30 Jul 2020

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.”

Changes needed

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.


Media enquiries 

For more information, please contact The Children’s Society’s media team on 0207 8414422 or media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508. 

Notes to editor 

  • You can read the full report here.
  • This report draws on findings from The Children’s Society’s annual household survey conducted between April 28 and June 8 with just over 2,000 parents and their child aged 10-17 from all four nations of the UK. These children were selected to closely match the demographic and socio-economic makeup of the wider population, and were spread across geographic regions.
  • The report also draws on a consultation with 150 children and young people between April 21 and June 19 on how they felt about lockdown and the impact on their future. In total, we received digital submissions from over 150 young people aged between 8 and 19 years from schools, youth groups and The Children’s Society’s projects in England. The consultation also asked children what tips they would offer other young people on how to cope. Many were conscientious about urging their peers to follow Government public health advice like washing hands and social-distancing, but the most popular advice was around staying connected with friends and family.
  • The finding that 18% of children are not satisfied with their lives is based upon a measure within The Children’s Society’s Good Childhood Index called Huebner’s Students’ Life Satisfaction scale (Huebner, 1991). It draws on children’s collated responses (on a five point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree) to five items: My life is going well; My life is just right, I wish I had a different kind of life; I have a good life; and I have what I want in life. These answers were allocated scores of 0-4 (4 being strongly agree, 0 strongly disagree for all items except for ‘I wish I had a different kind of life’ where scoring is reversed) which were then added together to give scores out of 20. Children were deemed to be dissatisfied with their lives if they scored below the mid-point of 10 out of 20.
  • For the questions to children about how they had coped with coronavirus, they were asked to give a score out of 10 for how well they had coped with various aspects of the pandemic, with 10 indicating they had coped very well, and 0 that they had not coped very well.
  • A greater proportion of girls than boys scored below the mid-point of 5 for how they coped with school/college closures (22% girls - 15% boys), exam cancellations (19% - 13%) and being unable to see friends (42% - 32%)
  • A household in relative poverty is defined as one in which equivalised income is less than 60% of the median of that for the sample for our 2020 household survey. ‘Equivalised income’ takes into account differences in the household size, and is based on the OECD modified equivalence scale.
  • The Children’s Society’s main 2020 Good Childhood Report will this year be published on Friday 28 August.


Other key findings included:

-        20% of parents said family members had self-isolated during the pandemic

-        8% of parents said they had experienced a close family bereavement

-        91% of parents said their children had been at home when they were usually in education

-        21% of parents said their child (who completed the survey) was unhappier with money and things, 43% said their child was unhappier with school, 34% said their child was unhappier about the future and 40% said their child was unhappier with time use (although 26% said they were happier with time use)

-        In the Good Childhood Index scores for children’s happiness with different aspects of life,  11% of children were unhappy with their friendships (giving a score of below 5 out of 10), compared to proportions of between 3% and 6% in our five previous surveys.

Young people’s quotes (these are drawn from our consultation)

‘I think it’s caused a real decline in mental health for a lot of young people and a lot of people’s parents are noticing.’ Young person, 18.

‘It has worried the years that have started GCSE’s such as Y9 and 10. It has put enormous amounts of pressure on us and makes us anxious that we won’t achieve the grades we could of.’ Female, 14

‘Because we don't know anything about the future anymore. Before all this we didn't know much about the future but at least we had some ideas of what was going to happen.’ Female, 13 

‘For me Coronavirus has given me more negative thoughts for the future.’ Female, 15

‘I actually feel a lot more grateful about things now - things I took granted for before that have now been taken away from me.’ Female, 14 

‘It's given me a whole new perspective on life. I realise now that I can't take advantage of everyday things. You don't know how much you’re going to miss something when it's gone. Especially friends, and the ability to go out.’ Female, 12

Young people were also asked what advice they would offer their peers on how to cope during the pandemic:

‘If you can try and FaceTime as often as you can with your friends because personally it really comforts me. It isn’t the same as seeing them in person but you are still seeing them.’ Female, 11

‘Talk about how you are feeling. Do something nice for yourself and try and take your mind off it.’ Female, 14

‘Be vocal about your problems. Don’t be scared to say stuff to people around you.’ Male, 13

‘There were a lot of people who were nearly burnt out, they were working at full blast and they really couldn’t handle it and so this has given them a chance to have a break. Like for some of my friends this came at like the best time possible for them, because we’re this close to just snapping because there’s so much work being put on us all the time, especially students.’ 18 year old

‘2m apart from anyone you do not live with. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds a few times a day. Use hand santizer if soap not available. Put used tissues in the bin. Wash your hands as soon as you get home.If you can wear something that covers your nose and mouth (Coronovirus mask basically looks like a surgery mask).’ Male, 15

‘They should make sure that they are following what their government says.’ Male, 11

The Children’s Society Emergency Coronavirus Appeal: Give a child a lifeline 

The Coronavirus crisis has put vulnerable children in even more danger. Lockdown means they are hidden from view and trapped at home, at risk of abuse and neglect and without the vital support they need. The Children's Society offers some children their only lifeline. Please help by donating to its emergency Coronavirus Appeal. 

Donate today, online at: www.childrenssociety.org.uk/lifeline