UNICEF warns of “looming children’s crisis” and urgent need for UK to take action to improve lives of children

Home > Media Contacts and Press Releases > UNICEF warns of “looming children’s crisis” and urgent need for UK to take action to improve lives of children

  • New UNICEF report on child well-being highlights poor mental health, increasing obesity and low literacy among UK children
  • New Report Card on child well-being ranks UK 27th in a list of High-Income Countries
  • As schools across the nation return, the children’s agency calls for urgent action to build better future for children and protect them from worsening conditions due to Coronavirus

FLORENCE/NEW YORK/ LONDON/ 2 September 2020, Better child-centred social and economic policies are urgently needed to ensure the well-being of children and young people in the UK, especially in light of worsening conditions due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti.

“Worlds of Influence: Understanding what shapes child well-being in rich countries”, based on pre-pandemic data analysis, gives the UK an overall ranking of 27 among 41 EU and OECD countries on children’s health, academic and social skillsets. According to the data analysis, also known as the Report Card, the UK ranks 29th for mental well-being, 19th for physical health and 26th for skills.

The UK’s ranking is based on data showing that over 1 in 3 (36%) 15-year olds rated their mental well-being as poor[1] , more than 1 in 3 (37%) children lacked basic literacy and numeracy skills[2] and 31% of children in the UK are now obese or overweight[3].

In terms of overall ranking, the UK falls behind Slovakia, Romania and Iceland respectively in ensuring child well-being while Chile, Bulgaria and the United States are positioned at the bottom of the table. The Netherlands, Denmark and Norway rank the best for child well-being outcomes against the backdrop of policies and social, economic and environmental contexts.

Sacha Deshmukh, Executive Director, UNICEF UK says:

Sadly, it seems that poor mental health, obesity and inadequate social and academic skills are now the hallmarks of modern childhood. Lockdown measures, school closures and the wider impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic have now added layers of complexity to the challenges facing children in the UK. For many children, life is now even tougher and a bright, fulfilling future is further from reach.”

Over the years, stable economic and social conditions have not fully translated into positive outcomes for children, and while the Report Card does not give the UK a failing grade, the data shows there is significant room for improvement to deliver a better life and future prospects for children.”

The Report Card states that government policies must complement one another across different aspects of a child’s life to further improve their well-being, making it clear that many High-Income Countries (HICs) are yet to make progress towards high levels of child well-being.

Unicef UK warns that these issues are now compounded by the Coronavirus pandemic, the biggest global crisis children have faced since World War Two. Children’s lives have been turned upside down; they have faced long periods of separation from their family and friends, and school closures have meant access to education and support systems have been limited.

Deshmukh added: “The UK government can and should take action now to avert a looming and long-term crisis for children. As the UK emerges from the worst of the pandemic, the Government must develop and deliver a comprehensive cross-departmental children’s recovery plan to ensure no child is denied their right to health, safety, education and happiness.”

Recommendations to the UK Government to address the issues affecting ‘Generation COVID’ based on the findings of the report include:

  • Putting children at the heart of our recovery by creating a cross-departmental plan for children and prioritising resources across the system for maximum impact for children.
  • Consulting with and listening to children and young people’s views and concerns when making decisions that affect their lives.
  • Empowering teachers to prioritise the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children as they return to school and ensuring schools have adequate financial resources and guidance to provide mental health and wellbeing support. This should be informed by children, parents, teachers and organisations working with children.
  • Ensuring all children can access education online by identifying which children cannot currently access the internet and online learning facilities, why this is the case, and putting in place effective measures that puts an end to the digital divide undermining these children’s futures.


Notes to editors:

A summary of UK findings from the Report Card and disaggregated data of the four nations is available upon request.

1.Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018.

  1. 2. Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018
  2. 3. United Nations Children’s Fund, The State of the World’s Children 2019. Children, Food and Nutrition: Growing well in a changing world, UNICEF, New York, 2019.

Worlds of Influence builds on previous rankings of child well-being in Report Cards 11 (2013) and 7 (2007) to provide a more comprehensive view of well-being that assesses children’s own actions and relationships, the networks and resources available to their caregivers as well as national policies and context.

Visit the report microsite and download the full report: http://www.unicef-irc.org/child-well-being-report-card-16

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About the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti

The Office of Research – Innocenti is UNICEF’s dedicated research centre. It undertakes research on emerging or current issues in order to inform the strategic directions, policies and programmes of UNICEF and its partners, shape global debates on child rights and development, and inform the global research and policy agenda for all children, and particularly for the most vulnerable. Please visit: www.unicef-irc.org

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About Unicef

Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK.

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For further information please contact:

Yemi Lufadeju, +44 20 7375 6199, [email protected]

Unicef UK Media Team, 0207 375 6030, [email protected]