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Adverse Childhood Experiences can affect people's ability to cope with challenges of cost of living crisis

Published: 2 May 2024

New research from Public Health Wales and Bangor University, published today in BMJ Open, shows that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can affect people’s perceptions of their ability to cope during the cost of living crisis. 

ACEs are stressful experiences during childhood such as child maltreatment and exposure to household difficulties including domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness and family members being in prison, among others. 

These experiences, particularly when they occur in combination, can have detrimental effects on individuals’ health and wellbeing throughout life, increasing risks of health harming behaviours such as smoking or drug use, poor mental health, and physical illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.  

ACEs have also been associated with poorer educational attainment and employment outcomes, which may impact individuals’ life opportunities and contribute to social and economic deprivation. Further, ACEs can affect individuals’ personal resilience and their ability to deal with stressful situations. All these factors may increase vulnerability to the impact of economic crises among people who have suffered ACEs.   

The study analysed data collected from 1,880 adult residents across Wales. It found that those who reported multiple ACEs in their childhood were significantly more likely to perceive they would be unable to cope financially during the cost of living crisis, independent of factors including household income level, employment status and residential deprivation.  

Those with multiple ACEs were also more likely to report that rising costs of living were causing them substantial distress and anxiety, and that the cost of living crisis was having a negative impact on their mental and physical health, family relationships, local levels of antisocial behaviour and violence, and community support. 

Professor Karen Hughes, Policy and International Health, World Health Organization Collaborating Centre on Investment for Health and Well-being at Public Health Wales, said:  

“We know that people in lower socio-economic groups are disproportionately impacted by the rising cost of living as the price of basic essentials takes up a higher proportion of their overall income. 

“However, this study suggests that people who have suffered ACEs are an additional vulnerable group, regardless of their socio-economic situation. We found that people with four or more ACEs were around three times more likely than those with no ACEs to perceive they would be unable to cope financially during the cost of living crisis and report substantial distress and anxiety due to rising costs of living.” 

Dr Kat Ford, Bangor University, said: 

“The study shows the importance of having a trauma-informed approach to public services to be able to support people with ACEs and provide an equitable platform for all. It also highlights the importance of preventing ACEs and supporting families at risk to build resilience against future crises.”