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Children less happy than ten years ago, says charity

22 September 2022

Cost-of-living crisis and the strains of school life to blame


A child sits outside the Lewisham Donation Hub, London, a foodbank for families suffering from financial difficulties, earlier this year

A child sits outside the Lewisham Donation Hub, London, a foodbank for families suffering from financial difficulties, earlier this year

THE cost-of-living crisis and the strains of school life and its workload have led to a sharp decline in children’s happiness, findings from the annual Good Childhood report have revealed.

Older children, who are more likely to be facing heavy school workloads as they approach GCSEs, were most likely to say that they were unhappy with school. Overall, one in six children aged ten to 15 said that they were unhappy with their lives, and one in 12 — more than half a million — said that they were unhappy with school. Boys were more likely to be unhappy with schoolwork than girls.

The Children’s Society’s 11th annual report found that children’s average happiness overall — with friends, with their appearance, and with school — were all significantly lower than ten years ago. On a scale of 0-10, happiness fell from 8.17 to 7.69: a consistent decline since 2010.

In the past year, happiness with school and schoolwork has declined significantly, and this was even lower among children in lower-income households. There was also a correlation between whether children felt listened to at school, and how unhappy young people said they felt with their school.

Parents and carers were asked about the cost-of-living crisis, and 85 per cent said that they were concerned about the impact on their family, and more than one third said that they already struggled with the cost of school trips and school uniform.

More than half of parents and carers said that the pandemic had had a negative effect on their children’s education, and more than one third said it had affected children’s happiness.

Although children and young people were not asked directly about the cost of living for the report, Children’s Society staff reported hearing worries from young people about not being able to eat or access WiFi or a phone at home.

The number of girls unhappy with their appearance has also continued to grow: it is nearly one in five now, compared with one in seven a decade ago.

Young people were also asked about how they coped with the restrictions of the pandemic, including the closure of schools. Eleven per cent said that they did not cope well.

The Children’s Society has called for swift government action in response to the findings to rebalance the curriculum, tackle toxic cultures causing children to feel unhappy with their appearance, and protect children from the cost-of-living crisis by increasing child benefit and widening eligibility for free school meals.

Pressure on children at school must be reduced, as “high stakes” GCSE exams were no longer relevant for young people staying on to 18; and access to mental-health support teams must be widened and sped up, the report recommends.

The chief executive at the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, said: “It is desperately worrying that children’s well-being is in this state of decline, with huge numbers unhappy with school and thousands of girls struggling with the way they look.

“Right now, the negative effects of the cost-of-living crisis, the disruption of the pandemic to young people’s education, and the ongoing decline in children’s happiness are on a collision course. School is a vital setting to influence children’s well-being, but they need more support, as the reality of what’s facing children and the lack of a holistic response is a national scandal.

“We need a faster roll-out of mental-health support teams in schools, alongside early support hubs in every local community, and there needs to be more support for children whose families are struggling to make ends meet, with free school meals available to all children on Universal Credit. There is nowhere to hide from the ensuing well-being catastrophe unless urgent action is taken.”


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