At our Children and Young People Cost of Living Roundtable discussion yesterday (30 November), therapists told of the heartbreaking consequences the cost of living crisis is having on children due to worrying about their parent’s financial situations, attending school hungry, and their basic needs not being met.
Therapists also fear that the anxiety, stress, and uncertainty children face now due to the crisis will have a longer-term impact on their wellbeing and mental health. We believe that it's crucial that children have access to mental health support and early intervention counselling to help them develop coping skills, understand and explore their feelings, and to prevent issues from escalating in adulthood.
Speaking after the roundtable discussion - which saw school counselling services, third sector organisations, and private practice therapists from across the UK discuss the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on children’s and young people’s mental health - Jo Holmes, our Young People and Families Lead, said:
“We know that the cost-of-living crisis is having a profoundly damaging impact on the mental health of our nation, and we’re concerned that it’s affecting many children and young people too. We’ve heard from our school counsellor members that some children are coming to school hungry and worried about their parent’s financial situations, as their basic needs are not being met. They are also seeing more behavioural issues too as pressures all around are reaching boiling point.”
And with household disposable incomes per person being predicated to remain below pre-pandemic levels until at least 2027/28,1 Jo does not expect the mental of children to improve anytime soon.
“Worryingly, we don’t expect the situation to improve anytime soon as the cost-of-living crisis exacerbates the challenges already faced by children,” adds Jo. “The discussions we had at the event, together with emerging data, show that children are facing some extremely complex issues which, if not dealt with via improved investment and policies from the government to bring children out of poverty, will affect them in later life.
“We know counselling isn’t the magic bullet to end cost-of-living crisis issues, but it does provide a lifeline to those children who are hardest hit. The government needs to wake up and recognise this and provide dedicated mental health support in all our schools as the current situation is dire . Funding a paid counsellor in every school, academy, and FE college in England, as well as in early help hub settings based within local communities is absolutely essential. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all have government funded school counselling services - whereas England does not.
“The four walls of the counselling room provide a safe haven for these children - a place where their concerns are heard and a chance to help them develop coping skills to get through tough times. But we’re hearing that our counsellors, whose services are already over-stretched, are often unable to explore counselling as effectively as they normally would, as some children are so weighed down with their parents’ troubles that in some cases it’s taking an extra nuturing style sessions just to get to the point where counselling would normally start.
“Children have gone through so much already – from the pandemic to school closures, and many are living in a state of ‘what next?’ It’s clear that society is creating more worry for children and the anxiety we’re seeing is a natural response. If the economy is going well, the child feels more nurtured and safer. For some families nowadays, it’s about day-to-day survival.”
Gordon Knott, Director of Croydon Youth Information & Counselling Service, who attended the event, said:
“The evidence we have collected over decades continues to show that poor emotional health seriously impacts on children’s self-esteem, their ability to succeed in education, and adversely affects their future life chances. Without professional well-being support, families and children trying to navigate their way through all the post-covid issues and the adverse economic situation will continue to be seriously debilitated and fall through the net. In the pandemic we built hospitals in less than a week and housed the homeless overnight. We know what we need to do to protect our communities, so why aren’t we doing it?”
Mental health deteriorated
A recent report by the Children’s Society showed that one in five children are ‘always’ or ‘often’ worrying about how much money their family has, with a further half ‘sometimes’ worrying,2 and families in financial strain showed nearly two fifths of children to say they ‘always’ or ‘often’ worried about money.
New data from our recent members survey has also shown that three in four (72%) of therapists working with children under the age of 18 reported that children’s mental health has deteriorated compared to last year. Three out of four (73%) of our therapists working with children also saw an increase in generalised anxiety in the past year, and almost seven in 10 therapists witnessed an increase in self-esteem issues (69%), family issues (69%), and social anxiety (68%). Three in five therapists (62%) also cited an increase in children presenting with depression over the past year.
Yesterday’s event is one in a series of roundtable events to help us understand the impact the cost-of-living crisis on mental health on already vulnerable communities. Information from these events will be used to gather evidence and insight to produce a broader report about the recommendations and implications for the cost-of-living crisis for at risk groups. The report will be launched next year.
1. Office for Budget Responsibility, 2022
2. Children’s Society, Feeling the strain report
Understanding the cost of living impact: Roundtable meetings launched
Discussions include the key role counselling and psychotherapy has in supporting people during these difficult times
School counselling bill presented to Parliament
We hope this will lead to a Parliamentary debate on counselling in schools
One in five children and young people in England has mental health issue, NHS figures show
The Government must act now and invest in a school and community-based counselling for children and young people