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Annual report shows decline in British children’s happiness over past decade

28 August 2021


Two ten-year-old girls pictured during lockdown, last September

Two ten-year-old girls pictured during lockdown, last September

MORE British children are becoming unhappy, the annual Good Childhood report from the Children’s Society says: 300,000 children described themselves as unhappy, compared with 173,000 in 2011.

The society calls on the Government to set out a bold and ambitious vision for childhood in the UK, which could start by measuring children’s well-being in the same way as adults’, and setting out an action plan to tackle the likely drivers of low well-being.

Children worry about school, appearance, and friends; and many more boys — one in 12 — are unhappy with their looks than ten years ago. The new findings also reveal that children who are unhappy with their lives at 14 are much more likely to have symptoms of mental-health conditions by the time they are 17.

The report suggests that, while most have coped relatively well with the upheaval and disruption of Covid-19, an estimated quarter of a million have struggled. Those who indicated that they had not coped well with the pandemic, were also found to have low well-being.

The report defines well-being as “simply being about how we are doing as individuals, communities and as a nation and how sustainable this is for the future”. It draws on data from the seventh sweep of the longitudinal Cohort Study conducted when children were about 17 years old. That found that a larger proportion of children in the lowest income group had poorer outcomes for mental health, self-harm, and attempted suicide than those in the middle- and higher-income groups.

The report examined children’s experiences of Covid-19 one year on. Three in five parents said that the pandemic had had a negative impact on their children’s education, and almost two in five that the child taking part in the survey was less happy with their progress with schoolwork than before.

“The many restrictions and lockdowns enforced during the pandemic have impacted on those areas that we know are important to wellbeing,” it says. “Going forward, we must ensure that wherever possible, children have opportunities and are encouraged to connect, be active, be creative, keep learning and take notice.”

The report points out that the focus in England is on early intervention. It acknowledges, “One of the biggest challenges in delivering early intervention services to address poor wellbeing is local government finance.

“This year’s annual report on children’s services funding by Action for Children, Barnardo’s, NSPCC, National Children’s Bureau and the Children’s Society highlights this. Since 2010, local authorities have had to make reductions in spend of 48 per cent in early intervention services, whilst also having to increase spending on crisis provision like children’s care services and youth justice by 38 per cent.”

The report says, however, that, despite constrained funding, it is “encouraging to see so many local decision makers commit to measuring children’s wellbeing and using the data to drive their priorities”.

It points to city and region-wide initiatives such as the project Bee Well, in Greater Manchester, to which 80 per cent of secondary schools are signed up, and which is described as “a joined-up approach to well-being which recognises that everyone has a role to play.”

The chief executive at the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, said: “It’s deeply distressing to see that children’s well-being is on a ten-year downward trend.

“It’s vital we protect children in early adolescence, as our report has shown their unhappiness at this stage can be a warning sign of potential issues in later teenage years. It’s so important we listen and help children in this crucial stage of their development, providing early well-being and mental-health support whenever they need it.

“We cannot allow these worrying trends to get worse, and, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, it seems clearer than ever that we need a bold and ambitious vision for childhood in England. It’s time to act now to protect children’s futures. They’re worth the investment.”

Read the
Good Childhood report here

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