Another survey has been published about the “best place in Britain to bring up children”. This one, by Halifax, is in the spirit of similarly asinine lists such as the “best place to live in Britain” that invariably throw up places like Little Vista on the Wold as ultimate habitational lifestyle choices.
This latest survey surpasses even these standards. Three of the top four best places to bring up a family are Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. The fourth is a district called Craven, also in the middle of nowhere, only in Yorkshire rather than Scotland.
I have no idea why anyone in their right mind would want to raise children in any of these places, so cut off from the rest of the world that the children would be largely socialised by livestock. These survey results are usually arrived at by using a series of indices such as school class size, population density and traffic levels. As if a tiny school class and no other people or cars around amounts to a good quality of life. This fits in with the general British prejudice suggesting that heaven amounts to getting as far away from other people as possible.
I am a committed advocate of cities, preferably large ones, as the best place to raise a family. My four daughters have all been brought up a few miles from the West End of London, and they are passionately in favour of the experience (although the youngest, recently seduced by a friend moving into Dorset and getting herself a pony and a swimming pool, is the first to express a few doubts, which I am working diligently to crush).
Next to economic forecasting, quality of life surveys are just about the most misleading gobbets of pseudo-information you can find. There are so many things that these surveys – both of “best places to live” and “best places to raise a family” – exclude.
Primary among these is access to arts and culture. Unlike someone in Hart (a district in Hampshire that came fifth on the Halifax list), none of my children has ever had any shortage of things to do with their spare time, with the cornucopia of galleries, parks, museums and theatres, many of them subsidised, free or cheap that they can access by the (partly free) transport system in London.
The other thing that covertly underlies these surveys is implied racism. Nearly all the hallowed locations are overwhelmingly monocultural. In a different 2017 survey listing the top 20 places for families in England and Wales, if you held a theoretical sieve under some of the locations and shook out all the BAME children, you would probably get about 25 tops in each place. Many of the towns and districts on the list are far from big cities. A third of them are in Devon. Yet to grow up in a multicultural society and to attend a school where all kinds of people and cultures are represented is a boon for any child.
I grew up in a newly built suburb on the far outskirts of London. It had trees, front and back gardens, excellent schools, clean air and very little traffic. Conceived by planners who wanted to create the perfect family environment, I suspect it employed similar principles to the ones used in the surveys. And rarely did a month go by when I didn’t want to drive a Black & Decker drill into my temple and end the boredom (everyone had them, so the men could do DIY while the women heated up boil-in-the-bag cod in white sauce).
So beware quality of life surveys. What children really need is variety, community, choice and opportunity – not lots of people with the same coloured skin, acres of grass and a wealth of fascinating people who look and behave exactly like you.