Growing up in poverty detrimental to children’s friendships and family life

New research by the National Children’s Bureau and the Centre for Longitudinal Studies for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows the damaging impact growing up in deprived households can have on children’s friendships and family life.

The report found that children who had experienced poverty were more likely to have problems with relationships, including an increased likelihood of being bullied and fighting with their friends, and having less communicative relationships with friends and family. These problems can have an effect on how well children perform at school and their likelihood of finding a way out of poverty as adults.

Children who have experienced poverty, particularly persistent poverty, are:

  • More likely to be solitary. More than a third of children in persistent poverty were described as tending to play alone, compared to a quarter of children who have never experienced poverty.
  • Three times as likely to fall out with their friends ‘most days’ (9% of children in persistent poverty compared to 3% of those who had never experienced poverty).
  • Four times more likely to fight with or bully other children (16% of those in persistent poverty, compared to 4% of those who had never been poor). They are also more than twice as likely to report being bullied frequently themselves (12% compared to 5% of the never poor).
  • Less likely to talk to their friends about their worries (34% of those in persistent poverty, compared to 43% of those never poor).
  • More likely to spend time with their friends outside school. Half of children (50%) in persistent poverty say they see their friends outside school most days, compared with a third (35%) of children who had never been in poverty.

The report also finds that poverty is linked to variations in aspects of family relationships. Children who live in persistent poverty are just as likely as other children to say they are happy with their families, but:

  • Less likely to talk to someone at home about their worries (67% of those with persistent experience of poverty said that they would do so, compared with 74% of those never in poverty)
  • Less likely to talk to their mothers about things they cared about (58% of children in persistent poverty talked to them about such things (almost) every day, compared to 67% of never poor children).

Enver Solomon, Director of Evidence and Impact at the National Children’s Bureau said: “Having good friends and a happy family life is a cornerstone of positive childhood experiences, whether you grow up rich or poor. But our research confirms that living in persistent poverty is linked with factors that can undermine these relationships, with a higher risk of experiencing problems like bullying, falling out with friends or having difficulty confiding in others.

“Schools have an important role in helping children develop the inter-personal skills needed to develop positive relationships through a comprehensive programme of sex and relationships education and PSHE, and by taking whole school approaches to promoting the well being of students.'

Chris Goulden, Head of Policy and Research at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “This research shows that experiencing poverty affects how well children are able to form close, communicative relationships with their friends and family, beyond the negative effects of not having enough money. While children in poverty are as happy overall with their family and friends as those who are not in poverty, on average they are more likely to struggle to form closer relationships of these types.

“Reducing child poverty will help to boost children’s life chances and is a vital part of the ‘all-out assault on poverty’ promised by David Cameron. We need a comprehensive strategy to make sure children, young people and parents do not get stuck in poverty and parents are prevented from falling into poverty in the first place.”

The report finds that most children, irrespective of their financial circumstances, were happy with their relationships with family and friends. A minority of children were reported to fight with or bully others (7%), to be bullied themselves (25%) or to regularly fall out with other children (15%).

Based on the evidence in the report, reducing poverty would have a beneficial impact on children’s relationships. To help achieve this, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation is calling for:

  • Networks of family hubs in communities to provide wrap-around support for parents, including antenatal services, financial advice and relationship support and to parents and families.
  • Improving the quality of childcare as well as the amount available and capping costs for low and middle income families.