• The Good Childhood report

    The Good Childhood report published in August,  sets out the shocking scale of the disadvantages some children experience. It is alarming that the report includes evidence that young people’s happiness with their life as a whole is at its lowest since 2010. I agree that it is important that we consider how we tackle the serious problems identified by the report as leaving teenagers more likely to be unhappy, such as emotional neglect and living in a family struggling to pay the bills.

    Over the summer in St Helens, the council had holiday schemes running on weekdays in churches and children’s centres where children could get a hot meal and join activities.

    I visited the Make Lunch St Helens project that aims to help parents who struggle to provide a hot meal for their children during the school summer break. But the Government must do more to help cash-strapped councils and parents ensure that children and teenagers do not go hungry during school holidays.

    A growing number of families in St Helens and across the region are finding it hard to make sure their children get a hot meal during the school holidays. The absence of free school meals puts them under increasing financial pressure and they often have to try to find extra money to pay for activities for their children during school breaks.

    There are some fantastic local projects doing their best to provide support, but we need more action from the Government to make sure children do not go hungry during school holidays.

    The report argues that there is an increasing gap emerging between the scale of the need and the funding available for local authorities to help children and families deal with these problems. I know the Local Government Association has said the funding gap for children’s services is expected to reach £2 billion by 2020 and is putting vital work at risk, and has called for the Government to provide the resources that councils need to keep children safe and well. It is unacceptable that there are now nearly four million children living in poverty. The manifesto I stood on at the recent general election committed to deliver a new Child Poverty Strategy. It also pledged to introduce a Breathing Space scheme for households struggling with high debts. As you may be aware, the current Government also has a manifesto commitment to adopt a Breathing Space scheme and I can assure you that I will hold it to account on this commitment. Supporting young people’s mental health is crucial, particularly through prevention and early intervention. Too many children and young people are still not getting the support they need. Despite the Government making repeated promises to give mental health the same priority as physical health, 40% of NHS trusts saw cuts to mental health budgets in 2015/16. There are also fewer doctors and 6,000 fewer mental health nurses than in 2010 and money intended for mental health has been used to plug funding gaps in the wider NHS.

    I believe we should increase the proportion of mental health budgets spent on support for children and young people. More widely I support investment in school counselling, which has been shown to prevent mental health problems worsening in adolescence and adulthood.