Public health experts are calling for urgent action to tackle the impact of the cost of living crisis on the health and well-being of children in Wales.
A report published last week by Public Health Wales finds that the health of children, especially those already living in poverty, is being harmed by the cost of living crisis. These health harms will have negative knock-on effects on children’s future health and life chances.
The report finds that the cost of living crisis is making more families and children in Wales unable to afford to keep their homes warm or eat enough healthy food. This increases the risk of children developing health conditions such as asthma or obesity, or of not being able to concentrate at school. This not only harms the health and well-being of children now but their future life chances too, which has the potential to trap them in poverty.
Hygiene poverty – not being able to afford products needed for basic care and cleanliness, such as soap and laundry detergent – was also highlighted as a key issue. Poor hygiene can have negative impacts on children’s physical and mental health and well-being, and can contribute to the shame and stigma children may experience as a result of experiencing poverty.
The report calls for a cross-policy response to child poverty and the cost of living crisis, identifying 11 priority areas for action. These include improved financial support, help with the costs of food, energy, hygiene, childcare, public transport and attending school, and a focus on preventing abuse, stigma, shame and supporting mental well-being.
Children are already at the highest risk of being in poverty of any age group, and the 1 in 4 children in Wales already living in poverty are being hit hardest by the cost of living crisis. The impact of child poverty can be life-long and felt across communities and society and between generations. The first 1,000 days of a child’s life, from conception to their second birthday, are the most important for shaping children’s health and well-being into adulthood.
The Welsh Government is currently consulting on its Child Poverty Strategy and this report from Public Health Wales looks to draw attention to the link between child poverty and poor health outcomes for children, both now and in the future. It also highlights the need for leaders and policymakers to take account of the additional pressure the cost of living crisis is putting on the health and well-being of children and families.
Manon Roberts, Senior Policy Officer at Public Health Wales said:
“Poverty is a major driver of poor health and health inequalities in Wales. Poverty and its impact on children’s health is not a new problem in Wales but it is one that the cost of living crisis has made worse, pushing more families into crisis. Supporting children and families to give every child the best start in life is key to building a healthier and more equal future for Wales. Action is needed now to protect the health and well-being of our children today and the adults that they will become.”