Children’s welfare will be added to an inquiry that hopes to learn lessons from the British government’s response to COVID 19.
On Thursday, Baroness Hallett, a former High Court judge and the Chair of the UK COVID-19 Public Inquiry, wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson with her proposed changes for an Inquiry that will play a key role in examining the UK’s pandemic response.
The aims of the Inquiry will be to “examine, consider, and report on preparations and the response” to the pandemic in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
Wide-reaching, the probe will gather evidence from the preparedness of hospitals, PPE spending, to looking at the impact of the virus on those with protected characteristics.
The latest addition is that it will include children and young people (pdf), including the impact on health and the well-being and social care education, and early years provision. The Inquiry will also look at the wider mental health impact across the population.
The Inquiry was initially criticised for failing to include school closures, the cancellation of physical activities, the impact of decisions on children’s social care, the deterioration in children’s mental health, as well as limiting face-to-face interactions with health visitors and more.
The organisation UsforThem said that lockdown restrictions have “disproportionately burdened harms onto children and young people.”
It said that, for example, during lockdowns “risk factors for child maltreatment were heightened” and that it had seen “a marked increase in serious harm incidents due to known and suspected abuse or neglect in 2020, including tragic and high-profile fatalities.”
The organisation wrote a letter in March to Hallett urging her to do so, saying that “our pandemic response over the past two years has consistently, and at times devastatingly, deprioritised the education, health, and welfare of children in relation to their adult custodians. We owe a collective duty to children to correct course, and to do so swiftly.”
Hallett said that 20,000 individuals and organisations responded to the four-week consultation and that she had held meetings with over 150 bereaved families and organisations representing different sectors in cities across the UK.
The Inquiry’s public hearings are not due to start until 2023. It is up to Johnson to have the final decision on the Terms of Reference. The probe has full powers, to compel the production of documents and to summon witnesses to give evidence under oath.
“I believe these changes will ensure the Inquiry can best fulfill its purpose to examine the UK’s preparedness and response to the COVID-19 pandemic and learn lessons for the future,” said Hallett.