Multidimensional poverty is higher among adolescents in Scotland and Wales than in England

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A new article in Child Indicators Research (behind a paywall) ranks 38 high and middle income countries, mostly in Europe, on a measure of multidimensional poverty among children aged 11, 13 and 15 years old. The study uses data from the 2013/14 Health Behaviour in School-age Children (HBSC) survey. It gives regional breakdowns for Belgium and Great Britain, showing clear divides among the regions and nations within these two states.

In contrast to strictly material approaches to poverty measurement, this study focuses on rights-based outcomes of nutrition, health, protection from violence, and access to information, as well as more relational dimensions of school environment and family environment. Adolescents who are deprived in three or more out of six dimensions are counted as multidimensionally poor.

The rate of multidimensional poverty varies from one in ten children (9%-13%) in Denmark, Norway and Sweden to one in three (32%-34%) in Bulgaria, Latvia, Russia and Wallonia. England’s rate is average at one in five children (20%), compared with one in four (26%) in Scotland and nearly one in three (29%) in Wales. Girls are at a higher risk of multidimensional poverty than boys in all three countries of Great Britain.

Figure: Multidimensional poverty (three or more dimensions). HBSC 2013/14. 

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Source: Chzhen et al 2017, Figure 7.

Which dimensions drive sub-national differences within Great Britain? England does better than Scotland or Wales in nutrition, health and school environment and better than Wales (but similar to Scotland) in family environment. There are no significant differences in protection from violence or information access between the three countries.

Adolescents in England (24%) are less likely to miss breakfast on weekdays or to consume fruits and vegetables less than once a week than their counterparts in Scotland (32%) or Wales (31%). The nutrition deprivation rate ranges from 16% in the Netherlands to 54% in Malta.

The rates of self-reported poor health and frequent psychosomatic symptoms are lower in England (22%), placing it in the middle of the international ranking in the health dimension. Scotland (26%) and Wales (26%) are near the bottom of the ranking, which ranges from 15% in Switzerland to 30% in Wallonia.

Children in Scotland (32%) and Wales (31%) are more likely to report no teacher or classmate support than those in England (24%). The school environment dimension is one where the differences between the three countries are largest in absolute terms. Across all the countries studied, this deprivation rate varies from 13% in Sweden to 51% in Bulgaria.

While Scotland (28%) and England (29%) have similar rates of deprivation in family environment, children in Wales (35%) are significantly more likely to report poor quality of communication within their families or low levels of family support. This places Welsh children near the bottom of the international ranking in the family environment dimension, where the rate of deprivation varies from 16% in Sweden to 45% in Bulgaria. 

Similarly high proportions of children report having been bullied at school or cyberbullied in the past couple of months (40%-42%) in all three countries of Great Britain. They sit together in the bottom half of the ranking in the protection from violence dimension, which ranges from 15% in Armenia to 61% in Lithuania.

However, Great Britain does well in information access, with all three countries ranking in the top third of the international comparison. Only one in 20 children (5%-6%) report not having a computer at home or not having access to a computer on week days. The rate of deprivation in information access ranges from 5% in the Netherlands to 35% in Albania.

This is the first large cross-country comparative study of multidimensional poverty among adolescents that uses their own responses to questions about their lives.

The project used UNICEF’s rights-based Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis (MODA) framework. Although it is crucial to track the proportion and number of children living in low-income households, non-monetary measures can shed light on how children fare within families or classrooms.

The article “Multidimensional Poverty Among Adolescents in 38 Countries”, co-authored by researchers at UNICEF Innocenti and four academic institutions, will be included in a guest-edited special issue of Child Indicators Research on multidimensional child poverty. Read the introduction to the special issue here.