Uh oh, you are using an old web browser that we no longer support. Some of this website's features may not work correctly because of this. Learn about updating to a more modern browser here.

Skip To Content

Participating in the Covid-19 public inquiry

In 2023, Save the Children, in partnership with Just for Kids Law and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, participated as a Core Participant in Module 2 of the Covid-19 public inquiry. This Module explored core UK decision-making and political governance.

The pandemic affected everyone, but for babies, children and young people, the impacts will be long-lasting and era-defining. 

The government has set out to understand better how decisions were made during the pandemic and their consequences through the Covid-19 public inquiry. We have directly participated in this process to highlight the impact on children and families of the UK government’s choices. We have set this out in our report “What about the children?

Important lessons must be learned for the future while the events are still fresh in our minds. And crucially, children need support to deal with the consequences of decisions made during the pandemic which continue to affect them now – the years of lost learning, lost freedoms, and lost hope.

Quote: “Children are a low political priority in an adult-centric Westminster and often invisible as far as core decision-making is concerned. This invisibility was exacerbated during the pandemic.” Rajiv Menon KC, Barrister representing Children’s Rights Organisations

What about the children? Forgotten Voices at the Covid-19 Public Inquiry


We understand there were incredibly difficult decisions to make in March 2020 and school closures may have been necessary for a period of time. Yet as the months went by, we believe the pandemic policies’ impact on children’s wellbeing was avoidable.

Through the Covid-19 Public Inquiry, we wanted to explore who, amongst leading politicians, civil servants and scientific advisors, was thinking about children, their rights, their development and their physical and mental health when critical decisions were made. 

We wanted to ask questions to those who were making decisions to help us understand why pubs opened before schools, why there were different, more stringent rules for how children could socialise with their families in England and Northern Ireland compared to Scotland and Wales, and why adults’ sports clubs could restart but not children’s activity clubs. 


Over eight weeks of inquiry our lawyers followed carefully what witnesses submitted and said about the way that decisions were made. It was clear in what we found that the impact on children was known at the time, not just with hindsight. You can watch our closing submission or read our written statement for our full findings.

There were three key findings:

1) No one disputed that children were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic 

Witnesses, including former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, recognised that children were seriously affected by the pandemic. No one said that the decision making was adequate and met the needs of those who have no voice themselves in decision making. While we acknowledge there were many groups who suffered from the failings of political and administrative decisions, we feel it is particularly important to recognise children’s experiences as distinct and important. As our Barrister Jennifer Twite stated, “to say that children are different from adults is an embarrassingly simple and depressingly obvious submission to have to make, but sadly it is a necessary one.” 

We heard from children’s experts, including an expert in children’s public health and the former Children’s Commissioner for England, about why it is so important that children are considered in a comprehensive and deliberate way for their social, mental, and physical development. It was also stressed that not all children’s experience of the pandemic was uniform, and how detrimental the pandemic was and continues to be for children, especially those living in poverty. 

Quote: “There has been almost a doubling in the prevalence of mental health problems and also a doubling of the social inequality... particularly for disadvantaged children.”   by Professor Taylor-Robinson, Expert in child health inequalities giving evidence at Module 2 of the Covid-19 Public Inquiry

Quote: “It was very clear that there was no one at the Cabinet table who was taking children’s best interests to those decisions. When I’ve put forward, in the past, recommendations for a senior minister for children – I’ve always been told it was the Secretary of State for Education – it was very clear he wasn’t part of those discussions, there was an empty chair at the table.”   by Anne Longfield, the Former Children’s Commissioner for England

2) No one was responsible for children’s rights and well-being during the pandemic

Government ministers siad that they were all concerned about children. However, as our Barrister Rajiv Menon KC said, “If children are everyone’s responsibility, they are by default nobody’s priority. That is the problem.” It speaks volumes that the Secretary of State for Education at the time, Gavin Williamson, was not invited to give evidence during this module. Without someone dedicated to represent the rights and needs of children in rooms where decision making is happening, we will continue to let down our youngest generation.

3) The failings to children are symptomatic of systemic failures in decision making 

There were insufficient systems and processes in place to ensure children's voices and rights were considered. Some of the most striking evidence was from civil servants who spoke of their concerns about who was looking out for children, especially when it came to more vulnerable children. They said that when the curtain fell, it struck them that many children would become “invisible” to the system in a way they hadn’t before. They also recognised how the lack of diversity in government impacted more vulnerable children. 

This adult centric lens in decision making predates the pandemic but was crystallised in decisions meaning that pubs could open before schools, or that adults could socialise and return to activities before children could.

Quote: “My Lady, to say that children are different from adults is an embarrassingly simple and depressingly obvious submission to have to make, but sadly it is a necessary one.”    Jennifer Twite, Barrister representing Children’s Rights Organisations

When we asked government ministers about this, they could not recall why decisions were made or referenced scientific evidence that we could not trace. Contrary to this, other evidence pointed to advice regarding children’s wellbeing provided to government, that was not heeded. 

While media attention during the inquiry focused on the pantomime of a few individuals, the inquiry made clear that the failings that children experienced were not just the result of a few maverick characters, but of fundamental structural issues meaning that children’s rights are not systematically considered when decisions are made. 


School closures had major negative effects upon education and childhoods with children living in poverty among those worst affected. 

This has continued to play out since the pandemic with lack of investment in school catch up and worsening rates of child poverty, with a significant impact on children’s education. There has been a two-fold increase in the number of children persistently absent since before the pandemic, which is three times higher for those receiving Free School Meals. Record numbers of children are also seeking support from mental health services.

This is a direct consequence of the failure to adequately consider children’s rights and wellbeing during the pandemic, and to subsequently invest in a post pandemic education recovery plan. This has prevented the sector from meeting the needs of the thousands of children who suffered most from lost learning.


We have put forward all the evidence and recommendations in our closing submissions. These are intended to make children structurally visible, ensure their rights are put into the balance, and ensure someone at the Cabinet table is responsible for giving due consideration to those rights. 

We now await the interim report of Module 2. Despite the fact this will be over five years from the first lockdown, we hope the Chair will speak boldly to the effect that the pandemic had on children and recognise such failings in decision making for the covid generation. 

  • By incorporating the UNCRC in full into domestic law.
  • By making Child Rights Impact Assessments (“CRIAs”) a statutory requirement for all new policy and legislation, using the existing template developed by the Department for Education, and ensuring the CRIAs are robust and place children at the heart of decision making.
  • By appointing a Cabinet Minister for Children with cross departmental responsibility for protecting children’s rights across all policy making and ensuring that oversight and co-ordination of a Children’s Rights Strategy and Action Plan takes place at the highest levels of government.

  • By publishing a Children’s Rights Strategy and Action Plan, which would include a cross-departmental strategy to tackle child poverty, and which would set out the government’s vision for children with a clear road map for how it will meaningfully improve their lives and tackle inequalities that children and families experience. 
  • By strengthening parliamentary oversight and scrutiny before schools can be closed in future emergencies, and ensuring the decision to close schools cannot be made by ministers alone and is considered only as a last resort; this should also ensure that if schools do need to be closed that adequate steps are taken to mitigate the worst harms.
  • By testing future pandemic policy guidance with children and families, creating child and youth accessible, friendly and relevant information about accessing health services, and recognising and safeguarding opportunities to play and stay safe.

  • By providing the full £13.5 billion of educational recovery funding that was recommended during the pandemic directly to schools, nurseries and colleges, and focusing on children’s social and emotional development and mental health, so children can thrive and fulfil their potential. 
  • By setting out a comprehensive, long-term funding settlement for children’s services and children’s social care that invests at least £4.6 billion a year in early intervention and therapeutic services.
  • By investing in child poverty reduction so all families can afford essentials,  scrapping the two-child limit and expanding free school meals for all families that receive Universal Credit.

Quote: “The recommendations will ensure that children’s rights are embedded in future decision-making, ensure that the government fully takes the best interests of children into account before and during a future crisis”   Rajiv Menon KC, Barrister representing Children’s Rights Organisations


The Covid-19 Inquiry is an independent public inquiry set up to examine the UK’s response to and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and learn lessons for the future. Module 2 covered core UK decision-making and political governance, meaning it examined how and why decisions were made. 

A Core Participant is a person, an organisation or other entity with a significant interest in the Inquiry. It allowed Save the Children UK, as part of the Children’s Rights Organisations, to enjoy participatory rights during Module 2 of the Covid-19 Inquiry. This allowed us to make opening and closing submissions to the Inquiry and to propose questions to ask of the witnesses. 

With thanks to Norton Rose Fulbright LLP who provided extensive pro-bono support to the Children's Rights Organisations participating in the Inquiry. 


  • Save the Children’s overview of the inquiry
  • Oral Opening Statement on behalf of the Children’s Rights Organisations. Watch from 0:50 – 19:39
  • Oral Closing Statement on behalf of the Children’s Rights Organisations. Watch from 0:20 – 21:07