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Cost-of-living crisis adds to children’s worries, survey finds

20 September 2023

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MILLIONS of children as young as ten are most worried about not having enough money for their future, the annual Good Childhood report from the Children’s Society estimates.

The report, published on Wednesday, is based largely on a survey of 2001 children (aged ten to 17) and their parent or carer, conducted by the Anglican charity between May and June. Of these, more than one third (37 per cent) said that they were either “very” or “quite” worried about having enough money in the future. If that percentage is applied to the whole population, it would suggest that about 2.3 million young people share such worries.

For the first time, the survey included a question on concerns about the cost of living. This proved to be more worrying to children than the environment. Almost half (46 per cent) were either very or quite worried about rising costs, compared with 37 per cent about the environment.

Other worries listed in order of concern were: crime (33 per cent); new illnesses/pandemics, inequality, and online safety (all 30 per cent); homelessness (26 per cent); unemployment (25 per cent); and the refugee crisis (22 per cent).

General happiness and well-being were also measured. Ten per cent of the children and young people surveyed scored below the midpoint on a multi-item measure of overall satisfaction, and could therefore be considered to have low overall well-being, the Children’s Society reports.

Fewer than 40 per cent felt positive (either “very” or “quite”) about the future of the country or the world (38 per cent and 36 per cent respectively), and 43 per cent — the population equivalent of 2.7 million — felt “not very” or “not at all” positive about this. Nineteen per cent of all respondents answered “not sure” or “prefer not to say” to these questions.

The Good Childhood report also analyses data from the annual Understanding Society study, part of the longitudinal household survey of children, aged ten to 15, from 2020 to 2021, to further understand levels of happiness among children.

In comparison with ten years before, the study suggests, this age group were significantly less happy with their friends, appearance, school and schoolwork, and their life as a whole. Family was the only aspect of life where there had been no significant change as a cause of children’s mean happiness.

The report states: “Reassuringly, most children did not feel unhappy (or score below the midpoint of the scale) about any of the six aspects of their life. But about a quarter (24.3 per cent) of children did feel unhappy with at least one aspect of their life.”

Home life was most important. “In 2023, children and young people being unhappy with their family had the strongest association with being unhappy with their life as a whole.”

In its conclusions, the Good Childhood report states: “Those children and young people who worried about how much money their family had were more likely to be unhappy than those without financial worries with all the different aspects of their life that they were asked about (and particularly with their home, money and possessions, and the amount of choice they have).”

Based on the Understanding Society study, it also concludes: “The wellbeing of girls needs more attention,” and: “Children in families who are struggling financially are more likely to be unhappy with school — another finding which will resonate given the current rises to the cost of living.”

The Children’s Society makes three recommendations to the Government: first, to protect children from the crisis by improving social security through child benefits, increasing the child element of Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit, and removing the two-child limit; second, to increase stability in children’s futures by creating Cabinet-level posts of Minister for Children in both the UK and Welsh governments; and, third, to focus on prevention, by measuring “children’s subjective wellbeing at least annually and on a much larger national scale across England and Wales”.

The charity’s chief executive, Mark Russell, said on Wednesday: “The last few years have been extremely tough, and life is just too hard for too many children. It is a national scandal that children’s happiness continues to slide. It is really shocking that almost half of all young people feel gloomy about the state of our world, because we know they feel deeply about the future and have a deep sense of justice.

“The need for improving children’s well-being is urgent. . . We need real leadership from government to turn this around.”

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