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Young people’s worsening mental health and bullying in schools ‘direct consequence of UK’s inequality’, Children in Scotland conference to hear

Embargoed: 00:01 hours, Wednesday 7 November 2018

School bullying and mental health problems are significantly worse in more unequal societies such as the UK, national charity Children in Scotland’s annual conference (held today and tomorrow, 7 and 8 November) will hear.

International expert Professor Richard Wilkinson, co-author of the ground-breaking book The Spirit Level and this year’s sequel, The Inner Level, will share evidence of how inequality impacts on child wellbeing in a keynote speech on day two of the event.

Speaking to Children in Scotland Magazine in advance of the conference, Professor Wilkinson said: “Recent discussion of the scale of mental health issues in the UK has focused almost wholly on access to services rather than on the appalling increases in levels of mental stress. Services merely pick up the pieces after the damage.

“Although people often blame social media, it's only the messenger. The truth is that as inequality makes societies more antisocial, we use social media more hurtfully than we would in an egalitarian society.

Inequality increases the importance of social comparisons, Professor Wilkinson said, making everyone in society more worried about how they are judged, upping the stakes on the idea that “some people are worth more than others and intensifying our doubts about self-worth”.

This problem of social comparison could be particularly acute at school, he added.

“It’s clear from studies that there is enormously more bullying in schools in more unequal societies. It’s a close relationship. But I think you can protect children from it by creating a different social environment in the school where children then learn to adopt other strategies which are less damaging and cause less misery and conflict.”

The conference, marking the charity’s quarter century, is a special 25th anniversary event focusing on inequality’s impact on children and how to support families in crisis.

Other speakers include Fiona Murphy MBE, who will reflect on her experiences jointly leading bereavement services following the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, working with police, coroners and other services to support victims and their families.

Delegates will also hear from Bi-Borough educational psychologists Jane Roller and Helen Kerslake who will share stories of courage from the Grenfell tragedy, demonstrating the resilience of school communities at times of crisis – and the kindness shown to them.

Erin Slaven and Orlaith Duffy, founders of On the Ball, will discuss their campaigning work improving inclusion and equality in football.

Workshops include an examination of implementing trauma-informed care in response to adverse childhood experiences, led by Kibble Education and Care.

The conference will also be an opportunity to discuss Children in Scotland’s anniversary campaign 25 Calls, with posters of each call being displayed on the walls of the venue’s main room. The campaign brings together partners from across the sector to make shared proposals about how to improve the lives of young people in Scotland.

Children in Scotland Chief Executive Jackie Brock will highlight the charity’s partnership project championing the voices of young people in Scotland on Brexit, and ask the conference to back its call for equalised voting rights across the UK, telling delegates: “We believe that the profoundly unfair and toxic nature of the Brexit process, which has sidelined the generation who will inherit the full impact of leaving the EU, proves more clearly than ever before why the voting age must be lowered to 16, in all polls, and throughout the UK.”

Professor Richard Wilkinson will be available for media interviews on Thursday 8 November

The conference runs today (Wednesday 7 November) and tomorrow in Edinburgh. Click here for more information

For information on our 25 Calls campaign and to read the individual calls, click here

To read Jackie Brock’s call on why 16 and 17 year olds across the UK should be able to vote in all polls, click here

To read about our Panel on Europe project, click here

Media contact: Chris Small, email


Notes for editors

Children in Scotland is a national charity working to improve children’s lives. For more information visit

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