Key points

  • Physical health is a human right which the lockdown has impacted. Measures to protect the public from coronavirus have been made with the right to health in mind, but they have had negative as well as positive effects.
  • Disabled and seriously ill children’s right to life may be compromised. We’ve written to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health calling on them to change guidelines to be in their best interests.
  • Certain groups of children and young people may face disproportionate impacts on their physical health.

Physical health is a human right

Everyone has the human right to physical health, and this right is why Coronavirus measures were introduced in Scotland in the first place. Rules like lockdown and physical distancing are intended to keep people healthy, and to prevent people dying.

Despite this, the measures have had several negative impacts on the physical health of children and young people in Scotland.

UNCRC Article 6

I have the right to live and grow as a person

Green health cross with a thumbs-up symbolising approval.

UNCRC Article 24

I have the right to be as healthy as possible

An Impact Assessment for the coronavirus pandemic

We supported the Observatory of Children’s Human Rights Scotland to create an Alternative Children’s Rights Impact Assessment, looking at the laws and policies passed in Scotland in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Impact Assessment looked at how these had affected children and young people in nine different areas, and physical health was one of these. It found that physical health had been affected in a lot of ways.


Adults in power often make decisions that affect people― such as laws and policies. When they do this, they don’t always think about the impact these decisions will have on children and young people.

A Children’s Rights Impact Assessment, or CRIA,is a way to include children and young people in a decision. It looks at the ways the decision might affect the rights of children and young people― both positively and negatively.

By doing this, it means people know what the effect of the decision on children and young people is likely to be.

What needs to change as a result of this Impact Assessment?

Our office has made several recommendations around what Scottish Government and others need to change as a result of what this Impact Assessment has found. They’re changes which will help keep human rights promises to children and young people as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, and which will safeguard their human rights in any future crisis.

What did the Impact Assessment found out about physical health?

The Impact Assessment found that there has been a significant reduction in hospital services for children and young people, and that there are concerns around your access to healthcare.

There’s been a big drop in the number of children and young people accessing urgent care, and a drop in how many of you are accessing medical services for under 18s. Despite this, the Impact Assessment found that the number of unexpected and non-accidental deaths for children has dropped since lockdown began.

But lockdown may still lead to long-term impacts on your physical health. Because less of you are seen by medical professionals, problems with your physical health might not be being diagnosed― and known medical issues might not be being attended to. There are concerns that you’re not receiving routine immunisations, and that young people aren’t able to access sexual health services.

Disabled and seriously ill children’s right to life may be compromised

The Impact Assessment highlighted concerns that disabled or seriously ill children might not be receiving treatment that saves their life or sustains it. That’s a violation of their human rights— all children’s right to life should be upheld to the maximum extent resources allow.

Because of this, we’ve written to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer in a best interests context to call for a change in guidelines.

There’s a lack of accessible information

Not enough accessible information is available for children and young people. This will have a disproportionate impact on certain groups, including:

  • disabled children,
  • children whose first language is not English, and
  • children whose parents have learning disabilities.

Lockdown has reduced air pollution and traffic…

The lockdown led to less air pollution and traffic as people spent more time inside, which meant children and young people would have been safer and healthier when outdoors.

…but also the amount of time you spend outdoors

However, the lockdown also put restrictions on how often children and young people could go outdoors themselves. This may have led to them doing less exercise, and this might have long term impacts on health.

Other aspects of lockdown may have also impacted how much you exercise: for example, the fact that places like gyms and swimming pools closed. Families with lower incomes are less likely to have access to space where they can exercise, and so the lockdown will have disproportionately impacted their ability to do so.

Therapies accessed at school might not be available

Many children and young people access therapies through schools and early years. These aren’t all available while those places are closed.

Various delays are affecting your access to support

The coronavirus pandemic has led to changes and delays in several assessments, reviews and other processes throughout the public sector. Some of these will have had a negative impact on mental health rights.

For example, decisions and appeals on school placement requests may mean a child doesn’t don’t know which school they’re supposed to go to before schools reopen again in August. As school placement can come with access to related therapies and support services, delays in placement can mean there are delays in getting these.

Some groups of children and young people are at more risk

At more risk: Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic children and young people

Evidence suggests that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic adults are more likely to get coronavirus and more likely to die from it, so children and young people whose parents and carers fall into this group are more likely to be impacted by someone important in their life getting seriously ill.

At more risk: Children and young people with disabilities

Children and young people with disabilities are less likely to have their health needs assessed, even though these are likely to have increased in the pandemic. It’s not clear how these needs will be met, or how they’ll be assessed in the near future.

At more risk: Young carers

Assessments of young carers health needs are less likely to take place, so it seems likely that health problems faced by this group aren’t being addressed— including long-term health conditions. This is more likely to affect young carers in poorer local authority areas, as in these places a local authority will face more demands and so will be less likely to carry out assessments.

A significant number of young carers may have had problems accessing medication for themselves and their families during lockdown, and if that’s the case it will impact their health.

At more risk: Children and young people from Gypsy/Traveller communities

Children and young people from Gypsy/Traveller communities face additional risks, as their accommodation may make it difficult to limit virus spread and comply with guidelines around physical distancing.

When on sites they might experience overcrowding in trailers and between them and share toilets, washing and kitchen facilities. They may also have limited space to self-isolate.

When living roadside they may have been reliant on toilet and washing facilities in places like leisure centres and retail parks, many of which would have been closed during lockdown.

At more risk: Refugees and those seeking asylum

Existing barriers to accessing health services may have become even harder to get past for refugee and asylum-seeking children and young people during the pandemic.

At more risk: Young people in Young Offenders’ Institutions

Young people in Young Offenders Institutions are currently treated as adults, which means they are unable to access health support and hygiene facilities like showers.