As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, children across the UK are likely to lose at least half a year of normal, in-person schooling, which could lead to a knock-on long-run loss in earnings of around £350bn ($479.7bn).
The total amount is the equivalent to an average loss of £40,000 each in lifetime earnings.
That’s according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). Research fellow Luke Sibieta’s study concludes that in the absence of a massive policy response, the long-run effects of this learning loss are likely to be substantial.
If school shutdowns continue to Easter, this could mean two-thirds of the normal school year would be lost to the pandemic.
The research comes amid continued uncertainty about when schools might be allowed to reopen. Prime minister Boris Johnson recently told MPs that the government hopes to start reopening English schools on 8 March, depending on factors including the rate of vaccination amongst priority groups. This, however, was not definitive.
He said the government will tell teachers and parents when schools in England can reopen "as soon as we can." But he would not guarantee that this would be before the Easter holidays, due to begin before Good Friday on 2 April.
The IFS notes that the figures are extremely large, and are not intended as precise estimates. Instead, they are intended to illustrate the scale of potential costs and risks we face, and the economic rationale for a massive national plan to address this crisis.
If by some miracle, the efforts by schools, teachers, children, parents and charities allowed us to mitigate 75% of this effect, the total loss would still be £90bn, the IFS said.
Early evidence already suggests this loss of schooling is contributing to lower educational progress and skills, particularly for disadvantaged pupils.
What’s more, a large amount of these negative effects are likely to be borne by children from lower-income families, resulting in a likely rise in inequality over the long-run.
Sibieta said: "The inescapable conclusion is that lost learning represents a gigantic long-term risk for future prosperity, the public finances, the future path of inequality and well-being.
"We therefore need a policy response that is appropriate to the scale of the problem. One useful benchmark is the £30bn it normally costs for half a year of schooling in the UK.
“That doesn't mean we need to spend that much. But is does strongly suggest that the £1.5 billion allocated across the UK so far doesn't even start to match the scale of the challenge.”
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