Children's Commissioner: Under-12s should be exempt from Rule of Six

Children’s Commissioner says under-12s should be exempt from the Rule of Six as experts wait anxiously to see if it’s working after rolling coronavirus cases drop for first time in two weeks

  • Children’s Commissioner for England today said Rule of Six should be reviewed
  • Anne Longfield said children under the age of 12 should be made exempt from it
  • She also said rules on household mixing should allow children to play together

The Children’s Commissioner for England today called for the Rule of Six to be changed to exempt all children under the age of 12. 

Anne Longfield also said any restrictions on households mixing should still allow children from different families to play together. 

A report by Ms Longfield’s office argued children had been overlooked by the Government’s attempts to curb the spread of coronavirus. 

She warned that children have ‘suffered disproportionately from the nation’s efforts to contain the virus’ and that unless action is taken now the Government risks creating an ‘inter-generational crisis’. 

The intervention came as experts waited anxiously to see if the Rule of Six is working after the rolling number of Covid-19 cases dropped for the first time in two weeks. 

Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield today urged the Government to make children under the age of 12 exempt from the Rule of Six

The seven-day rolling average for the number of daily infections was 5,770 yesterday, down from 5,816 the day before. 

Figures had risen every day since falling slightly to 2,998 on September 14.  

The raw daily numbers showed there were 4,044 cases yesterday, down on 5,693 recorded on Sunday and 6,042 on Saturday. 

However, those figures come with a health warning because case numbers are normally lower on Sundays and Mondays due to a lag in how they are recorded. 

The report by the Children’s Commissioner’s Office showed the first six months of the coronavirus crisis lockdown ‘compounded existing inequalities’ for the 2.2 million vulnerable children living in risky home situations in England.

This includes nearly 800,000 children living with domestic abuse and 1.6 million living with parents with severe mental health conditions – and the report warned these numbers are likely to have swelled over lockdown.

Some 41 per cent of schoolchildren also reported feeling more stressed about exams when schools closed at the start of March, according to a survey by the office.

Ms Longfield said many of the decisions taken during the first lockdown, such as reopening pubs and restaurants before schools, ‘have not put children first’.

She said: ‘Children have fewer health risks from Covid-19 and yet they have suffered disproportionately from the nation’s efforts to contain the virus.

‘Unless the Government acts now, Covid-19 is in danger of becoming an inter-generational crisis, with the impact of the economic fall-out on parents determining the future prospects of their children.

‘This would decimate the Government’s ability to level up opportunity across the country in the way the Prime Minister has repeatedly promised to do.’

‘After all the sacrifices children have made over the last few months, we should repay them with a comprehensive recovery package, ‘a Nightingale moment’, that puts their interests first,’ she added.

Javed Khan, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, supported the report’s conclusions, adding the ‘negative effects’ of the Government lockdown decisions and a system which has been ‘failing far too many children’ could ‘last a lifetime’ for vulnerable youngsters.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), added that schools need to be supported to ensure they can support children from low income backgrounds who struggle to access food, uniform and the internet during the pandemic.

The NEU supports the report’s recommendations, and is urging the Government to provide free school meals during term and holiday time for every young person with a parent on Universal Credit, and that any child without an internet connection is given a working device.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, agreed young people’s interests have been ‘seemingly an afterthought for the Government’, though he argued against the report’s recommendation of pushing back summer exams.

Mr Whiteman said to avoid ‘irreparable damage to a generation’ children must be placed ‘at the front of the queue for help’, especially those with special educational needs. 

He added pushing back exams could have a ‘disastrous effect’ on students’ mental health because it could force them to take more exams in a shorter space of time, rather than having them at intervals throughout the summer. 

A Government spokesman said: ‘Throughout the pandemic, we have taken action, including introducing the rule of six, to get the virus under control and to avoid the need to introduce any stricter measures.

‘Supporting children and their wellbeing has been central to our coronavirus response, including getting pupils back to school.’ 

The Rule of Six came into force on September 14 and the Government suggested it would take approximately two weeks to see if the measure is working.

Professor Andrew Hayward, a scientist advising the Government’s coronavirus response, said this morning that some of the new restrictions do appear to have slowed the spread of the disease.  

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It does look like the rate of increase has decreased with some of the new measures that have been introduced – so that’s a good thing.’ 

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