Skip to content Accessibility statement

Is life good for children in the UK?

Posted on 30 March 2016

A new book, edited by a University of York Professor in Social Policy, reveals that since 2009 UK children's physical health is improving, but they are more unhappy.

Edited by Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, The Well-Being of Children in the UK looks at how children in the UK are doing in comparison with children elsewhere and whether the UK is moving in the right direction in terms of child well-being.

Looking at 48 indicators of well-being - including material well-being, health, mental health, education, housing and childcare - the UK scores well on 11 categories, middling on 23 and is classed as bad on 14. Good means that the UK is in the top third of the countries studied, middling indicates the middle third and bad means classed as in the bottom third.

The book states that, since 2009, many indicators of physical health have improved (e.g. still births, dental health, injuries and accidents). However, more worrying trends emerge when looking at mental health and subjective well-being. Indicators of suicide, happiness with friends, family and appearance are getting worse, with increased homelessness and neglect likely playing a part in this.

Positive trends offer some comfort, for example a decrease in arrests and improved educational achievement, and good levels of exercise.

Professor Bradshaw says: “The overall conclusion is that most elements of well-being have been getting better, but it is important to remember that in many cases the improvement has started from a low base and comparatively the UK could and should be doing much better.

“The only available test of whether things are good for British children is whether they are doing as well as children in other similar countries and the answer is that in too many domains they are not.

“Children are our future – they aretomorrow’s work force, parents and citizens. Investment, or the lack of it, in their well-being will shape the future of the country. As a nation we pay enormous attention to the well-being of our economy, the state of the weather and sporting league tables, but we need to make more effort to monitor the well-being of our children. We need to devote more resources to understanding how they are doing and to ensuring that their childhood is as good as it can be.”

The Well-Being of Children in the UK is out now, published by Policy Press.

Further information:

  • The well-being of children in the UK, edited by Professor Jonathan Bradshaw is published by Policy Press, £27.99 (ISDN: 9781447325635)
  • Jonathan Bradshaw CBE, FBA is Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at the University of York. In addition to research into family policy, in recent years his research has focused on international comparisons of child poverty, child benefit packages and child well-being. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a board member of the Child Poverty Action Group.
  • Policy Press ( is a leading social science publisher based at the University of Bristol, UK and is committed to publishing books that make a difference.

Explore more news

Media enquiries

Saskia Angenent
Press Officer

Tel: 01904 323918