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That UNICEF report

I had intended to steer clear of this one as it has been blogged by just about everyone, but from what I can see, most comment has been based upon however it has been spun by the press. So, off to look at the report and to examine what they were asking. The full, 52 page PDF is available here.

First off, the measure of poverty is, of course, relative and it justifies it thus: "in today’s OECD nations the cutting edge of poverty is the contrast, daily perceived, between the lives of the poor and the lives of those around them". So, UNICEF's argument is that a society based on the deadly procrusteanism so beloved of the Left is automatically better. If I have a five bedroom house and a TVR, I should be consumed with envy if a neighbour has a ten bedroom house and a Bentley. Or in the terms of adolescents, he’s got a PS3 and new iPod, and I’ve only got a PS2 and a CD player...

When it moves onto the somewhat firmer ground of measures of affluence, it asks children to enumerate how many of the following they or their parents have: a vehicle, a bedroom to oneself, a holiday away, how many computers. So, a large family is not likely to have a bedroom per child, and a family with geek parents will score highly on the computer tally. Still think this survey is of any great value?

The charts are absolute classics apparently taken bag and baggage from 'How to lie with statistics' - the chart for percentage of children with fewer than 10 books at home runs from 0 to 14% and then stops. I am always appalled by bookless houses, being a bookish type myself, but on this measure a 9 volume encyclopaedia has less worth than 11 Barbara Cartland novels.

Elsewhere it plays very fast and loose with the rules of honest statistical analysis. At one point it talks of surveying children aged 11, 13 and 15 and then gives figures for accidental deaths for the under 19s (p18), and what is more from different time periods ....

The relationships section is also an act of gross mendacity - a component element is that living with a single parent or with step families is treated as being automatically on the 'bad' side of the fence (p26). Worse than living with two parents, one of whom is a violent alcoholic?

Behaviour and risk (p28) are measured in an equally odd fashion - adolescent sex, eating breakfast, having got drunk more than twice and daily fruit eating all appeat to attract the same weighting. And guess what, children lie, especially about sex, drugs and alcohol.

The definition of bullying is another less than culturally, let alone individually, sensitive one: “We say a student is being bullied when another student, or group of students, says or does nasty and unpleasant things to him or her. It is also bullying when a student is teased repeatedly in a way he or she doesn't like, or when he or she is deliberately left out of things. But it is not bullying when two students of about the same strength quarrel or fight. It is also not bullying when the teasing is done in a friendly and playful way.” (p32). The Austrians and the Portuguese are the most prone to this, by the way, and the Finns the least.

Subjective well-being. This includes whether one 'likes a school a lot'. I did not - it included assemblies and maths lessons. So, extra marks for swots.... There is also the question of self-selection for poor health - 23% of British 11, 13 and 15 year olds? Around double that for the Republic of Ireland? Hmm, I suspect that girls worrying about their weight and split ends and boys stressing about their acne would be factors.

There's plenty more, but this 'research' is not exactly rigorous in either its method or its presentation, so approach it cum grano salis.

Reader Kyle has looked at the footnotess to the 'research', and has found that 'For all of the HBSC data in this Report Card, German data are from a regional sample of four lander; Flemish data are used for Belgium and English data for the UK'.

He notes 'So it's not the UK at all, it's England? Would they dare publish something about the US based solely on New York? The Flemish part of Belgium is only about 60% of the population, and from what I gather, different enough from the other 40% to want independence. There are 16 "Landers" in Germany (it should be Land) and the report only features 25% of them?

I thank him for pointing this out, and note further that on a number of occasions the report itself concedes that 'the data should be treated with caution', most often in connection with the data from the 'United Kingdom'.

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Anonymous swift said... 2:32 pm

You've got the wrong link there - it goes through to the Govt. spending too much on PR. But you've made an excellent point about this 'UNICEF' report. I see it's actually been written by people from the Innocenti Research Centre in Florence, and 'the views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or views of UNICEF'. Doesn't seem to stop people saying 'UN criticises UK'. I just hope the Govt. doesn't unveil some more 'initiatives' as a result of this report.  

Blogger Croydonian said... 2:37 pm

(Cough). Link fixed...  

Blogger Newmania said... 3:39 pm

Thats really terrific work C. I shall go and advertise you  

Blogger Newmania said... 3:42 pm

have done so  

Anonymous Colin said... 4:41 pm


As you know, the problem of the poverty industry, i.e. the people making a living by helping the poor, is that their success would make them jobless. Heaven forbit! How can this be prevented? By establishing relative instead of absolute criteria for diagnosing poverty. The business model of the poverty industry requires the maintenance of "poverty", not its elimination.

You have done an excellent job in describing these tactics.  

Blogger Croydonian said... 4:50 pm

N - Glad you approve.

Colin - Indeed, and the best thing one can do for the poor is not to become one of them.  

Anonymous Anonanon said... 4:58 pm

And the report was written by Peter Adamson, founding editor of left-wing wank-mag New Internationalist. How fortunate that the conclusions should fit his world view.  

Blogger CityUnslicker said... 5:14 pm

great post. This report certainly needed it. Can I add that as I understand the underlying data is 5 years old anyway?

Utter cant it is. As you say the only way to keep the 'industry' going is to invent poverty inflation.

By this rational, one day there will be children in poverty who also happen to own hundreds of pounds worth of gadgets and toys.  

Blogger kyle said... 5:41 pm

The computer question would really snag my family. We have 5 running desktops, 1 laptop and probably enough parts for another 10 desktops.

So would I have had to say I have 16 computers, even the old 200mhz ones?

We also never went on a foreign holiday, nobody owns ipods, my phone is 3 years old, my leather boots are starting to get nice and soft, a lot of my shirts have holes in them...

So how would I score? I tried looking at the notes to find out more information and came across this ridiculous statement:

For all of the HBSC data in this
Report Card, German data are from a
regional sample of four lander; Flemish
data are used for Belgium. and English
data for the UK.

So it's not the UK at all, it's England? Would they dare publish something about the US based solely on New York?

The Flemish part of Belgium is only about 60% of the population, and from what I gather, different enough from the other 40% to want independence.

There are 16 "Landers" in Germany (it should be Land) and the report only features 25% of them?  

Anonymous hatfield girl said... 5:57 pm


The "Ospedale degli Innocenti" is more than an architectural milestone. It has provided care of infants and children continuously for more than 5 centuries. Beginning with its sponsorship (by the Silk Guild) and through its services as well as its architecture, the "Innocenti" represents the evolving humanistic views of Florence of the early Renaissance. The "Arte della Seta" demonstrated their understanding and compassion for the foundling infants. For them and for us, it was an important social statement.

Gavitt’s history of the "Innocenti" reflects the emphasis of the institution’s approach to the welfare of children :

"the boundaries between sacred and secular had undergone rapid alterations in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Charity elevated urban, civic, and political life to a level of sanctity that once only the cloister could compel."

The first "innocente" was left at the "spedale" on February 5, 1445. It remains a world centre for the care of, and expression of the central, human importance of, the child throughout the world.

Well, excepting 'Swift' and those who agree with him.

'The poverty industry' indeed. For shame.  

Blogger Croydonian said... 6:15 pm

HG - Nice to see you back. Pondering on 'A Modest Proposal' redux, perhaps?  

Anonymous hatfield girl said... 7:01 pm

Croydonian, I will go for: '... curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women [and our men if Jowell can be evicted from her office or at least her path]: ... introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance [in tax-funded spending]: ... learning to love our country, wherein we differ even from Laplanders, and the inhabitants of Topinamboo: ...being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants. Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our [politicians] and shop-keepers, who, if a resolution could now be taken to buy only our native goods, would immediately unite to cheat and exact upon us in the price, the measure, and the goodness, nor could ever yet be brought to make one fair proposal of just dealing, though often and earnestly invited to it. [many of us no longer enter super and hyper-markets because we come over faint]. Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, ’till [a general election is called and] he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

Hatfield can now be found in Florence, the Tuscan countryside, St Pancras, and Sydney. 20 miles north of London turned into a desert; though the feelings of Laplanders and the dwellers of Topinamboo persist.  

Anonymous verity said... 7:31 pm

Hatfield Girl - Good to see you back! Burned up more jet fuel, eh?

Funny that the country leading the war in Iraq and its chief ally both happen to come out bottom in this report, which was published by a hard left entity, eh?

Quelle, as they say, surprise.  

Blogger Guthrum said... 7:49 pm

Hmmmmm, I think I am going to spoil the party. OK the report is fatally flawed in its Data,its age, its sampling and its author is suspect because of his political views. However nobody is going to convince me that the report is so wrong that out future citizens are leaping about in some kind of paradise.
In a consumerist society poverty is going to be guaged by ipods,cars, houses, but this is not the poverty that worries me. The poverty of values and family life, where both parents have to go out to work because the one fundamental NEED that we all have is a roof over our head, is now over the £200 000 mark. It is wrong that it takes a lifetime to acquire a home, the alternative rental market is non existant and there is some perverse norm that demands we sell off social housing at discount to sitting tenants. Tom Paine has written in his latest posting that we are living in a morally bankrupt society- that is were the true poverty lies not i pods and computers. Well done on deconstructing the report, but why is it still ringing true for me ? I have spent extensive periods of time in Norway, Sweden, France and Germany- We treat our offspring in a totally different way to the norms in these countries. They at least have a work/life balance, we have a work ethic that demands we buy crap that we do not need like bloody ipods  

Blogger Guthrum said... 7:55 pm

apologies for the intemperate language, my only excuse is that I visited that temple of culinery delight- Tescos before arriving home- nothing puts me more in the mood for ripping somebodies head off than being treated like a sheep and paying over the odds to a monopolist.  

Anonymous hg said... 9:31 pm

I dare not describe the moving in case Verity's eyes, like those of my cat, go " Mock, mock, mock".  

Anonymous verity said... 10:56 pm

No. Claws are in. Ailurophiles do not mock our friends,although our eyes at times appear to glint with insincerity. What is your cat's name? My felix major is Rupert. The cat he brought home with him because it was homeless and hungry is called Jeepers for his beautiful eyes.

Did you actually move to Oz?  

Anonymous Voyager said... 7:14 am

Sorry Croydonian but measures of poverty are relative - it is called Pareto Optimality and configured using Gini Coefficients.

It is fatuous to claim someone homeless in Britain because a house costs 12 times average household income is not really poor because he could buy a home in South Africa.

The situation where M4 expandion in Britain is clibing at 16% and Bank lending to the personal sector is greater in Britain than the rest of Europe combined suggests policies which are forcing higher levels of debt onto people to survive.

Housing is such a driver of inequality in this society because it influences a) what kind of school your children can attend b) how much credit you can raise c) the more expensive the house the lower the burden of Council Tax

The introduction of Student Tuition Fees and rampant house inflation will cause demographic shifts as divorce causes collapses in living standards as houses become unaffordable for divorced professionals, and the whole risk of marriage/divorce becomes unsupportable

The simple fact is that this is an extraordinarily expensive country in which to raise children and the provision of education by The State is so miserable and dire that two household incomes are require to pay mortgages and school fees from post-tax incomes  

Blogger Croydonian said... 9:07 am

Voyager - it is *a* measure, yes, and you will not that I did not compare the UK with Botswana. I kept things at neighbourhood level. All of us are relatively poor compared to billionaires, but is that an argument for cutting down the tall poppies?  

Anonymous hg said... 9:29 am

Verity, the cat's a red burmese called Guglielmo, and king of the castle . Voyager writes of the relative poverty of families in the UK; the only way to cope is to have as extended a family as possible, with each bit spread across different worlds - geographically, professionally, what you will, and be ready to be in different places at different life-stages. While a lot of commitment must be put into having such a group, it does come naturally, and most effectively protects ways of life threatened by tax burdens, state intrusiveness, poor education systems etc. For instance, there is much to be said for the steady imparting of hard knowledge in grammar, maths, history, geography, literature and art in Florentine elementary schools; there is less to be admired in Italian universities, while the UK still has very fine institutions of higher learning; benefitting from both takes extended family. What once was freely available in, or from, Hatfield ( and much of the UK ) has to be put together now with care and forward planning.

So in answer to your question Verity, there are family in London and in Australia and I can be there as they can be here. I am now in central Italy (more family) and the cat has put his paw down about being moved again.  

Anonymous Voyager said... 11:28 am

but is that an argument for cutting down the tall poppies?

Never said it was but I do think Council Tax is regressive and that house price inflation is not taxed to provide local services.

I don't think you can operate an open door policy in Europe's only English-speaking area without residence permits since housing costs are the biggest single budget item and have the capacity to affect demographics and the definition of a nation and a culture  

Anonymous Voyager said... 11:35 am

All of us are relatively poor compared to billionaires,

That is a truism and of little value, since by definition billionaires are few and their impact restricted.

However, if you want doctors, teachers, firemen, train drivers, nurses, policemen, etc it seems clear they must at some stage be able to buy residential accommodation rather than commute huge distances - the current gap between incomes and housing costs is economically unsustainable.

I know of no basis for any good to be so completely out of range of local incomes on a sustained basis unless it is capital which is being deployed against income, and as we know bringing capital into the country from offshore bank accounts is tax free whereas incomes are taxed.

There is in this country a strange propensity to fund normal housing for asylum seekers at taxpayer expense and also to exempt the very rich who deny local domicile from contributing taxes to the local economy.

It is therefore the lower middle classes that bear the costs of servicing cities and the tax base. The classic case of destroying the community structure as described by Jane Jacobs is thus operating wth a vengeance...in that only the poor and the rich can afford to live in conurbations but the rest are priced out first of cities then of countries  

Blogger Croydonian said... 12:24 pm

Voyager, I think that is an argument for another day. Meanwhile, I just do not accept that someone who is relatively poor is necessarily poor at all.  

Anonymous verity said... 2:47 pm

The communists (masquerading as socialists, which is almost as bad) do not seem to understand that they have driven over 3m people away from Britain. These are people who have got permission to live in other countries and had skills that got them work permits. More wealth creators are leaving for good every day. More immigrants are pouring in, many of them primitive third worlders.

I wonder what end game these slithy toves in the cabinet envisage?  

Anonymous verity said... 3:40 pm

Croydonian - of course, it is in the interests of the socialists to foster a sense of injustice and position themselves as the saviours.

BTW,if haven't got a plasma TV hanging on the wall, that probably means you are middle class, as inhabitants of "social housing" seem to feature them heavily. The middle classes are too busy paying school fees, buying books, paying mortgages and paying commuter fees, congestion charges, extortionate parking fees, to afford such things. By the socialists' measure, this would indicate that the middle classes are poor and the never-employed plasma TV and state-of-the-art mobile phone owners are well-off.  

Anonymous Voyager said... 7:06 pm

Meanwhile, I just do not accept that someone who is relatively poor is necessarily poor at all.

Stretch the definition as much as you want - Israel and the US have official definitions of poverty - few countries do, but the UK used to define it in terms of Supplementary Benefit level.  

Anonymous Voyager said... 7:08 pm

The middle classes are too busy paying school fees, buying books, paying mortgages and paying commuter fees, congestion charges, extortionate parking fees, to afford such things.

Oh how I wish !!!

More likely they are leasing a Mercedes or BMW and a Range Rover, running a small non-taxpaying business; despise books, and send their children to a fee-paying school so their parents can meet the right sort of people.  

Anonymous Steve Bowbrick said... 2:10 am

Lots of wild generalisation both here in the comments and up there in the post if you ask me. I'd welcome a grown-up analysis of the UNICEF report - which does seem flakey at best - but analysis of the "9-volume encyclopedia worth less than 10 Barbara Cartlands" type betrays an inadequate understanding of the nature of statistics and the sort of upside-down (bigendian?) generalisation from the particular that characterises dodgy media interpretations of this sort of data. Bit disappointing really.  

Blogger Croydonian said... 8:52 am

Steve, you appear to blog and have access to the same raw materials that I have - take it away.  

Blogger Fahrenheit said... 12:40 am

Good work Croydonian.

I ran some statistical significance tests this afternoon and found that the UK's scores are significantly different from the mean in only 3 out of the 40 measure used in the report. The other 37 could just be chance statistical variations.

The 3 measure where we DID score significantly higher than everybody else, were:

1. Percentage of young people who have been drunk two or more times, aged 11, 13, 15 (2001)

2. Percentage of young people who have had sexual intercourse, aged 15 (2001)

and as a perhaps unsurprising consequence...

3. Percentage of young people rating their health as ‘fair or poor’, aged 11, 13 and 15 (2001)

Our kids, eh? Gotta love 'em.  

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