Westminster Befriend a Family is supporting the campaign to have a Cabinet Minister for Children and Young People.

The Children First campaign asks for the Government to put children at the heart of all its decision-making. This is because children’s needs cannot be confined to a single issue or policy. Children will always elude being pigeon-holed.

Though there is currently a junior Ministerial post for children, the position does not have the weight of authority to drive forward integrated cross-departmental responses to the challenges faced.

In creating the campaign, Children First identified five 21st century challenges hindering healthy development in today’s children.

  • Obesity and Physical Inactivity: Over one third of our children are overweight or obese, according to the Department of Health ISCIC, Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet. Children growing up in low income groups typically live in neighbourhoods with a denser supply of fast food outlets; less availability of fresh fruit and vegetables and fewer safe places for physical activity. Fruit and vegetables can be 30-40% more expensive in poor neighbourhoods (‘Going hungry: the struggle to eat healthily on a low income’: NCH, The Children’s Charity, 2004).

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences: The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that 3.5 million children (one in four) will be in absolute poverty by the end of the next Parliament (‘Bridging the Social Divide,’ March 2015). In 2015 to 2016, around 1 in 4 children resided with at least one parent reporting symptoms of emotional distress (Gov. UK March 2016).

  • Rising mental health issues: Almost 19,000 children were admitted to hospital after harming themselves in 2015 – a 14% increase over three years. Over half of all mental ill health starts before the age of 14 (Local Government Association, February, 2018). One in ten children and young people have some form of clinically diagnosable mental health disorder. This equates to around 850,000 children and young people with a diagnosable mental health disorder in the UK today (ONS, 2016).

  • Dominance of social media and screen time influence: The Persil/Unilever Project ‘Dirt is Good’ campaign found that most primary school age children spend less time in outdoor play than prisoners are required to have by law. According to the Association of Play industries, which submitted Freedom of Information requests, 112 playgrounds were closed in the 2014-15 financial year, a further 102 were closed in 2015-16. Councils revealed 80 more closures in 2016-17 followed by at least 51 more closures planned for 2018.

  • Socio-economic disadvantage and cultural/ethnic divide: There are now constituencies in the UK where more than half of the children are growing up in poverty. Among the 20 parliamentary constituencies with the highest levels of childhood poverty, seven are located in London. Statistics from the Race Disparity Audit (Race Disparity Audit Summary Findings from the Ethnicity Facts and Figures, Oct 2017, updated March 2018) says: “Asian and Black households and those in the ‘Other’ ethnic group were more likely to be poor and were most likely to be in persistent poverty.”

Find out more about the campaign and how to support it on the Children First website.