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About A Week: Bottom Of The Happiness League

Peter Hinchliffe finds it hard to accept that British children are unhappier than those in any of the other 21 richest nations in the world.

Go into almost any primary school in Britain, and you will find it hard to believe that the country has was ranked bottom of the league in an assessment of children's well-being.

You will see smiling faces and well-dressed youngsters. Paintings and drawings made by talented young hands decorate classroom walls. There are banks of computers. Books aplenty. Adult assistants help highly-trained teaching staff.

Yet Unicef, the United Nations children's organization announced that Britain's children are unhappier, unhealthier and have fewer friends than in any other of the world's 21 richest nations.

The United States ranked next to last in this survey, which was conducted by Unicef's Florence-based Innocenti Research Center.

The Netherlands came out on top in raising happy and contended children. Sweden, Denmark and Finland were close behind.

Among the countries ranking ahead of Britain and the U.S. were Hungary, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Greece and Poland.

More than half the British teenagers questioned said they were dissatisfied with their lives and unhappy in family relationships. Britain has the highest rates of teenage drunkenness and pregnancy.

A British government spokesperson admitted there was "more to do" in improving the lot of the nation's children, but pointed out that some of the data used to compile the Unicef report was out of date and did not reflect recent improvements.

British citizens are encouraged to become involved in running schools. Local people are appointed as governors and have control of school budgets and staff appointments. Many schools invite adults to raise money for schools to supplement Government allotments.

Some schools recruit Reading Friends, of which I am one, to give time each week to help youngsters take their early steps on the road to becoming proficient readers.

I've just spent an afternoon in a village school, which is typical of thousands of other primary schools, to work with six-year-olds. The atmosphere on the day of the release of the Unicef report was, as usual, upbeat. A notice on a wall in Class Two’s room summarizes the behavior expected of the youngsters.

Class 2 Rules

* Care for everyone.
* Let everyone play together.
* Be nice and kind to everyone.
* Listen when people are talking.
* Everyone must share.
* Look at people when they are talking to you.
* Be super smart sitters.
* Always be polite.
* Always work hard.

Youngsters accept these rules and try to live by them.

The British Government has poured huge amounts of extra cash into education at all levels. Of course schools could readily use still more cash, but mere money is unlikely to produce significant improvements in child welfare and happiness.

Britain, the land which gave birth to the industrial revolution, has been at the forefront of the most significant social change in the last 50 years. Four out of every five British women now go out to work.

In a competitive and materialistic nation where the average house price is £200,000 a man's wage on its own is not sufficient to maintain family life.

When both parents go out to work, stresses arise. Arguments break out. Couples separate. Almost half of the marriages now taking place in Britain will end in divorce.

Research shows that children growing up in single-parent families or step-families tend drop out of school, leave home at an early age, suffer ill-health, have low job expectations and take poorly-paid work.

Of the 7,300,000 families with parents of working age in Britain 25 percent are lone parents. There are more single-parent families here than anywhere else in Europe, and on current trends three years from now there will be more children living in a step-family than in their biological family.

The Government-appointed Children's Commissioner for England, Sir Albert Aynsley-Green, said: "We must acknowledge that these problems cannot be solved by policy and funding alone. There is a crisis at the heart of our society and we must not continue to ignore the impact of our attitudes towards children and young people and the effect this has on their well-being."

The Children's Society, a leading national charity driven by the belief that every child deserves a good childhood, today launched a new interactive micro site www.mylife.uk.com to enable children and young people to have their say as part of the U.K.'s first independent national inquiry into childhood.

The site, which has been developed by The Children's Society's Good Childhood Inquiry, features a variety of fun methods, including secure polls and downloads, which will enable children and young people to have their shout on the things that matter to them.

"It is clear that, despite the fact that we are a rich country, we are failing children and young people in a number of crucial ways," said Bob Reitemeier, The Children's Society's chief executive.

"Every child deserves a good childhood and we want to hear from as many children and young people as possible to find out how we can make this a reality. Whoever you are, whatever you've got to say, if you are 18 or under we want to hear from you!"


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