Jeremy Corbyn's speech to the Labour party
conference centred on kindness and equality. So, how might this translate into
policies that promote child wellbeing? Zoe Renton, NCB’s Head of Policy, considers #Lab15.
With a brand new leader and shadow front bench, Labour's
party conference this year was unlikely to provide big policy announcements on
children’s issues. However, there were some hints of Corbyn's priorities, and
fringe appearances by key spokespeople gave us a sense of their emerging plans.
Corbyn's emphasis on family security, cuts to welfare and
affordable housing will be welcomed by many in the children's sector, where
there are grave concerns about government plans to cut tax credits and
eradicate the very concept of child poverty, rather than child poverty itself!
(See the Welfare
Reform and Work Bill currently going
through Parliament). But, given the opposition failed to block the Bill a
couple of weeks ago, you'd be forgiven for wondering how they will really make
a difference, while at the same time developing alternative policies that they
can sell to the public in the 'age of austerity'.
In a fascinating fringe debate, a new labour MP
challenged his party on just that, saying they needed new ideas and to reframe
the debate. Nevertheless, the new shadow employment minister and NCB's own
local MP, Emily Thornberry, explicitly refused to compromise on the party's
mission to eradicate child poverty – welcome news for NCB and other members of
the End Child Poverty coalition which is calling for the same triple
lock on children's benefits as has been given to pensioners.
Health inequalities and the impact of poverty on health –
key themes of our recent report 'Poor
Beginnings' – were highlighted by the new shadow public health minister, Andrew
Gwynne MP, who talked about the ten year difference in life expectancy between
those living in the affluent and disadvantaged areas in his constituency. He said
he wanted the transfer of responsibility for children's public health to local
authorities to provide the catalyst for ensuring that children's health and well-being
strategies are embedded across all local services. This is a useful start for
organisations, like NCB, working to improve the health of children, keen to see
a cross-government approach at the national and local level.
A week into the job, Lucy Powell MP, the new shadow
education secretary continues to show an interest in her former brief,
childcare, a sign of the Commons opposition preparing for the Childcare
Bill. The Bill will enable the
government to double the amount of free childcare available for working parents
of 3-4 year-olds, but with little detail on the plans, NCB
is concerned that while the policy is welcome in principle there
won't be sufficient funds to ensure the care offered is good quality, delivered
by a highly skilled workforce and accessible for disabled children or those
with special educational needs.
Corbyn’s speech touched on children and young people’s
mental health services – recognition of the need for investment and reform. He
also indicated that under Labour responsibility for all schools, including academies and free schools, would be returned
to local authorities – perhaps recognising that the government’s weakness on
education could be their focus on structures rather than the purpose and
quality of education.
So it was useful that we heard something about children
in Corbyn’s speech, underpinned by his stated vision for a society that has 'aspirations for all children not just the
few'. Nevertheless, there’s a way to go before we have a more detailed
understanding of what Labour might be saying about children and families when
(or if) he leads his party into the