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  • Largest parent poll since pandemic shows parents facing “perfect storm” of cost of living and COVID legacy
  • Two thirds of parents worry about paying for both food and fuel
  • 1 in 2 worried about pandemic impact on children’s mental health

Parents in the UK have been pushed to the edge, with more than two thirds worried about paying for food, energy and fuel over the next year, the largest poll of UK parents since the COVID-19 pandemic finds today.

Almost three in four parents (74%) said that over the next year they are concerned about paying for gas and electricity, while two thirds were concerned about paying for food (67%) and petrol (67%), in a nationwide poll of 5,000 UK parents conducted by Opinium in the weeks running up to the start of the new school year.

Last week, the energy regulator Ofgem announced that on 1 October the energy price cap will rise to £3,549 per year for the average household, a rise of 80% from its previous level.

Revealing the extent of the cost of living crisis facing families as they prepare to start the new school year, the survey finds that over the next year:

  • 58% are concerned about being able to make rent or mortgage payments;
  • Over half are concerned about being able to pay for unsecured loans, such as credit card and personal loans (53%) and about being able to pay for childcare (52%).

The cost of living crisis has already affected how parents were able to manage this summer, with 6 in 10 (60%) worrying about being able to pay for activities for their child over the school holidays.

The poll also reveals how COVID-19 has contributed to the anxieties of many families, with 56% concerned about the pandemic’s effects on their children’s mental health. Over 1 in 4 (27%) said their child had previously struggled with mental health issues as a result of the pandemic, and a further 30% said their child was still struggling with mental health issues as a result of it. Parents also expressed concern at the long-term impact of the pandemic, with over half worried about the time their child lost in education due to nursery or school closures (57%), about lost and missed services such as speech and language therapy (55%) and in missed social interactions with other children (60%).

Ravi Gurumurthy, Chief Executive of Nesta, said:

“The cost of living crisis is a mental health crisis, not just a financial one. Scarred by the past two years of COVID, lockdowns and school closures, parents are now anxious about the future and how they will feed their kids, pay their energy bills and mortgages, and afford childcare.

“Some families will have the resources and resilience to cope. But multiple crises are likely to leave millions struggling to get by, and will deepen inequality. We need action on multiple fronts - a lower cap on energy bills, targeted financial help for low income families, and more catch-up help for children behind at school.”

Jenny Gibson, Director of Nesta’s Fairer Start team, said:

“Parents are right to be concerned - early experiences matter. Financial and emotional security, spending quality time with family, playing with other children and attending high-quality early childhood education and care settings all help children to thrive. This in turn sets them on the best track to enjoy good mental health and to achieve their potential in the future.”

Tom Symons, Deputy Director of Nesta’s Fairer Start team, said:

“Parents are caught in the perfect storm of the cost of living crisis and the legacy of COVID. Financial insecurity causes toxic stress and long-term harm to children, so families desperately need more support from government. At a minimum we should introduce universal free school meals for all primary school children in England.

“Alongside help to pay for food and energy, the Government must also direct additional funds so that disadvantaged children don’t get left behind. The Government’s own advisor said that a much greater fund was needed than the £1.4 billion allocated to close the learning gap caused by the pandemic.”

While the survey found that high levels of concern about paying for energy and food were consistent across the full range of household incomes, these worries were highest among those with some of the lowest incomes. For households with incomes between £10,000-£20,000, 82% worried about paying for gas and electricity and 76% worried about paying for food.

Parents in London had the most acute concerns about the cost of living and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 3 in 4 parents in London worried about paying for rent and mortgage payments (74%) as well as loans and credit cards (74%), compared to just over half (58% for rent and mortgage and 53% for loans and credit cards) for the whole of the UK. Similarly, 46% of parents in London said their child was still struggling with mental health issues as a result of the pandemic, compared to 30% nationally.

Many parents responding to the survey reflected on the difficulties they had faced caring for their children over the summer. In response to a question about their experiences, participants said:

  • “I've felt a bit overwhelmed. Childcare is rare and too expensive anyway and I have to balance that with a job and rising cost of living. I don't know how I'll cope come the winter.”
  • “I feel like a let down, we haven't had a holiday abroad and I have been working a lot so we haven't had much time as a family either. I feel the children have been left alone and that makes me feel guilty and sad and a failure.”
  • “[I’ve been] stressed, unable to provide all opportunities I would like to my child. Working and attempting to give my all as a parent has left me feeling somewhat overwhelmed, and I don't have a large support network who can help.”
  • “I feel like if we're at home not doing much then I'm not doing well enough. I feel like I need to have something arranged every day [and] like I never have enough money to do as much as I would like to with them.”
  • “Hardly have time for myself. Children come first. Feel busy juggling my job and children. Financially worried I will run out of money so kept outings to a minimum. This has meant children have done less and been more bored.”


Notes to editors

  1. Nesta commissioned Opinium Research to conduct a survey of 5,000 UK parents from 18-22 August 2022, with results weighted to be nationally representative. The full survey can be accessed here.
  2. On August 26, Ofgem announced that the energy price cap would rise to £3,549 for an average household with a default tariff paid by direct debit.
  3. On 2 June 2021, Education Recovery Commissioner Sir Kevan Collins said that “significantly greater support” was needed for a successful recovery in his resignation letter to the Government.
  4. Ravi Gurumurthy joined Nesta as Chief Executive in December 2019. Ravi was previously responsible for the International Rescue Committee’s work in designing, testing and scaling products and services for people affected by crisis in over 40 countries. Prior to joining the International Rescue Committee in 2013, Ravi held a number of roles in the UK Government, including Director of Strategy at the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change and as a strategic advisor to the Foreign Secretary. Ravi led a number of major social and environmental reforms including the development of the world’s first legally-binding carbon emissions targets.
  5. For more information on the analysis or to speak to one of the experts involved, please contact Kieran Lowe, Media Manager, on 020 7438 2576 or [email protected]. Spokespeople are available for broadcast interviews.

About Nesta

We are Nesta, the UK's innovation agency for social good. We design, test and scale solutions to society's biggest problems. Our three missions are to give every child a fair start, help people live healthy lives, and create a sustainable future where the economy works for both people and the planet.

For over 20 years, we have worked to support, encourage and inspire innovation. We work in three roles: as an innovation partner working with frontline organisations to design and test new solutions, as a venture builder supporting new and early stage businesses, and as a system shaper creating the conditions for innovation.

Harnessing the rigour of science and the creativity of design, we work relentlessly to change millions of lives for the better. Find out more at nesta.org.uk

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