Schools turn Britain into a nation of worriers

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The Independent Online
Unemployment is the biggest worry of the British, according to a new survey, although concerns about education and the health service mark them out from the rest of Europe.

The most-cited domestic concerns in yesterday's MORI poll "What's worrying Britain", are those which will top the campaigns of the political parties in the run up to the election - unemployment, crime, education, the health service, the economy and the European Union.

But results for the Europe-wide survey for Population Concern and Marie Stopes International, one of the largest of its kind ever undertaken - show clear contrasts between the fears of Britons and those of Europe as a whole.

Nearly half of Britons (48 per cent) gave unemployment as their biggest concern - significantly less than the 59 per cent of people across Europe. Fears about jobs are most prominent in Finland (85 per cent), France and Sweden (78 per cent), and Germany and Spain (more than 70 per cent).

But law and order was a much bigger concern than elsewhere in Europe, cited by almost a third (32 per cent) of British respondents compared with 20 per cent across the Continent. Education is also a much bigger worry for Britons than elsewhere in Europe, with 30 per cent of Britons naming it as their main concern, compared to just 6 per cent elsewhere. The state of schools does not make the EU top ten list of issues.

But it is responses to the questions about global concerns which have worried the two charities behind the survey. The issue of population increase is the eighth most pressing concern for Europeans, while related issues such as reproductive health and rights and women's rights scored very low, with Britain below the European average.

"There is clearly a need for a sustained European-wide campaign to raise awareness about population issues and the rights of all people to access reproductive health care and good family planning," said Patricia Hindmarsh of Marie Stopes International.

Population growth scored 12 per cent in Britain and the EU, but related issues like reproductive health, gender rights and adolescent sexuality are rated by little more than one per cent of the representative sample of 937 British adults. Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases get a 14 per cent global concern rating across the EU, compared with just 3 per cent in Britain.

Child sex abuse worries 2 per cent of Britons, almost the lowest figure in the EU. The proportion is highest (18 per cent) in Belgium, scene of high-level scandals over paedophile rings.

Wendy Thomas, director of Population Concern, said the figures showed that a welcome 71 per cent of Britons backed more general family planning advice for developing countries.

But the proportion seeing the need for young people in those countries to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy was only an "alarming" 42 per cent.

"With close to half the population of many poor countries under the age of 15, the neglect of young people's sexual and reproductive health world- wide is a crisis in the making that will hamstring other development efforts," she said.

Topics which worry the British less than their neighbours across the Channel include the economy, drug abuse, race relations and Aids. Two out of five Britons and Europeans agree that war and civil conflict is the main problem. Environment and pollution, famine, poverty and unemployment also get high ratings across the EU.

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