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‘Disadvantaged, disengaged and disheartened’ generation looming unless incoming federal government acts to address children’s COVID recovery

As Australians prepare to go to the polls this weekend, a new report shows the country risks the social and economic burden of ‘a generation left behind’, unless the victor in Saturday’s federal election acts swiftly to address the pandemic recovery needs of children.
19 May 2022

It highlights three particular electorates - Longman (QLD), McMahon (NSW) and Dunkley (VIC) - where children have been hit harder by the pandemic compared to the national average.

The True Cost of COVID: A Generation Left Behind report, commissioned by Save the Children, combines independent polling of more than 1,500 parents and 1,000 children, as well as data analysis by Accenture.

Findings show the pandemic is leading to more entrenched disadvantage among Australian children, with the effects felt most by those who are Indigenous, live in families with disability, come from low-income households or live in low socioeconomic areas and particular harm clustered in some highly impacted postcodes and electorates.

While the COVID experience has been more acute in areas where lockdowns and other restrictions have been most severe (Victoria and New South Wales), the report shows that even in parts of the country with very few or no reported cases of COVID-19, children have been negatively affected on multiple fronts.

The pandemic response has been a key battleground over the course of the federal election campaign and there are clear signs that without action many children will face long-term impacts, including ongoing disruptions to their mental health and wellbeing, employment prospects and further study.

The True Cost of COVID: A Generation Left Behind report fast facts:

  • In 2020, for young people aged up to 24 years old across New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT, there was a 33% increase in rates of self-harm and a 9% increase in suicide attempts.
  • The highest number of self-inflicted injuries and suicide attempts in 2020, across all child and adult age groups, was in the 15- to 19-year-old age range. By state, the highest increase in self-inflicted injuries was in Victoria (40%) followed by Tasmania (37%), the ACT (33%) and then NSW (26%).
  • More than half of all young Australians aged 20 to 21 years old reported losing jobs or having their hours reduced during the pandemic. More than 42% of those aged at least 18 years old have changed future plans because of the pandemic.
  • In 2020, nearly one in 10 teenagers nationally reported being bullied or harassed online, including a startling one in 5 Victorian teenagers.
  • The number of teenagers seeking help from a mental health practitioner more than doubled nationally during the pandemic, although in some of the lower socio-economic electorates the findings suggest children were seeking less help than they did prior to the pandemic.
  • Almost half of all teenagers surveyed said they spent less time studying during 2020 than they did before the pandemic.

The incoming federal government must create a National Children’s COVID-19 Recovery Plan to address both the social and economic dimensions of children’s recovery. This includes appointing a Cabinet-level Minister for Children’s Wellbeing, investing in children’s wellbeing and resilience, coordinating a national strategy to keep students engaged with learning and supporting families to meet their children’s needs.

A total of 83% of parents said it is important that the federal government commits to supporting children’s and families’ recovery from the pandemic. Less than 20% believed that governments have done enough to address the issues children and families have experienced.

Children’s comments from independent polling:

“I don’t know what I want to be now, I mean, what if I get sick or if I die?” - Child, 6-12 years old.

“During the pandemic it has become less clear what our future will look like and I am finding it hard to get my first job as there is uncertainty everywhere.” - Child, 13-18 years old.

“Can’t find employment or meet with my friends, so I spend more time sitting at home getting bored.” -18+ years old.

Save the Children Australia acting CEO, Mat Tinkler, said:

“The social and economic cost of inaction is a generation of children who are more disadvantaged, disengaged and disheartened than ever before.

“If we don’t support our children and young people in their COVID recovery today, the country will be left to face the burden of intergenerational disadvantage that may well span a lifetime.

“The recovery of our children must be a top priority for the nation’s leaders, with a comprehensive plan that includes meaningful investment to improve the lives of young people across Australia. Their futures and the country’s economic fortunes depend on it.”

To read The True Cost of COVID: A Generation Left Behind in full, visit here.


MEDIA CONTACT: Mala Darmadi on 0425562113 or

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