Growing up in poverty can damage children’s well-being and their future life chances

Older teenage boy with a cap on looks to camera with houses in the background

We know that poverty has a devastating impact on children’s lives.

It can lead to children missing out on decent meals, sleeping in cold bedrooms and being bullied at school, as well as drastically reducing their future life chances.

What are the effects of poverty on children?

Children living in poverty are more likely to:

  • Have poor physical health
  • Experience mental health problems
  • Have a low sense of well-being 
  • Underachieve at school
  • Have employment difficulties in adult life
  • Experience social deprivation
  • Feel unsafe
  • Experience stigma and bullying at school.

Poverty and mental health

Children living in poverty are more likely to feel like a failure, and have a sense of hopeless about their future than their more affluent peers. And they have a more significant risk of developing mental health problems.

Low income, debt and poor quality housing put children’s mental health at risk. But there is a widespread lack of recognition about the impact that living in poverty can have on children’s mental health and well-being.

We are concerned that cuts to support for low income families, which are likely to significantly increase the number of children in poverty, could negatively impact on the mental health and well-being of children across the UK.

The Government needs to urgently reconsider the scale of cuts to benefits, in order to prevent more children being pushed into poverty and developing mental health problems.

The cost of school

At school, some children in poverty go hungry and face punishment for missing uniform or equipment their family simply can’t afford.

The cost of school is having a deep emotional impact on children, making them feel singled out, isolated and stigmatised. More than two-thirds of children living in the poorest families said they had been embarrassed because their parents couldn’t afford the cost of school life. More than a quarter had been bullied as a result.

Poverty and housing

Repeatedly packing up their lives and moving home has become a worryingly normal part of life for some children growing up in poverty in Britain today.

These children are shouldering many of the burdens of living with housing insecurity while parents struggle to make ends meet with low wages, poor housing, relationship problems and welfare cuts.


Debt can be damaging to children. Serious debt leaves families and young people feeling stressed, anxious and depressed. Children living in families struggling with debt are five times more likely to be unhappy than children in families who don’t have difficulty with debt.

Changes to support for families in poverty

We are concerned about cuts to support for low-income families.

We’re calling on the Government for a serious rethink of the policies which affect parents’ ability to provide for their children - like the four year benefits freeze, cuts to Universal Credit work allowances and two-child limit for Tax Credits and Universal Credit.

We estimate that three million children will be affected by the introduction of the 'two-child limit' to Child Tax Credit and Universal Credit. A nurse with three children, earning £23,000 a year who becomes a single parent, stands to lose £2,780 a year.