Ministers ‘ignored warning suicides would kill more kids than Covid’

UK Government Ministers ignored warnings that suicides would kill “many more” children than Covid would, the former children’s commissioner for England has said.

Campaigners say the dire warning was among nine opportunities to avert the damage caused by school closures during the pandemic that the Government missed. It came in a joint briefing paper by the Department for Education and the Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours.

Official figures show that suicide killed nearly five times more children than Covid did in 2020. And SAGE scientists warned that closing schools during the pandemic would likely have a “highly limited” impact on Covid transmission rates.

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The November 2020 briefing cited evidence of a rise in self-harm among young people during lockdown – and stated “many more children will die from suicide than Covid-19 this year”. It also said that 12 of the 25 cases of suicide by under-18s identified during the earlier lockdown in England had Covid-related issues – including school problems – as a contributory factor.

The warning was shared with key figures and decision-makers in November 2020 at a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) meeting. Senior scientific advisers responsible for briefing ministers – and at least ten senior officials from the Department for Education, the Cabinet Office, the Home Office and other departments – were at the SAGE meeting.

In England in 2020, there were 34 deaths from Covid in young people aged 10-19 died. However, the same age group saw 161 people take their own lives during the same period.

SAGE papers from 2020 also showed that scientists believed that the impact school closures would have on slowing the spread of covid would be “highly limited.” Nonetheless, ministers ordered that schools must be closed for most pupils for the majority of the spring term in 2021.

Parents’ campaign group UsForThem, which wanted schools to remain open during the pandemic, has highlighted the suicide warnings being ignored in the first of a series of reports. The group is urging the ongoing Covid Inquiry to consider its evidence.




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Former children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield told The Telegraph: “Despite many warnings and protestations to the contrary, the interests of children were overlooked on an industrial scale by government throughout the covid crisis meaning that schools stayed closed for too long, safeguards for vulnerable children were weakened and the impact of isolation and withdrawal of support for children’s mental health were too often ignored.”

Longfield, current chair of the Commission on Young Lives, added: “The consequences of these decisions are seen in a generation of children, many of whom are struggling with their education and social skills, sometimes with levels of chronic anxiety so severe that they are unable to attend school or socialise with friends.”

A DfE spokesman said: “We know children were amongst those most affected by the pandemic which is why we have invested £5 billion in ambitious education recovery initiatives to help young people catch up. We are also rolling out Mental Health Support teams in schools which comes on top of our annual £2.3 billion investment into mental health services.

“The UK Covid-19 Inquiry is currently examining the country’s response to the pandemic, and the department is cooperating fully.”

The Samaritans can be reached round the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

If you need a response immediately, it’s best to call them on the phone. You can reach them by calling 116 123, by emailing [email protected] or by visiting

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