Accessibility statement

Influence on child poverty and wellbeing

Our research highlighted how badly children in Britain were doing. Informed by this evidence, a Government strategy was developed after 1999 and investment in children improved at least until 2010. As a result, child poverty and wellbeing improved in the UK. Nationally and internationally our work contributed to a deeper concern about how children were doing in many dimensions of their life, a more detailed analysis than just measurements of income.

Jonathan Bradshaw impact research

Summary of major impacts on policy by social policy and social work research

  • Influenced UK and international measures of child poverty, child deprivation and child wellbeing.
  • The multi-dimensional wellbeing measures have been adopted by UNICEF and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
  • The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is developing measure of child happiness based on our work.

How things changed

The evidence is that child wellbeing has been improving in the UK. Most child indicators have improved.

  • In 2011/12 child poverty had fallen to 17% from 26% in 1998/9.
  • There is also evidence from our analysis of Understanding Society data that child subjective wellbeing improved significantly between 1994 and 2011.
  • In the UNICEF Innocenti Report card 11 published in 2013 the UK had moved up the international league table of 29 rich countries from bottom to 16th.

Our work has contributed to these outcomes and to our capacity to measure them.

More generally, our work has contributed to taking the national and international discourse beyond income poverty. Child wellbeing is now a preoccupation of the UK government and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), international organisations, such as the OECD, UNICEF and the European Union. Indeed, both the European Commission and the OECD are now publishing deprivation based poverty measures and multi-dimensional wellbeing indicators that we pioneered.

The research

The research

We started to research the impact of child poverty in Britain when levels of poverty more than doubled during the recessions of the 1980s. There are four elements to the research since 1993 which were original and have made an impact:

Books on child wellbeing

These were the first 'state of children' reports produced in Britain. In 1994 UNICEF, concerned about rising child poverty rates in rich countries, commissioned a series of national case studies. Professor Jonathan Bradshaw wrote the UK case. In 1995 the ESRC launched the 5-16 initiative which Bradshaw developed into a book and articles on 'Poverty: the outcomes for children'. Three more edited books were produced with contributions from York colleagues in 2002, 2005 and 2011 reviewing the wellbeing of children in the UK.

Produced the first multi-dimensional comparative analysis of child wellbeing

The first one was for the EU 25 states during the UK Presidency of the EU. This was then used for UNICEF among the OECD countries. A further commission saw it expanded to the Central and Eastern Europe and the Confederation of Independent States. Further analysis was then done for EU 29 states and the Pacific Rim.

Developed measures of deprivation-based child poverty adopted by UK and international government agencies

We helped to develop measures of deprivation-based child poverty subsequently adopted by both UK and international government agencies’ comparative analyses of child income poverty and deprivation. This included the Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey (PSE) 1999 which used socially perceived necessities as deprivation indicators. Later the European Commission commissioned us to develop a measure of extreme poverty using some of these methods. Bradshaw was also responsible for the analysis of material poverty in the first three waves of the Millennium Cohort Survey.

Developed and tested measures of child subjective wellbeing

In collaboration with the Children's Society we began a series of school-based surveys of subjective wellbeing.  The scales and measures tested in these studies are now being incorporated into the ONS on work measures of childhood happiness.

Impact on policy decisions

Adoption of multi-dimensional indicators for child wellbeing by the UK

Our comparative research in the 1990s highlighted how bad Britain’s rates of child poverty had become. In 1999, informed by this and others’ evidence, Tony Blair declared that it was the Government’s intention to eradicate child poverty within 20 years. Child poverty became a major preoccupation of the UK government. Using the results of our 1999 Poverty and Social Exclusion survey, at a seminar with officials and through membership of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advisory groups, we persuaded the DWP to adopt a third tier (deprivation based) child poverty measure. This and other multi-dimensional indicators were adopted in the DWP 'Opportunity for all' series. The measure was adopted in the Child Poverty Act 2010 targets. A child poverty strategy was published in 2012 which proposed to use a range of child wellbeing indicators. In October 2012 the Government announced a consultation on the measurement of child poverty to which we submitted robust evidence.

New measures spread to the EU and international governmental agencies

Influenced by this UK experience in 2008, the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) adopted a similar set of deprivation indicators, and in SILC 2009 a special module on child deprivation was introduced. We were the first to analyse it. In 2010 a deprivation measure was adopted into the EU 2020 Poverty and Social Inclusion strategy targets.

'Child wellbeing in Rich Countries' - dramatic results

UNICEF Innocenti Report Card 7 in 2007 based on our index of child wellbeing had the UK at the bottom of the international league table of rich countries. This provoked a public outcry and enormous media interest. This and the resulting Ditchley Declaration, an agreed, cross-party statement of principles and proposals of what should be done to improve child wellbeing in the UK, contributed to revitalising the child poverty strategy in 2008 and 2009.

National Wellbeing measurement

In 2010 David Cameron asked the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to monitor the general wellbeing of the population. ONS established two working groups to develop measures. Jonathan Bradshaw and Gwyther Rees (Children’s Society) were asked to join the Children and Young People Working Group. Our experience of surveying children about their subjective wellbeing has proven very influential and we have contributed to a review of available sources and undertaken pilot work towards the establishment of national wellbeing measures for children.

Full case study

This impact case study received the highest grade in the recent Research Excellence Framework assessment exercise.

The full case study submitted to the REF 2014 panel is available here. REF-case-study-child-wellbeing (PDF , 61kb)

Public profile

Child wellbeing in rich countries

The work on child wellbeing in rich countries created a media storm around the world with shocked headlines about the ranking of traditionally high ranking countries such as the UK and America. Looking beyond income measures to include factors such as health, kindness and happiness created a whole new way of looking at a country's achievements for its children:

The Guardian: 'British children poorer, at greater risk and more insecure' Wednesday 14th February, 2007

The Independent: 'Experts from all disciplines line up to endorse the UN indictment' Wednesday 14th February, 2007

The New York Times: Children, Let Me Tell You About a Place Called Amsterdam … Wednesday 14th February 2007

The Daily Mail: Betrayal of a generation Wednesday 14th February 2007

The Daily Mirror: Britain worst for kids' wellbeing Wednesday 14th February 2007


Children's Worlds - the International Survey of Children's Wellbeing

And again in 2015 with the release of the latest data on the subjective wellbeing of 53,000 children around the world. This is a list of media outlets that ran the story in May when comparative data were released from the Children's Worlds project - media list


The Good Childhood Report

Here is a small proportion of the articles that hit the headlines in August when the Children's Society released their data in The Good Childhood Report, from our 'subjective wellbeing of children' project:

Bottom of the class in pupil wellbeing table The Guardian (Main), 19/08/2015, p.1

British pupils unhappier than those in Ethiopia but happier than the Germans The Daily Telegraph (Main), 19/08/2015, p.1

Children in England 'some of the unhappiest' at school Nursery World (Web), 19/08/2015

Children losing battle to be happy The Times (Main), 19/08/2015, p.7

Mind Their Heads The Times (Main), 19/08/2015, p.27

A sad state of affairs for kids Daily Star (Main), 19/08/2015, p.9

Pupils in England among world's most unhappy Daily Mail (Main), 19/08/2015, p.6

English children among the unhappiest in the world at school due to bullying The Guardian (Web), 19/08/2015

Why are our children so unhappy? The Huffington Post, 23/08/2015