Mental health problems increasing among least advantaged children

Last year saw a significant rise in disadvantaged children living without basic essentials including food and a bed and a subsequent decline in their mental health, new data shows.

Buttle UK’s fifth annual State of Child Poverty report found that 60 per cent of disadvantaged children and young people were now living in destitution – where the basic physical needs of staying warm, dry, clean and fed are not met - up from 45 per cent the year before, an increase the children’s charity attributes to the rise in the cost of living.

Their survey of more than 1,200 frontline workers supporting more than 200,000 disadvantaged children found that the families of those children cannot afford the basics essential for good health. 57 per cent were unable to afford adequate food, 58 per cent were unable to afford gas and electricity, 49 per cent struggled with housing costs, 63 per cent did not have beds or other basic furniture, and 65 per cent did not have IT equipment for work or education.

Building blocks of health such as food and homes are key to living a healthy life. Without adequate nutrition, children are more likely to experience developmental issues that impact their education, while living in a cold and damp home with little access to warm water can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses. These health conditions are more likely to affect children for the rest of their lives and can significantly lower their life expectancy.

Lack of access to these basics has worsened the mental health of children and young people. Buttle’s report finds that 70 per cent of disadvantaged children experienced mental health problems such as anxiety or depression, up almost 20 per cent over the past three years.

Testimonies given as part of the research stated that the rising number of mental health problems coincides with a decrease in mental health support, with many more children going untreated making it more likely that problems continue into adulthood and throughout their lives, significantly increasing their chances of dying earlier.

With almost eight in ten adults reporting deteriorating mental health linked to the cost of living, and widespread burnout among the grassroots voluntary and community sector, children are more likely to experience unchecked mental health problems in the adults around them, whether parents, guardians or supporting organisations. This exposure perpetuates their own anxiety or depression, leading to greater feelings of isolation and making them increasingly unlikely to engage with or take part in the community around them, according to further testimony provided to Buttle.

People’s Health Trust is a member of Health Equals, a group of people and organisations who want equal opportunity for health and wellbeing, for everyone.

Read more about the cost of living crisis and health.

Read our blog on mental health and anxiety from our Chair of Trustees, Jenny Edwards CBE