Does the Queen’s Speech hits the mark for children and young people? Anna Feuchtwang considers.
The Queen’s Speech involves many measures that could improve children’s lives but there are two problems.
Firstly, only careful attention to the finer points in these policies will determine if all children benefit in the way that is planned.
And secondly, an overarching strategy to improve the lives of children is absent, particularly relating to child poverty and disadvantage.
Child poverty – the drifting agenda
It is disappointing that child poverty was not directly addressed in the Queen’s Speech. After all the Government is legally committed to end child poverty by 2020.
Instead of a bold remedy the Government plans to freeze child benefit and tax credit for two years from 2016/17.
With 3.7 million children already living in poverty and after years of real term cuts, further freezes to working age benefits, tax credits and child benefit will only make things worse.
And let’s not forget how many families rely on these benefits: freezes to Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit together will affect 7.7 million children across Britain.
That’s why we’re supporting the End Child Poverty coalition’s campaign asking for the Government to give the same protection to Children’s benefits and Tax Credits as is currently given to the State Pension.
Children’s rights under fire?
And of course there are proposals to introduce a British Bill of Rights – a fitting way to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta perhaps?
It is worrying that human rights in UK law could be diluted, particularly at a time when the UK is about to come under scrutiny by the UN for its record on promoting children’s rights.
We will work to ensure that any measures to reform human rights legislation retain and enhance the human rights protections currently afforded to children under the Human Rights Act.
Free childcare – it’s all about the quality
Boosting the entitlement of working families to 30 hours of free childcare is a welcome move.
Research shows that early education can significantly improve young children’s development, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, but only if it is of a high standard.
To ensure childcare is of high quality the Government will need to address the challenges facing early years providers in recruiting well-qualified and experienced staff, and tackle the funding shortages that mean a lack of high quality places for disadvantaged two-year olds and children with special educational needs or disabilities.
Without these commitments to improve quality, the investment of tax-payers money in extra free childcare could go to waste.
Mental health provision and custody procedures
Another area where the Government should be praised is on measures to improve access to mental health services. Children and young people must be at the heart of these plans.
We are particularly pleased to see action on the detention of children in mental health crisis in police custody, which can be a very distressing experience for these vulnerable children.
However, any plans to restrict the use of police custody must be implemented carefully to ensure that age-appropriate alternative places of safety are available, near to children’s homes and families.
In addition, we want to see this government taking action to ensure children remanded in police custody are transferred to local authority accommodation as is required by law, and to reduce the criminalisation of children in care.
A busy year ahead
So now the pomp and ceremony of the Queen’s speech is over, the real work of Government begins and, in turn, our duty to scrutinise its plans closely.
With a majority in Parliament the new Government is brimming with confidence. It is the children’s sector’s job to make sure this confidence doesn’t overflow and lead politicians to overlook the needs of children, especially the underprivileged and vulnerable, whose future depends on policy makers plans.