Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What is the Unicef wellbeing index really measuring?

UNICEF have published a list of industrialised countries ranked by the "well being" of their children- and the UK is at the bottom.

Cue breast beating, ashes and sack cloth.

Cue a government minister saying that the statistics are out of date (the "we don't wet the bed anymore" defence).

Cue left wing academic claiming that social inequality and the "dog eat dog society" is the root cause of our children's misery.

Oh, am I being a bit cynical? Well these kind of reports do seem to have become rather ritualised, and I don't really know what they do except tell us what we know already: our social problems hit kids the hardest.

Given that every government claims to be putting the welfare of our children first, it is a pretty miserable outcome to see that our kids get drunk more, use drugs more, have more teenage pregnancies, less family life, are poorer and have lower self esteem than the other 19 industrialised countries.

On the other hand is this the fault of the government or indeed any government?

The fact is that there is not that much that any politician can do directly to support family life- that is a question for the families themselves- especially parents. If parents won't discipline their own kids, then we have a problem.

I believe in an agenda of personal autonomy: that citizens have the right to do what they please within fairly broad legal limits- but the obligation to take the consequences. Give people back their sense of control and they will quickly learn the necessary disciplines.

In a Britain where the government can even ignore the House of Commons, there is too much power at the centre and that must be curbed- now. Expanding government control "to deal with the shameful issue of child poverty" has not worked, will not work, and may even make things worse.

"Trust in the People, tempered with Prudence" was the Gladstonian motto- one worth reviving, I think.


Tom Papworth said...

There is a very left-wing bias to this whole report (and most of the UN agencies). I am particularly concerned by the vexing issue of "relative poverty".

I fail to understand how a poor child in Britain is worse off than an even-poorer child in Slovakia, simply becuase the British child is able to see a porche from her window rather than a clapped out Lada.

Cicero said...

Absolutely, Tom, and this kind of "all must win prizes" approach leeches self reliance out of the system- undermining self esteem still further.