Child self-harm numbers in the Guardian, Mirror and Independent don’t reflect survey’s actual findings

20 June 2022
What was claimed

Nine percent of parents surveyed say their children have started self-harming in response to the cost of living crisis.

Our verdict

Incorrect. This comes from a survey by the Childhood Trust in which the proportion of all parents saying this was more like 3%.

What was claimed

One in 10 children have started self-harming.

Our verdict

Incorrect. This comes from the same survey which was of parents, not children, so we don’t know how many children it described. In this survey, the proportion of all parents who reported their children had started self-harming was more like 3%.

According to The Childhood Trust [...] 9% of parents who responded to their survey claimed their children had started self-harming.

Nearly one in 10 children have started self-harming and 8% have displayed suicidal tendencies.

Children are so worried that nearly one in 10 (9 per cent) has started self-harming, and 8 per cent have shown suicidal tendencies.

Figures reported by the Guardian, the Mirror and the Independent for the proportion of children said to be suffering from mental health problems don’t reflect the actual findings of a survey by the Childhood Trust on the effects of the cost of living crisis.

In particular, the 9% or “nearly one in 10” figure cited by the newspapers does not represent the proportion of all parents surveyed who said their children had started self-harming. It is the proportion of the third of parents who had already said their children raised concerns about the cost of living crisis.

When you take account of this, the proportion of all parents in the survey saying their children had begun self-harming would have been about 3%.

All these figures also include many parents of people who are over 18, a point not mentioned in any of the newspaper articles.

The cost of living crisis is a serious problem affecting many people, and there is evidence of a recent rise in mental health problems among children and young people. However, the Childhood Trust has confirmed there was an error in the way this survey was reported and issued its own correction.

The Guardian amended its article on 18 June, but the amendments did not correct these errors. When Full Fact contacted it on 20 June, it told us it planned to further update its article shortly.

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What did the survey ask?

The survey was conducted in May by Atomik Research on behalf of the Childhood Trust, a child poverty charity for London. In total, 2,004 adults from an online panel across the UK took part. The responses were not weighted to make them more representative of UK adults as a whole.

When Full Fact contacted the Childhood Trust, it shared the research data with us. This shows that 1,468 of respondents were parents.

Of those, 483 (or about 33%) answered yes to the question: “Have your children raised concerns about the cost of living crisis? This could be concerns around heating, electricity, money in general, having enough food etc.”

When asked “How have your children been impacted?”, 9% of these 483 (so about 3% of all parents) selected the answer “They have started self-harming”.

Among the third of parents who said their children had raised concerns, 47% selected “They feel stressed” and 21% “They smile less”—figures which were also wrongly reported as if they described all parents in the newspapers.

In addition, these figures describe what percentage of parents had children who were affected, not the percentage of affected children themselves, so it is hard to say whether a parent was answering about all their children, or several, or only about one of them.

For example, 3% of all parents reported that their children had self-harmed as a result of the cost of living crisis. But this doesn’t necessarily correspond to 3% of all children, because some of these parents may have had multiple children, some of whom were self-harming and some of whom weren’t.

In other words, it is not correct to say any of these are the proportions of “children” who are affected, as all three newspapers did in places.

Another potential problem is that nearly half (227) of the parents in the survey who said that their children were concerned reported that their “children” were 21 or older, and 59 had children aged 18-21.

Based on the data we have, we are not able to say with confidence what the numbers would be if we talked only about children under 18.

All these issues combined mean that the comment attributed by the Guardian to Laurence Guinness, the chief executive of the Childhood Trust—that “two or three kids in a class of 30 are self-harming”—was also not correct.

Mr Guinness told us: “We thank Full Fact for bringing to light an error in the way our commissioned research data was reported. Our data should have been reported as 3% of all parents reporting that their children are self-harming, rather than 9% of the parents who reported concerns about their children which was a third of the sample of parents in the survey. We have issued a correction and adjusted our release accordingly.”

Contacting Samaritans

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Image courtesy of  Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

We took a stand for good information.

After we published this fact check, we contacted The Mirror and the Independent to request a correction regarding these claims.

The Mirror and the Independent corrected their articles.

The Guardian subsequently reviewed its article and made further changes, in addition to those mentioned in our fact check.


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