30 Mar 2016

Young people living in poverty are less likely to feel optimistic about the future and more likely to think of themselves as failures than their wealthier classmates, a report by The Children’s Society reveals.

The report, which also finds poorer children are more likely than their richer peers to say that they do not feel useful, highlights the growing body of evidence linking poverty to unhappiness and mental health problems.

Analysis of survey data finds that almost a third (29%) of 16-19-year-olds growing up in poverty do not feel optimistic about the future, compared with about one fifth (22%) of their more affluent peers.

A similar gap can be found in the proportions of poorer children who say they feel like a failure (20%) compared with wealthier children (14%). A difference is also evident in the proportion of young people who say they “don’t feel useful” – 22% of children in poverty compared with 18% who are not in poverty.

The Children’s Society’s report, Poor Mental Health: The Links Between Child Poverty and Mental Health Problems, sets out how children’s mental health and wellbeing can be impacted by debt, poor housing, unemployment, isolation and poor access to services.

It also reveals that only one in ten mental health trusts currently treat children in poverty as a priority group for access to mental health services.

The Children’s Society, which runs services for young people with mental health problems, is warning that a projected increase in child poverty in the coming years could lead to an increase in demand for child and adolescent mental health services, which are already struggling to cope.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “Evidence shows that children who live in poverty are exposed to a range of risks that can have a serious impact on their mental health, including debt, poor housing and low income. Yet despite this, Government and health trusts are failing to recognise children in poverty as a vulnerable group for mental health problems.

“Indeed, by cutting support for low income families the Government risks further entrenching the impact of poverty on the mental health of children across the country and perpetuating the cycle. It’s time children in poverty were given the support they need.”

The Children’s Society has said all schools should make counsellors available to better address the needs and problems of young people who face a number of pressures, including those created by family poverty.

Last year, separate research by The Children’s Society found that children with serious mental health problems are being forced to wait on average 66 days, and up to five months in some cases, to get help as specialist services struggle to cope with rising demand.

Media enquiries

For more information or an interview, please call The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422 or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Notes to Editors

• The full report is available here: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-we-do/resources-and-publications/poor-mental-health-the-links-between-child-poverty-and-mental

• Statistics on children’s wellbeing are from an original analysis of the Understanding Society dataset, which allowed us to draw a direct comparison between the well-being of 16 to 19 year olds living in poverty and those from more affluent backgrounds.

• The statistic on mental health trusts’ treatment of children in poverty comes from analysis of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests sent in April 2015 to 54 providers of specialist mental health services.

• The Children’s Society is a national charity that runs local services, helping children and young people when they are at their most vulnerable, and have nowhere left to turn. We also campaign for changes to laws affecting children and young people, to stop the mistakes of the past being repeated in the future. Our supporters around the country fund our services and join our campaigns to show children and young people they are on their side.