IPPR calls for measures to protect ‘children of the pandemic’

Better support is needed to help children already living in poverty - and those in danger of it during the crisis.

In a paper published today, progressive think tank IPPR has called for a raft of measures to urgently protect the 4.2 million children in the UK who already live in poverty and risk this being further exacerbated by the crisis. With so many facing economic hardship as a result of the crisis, this is sure to rise.

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.”

With almost all children being forced to stay at home, switch to online schooling and face growing restrictions on their use of outdoor space, those living in poverty will suffer the most.

An estimated 1 million children and their families do not have adequate access to a device or connectivity at home, and more than a third (36 per cent) of 16 to 24 year-olds live in mobile-only households.

Social distancing measures are already challenging for children and especially for those without access to a garden or local green spaces. An estimated 28 per cent of children aged two to 15 are already overweight or obese, with those in the most deprived areas at even higher risk.

IPPR are calling for the following measures:

  • The right to paid parental leave for those who need to look after children, under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
  • An increase in the child element of Universal Credit and child tax credit by £10 a week, and removal of the two-child limit and the current benefit cap.
  • 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.

Report lead author Clare McNeil said

“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’.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady backed IPPR’s call for a right to paid parental leave during the crisis. She said

“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.”

Emma Burnell is a freelance journalist and political consultant.

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