Put children at heart of pandemic inquiry, Covid chair told

Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza has urged the UK Covid-19 Inquiry to place children at its heart (Yui Mok/PA)
Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza has urged the UK Covid-19 Inquiry to place children at its heart (Yui Mok/PA)

Young people must be put at the heart of the inquiry into the UK’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the Children’s Commissioner has told its chair.

Dame Rachel de Souza said children have expressed to her the long-term impact the pandemic has had on their wellbeing and happiness.

She has written to Baroness Heather Hallett urging her to put children at the centre of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry’s work and ensure they are prioritised.

It comes in the same week as more than 40 of the UK’s leading children’s charities and child development experts issued a warning to the inquiry chair about  “unacceptable delays” to taking evidence from children on lockdown and its effects.

The separate letter from the Children’s Commissioner, first reported by the Daily Telegraph, has not been published.

But in a statement accompanying it, Dame Rachel said: “As Children’s Commissioner, it is my job to ensure that children’s voices, views and experiences are heard by policymakers, Government and the Covid inquiry.

“During the pandemic children across the country sacrificed so much to keep us all safe.

“Children and young people have told me how lonely they felt, how much they missed school, seeing their friends and socialising. Now, they continue to tell me about a long-term impact the pandemic has on their wellbeing and happiness.

“That’s why I have I have called on the chair of the Covid inquiry to ensure that it has children and young people’s views and voices at the heart and centre of everything they do.

“I will continue to call for the inquiry to recognise the pandemic’s impact on children and make sure we are prioritising them in recovery.”

Meanwhile, Save the Children UK, the NSPCC and the National Children’s Bureau were among those who signed an open letter in recent days asking Baroness Hallett to commission experts to start recording children’s experiences.

Covid-19 pandemic inquiry
Inquiry chair Baroness Heather Hallett arriving at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry at Dorland House in London (james Manning/PA)

Dan Paskins, director of UK impact at Save the Children said: “Children are being silenced by this inquiry.”

The organisations complained that the inquiry’s Every Story Matters campaign, which allows people to share stories of their experiences of the pandemic, is open to only those aged 18 and over.

They called on the inquiry to publicly commit to hearing from children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who experience other inequalities or discrimination, and use this research to inform the scope of a children’s module.

The inquiry is expected to announce the next 12 months of investigations in early 2024, with future investigations expected to cover education, children and young people.