More than 120 national organisations accuse Government of ‘ignoring children’

An influential group of over 120 children’s charities, teaching unions and other organisations have accused the Government of ignoring children and young people in its spending commitments.

In an open letter to Downing Street, the organisations have demanded that the Government recognise compelling evidence that the services and support that children and young people rely on are at breaking point.

The call comes from one of the broadest coalitions to assemble around such a cause, with representatives working across child health, education, social care, disability and poverty all signing the letter.

As the Chancellor prepares his 2018 budget, and with a spending review looming, signatories have insisted that urgent action must be taken to put children at the heart of Government spending plans.

Kids with Mum

The letter, sent to both the Prime Minister and Chancellor, highlights the pressing challenges facing services and other support for children, showing that:

  • Ninety children are being taken into care every day – this is a record high;
  • Less than a third of children and young people with a diagnosable mental health problem will get access to NHS funded treatment this year;
  • Only three in a hundred families of disabled children think the health and care services available to their children are adequate;
  • Almost three-quarters of school leaders expect they will be unable to balance their budgets in the next financial year;
  • The number of children with special educational needs who are awaiting provision has more than doubled since 2010;
  • Up to 3 million children are at risk of going hungry during school holidays.

Theresa May has promised to bring forward the ‘end of austerity’ and increase investment in public services, however the letter points to a growing body of evidence showing that significant challenges lie ahead.

The coalition of organisations is asking parents, families and other members of the public to show their support by signing a public petition to the Government and using the hashtag #ChildrenAtTheHeart on social media.

Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau and Chair of End Child Poverty, said:

‘We’ve seen successive budgets come and go with token spending commitments for children and families. If austerity is really coming to an end, its high time the Government puts its money where its mouth is, and makes a concrete financial commitment to the welfare of children.

‘Things we once took for granted, like family support, children’s centres, and respite care for families with disabled children are now the privilege of the few. In some areas of the country, over half the children are growing up in poverty. For these children and the many others who need urgent help, the services, benefits and support that could provide a lifeline have been cut to the bone. We are failing our children if we don’t put them at the heart of government spending.’

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

‘School funding is at breaking point with many head teachers having to drastically cut back on courses offered, resources, building repairs, school trips and after school clubs. Class sizes are being increased and the numbers of teachers and support staff are being reduced while begging letters for money to parents and carers are commonplace. Enough is enough – our schools need more funding if we are to give all our children, including those with SEND, the education they deserve.’

Dr Carol Homden CBE, CEO of Coram, said:

‘Working with more than one million children, young people, families and professionals, we have seen first-hand how severely cuts to services and support have affected them.

‘Children are waiting longer to be adopted, others have been denied access to free legal advice and representation – going homeless or being excluded from education, and too many parents are frozen out of work and trapped in poverty because of high childcare costs. 

All children should have the chance and the resources they need to live a fulfilling life and to succeed, and we urge the Chancellor to put children at the heart of decisions about spending and increase the investment in children and families.’

Laurence Guinness, Chief Executive of The Childhood Trust, said:

‘Before Universal Credit is fully rolled out children are already going hungry in increasing numbers and hard-working families are breaking down because of static, poverty inducing wages and ever rising prices. The government urgently needs to show moral courage by adequately funding Universal Credit and stopping the cruel punishment it’s inflicting on many of the poorest and most vulnerable in society.’

Kathy Evans, Chief Executive of Children England, said:

‘We can’t stand by and watch children pay the bill for the recklessness and debts of bankers and politicians. Austerity is not over for children, it’s getting worse – and Theresa May must stop it.’

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:

Big social security cuts are pulling more and more of our children under the official poverty line so nine children in every class of thirty are living in poverty today – and most have at least one parent in work. Children’s health and wellbeing, their educational outcomes, their life chances and what they will earn as adults are likely to be jeopardised by growing up in poverty.  If we want a fair start for every child, we need to reinstate the funding that has been cut from financial support for children.   Restoring the value of child benefit, ending the freeze on working age benefits and reinstating the huge sums that were taken out of Universal Credit are essential first steps.’

A copy of the letter is available from the embargo date at: www.ncb.org.uk/childrenattheheart

Benefit sanctions and conditions are pushing disabled people further from employment

Disabled people are facing punitive sanctions and perverse incentives when trying to claim allowances which are damaging their health and placing barriers in the way of their efforts to seek work.

Researchers at the University of Essex have published their findings after working in partnership with the Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisation, Inclusion London, to investigate the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) system.

Their findings will be launched at an event in Parliament hosted by the disabled cross-bench peer Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.  You can download the report here: ESA-WRAG Report

Benefit Sanctions

The researchers explored disabled people’s experience of being placed in the ESA’s Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) after a Work Capability Assessment. WRAG claimants are deemed suitable for some work related activity and failure to engage can lead to ESA payments being cut or ‘sanctioned’.

The research team found all participants experienced significantly detrimental effects on their mental health.

The impact of sanctions was life threatening for some. For many, the underlying fear from the threat of sanctions meant living in a state of constant anxiety. This state of chronic fear can make it harder for people to engage in work-related activity and was made worse by the unpredictable way conditionality was applied, leaving some participants unsure of how to avoid sanctions.

Ellen Clifford, Campaigns and Policy Manager at Inclusion London, said: “This important research adds to the growing weight of evidence that conditionality and sanctions are not only harmful to individuals causing mental and physical negative impacts, but are also counter-productive in their aim of pushing more disabled people into paid work.

“Universal Credit, which is set to affect around 7 million people with 58% of households affected containing a disabled person, will extend and entrench conditionality. This is yet another reason why the roll out of Universal Credit must be stopped and a new system designed based on evidence based approaches and co-produced with disabled people and benefit claimants.”

The results also showed that participants wanted to engage in work and many found meaning in vocational activity. However, the WRAG prioritised less meaningful tasks.

In addition, rather than incentivising work-related activity, conditionality meant participants were driven by a range of perverse and punitive incentives, being asked to engage in activity that undermined their self-confidence and required them to understate their previous achievements.

Dr Danny Taggart, Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of Essex, said “Based on these findings, the psychological model of behaviour change that underpins conditionality and sanctioning is fundamentally flawed. The use of incentives to encourage people to engage in work related activity is empirically untested and draws on research with populations who are not faced with the complex needs of disabled people. The perverse and punitive incentives outlined in this study rendered participants so anxious that they were paradoxically less able to focus on engagement in vocational activity.

“More research needs to be undertaken to understand how to best support disabled people into meaningful vocational activity, something that both the government and a majority of disabled people want. This study adds further evidence to support any future research being undertaken in collaboration with disabled people’s organisations who are better able to understand the needs of disabled people.”

Charlie’s case

Charlie (not his real name), one of the study participants, attempted suicide after having to return to the Job Centre for an appointment with the same adviser who had sanctioned him, leaving him with no money for food over Christmas.

Charlie said: “I’ve thought about what that sanction meant to me. I always thought I was a strong man but in a few short weeks after being sanctioned I fell apart and my mental health and self-esteem has never been the same. We hear about how a sanction impacts on mental and physical health but to me it went further than that, it has had a deeply negative impact on my whole sense of identity.”

For more information contact: Ellen Clifford at ellen.clifford@inclusionlondon.org.uk or on 07505144371.

Notes for Editors

1)      Inclusion London is a London-wide Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisation (DDPO) which is part of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, a network of grassroots DDPO and disabled people led campaigns across England. https://www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/

2)      People seeking support through Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) must go through a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). After assessment, eligible claimants are assigned to either the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) or the Support Group (SG). WRAG claimants are deemed suitable for some work related activity and failure to engage can lead to ESA being cut or ‘sanctioned’. This sanction can involve losing up to 100% of ESA if work related activity is not completed to the satisfaction of the Job Centre Plus worker. Under Universal Credit, the ESA WRAG is called the Limited Capability for Work group (LCW).