The pandemic is not a leveller. It has dramatically exposed pre-existing levels of social and economic inequality. The challenges are not new, but heightened versions of existing ones, exacerbated by current conditions. Unmet needs highlighted by the pandemic include:
- lack of internet access which is educationally and socially disadvantaging the most vulnerable children;
- support and respite for children with disabilities and their families, for whom there are currently even greater unmet needs than usual. Access to education hubs for children with ASN in some areas is woeful.
UNISON urges the Education and Skills Committee to prepare to support children and families with complex difficulties after the pandemic.
Even before this, the disproportionate cuts to local government budgets had adversely affected the ability of services to meet the level of need presented in many communities, and the needs of children with ASN in particular. A significant investment of resources and services in communities is needed. Local government needs to be properly funded. For our most vulnerable children, additional funding is needed, for example:
- to address the huge gap in respite provision, both overnight and community based, for families who have a child with additional support needs and/or complex health conditions.
- for young people leaving care to receive more support to access decent, liveable and safe accommodation;
- to provide safe free indoor and outdoor play opportunities for younger and older children and the expansion of youth work, particularly in our most deprived communities;
- for more emotional and practical support for children and families in communities, to help tackle the legacy of complex needs the pandemic will leave behind.