London: Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to make getting U.K. children back to school a “national priority” has a clear rationale — it’s the only way to get their parents back to work.
Parents are bearing the brunt of the economic costs of the pandemic as they were forced to look after their children full time under lockdown, official data released this week show.
Safety for pupils, staff and parents make Johnson’s plan a complex operation and there are concerns that it could fuel a rise in cases of Covid-19. But with the U.K. seen posting the biggest economic contraction in Europe, the government is looking for ways to revive growth as it unwinds other support programs later this year.
The state has already stepped in to pay up to 80% of the wages for 9.6 million jobs. Even with that support, many households have been left on a reduced income before the program began tapering this month and especially those with children, who were more likely to have been furloughed.
Family members haven’t shared the additional burden equally. Women have disproportionately shouldered the load as parents attempt to keep their offspring busy and continue their education away from the classroom.
Female participation in the labor market hit record levels in recent years, boosting economic output, but the jump in caring responsibilities caused by the closure of schools could undo some of these gains.
Women with children were 47% more likely to have lost or quit their job since the start of restrictions and 14% more likely to have been furloughed than fathers, according to an online Institute for Fiscal Studies survey in May.
Homeschooling is taking its toll on all parents, both in terms of wellbeing and ability to work. One quarter said that trying to teach was negatively affecting their job — a major concern for a nation that had some of the weakest productivity growth among developed economies even before the pandemic.
“It’s important for the economy that children are back in school so parents can go back to work,” School Standards Minister Nick Gibbs said in an interview with Times Radio Sunday. “The economy is an important part of the recovery from this virus.”
School closures also raise fears that a generation of children are falling behind in their education, weighed down by a lack of motivation, support and facilities to learn at home. That risks stunting productivity well into the future.
Despite reservations about the safety and practicalities of returning students to the classroom in September, a significant proportion of the population have had the ability to keep their children there throughout the pandemic.
Around one in three parents are key workers, meaning they could continue to send kids to school for child care. That didn’t trigger a notable surge in the virus.
Elsewhere in Europe, governments have also begun reopening without infections escalating sharply.
“Now that we know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely, we have a moral duty to do so,” Johnson wrote in the Mail on Sunday newspaper.- Bloomberg