The Chancellor has rightly directed some of the spending in the next 12-months toward children and families. In particular, measures to improve schools, colleges and apprenticeships may enable young people to look to the future with a little more hope.
But there are persistent oversights too.
Vulnerable children not sufficiently protected
Struggling families rely on children’s services, yet the support for social care promised by the Chancellor is not sufficient to protect all vulnerable children. Local authority budgets were already teetering on the brink before the pandemic increased the numbers of families relying on them for help.
The Government must ensure that local authorities’ discretionary powers to raise extra funds for social care benefit children as well as adults, so that services can reach out to children, young people and families before their problems become emergencies.
Urgent action on child poverty needed
The Government has taken steps to raise low wages but still seems unable to recognise that child poverty is out of control. There are over four million children in the UK growing up in families who can barely afford the basic necessities and working families are far from immune. We need to see reform both to wages and in-work benefits to free children from poverty. We also need to ensure our social security system provides a lifeline. The Chancellor is ignoring a crucial step in the fight against child poverty by failing to make the £20-a-week uplift in Universal Credit permanent.
The mental health of children needs more attention
Our research shows that even before the coronavirus struck, one in six young people reported severe mental health difficulties by age 17, and these problems could be made worse as the full impact of Covid-19 is felt.
There is considerable doubt about how extra money for mental health support will be allocated. A large part must go to young people making the already difficult transition to adulthood in these unsettling times and guarantee every young person is able to keep the level of support they need when they turn 18, as they move from CAMHS to adult mental health services.
Protecting children's crucial early years
The Government’s response to the pandemic has included support for many vulnerable groups in our society, but not the youngest. There is a narrowing window of opportunity now to address the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable young children.
Children don't start to exist when they enter the school gates; their early years shape their future life chances. The Government is committing billions to schools, but only £44 million to the vital early years sector and nothing at all to strengthen universal services such as health visiting that can make a huge difference to children's long-term outcomes.
A Childhood Strategy
Today’s babies, children and young people may be bearing the economic and social fallout of this pandemic for many years to come. There is some welcome news among the measures outlined in the spending review, but a disjointed approach is not enough. The least our children and young people should expect is a coherent strategy setting out how this Government will protect their childhood now and support them into the future.