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The B-word

The B-word
Brexit is consuming all of the focus and attention in Westminster and beyond. It is inescapable. It seems to permeate the nation’s every waking hour yet, at the time of writing, the way forward for the country was still unclear. Meanwhile there are a growing number of issues that require urgent action, and crucially, investment.

As we enter our ninth year of austerity it’s the issues of the day affecting children, and young people and families, that keep me awake at night as a director of children’s services. From the growing numbers of families reaching crisis point requiring the help and support of children’s social care, the fact our funding isn’t keeping pace with levels of need in our communities, the budget pressures in schools, the recent uptick in youth offending rates, the loss of children’s centres and skilled youth workers as we seek to rob Peter to pay Paul. More broadly, we know that benefit changes, poor housing and the growth in unstable employment also have an impact on children’s life chances.

Sadly, the issue of child poverty doesn’t grab the headlines. The sight of food donation boxes alongside collection points for sanitary products and warm clothing for the homeless now so commonplace in supermarkets they simply blend into the background. There are around 12 million children and young people in this country, four million of whom currently live in poverty, in a couple of years time it’s estimated this figure will top five million. I repeat, five million children and young people, the majority of whom live in working households, slip into poverty by the end of 2021.

So, what does this mean? It means cold homes, overcrowding, temporary accommodation, uncertainty, stress and family breakdown. It means charities stepping in to fill the gaps left by the state and schools paying for coats and shoes, washing clothes and opening up over the summer months to provide meals to pupils and their families. This doesn’t sound like a country that works for all children to me. We simply can’t go on as we are but the eyes of the decision makers and the media are firmly trained elsewhere. The outcome of Brexit.

Stuart Gallimore is Director of Children’s Services at East Sussex County Council and President of ADCS 2018/19.

This column was first published in The MJ on 30 January 2019 |

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