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Life during lockdown

What’s life been like for children under lockdown?

Children in the UK have had their lives uprooted in almost every aspect over the past few months.  We want to make sure that their experiences, in all their diversity, are understood in what life’s been like under lockdown. We also want to ensure those experiences shape our national conversation about what happens next.

Drawing on a series of online sessions with friends and supporters, conversations in the communities where we work, and insights from other organisations, we’ve quickly put together a short report about children’s experiences of the pandemic and lockdown. You can read it here and listen to a poem from 11-year-old Lincoln.

Family life under lockdown

It’s been both a happy time and a sad time for most children: spending more time with their families and understanding each other’s lives better, helping with grown-up activities and drawing rainbows to brighten their communities, but also missing their friends and having days or weeks of feeling sad.  Families have been helping each other through the lockdown, and levels of anxiety overall have been falling since March.

“[We’ve been doing] much more cooking and baking – to keep him away from my home-working husband – more arts and crafts, [and] extended mealtimes that incorporate more games and singing.”  Parent, East Belfast

Learning under lockdown

On average, children have been spending 2.5 hours per day on schoolwork during lockdown, but there have been wide variations. Children have found new ways to learn, and many have enjoyed greater freedom to learn in different ways than the school curriculum allows. However, 700,000 children in England have no access to a computer or laptop for schoolwork and one in five children did less than an hour a day of schoolwork during April. 

Education has ceased to be a universal right during the lockdown. In England, fewer than one in ten children with a special educational need, experiences of being in care, or with a safeguarding concern attended school despite being entitled to do so, and 85% of children with special education needs have seen support postponed or stopped.

“We may, as a country, be able to reopen pubs, shops, hair salons and holiday cottages for the summer. But we cannot, it seems, find a way to educate our children …  that surely says something troubling about our national priorities.” James Kirkup, Social Market Foundation

Surviving under lockdown

Even before lockdown, 4.2 million children in the UK were living in poverty.  Lower-income parents are more likely to work in sectors where their jobs are at risk, and they benefit less from the extra financial support from the government than single-person households. 

Some 86% of families on low incomes have faced additional costs for food, electricity, clothes and nappies, losing an average of £50 per week. Seven in ten families on low incomes are cutting back on basic items, with nearly half cutting back on food.  There has been an 89% increase in food parcels for families during lockdown compared to the previous year.

Playing under lockdown

With the relatively good weather, many children have been able to spend time exploring outdoors, and in some cases taking the lead in making new friends and bringing communities together. Children have also been able to sustain friendships by keeping in touch with each other online. 

As a result, access to digital devices and outside space has become increasingly crucial for children’s friendships and wellbeing.  One in three children have told parents that they feel lonely since schools have closed, and 12% of households, including 37% of Black people, have no access to outdoor space at home.

“It’s been so hard and emotional, as the six-year-old is missing his friends so much and has been really emotional … sometimes he cries because he would enjoy something more if his friends were there”.  Parent, Tameside

We’ve also heard about children’ becoming part of ‘the new neighbourliness’, with younger children knocking on doors to find anyone with a paddling pool and then dragging it to a local park to enjoy it together; and of older children taking charge of street singalongs or driveway dance parties.

Life after lockdown: bracing for impact

The pressure on low-income families is likely to get worse rather than better over the next few months. We have seen some early evidence of families husbanding the resources of our emergency response programme, even though they were already experiencing tough times, because they are ‘braced for impact’ of much worse to come.

Yet if we bring the energy and ambition that we’ve done to getting through the pandemic, we can ensure a good childhood for all our children growing up in the UK. 

We can capitalise on the joy that parents and children alike have experienced by having more time together, and not allow this to be excessively squeezed when work and school are fully resumed.  

We can invest in the early years and in education which helps the whole child to flourish and makes schools a place of recovery as well as learning. We can make outdoor play and internet access a right for all; and protect family finances with a temporary £20 a week to the child element of Universal Credit and the Child Tax Credit.

And above all, we can – and we must – listen to children.

Children have been missing from the national conversation about the pandemic because they don’t carry much weight politically. This needs to change. And we should start by making sure that everyone whose choices affect children really listens to them as they make decisions that affect their lives, during the pandemic and beyond.