As Westminster’s attention shifts from the Covid-19 lockdown to the record-breaking recession that has been ignited, there are two big issues to be wrestled with. Sadly, it rather looks as though only one will be addressed.
The first, and well covered ground, will be employment: the furlough windup, reopening of industries, new trends both enforced and learnt during lockdown. Our record employment figures will be in tatters for some time and rediscovering them is imperative.
There will be those that demand higher taxes, some will push for borrowing, while others will demand deep cuts. We will invest for growth, build infrastructure and strengthen business, while tightening belts where we can.
This is all good and right. There are few greater things you can do for a country, for an individual, and to alleviate poverty, than be in work.
But the lockdown has also shown in starkest terms that it is not the only thing that matters.
There are a number of very serious social problems that have been greatly exacerbated in the last three months.
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At a most obvious level, for many children it is six months’ lost education.
While many private schools run full online programmes, half of them report receiving more than three quarters of work back. In the state sector, 700,000 pupils have been set no work at all and in the least advantaged schools just 8 per cent can report getting three quarters of work back.
From the first day of school, kids from poorer backgrounds are starting months behind their wealthier peers already. By 16, even before Covid-19 hit, there was an 18-month attainment gap between disadvantaged students (those on free school meals etc) and the rest.
While the best schools push on with an eight-hour day, what will eight hours on a PlayStation do for those children’s life chances?
But the cost of this lockdown on children is much darker and farther-reaching than just education.
In the first month of lockdown alone, domestic abuse charges by police rose by 24 per cent, while calls to helplines and charity referrals have soared. Calls to the National Abuse Hotline in the UK rose by 65 per cent over a similar period while Refuge helpline for victims saw a 120 per cent increase in one day.
Similarly, there have been global warnings from the police about an explosion of child sexual abuse under these conditions. There are 300,000 adults in the UK who are currently deemed a threat to children.
Reports of obscene material online more than doubled in the first month of the UK’s lockdown.
Problems of addiction have also been quietly but predictably growing during the lockdown. A survey from Action on Addiction found that 39 per cent of people who were in recovery from an addiction prior to lockdown have experienced a relapse or a re-occurrence of their addictive behaviour since lockdown. On a national scale this may mean more than one million people have experience some form of relapse during lockdown.
The child of an alcoholic has a six times increased risk of experiencing physical and sexual abuse in the home. Right now, tens, and potentially hundreds of thousands of children are trapped with their abuser 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the situation is getting worse.
School, for good or ill, is not just vital for the education of children, but often the only escape that they have from devastating domestic situations.
Many of the above are criminal matters, and the strength of our police force is crucial.
Health services will be paramount in tackling many of the problems of addiction and mental health in the months ahead.
But the second lockdown lesson is not about public services. We have a National Health Service, a universal police force and 93 per cent of all children go to the same state-run schools.
The differential in the equation that will leave some children scarred for life by this lockdown while others emerged completely unscathed, is the quality of relationships in our homes.
In the long term, school is not the answer to problems we see in domestic violence, child sexual abuse, or even mental and physical health. Our relationships are. Our families, our marriages, our friendships and communities have proven themselves to be the key factor in our experience of lockdown. This should not be a surprise. The last three months have exposed what the evidence and experience has always said: there is nothing more important in a crisis than the strength of your close relationships.
A government that it serious about problems from school failure to domestic abuse needs to get much more serious about our relationships, about family policy, and about the reality of the communities we live in. From Union membership to marriage rates, our social bonds have been in recession for decades. This lockdown has proved beyond doubt their importance to the nation’s recovery.
Edward Davies is Policy Director of the Centre for Social Justice think tank.