From the CEO: Join us in calling for Parliament to put children at the heart of policy making

When asked what is most important to us, and what gives us a sense of identity, value and purpose, most of us think about our families and friends, homes and communities, health and wellbeing, hobbies and interests, people and places.  

We likely think about our jobs too – they can give us a sense of purpose and social connection, as well as paying the bills – but often don’t define us.  

Yet, sadly, in recent years this is how we have come to be defined by our leaders of our country. Within policy, our value is repeatedly reduced to what we contribute to the economy, how many hours we work, how much we earn. Lives defined as economic units on a spreadsheet of GDP and tax revenue.  

This approach is totally at odds with a vision for a healthy and compassionate society.  

It doesn’t recognise or value the vitally important unpaid work millions of us do; caring for children, elderly relatives and the people in our lives who need support.  

It doesn’t value unpaid roles in the community – involvement in local politics, school governance, or those running volunteer search and rescue teams which literally save lives.  

For people unable to work because of complex health and disability this approach is dehumanising. 

This approach also fundamentally undervalues children, treating them as a burden rather than a blessing.  

Children don’t personally contribute to the economy, but they cost money; they need feeding, clothing, education, healthcare and 24/7 care.  

The time families invest in raising their children; the story times, bath times and 4am feeds, listening, laughing together, making memories – none of this can be monetised. 

Yet social policy around children has reduced to childcare to enable parents to work and contribute to the economy. 

Of course, this picture is far from a fair reflection of the value of children and makes for alarmingly short-term, self-defeating policy and investment choices.  

Why? Because work with children adds hundreds of thousands of jobs to the economy. Because this work – paid and unpaid – shows the next generation good role models that makes for a thriving society built on respect and encouraging empowerment. 

Because children are the doctors, nurses, scientists, engineers, business owners of tomorrow – those who will pay their taxes and keep the economy going. Because they will become the mothers, fathers, carers, and teachers who raise the generation that comes after them.   

Because children have innate worth and bring into our families and communities priceless love, joy and fun.  

The impact of creating a society that devalues children is now directly affecting population demographics; across the developed world, birth-rates have fallen rapidly within a generation, raising concerns that there will not be enough of the next.  

We are already seeing the impact of falling birth rates and an ageing population in workforce short-falls, as we struggle to recruit and retain enough workers – especially in healthcare – to meet our population’s needs, and this is only set to grow. Our recent government’s short-term fix is to rely on immigration to fill those gaps, but without a long-term vision to address this ‘ticking time-bomb’.  

An increasing number of people are choosing not to have children altogether. For some this is a positive choice, but tragically, many people who would love to be parents feel they can’t afford to start a family, or have another child, as the gap between incomes and housing costs means the rites of passage for young adults of buying their own home is becoming impossible for many. 

And far from supporting families and those who want to have children through child-friendly tax and benefits policies we have the opposite. Our two-child limit is the only one of its kind among comparable countries in the western world, and was specifically designed to discourage lower income families from having ‘too many’ children, by limiting the amount of Universal Credit they can claim to only including a maximum of two children regardless of the actual household size. 

After seven years of the policy, the evidence shows that the majority (60%) of the families affected by the limit are working families, on low wages and often in insecure work. Moreover, even as the overall birth rate has dropped in this country, the policy has had a negligible impact on the birth rate among lower income families, showing that those who are choosing to have more children do so because they want to have a large family, even if it leaves them less well off. But by plunging hundreds of thousands of children into poverty, we are compromising from the beginning their chances of growing up happy, healthy and making a positive contribution to our future society.   

As we approach a general election this year Children North East is challenging this worldview and calling on those aspiring to be the next government to restore a holistic vision for our society.  

A vision in which all our society members are valued, including those who are not able to contribute financially, or can contribute less, ensuring they are properly supported through a social welfare safety net.  

We are calling for children to be seen as an investment, not a cost. We want the next government to put children at the heart of policy and decision making, not treat them as a problem to be solved.  

We want parenting to be valued, parents to have real choice about how they balance work and raising their families.  

We want child poverty to be tackled head on, so children are not growing up without the basic things they need.  

We want babies, children, young people and their families to get the support they need when they need it, without long waits, complex assessments and high thresholds.  

Our election briefing An Investment Not a Cost sets out our vision for the values that should underpin public life, and the aspects of social security and services and support for children which need to be reformed and invested in, for all our children to grow up happy and healthy.  

Join us in calling on all those running for Parliament to commit to putting children at the heart of policy making in the next government.