Andrew Bridgen speaks in the fourth day of the debate on the Queen’s Speech and highlights the devastating impact of the covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions on our children and young people. He calls on the Government to ensure every opportunity is made to help our children and young people to catch up, because they are the future of our country, and they need to be protected.
The title of this debate is, “Making Britain the Best Place to Grow Up and Grow Old,” but it needs to be seen against the backdrop of our recent covid pandemic and the recovery. Throughout the pandemic, parallels were rightly drawn with surviving a war. Indeed, it was often called the battle against covid, whether in the coming together of our nation at the beginning of the pandemic, in the demonstration of national unity as we appreciated the key workers who delivered all the services we needed, in the unprecedented roll-out by volunteers of health programmes to protect the vulnerable or in the eye-watering expenditure. Every year, in November, we have a day to remember those who gave their life in war, and we rightly know that is a debt we can never repay, but I am conscious that there are millions of people in our society today to whom we owe a debt, as a result of the lockdowns and the privations of covid, that must be repaid—they are our children and young people.
We knew all along that those millions of children and young people were at the very least risk from the virus, yet we still as a House consciously chose to lock them away for the safety of others, and they have suffered. I have heard from young adults who never got the chance to do the things that are seen as a rite of passage for young people and define points in their lives. Many have never experienced the pressure of having to take exams, and they are not sure if they have the resilience to be able to cope with it. Others worry that their teacher-assessed grades may be seen as devalued qualifications. They did not get to go to their prom, did not get to go to their end-of-year assembly and did not get to say goodbye to their friends. All these things, both small and large, help prepare them for the challenges of adulthood. Despite the fact that, as a whole, they were at incredibly low risk from the virus, I do fear for their mental health and I fear for their resilience—and we owe them.
I have heard from secondary schools in my constituency that children moving up to them are far behind where the professionals would expect them to be both academically and socially. Giving children laptops to work from home during lockdowns was all well and good, but the work was not always appropriate and there was not always the correct parental support; some parents just did not have the skills or the time to support their children as we would have liked them to. Once again, those children were at little risk, and they have had precious years of their education taken away from them to protect others—and we owe them.
There are infants starting out on their educational journey far behind normal development targets. Local nurseries tell me that children cannot toilet themselves, and that they lack social skills and confidence. They have the longest time to catch up, but catch up they must or they will bear the scars of the covid pandemic longer than any of us. Primary schools are also noting deficits in social skills in all years, but significantly in year 2. Those children, due to covid, lost the foundation years that are so crucial for their development, and for those who did not receive sufficient parental support, the damage is even harder.
The Government must legislate to ensure every opportunity is made available for our children and young people to catch up. Over time, the price they will be paying will be higher than any of us will pay. There was a minimal risk to them, but they have lost huge opportunities. In a civilised society, I expect adults to make sacrifices for our children and young people; I do not expect our children and young people to make sacrifices for us. We owe a debt to them, and it must be repaid. All Government legislation must take into account the damage we have done, through pandemic recovery, to our children and young people, because our children and young people are the future of our country, and they need to be protected.