UK children’s wellbeing lags behind many other European countries, including France, Germany, Slovenia and Estonia, Save the Children has found.
The charity’s World’s Mothers Index, which rates countries based on the well-being of mothers and children, ranked the UK just 23rd.
This ranking places it in the bottom half of the developed countries group.
The report ranks developed countries according to three main factors — pre-primary enrolment, secondary school enrolment, as well as under-five mortality rate.
As a charity which works with and campaigns on behalf of children living in severe poverty in the UK, Save the Children is particularly concerned about the number of children enrolled in pre-primary education — just 81 per cent compared to 100 per cent in countries like France, Germany and Netherlands.
‘We know that pre-school nursery or playgroup access helps all children, but especially the poorest,’ said Justin Forsyth, Save the Children’s Chief Executive.
‘It is a national embarrassment that the UK lags so far behind other countries of a similar size and wealth.’
A report on child poverty released last week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said the UK government’s plans to cut support for childcare costs will hurt the poorest children even further.
‘By cutting childcare support, the government is making it harder for low-income parents to return to work but, just as important, more of our poorest children are likely to miss out on pre-school education, a key to later educational achievement,’ Forsyth said.
The State of the World’s Mothers report which is compiled annually by the charity, ranked Sweden as the best place for a child’s wellbeing, with Italy and Japan in joint second place. Somalia is the worst-place for children’s wellbeing on the planet.
‘We can’t be complacent about the state of early schooling for children in this country’, said Justin Forsyth.
‘If we are to catch up with our European neighbours, we have to take urgent steps to remedy this. In particular, the government has to reverse the cuts to support for childcare it is imposing on poorest families.’
The charity’s twelfth annual Mothers’ Index compares the well-being of mothers and children in 164 countries.
The data collected for the index reveals the tremendous gaps between rich and poor countries and highlights the regional dimension of this tragedy.
The top 10 countries this year are (from one to 10): Norway, Australia, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Belgium, Netherlands and France, with the UK ranked 23rd, placing it in the bottom half of the developed countries group.
The bottom 10 countries are (from 155 to 164): Central African Republic, Sudan, Mali, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Yemen, Guinea-Bissau, Niger and Afghanistan.
The report ranks countries according to three main factors — pre-primary enrolment, secondary school enrolment, and under-five mortality rate.
Conditions for mothers and their children in the 10 bottom-ranked countries in this year’s Mothers’ Index are devastating.
• Over half of all births are not attended by skilled health personnel.
• On average, one woman in 30 dies from pregnancy-related causes.
• One child in six dies before his or her fifth birthday.
• One child in three suffers from malnutrition.
• One child in seven is not enrolled in primary school.
• Only four girls are enrolled in primary school for every five boys.
• On average, females have fewer than six years of formal education.
• Women earn only 40 per cent of what men do.
• Nine out of 10 women are likely to suffer the loss of a child in their lifetime.
The contrast between the top-ranked country, Norway, and the lowest-ranked country, Afghanistan, is striking.
Skilled health personnel are present at virtually every birth in Norway, while only 14 per cent of births are attended in Afghanistan.
A typical Norwegian woman has 18 years of formal education and will live to be 83 years old, 82 per cent are using some modern method of contraception, and only one in 175 will lose a child before his or her fifth birthday.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, in Afghanistan, a typical woman has fewer than five years of education and doesn’t live to be 45.
Less than 16 per cent of women are using modern contraception, and one child in five dies before reaching age five.
At this rate, every mother in Afghanistan is likely to suffer the loss of a child.
Eight of the bottom 10 countries are in sub-Saharan Africa, which also accounts for 18 of the 20 lowest-ranking countries.
• Fewer than 15 per cent of births are attended by skilled health personnel in Chad and Afghanistan.
In Ethiopia, only 6 per cent of births are attended.
• One woman in 11 dies in pregnancy or childbirth in Afghanistan, the risk is one in 14 in Chad and Somalia, while in Italy and Ireland, the risk of maternal death is less than one in 15,000 and in Greece it’s one in 31,800.
• A typical woman will die before the age of 50 in Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Mozambique, nigeria, Sierra leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Life expectancy for women is only 46 in Lesotho and Swaziland and in Afghanistan the average woman does not live to see her 45th birthday, while in Japan women on average live to almost 87 years old.
• In Somalia, only one per cent of women use modern contraception.
Rates are less than five per cent in Angola, Chad and Guinea and fewer than one in 10 women use modern contraception in 15 other developing countries.
By contrast, 80 per cent or more women in China, Norway, Thailand and the United Kingdom use some form of modern contraception.
• In Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, oman, Pakistan, Syria and yemen women earn 25 cents or less for every dollar men earn.
Saudi and Palestinian women earn only 16 and 12 cents respectively to the male dollar.
In Mongolia, women earn 87 cents for every dollar men earn and in Mozambique they earn 90.
• A typical female in Afghanistan, Angola, Djibouti, eritrea and Guinea-Bissau receives fewer than five years formal education.
In Niger, it’s fewer than four years and in Somalia, women receive less than two years of education.
In Australia and new Zealand, the average woman stays in school for over 20 years.
• In Somalia, two out of three children are not enrolled in primary school, more than half (52 per cent) of all children in Eritrea are not in school.
By contrast, nearly all children France, Italy, Spain and Sweden make it from preschool all the way to high school.
• One child in five does not reach his or her fifth birthday in Afghanistan, Chad and Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In Finland, Greece, Iceland, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Singapore, Slovenia and Sweden, only one child in 333 dies before age five.
• Over 40 per cent of children under age five suffer from malnutrition in Bangladesh, Madagascar, nepal, niger and yemen.
In India and Timor-Leste, nearly half of all young children are moderately or severely underweight.
• More than half of the population of Afghanistan, DR Congo, equatorial Guinea, ethiopia, Fiji, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mozambique, niger, Papua new Guinea and Sierra leone lacks access to safe drinking water, while in Somalia, 70 per cent lack access to safe water.
Why doesn’t the United States, which ranked 31st, do better in the rankings?
• The United States’ rate for maternal mortality is one in 2,100 – the highest of any industrialised nation.
In fact, only three Tier I developed countries – Albania, the Russian Federation and Moldova – performed worse than the United States on this indicator.
A woman in the US is more than seven times as likely as a woman in Italy or Ireland to die from pregnancy-related causes and her risk of maternal death is 15-fold that of a woman in Greece.
• Similarly, the United States does not do as well as most other developed countries with regard to under-five mortality.
The US under-five mortality rate is eight per 1,000 births. This is on par with rates in Latvia and 40 countries performed better than the US on this indicator.
At this rate, a child in the US is more than twice as likely as a child in Finland, Greece, Iceland, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovenia, Singapore or Sweden to die before reaching age five.
• Only 58 per cent of children in the United States are enrolled in preschool – making it the fifth lowest country in the developed world on this indicator.
• The United States has the least generous maternity leave policy – both in terms of duration and per cent of wages paid – of any wealthy nation.
Why is Norway number one? Norway generally performed as well as or better than other countries in the rankings on all indicators.
It has the highest ratio of female-to-male earned income, the highest contraceptive prevalence rate, one of the lowest under-five mortality rates and one of the most generous maternity leave policies in the developed world.
Why is Afghanistan last? It has the highest maternal mortality risk and the lowest female life expectancy in the world, and is second to last on skilled attendance at birth, under-five mortality and gender disparity in primary education.