Benefit cuts risk rise in child poverty, doctors warn

A report by the UN children’s fund has found that Britain's children are worse off overall than in many other industrialised countries

British children are paying the price for the economic downturn, doctors will warn tomorrow.

Although the UK is a better place in which to grow up than it was six years ago, it is in danger of slipping back down the international Unicef league, as a result of benefit cuts and reductions in social care, the British Medical Association says.

The UK came bottom of 21 countries for child well-being in 2007, but moved up to 16th out of 29 countries in 2009/10. However, the improved rating does not reflect policies implemented by the coalition since the 2010 election, the BMA says.

In its report, Growing up in the UK, the association says tax and benefit changes will hit vulnerable families hardest, worsen child poverty and widen social inequalities.

The Government denied the claim, saying its reforms would help the poorest households.

According to the BMA, surveys show more children die in the UK than in other European countries, and a record number were taken into care in 2010/11, for whom costs are huge and the outlook poor.

Professor Averil Mansfield, the chair of the BMA’s board of science, said: “While there has been some progress, I find it shocking that, for a society which considers itself to be child friendly, we consistently underperform in international rankings.”

In 2007, David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, responded to Britain’s poor ranking in the Unicef table by pledging to make it “the most family-friendly country in the developed world”. Instead, the coalition dismantled measures introduced by the previous Labour government, Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the former Children’s Commissioner, said.

“There is a lack of commitment to children’s issues. Where is there a minister responsible for children’s issues? Responsibility and accountability is not there,” he said.

A government spokesman said: “There are a lot of misleading stories about the effects of our tax and benefit changes. The truth is, our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities.”

Unicef rankings: How the UK fares

1 Netherlands

2 Norway

3 Iceland

4 Finland

5 Sweden

6 Germany

7 Luxembourg

8 Switzerland

9 Belgium

10 Ireland

11 Denmark

12 Slovenia

13 France

14 Czech Republic

15 Portugal

16 UK

17 Canada

18 Austria

19 Spain

20 Hungary

The countries are listed in order of their average rank for five dimensions of child well-being: material well-being; health and safety; education; behaviours and risks; housing and environment

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