Cohabiting grandparents cannot bubble with a couple and their grandchildren

17 July 2020

At today’s coronavirus press conference, the Prime Minister was asked the following question:“You are urging people to go back to work if they can. However our main childcare providers are grandparents that we must stay 1m from within households. 

“Do you plan to scrap the 1m distance rule within households to allow them to provide childcare and in turn more people will be able to return to work?”

The Prime Minister responded: “I think the answer there is that I think your children's grandparents would count as part of the bubble that you’re forming with two households indoors. So I can tell you, you would be okay to continue with those childcare arrangements within your household.”

It’s not clear exactly what the living situation of the member of the public asking the question is, but it seems most likely she lives in a multi-adult household (as she talked about “our” childcare providers) and normally receives childcare support from more than one grandparent. 

If that is the case, then support bubbling, where single adult households can have close contact with one other household, would not be allowed under current guidance as neither group is a single adult household. The guidance advises grandparents in this situation to keep socially distant when they visit their grandchildren.

What is bubbling and who is allowed to do it?

Support bubbles are where a single-adult household can join with any other household, and essentially operate as one. There isn’t a requirement to socially distance within bubbles.

For example, a family of two parents and two children who live together could bubble with a grandparent who lived apart from them, as long as that grandparent lived with no other adults. Everyone involved could then spend time in either household without social distancing.

Similarly a household of one parent and two children could bubble with a pair of grandparents who lived together. 

However, a family of two parents and two children could not bubble with a pair of grandparents who lived together, as neither household would be a single-adult household. The grandparents could still come and visit the grandchildren indoors, or vice-versa, but they are advised to practise social distancing of 1m plus. 

If that family of four had, for example, maternal and paternal grandmothers who lived alone and separately, the household could bubble with one of the grandparents. That grandparent would be allowed to interact with their grandchild without any social distancing. The other grandparent would need to socially distance from the grandchildren. 

The family and both grandparents could not meet indoors at the same time, as the guidance says only two households can meet indoors, and this would constitute a meeting of three households. However, they could all meet together outdoors as gatherings outdoors of up to six people are allowed from any number of households.

Government guidance also says: “Children with separated parents have always been permitted to move between both households. It is also permitted for those households – if there is only a single adult in them – to form a support bubble with another household.”

This advice applies to England, with other advice for Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The questioner in this case was from Yorkshire, so the English guidance would apply.

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