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Fri, 23 February 2024

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Being there for every child

Jon Sparkes OBE, Chief Executive

Jon Sparkes OBE, Chief Executive | UNICEF UK

3 min read Partner content

How we can create a brighter future at home and abroad

We may not know the timing of the next UK General Election yet, but political parties are already asking a key question – what policies can create a brighter future for the next generation?

As Chief Executive of The UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) I am privileged to hear first-hand the hopes and dreams held by children living in the UK, and in the 180 countries where we provide life-saving humanitarian aid.

Sadly, at home and abroad, for every child who dreams of becoming a doctor, there is a child who has not been able to access basic medical care. For every child who aspires to be a teacher, there is a child who is not even in school.

It has been a challenging time and children face some of the most punishing consequences from COVID-19, the cost-of-living crisis, climate change and conflict. We need brave, clear sighted political leadership in the UK if we are to create a policy response that truly allows children to flourish.

UNICEF UK has written a policy briefing for all political parties: “Being there for every child: essential priorities for an incoming government.” At this critical time, we want to connect politicians to children, and to use our expertise to provide a roadmap to transform the lives of children at home and abroad. 

A child’s first few years lay the foundations for the rest of their lives. In the UK, a focus on early childhood would make a huge difference to millions of children. Prioritising the reduction of early childhood poverty and implementing a Baby and Toddler Guarantee would mean that services and support are available to any child who needs it, regardless of where they live or who they are.

Outside the UK, conflicts dominate the news and I know I’m not alone in being horrified at the catastrophic effects that war has on children. Conflicts in Gaza and in Sudan alone are killing thousands of children and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian support.

The government formed after the next election must prioritise global leadership in the fight to save children’s lives around the world. This means working in partnership to address the global impacts of conflict and climate change, but the UK should also play an essential part in restoring the essential child health services that have been damaged by the pandemic and ongoing conflicts.

Just before Christmas I was in Kenya, and I was so impressed by the UK International Development funded work that UNICEF Kenya colleagues and Kenyan government partners have put in place. I saw an emergency drought response that saved lives. But it also set the ground for longer term development progress by integrating nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, healthcare and educational work. 

It made me even more convinced that if 2023 was one of the most difficult years to be a child, 2024 doesn’t have to be. Over 50 countries will head to the polls this year, offering an opportunity for a UK government, and new governments around the world, to be champions for children. Let’s seize this opportunity.


To find out more about UNICEF UK’s work, contact Zhané Edwards, Political Affairs Adviser, ZhaneE@unicef.org.uk

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