The Covid-19 crisis is asking a great deal of the nation’s children, as well as their parents, carers and wider families. This IPPR report suggests steps need to be taken quickly and urgently to strengthen our social safety net and allow access to essentials like outdoor space and digital access. While the government has taken strong actions to support firms and some workers, further measures are needed in support of children and their families.
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.
- Access to the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme needs to widen to parents (and others with full-time caring responsibilities) who need to look after children because schools and childcare settings have closed. Forms of paid leave for parents are available to parents in other countries facing restrictions, including France, Italy and the US.
- The government should take action now to prevent increases in child poverty and further reduce economic insecurity. It should increase the child element of universal credit and child tax credit by £10 a week, which should be done alongside removing the two-child limit and the benefit cap. We estimate that the average low-income family would benefit £1,400 per annum from these changes.
- All families face additional costs as a result of caring for, educating and entertaining children at home. Many urgently require financial support in the coming days and weeks. We therefore recommend that the government introduces an emergency one-off payment of £30 through child benefit and an ongoing increase of £5 per week for the duration of crisis. •Children living in mobile-only households or those without internet connection are at a clear educational disadvantage. To resolve this, the Department for Education (DfE) should work with schools and telecommunications technology providers to get broadband installed and devices loaned or donated to those children without them.
- Local authorities should consider encouraging owners of private green spaces to offer open access for the duration of the crisis and maintaining access to public parks for children living in a home or flat without a garden in the event of further restrictions, to allow outdoor exercise and support wellbeing.
- The government should ensure those with full-time caring responsibilities, including parents, can access paid leave through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. It should also introduce a statutory ‘right to request’ for the 80 per cent wage subsidy up to £2500 a month. This should be accompanied by a clear ‘right to return’, ensuring they can return to their job without the risk of employer discrimination.
- The government should invest further in universal credit by increasing the child element of UC and child tax credit by £520 annually per child, alongside removing the two-child limit and the benefit cap. We estimate that the average household with children, claiming UC or child tax credit, would benefit by £1,400 per annum from these changes alone. The UC advance should be turned into a grant and debt deductions suspended for the duration of the crisis, as previously recommended by IPPR. The government should also further raise the standard allowance to £472 per month, taking it to just under one third of the minimum income standard (MIS).
- The government should introduce a one-off child benefit emergency payment of £30 and increase child benefit by £20 a month (£5 per week per child) for the duration of the crisis. Our modelling shows that this would focus financial assistance on lower income groups, with a one-off cost for the emergency payment of an estimated £300 million and ongoing costs per quarter of an estimated £600 million.
- The government has recently secured a deal with telecommunications providers to scrap data allowances so that people can stay connected during the crisis. Government should go a step further and work with these providers and schools to identify children in mobile-only homes or without any current internet access, to ensure that they can have broadband installed to take advantage of low or zero rates.
- For children (including children in care) who do not have adequate devices at home for online schooling, government should work with schools and technology companies to see if devices can be donated by these companies or whether they can be loaned by their school. Where neither of these options is possible funding should be made available for this through a new Digital Education Access fund.
- Local authorities should encourage owners of private green spaces to offer open access for the duration of the crisis, particularly in urban or densely populated areas, to help reduce numbers using public parks and green spaces.If further restrictions on time for exercise or to parks and outdoor spaces are introduced, local authorities should consider maintaining access to parks for those children who are living in a home or flat without a garden or in densely populated areas. This could be done by relying on an honesty system, rather than by enforcement, as is currently the case with instructions to exercise once a day.