According to the Global Prosperity Index when last issued in 2013, the UK ranks number 16 in a table of 142 of the world’s most wealthy and stable countries. This places the country just behind Germany and Austria, and a little ahead of Belgium and Singapore. Topping the table is Norway, closely followed by Switzerland, whilst at the opposite end of the figures we find the Central African Republic and Chad. India incidentally is ranked at 106, with China at 51. The widely respected Legatum Prosperity Index uses eight equally weighted sub-indices to achieve an overall ranking of a country’s relative prosperity. These are the state of the country’s economy, security of governance, entrepreneurship and opportunity, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom and social capital and when combined these are said to be a fair indicator of what it is like to live in each country.
I have no intention of focusing solely upon statistical data for this posting, but having used the Global Prosperity Index a few times recently when teaching I decided to return to the document yesterday after reading an article in the Independent, a UK national daily newspaper. The headline above the article stated –
“Liverpool’s next Archbishop, Malcolm McMahon warns of child poverty problem.”
In the article the Archbishop designate describes the superficial nature of wealth that is evident in the country. He warns against viewing the dangers of seeing things at only surface level and recommends that we should be taking a more analytical view. There are indeed many wealthy people living in the UK and maybe the image we would like to portray as a country is that these are typical of the population as a whole. But Dr. McMahon suggests that what we see is a veneer that masks many of the problems that exist for families and children today. Writing of the schools which he sees in many of our cities he states that:-
“There is a poverty which we witness every day in our schools,”
and he expresses a concern that,
“Children come in and we know that they’re not nourished properly, they can’t keep up with the other children, with their lessons.”
Other religious leaders in the UK, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, and the Methodist Church’s public policy adviser, Paul Morrison have been joined by the leaders of charitable organisations such as Alison Worsley from Barnardo’s, in voicing anxiety about increasing child and family poverty in the UK. Adding her input to the debate Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner for England warned that young people were hit very hard by the current Government’s austerity programme, stating that:-
“the poorest families, and therefore their children, are paying the price now.”
If the UK is rated as 16th in the league table of the world’s most prosperous countries how is it that these eminent and knowledgeable individuals are expressing such concerns? When walking around many of the UK’s cities today, and particularly in London, it is evident that there are huge investments being made in infrastructure, with significant projects aimed at improving transport systems, new retail centres and hi-tech offices in many of these areas. At the same time we hear that the leaders of our major banking and utilities corporations along with many other captains of industry are performing at a level that justifies million pound bonuses, on top of their already substantial salaries. It was recently announced that an English footballer was to be paid £300,000 a week, that is £1,785 every hour and just under £30 every minute in order to retain his services at his football club. Whilst I am not questioning the undoubted talent of these individuals, I do think that that there are serious questions to be asked about the situation that we have allowed to develop in this and other western countries. All of this affluence seems to be in contrast with the reality reported for many families who are currently struggling to maintain a basic standard of living.
Leicester is a city about 25 miles from where I live here in the English Midlands, it was recently announced that 23,000 children, that is 29 per cent of the city’s total are currently living in poverty. Leicester is typical of many UK cities having received considerable investment in its development over the past five years. It appears to be the case that the investment made, whilst undoubtedly welcome in creating a more pleasant environment, is adding yet another layer to the veneer identified by Dr. McMahon. Can we really have created a society in which we value bricks and mortar above the well-being of our children?
Perhaps today’s blog may sound like something of a rant. That was not what was intended when I started writing. I am, however aware that I will be visiting a school later this week where more than 60% of the children come from families dependent upon local food banks run by volunteers to ensure that they can have at least one meal a day. The teachers in this school ask the hard questions every day about the kind of society in which these children are growing up and the dangers of a resentment that they may eventually hold towards those whose life is so different from their own.
Teachers in schools can only do so much to teach children about social justice. A stronger lead must surely come from our politicians. But in the meantime as teachers we must ensure that we do not remain quiet in respect of issues such as this which are a blight on the lives of the children for whom we claim to have accepted some responsibility.
If this is the situation in the 16th most prosperous country, it is hard to imagine the lives of children far lower down this list.
The Legatum Global Prosperity Index can be accessed at the link below:-