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Visibility, Vulnerability and Voice: The importance of including children and young people in official statistics

3 March 2022
Last updated:
18 May 2022

Why children and young people statistics are important

This section sets out why it matters that we have robust statistics on children and young people.

Children and young people make up approximately a fifth of the population. As they transition from birth to late teens their health, social and educational needs change rapidly. High quality statistics and data specific to children and young people are needed to understand their lives and provide public value in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics. This has become even more important over the last two years to ensure there is an understanding of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on children and young people’s lives.

Through our conversations with users of statistics and our review of published literature we have identified four key benefits to robust statistics on children and young people.

Improving children and young people’s lives through informing government policies and strategies

Robust data are needed to develop and monitor government strategies and policies and to deliver improvements to children and young people’s lives. Many government strategies and policies encompass children, whether they be health, social or economic. There are also strategies and policies that focus specifically on children and young people such as the Tackling child sexual abuse strategy in England, the Every Child, Every Chance: the Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan in Scotland, the Flying Start strategy in Wales and the Children and Young People’s Strategy in Northern Ireland. There are also plans to develop a cross-Government strategy for improving outcomes for children and families in England.

The need for robust data is highlighted in the Northern Ireland Executive’s Children and Young People’s Strategy, which sets out proposals for the improvement of the well-being of children and young people. The report highlights the need to measure progress against population level outcomes through key headline indicators and that more data gathering is needed.

Realising economic benefits by helping to ensure that children and young people reach their potential

Evidence has shown that spending on services during childhood may reduce the need for spending on other services in later childhood and adulthood. Therefore there are economic benefits to policy development and service delivery being based on robust data on children and young people.

For example, the Institute of Fiscal Studies evaluation of the Sure Start programme found that it significantly reduced hospitalisations of children by the time they finished primary school. In 2021, a study by the University of Liverpool found that the impact of cuts to the programme spend after 2010 were associated with prevalence of obesity at school reception (age 4-5 years). Analysis of data from the Flying Start programme in Wales showed children with higher Flying Start attendance tended to meet their expected outcomes in all areas of learning more often than those with lower Flying Start attendance. In addition, children who reach their potential are often likely to contribute more to the economy as adults.

The Early Intervention Foundation report ‘Spending on late intervention: How we can do better for less’ estimated that £17 billion a year is spent in England and Wales on addressing issues such as youth unemployment, youth crime and mental health problems in young people. The report shows that these costs are spread across different policy areas and at both local and national level. The report notes that this estimate is of the immediate and short term costs. The longer term impacts and wider societal and economic costs are not included.

Giving children and young people a voice

Organisations such as The Children’s Society have demonstrated the importance of involving children directly in research and statistics. In their annual report The Good Childhood Report 2021, they present children’s responses in their annual survey to 10 single-item domain measures of happiness with different aspects of life, which were identified through their earlier research with children and young people as being most strongly linked to overall happiness and wellbeing. As they state in the report, ‘Giving children and young people the opportunity to answer questions about their wellbeing, life and future sends a message of their own importance to children, helping them to feel more empowered about decisions that are made about them and gives them a voice in those decisions. It also enables them to see themselves in the statistics and understand how they relate to their lives’.

UNICEF’s research: Every child’s right to be heard highlights that when children participate, this can lead to increased personal development such as self-esteem and confidence at building goals for themselves. They have a unique body of knowledge about their lives, needs and concerns together with ideas that are derived from their direct experience. Decisions that are fully informed by the children’s own perspectives will be more relevant, more effective, and more sustainable.

Monitoring adherence to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is the global statement for children’s rights, which seeks to protect the welfare and development of children. Ratified in the UK in 1991, it sets out the specific rights that all children have to help fulfil their potential, including rights relating to health and education, leisure and play, fair and equal treatment, protection from exploitation and the right to be heard.  Scottish Government has committed to incorporating the UNCRC to the fullest extent possible into Scottish law and children’s rights are already enshrined in Welsh law under Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (the UN Committee) is the UN body which oversees states’ compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Every five years, the UK Government is required to report to the UN Committee on the progress it has made in implementing the UNCRC. The Report of the Children’s Commissioners of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (2020) stated that ‘There is a lack of coherent, consistent, transparent, and systematic, disaggregated data collection concerning children across all jurisdictions, making it difficult to monitor and measure children’s needs and assess the fulfilment of their rights.’

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