Child well-being a taxing issue
Jonathan Bradshaw, one of the three authors of a Unicef report on child well-being published earlier this year, also hit out at the "extraordinarily low" aspirations among children in Britain
He believes current spending priorities are a "disaster", and claims that pound;3.8 billion needs to be raised to support families if the Government is to meet its own target of halving child poverty throughout the UK by 2010.
Addressing Children in Scotland's annual conference in Peebles last week, the York University professor of social policy expressed dismay that the Government's recent spending review saw it "give away pound;1 billion to the rich" by raising the inheritance tax threshold. "Willingness to invest in our children is the key issue - we have got to tax to lift more children out of poverty," he said.
The UK came bottom in the Unicef report's analysis of child well-being in 21 industrialised countries - a record described by Professor Bradshaw as "dire". He debunked claims that low well-being was attributable mainly to the breakdown of the traditional family. This, data suggests, is only true where there is not a strong welfare state to compensate.
Apart from the UK and the United States, data shows that countries with a higher proportion of lone-parent families exhibit a sense of greater well-being. "There is evidence that countries with big welfare states and solid families lead to happy children," Professor Bradshaw said. "The UK has neither and does not have happy children."
Anglophone countries, he said, tended to value individualism and liberty above solidarity and have smaller welfare states, "none of which is very good for children".
Education does not provide an explanation for the UK's poor showing. Professor Bradshaw has detected "no relationship between well-being and educational attainment". Low ambition found in schools does, however, illustrate the depth of the UK's problems.
Children have "extraordinarily low" aspirations for work and school - at 15, their ambitions for life after school are "much lower" than children in other countries. Staying-on rates in UK schools, meanwhile, are "deplorable".
Professor Bradshaw believes the UK should follow the examples of higher-ranked countries, which "seem to be conscious that children are citizens and important members of society".
He illustrated the difference in attitudes by citing the boulevards of Barcelona, which have play areas for children every 100 yards or so.
Professor Bradshaw revealed his deep disappointment with the reaction to the Unicef report's publication in February, both politically and in the media.
The Government claimed that the results were out of date and based on flawed analysis, that it knew all about the findings already and that it was dealing with the issues. Professor Bradshaw said Labour had developed a good mix of social policies and that things had improved since child poverty trebled during Margaret Thatcher's time as prime minister.
But this was "not enough", as child poverty was still double what it was in 1979 and rose last year for the first time since 1998. The Government had shown an "unwillingness to acknowledge inequalities".
The media, meanwhile, tended to blame the report's findings on parents and children themselves, with a heavy focus on the anti-social behaviour agenda. The poor had taken the brunt, when there should have been a wider debate about the "structure of society".
The professor says
Jonathan Bradshaw revealed that Scotland's children were, according to some measures, better off than young people south of the border - but that the overall picture remained bleak.
Child poverty is falling more quickly in Scotland, while 69 per cent of children north of the border find their friends kind and helpful, against 42 per cent in England.
There is also less drunkenness, less bullying, and less feeling of being under pressure from school work, while more children like school.
But overall, separate results for Scotland would not be very different to the rest of the UK.