NEW RESEARCH from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) shows that it is not only parents who are feeling the struggles of poverty but also children themselves. More than three in four parents (79 per cent) worry about not having enough money to provide for their family with nearly two thirds of children (65 per cent) also reporting financial worries, putting the innocence and magic of childhood in jeopardy.

CPAG has launched a short film illustrating the experiences of a child isolated by poverty and going without. Faced with an empty lunch box, he imagines a fantastical feast with friends. CPAG’s survey reveals that beyond food, families at the sharp end are having to jettison much of what makes up the quality of children’s lives.

The research conducted by Child Poverty Action Group surveyed 1,146 UK adults aged 18+ receiving means-tested benefits such as universal credit, and 332 children aged 14-17 years old in, or at risk of being in child poverty. The findings show the extent to which both parents and children are worrying about whether they can manage and what children are having to live without – from warmth in cooler months to extracurricular activities and chances to have fun with friends.

CPAG found 65 per cent of children surveyed worry about their family not having enough money. Parents try to hide how stressful things are financially from their children (72 per cent of parents said this), but the problem is so acute that children pick up on this stress concealment. Two thirds (68 per cent) of children realise their parents are trying to hide how stressful things are from them.

Similarly, while 44 per cent of parents believe their children also feel upset or angry about how difficult life is due to a lack of money, the actual figure is higher with over half (56 per cent) of children saying that they feel this way. This may be, at least in part, because more than half (56 per cent) of children are worried that their family’s lack of money will affect their future opportunities as an adult. Parents share this concern, with two thirds of parents saying they are concerned about the long-term prospects of their children.

Over half of parents are worried about how a lack of money affects their children’s mental health (56 per cent), and just over half worry about the impact on children’s physical health (51 per cent). Almost a third of parents (30 per cent) say their children are getting a poor night’s sleep at least once a week due to family budgets.  Both parents and children are worried about prospects at school: Fifty-six per cent of parents and 49 per cent of children are worried that having less money makes it difficult for them to keep up at school.

Children are missing out on a range of important social interactions, specifically because of a lack of money. Over half of parents (58 per cent) say their children miss out on socialising / going out with friends because of a lack of money, with 50 per cent saying they miss out both on having friends round to their home, and going to friends’ parties.

Most poignant of all, both parents and children felt they missed out on the ordinary joys of life: days out (76 per cent parents and 78 per cent children); being able to buy things their friends have (76 per cent/78 per cent); trips to the cinema (75 per cent/73 per cent); family holidays (72 per cent/72 per cent); outings where there are transport costs (75 per cent/72 per cent); small treats (66 per cent/64 per cent) taking part in extra-curricular activities (70 per cent/65 per cent); and toys and games (66 per cent/62 per cent).

The findings show that the rising cost of living is taking its toll with over half (55 per cent) of children reporting they have had to deal with being cold at home because of the rising cost of heating, and 56 per cent of parents saying the price of food makes it difficult to ensure their children have healthy balanced meals. In addition, 46 per cent of parents say their children have had to wear clothes not suitable for the weather.

Across a range of child poverty-related issues explored in the research, the vast majority (80 per cent or more in each case) reported that the problems they face are persisting or getting worse.

More than four in five (85 per cent) of parents say that the UK Government needs to do more to help families struggling with money to have an acceptable standard of living, and three quarters of parents specifically say that the UK Government needs to provide more financial support to families.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Poverty is snatching the joy from children’s lives. Our findings show that children are facing a barrage of worries instead of experiencing the magic of childhood. This is no way for a child to grow up. Already 4.2 million children are in poverty and the number is expected to rise. We are calling on the UK’s leaders to commit now to getting more money to families with the least – before more young hopes are dimmed. We can all imagine better than this – we know what the solutions are, and they start with removing two policies that have been causing harm: the two-child limit and benefit cap. And then investing in children by increasing child benefit by £20 a week, and rolling out free school meals for all pupils.”

Delyth Bowen, Strategic Pastoral Support Lead at Stoke Heath Primary school in Coventry, comments: “We see children coming to school hungry and you can’t learn without food in your tummy.  So something needs to be done. In school we try to avoid asking children what they did in the holidays now, because some families just don’t have money for public transport to go places – so children’s opportunities and life experiences are being affected.

* Find out more about Child Poverty Action Group’s Imagine campaign and watch the film here.

* Source: Child Poverty Action Group