From school and nursery closures to cancelled out-of-school activities, lonely birthdays, playdates and parental stress, children living through the coronavirus crisis face challenges that will rob them of a normal childhood “in the near future”, according to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
The authors argue that the vital role played by schools and childcare has been underlined by the disruption caused by Covid-19. They point out that the crisis will affect families in different ways, widening pre-existing inequalities between rich and poor, single-parent, salaried and self-employed households.
An estimated 3.9 million parents may have to stop or reduce work to care for children, the report said. It also argued that the UK’s 1.3 million children with special educational needs and disabilities, and an estimated 78,000 looked-after children, will experience even greater uncertainty.
Despite the government’s pledge to support people at 80 per cent of their wages, the report points out that this will still mean a 20 per cent cut – adding to the three million children living in poverty and with at least one parent in work pre-crisis. More than a million children trapped at home lack broadband, and will find their access to education, as well as online socialising and entertainment, severely curtailed, according to the report.
Their access to green space and exercise is also under pressure, with many children not living in a home with a garden and being restricted from using parks for more than basic physical activity.
Financial security, access to the internet, and green spaces need to be improve to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus crisis on children, the report said. The think tank’s proposals include introducing paid leave for parents, as other countries have done, adding £5 a week per child to child benefit, and lifting the two-child limit on Universal Credit.
It is also urging phone companies to lift data limits and calling for efforts to provide digital devices for children. Perhaps more radically, it is calling for owners of private green spaces to be encouraged to repurpose and open up to help children – particularly those without access to a garden.