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Social Justice

‘They call us snowflakes but we’re taking action’: Children speak out in landmark survey

More than half a million children told the Children’s Commissioner for England that they worry about money, the environment and mental health

Children across the UK have hit out at older generations who dismiss them as “snowflakes” for caring about social issues.

And nearly one in ten children aged nine to 17 don’t think they’ll have a better life than their parents, reporting concerns about money, the environment and their mental health.

Nearly 560,000 children across England were surveyed between April and May in the Big Ask, a research project by the Children’s Commissioner revealing the priorities and happiness levels of young people around the country.

“Older generations love to mock us for taking action against social issues by calling us, and I quote, snowflakes,” a 13-year-old girl told researchers. “Yet they won’t. We are finally taking action on things.”

Children described a “tension” between generations, according to the report, warning against adults who dismissed them for expressing their views about the problems they care most about: discrimination, poverty and the climate crisis as inherited problems.

The future of the planet – and their futures on it – was the second most common worry among 9 to 17-year-olds, after having enough money.

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One 15-year-old told researchers it was “very daunting” for young people to be responsible for dealing with the effects of climate change while a 12-year-old said children felt they “won’t have a future” without urgent action.

Nearly 70 per cent of this age group also reported worrying about ending up in a good job which could support them and their families.

Overall, England’s children are “happy and optimistic” despite the effects of the pandemic, the report said, but they are concerned about creating a “fair” world as they grow up.

The half-a-million responses showed a “rich display of honesty, hope and authenticity,” said Dame Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner for England, who recognised sacrifices made by children during the Covid-19 crisis.

“They have inspired me with how resilient, consistent, optimistic and thoughtful they are, even those most vulnerable and from deprived backgrounds,” she added.

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De Souza and her team developed a series of recommendations for the government to improve children’s lives based on their input and will form the foundations of the office’s work for children during her tenure.

Children were questioned on their family lives, how they felt about their communities, health and wellbeing, schools, jobs and experiences in care.

Nearly 95 per cent of six to eight-year-olds, and 71 per cent of nine to 17-year-olds, said they were happy with life overall.

But of those who said they were not, 70 per cent were unhappy with their mental health. Girls were twice as likely as boys to report problems with their mental wellbeing.

One 17-year-old girl told researchers: “The lack of help with mental health has been the biggest thing that has stopped me and my friends from achieving what we want.

“It is difficult to access as we are not taken seriously, and when we are, waiting lists are so long.”

Nearly 60 per cent of children from deprived areas said leaving school with a good education was one of their top priorities, pushing the Children’s Commissioner to call for a policy package to cut poverty among families and narrow the attainment gap.

“The Conservatives have treated children as an afterthought throughout the pandemic and are now neglecting them in our recovery with a feeble catch-up plan,” said Kate Green, Labour’s shadow education secretary.

“Children and young people have faced unprecedented challenges over the last 18 months but remain optimistic, ambitious and excited for their futures.

“Labour is determined to match this ambition with our comprehensive catch-up plan – as the Children’s Commissioner has called for – delivering small group tutoring, new activities for every child to socialise and play with friends, and expert mental health support in every school ensuring children can bounce back from the pandemic.”

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De Souza said she hopes to drive a “transformative period” for “a generation who are far from ‘lost’ and need all of us to help them build the future they most certainly deserve”.

The Children’s Commissioner’s recommendations also included support for schools, rapid expansion of mental health support across a number of sectors and reforms to universal credit for children leaving care.

In response to children’s concerns about securing good jobs as adults, De Souza called on the government to extend the Kickstart programme for six months into 2022 to allow for more young people to benefit from it.

Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, said: “I’m encouraged to see that most children and young people are happy, resilient and ambitious, but there are concerns too and we must address them.

“We know that the pandemic hit young people hard which is why we have launched a tutoring revolution to make sure they catch up and bolstered mental health support in schools.

“This survey shows the variety of concerns young people have – and the government has taken action to address them. From an Online Safety Bill to committing to net-zero and hosting COP26 later this year, we are taking the necessary steps to keep our young people safe while making sure we protect the world for generations to come.”

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