Mental health and wellbeing have become among the most talked about issues of the last couple of years. Yet it took a worldwide pandemic to move the conversation from being one that was relatively muted before 2020 to one that is now widely recognised as being of critical importance.
The impact of COVID-19 on people’s wellbeing and mental health quickly became all too clear to see. In fact, the World Health Organisation has reported that on a global scale incidences of anxiety and depression saw a 25 per cent increase in just 12 months.
As the conversation around mental health and wellness issues continued to evolve so too did our general awareness of the causes – or triggers – for people of all ages and every stage of their lives. One such study captured our attention as it is very much linked to the work we do here at St John’s Foundation.
In November 2022, researchers at the University of Exeter managed to prove a link between child poverty and an individual’s sense of mental health and wellness in later life.
They found that the financial circumstances of a child are “significantly linked to their sense of well-being once they reached the age bracket of 41–65.” Lead author Karyn Morrissey warned of the dire need to “address childhood poverty as a matter of urgency, to help benefit the cycle of mental health from one generation to the next.
She added: “The impact of financial hardship in childhood on wellbeing in adulthood found in this study is particularly concerning as levels of child poverty increase in the UK.” We agree.
Both a plethora of research coupled with our own experience of working with those families in most need throughout BaNES shows us is that a child’s diet has a direct impact on their behaviour, academic attainment, and future life prospects. Yet child poverty is anything but an issue of the past, it is very much part of our present and future.
Indeed, data provided by BaNES Council reveals the extent of the challenge being faced, which highlights that in the year 2019/20, 1 in 5 (20 per cent) of children and young people in BaNES were technically living in ‘absolute’ poverty – that’s around 6,000 people under the age of 15 years.
More worrying is what is expected to come in 2023. Current estimates suggest that a worsening cost of living crisis will likely push more than 1.3 million people UK-wide into poverty – 4,000 of whom are based in BaNES and almost 1 in 3 (1,500) of which are children.The impact of this is not just in the here and now, it is long lasting. In March 2022, figures adapted from a Resolution Foundation study indicate, for BaNES, a 28 per cent attainment gap at Reception age between those children who receive free school meals and those who don’t – this is some 10 per cent worse than the national average.
The overall picture suggests that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 children in the UK right now are living in poverty. At St John’s Foundation, we are working with local stakeholders who share our commitment and determination to eradicate child poverty for good and in doing so help ensure a better, brighter future for the next generation.