League table reveals ‘quality of life’ gap for girls across county and UK
Girls in parts of Suffolk are being denied a fair start in life, say campaigners, as a study revealed they face vastly different childhoods depending on where they grow up.
A league table put Ipswich in the bottom fifth of areas for girls to live in England and Wales, according to child poverty, life expectancy, teenage pregnancy, GCSE results and employment.
Meanwhile, Mid Suffolk was the highest ranked place in the county to be a girl – coming 90th in a list of 346 local authorities.
The table scored areas by how they performed in each category – with Ipswich featuring in the bottom half for all but life expectancy.
Overall, it was ranked below inner-city boroughs like Lewisham, Tower Hamlets and Islington – but fared better than larger towns and cities like Norwich, Hull and Nottingham.
The league table was compiled by children’s charity Plan International UK to coincide with the launch of a campaign to tackle gender inequality, calling for a six-point action plan to progress girls’ rights, and for Girls’ Rights Champions to be appointed at national, devolved and local levels.
Plan International UK head of girls’ rights, Kerry Smith said it showed that life chances were tied to where people live.
“Despite being one of the most developed countries on earth, too many girls in the UK don’t enjoy their rights,” she added.
“Urgent action is needed at local and national level to improve girls’ lives in the UK.”
According to the charity’s research, the bottom five places for girls to live (in ascending order) are Middlesbrough, Blackpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Liverpool.
Following Waverley in the top five are Rushcliffe, Notts; Chiltern, Bucks; Mole Valley and Epsom, and Ewell, in Surrey.
The charity is calling for mandatory sex and relationships education in schools, a redoubling of efforts to end violence against girls, and better data for policymakers to find the right responses to improve girls’ lives.
Ipswich’s worst ranking was in the GCSE table, coming second from bottom, although figures were collected from 2014, since when there has been a significant overall improvement in results across Suffolk.
Meanwhile, employment data was taken from Department of Education figures for the whole county, putting all districts in the same position of 291st.
The child poverty indicator is based on Child Poverty Action Group’s Child Poverty Map of the UK 2014; life expectancy on Office of National Statistics (ONS) data for girls born between 2012 and 2014, and teenage conception on ONS data on conception rates per 1,000 among 16 to 18s in 2013.
Ipswich Borough Council’s communities chief, Sophie Meudec said the league table did not take into account services such as sports facilities, entertainment and events, parks and open spaces, as well as social housing provision – all of which play a large part in assessing people’s quality of life.
“The borough council works hard to provide a good quality of life for all residents and to provide opportunities for all young people to attain the right skills and training for them,” she added.
“The council acknowledges the very real needs of its diverse communities but we are not responsible for government welfare policy, education provision nor health services and adult care/children’s services.
“In addition, one would expect urban areas like Ipswich to face more challenges and we note towns and cities like Norwich, Hull and Nottingham are below us in this league table.”
Liberal Democrat county councillor and campaigner for young people, Caroline Page called the report a “wake-up call” for the whole of Suffolk.
She said: “When I mentioned these shocking figures at cabinet, it was news to elected members and officers alike.
“It’s clear that the lived reality of girls in Suffolk is being obscured by the way statistics are being collected. Yet the shocking fact is that the quality of life of girls in some parts of Suffolk is in the bottom 15% in the whole country.
“How come we didn’t know this before? We will never aspire to an equal society if we miss such significant inequality on our own doorstep.”
According to Plan International UK’s report, ‘The State of Girls’ Rights in the UK’, one area in which Suffolk excelled was successful convictions of violence against women and girls (VAWG).
The charity took information provided by the Crown Prosecution Service and analysed figures on successful convictions in relation to population size of girls and women in each police force area
In 2013/14, there were 90,516 prosecutions for VAWG offences in England and Wales. Overall, 74.4% of prosecutions ended in successful convictions, with the highest proportion in Suffolk (83.5%).
Helen Taylor, founder of the Suffolk Feminist Society, was not shocked by the figures, which she said reflected an ongoing struggle to effect change in gender disparity.
Ms Taylor said: “This report didn’t really come as a surprise. It’s disappointing as a whole – and Ipswich’s position so far down the table gives weight to what we have been saying.
“We strive for girls to feel they have opportunities in life – and the report’s recommendations are partly in line with what we are doing. In the next year, we want to reach out to girls and mentor girls who don’t have opportunities – to help them to achieve.
“We are organising an event for International Men’s Day (November 19), aimed at opening conversation with men – particularly young men and boys – about how gender stereotyping affects everyone. Girls and boys are flooded with insidious messages about their status.
“As a group, we face harassment every time we do something publicly. Occasionally, we are ‘trolled’ online – and I expect to be trolled just for commenting on this report.
“Education is a large part of it. Local authorities can take charge of all things to do with gender equality, and we are interested in talking to each borough and district.
“A third of our members work in the third sector, with a wealth of knowledge and experience in this field. We talk to other groups like the Fawcett Society [womens’ rights and equality charity], have contact with the university and will be seeing what else we can do to effect change. We are also launching our own show on Ipswich Community Radio in November.
“This is not about ‘hating boys’. One in five girls will be sexually assaulted in school – and they don’t feel able to report sexual harassment. This silence can lead to serious mental health concerns.
“Until we have compulsory personal, social and health education (PHSE) in schools, I can see the teen pregnancy trend continuing. The lack of awareness is really quite shocking – in pupils and teachers.”