Britain third worst country for families in Europe

The think tank’s new family pressure gauge compares the pressures on families in 27 European countries and finds that families in Britain are struggling more than their European counterparts under the weight of money worries, long working hours and high living costs. Only families in Romania and Bulgaria are more pressured.

The study found that while Britons work the longest hours per week in Europe – 43 on average – they are also paying dearly for it, with nearly a quarter of the family income (23.5%) being spent on childcare.

That amounts to twice the amount paid by families in France, three times that paid by German families, and four times the cost of childcare in Sweden.

Around one in five British families with dependent children (20.9%) is experiencing “difficulty” or “great difficulty” in making ends meet.

Fourteen per cent of British households with dependent children have experienced “highly critical” debt burdens – the same percentage as in Germany.

Britain is the second worst country in Europe for full paid maternity and paternity leave, offering new parents just 9.6 weeks, compared with 14 weeks in Germany, 16 in Italy, 18 in France and 20 in Denmark.

The study also concludes that Britain offers one of the poorest living environments in Europe, with high pregnancy rates among teenagers, high levels of underage drunkenness and relatively high levels of teenage drug use.

In Britain, 47% of 15-year-olds have been drunk at least twice, compared to 25% in France and 20% in Italy. Only Denmark was higher with 57%.

Britain also has the second highest pregnancy rate in Europe among women aged 15 to 19. At 2.59%, only Bulgaria’s pregnancy rate in the same age bracket is higher at 3.85%. In Denmark the pregnancy rate among 15 to 19-year-olds is just 0.56%.

The index has been put together to assess the Government’s progress in fulfilling its pre-election pledge to make Britain the “most family friendly country in Europe”. Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise was in response to a 2007 UNICEF league table on the wellbeing of children in which Britain came last out of 21 developed countries.

Despite reaffirmations from the Coalition to ramp up support for families, the Relationships Foundation is unimpressed with the progress made so far.

It said that the Childhood and Families Taskforce set up last year to advance family policy was “invisible and rarely meets”, and expressed concern over delays to the implementation of the Coalition’s plan to extend flexible working.

Executive Director of the Relationships Foundation, Michael Trend, said families were being “undermined” by the lack of support.

“The rhetoric of the Coalition Government will surely develop a hollow ring if it fails to address the growing concern about a lack of clear strategy for the family,” he said.

“Sideline family policy and you court systemic failure. The clamour for a change in approach from the heart of government is growing: a year on from the general election it is time the Coalition got its act together on family policy.”