Children whose families face financial instability are at particular risk during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Not only is there the real risk of poverty itself and the cruel hardships it brings, but families may also lack the resources and technology needed to support home education or for children to maintain relationships online with their friends and wider family.
The pandemic has highlighted the seriousness of digital poverty, and shown that with limited access to technology and reliable wi-fi, some children and young people are shut out of the conversations taking place at an individual and national level.
Members of Young NCB (YNCB) shared their views on how financial hardship during the COVID-19 lockdown is affecting children and young people and the expression of their voices.
Children and young people and financial hardship
Children and young people often have a good understanding of their family’s financial hardship and this impacts on them as well as their parents. A member of YNCB told us that:
‘A lot of households are unable to earn a stable income during these times of uncertainty. For example, my dad is a self-employed driver: with no one needing to be driven anywhere, of course, he has earnt close to nothing in the past weeks and we don't know for how long this will continue.’
Another member of YNCB explained that, ‘my dad works in home improvements, we could lose out a lot’, which demonstrates young people’s ability to grasp their parents financial situations and how this can impact their anxiety and mental wellbeing.
For some young people, their only source of financial income comes from their part time job. Because of the pandemic, these jobs are under threat, undermining a young person’s independence. A member of YNCB explained the uncertain circumstance they are in. They told us:
‘I don’t know what’s happening with my weekend job. We all just need clarity and peace of mind’.
Enabling children and young people to have a say
It’s as important as ever to consult and speak with children and young people throughout the crisis and to involve them in decision making.
However, members of YNCB highlighted that they have not felt listened to, with some of the services they rely on making cancellations hours before appointments.
One member of YNCB explained, ‘Anyone who is vulnerable is struggling. Hospital appointments are cancelled, and counselling cancelled a few hours before you're supposed to have it.’
Another member of YNCB added, ‘when our services are being cancelled or moved onto the phone a few hours before they are due to take place, we are not feeling respected or cared about.’
Despite the necessary closure of schools to reduce spread of the virus, a member of YNCB explained their unhappiness at the lack of clarity they were given, ‘our futures were changed in a five-minute speech, while still not giving us the answers that we need and were desperate for’.
Another member of YNCB explained that: ‘we need to be consulted and talked to and made to feel like our voices matter, otherwise we will never do well.’
Ultimately, as a young person from YNCB emphasised, ‘it’s time we are involved and listened to, now more than ever.’
Access to online education
Households with limited income have less access to important resources. The widespread move to online learning following the closure of schools can a disadvantage students who do not have access to laptops, broadband for multiple devices, or a smart phone or tablet.
Many children are unable to learn because of their inability to access or buy equipment to support their virtual schooling.
Additionally, as Carys from the Council for Disabled Children’s FLARE group explained, it’s not just equipment that young people can struggle to access, but having a suitable space to work in your house. Carys told us, ‘you’ve been working from home, trying to navigate your way through various online classes whilst trying to find a quiet corner you can sit in, so you can manage your workload in peace.’
Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities or learning support needs also face other considerable barriers. A member of YNCB explained, ‘for students with specific learning disabilities like myself, Covid-19 is only going to disadvantage us further.’
We welcome the steps taken so far to protect family incomes in this time of uncertainty. As well as protecting individual incomes, we are convinced there is more to do to meet the needs of the UK's families.
This must include support for children and young people without access to technology, so they can learn effectively and share their ideas, experiences, opinions and challenges on a national and individual level. As a member of YNCB explained, ‘our lives are not things that can be put on hold, our futures are not something to be played with.’
To find out more about joining Young NCB visit: https://www.ncb.org.uk/what-we-do/we-always-involve-and-listen-children-young-people/young-ncb
Charlotte O’Halloran is Participation Project Assistant at the Council for Disabled Children