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UK failing children, says BMA

The UK is failing its most vulnerable children, doctors leaders have warned this week.

playgroundA new BMA report, Growing Up in the UK, highlights that more children and young people are dying in the UK than in other countries in northern and western Europe.

In addition, more children than ever recorded in the UK were referred to local authority care in 2011/12, mainly for abuse and neglect.

The report builds on the BMA’s 1999 report on children’s health and brings together the latest global research. Although the association acknowledges that progress has been made it is concerned that government austerity measures could reverse improvements by hitting the most vulnerable.

It highlights research from children’s charities which show changes to tax and benefits will have a negative impact on the vulnerable.

Wealth disparity

Although the latest figures show the UK improved its position in the UNICEF table of child well-being — from bottom out of 21 countries in 2007 to 16th out of 29 countries in the most recent figures, published in March — there is concern the gap between the richest and poorest is growing.

As the UNICEF data is from 2009/10 it does not show the impact of policies implemented since the 2010 election.

Averil MansfieldBMA board of science chair Averil Mansfield (pictured right) said: ‘The BMA is particularly concerned that any improvements in tackling child poverty are in danger of being eroded by some government welfare policies. Children should not pay the price for the economic downturn.

‘Every child in the UK deserves a start in life that will help them achieve their true potential. While there has been some progress I still find it shocking that for a society that considers itself to be child-friendly that we consistently underperform in international ratings.’

A key message from the report is that intervention to improve children’s future health and welfare needs to begin before they are born with measures such as providing parenting classes, identifying at-risk families and improving maternal nutrition.

Preventative measures

The report argues it is short-sighted to remove funding from health-intervention projects as investing money to address the causes of social breakdown is far more effective than paying for the consequences. It highlights that every one pound spent on early intervention programmes for children and families has been estimated to save £10 over a lifetime.

Vivienne NathansonBMA director of professional activities Vivienne Nathanson (pictured right) said: ‘We need to do more as we are failing our most vulnerable children. It is essential that we develop integrated policies where child welfare is central.’

The report also recommends:

  • An annual ‘health of the nation’s children’ report to review trends and assess what work best to improve child well-being
  • Tackling poverty as this lies at the root of most health disadvantages
  • Providing evidence-based parenting courses and raising awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding
  • Providing education and practical support on healthy eating. This includes ensuring that schools provide nutritional meals and compulsory cooking classes.

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