What Labour has done
Reducing child poverty and intervening early to help those at
risk of social exclusion were key planks of Labour’s programme for
children aged five to 13 over the past four years.
But while the government pursued an anti-poverty strategy, it
also introduced antisocial behaviour legislation that can mean
£40 on-the-spot fines for children as young as 10. They can be
banned from using certain words, wearing certain clothes and
gathering in certain areas in what the National Youth Agency says
serves to “criminalise young people for non-criminal activity”.
Children who breach the terms of an antisocial behaviour order,
unlike others facing criminal proceedings, lose their right to
anonymity. Children’s charities say this contravenes article 40 of
the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Meanwhile, children of asylum-seeking families whose
applications have been rejected have lost all rights to welfare
benefits and housing under section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration
Act 2004 and can end up in care if their families are
Professor Al Aynsley-Green was appointed first children’s
commissioner in England to champion their interests and promote
their views. But the House of Commons education and skills
committee has complained that he has less power than his
counterparts in the rest of the UK and should have a brief to
champion children’s rights.
Many of the government’s plans to integrate children’s services
stemmed from Lord Laming’s report into the death of Victoria
ClimbiŽ. Every Child Matters and the Children Act 2004
outlined a vision for extended schools, open from 8am to 6pm, all
year round to provide wraparound care to all school-age children
and plans to create children’s trusts in every local authority to
ensure joined up services and an integrated workforce.
Key to the government’s strategy of early intervention and
prevention has been the work at local level of the Children’s Fund.
It aims to:
- Improve school attendance and performance among five- to
- Ensure fewer young people aged 10 to 13 commit crime and fewer
children aged 5 to 13 are victims of crime.
- Reduce child health inequalities.
- Ensure services are accessible.
- Harness families and communities to create “pathways out of
Labour claims to have lifted half a million children out of
relative poverty and two million out of absolute poverty since
1997. In April, child benefit rose to £17 for the first child,
and £11.40 for subsequent children. The child element of the
child tax credit increased in line with average earnings by
£65 a year to £1,690.
What the next government should do for five to 13 year
An end to the detention of refugee children and the use of
prison custody for all children and raising the age of criminal
responsibility from 10 to 14 should be in the election manifestos
of all political parties, says the Children’s Society.
The charity’s chief executive Bob Reitmeier says: “The political
parties have a chance to send a message that all children in
Britain regardless of their status or behaviour really do matter
and will be given equal rights to protection and support.
“Too many children face discrimination and rejection and their
voices are rarely heard and often forgotten in the lead up to an
election. The next five years will be critical; failure to act will
leave a legacy of damaged and shattered lives.”
The society says refugee families should be given the same
financial support as other families and their children should be
given advice, assistance and advocacy.
All political parties should be committed to eradicating child
poverty, insists the Child Poverty Action Group, which is calling
for the uprating of the child tax credit and child benefit. Chief
executive Kate Green says: “We are calling for a poverty impact
assessment to be made for every new policy. Policies not fighting
poverty must be altered to ensure they do.”
The NSPCC is urging all parliamentary candidates to sign its
pledge for children and to back the charity’s three key demands for
children to be given the same protection as adults from assault,
adequate access to post abuse recovery services and protection from
abuse via the internet.
What the three main parties say they will do if they win
The Labour Party
- With plans to halve child poverty by 2010-1 and eradicate it by
2020 Labour has promised in Children Forward Not Back to raise the
child element of the child tax credit at least in line with average
earnings until 2007-8.
- It reaffirms its promise to create children’s trusts nationally
by 2008 and refurbish 8,900 primary schools at a cost of
£9.4bn over the next five years as it promotes extended
services to children and families. Children will have access to
sport, arts, music and other after-school activities.
- New powers will require parents to pay compensation for damage
caused by children under 10. An additional £25m from 2006-7 to
2007-8 will target under-13s at risk of involvement in crime.
- A £280m package has been unveiled for healthy school
meals, which Ofsted will inspect, with a promise to halt the rise
in obesity among under 11s. A School Food Trust will empower
parents to work with schools to raise standards. Parents will also
have more say in running their children’s schools.
- Labour is also promising measures to tackle under-age smoking,
drug and alcohol abuse and dangers from the internet.
The Conservative Party
- The Conservatives are promising stricter enforcement of
antisocial behaviour orders and to scrap appeals panels in schools
when pupils are accused of disruption, placing control over
discipline policy fully in the hands of heads and governors.
- The Tories pledge that parents will have the right to choose
school. Local authorities would no longer decide admissions to
state schools. Parents would also be entitled to send their child
to an independent school at the cost of a state school place –
around £5,500 by 2007-8.
The Liberal Democrats
- The Liberal Democrats would scrap Labour’s Child Trust Fund and
use the money to cut class sizes for five to seven-year-olds from
30 to 20 by recruiting 20,000 more teachers.
- Like Labour, they would offer wraparound care to all school-age
children by opening schools from 8am to 6pm, co-ordinated by local
education authorities to avoid adding to head teachers’
- Anti-poverty measures would include replacing council tax with
a local income tax based on ability to pay and allocating child and
working tax credits as a fixed term award for at least six
- The powers of the children’s commissioner would be beefed-up
and the profile of foster carers raised.