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Poverty undermines children’s well-being, says report

26 July 2013

Laurence Dutton/Larry Bray

Teenage life: an image produced for the Children's Society for the report  

Teenage life: an image produced for the Children's Society for the report  

CHILDREN who lack basic material goods are five times more likely to report low levels of well-being than those who lack none, new research suggests.

The Good Childhood Report 2013 is the product of an continuing collaboration between the Children's Society and the University of York. Since 2005, 42,000 children and young people aged eight to 17 have taken part in the researchers' surveys. Last year's report warned that half-a-million children in the UK suffered from low levels of well-being ( News, 13 January 2012).

Earlier research suggested that household income had only a small association with children's well-being. But a new approach, based on measuring whether children had a list of ten material goods (which includes pocket money, a family car, and family holiday), yielded much stronger links. Children lacking five or more items from the index were five times more likely to have low well-being than those lacking none.

They were 13 times more likely to disagree with the assertion: "I feel safe at home"; nine times more likely to disagree with: "Overall I have a lot to be proud of"; and four times more likely to say that their health was bad or very bad. It has been estimated that these "materially deprived" children constitute about five per cent of all eight- to 15-year-olds.

Children participating in the research were asked questions exploring their happiness, life satisfaction, and psychological well-being. The report concludes that about four-fifths of the children aged ten to 15 were "flourishing" - satisfied with their lives and finding them worthwhile. About ten per cent, however, had low levels of well-being.

Between the ages of eight and 15, children's well-being dipped "significantly". One in seven 14- and 15-year-olds was found to have "low well-being", compared with one in 20 of eight-year-olds.

Personal appearance is a problem. The researchers write: "There is a large drop in happiness with appearance between the ages of eight and 12, which continues at a low level for 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds, and then increases again at 16/17."

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children's Society, cautioned against dismissing teenagers' lower well-being as "grumpiness". "They are facing very real problems we can all work to solve, such as not feeling safe at home, being exposed to family conflict, or being bullied.

"It is so important that we all, from governments to professionals to parents, talk, listen, and take seriously what children and teenagers are telling us."

In addition to money and possessions, the factors with the closest association to well-being are the extent to which children enjoy choice and autonomy. Financially deprived children were eight times more likely to be unhappy about the amount of choice they had, and about family relationships.

The report explores actions that could be taken to improve children's well-being, suggesting that factors such as material deprivation are amenable to national and local policy. The Children's Society has launched a guide to give parents advice about boosting family well-being.


'Free school meals for all'

FREE school meals should be extended to all primary school children, starting with those in the most deprived areas, an independent review has recommended, writes a staff reporter.

The School Food Plan was commissioned by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, and written by two chefs, John Vincent and Henry Dimbleby, who are the founders of the London-based Leon restaurant-chain.

The Children's Society, which has campaigned for free school meals for children in poverty, said that the report was "fantastic news". Its chief executive, Matthew Reed, said: "The plan recognises that 700,000 children from very low-income working families are not allowed free school meals, and cannot afford to pay for them. The School Food Plan makes a watershed recommendation, that the Government seriously considers extending entitlement to free meals so these children do not keep missing out." The Government has said that it will investigate extending the free-school-meal entitlement.

The charity has recommended using the roll out of the Universal Credit system to extend free school meals to all low-income families.

One of the authors of the report, Mr Dimbleby, has called for head teachers to ban packed lunches. He said that about two-thirds of packed lunches contained confectionery, and that packed lunches were nearly always less nutritious than a cooked school meal.

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