Making friends is a crucial aspect of growing up and an important skill that is developed throughout our lives.  In this blog, Lorna Nicoll from our Schools Team, looks at how being poor can affect social interactions and friendships.

Eight years ago Children North East distributed hundreds of disposable cameras to children and young people living in disadvantage from the Tees to the Tweed and asked them to document their lives.

Since then our Schools Team has been privy to a huge amount of information about what it is like to be poor - and specifically - what it is like to be poor at school, the place where they told us living in poverty affected them most.

In a society that is compassionate, we cannot ignore what children tell us, and that is what makes our Poverty Proofing the School Day work so unique and powerful.

Making friends is a crucial aspect of growing up and an important skill that is developed throughout our lives. During our formative years we make, break and makeup with friends.  It’s something that we get better at.  Life is challenging for everyone, but what’s it like when you have the additional stress of being poor?  In addition to the effects it has on physical health, research shows that poverty and growing up in poverty, affects mental health.  The Social Mobility Commission concluded in 2019 that people who live in more deprived areas typically have lower life satisfaction scores, are less likely to think that the things they do are worthwhile, are less likely to feel happy and are more likely to be anxious.* Suicide rates are also higher in deprived areas than in more affluent areas.*

When we go into schools, children regularly tell us that they feel left out at times when significant socialising happens.  Understanding what it’s like from a child’s perspective when they are not able to join in the trading cards games at break time because they don’t have the cards or enough of them, or children spectating rather than joining in skipping games because they don’t have a skipping rope.  There are other times where they can feel excluded, for example when it’s toy day and, once again, they haven’t been able to bring anything in, or others have commented that their toys are old or ‘rubbish.’  Others have explained how stigmatising it can feel if they cannot afford to go on the same rewards trips as their friends because they cannot afford the end of year trip to the theme park and the only option, year after year, is to go on the free local trip and be separated from their friends.  Or those that have saved up to go on the big trip to find that everyone else has money to purchase a queue-jumper ticket and they are alone in the regular line.  Where’s the reward in that?

Going beyond the school gates, what’s it like if you are that child who cannot invite anyone to your home for the all-important Friday playdate?  Maybe it’s too cold to have friends around, or your accommodation is sub-standard, bordering on dangerous, or there’s not enough space for those living there, never mind visitors.  Children get very excited at the thought of having a friend over and can talk about it for days before and after, but if you’re that child whose family has to carefully manage food costs and can’t offer a snack, how does that feel?  Not to mention if you don’t have the latest console or games to play online.

How many parents dread it when their child gets invited to a birthday party – what to wear, what presents to buy, what if it’s impossible to reciprocate the invitation?  Worse still, what’s it like if your child isn’t invited and feels further excluded?

Building, managing and maintaining healthy relationships is one of the keys to a happy life and schools do a lot of great work to encourage this in their pupils.  Which moments are we not aware of where children feel a sense of not being able to participate, or of not belonging?  At what point does that become social isolation and they disengage further with what’s around them because they simply do not feel a part of it? 

By listening carefully to what children say, we can stack as much in their favour as possible to ensure no child is restricted in their social interactions and friendships as a result of poverty.

* Social Mobility Commission (2019) Social Mobility in Great Britain- State of the nation 2018-2019 . [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/798404/SMC_State_of_the_Nation_Report_2018-19.pdf [Last accessed 21/08/2019] p.18. ii Public Health England (2018) Health prolife for England, 2018: wider determinants of health. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-profile-for-england-2018/chapter-6-wider-determinants-of-health