Poverty and unemployment

Children and young people living in poverty often lack material resources which can affect what they eat, their participation in activities, the clothes they wear, family stress levels and optimism, where and how they live, and their access to proper healthcare and high-quality education.

Poverty and unemployment

Unemployment and poverty can be short term. However, for some families it is entrenched and can span many generations. Growing up in prolonged and persistent poverty is a substantial risk for the development of mental health problems.

Liverpool University research found that children living in poverty were 40% more likely to develop social, emotional or behavioural problems.

How can poverty affect children and young people?

Poverty can affect children and young people by:

  • putting pressure on parents to provide some things that are an important part of school life, like school uniforms
  • impacting on children and young people’s sleep, concentration and behaviour patterns (because of poor housing or where they live)
  • increasing family pressures and tensions
  • affecting belief in what they can achieve in life, how they view themselves and how others view them (stigma and bullying).

What schools and further education settings can do

If you are at all concerned about a child or young person, you should always speak to your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority. They will be able to advise on suitable next steps, and speaking to them about any concerns should always be the first action you take, ahead of any of the suggestions on this page.

Schools and further education settings can buffer children and young people from the worst effects of poverty and help protect from its impact on mental health. Education settings that successfully achieve this have many common features, including: 

  • Strong leadership supporting a cohesive ‘poverty aware’ staff team.
  • Having a whole-school environment where children and young people feel they belong, and feel valued and cared for.
  • Positive relationships in the classroom/school that are built on trust, safety and security, and help children and young people talk about how they are feeling.
  • Minimising activities that involve extra cost in school/college and having banks of resources (e.g. a uniform bank, etc.)
  • Ensuring that schools have programmes in place to help children survive in a challenging environment, build resilience and develop their social and emotional skills – with these skills being further developed across the curriculum.
  • Engaging with parents and encouraging them to come into the school and observe their child’s learning. Focusing on the strengths and assets in the family rather than problems – this helps school engagement and promotes progress.
  • Having non-stigmatising support for parents and children as well as good collaborative links with local support services.
  • Effective, robust and creative use of funding (like pupil premium or pupil equity funding) for all eligible children.

It’s important to note that, despite your best efforts to build children and young people’s resilience, some students’ mental health may deteriorate. You should always be alert to this, and be aware that children and young people can communicate difficulties in different ways.

This may be through changes in behaviour (becoming more withdrawn or more challenging), changes in their relationships with staff and pupils, and/or changes in their academic performance or attendance.

Where children and young people’s mental wellbeing is deteriorating, they will need extra help - either through school pastoral care/counselling support, or through referral to the school nurse or discussion with the additional learning needs lead.

If a pupil’s health continues to deteriorate, a referral to local community-based support may be required (e.g. community counselling, early help services or specialist CAMHS).

Related resources

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Money and mental health factsheet

Money and mental health factsheet

This factsheet explores the links between money and mental health.

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