Government must seize this golden opportunity to level up opportunity for all children across Britain
Through working directly with children and young people and seeing the inequalities and hardships they endure; we have been eagerly awaiting the white paper on levelling up.
This central plank to the government’s ambition has the potential to be a golden opportunity to level up hope and opportunity for children and young people.
What we have now seen in the white paper is welcome ambition and commitment from the government to level up the country to spread opportunity, what remains to be seen is whether the government’s plans for children start and end at the school gates.
If we are to level up the playing field for them at all, we will need to go much further to deliver tangible change that makes a real difference to their lives.
The white paper’s focus on empowering local leaders can only level up hope and opportunity for children and young people if these leaders are resourced properly. A whole new swathe of Mayors and devolution deals will achieve nothing if local authorities simply don’t have the money to spend on life-changing and life-saving services for children and young people.
Work still isn’t the lifeline it should be and too many families are living hand-to-mouth
We were pleased to see the government commit to an improvement in well-being, but this needs to include a focus on children’s well-being to ensure that policy interventions are truly levelling up for the next generation. We very much hope this means the government will commit to comprehensive national measurement and improving children’s well-being, which our research shows has significantly declined over the last decade.
I was struck by the focus on living standards. Here the government simply cannot ignore the elephant in the room: child poverty. Evidence shows that work still isn’t the lifeline it should be and too many families are living hand-to-mouth. If children are living in households where they can’t afford the basics like food, clothing or heating, how are they going to concentrate on anything other than just surviving?
We want all children to get the opportunity to be able to be children, to have good childhoods and to thrive, and for that the government needs to tackle child poverty head on.
For us, levelling up means that all children have equal access to resources and necessities. That means a social security system that works and sustainably funded crisis support for low-income families. It means increased eligibility to Free School Meals and affordable school uniforms so poverty doesn't get in the way of school and it means children from low-income migrant families, like those with No Recourse to Public Funds, have the same opportunities as their peers.
From our work with children targeted by organised crime and sexual predators – where the response they get from services is a postcode lottery - we’re concerned to see the focus continues to be on “the worst affected areas”. Investment is needed across the country and not only in selected areas.
Many children get drawn into anti-social behaviour and crime due to serious challenges in their lives, for example domestic violence, or because they have been groomed and exploited. Instead of punishing these young people with visible labour as suggested in the white paper, we urge the government to prioritise early intervention, addressing the underlying issues to protect and help them to recover.
Children need the government to be more ambitious for them than improving their english and maths results. We want the government to seize this moment to improve not just transport, infrastructure and economic productivity, but to prove their commitment to the true meaning of levelling up and level up hope and opportunity for children and young people by 2030.
We want the reality to match the rhetoric because we know that children have missed out for too long and there is no area of policy where the levelling up agenda is more crucial.
Mark Russell is the Chief Executive of The Children’s Society.
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