The move is one of several emergency measures needed to alleviate the ‘care crisis’ caused by nursery and school closures and save children from becoming the pandemic’s ‘unseen victims’, the Institute for Public Policy Research has warned.
With an estimated 3.9 million parents having to stop or reduce work to care for children, the thinktank is calling for parents to be given access to paid childcare leave as part of the Government’s Coronavirus Jobs Retention scheme, in which 80% of a furloughed worker’s wages are paid by the Government.
Parents can legally ask for unpaid leave to care for children, but ‘this is unlikely to be feasible or sustainable for the majority of working parents’, especially for lone-parent households, the IPPR warns.
Their ‘children of the pandemic’ report, out today, also calls for extra financial support to prevent a rise in child poverty, help accessing online learning and priority use of parks as ‘essential’ to protect children from widening poverty, education and health gaps.
The report says ‘This childcare crisis will affect men and women differently. The vast majority of lone parents in the UK are women, and women in two-parent families are more likely to be the second earner. Without further action from government to protect parents in work, this crisis could see women lose significant portions of their income or be pushed out of the labour market altogether as families are faced with impossible choices in trying to balance work with full-time caring responsibilities.’
TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady 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.’
Forms of paid parental leave have been provided in the US, France, and Italy, where a 50% of salary, 15-days of parental leave scheme has been introduced for workers with children younger than 12.
The IPPR also warns that one million children and their families do not have adequate access to online connectivity at home, while children living in the most deprived areas are at higher risk of obesity.
Alongside recommending paid leave for parents, the IPPR is also calling for:
- 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
Clare McNeil, IPPR Associate Director for work and the welfare state, said:
‘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.’
- See the report here: https://www.ippr.org/research/publications/children-of-the-pandemic