Posted: 08 November 2011

Missing out: Young people on material deprivation, their well-being

Often when we talk about children lacking the necessities for a decent standard of life, it's based on parents’ perceptions, and young people’s own understandings are ignored. There is very little research into children’s perspectives of what it means to be deprived or poor.

In our report Missing out: A child centred analysis of material deprivation and subjective well-being, we attempt to fill this gap by asking children what matters to them most.

Missing out identifies the items and experiences that children say are necessary for a ‘normal kind of life’.

Family life in a material world

Our research, which we carried out with the University of York. found that ten items or experiences were most important to children. We call those things ‘a child centred index of material deprivation’.

Pocket money, savings, music players and clothes to ‘fit in’ are on the index, as are other consumer goods, such as a pair of brand-name trainers. But it is notable that the index also includes items such as a garden at home or a space nearby to play in, and a monthly trip or day out with family.

Results particularly suggest that children value financial autonomy. More than a third (37%) were not receiving pocket money, with just over one in five (22%) ‘missing out’ on it - in other words they wanted it but were not receiving it. Similarly, nearly one in five (18%) children were missing out on money to save.

The findings also show how much family matters to children as nearly one in five identified missing out on monthly trips or days out with their family and missing out on having at least one family holiday a year.

Items and experiences relate to happiness

But what does this mean for children’s well-being or life satisfaction?

Our research found that children who lacked two or more items or experiences were significantly more likely to be unhappy than those who lacked none, and children lacking five or more were over five times more likely to have low levels of well-being.

Overall, children’s subjective experiences of material deprivation were found to be three times more powerful at predicting their life satisfaction than more conventional measures of their material circumstances, such as household income.

Listening to children

It is critical that children’s voices are not left out when it comes to understanding deprivation and well-being. This is why we are asking the government to incorporate our findings on deprivation into how poverty is measured in national statistics, and by focusing on children’s well-being as a key outcome when making policy.

We are also calling on government to ensure that welfare support for the needs of children is paid to the main carer in the household, as this is the best way to ensure that it is spent as intended, on the needs of the children.

Every child deserves the best possible childhood, and this means a childhood where they have the basic items and experiences which enable them to feel socially included amongst their peers – to feel like they are not materially deprived or ’Missing out’.

By Enver Solomon, Policy Director at The Children's Society

By Enver Solomon - Policy team

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