Child and parental wellbeing: measuring outcomes and understanding their relation with poverty

Enhancing wellbeing is a crucial element of supporting the lives of children, young people and families living in poverty. This report represents a first step in assessing wellbeing outcomes and understanding their relation with poverty for low income families.

Executive summary


Tackling child poverty and achieving the targets set by the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 is imperative to improving the lives of Scotland's children, young people and families.

Increasing incomes and reducing costs of living are important mechanisms for reducing poverty, but they are not the only mechanism.

Improving quality of life, and life chances, is important in building a solid long term foundation to support the lives of children, young people and families. For this, policies need to focus on enhancing wellbeing of children and families.

This report intends to be a first step in assessing wellbeing outcomes and understanding their relation with poverty for low income families.

Research findings

Children and young people's wellbeing is influenced by the world around them. Therefore, in considering their wellbeing it is important to take into account the wellbeing of their parents and carers as these are often inextricably linked to children's wellbeing. For example, evidence suggests how parent-child relations may be negatively affected by periods of financial struggle.

Negative impacts on wellbeing have arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis which have disproportionally impacted upon families in low income households.

Policies that support the health and wellbeing of low income families in combination with others that directly boost their income are essential so that the progress achieved towards the 2030 targets is sustained.

How I grow and develop

Children living in areas of high deprivation continue to record greater developmental concerns in the early years, lower attainment while in school, were less likely to undertake physical activities in their early teenage years and recorded greater difficulties with their mental health.

Over recent years, there is evidence of a reduction in the poverty-related gap, particularly in terms of attainment. Though it should be noted that during the pandemic there was a clear widening of the poverty-related gap, which has started to reduce again in the years since.

Mental wellbeing varies by measure (WEMWBS and SDQ). By WEMWBS, there was little variation, but SDQ suggested greater difficulties in the mental health of those living in areas of high deprivation.

What I need from the people that look after me

Peer relations are broadly similar across area of deprivation. However, those from more deprived communities are more likely to report having been bullied in the past year compared to those from the least deprived communities.

Children and young people's relationships with adults vary according to area deprivation, with those from more deprived communities less likely to report positive interactions with adults, compared to their less deprived peers, in relation to trust and decision-making.

The quality of early learning and childcare services are high. There is a consistent quality of provision across all areas with little variation by area deprivation.

My wider world

Low income households have been the most negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite wider economic pressures, child poverty levels in Scotland have remained stable over the medium term.

Low income households with children spend a greater proportion of their income on housing costs. Spend on housing has been relatively stable in recent years. The number of children in temporary accommodation continues to increase due to the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children and young people from more deprived communities are less likely than those living in the least deprived communities to agree that their local area is a good place to live or feel safe when out in their local area.

Parental measures of wellbeing

Parents and carers play a significant role in the lives of children and young people. Understanding carers' wellbeing is essential in supporting the wellbeing of children and young people. The indicators considered are drawn from the areas of mental wellbeing (WEMWBS) and social capital (feelings of loneliness and neighbourhood rating).

Over time, there is a consistent gap in WEMWBS scores between the top and bottom income quintiles. Those on the highest income are consistently more likely to report higher wellbeing scores than those in the lowest quintile.

The social capital indicators of loneliness and neighbourhood rating further show a divide, with those on higher household annual incomes more likely to report lower levels of loneliness and higher levels of neighbourhood rating.


Tackling child poverty and improving wellbeing are interlinked.Children and young people living in poverty are less likely than their peers to achieve positive wellbeing outcomes.

Understanding whole family wellbeing is a crucial facilitator in helping families to navigate their way out of poverty. Monitoring wellbeing is necessary to better understand the association of wellbeing with longer-term poverty reduction measures and ensure no additional harm.

But patience is necessary when assessing impacts of policies aiming to support the health and wellbeing of families.

What next?

Engagement with stakeholders to develop and enhance parental measures of wellbeing.

Periodic analysis, and publication of wellbeing indicators, to support longer term poverty reduction actions and to reduce unintended consequences.



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