and families such as youth centres, children’s centres and community mental health services.

We cannot afford to continue ignoring the thoughts and feelings of young people and children. It's time to stop and listen.


Cat Smith is Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood and Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Young People.

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