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Families ‘suicidal’ and at breaking point in lockdown

Parents and children are at breaking point in lockdown, with some suicidal, as families are struggling to pay bills, heat homes and put food on the table, Action for Children has warned.

The charity’s survey of frontline staff found that some isolated new mothers were even saying that they wished they hadn’t had their babies this year.

“After almost a year of unprecedented restrictions on family life, a new investigation by Action for Children reveals the UK’s most vulnerable children and parents are at rock bottom – as the charity pleads with the Prime Minister to tackle the country’s childhood crisis,” said a statement from the charity.

Action for Children carried out interviews with key workers representing 155 of its frontline services across the UK, including children’s centres, services for disabled children and young carers. The findings show huge concern about the mental health, finances and safeguarding of families they support, as well as fears for their future.

Levels of domestic abuse are rising in lockdown and workers fear many children are trapped at home, hidden from help. The charity also calls for Universal Credit uplift to be made permanent as its new analysis shows anything less will leave struggling families without support when they need it most.

Key workers urge the prime minister to ‘come live and breathe what our families are going through’, warning children of all ages are regressing in speech, behaviour, education and social skills.

The following issued were raised as key concerns by frontline workers:

Mental health

All staff were worried about the toll the crisis is having on parents’ mental health, describing them as “at their wits' end”, “exhausted”, and “unable to cope with a simmering pot of emotion and frustrations”.

Families reported feelings of isolation and struggling to cope with job losses, relationship breakdowns, home schooling and fears of catching the virus.

One worker described working with a parent who was suicidal: “She told me ‘I can’t cope, I can’t be here anymore’ – she’s a single parent with an older child with autism and additional needs. She can’t access school for long at the moment and is so alone, it’s just so sad”.

Anxiety was reported as one of the main issues facing children and young people with workers describing how many told them they are anxious to go outside, of bringing the virus home to their families, and of returning to school after being isolated from friends.

Family finances

More than 90% of the charity’s frontline staff said families’ finances had deteriorated since the first lockdown and a similar number (90%) reported parents were worried about having enough money to stay afloat both now and in the coming months.

Families were reported being most worried about:
- not being able to afford food (93%)
- concerns about affording the heating (66%)
- paying household bills (61%).
- affording technology (56%)
- paying for clothes (41%)

More than half (58%) said they did not think government was providing adequate financial support to low-income families.

Safeguarding concerns

With many schools only open to vulnerable children and the children of key workers and lockdown restrictions causing a rise in domestic abuse, many workers were concerned about the safety of at-risk children, hidden from professionals such as teachers and doctors who would normally see them.

Three-quarters (76%) of workers fear there are children who are not being reached by external agencies because of the pandemic while more than half of workers (56%) said they have seen an increase in vulnerable children needing support.

Long term impact

The overwhelming majority (80%) of those surveyed considered childhood to be in crisis and that the pandemic will have a negative impact on children unless there was urgent investment in children’s services and support back into education. Many have witnessed children of all ages regress in speech, behaviour, education and social skills.

Action for Children’s director of policy and campaigns, Imran Hussain, said: “It’s been nearly a year since the first lockdown began – 12 long months of more families facing hardship, struggling to cope and of childhoods gone.

“Sadly, in what’s become a dossier of despair, our frontline staff tell us children and parents are at rock bottom going without food, heating, clothes and essentials - and the pandemic is making things even worse. With unemployment rising and fears for the future when the furlough scheme ends, more families are facing financial hardship and vulnerable children are paying the price.

“There is no faster way to push up poverty than by taking over £1,000 a year out of the pockets of the poorest families in the country. Many of these families are working families doing their best to hold their heads above water after a nightmare year that has seen hours cut and wage packets slashed. The Prime Minister must make the uplift to Universal Credit permanent if families are to stand a fighting chance of recovery,” he added.

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