Yesterday the UK’s Children’s Commissioners published a joint report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. It makes very grim reading. If a child is poor, bullied, suffers mental ill health, gets involved with the criminal or immigration systems or suffers the effects of domestic violence, this country simply does not provide them with what they need. I seriously recommend that you read the whole thing because a few headlines from the press doesn’t quite give the flavour of the extent to which we should be ashamed of ourselves.
We can have all the arguments we like about austerity measures and to what extent they were necessary but this report provides an extensive list of the sorts of problems that we liberals should be putting all our energies into solving. Top of my list would be access to justice and reversing the cuts to legal aid that prevent children being properly represented in cases that affect them. Second would be mental health. The range of things that affect young people’s mental health is huge and we need to look at prevention as well as treatment when things do go wrong.
Some solutions don’t actually cost that much. The provision of decent quality sex education which considers the realities like the effect of the internet and consent issues is so obvious that only a government stuffed with social conservatives who are wedded to notions of a blissful past that never existed could deny. That’s unfortunate, then.
It is very clear that austerity has really affected children’s day to day lives badly. Liberal Democrats can rightly be proud of putting extra money to help disadvantaged kids in school, but those kids often went home to poor housing and not enough food. It’s difficult to fulfil your potential in those circumstances. Now that the economy is on a more secure footing, these issues need to be urgently addressed. Instead, the Conservatives want to shrink the state and its safety net even further.
Scottish Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Alison McInnes was already acting on one thing that the Commissioners highlighted – the low age of criminal responsibility in this country. In Scotland, it’s technically 8 and she is trying to get it raised by tabling amendments to a new Criminal Justice Bill.
There is one other issue the report raised. The commissioners recommend a total ban on corporal punishment of children. It takes up a small paragraph in a 51 page report, but almost the entirety of the Telegraph’s article on it. Funny that. Anyone might think they were trying to get their readers up in arms about these lefty commissioners rather than look at the massively serious issues they raise. I have long thought thought that such a ban was necessary. It seems bizarre that children don’t have the same protection in law that adults have from violence. If I were to hit Tim Farron or Norman Lamb, I’d rightly end up in big trouble. If I were to hit a toddler in my care, the law would allow that. I think the law needs to send out a clear message that hitting children is never acceptable. So I asked Tim Farron and Norman Lamb what they thought – and they both favour a ban on smacking:
— Norman Lamb (@normanlamb) July 1, 2015
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) July 1, 2015
I think that Liberal Democrats already have good ideas to tackle most of the issues raised in the report. We need to think about how we can talk about the plight of our children so that people demand action from an unwilling government.