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Children suffered a stricter lockdown than their parents - children's rights organisations tell Covid-19 Inquiry

October 4 2023 LONDON - Lockdown was stricter for children than their parents and has caused lasting damage, the Covid-19 Inquiry heard.  

Rules on social mixing and outdoor exercise were also the toughest for children in England and Northern Ireland and in some cases children went for two and a half months without seeing another child. 

A group of leading children’s rights organisations who took part in the Covid-19 Inquiry on October 4 have also questioned exactly which minister in the UK government had responsibility for considering children’s rights in a crisis, and who would take up this role in the future.  

Barrister Jennifer Twite, representing Save the Children UK, Just for Kids Law and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, which are core participants in the Inquiry, told Baroness Heather Hallett that government decision-making caused educational and psychological harm that disproportionately impacted children.  

“Government decision making caused educational and psychological harm that in many ways disproportionately impacted children. The government did not sufficiently consider children’s rights and well-being in their political and administrative decision-making.  

“The key decision in respect of children which the Inquiry will wish to ask itself, and ask witnesses being called, is how does such a serious, inexcusable and avoidable failure of government policy making happen?  

“Whose role was it to consider the interests of children and make sure their needs were not forgotten in this crisis?” she said.

In her opening statement on behalf of the children's rights organisations, she questioned why former Education Secretary Sir Gavin Williamson’s role was ‘so incidental to decision making’ that the Inquiry had not called him to give evidence in this module. It was also raised that the Children’s Minister at the time had said that issues around outdoor play was not within the remit of the Department for Education. 

Addressing Baroness Hallett, Miss Twite said: "You, my lady, have already concluded that it is not necessary for the then Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, to be called during Module 2 hearings and asked about high-level decision-making processes because it appears he was largely excluded from those decisions.

"This, we say, effectively proves our very point."

Rules that penalised children were “heart-breaking” she said.  

“When adults were allowed to meet one other adult from another household for jogging or yoga they were allowed to do, their young children could not meet any of their friends because the need for a supervising adult would constitute a breach of the lockdown rules,” she said.  

She also referenced a decision in the summer of 2020 to open non-essential retail, then pubs and hairdressers, but not schools.  

In early 2021, children in Wales and Scotland could meet up with their friends but English children could not, she said. 

“According to BBC News Scottish children were going sledding and having snowball fights. While Scotland and Wales were still in lockdown, they had amended their rules for children. Lockdown rules were in reality stricter for children than their parents [and] stricter for English and Northern Irish children than Scottish and Welsh," she said.

Save the Children UK, Just for Kids Law and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, are taking part in Module 2 of the Covid-19 Inquiry which explores decision making and political governance of the pandemic.  

Dan Paskins, director of UK Impact at Save the Children UK said: “The decision to impose such strict rules on children in England wasn’t evidence-based.  It was because in times of crisis, we didn’t have the right structures and systems in place to make good decisions.  That’s why we’ve made clear recommendations so that next time there is a crisis, politicians can make better decisions which help rather than harm children.”  

Louise King, co-lead of Just for Kids Law and Director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, said: “It’s paramount that the Covid Inquiry scrutinises why the UK Government failed to adequately consider children’s rights when making decisions during the pandemic given the harm that this caused. It must also fully consider what actions are needed to mitigate the suffering caused to the ‘covid generation’ and to ensure that children are placed at the heart of Government decision-making so that the damage caused to them during the pandemic can never happen again.”  


Extracts from letters sent to Boris Johnson in March 2021 from parents collated by Playing Out, Play England, Just for Kids Law and the Children's Rights Alliance for England.

These were read out at the Inquiry by Miss Twite on behalf of the children's rights organisations.

One parent: 

"My five year old daughter is an only child and she has been badly affected by lack of socialising with other children since lockdown. She is far less cheerful and motivated than she was before this isolation. She especially looks for video games with other children to watch or pretend, which she used not to do. Her sleep has also become disturbed.”

Another mother wrote how her eight-year-old child, also an only child, had become irritable sad, prone to outbursts of crying, and now bed-wetting.

A different parent wrote: “My happy sociable seven-year-old has developed chronic anxiety since the start of this - and all he wants is to see his friends, to race around the playground non-stop and for life to feel more norma.”

“My seven-year-old hasn't seen anyone since December 16. He has started to withdraw and become moody and aggressive. He's angry with me and his mam because he's an only child and has no one to play with! I am so worried about him its unreal!”

“I have an eight-year-old who like yours hasn’t seen any other children since mid December. He sits having literal conversations with him self about football (not just talking out loud but having a discussion) in lieu of being able to chat to his friends.”

A project worker in an area of high deprivation in Bristol, described their concerns seeing the children there:

"Over the last two weeks we have been at the school and met parents one by one, handing over art packs we bought for children at home. Unlike the more affluent area where we live (which is busy with children and parents outside) we saw no children at all outside or in the green spaces. Parents said that collecting the art pack was one valid reason they could take their children out, as if they did not feel this was the case otherwise.”