Posted: 08 November 2019

Putting well-being at the top of the political agenda

With the public going to the polls on 12 December for a general election, we believe that now is the time for all political parties to put children’s well-being at the very heart of their programmes for government.  We need to make sure the voices of children and young people are heard.

Read our letter to the leaders of Britain's political parties.

Children are less happy than they were in 2009

We have been researching children’s subjective well-being for the past 14 years. This research is about listening to children and young people, taking their views and seriously and responding to them.

But, worryingly our research shows that children’s well-being has been in decline since 2009 and our Good Childhood Report 2019 estimates that there are almost a quarter of a million young people are now unhappy with their lives.

It’s time to change

Low levels of well-being, rising mental ill-health, decreased investment in children’s services, increased levels of serious violence and exploitation affecting young people – the evidence is clear: we need to start thinking differently about how we support children and young people to thrive. It’s crucial that we are able to properly listen to and understand the lives of children.

That’s why we are joining the call to introduce national measurement of children’s well-being.  Along with over 50 leaders from a wide-range of sectors, we have written to the leaders of the political parties calling on them to commit introducing national measurement of children’s well-being in their programmes for government.

Re-committing to young people

Understanding children’s well-being provides important insights that can be used to improve childhood and provides an evidence base on which to develop new forms of support for long-term and sustainable change. Without the data and insight needed to make real change, we are just stumbling around in the dark.

Currently children’s well-being is measured in an ad hoc manner. This is compared to a quarterly data about adult well-being. It is clear that children and young people are being short-changed.

We need to really listen, respond and show young people they matter. We call on all political parties to re-commit to young people.

Read our open letter to the leaders of Britain's political parties.

An open letter to the leaders of Britain's political parties

This General Election marks a watershed moment in British Politics. There are big decisions that need to be made: decisions that will impact our society now and long into the future.

In this crucial election campaign, it is our fear that the voices of our children and young people will be drowned out. We cannot afford to make such a costly mistake. The UK’s annual ‘Good Childhood Report’ finds that since 2009, the well-being of our children and young people has been in decline. Compared to most other OECD nations, our young people are significantly less happy and more stressed than their international peers. Britain’s youth are growing up in hard times.

Rising mental ill-health, alarming levels of serious violence and exploitation affecting young people, declining social mobility, rising obesity levels, and decreasing physical activity levels all impact our children and young people detrimentally; the social contract between young people and adults appears increasingly broken.

Unhappy children are likely to become unhappy adults, with dire consequences for our nation. If we are to ensure the well-being of all our citizens we need to start taking children’s well-being seriously – in our schools, social work, youth services and in our NHS.

But significant underinvestment in how we measure and understand children’s well-being undermines all our efforts to improve things for young people. Without the data and insight needed we are just stumbling around in the dark.

That is why we, the undersigned, call on each political party to commit to establishing the annual measurement of children’s well-being in schools and to put children’s well-being firmly at the heart of policy development and spending decisions.

We call on all political parties to re-commit to young people. Their lives are this country’s long-term investment. Their well-being is our greatest asset. It’s time we started taking them seriously.

Lord Gus O’Donnell

David Gregson, The Gregson Family Foundation

Mark Russell, The Children’s Society

Bishop Libby Lane, Bishop of Derby


John Allan CBE, Tesco PLC

Sarb Bajwa, British Psychological Society

Tim Boyes, Birmingham Education Partnership

Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, Social Policy Research Unit, University of York

Julie Bentley, Action for Children

Mike Buchanan, IPEN UK Europe

Samantha Butters, Fair Education Alliance

Professor Paul Bywaters, University of Huddersfield

Sir Kevan Collins, Education Endowment Foundation

Chris Curling, Member, Venturers Trust

Paul Drechsler CBE, Teach First

Richard Dunne, The Harmony Project Education Lead

Adele Eastman, Farrer & Co

Kathy Evans, Children England

Paul Farmer, Mind

Anna Feuchtwang, National Children’s Bureau

Michael de Giorgio, Greenhouse Sports Centre

Andy Gill, British Association of Social Workers

Kiran Gill, The Difference

Sabah Gilani, Better Community Business Network

Julia Grant, Pro Bono Economics

Mary Rose Gunn, The Fore

Nancy Hey, What Works Centre for Wellbeing

Dr Carol Homden, Coram

Sarah Hughes, Centre for Mental Health

Professor Neil Humphrey, University of Manchester

Lesley Jones, Chair of the Greater Manchester Directors of Public Health Group on behalf of the 10 Directors of Public Health

Javed Khan, Barnardo’s

Lord Jim Knight

Andrew Law, Caxton Associates and Law Family Educational Trust

Professor Lord Richard Layard, London School of Economics

Professor Lee Elliot Major, Exeter University

Baroness Molly Meacher

Baroness Estelle Morris

Essie North, Big Change

Ali Oliver, Youth Sport Trust

Jo Owen, Future Perfect Education Commission

Dr Tara Porter, Clinical Psychologist, Mental Health Columnist tes

Gwyther Rees, Social Policy Research Unit, University of York

John Rendel, Peter Cundill Foundation

Joanne Roney, Manchester City Council

Angela Salt, Girlguiding

Jenny Scott, Apella

Sir Anthony Seldon, University of Buckingham

Nat Sloane, The Pause

Sir Martin Smith, The Smith Institute

James Timpson, Timpson Group

Emma Thomas, YoungMinds

Dr Rachel H. Tribe, MAC-UK

James Turner, Sutton Trust

Peter Wanless, NSPCC

James Wetz, Fellow of Centre for Social Policy/Co-Founder Consortium for Emotional Well-being in Schools

Dr Mark Williamson, Action for Happiness

Dr Hadyn Williams, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

By Charlotte Rainer - Policy team

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