Research: A tenth of 14-year-olds blighted by poverty throughout their lives

According to new research by The Children’s Society, 1 in 10 children aged 14 in the UK have been blighted by poverty throughout their childhood.

New figures from the charity estimate that around 73,000 14-year-olds are living in persistent poverty. Analysis of the Millennium Cohort Study found 1 in 10 14-year-olds (10%) who took part in the research were from households living below the income poverty line on each of the six occasions when interviews for the study were conducted. This suggests that thousands of children have grown up knowing nothing but hard times, with their families struggling to pay the bills and provide basic items such as food, clothing, toys and books.

A further estimated 153,000, or around one in five (21%), 14-year-olds have grown up in homes experiencing intermittent poverty.

The charity is deeply concerned about the effects this could be having on young people’s wellbeing. The research found that, of the children who had experienced poverty at any of the six points considered between the ages of 0 and 14, one in eight (12%) had low life satisfaction, meaning they were unhappy with their life as a whole. One in six (16%) also had high symptoms of depression, such as feeling miserable or unhappy, like no-one really loves them, or that they did everything wrong.

In comparison, one in twelve (8%) of those children aged 14 who had never experienced income poverty were unhappy with their lives and one in eight (12%) had high depressive symptoms.

The Children’s Society has also looked at the well-being of children when their family is under financial strain. The survey asked parents how well they were managing financially, with responses ranging from living comfortably to finding it very difficult. 18% of families (an estimated 131,000 14 years olds in the UK) reported experiencing financial strain more than once across the six interviews.

Once again the results show children aged 14 years, who had any experience of financial strain, were unhappier with their lives and more likely to experience symptoms of depression than peers with no experience of financial strain. The proportions with low life satisfaction were 12% compared to 8% and high depressive symptoms were 17% compared to 12% respectively.

Mark Russell, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “It is scandalous to find out so many children have spent their entire lives growing up in poverty or live in families who regularly struggle to pay the bills and put food on the table. Something must change, especially as this research clearly shows that just one experience, no matter what age it happens, can have a detrimental effect on how satisfied a child feels with their life.

“We know the start of year is often an extra tough time for families and so it is vital the government makes a renewed commitment to cutting record high levels of child poverty and sets out a brand new action plan.

“We also believe the government need to look at ways to prevent families from falling into crisis. It is vital they commit to providing long term funding to local welfare assistance schemes. This means that if families do experience financial crisis they are not left with nowhere to turn and with the children left dealing with the long term consequences.”

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