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Inequalities widened during pandemic, report warns

It said the impact will be felt most by young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds and those with special educational needs.

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School closures are likely to have a major impact on many children, the report warns (PA)

School closures are likely to have a major impact on many children, the report warns (PA)

School closures are likely to have a major impact on many children, the report warns (PA)

Inequalities among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and minority groups have increased amid the coronavirus pandemic, a study has found.

The report – entitled the Implications of the Covid-19 pandemic for policy in relation to children and young people – found the impact of the crisis will be felt most by young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds and those with special educational needs.

Carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), it also found parental job loss and the possibility of longer-term unemployment will affect child wellbeing through greater stress in families.

The report concludes school closures and the lack of face-to-face interaction with peers and broader family networks are having a direct impact on the lives of children and young people.

The disruption of learning is likely to have long-term consequences for many, especially for more disadvantaged children and young peopleMerike Darmody, Economic and Social Research Institute

Previous studies prior to Covid-19 found those from more disadvantaged backgrounds have poorer health, lower levels of physical activity, poorer quality diet, greater disengagement from school, lower academic performance and more socio-emotional difficulties.

Having a special educational need or being from a minority group, such as Travellers or asylum-seekers, serve as additional sources of inequality.

Recent evidence in Ireland shows these inequalities have grown in the wake of the pandemic.

The report also states the negative effects on wellbeing and mental health have been more apparent among those from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as among younger adults.

The impact is gendered as women are more likely to report feelings of depression, anxiety or sadness during the period of restrictions.

While there is less systematic evidence on the effects on children, findings suggest increased inequality for them too.

The report said children’s wellbeing is highly influenced by parental stress and depression, so a reduction in their parents’ wellbeing is likely to affect them.

Given that emotional difficulties increased more for younger adults during the period of restrictions, they are likely to have done so for children and young people.

Increased inequality is also related to the differential economic impact of pandemic-related restrictions.

Job losses have been concentrated among younger and lower-income groups, and unemployment is predicted to remain at relatively high levels in the short to medium-term.

Previous research has pointed to the negative effects of recessions on children’s socio-emotional and educational outcomes.

Therefore, greater financial strain in many families, particularly after the phasing-out of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, will negatively effect the wellbeing of children and young people, the report added.

One of the report’s authors, Merike Darmody, said: “The disruption of learning is likely to have long-term consequences for many, especially for more disadvantaged children and young people.

“While short-term measures are important to address the immediate needs of children and young people, the actions taken need to be underpinned by policies addressing larger structural inequalities.”

Roderic O’Gorman, Minister for Children, said: “This report is an important resource for my department as we work to address the impacts of the crisis on children and young people.

“The report points to the need to address inequalities, support educational re-engagement and well-being, and the need to assist young people whose transition into the labour market has been disrupted.

“We know that children and young people have been among the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

PA