Will election promises bring real change to children lives, asks Anna
Feuchtwang, chief executive of NCB?
With all parties battling for our attention it feels like
some sectors of the population are being wooed more than others. Children don’t
get to vote so a cynic might say they don’t need to be wooed. We’ve waded
through the manifestos of the three current
main political parties, and had a look at those of some of the other
contenders, to see if this is the case.
It is promising to see that the Conservatives, Labour and
Liberal Democrats have all made commitments in areas of children’s policy where
the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) has been calling for change – but the
challenge will be ensuring that whoever forms the next government translates
promises into action.
Child poverty and
giving young people a say
NCB believes that the voices of children and young people
should inform the development of government policy, the best way to achieve this
is through a cross-government strategy for children and young people, with a
priority focus on reducing child poverty and inequality.
We have been calling for the Office for Budget
Responsibility to monitor and report on progress against child poverty targets.
Now Labour has included this commitment in their manifesto, with the
Conservatives making a more general pledge to target the root causes of child
The Lib Dems would enshrine the United Nations Conventions
on the Rights of the Child in British law in order to place children’s rights
at the heart of law-making. Both Labour and the Lib Dems intend to give young
people aged 16 and 17 the right to vote during the next Parliament; an issue
recently debated at NCB’s
‘Generation Next: Tomorrow’s Voters’ event at the House of Lords.
NCB believes that children should have the best start in
life through access to high quality pre-school education and early years services
that help them to develop and flourish.
The Liberal Democrats, Labour, and the Conservatives have
all committed to increasing the number of hours of free nursery education for
young children. In addition, Labour and the Lib Dems say they would protect the
early years’ budget so that it rises with inflation, and the Liberal Democrats have
promised that by 2020 every early years setting will employ at least one person
who holds an Early Years Teacher qualification and an increase in the Early
Years Pupil Premium. The Green Party wants to take things further, calling for
an expansion of early education with compulsory school age rising to 7.
However, it remains to be seen how parties plan to ensure
sufficient funding for a large scale expansion of high quality early education.
It is essential to improve the quality and sustainability of nursery places,
and increase the capacity and skills of the early years’ workforce.
Education alongside health is
arguably the policy area that has seen the most change in recent years. In
their manifestos, all three parties have acknowledged the importance of
investing in children’s education and have committed to protecting the schools’
budget in real terms.
A number of policies align with
NCB’s areas of work and the priorities of Young NCB (our advisory group made up
of young people). These include, compulsory sex and relationships education
(Labour) and Personal Social and Health Education through a ‘curriculum for
life’ (Lib Dems); tackling all forms of bullying (all three parties); training teachers to support early
intervention (Labour); and improved careers advice in schools (Conservatives
and Lib Dems).
The National Health Service is shaping up to be a key
election issue, with numerous competing promises for more investment over the
next parliament. All three main parties have plans for improving access to GP
services, something our work on primary care has shown is crucial for children
and young people.
NCB and many colleagues in the sector have long been calling
for more focus on the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children so it
is welcome that this features in several of the manifestos. Labour promise to
increase the proportion of mental health spend dedicated to children, the Lib
Dems committing to implement the report of the children’s mental health
taskforce, and the Conservatives pledging to increase mental health spending
Looked after children
There are around 70,000 looked after children in England at any
one time, whose particular needs demand political attention, but this often
cannot compete for the attention of politicians chasing votes up and down the country.
It is therefore notable that this group of young people are
directly addressed in both the Lib Dem and UKIP Manifestos. The Lib Dems plan
to increased focus on emotional wellbeing and resilience in the care system
while UKIP have pledged to extend ‘staying put’ measures (that allow children
to remain in foster care placements until age 21) to those in residential care
– both issues we have been supporting government to engage with the children’s sector
on over the last year.
Furthermore, both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have
plans to make it easier for vulnerable children to be placed in a new loving
home, through proposals to improve adoption, and all major parties want to
support better identification of those who need help and support through
The election and
Whatever the outcome of the General Election, NCB will be holding
government to account for promises made about improving children’s lives and
urging them to listen and respond to children and young people.
An analysis of what party manifestos contain
relating to children is available at: www. http://ncb.org.uk/what-we-do/policy