Over the past few weeks, COVID-19 has morphed from an existential threat on our TV screens or newsfeeds into a very personal crisis.
While stories of care homes, hospitals and protection for frontline staff have rightly dominated headlines, the Institute for Public Policy Research’s (IPPR’s) latest research has looked at the impact on everyday unpaid care, and how children and their families are experiencing this pandemic.
With schools and nurseries closed, and access to friends and family networks cut off, a normal childhood is out of reach for the foreseeable future for a whole generation of children.
Our recent report, ‘Children of the pandemic’, argues that we need to assess and respond to the pressures on children and those who care for them during this crisis.
For parents who aren’t key workers but are under pressure to go out to work, and for those who’ve transitioned to working from home, the weeks ahead bring extra pressure as unrelenting childcare responsibilities are piled on top of the usual stresses and demands of paid work.
Following our report, the Government made welcome steps to clarify guidance for employers accessing the Jobs Retention Scheme, making it clear that employees with full-time caring responsibilities can be furloughed.
We believe parenting should be recognised for what it is: a full-time job. To reflect this, parents and full-time carers should have a right to furlough, including on a part-time basis.
With food and energy bills stacking up as incomes are squeezed, it’s clear that families with children will be under pressure on multiple fronts. To ease the financial pressure this crisis is already bringing to bear on families across the country, we need to see decisive action to get money into families’ pockets.
To stem a rise in child poverty and financial insecurity for families, the Government should raise the child element of Universal Credit by £10 a week, alongside scrapping the two-child limit and the benefit cap.
And to ease the pressure on families’ budgets as they care for, educate and entertain children at home, we should raise Child Benefit and make a one-off emergency payment for every eligible child.
For many children without a garden or computer at home, the weeks ahead will be all the more challenging. Beyond the immediate impact on young people’s wellbeing now, a lack of access to green space or digital devices could have far-reaching effects that stretch long into children’s futures.
With health inequalities laid bare by this crisis, it’s essential that private green spaces are opened up for children who don’t have access to a garden or a park nearby.
For children trying to adjust to learning from home, access to the internet and a device to learn online is a lifeline, without which we can expect to see education inequalities widen.
That is why we need a Digital Education Access Fund now, and collaboration between government, schools and technology companies to ensure every child can access a device at home.
This generation of children must not become the unseen victims of coronavirus. With action now, the Government can ease the pressure on families during this crisis and ensure health and educational inequalities aren’t exacerbated on the other side.