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Covid-19: Emergency support package needed to save ‘children of the pandemic’ from becoming its unseen victims - IPPR

Right to paid parental leave, extra family cash, help accessing online learning and priority use of parks ‘essential’ to protect children from widening poverty, education and health gaps

Urgent intervention is needed to ensure that millions of children are not unfairly disadvantaged by the measures to combat the Covid-19 health crisis, according to the IPPR progressive think tank.

With almost all the UK’s children forced to stay at home, switch to online schooling and endure growing restrictions on their use of outdoor play space, and with millions of families suffering from increased financial hardship and the risk of debt, destitution and child poverty, IPPR is calling for:

  • The right to paid parental leave for those who need to look after children, under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, following similar measures in other countries where schools have closed including France, Italy and the US
  • 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 – boosting income for families receiving these benefits by £1,400 a year on average.
  • 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, to put money in the pockets of those who need it urgently, and in recognition of higher costs of caring for and entertaining children at home
  • 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

The recommendations follow IPPR analysis which found that children risk being particularly impacted by key aspects of the UK-wide response to the coronavirus epidemic.

Economic insecurity

An estimated 3.9 million parents may need to care for children because they are no longer in school or childcare. All parents face increased costs for educational materials, internet usage and entertainment. Even those furloughed by their employers under the job retention scheme face a 20 per cent cut to their income. Some 4.2 million children already live in poverty and without intervention their numbers will increase because of the crisis.

Impact of school and childcare closures

Parents and carers are currently entitled only to unpaid leave if they find it impossible to juggle work and childcare, which many – especially lone parents - will be unable to afford. Women particularly face losing significant income or being pushed out of the labour market altogether, causing lasting damage to progress towards gender parity at work.

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. Many children rely on internet access at school, in libraries or other locations all closed during the crisis. Children without home internet access are already at a known educational disadvantage and this is likely to worsen.

Restrictions on outdoor activities

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. Outdoor exercise also brings mental health benefits.

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

Clare McNeil, IPPR Associate Director for work and the welfare state, 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’.

“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.”

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.”



  1. The IPPR briefing paper, Children of the Pandemic, by Clare McNeil, Henry Parkes, Rachel Statham, Dean Hochlaf and Carsten Jung, will be published at 0001 on Tuesday March 31st. It will be available for download at:
  2. Advance copies of the report are available under embargo on request

IPPR is the UK’s re-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.

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