This Unicef report (pdf) on the well-being of UK children, summarized here, looks grim. But it condemns parents and society more than it does the government.
Yes, the UK comes 18th of 21st on Unicef's measure of material well-being. But this is largely because of high (relative) child poverty in 2000. Since then, though, the child poverty rate has fallen (table 3.1 of this pdf). And on other measures of wealth - self-reported affluence and possessions - the UK comes mid-table (figure 1.3).
Nor is it obvious from the report that state education is disastrous. Yes, the UK comes 17th of 21 for educational well-being. But this is largely because of high numbers of 15-19 year-olds not in education, employment or training (the NEETs). The UK actually - surprisingly? - scores above-average on the educational achievement of 15-year-olds (figure 3.1).
Instead, where the UK does awfully is in family and peer relations (more children live in single-parent or step-families and fewer have friends they can trust), behaviour (the ones who aren't drunk, high or lard-buckets are shagging like rabbits), and subjective well-being (mainly poor health).
But these are - surely - areas where parents can do more than government. Many, however, seem to be failing in their duties.
And "duties" is the key word. Some people seem to think they have an untrammelled right to bring children into the world in the expectation that the tax-payer will pick-up the bill. But this is a perversion of the meaning of liberty.
John Stuart Mill was explicit here:
It is in the case of children, that misapplied notions of liberty are a real obstacle to the fulfilment by the State of its duties. One would almost think that a man's children were supposed to be literally, and not metaphorically, a part of himself, so jealous is opinion of the smallest interference of law with his absolute and exclusive control over them; more jealous than of almost any interference with his own freedom of action: so much less do the generality of mankind value liberty than power...
The fact itself, of causing the existence of a human being, is one of the most responsible actions in the range of human life. To undertake this responsibility--to bestow a life which may be either a curse or a blessing--unless the being on whom it is to be bestowed will have at least the ordinary chances of a desirable existence, is a crime against that being...The laws which, in many countries on the Continent, forbid marriage unless the parties can show that they have the means of supporting a family, do not exceed the legitimate powers of the State: and whether such laws be expedient or not (a question mainly dependent on local circumstances and feelings), they are not objectionable as violations of liberty.
With a few good exceptions, most people fail to see Mill's point that parenthood is a duty, not a right. Is it too much to hope that the Unicef report will cause them to reconsider, and focus more upon the real duties of parents than upon the imagined duties of tax-payers and the government?