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A nation of bad parents: Britain’s youngsters amongst world’s worst for drinking, smoking and teenage pregnancy, warns the OECD
By James Chapman
Last updated at 1:08 AM on 02nd September 2009
Drinking, promiscuity and a cycle of low aspiration mean Britain is becoming the ‘bad parent’ of the western world.
A vast study of youngsters’ well-being in 30 industrialised nations ranked Britain among the worst for health, lifestyles and school standards relative to public spending levels.
Underage teenagers in Britain are more likely to get drunk than those in any other country, and the proportions of teenage mothers and single-parent families are among the highest in the survey.
Binge: A third of all 13 and 15-year-olds have been drunk at least twice, according to the OECD study (file picture)
In ‘risky behaviour’ – a combination of drinking, smoking and teenage pregnancy – Britain’s performance is worse than all nations other than Turkey and Mexico.
Educational achievement is low given the billions poured in by Labour, with more than one in ten youngsters aged 15 to 19 not in school, training or work. This is the fourth highest rate in the 30 countries, ahead only of Italy, Turkey and Mexico.
Last night a youth charity warned: ‘Unless we can start to improve this situation the UK risks becoming the bad parent of Europe.’
The report, published by the economic thinktank the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, compared data from 30 leading countries on children’s welfare.
Staggering: Drunkenness is more common among girls
It found that public spending on children in Britain is well above average, at more than £90,000 from birth to the age of 18. Family incomes are relatively healthy, too, ranking eighth out of the 30 countries studied.
But education results remained low relative to spending levels, the report said, while concluding that social mobility was stalled, with children finding it hard to break out of their class structures and earn more than their parents.
‘In the United Kingdom . . . each new generation is more likely to find themselves in the same position in the earnings distribution as their parents,’ it said.
A third of children aged of 13 and 15 in Britain had been drunk at least twice, despite being too young to be served alcohol, compared with 12 per cent of American youngsters and 14 per cent of French.
Unlike in many other countries, drunkenness was more common among girls, with half of 15-year-olds having got drunk at least twice against 44 per cent of boys.
Teenage pregnancy is also far higher than average across the OECD. The UK has the fourth highest teenage pregnancy rate after Mexico, Turkey and the United States. In Britain, 23.4 teenage girls per 1,000 gave birth in 2005.
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Britain ranked a poor 20th out of the 30 in terms of children’s ‘health and safety’, with infant mortality rates higher than average and among the lowest numbers of toddlers being vaccinated against measles.
Faring the worst: A third of children aged 13 to 15 have been drunk at least twice, compared to 12 per cent of American teenagers (file picture)
Only 70 per cent of under-16s in England live with both parents, a figure-which falls to 68 per cent in Scotland and 66 in Wales. This is well below the OECD average of 75 per cent.
However the OECD analysis insisted there was ‘no unambiguous proof’ that growing up in a single parent family had anything more than a ‘small’ impact on the outcomes for children.
On the plus side, the report said that children in the UK enjoy school much more than many of their international counterparts. Bullying is less frequent and teenage suicides are less common in the UK than in most other industrialised countries.
The report echoes research two years ago from Unicef that put British children bottom of the 21 most advanced countries.
That report cited family breakdown, drink, drugs, teenage sex and fear of violence as the issues confronting teenagers.
Last night Joyce Moseley, chief executive of youth charity Catch22, said: ‘The UK has consistently scored poorly in OECD reports on the levels of young people not in work, education or training; teenage pregnancy and youth substance abuse.
‘Unless we can start to improve this situation the UK risks becoming the bad parent of Europe.
‘The OECD makes it clear that although the UK spends more than most on young people, the money is poorly targeted for older children.
‘It is important that the good work done in the early years is backed up with consistency and targeted support for the most vulnerable young people.’
Tory schools spokesman Nick Gibb said: ‘The low levels of social mobility and high levels of inequality are a serious cause for concern.
‘The OECD is right that money needs to be targeted at poorer pupils if we are to close the educational gap between the top and the bottom.
‘That is why two years ago, the Conservatives proposed a plan for education reform with an explicit pupil premium attached to children from less well-off backgrounds.
‘Labour has failed a generation of children which is why we need a Conservative Government that takes the necessary steps to remove this block on opportunity.’
Children’s Minister Dawn Primarolo said: ‘It is disappointing to see the UK rated so low for risky behaviours.’
But she added: ‘We have introduced a number of initiatives to help teenagers and their families make informed decisions about their behaviour, including the plans to introduce statutory Personal, Sexual and Health Education (PSHE) lessons to equip young people with the knowledge, understanding and practical skills to live healthy, safe, fulfilled and responsible lives.’