Covid-19: Emergency support for 'children of the pandemic'
The Covid-19 crisis is asking a great deal of the nation’s children, as well as their parents, carers and wider families. Urgent intervention is needed to ensure that millions of children are not unfairly disadvantaged by the measures to combat the Covid-19 health crisis.
Schools and childcare facilities have closed, exams are on hold, and normal social activities are confined to online interactions. In short, for a generation of children, a normal childhood is out of reach for the foreseeable future. As our economy is grinding to a near halt, this crisis has exposed schools and childcare as vital social infrastructure that they are — without them large parts of our economy cannot function, and parents cannot go to work.
This childcare crisis will affect men and women differently. The vast majority of lone parents in the UK are women, and women in two-parent families are more likely to be the second earner. Without further action from government to protect parents in work, this crisis could see women lose significant portions of their income or be pushed out of the labour market altogether as families are faced with impossible choices in trying to balance work with full-time caring responsibilities. This could result in lasting damage to hard-won progress towards gender parity in the world of work.
Children are adapting to this situation and are doing so for the health and safety of their grandparents, relatives and the wider community. However, the role of government is to ensure that they and their families are not at greater financial risk for doing so, and that existing inequalities in children’s physical and mental health, educational attainment or living conditions do not grow as a result of the crisis.
No child should struggle to eat or live healthily and learn to their full potential because of the Covid-19 crisis. With the number of children living in poverty already set to increase to five million in 2020, this could be a time of increased fear, hardship and disruption for many.
IPPR's proposals were supported by the general secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, Children England, the Local Government Association, the Social Mobility Commission, Teach First, APPG for Fit and Healthy Childhoods, Poverty Alliance, Women’s Budget Group and more.
The government responded with new guidance that will enable employees with caring responsibilities to be furloughed under the scheme. This welcome move will ease pressure on parents and carers facing impossible choices between keeping their finances afloat and caring for their children.
Following this update to the furlough scheme, the Department for Education announced support for some vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in the form of laptops, tablets and 4G routers. The government must roll this out to all children who need it and ensure that all children have good internet access.
We still need to see stronger protections to ensure parents and carers are not left at the mercy of an unsympathetic employer: employees with caring responsibilities should have the right to be furloughed for as long as schools and childcare providers stay closed. Government support should also be available on a part-time basis, so people have the option to reduce their hours without stopping work completely or to share care with a partner.
To prevent children becoming the unseen victims of the pandemic, IPPR is also calling for a boost to child-related benefits and priority access to green space for children without gardens.
Children of the Pandemic was covered by a range of publications, including The Guardian, The I, The Mirror, New Statesman, The Scotsman, Yorkshire Post and Politics Home. Associate director Clare McNeil appeared on BBC Women's Hour and talkRadio to discuss our proposals.