UK children the unhappiest in Europe, says study

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Britain's 12 million children and teenagers are the unhappiest and unhealthiest of any wealthy European country, a major new study has revealed.

A league table of child well-being, compiled by academics at the University of York and comparing figures from all 25 member states of the European Union, ranked the UK 21st. Only children in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia were worse off.

These findings are seen as evidence for an independent inquiry into what makes a good childhood, being launched next weekby the Government's "happiness tsar", the economist Lord Layard. The two-year project funded by the Children's Society, is supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

The York researchers compared children's material wealth, housing, health, safety, education, well-being and relationships across the EU. They discovered that while those in the UK suffer average levels of poverty, more than 17 per cent live in households whose adult members are unemployed - the highest level in the EU.

The UK came out worst in the EU when judged in terms of family structure. Researchers found that only 60 per cent of children spoke to their parents regularly and a third did not eat meals with them.

Professor John Bradshaw, who led the study, said the Government's efforts to step up spending to tackle child poverty and improve education and health care could help transform the UK's very poor rating, but it had a huge challenge ahead. "We've had two generations of children with very high levels of poverty," he said.