LEAGUE tables deliver a kind of rough justice and UNICEF's ranking of Britain as the worst of 21 Western countries for a child to grow up in was taken by most media and political circles yesterday as a damning indictment of New Labour. Certainly, to find Britain judged as inferior to Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland in its care and concern for children in most of 40 indicators of children's health and happiness was an unpleasant shock even for those who are generally critical of Labour's educational and social policies.
The government seemed uncertain how to answer UNICEF's findings. A junior education minister was put up to point out that 700'000 fewer children are living in relative poverty than in 1998/9 and that the number in absolute poverty has been halved, but no senior minister appeared. The Conservatives, however, chose to make political capital of the report. George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, used the opportunity to pursue his personal vendetta against Gordon Brown, saying that the Chancellor has failed this generation of children and will fail the next if he's given the chance. Mr Osborne should have studied the fine print before he spoke. Most of the statistics used by UNICEF are from 2000-03 and therefore refer mainly to a generation of children born and brought up in their early years during the last Conservative government. The implications of UNICEF's report are too serious to be used as political fodder by the Conservatives.