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Almost a third of children in the UK worry about their family having enough money to live comfortably as cost of living crisis deepens

Monday 28 March 2022
Silhouette of sad teenage girl looking out the window on a cold autumn day

New research also shows most UK parents and grandparents believe childhood is getting worse – and over a third of children agree

  • In a revisit to its 2019 landmark report exploring childhood across three generations, leading charity Action for Children reveals the top challenges and worries children face growing up in the shadow of the pandemic amid a growing cost of living crisis.
  • Among the children surveyed from low-income backgrounds, nearly half (47%) worry about their family’s finances.
  • Children are now much more worried too about their own mental health – up from 29% in 2019 to 42% today, with a sharp rise in parents and grandparents recognising this as a growing issue.
  • Encouragingly, there is some optimism with over a third (38%) of children believing they will have a brighter future compared to when their parents were their age.
  • Action for Children is calling on the Government to produce a plan to reduce child poverty and take immediate action to support those on the lowest incomes by making sure benefits keep pace with the soaring cost of living.

A new report by Action for Children warns of the challenges facing children today, with almost a third of children (30%) worrying about their family having enough money to live comfortably as the cost of living crisis deepens.

With vast numbers of children concerned about ‘adult issues’ including family finances, most UK parents and grandparents fear childhood is getting worse – and just over a third of children agree.

Action for Children with YouGov polled three UK generations – quantitative surveys of over 5,000 children and adults - to explore the biggest issues affecting childhood post pandemic in a revisit of its landmark study from 2019.

Amongst the children surveyed from low-income backgrounds, nearly half (47%) said they worry about their family’s finances whilst only 14% of children from high income families agree. Experts warn[1] the UK could be facing the biggest income squeeze in nearly fifty years with rising fuel and food prices, with the growing conflict in Ukraine likely to push up living costs even further.

Top issues children identified as preventing them from fulfilling their potential are the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic (48%), too much pressure from school (46%) and poor mental health (41%).

Two years on from the first national lockdown, mental health is now a much bigger worry for children with less than a third (29%) of children seeing their own mental health as an issue in 2019, compared to 42% in 2022.

And parents and grandparents are now more attuned to their child or grandchild’s mental health than they were back in 2019. Then, only 17% of parents and 9% of grandparents recognised mental health as a worry – compared to nearly half (45%) and nearly a third (30%) of grandparents today.

Covering up a worry is common for children with nearly six in ten (57%) admitting to hiding worries from their parents. Again, parents appear more in tune, with 60% believing their child keeps their worries hidden from them – up significantly from 42% pre-pandemic in 2019.

Encouragingly though, children do feel more optimistic about their own prospects, with well over a third (38%) believing they will have a brighter future than their parents. Pessimism grows through the generations however, with parents (44%) and grandparents (46%) more than twice as likely than children (21%) to say their child or grandchild won’t have a brighter future.

The older generations and children were also clearly divided when it came to social media use. More than half of parents (56%) and grandparents (52%) felt that too much time spent on devices and social media would make it more difficult for children to fulfil their potential – only a third of children (33%) agree.

Case study

Suzanna, 53, (mum), Marissa, 13, (daughter) and Daphne, 76, (grandmother) live in St.Ives, Cornwall. Marissa was supported by an Action for Children young carers service as she looks after her mum who suffers with back problems following a car accident.

Suzanna said: ‘I’m 100 per cent sure that childhood is worse today than when I was young. Money is more of an issue now than it was back then - the price of housing, the cost of living, the wages where we live are so low.’ Suzanna is very concerned about the energy price hike.

She adds ‘Marissa is petrified by the war in Ukraine, she is frightened the fall-out will involve the rest of Europe and the frontline crisis will come to the UK.’

Marissa said: ‘Although some aspects of childhood are better today, it’ll be harder for me to get a job on the back of the pandemic. Being a girl can be terrifying, especially when you go out later in the day. I hear from my friends and the news about girls my age being followed... social media has brought a lot of things to light that makes it scary to go out.’

Climate change makes Marissa worried to the point that she often leaves the house with a bin bag to collect rubbish she finds. On the environment, she said: ‘With social media you can see what is happening, it’s really distressing, you feel alone, you feel like you are the only person who cares.’

Daphne believes the price of goods will make it harder for children to have a higher standard of living as it’s much easier to get into debt. ‘Costs are going up... there are more worries now about being able to afford a house. You have to leave the area you grew up in to get a job as there are no jobs for young people down here in the South-West.’

While Daphne thinks technological advantages have made it better for children who are well off, she thinks that for most young people, childhood is now more challenging. She adds: ‘There is nothing light-hearted about childhood nowadays. It was better when I was young, and we could play in the street. You can’t do that now.’

Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, said: ‘It is the fundamental responsibility of any government to make sure every generation of children has a better childhood and a brighter future than the last.

‘Day in, day out our frontline staff support children grappling to see how they fit into our complex world –navigating big issues including financial worries, climate change and the pandemic. Sadly, since we conducted our research, intensifying money worries and the war in Ukraine will leave children feeling the world is a gloomier place.

‘The likely fall-out of the Ukraine conflict with even higher energy bills and inflation rates not seen for a generation, is a double blow for low-income families, already locked in a crippling cost of living crisis. The pandemic also continues to hang heavy, and its impact will be felt long into children’s futures.

‘The government needs a clear plan to reduce child poverty and it can take immediate action to support those on the lowest incomes by making sure benefits keep pace with the soaring cost of living in the tough months ahead.’

The findings are published as Action for Children launches its new Star in Every Child campaign to help its key workers deliver life-changing support to vulnerable children and give them a bright future. To find out more visit actionforchildren.org.uk/star

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACT

For interview requests and more information please contact Emma Marshall on 07875 399 995 / [email protected]

Out of hours07802 806 679 / [email protected]

NOTES TO EDITORS

Action for Children protects and supports vulnerable children and young people by providing practical and emotional care and support, ensuring their voices are heard and campaigning to bring lasting improvements to their lives. With 512 services across the UK, in schools and online, in 2020/21 we helped 604,885 children, young people and families. actionforchildren.org.uk

Polling methodology: We commissioned three UK online surveys, run by YouGov:

  1. A survey of 2,073 children aged 11-18. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22 December 2021 and 5 January 2022.
  2. A survey of 2,115 parents of children aged 11 to 18. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23 December 2021 and 6 January 2022.
  3. A survey of 1,353 grandparents of children aged 11 to 18. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23 December 2021 and 6 January 2022

[1] The Living Standards Outlook 2022 • Resolution Foundation