Thursday, February 15, 2007

The UNICEF report

Reading the UNICEF report (Child Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries) yesterday in which the UK was apparently found to be performing so badly, the following points came to mind:

  • Who funds UNICEF and what's its real agenda?

    A quick tour around their website produced this list of corporate 'partners', including such luminaries as BP Foundation (British Petroleum), ExxonMobil, GlaxoSmithKline, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft Corporation, Pfizer Inc., Siemens and many, many more.

  • This went some way towards explaining why "the six dimensions taken to measure the well-being of children [were] material well-being, health and safety, education, peer and family relationships, behaviours and risks, and young people’s own subjective sense of well-being".

  • It concerns me that seemingly equal emphasis was placed on whether children were living in single-parent families or step-families and 'young people’s own subjective sense of well-being'. No questions seem to have been asked about how living with parents who have an unhappy marriage affects children, they just jump straight to the assumption that single-parent or step-parent families are more damaging. I can find no basis for this assumption in the full report.

  • Nor am I happy about the educational indicators. The report has made the typical links between educational achievements between ages 15 and 19, affluence and well-being. I myself do not make that link, as many of the affluent, 'educated' people I know do not enjoy a feeling of well-being, simply one of compliance with the 'norm', whereas my own teens who have no formal qualifications experience a high level of well-being in comparison with their schooled contemporaries.

  • I think it probably is the case that people in the UK tend to have a more negative view of children than some other countries. As children we regularly visited Holland on family holidays and the difference in approach towards us as children between the two countries was very noticeable in basic ways: shop and restaurant staff would go out of their way to be friendly to us just because we were children, for example.

  • According to the report's coverage on the BBC news website, 'Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, from York University, one of the report's authors, put the UK's poor ratings down to long term under-investment and a "dog-eat-dog" society.', but I don't see how more financial investment improves children's wellbeing and it strikes me that increased financial investment would do nothing but exacerbate the "dog-eat-dog society", which is exactly what's in these people's best interests.

  • We tend to assume, I think, that global, impartial-sounding organisations like the United Nations and the World Health Organisation (which was also involved in formulating the report), are above the interests of the murky world of international politics and finance, but of course this isn't the case at all. If all this report does is increase investment in forced education systems to the age of 19 and sanction governments' planned further incursions into peaceful family life then I think it can only damage children's genuine well-being.

    "Work develops independence, self-reliance, resourcefulness. Work itself is a value, above a paycheck, above praise, above accomplishment. Work produces a spiritual reward unknown to the reinforcement schedules of behavioral psychologists like B.F. Skinner, but if you tackle it gladly, without resentment or avoidance, whether you’re digging a ditch or building a skyscraper, you’ll find the key to yourself in work. If the secular aversion to work is a thing to be rationalized as schools do, requiring only minimal effort from children, a horrifying problem is created for our entire society, one that thus far has proven incurable. I refer to the psychological, social, and spiritual anxieties that arise when people have no useful work to do. Phony work, no matter how well paid or praised, causes such great emotional distortions that the major efforts of our civilization will soon go into solving them, with no hint of any answer in sight.

    "In the economy we have allowed to evolve, the real political dilemma everywhere is keeping people occupied. Jobs have to be invented by government agencies and corporations. Both employ millions and millions of people for which they have no real use.

    "Young men and women during their brightest, most energetic years are kept from working or from being a part of the general society. This is done to keep them from aggravating this delicate work situation, either by working too eagerly, as kids are prone to do, or by inventing their own work, which could cause shocks throughout the economy. This violation of the injunction to work, which Western spirituality imposed, has backed us into a corner from which no authority has any idea how to extricate us. We cannot afford to let too many children really learn to work, as Amish children do, for fear they will discover its great secret: work isn’t a curse, but a salvation."

    - from The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor Gatto.

    The children, after all, are not UNICEF's paymasters. To find the truth, follow the money.


    Blogger Tim said...

    I think you make some very good points.

    UK Gov has a programme out with the neat little slogans:

    Be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic well-being. COmes out to roughly the same thing.

    Nevertheless, however you slice it, I suspect under pretty much any set of measures, Britain and the USA would end up at or very near the botton of the table.

    It would be a great outcome if we saw an end to the knee-jerk picking up off every daft new idea from the States - they clearly have little to offer anyone - and started picking up on ideas from countries like Holland, Sweden and Italy instead.

    5:38 pm, February 15, 2007  
    Blogger dottyspots said...

    Quite. However, I wouldn't say that Sweden was necessarily a fantastic place to grow up (unless you want to be in day nursery from birth ;)

    9:00 pm, February 15, 2007  
    Blogger Ruth said...

    News Night after the UNICEF report was announced did a spot of single parent bashing. One speaker was trying to blame single parenthood for deprivation in our society. I was hurling balls of wool at the T.V;) My kids fared far better emotionally and financially after I got rid of ex who was boozing all the money away and arguing and fighting when drunk everyday. It is true that the Brits have a more negative view of children. I know that from living in Greece and seeing how different the attitudes are there to children.

    The idea that affluent people have a greater sense of well being has not been my experirnce either. I would say they worry more and are under more pressure to conform to societies expectations.

    9:37 pm, February 15, 2007  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    The attitude to children in South Africa must have come from Holland. It was a revelation to me to see how kindly and flexibly children are treated. experiencing that attitude has made a difference to my own children's upbringing.

    10:11 am, February 16, 2007  
    Blogger Gill said...

    Tim, yes it might but I'm not very optimistic. I suspect the outcome will be whatever suits global economic interests.

    Nic, yes Holland is unsavory in some respects too I gather.

    Ruth, same here. I wholeheartedly agree.

    Anon, I'm sure such underlying attitudes must affect children's self-esteen on a massive scale.

    11:14 am, February 17, 2007  

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