Page last updated at 13:48 GMT, Monday, 7 December 2009

Poor families 'lack emotional support not just cash'

Families under pressure
The meaning of poverty is shifting, suggests the report

Fragile families in the UK face a shortage of emotional support and friendship as much as a lack of material support, says a think tank.

A report, Sinking and Swimming, published by the Young Foundation, looks at society's "unmet needs".

It warns that many families cannot provide support to help teenagers move successfully into adulthood.

It warns of a "brittle society, with many fractures and many people left behind".

The report, backed by a group of 13 charities, argues that the services of the welfare state are no longer responding to the most pressing modern needs - which are now about social isolation and an absence of any functioning community support.


It warns of a lack of support for "transitions" in life - such as teenagers moving into adult independence - and for poorly-qualified school leavers facing a difficult jobs market.

"A generation of teenagers coming to adulthood in the next few years, against a backdrop of high unemployment, are likely to be at risk of living a lifetime of insecure employment and low income."

While the post-war welfare state was designed to improve material and physical well-being - such as housing, education, health and benefits - the report says it cannot respond to the lack of social contact and support from families and neighbours.

"It was assumed that people's emotional needs would be met by close knit families and communities," says the report.

"Sixty years later psychological needs have become as pressing as material ones: the risk of loneliness and isolation; the risk of mental illness; the risk of being left behind."

It warns that the social "shock absorbers" which once helped people through difficult times, such as family, neighbours and local organisations such as churches, have "atrophied", leaving large numbers of people unable to cope with their own problems or to support their children.

"Loneliness and a lack of social networks have become a stark feature of a more individualistic society," says the report.

As an indicator of the changing social pressures, the report says the number of prescriptions for anti-depressants almost quadrupled between 1991 and 2007.

"In a society with relative material abundance, the critical issues of welfare have become as much about psychology and relationships as about material need," says the report.

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