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Almost 250,000 children unhappy with life, report finds

The Children's Society's annual Good Childhood report reveals children's happiness at lowest point since 2009

Published on 30th August 2019

Almost a quarter of a million children in the UK are unhappy with their lives as a whole, The Children's Society has warned.

The children's charity produces an annual Good Childhood report which explores the state of children's wellbeing in the UK.

However, this year's report shows that children’s happiness with life is at its lowest since 2009 with 219,000 children reportedly unhappy with their lives. Issues around boys’ appearance, friendships and school are cited as potential driving factors.

Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society said: "Modern childhood is a happy and carefree time for most, yet for too many it is not. It is a national scandal that children’s unhappiness is increasing so quickly.  

“Today’s young people are becoming progressively unhappy with their friendships – one of the fundamental building blocks of well-being – as well as appearance and school. Children are also burdened with fears ranging from worrying about the future, not having enough money to not feeling safe at school and bullying. Many young people tell us they feel side-lined and ignored by those in power. The Children’s Society is committed to listening to young people, and working with them to speak up and speak out, to enable every child to thrive not just survive."

The report found:

- Almost one in 12 boys or 180,000 (7.7%) aged 10-15 are unhappy with their appearance. Historically, boys have been happier with their appearance than girls but the gap is narrowing. 

- One in eight children (11.8%) are also unhappy with school, another key wellbeing measure, which is at its lowest since 2009.

- Evidence from year 10 students (mostly aged 14 and 15) suggested that bullying and not feeling safe at school are among a range of factors linked to low well-being.

- The research also found links between income poverty and financial strain and unhappiness with school. 

- Children’s happiness with their friendships is decreasing with 2.8% of children unhappy with their friends. The research suggests that this could be down to factors including bullying, being unable to spend time with friends outside of school, excessive social media use and loneliness.

- A third (33%) of 10-17 year olds have concerns about whether they will have enough money in the future, with more than a quarter (29%) worrying about having a job.

- Children as young as 10 are also worrying about broad societal issues with the most common worries among 10 to 17 year olds being crime (42%), followed by the environment (41%) and information sharing online (37%). Only about a fifth worried about the economy and Brexit.

The charity is urging the government to introduce national measurement of well-being for all children aged 11-18 to be undertaken through schools and colleges once a year, which would enable the experiences of young people to be recorded and issues acted upon for future generations.

Mark Russell concluded: "We are urging the government to introduce a national measurement of children’s well-being so we can really listen, respond and show young people they matter. Together we can build a brighter future and bring optimism and confidence back to being young.”

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: "Councils strive to make sure that every child gets the best start and is able to go on and live a healthy, safe and prosperous life, despite seeing more than 560 cases of children with mental health conditions every day – an increase of more than 50 per cent in just four years.

“Statutory PSHE classes in all secondary schools from 2020 will go some way to teach children and young people the importance of mental health, emotional wellbeing and resilience, as well as addressing issues such as bullying and online harms.

“However, significant funding pressures in children’s services and public health mean many councils are struggling to provide the support young people so desperately need. They are also being forced to cut some of the vital early intervention services, including youth services and school nurses, which can support children with low level mental health issues and avoid more serious problems in later life.

“It is absolutely vital that the government adequately funds these services in the Spending Round, so we can tackle this urgent crisis and make sure children get the help they need," she concluded.

The Good Childhood Report 2019

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