Britain is the worst country in the industrialized world in which to be a child, closely followed by the United States, the
Thecharity looked at 40 indicators to gauge the lives of children in 21 economically advanced nations — the first study of its kind — and found Britain’s children were among the poorest and most neglected.
Britain lagged behind on key measures of poverty and deprivation, happiness, relationships, and risky or bad behavior, the study showed.
It scored better for health and safety of children but languished in the bottom third for all other measures, giving it the lowest overall placing, just below the United States.
The United States was ranked worst for health and safety and only Britain scored lower for relationships and risky or bad behavior. The highest ranking for the United States was for education where it was ranked 12th out of the 21 countries.
The study found there was no consistent relationship between a country’s wealth, as measured in gross domestic product per capita, and a child’s quality of life.
The Czech Republic, for example, achieved a higher ranking than economically wealthier France, which was mired in the bottom third along with Britain and the United States.
Children’s happiness was rated highest in northern Europe, with the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark leading the list.
"All countries have weaknesses that need to be addressed and no country features in the top third of the rankings for all six dimensions," said David Bull, UNICEF UK’s executive director.
Jonathan Bradshaw, professor of social policy at York University in England, one of the report’s authors, put Britain’s poor ratings down to long-term under-investment in children and a "dog-eat-dog" society.
"In a society which is very unequal, with high levels of poverty, it leads on to what children think about themselves and their lives. That’s really what’s at the heart of this," Bradshaw told a news conference.
Colette Marshall, UK director of charity Save the Children, said the report was a "shameful" verdict on Britain.
"Despite the UK’s wealth, we are failing to give children the best possible start in life," she said in a statement.
She said "drastic action," including an injection of 4.5 billion pounds, was needed to meet a government target of halving the number of children in poverty by 2010.
A government spokeswoman said the data in the report — mainly taken from 2000 to 2003 — was not up to date and that reforms introduced through the "Every Child Matters" initiative had improved child welfare.
George Osborne, Treasury spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party, said the report was a damning indictment of the policies of British Prime Ministerand his finance minister and likely successor Gordon Brown.
"After ten years of his welfare and education policies, our children today have the lowest well-being in the developed world," he said. Brown had "failed this generation of children and will fail the next if he’s given a chance," Osborne said.