The Government’s Leveling Up Agenda, must Include Young People’s Wellbeing – Dr Lisa Cameron MP

There have been increasing calls to understand the mental health and wellbeing impacts of the lockdown and school closures for children and young people across the UK. Such an understanding will help to inform how children and young people can be best supported as in any future lockdown scenarios.

One such type of support that would help in this regard is a national commitment to early-help hubs for young people aged up to 25, as advocated for by the FundtheHubs campaign. Today we call for, the government to commit to build a network of early support hubs for young people’s mental health across the county as part of a broader early intervention strategy.

Every year, The Children’s Society publishes an annual state of the nation look at young peoples well-being. This forms one of the most comprehensive assessments of children’s subjective well-being collected annually in the UK, However, perhaps unsurprisingly this year’s report sadly describes a sustained downward trajectory in children’s well-being over the past decade.

This year’s report suggests that 12% of children are deemed to have low well-being, compared to proportions ranging between 10% and 18% found in previous years.

Over the past decade 19 there was a significant decrease in children’s happiness with life as a whole and with their friends. The latest data shows more children were unhappy with their appearance in 2018/19 than with any other aspect of life since 2009/10.

The gender divide between boys’ and girls’ worries over their appearance is closing; more boys than ever before are unhappy with their appearance. 1 in 8 boys are unhappy with the way they look compared to 1 in 12 at the start of the decade, while the proportion of girls unhappy has remained relatively steady at 1 in 7.

Alongside appearance, unhappiness with school life has also notably increased over the past decade. The proportion of children unhappy with their school lives has risen from 1 in 11 ten years ago, to 1 in 8 in the latest report.

Young people who had lower life satisfaction during adolescence were significantly more likely than others to have symptoms of poor mental health by the time they’re into adulthood, such as self-harm or even suicide attempts. There is a wealth of data which suggests mental health difficulties during adolescence can last long into adulthood, including employment, the ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships, and general health and wellbeing. Young Peoples Hubs are in a unique position to deliver mental health support to all young people without some of the common barriers that affect similar interventions offered outside of schools.

Given the continuing downward trajectory of children’s happiness with life as a whole and the sustained impact of successive lockdowns have had on young peoples wellbeing over the last year, there is much much more that needs to be done to build a society in which all children have the best possible start and lead as fulfilled a life as they possibly can Today a growing number of MP’s charities and children’s organisations on the government to produce an action plan to boost young people’s wellbeing, which means we need to measure their happiness every year.  

The decline in children’s well-being and successive Government austerity over the past decade has been accompanied by significant real terms cuts to frontline children’s services, which in turn has made it more difficult for councils to offer early intervention to families when they face mental health problems despite the well-established evidence that early intervention. 

If this government is truly committed to leveling up as it so often promises, it must commit to reversing the decline in young people’s services funding over the past decade, with a focused investment in early intervention services, if “Building Back Better” is to be more than empty political rheoteric, the Government must put young people at the forefront of that agenda.

Dr Lisa Cameron MP is the SNP MP for East Kilbride Strathaven and Lesmahagow, and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Groups of Disability, Health and Psychology,

Dr Cameron is also Shadow Spokesperson for the Scottish National Party on Mental Health.