If you asked me what is my biggest motivator as a politician, I would tell you it would be to deliver a better future for the next generation.
That is a sentiment that everyone would agree with I’m sure. We want children growing up now to be happier, healthier and more secure, to have better opportunities and greater life chances than us. However, while we have shared ambitions for our children and young people, the picture in reality is pretty bleak.
Launching Labour’s Child Health Action Plan yesterday, Keir Starmer called the Conservatives out for their ‘neglect’ of our children and young people. He was right to do so.
During my time as the opposition spokesperson for Education and Children’s Services on Suffolk County Council, I had to fight against cuts to children’s centres and school transport. I had to campaign against worsening child poverty, school exclusions and dangerous school buildings. Family after family approached me, desperate for help after their children with special education needs and disabilities were so badly let down by the system.
Cut after cut, failure after failure landed on children and their families time and time again.
Just look at the true scale and cost of this neglect, not just in Ipswich and Suffolk, but across the country too. 200,000 children are waiting for mental health treatment. The number of children and young people being admitted to hospital has dramatically increased. Two in every five children are leaving primary school overweight. What is the primary reason for young children being admitted to hospital? To extract rotten teeth. And perhaps most shockingly of all, the rise in life expectancy has stagnated. What an utterly depressing and shameful state of affairs.
The last 14 years of ‘sticking plaster’ politics has impacted just about every public service you can think of, and it has hit our back pockets too. None of it is remotely defensible, but for the Conservatives to apply that approach to children too is nothing short of scandalous. Our children are unhealthier, and they are unhappier too. And it is because of political choices.
Labour will make very different political choices. Our fully-funded Child Health Action Plan will end the Conservatives’ poverty of ambition, and aim to create the healthiest generation of children ever.
How will we do it?
By cutting waiting times for planned paediatric services by delivering two million more planned care appointments.
By ending the crisis in child mental health, cutting waiting lists for mental health services by recruiting thousands more staff, introducing specialist mental health support and delivering an open access children and young people’s mental health hub for every community.
We will transform NHS dentistry, recruiting dentists that desperately need them – like Suffolk – and bringing in a targeted national toothbrushing programme for 3–5-year-olds.
There will be a crackdown on smoking and vaping, and a ban on junk food advertising to children.
Breakfast clubs will be established in every primary school so every child is able to start the day with a healthy breakfast and parents are able to get to work.
And we will protect children from the growth of infectious diseases by allowing health visitors to administer routine immunisations to vulnerable and at-risk children.
I meet a lot of people who talk about wanting to feel hope once again. This plan gives me hope – it is packed full of policies that will make a life-changing difference to children and their families. They are all affordable and achievable, but most importantly, they are ambitious.
Politics is about choices. I choose to give the next generation a better future.