To fully grasp the severity of the impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable children in our communities, we have to backtrack slightly – to what it was like pre-pandemic.
Before coronavirus (and lockdown) 4.2 million children were living in poverty. The unrelenting stress of living in poverty affects child wellbeing; hindering the brain development of children, with long-term consequences on physical and mental health leading to lifelong effects that follow them into adulthood. This was a fact for many children before the pandemic, and research suggests that Covid-19 is likely to push many more children into this reality, unless we do something to intervene.
Battle UK’s The State of Child Poverty ’20 report offers a unique insight into the impact of the pandemic from inside the homes of some of the most vulnerable families in the UK. Whilst the report reinforces data seen elsewhere (i.e. increased unemployment, reliance on foodbanks, an increase of Universal Credit recipients) it is unique in providing first-hand, direct experiences of what frontline workers have witnessed from their interactions with families during the crisis. Here are the key findings from the report:
- Food poverty was seen as having the biggest impact on education, with 33% of respondents reporting that not being able to access food impacted children’s education most.
- 26% of respondents said families found home schooling challenging because of digital access – main issues are around shared or no computers, no broadband or insufficient internet speed (unable to download coursework), no access to printers, no quiet desk space to learn, and having to do homework through parents’ phones.
- 24% of respondents found barriers to home schooling due to parental mental and physical health barriers.
- 84% of frontline workers have seen increases in children and young people’s mental health problems.
- 75% have seen an increase in behaviour problems.
- 77% of respondents reported that there has been an increase in need for mental health support during the crisis.
- 83% of frontline workers have seen an increase in need for foodbanks and 64% for local authority welfare assistance.
- Frontline workers reported major difficulties during lockdown for families in accessing basics. 57% could not afford essential household items; 47% of families were unable to afford food.
Cold. Hard. Facts.
And here are some more…
The Children’s Commissioner’s recent Childhood in the Time of Covid report suggests that over 500,000 children (roughly 4%) in the UK lived in homes where parent-child relationships worsened over lockdown. Children in low-income households were 70% more likely to be in a family where the parent reported a deterioration in parent-child relationships.
The report goes on to highlight the economic impacts of coronavirus on the welfare of children and families. It has been estimated that median household income fell by 4.5% between May 2019 and May 2020, the largest yearly fall since the 1970s. Early estimates suggest that 300,000 children have been pushed into poverty by the disruptive effects of lockdown on unemployment. These figures are likely to underestimate the full economic impact of coronavirus on children and families, since unemployment is forecast to reach 12% at the end of the year as the recession unfolds.
Reduced family incomes and restrictions on movement increased food insecurity for children. The Trussell Trust reported an 89% increase in need for emergency food parcels in April 2020 compared to the same month last year. At the end of April, 350,000 children were living in a household where someone had been forced to skip a meal in the last week and 249,000 were in families that had accessed foodbanks.
The Children’s Commissioner summates her report as follows:
The result is a rising tide of childhood vulnerability. Even before the crisis, there were 2.2 million children in England living in households affected by any of the so-called ‘toxic trio’ of family issues: domestic abuse, parental drug and/or alcohol dependency, and severe parental mental health issues. After months of national anxiety, the stripping back of key support services and an emerging economic recession, the impact of lockdown on children is only just starting to become clear. Children can be both resilient and adaptable, but they can’t do this on their own, and the crisis has shown how few resources some children – and their families – can rely upon when things go wrong.
Some children enjoyed aspects of lockdown. For example, families whose incomes remained stable, perhaps as a result of the furlough scheme, often found that they had more quality time to spend with one another, and some children became less stressed as a result of a break from the regular rhythms of everyday life. But for vulnerable and disadvantaged children, the story has been very different.
In short, Covid-19 exposed and then amplified existing inequalities facing children, meaning those children already facing the worst life chances have felt the greatest burden from the virus and our response to it
The need is rife and it would not be far-fetched to talk about a child poverty crisis in our country. There were already concerns among experts about generation Z before the pandemic. About 30% of children were already living in poverty, a figure that was predicted to increase. Dr Dasha Nicholls, child specialist and part of the You-Cope study into young people’s health and wellbeing during the pandemic (research that is being led by University College London and Great Ormond Street hospital) says:
This generation is entering uncharted territory, where their opportunities have been devastated. People talk of the resilience of the young but this crisis has happened so quickly that young people have had no time to change and adapt. The impact on them could become entrenched, with potentially enduring consequences.
Whilst it is important that we put out the fires started by Covid-19, by relieving the burden placed on our most vulnerable children in the event of further lockdowns, it is crucial we address the underlying issues that made these children and their families so susceptible to adversity in the first place. Sticking a plaster on the wound is not going to cure the illness that caused it in the first place.
This is a call to action. If you’d like to find out more about what you can do, read THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON VULNERABLE CHILDREN: What can we do?
Kids Matter is a programme that engages with families and young children before crisis point – it strengthens families by giving mums and dads the tools to be competent, confident parents or caregivers. To get involved, as a volunteer or by financially supporting our programme, please contact us at email@example.com