It is vital that vulnerable children, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, are the focus of this programme of work.
- Councils work hard to support children and young people through a range of services including early help services, education, employment and skills support and work around health inequalities.
- The education recovery fund announced last week is welcome, but we are concerned that it does not go far enough. While academic recovery is important, we think it should also include measures to support children and young people’s socialisation, communication and mental health and well-being. It is vital that vulnerable children, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, are the focus of this programme of work.
- Whilst councils welcomed the support for children on free school meals and the £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit (UC), which helped to protect many families most at risk, the best way to support families long-term is with an integrated approach to addressing poverty and disadvantage. While we agree that Free School Meals (FSM) have a vital part to play, it is important that ‘food’ is not seen as the solution to ‘poverty’.
- We are open to exploring the need for expanding access to FSM but need to ensure it is affordable and is reaching the right families.
- The LGA supports the “end holiday hunger” initiative and the Holiday Activity and Food Programme (HAF) is already starting to support this by providing food support in a way that also promotes wider health and wellbeing outcomes.
- However, the scheme is unlikely to see all eligible children participate and will not be suitable for everyone. It is vital that the HAF is integrated with wider approaches to addressing health inequalities and financial vulnerability.
- We also support the expansion of Healthy Start vouchers, but more needs to be done to promote their availability. Take up has been low in the past and we recognise that more can be done locally to ensure parents are aware of the programme.
- The Government should work with councils to ensure a properly resourced safety net that prevents families falling into crisis in the event of job losses or financial difficulties. This should include the restoration of Local Welfare Funding - to at least £250 million per annum - to enable a more locally led and preventative approach to addressing financial hardship.
- Long-term, there should be a cross-Whitehall ambition that puts children and young people at the heart of Government. As we called for in our report A child-centred recovery, any strategy should articulate the role of each department, recognising that the policies of every department impact on children’s lives, with a named minister working across government to improve outcomes for children. Children and young people impact assessments should also be introduced to ensure that the needs of children are central to all new policies and legislation.