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Thursday, 18 September 2014

Engage: How are life-chances of children at risk in the UK?

Written by Dick Skellington

Five out of 1,000 children in the UK will not live until their fifth birthday, reports Dick Skellington.

There is a growing scandal in British society we tend to turn our back on – the growing plight of children in cut-stricken Britain. Even the SNP campaign for Scottish independence has come in for criticism over its failure to improve child poverty. After years of corrosive neglect, we might reflect that successive governments south and north of the border have tended to neglect our next generation, especially in austerity Britain.

The Rotherham child welfare scandal reminded us just how important class is in British society. We tend to turn a blind eye when the children are poor, disadvantaged.

Not many politicians want to be reminded that death rates of under-five children are higher in Britain than in any other European nation except Malta.

Recent research by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPRH) and the National Children's Bureau revealed that the relatively poor child mortality statistics are closely linked to socio-economic inequalities. They confirmed that the austerity measures in welfare and benefits made by the Coalition Government since they came to power are increasing the vulnerability of children. Especially vulnerable are children in their first six days of life, and children aged between one month to a year old. In 2012, over 3,000 children died in their first year of life.

Britain is failing its next generation: the story worsens the more the evidence is unpacked.

For example, you will not hear politicians speak too loudly about England’s international ranking in children’s wellbeing. We have just come ninth out of eleven European countries, lagging only behind Uganda and South Korea, in a study from the Children’s Society.

Nor will you hear them speak about our ‘dysfunctional’ children’s mental health services, though one did bravely come out last month, a lone voice in the wilderness of neglect.

According to the Liberal Democrat Care Minister, Norman Lamb, thousands of our children are being ‘let down’ by the NHS’s institutional bias against mental health.

Brave words which largely fell on deaf ears.

One of the reasons why we continue to lag behind Europe and the world on measures for the welfare and health of our children, both mental and physical, is austerity, and the savage cuts to the NHS and care budgets. The way politicians deny the impact of their own policies, while placing blame on everyone else for their own plight, is one of the characteristics of this Coalition's record.

Here in Milton Keynes we have a small hospital struggling to cope with an expanding population, a rising birth rate, and crisis-managed resources, especially in relation to childcare.

Remember the George Osborne maxim ‘we are all in this together’? Clearly some of us, especially our young, are suffering more than they should.

Increasing rates of mental health disorders among children have been linked to council cuts. This summer the Children’s Commissioner revealed that more and more children are being admitted to adult psychiatric wards because there are no facilities to cope with their own specific needs.

In written evidence to the Health Select Committee, Dr Maggie Atkinson said: ‘it cannot be coincidental that the increasing concerns about child and adolescent mental health coincides with the biggest reconfiguration of health and social services, reductions in preventative and early intervention budgets and local mental health budgets, in a generation’. One child in ten has a mental health problem, and three quarters of them receive no help or support.

In the run-up to the General Election 2015 it is worth remembering that nothing condemns a society more than the way it treats its children. In Scotland they hope that independence might begin to address the decades of neglect.

In England, especially, the evidence of four years of Coalition Government demonstrates not only that the NHS is not safe in its hands, but that our youngest citizens are having their lives imperilled by ideological dogma and draconian cuts in provision and services, as inequality increases, and bankers, who caused most of the problems, continue to escape relatively unscathed.

We should be ashamed of ourselves if this continues and we must do all we can to ensure it does not happen under the next government. Please write to your election candidates next year and remind him or her of their responsibilities.


About the Author

Dick Skellington edits Society Matters blog for the Faculty of Social Sciences at The Open University. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it.

To follow the Society Matters blog, visit: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/society-matters