Urgent action is needed to protect vulnerable children from becoming “unseen victims” of the Coronavirus crisis, a leading progressive think tank has warned today (Tuesday).
An IPPR briefing paper, ‘Children of the Pandemic‘, warns that with almost all UK children forced to stay at home due to school closures, millions of families are at increased risk of financial hardhip and rising debt.
The think tank is calling on the government to entend the right to paid leave to everyone who is responsible for looking after children, following the introduction of similar measures in France and Italy.
The child element of Universal Credit and child tax credit should be increased by £10 a week, and both the two-child limit and benefit cap should be immediately scrapped – boosting income for families receiving these benefits by £1,400 a year on average.
Other recommendations include:
- One-off emergency Child Benefit payments of £30 each for 12.7 million children, and an extra £5 per week for each child throughout the crisis.
- Measures to ensure all children can access learning resources online, with mobile network providers asked to extend free data for use of BBC and other educational websites, and an emergency Digital Access Fund to provide tablets or other digital devices to households where children cannot get online
- Owners of private green spaces to be urged to offer them for public use, especially near crowded town and city neighbourhoods, and priority to be encouraged for use of public parks by children without access to gardens or other open spaces
Carys Roberts, IPPR’s Director, said: “It’s crucial that the government ensure that the poverty, educational and health gaps we and our children already face are not widened further by our response to the pandemic.
“It’s especially important that policymakers do not overlook the impact of the measures on a generation of the UK’s children, who have least voice in what’s happening but will live with the consequences of our decisions for decades to come.”
Clare McNeil, IPPR Associate Director for work and the welfare state, added: “Significant financial support has been put in place for both firms and workers since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. But there are still holes in the government’s offer.
“Caring for children needs to be recognised for what it is: a full-time occupation. The government needs to give people who are unable or unwilling to work from home while caring for children the option of paid leave for the duration of this crisis, as other countries have done.
“And to prevent children in newly unemployed families from falling into poverty or hardship as a result of this crisis, the government must invest further in Universal Credit to make it a genuine safety net – not a tightrope over poverty’.
“For all the children of the pandemic, a normal childhood is out of reach for the foreseeable future. We need to intervene now to reduce the financial, educational and health gaps that will otherwise only widen while this crisis endures.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady, who is backing IPPR’s call for a right to paid parental leave during the crisis, said: “With schools and nurseries closed, lots of parents with younger children have no choice but to care for them at home. For many, this means they can no longer work.
“Parents urgently need paid parental leave and protection from losing their jobs during this exceptional time.
“The Government should make clear that parents can qualify for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. And it should be available on a flexible basis, to enable shorter working hours and shared childcare between parents where possible.”
Kathy Evans, Chief Executive of Children England, said: “We share the concerns described in IPPR’s report.
“Despite the welcome measures so far announced, worsening household poverty and social isolation risk being a major threat to children’s and families’ health and safety, and to their prospects of recovery from the social and economic impacts of this pandemic.
“The strain put on children by lack of access to decent food, purposeful activities and space to develop freely could inflict damage that lasts much longer.”
“At this extraordinary moment in our nation’s collective life we must deliver on the promise of the welfare state, to ensure the protection, services and support that all children and families need.
“The government must step up to its role in achieving that.”