The stress and uncertainty of repeatedly packing up their lives and moving home is becoming a worryingly normal part of life for some children growing up in poverty, a new report from The Children’s Society has found.
The charity’s new three-year study ‘Growing up in Hard Times’, produced in partnership with the University of Bath, follows the lives of 60 children, giving a child’s-eye view of growing up in poverty in Britain today. Moving house multiple times emerged as one of the key themes from interviewing children, with one nine year old having moved home at least eight times and attended four schools.
One 11 year old boy in the study said: “I’m just thinking why couldn’t they let us live in one place instead of keep moving around… if we stay there for two, three, four months then we have to start packing again, then we have to leave, unpack. Yes, it just keeps going like that.”
Children in the report were found to be shouldering many of the burdens of growing up in poverty: making long journeys to school, having to stay indoors in unsafe neighbourhoods and struggling to sustain important friendships after moving area or school.
The divisions between poor children and their peers became more marked at secondary school. There, some children, particularly teenage boys, spoke of going hungry as their free school meals money fell short of their needs. Children also reported being punished for breaking school rules on uniform and other equipment because their family couldn’t afford the right kit.
Far from being too young to understand their families’ money worries, children instead were found to be keenly aware. Children said they didn’t want to ask their parents for money or items they needed because they knew their parents had little to spare. One nine year old girl said she and her brothers took it in turns to beg strangers or friends and family for money when family finances reached breaking point.
Talking about money in her family, one 11 year old girl said: “If my friends say ‘can I stop at yours tonight?’ and my mum says yes but then they say ‘will you ask your mum if you can buy loads of munches for us so we can like have a proper munch out’ and then I say ‘yes of course I’ll ask her, I’ll go ask her’ and then I’ll walk downstairs, sit downstairs, watch TV for five minutes then come back and tell them that I’ve asked her and she said no… because I don’t really want to ask her for loads of things, because if she says no, I’m going to feel bad.”
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “The heart-breaking testimonies of children in this report offer a glimpse into the harsh realities of life for the 4 million children growing up in poverty in the UK.
“Moving from place to place, living in neighbourhoods where they are frightened to go outside, and travelling for hours to get to school are pressures that no child should have to deal with. Yet for some of the children we interviewed, these have become normal parts of their lives. This lack of stability and security is hugely damaging to children’s wellbeing and could have long term repercussions for their mental health.”
The charity is calling for the government to ensure that financial support for housing costs increases in line with local rents for families who are renting privately, to help poorer families secure their children’s homes over the long term.