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Children are this country’s future

Despite us being one of the richest economies in the world, widening inequalities in the UK are plain to see if you open your eyes. Figures and experience show child poverty is increasing as is homelessness. Holiday hunger clubs, food banks and food donation points in our supermarkets are helping families to make ends meet, according to the Office for National Statistics, the gap in life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas in England and Wales has widened too.

There are things we should celebrate; the UK is one of the safest places in the world for children to grow up and we are better at recognising the vulnerability of children and young people who are being exploited than we were a few years ago. Though, at our peril we ignore increasing disparities in our society.

In April, the Social Mobility Commission warned in its state of the nation report that social mobility has ‘stagnated’ and inequality will remain entrenched from ‘birth to work’ without urgent action from government. More recently, the Education Policy Institute’s annual education report highlighted stark differences in the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and their wealthier counterparts. Some progress has been made in narrowing the attainment gap in primary school but disparities in attainment remain between certain ethnic backgrounds, pupils with special educational needs and disabilities remain significantly behind their peers at every stage of education too. At the current level, the study suggests it will take over 500 years to close the GCSE attainment gap in English and maths between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

The issues above deserve more attention from our politicians, as does the perilous state of children’s services funding. Ahead of the Spending Round there have been a series of funding pledges to address pressures in the NHS, schools and the police, but there has been no mention of children’s social care, although adult social care seems to be high on the Prime Minister’s agenda. It makes moral, and financial, sense to support children and families as and when their needs arise but we cannot do this if we are forced to spend what little resource we have on acute interventions too late in a child’s life. We urge the Treasury to think of investment in children and their families not as a burden but as potentially life changing. Children are this country’s future, investing in them is the only way to put ‘our country on the road to a brighter future’.

Rachel Dickinson is Executive Director People at Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council and ADCS President 2019/20.

This column was first published in The MJ on 29 August. | https://www.themj.co.uk/Children-are-this-countrys-future/214490



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