Report highlights baby inequalities as charities call on Government to act to avoid a “Post-COVID19 lottery”
An online survey of 5,474 expectant mothers, new parents and parents of toddlers undertaken during the pandemic, reveals that almost seven in 10 found their ability to cope with their pregnancy or baby had been impacted as a result of COVID-19.
Only one third expressed confidence in being able to access mental health support if required.
Nearly seven in 10 felt the changes brought about by COVID-19 were affecting their unborn baby, baby or young child (with an increase in crying, tantrums and becoming more clingy). This was felt most sharply amongst parents under 25 years old and those on the lowest incomes.
Best Beginnings, Home-Start UK and Parent-Infant Foundation urge the Government to provide a ‘Baby Boost’ (£55m) to enable local services to better support families who have had a baby during the lockdown and to introduce a new ‘Parent-Infant Premium’ (£1,000 per baby in disadvantaged families) for local commissioners working to tackle early inequalities.
Without decisive action, they warn, the ‘post-COVID-19 lottery’ will worsen pre existing inequalities in the UK.
The results highlight a range of issues facing parents surveyed, revealing the devastating impact on babies as well as their parents, from increased mental health concerns and difficult birthing experiences, to dads and other co-parents being excluded from the pregnancy journey and digital health appointments reported as leaving some women feeling exposed and humiliated. The ramifications of the lockdown have been detrimental, and could cast a long shadow going forward for parents and babies alike.
Evidence shows that the first 1,001 days of a child’s life, from pregnancy to age two lay the foundations for a happy and healthy life. The support and wellbeing of babies during this time is strongly linked to better outcomes later in life, including educational achievement, progress at work, physical and mental health. Around 2,000 babies are born in the UK every day which means that over 200,000 babies were born between 23rd March and 4th July – the most intense period of lockdown.
The pandemic is not affecting all communities equally. Recent research published in the British Medical Journal in late May found that pregnant black women were eight times more likely to be admitted to hospital with coronavirus than pregnant white women, with pregnant Asian women four times more likely.
The charity’s survey also highlighted inequalities between respondents of different ethnicities. Their findings revealed that different communities were not enabled to access services and support equally, with black and black British respondents being less likely to visit their GP, use websites or online forums/support groups.
“Lockdown has been so stressful, especially early on when we couldn’t even go out for fresh air. My daughter picked up on how I was feeling – she became very clingy in a way she’d never been before, I couldn’t even shower properly because she got so upset. Before lockdown she was fine – now I feel she could sense what was going on and it even made her feel depressed,” stated Fim, 35, who lives in London with her two year old.
Following a decade of under-investment from central Government, services for babies, children and their families were already struggling to deliver the care and support that families need. The charities state that without decisive action, the post-COVID-19 lottery will worsen existing inequalities. While the majority of families in the UK prepare to transition back to normal life, “normal” for some babies and families was already disproportionately harder than it was for others and many now face a knock-on economic effect from the lockdown, further threatening their quality of life and life chances.
The three organisations have come together to share their findings, following the recent report by the Children’s Commissioner, and the Government’s vow to undertake a new review into Early Years Health (led by Andrea Leadsom MP). They urge the Government to act now to avoid a “post-COVID-19 lottery” of British babies who do not get the support they need for a strong start in life. The three fiscal measures being asked for involve significant and ring-fenced funding to support the first 1,001 days, including:
- A one-off Baby Boost to enable local services to support families who have had a baby during or close to lockdown.
- A new Parent-Infant Premium providing new funding for local commissioners, targeted at improving outcomes for the most vulnerable children.
- Significant and sustained investment in core funding to support families from conception to age two and above, including statutory services, charities and community groups.
Alison Baum OBE, CEO and Founder of Best Beginnings, comments: “The report demonstrates firsthand the serious challenges faced by parents across the country at such an important time in their lives and in the lives of their babies.Without the support from loved ones and sufficient pre and postnatal care, many parents felt isolated and anxious. We must ensure that parents of all backgrounds receive the support they need, so they can look after themselves and have the knowledge, confidence and support to be able to give their children the best start in life.”
Peter Grigg, Chief Executive at Home-Start, states: “This report exposes how unequal the experiences of parents and babies to COVID-19 have been. There is an urgent need to build back better for all communities. These proposals for a Baby Boost and Parent Infant Premium represent clear, simple interventions that can be made now to help make sure we avoid a post-COVID lottery in the future. We want to improve the wellbeing of all babies to ensure a happier and successful next generation.”
Beckie Lang, Chief Executive at Parent-Infant Foundation, continues: ”Around 200,000 babies were born during the height of the lockdown, with many more just before and since. It is time for national leadership and a rescue, recovery and repair plan for the nation’s youngest children if we are to create a better, more equitable society in which more children can thrive. The opportunity to act is now.”
The full report is available at: www.babiesinlockdown.info