16.01.2021 Author: Valery Kulikov

UK’s Renewed Focus on Children


Recently, in many countries, there has been a growing interest in child-related policies, including those that encourage the creation of optimal conditions for children’s overall development and their rearing.

According to a study conducted by professors at Harvard University, low-income families seemed “to benefit from moving to better neighborhoods,” with improved economic outcomes for children from them in the future. It is believed that, as a rule, offspring of wealthy parents grow up to be successful financially but researchers are still unsure as to why this is the case. It is possible that these children prosper because they are genetically predisposed to inherit certain traits and skills, as for instance, the ability to make money and save. Or perhaps wealthy parents invest more heavily in education of their children and then help them find better-paying jobs.

According to a 2015 paper, published by professors from departments of economics of University of Texas at Austin, Lund University (Sweden) and University College Dublin, research results suggested that “children with wealthy, high-consuming parents” benefited “not just from good genetics but, more importantly”, from growing up with more advantages.

Recently, U.S. News & World Report published its 2020 Best Countries to Raise Kids ranking, according to which the Kingdom of Denmark was in first place, Sweden came second and Norway third. The top ten also included Canada, the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia and Austria. However, the United Kingdom, where parents from numerous nations wish to educate their children, did not make the cut.

According to the most recent Innocenti Report card on child well-being in rich countries from UNICEF (also referred to as the United Nations Children’s Fund), the Netherlands was in first place followed by Denmark and Norway. In addition, a PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) questionnaire showed that the percentage of children at 15 years of age who expressed satisfaction with their life was quite high in Mexico (86%), Romania (85%), Finland (84%), Croatia (82%), Switzerland (82%) and Spain (82%). However, in Turkey, only 53% of children said they were satisfied with their life, the lowest percentage. In the United Kingdom, the figure stood at 64%, which is far from being at the top of the list.

It would appear that there has been an increased focus on child-related issues in Great Britain, but unfortunately, not in the aforementioned directions.

Starting in November 2020, Scotland became the first part of the UK to outlaw physical punishment of under-16s, which had been allowed to parents and guardians by law previously. Wales passed similar legislation in January 2021 and it is expected to come into force in 2022. For now, there are no plans in either England or Northern Ireland to follow suit, where “reasonable punishment” can still be used. A staff member from the UK’s charity NSPCC (the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) said that Scotland’s decision to pass the legislation marked “a momentous step in making” the UK “a country where children’s rights” were truly recognized, respected and fulfilled.

According to an article published in The Times, “working-class boys from white families” in the UK were “the worst educational performers” who “could fall even further behind if forced to apologize for ‘white privilege’.” Matthew Goodwin, a Professor of Politics at the University of Kent, expressed this assessment of the work of the House of Commons Education Committee. During an interview in 2017, Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge Diane Reay said that working-class children got “less of everything in education – including respect.” In her opinion, there was “more segregation and polarization” in society. “Plus, research on wellbeing shows that you need to decrease the social distance between people. There’s mistrust, wariness and anxiety about people who are different from us,” Diane Reay stated. “There needs to be a sea change in public opinion, for us to say this is too inequitable and unfair. There needs to be a new collective effort to make things fairer,” she opined. The children Diane Reay interviewed “had a powerful sense of their position in the academic hierarchy”, with very young kids blaming themselves for being placed in lower sets.

And what kind of education can British children receive if certain teachers ask them “to plan their own funeral” instead of encouraging them to study more relevant school-related material? In June 2020, The Sun reported that St Paul’s Catholic School in Leicester (the UK) had assigned its Year Eight pupils such a homework. The students “were asked to choose their favorite hymn and style of coffin” and even “what flowers would be appropriate for their memorial.”

At the Archbishop Sentamu Academy in Hull (Great Britain), a homework assigned to children aged 11 to 14 required them to define “soft pornography”, “hardcore pornography”, “transgender pornography”, etc. The task, which was “part of pupils’ Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE)”, caused outrage among parents.

In July 2018, there were reports in the media about at least 40 secondary schools in England that had “banned girls from wearing skirts in favor of a gender-neutral uniform for everyone” and one school prohibited the word ‘girl’ from being used.

Nowadays, transsexuality is an increasingly popular topic for discussion in the United Kingdom “and a glance at the figures sheds some light on why.” “The number of children, in particular, being referred to the Tavistock and Portman Foundation Trust’s gender identity development service (GIDS)” from the National Health Service (NHS) “through which all UK candidates for a sex change under 18 are funneled” — was up from 77 in 2009 to 2,590 in 2018-2019.

Recently, “alarm bells have begun to ring among a handful of psychiatric professionals about the number of teenage girls arriving at the Tavistock’s door and the nature of their treatment.” In addition, a legal case was brought by a number of concerned individuals, “arguing that children” were “not legally capable of consenting to a gender transition.” And in January 2020, “the NHS announced an independent review into puberty suppressants and cross-sex hormone treatments.” Still, according to an article published in The Times in December 2020, David Bell, a British psychiatrist, who sent an internal report to the leaders at the Tavistock and Portman Foundation Trust in 2018, “urging them to suspend all experimental hormone treatment for children who wished to change gender until there was better evidence of the outcomes” faced disciplinary action by the NHS service.

Celia Walden, a journalist who writes for The Telegraph (a British daily newspaper), opined that society “hit peak insanity over” transsexuality. She also questioned whether children should be “encouraged and enabled to make life-changing decisions before reaching adulthood.”

According to an article published in The Economist in December 2020, the High Court in London made an important ruling “on the case of 1 detransitioner, Keira Bell”. According to its decision, “it was ‘highly unlikely’ that a 13-year-old and ‘doubtful’ that 14- and 15-year-olds” were “mature enough to consent to such a procedure, and that doctors treating 16- and 17-year-olds” might also need to consult a judge before starting.

In January 2021, The Daily Mail reported on yet another issue related to children in the UK. According to the article, there were ongoing discussions about the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill at the House of Lords, which could allow law enforcement agencies to use under-18s as covert sources. The document also permits older teenagers (over 16 years of age) to inform “against their own family under special circumstances.”

It is certainly not easy to be a child in the United Kingdom these days. Hence, it is not surprising that Great Britain was not among the top nations ranked according to child well-being either by UNICEF or U.S. News & World Report…

Valery Kulikov, political expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.