There is a public health crisis in young people’s wellbeing. Approximately one in six young people experience high levels of emotional difficulties that are likely to warrant significant additional support. A number of factors can impact wellbeing, and the neighbourhood in which a young person lives is one of them, with differences seen across Greater Manchester. In this article, from our Power in Place publication, Professor Neil Humphrey explores what is needed to support young people in neighbourhoods with lower levels of wellbeing.
- #BeeWell is an innovative programme that blends academic research and youth-led change to ‘pivot the system’ and address this major societal problem.
- Inequalities in wellbeing between different social groups varied across neighbourhoods. Within a neighbourhood, social cohesion and access to health services are also strong predictors.
- To improve wellbeing among young people, promoting a sense of belonging to the local community, improving social cohesion, integration and inclusivity, and building opportunities and structures for social support are key.
To ‘be well’ includes having a sense of meaning, purpose and control, as well as feeling satisfied with life, understanding and valuing yourself, and feeling good (experiencing positive emotions). Recent research indicates that many young people don’t currently feel this way.
#BeeWell is an innovative programme that blends academic research and youth-led change to ‘pivot the system’ and address this major societal problem. The aim of #BeeWell is to make young people’s wellbeing everyone’s business.
As part of the programme, data on the domains and drivers of young people’s wellbeing are collected on an annual basis, with insights and recommendations fed back to schools, local authorities, communities and a coalition of over 100 project partners.
The findings are shown via interactive data dashboards and themed analyses and are underpinned by support from our partners at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, providing an evidence base to inform decision-making across the system.
Can wellbeing be attributed to place?
Currently, we know far less about the effects of place on young people’s wellbeing, in contrast with other developmental contexts such as family and school. Our team have begun to explore the role of neighbourhoods and how this can impact young people’s wellbeing, as another step towards solving this crisis.
The first wave of #BeeWell survey data included approximately 38,000 young people aged 12-15, and linked socio-demographic data (for example, special educational needs and ethnicity) and neighbourhood data (such as access to health services, proximity of charities, and levels of crime). Through two studies, we examined how much of the variation in young people’s wellbeing can be attributed to differences between the neighbourhoods in which they live.
We also examined whether inequalities in wellbeing between different socio-demographic groups vary across neighbourhoods, and which neighbourhood characteristics are associated with individual wellbeing outcomes. We made sure to check whether the different geographic units used to define neighbourhood boundaries made any difference to their influence on wellbeing.
Studying neighbourhood influences
The first study focused on neighbourhood influences on young people’s life satisfaction and emotional difficulties, such as feelings of sadness and anxiety. We split Greater Manchester into 300 locales and linked data on neighbourhood characteristics from the Co-Op Community Wellbeing Index and the #BeeWell Survey. The Community Wellbeing Index spans a variety of characteristics including, for example, education and learning, health and relationships and trust. In the #BeeWell survey we ask young people about their local area, including, for example, how safe they feel and whether there are good places to spend free time.
The second study focused on neighbourhood influences on young people’s loneliness, and used a smaller geographic unit, local super output area (LSOA), of which there are approximately 1700 across Greater Manchester. It linked data on neighbourhood characteristics from the Indices of Deprivation (which spans a range of indicators including health, crime and the living environment) with population density and the same #BeeWell survey data as in the first study.
How neighbourhood differences affect wellbeing
The research showed that neighbourhood characteristics are significantly associated with different domains of wellbeing. As expected, effects were slightly more visible in the smaller geographic units that likely better reflect how young people think about the boundaries of their neighbourhood.
Our analyses showed that inequalities in wellbeing between different social groups varied across neighbourhoods. For example, disparities in loneliness between LGBTQ+ young people and their peers differed based on the neighbourhood in which they resided.
Another theme that was evident across the research was the influence of social cohesion and relational characteristics of neighbourhoods. Young people feeling safe in their local area and feeling that there was support for wellbeing among local people were among the strongest predictors of wellbeing. Whether local people could be trusted, whether neighbourhoods were helpful, and whether there were good place to spend their free time in their neighbourhood, were also positively associated with their wellbeing.
In addition to the above, life satisfaction was higher and emotional difficulties were lower in neighbourhoods with better access to health services and lower GP antidepressant prescription rates. Furthermore, life satisfaction was higher in neighbourhoods with lower unemployment and free school meal eligibility rates. Loneliness was higher in neighbourhoods with higher skills deprivation among children and young people, higher geographical barriers (for example, longer distance to places like schools, shops and doctors’ surgeries), and lower population density.
Making places work for wellbeing
Our findings provide evidence that place is a contributory factor for young people’s wellbeing. It speaks directly to the Levelling Up agenda and highlights the persistence of inequalities at the neighbourhood level.
Evidence that wellbeing disadvantage among minority groups may be affected by their neighbourhood provokes a call for more nuanced responses that identify the locales with increased vulnerability and inequality. Neighbourhood data and profiles are available in our online dashboard to help policy actors identify relevant characteristics in a local area and inform their responses.
Targeted, hyper-local responses in these areas are as important, if not more so, than national initiatives. They are better placed to respond to the complex contextual factors that underpin and reinforce wellbeing inequalities.
Our analyses of the influence of different neighbourhood characteristics suggest that in order to improve wellbeing among young people, we must emphasise and promote a sense of belonging to the local community, as well as improving social cohesion, integration and inclusivity, and building opportunities and structures for social support.
This article was originally published in Power in Place, a collection of thought leadership pieces and expert analysis providing evidence-led solutions for thriving and sustainable communities.
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