Posted: 30 March 2016

We all need to keep poverty in mind

Last year we revealed that children with serious mental health problems are being forced to wait up to five months to get the help they need.

Our latest report, ‘Poor Mental Health: the links between child poverty and mental health problems’, looks at some of the different risks that children in poverty are exposed to that have the potential to have a negative effect on their mental health. 

The evidence is there 

The association between living in poverty and the development of mental health problems in adults is well established. 

However, while there is evidence that demonstrates the nature of the relationship between children's mental health and growing up in poverty, this is not reflected in policy and practice.

In the report we reference clear findings that suggest being born into poverty can increase the risk of mental health problems in children and young people, and this can have long-term consequences for educational outcomes and social relationships. 

Our own findings back this up

For our research we analysed the Understanding Society survey, a longitudinal data set that covers areas such as income, housing, health and well-being.

This showed that there is an association between older adolescents living in poverty and their emotional well-being.

For instance, the way that children and young people view themselves and the way that they feel about their future prospects both have significant correlations with living in poverty. Low well-being indicators such as these are known to be associated with the likelihood of developing mental health problems.

However, our Freedom of Information request to NHS Mental Health Trusts showed a low level of recognition of how poverty can affect children’s mental health outcomes.

Only 11% of providers identify children in poverty as a vulnerable group.

Information about a family’s financial and social history is collected during the referral process, but isn’t currently used to its full potential to inform decision-making about prioritising access.

And child poverty is set to rise even further

What makes this all the more concerning is that child poverty is set to increase over the next five years.

Both our research and the Institute for Fiscal Studies's has set out the potentially devastating impact of cuts in financial support for families.

Families living in poverty  will face increasingly stark choices between issues such as heating their child’s bedroom, providing them with a hot meal, or buying them a new school uniform.

The Government is in the process of introducing a large number of changes affecting benefits, tax credits, income tax liabilities, and earnings. The combination of this reduction in support raises real concerns about the potential negative impact on children’s mental health linked to the increase in the number of children living in poverty.

What we want to see happen

We believe that there is a role for government, CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) providers and schools to better understand and recognise the impact of growing up in poverty on the wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.

By doing this, we can make progress towards providing better support for disadvantaged children and young people.

This would allow them to access the help they need, when they need it, providing them with better chances in life as they transition into adulthood.

We will work with these different agencies so that the evidence set out in our report is used as effectively as possible.

Read the report 

By David Ayre - Policy team
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