Covid-19 ‘having a devastating impact on children’s rights’

Fiona Simpson
Friday, November 20, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic is having a “devastating impact on children’s rights, wellbeing and futures”, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has warned.

The commission has raised concerns about increasing poverty rates.
The commission has raised concerns about increasing poverty rates.

In a report to the government on the impact of the health crisis on existing inequalities faced by young people, the EHRC say “key concerns include more children being pushed into poverty, widening educational inequalities and worsening mental health”.

“Poverty is one of the main barriers to the full enjoyment of children’s rights – living in poverty can have a negative impact on children’s health, well-being, education and development,” the report states, predicting that by 2021/22, an extra 1.5m children are expected to be living in poverty due to the pandemic. 

The report also warns that the closure of schools, which happened during the first national lockdown between March and September, and inequalities in home learning between those from poorer backgrounds and their more affluent peers “risks exacerbating growing attainment gaps for certain groups, including disabled pupils, some ethnic minorities, and those who are socio-economically disadvantaged.”

The commission also highlights that online learning “risks undermining the right to education” and warns of added challenges for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) due to shortage of specialist provision in schools.

Other areas of concern raised in the report include increased risk of abuse during the pandemic, worrying trends such as the high levels of violence experienced by children in the criminal justice system and the detention of children with autism and  learning disabilities.

A combination of some or all of these factors may have contributed to a worsening mental health crisis among young people, the EHRC says.

It adds that while the long-term impact of the crisis on young people’s mental health is “yet to be fully understood”, “the combined impact of limited capacity within the mental health service and children being cut off from support at school, could be severe and long-lasting”.

In a series of recommendations to government, the commission calls for more investment in children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) including across the youth custody estate.

It also recommends:

  • The UK and Welsh governments should urgently conduct a critical analysis of the short and long-term impact of the pandemic on children, giving consideration to the compounding negative effects of the pandemic and the disproportionate impact on certain groups.

  • The UK government should develop a comprehensive child poverty strategy for England. 

  • The UK government’s coronavirus education recovery plan for England, which includes £1 billion worth of catch-up premiums for disadvantaged children, must provide individualised and targeted support for ethnic minority pupils and disabled pupils affected by the school closures.

  • The UK government should address the concerns about funding of the SEND system in England, exacerbated by coronavirus, through the development of a long-term, sustainable funding package, with an emphasis on incentivising schools to be more inclusive.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the EHRC said: “The pandemic has had a profound impact on all of us. However, the repercussions for children have extended into every single aspect of their lives, from their education, to their homes, their mental health, and much more.  Every child matters; we want to see all our children thrive, develop and reach their potential; every child has rights, even during a pandemic.

“The decisions being made now to mitigate the impact of the pandemic will have a long-lasting effect on our children’s futures. We are asking the government to put children’s rights at the heart of its decision-making so that the next generation can be supported to overcome the challenges and barriers that 2020 has thrown up.”

Responding to the report, Azmina Siddique, policy manager at The Children’s Society, said the report highlights how “numerous detrimental policies have eroded children’s rights over the years.”

“The damaging effects are not only from the pandemic, but also from years of austerity and cuts to vital services that have left many children facing a range of challenges, issues and a shocking lack of support to overcome them.

“We are really concerned about groups that are already vulnerable, those from ethnic minorities, those who are living in low income households, unaccompanied refugee and migrant children and children in care.

“It is vital the government sits up and takes more action to help. They should extend free school meal provision to all those on Universal Credit and affected by No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF), NRPF should also not be applied to any households with dependents under 18. More money must be invested in local children’s services to ensure all vulnerable children have a trusted adult they can turn to in times of crisis,” she said.

Tulip Siddiq, Labour’s shadow minister for early years and children, added: “Children may be less likely to get sick from Covid-19, but the government has still allowed them to become the victims of this pandemic. As ever, it is those from poorer families, or with existing vulnerabilities or special educational needs and disabilities who have been hit hardest.

“With many more families teetering on the brink of poverty, ministers must stop treating children like an afterthought and focus on supporting their development and wellbeing.”

 

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