Nearly 1 in 5 children aged 10-17 in the UK – the equivalent of 1.1m – have reported being unhappy with their lives as a whole during the coronavirus lockdown according to a survey by The Children’s Society.
The charity’s annual survey of children’s well-being was completed by just over 2,000 young people and their parents between April and June.
It found 18 per cent of children were dissatisfied with their lives overall. That is a marked increase in a figure which has ranged from 10 per cent to 13 per cent over the last five years.
The Children’s Society says the coronavirus crisis and lockdown is likely to explain the worrying surge. Its report, Life On Hold, also found that half of parents (50%) expected coronavirus to harm their children’s happiness over the coming year.
It found that, while for the last two years more children reported being unhappy with school than with nine other aspects of their lives, this year more young people said they were unhappy with the amount of ‘choice’ they have. When parents and their children were asked questions about the impact of coronavirus, nearly half (46%) of parents reported their child was unhappier with how much choice they have in their lives due to the pandemic.
The crisis also appears to have had a real impact on children’s relationships with friends and family. Children reported that the aspects of coronavirus they struggled to cope most with were being unable to see friends (37%) and family (30%).
Despite this, a majority of children (84%) said they had coped to some extent with the impact of the pandemic overall. Girls reported coping less well than boys with being unable to see friends, school or college closures and exam cancellations.
The Children’s Society also held virtual consultations with 150 young people aged 8-19, asking them whether coronavirus had changed how they felt about the future.
One 15-year-old boy said: ‘It’s quite scary because you can die from it. I’m scared that the school has closed down. I’m worried about my exams next year. I need my exams to get a job.’
An 18-year-old said: ‘People aren’t really understanding things like how much stress this is putting on some people, because I’m really anxious about this all the time, my dad is really anxious about this all the time.’
The survey found fears about the financial impact of coronavirus among parents – and evidence that children in poverty were more worried during lockdown.
Nearly 2 in 3 parents (63%), said adults in the household had worked less. Almost half (49%) said family income had reduced and 11% said an adult in their household had lost their job. A higher proportion of young people in poverty stated they were ‘very worried’ about Coronavirus than those not in poverty (23% compared to 15%). Overall, 9 in 10 of all children (89%) said they were worried to some extent about coronavirus.
Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society, said: “Children’s lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus crisis and these worrying findings suggest it has already harmed the happiness and well-being of many young people.
“They have been left unable to attend school or see friends and relatives, while at the same time being trapped at home with parents and siblings who may have their own worries and anxieties about the situation.
“Even before the pandemic, children’s happiness with life was at its lowest for a decade and we know there is a link between low well-being and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
“Urgent action is needed now as we recover from coronavirus to reset how we support children’s well-being and prevent this crisis harming a whole generation of young people.
“That must mean introducing measurement of children’s well-being, support as they return to school, a properly funded early intervention strategy and better financial support for low-income families.”
The Children’s Society is calling for:
- National measurement of children’s well-being to help inform plans to make a positive difference – as it does already for young people aged over 16 and adults.
- A review of schooling by the Department for Education to ensure pupils’ well-being is considered not just in the short-term as schools re-open – but becomes a permanent priority underpinning all aspects of school life including the National Curriculum, exams and behaviour management.
- More investment in open-access community mental health services where children can get support with their emotional well-being. This should be part of an early intervention strategy backed by dedicated local grants.
- Better financial support for low-income families; for instance, £10 per week increases in child benefit, the child element of child tax credit and Universal Credit; scrapping the benefit cap and two-child limit; tackling the five-week wait for Universal Credit by offering advance payments as grants rather than loans.