28.10.19

Supporting the next generation

Source: PSE: Oct/Nov 19

 

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, explains her manifesto to ensure the country’s next generation get the childhood they need to prosper as adults.

Today’s children are our future economic prosperity, our tax payers and wealth producers, and our future support in our own old age. They will also need to change the world – to tackle the challenges of environmental degradation, to shape the opportunities of the digital era and to address global complexity around citizenship, immigration and employment.

There is a clear economic and social imperative to do the very best we can by them and to do all we can to make sure that they grow up with secure relationships, a decent home and inspiring schools.

A General Election is looking more and more likely, yet I’ve heard more political conversation about HS2, water nationalisation, tax cuts – and, of course, Brexit – than about children. That is why I have produced a six point children’s manifesto, to encourage all of the parties to focus on crucial and deliverable policies that can improve the lives of millions of children.

The numbers are shocking: a million children need help for mental health problems, more than 120,000 are homeless and living in temporary accommodation, over 50,000 children aren’t getting any kind of education, while nearly 30,000 are in violent gangs.

Many more are growing up at risk due to family circumstances – households where the adults are involved in substance or drug abuse, are mentally ill or violent. These are the children who have borne the brunt of cuts in public spending and the rationing of services, and while the recent additional spending on schools is welcome, it won’t solve their problems. 

My children’s manifesto sets out a vision for a more child-centred society, looking at issues that children have told me affect their lives. It focuses on six key themes: supporting stronger families, providing decent places for children to live, helping children to have healthy minds, keeping children active, providing SEND support for those who need it, and creating safer streets and play areas. It also sets out some of the likely costs involved alongside the policy proposals, including a call for existing statutory services being put on a sustainable financial footing.

The six pledges I want to see the political parties include in their election manifestos are to extend and expand the Troubled Families Programme or an equivalent system of family support, delivered through an extended network of family support centres in the most deprived areas; building on existing children’s centres and extended school opening hours; a child and adolescent mental health service counsellor in every school; adequate funding for special educational needs and disabilities, including pre-statutory support; school facilities open at evenings, weekends and holidays to provide a range of activities from sports to arts, drama to digital citizenship, and high quality youth support; neighbourhood police officers and youth workers attached to every school; and a cabinet committee for children to tackle complex generational problems.

None of this will be quick or cheap. The cost will be in the region of £10bn. Putting that into context, the Prime Minister promised during the Conservative leadership election to cut taxes by a similar amount, and Labour’s policy on tuition fees would also cost billions.

In the end, we get the society we choose. The building blocks of a good childhood haven’t changed – secure relationships, a decent home and inspiring schools. But do politicians see this as a priority?

Children do not have a vote, and rely on adults to make these decisions for them. I hope the political parties will see the next election as an opportunity to sign up to these pledges and put improving children’s lives at the top of their agenda.

 

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