Priorities for the next government

On the campaign trail for the general election we’ve heard politicians talking about all sorts of things from Brexit to investing in our NHS and schools (all important areas). However, I’m more interested in whether the next government will transform election rhetoric into reality by improving the day-to-day lives and outcomes of children and families.

In 2017, ADCS published ‘A country that works for all children’. It highlighted several policy issues from the impact of austerity to an increasingly fragmented approach to public services, overlaid with rising levels of child poverty that are cumulatively having a negative impact on children and families. Two years on, the messages in the paper remain relevant. The premise that ‘all children and families should be able to thrive, not just survive’ is something all our politicians should be able to get behind.

The following things need to be (very) early priorities for whoever forms the next government:

By 2022, the number of children living in poverty is set to increase to 5.2 million, the highest level since records began. The costs for children experiencing poverty are demonstrable and well-documented, poverty and inequality are intrinsically linked to poor health outcomes. But poverty is not inevitable, an ambitious national child poverty reduction strategy could reverse the trends of rising poverty and increasing inequalities in this country.

Prevention is better than cure, but it costs money. Although we welcome recent funding announcements including a new three-four year settlement for schools, we still await a sustainable settlement for local government. Since 2010, our funding has been cut in half yet need has not. We are being forced to make counterintuitive decisions like cutting services that communities value and reduce future demand e.g. children’s centres and libraries. A preventative approach to improving children’s outcomes must come from the top, by this I mean central government must fund local authorities properly and sustainably to enable us to keep children safe and to provide support to children and their families before they reach crisis point. Children’s services are not, nor should we be, a blue light service.

Putting children at the heart of all policy and spending decisions benefits us all by creating happier, healthier communities and reducing future demand for the NHS and adult social care too. A greater focus on wellbeing and resilience in schools will similarly have benefits inside the classroom and beyond.

Jenny Coles is ADCS Vice President 2019/20 and DCS in Hertfordshire County Council.

This column was first published on the LGC website on 21 November 2019 - link



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