Monday 23 May 2022

The shame of living in a nation that fails its children and young people

If you ask any decent person to give an illustration of a personification of evil, they are likely to say people who abuse children, such as child molestors, child killers and child abductors. People are rightly revolted by such behaviours. Whot shocks me is how often, the people who express such righteous outrage about these issues support and vote for parties that don't give a stuff about the wellbeing of our nations children and young people.

If you think about it, the most important investment our nation can make is in our children and young people. They are the future. They will be our carers, our wealth generators and they are our legacy. After 12 years of Conservative government we have 3.6 million children living in poverty. That is 27% or 8 children in every class of 30. Siren voices say "Nothing can be done, there will always be poverty". This is not true, Between 1998 and 2003 reducing child poverty was made a priority - with a comprehensive strategy and investment in children - and the number of children in poverty fell by 600,000. For a period our government recognised that this was an issue and did something about it. 

Great Britain is the sixth richest country by GDP in the world. If we are to have any hope of retaining our position, this can only happen if we ensure that our young people are happy, healthy, well educated and safe. The current cost of living crisis is likely to lead to a massive increase in child poverty. At the moment, with warm days and light evenings, families can turn off lights, don't need the central heating on to keep warm, but come the winter, we are likely to see many families being forced to choose between eating and heating. Doing homework in freezing cold rooms is never easy. Sadly many councils have shut libraries, removing warm safe spaces for those who may struggle to study at home.

As for our schools, I am the chair of an educational charity. School budgets are under pressure. Schools are having to make all manner of difficult choices, simply to deliver a balanced education to children. All of the really important things that actually make children enjoy school have long since gone by the wayside. We are obsesses with stressing out children by testing them and stressing out staff with OFSTED inspections, without actually asking whether these obsessions are delivering young adults who are happy, well adjusted and able to thrive.

I fear for the current crop of school children. Their education has been severely disrupted by the pandemic. Now many face seeing their families plunged into poverty. What do we hear from the government? Boris Johnson does not want to damage oil company profits by instituting a windfall tax.

Education is the key to our nations success. The reason that well to do parents spend tens/hundreds of thousands of pounds on private education is because they recognise that a good education is a sound investment in the future of the family. Sadly, we are run by the products of the private education system and they don't seem to have twigged that the better educated the general populace is, the better our economic performance will be. The pandemic exposed the Tory myth that there is no magic money tree. We spent billions on all sorts, but we sleep walked into a crisis which is likely to cause huge damage to the nations young people.

I've long been a critics of the education polices of both the Tories and Labour party. I was stupid enough to join the Lib Dems in 2009, seduced by their plan to protect pupils from swinging tuition fees. To me this was a sound plan, one which they shamelessly dumped on gaining power. I suspect that had they had the balls to live by their principles, they would have not been wiped out in the 2015 election and we'd not be in this mess now. 

We have an education system that doesn't meet the needs of the economy and fails many of the pupils it produces. It leaves graduates lumbered with debt and many with little prospects of ever actually repaying loans. We have structural shortages of all manner of tradesmen in the economy, we see young people knowing that the only chance they will have of ever owning their own properties is to move away from their friends and families. Many well paid careers will be built working from home, often in a very isolated environment. Many people of my generation, coming up to retirement, tell me that all the fun of working in their industries has gone.

The advent of Brexit has removed opportunities to travel and study abroad. It has damaged the economy, the supply chains and the viability of businesses, meaning young people leaving school will have less opportunity than for a couple of generations. 

In short, we have a government that has no policy to keep children and young people safe and warm at home, has no policy to ensure they get a rewarding education that prepares them for adult life, has no policy to address the stress and isolation of the pandemic, has a policy that saddles them with debt in the form of student loans and has made the possibility of travel and working from home much harder. 

We are facing a mental health crisis, it seems everyone knows someone who has a friend or family affected by teenage suicide. I believe that we are only at the beginning and all we have is a Prime Minister who's sole concern is convincing us he was ambushed with a birthday cake. 

It really is quite shameful. Are we really prepared to ignore this and put up with it? Why are we OK with the fact that the government is causing real and measurable harm to young people? At what point does harming young people cease being abuse and start being acceptable government policy? 

No comments: