"Where are the children in this election?" - comment from Coram CEO Dr Carol Homden

  • 2 July 2024

Ahead of this week’s general election, Coram CEO Dr Carol Homden has written the following comment on Coram’s vision for a better future for children and young people.

With just days to go till the general election, children and young people have largely been conspicuous by their absence in the campaign to date as the parties have traded blows over their respective programmes. This is nothing new. For most of my time as CEO of Coram – the first and longest continuing children’s charity – the big decisions made by government have rarely put the impact on the lives of the younger generation at the heart of the process.

Both our own direct experience of delivering services to meet growing demand as well as a wide range of data suggest that, for many, life for children and young people today is getting worse after decades of progress.

We currently have 4.3 million children living in poverty in the UK, lacking many of the basics – food, shelter, care – that would enable them to thrive, enjoy childhood and maximise their chances to enjoy happy lives as adults. There are record numbers of children in care, and around one in five children aged 8-16 are assessed to have a probable mental health disorder. Parents across the country are struggling with the cost and availability of childcare – our national survey last week set out councils nationwide are concerned they won’t have the places to meet demand created by the expansion of free places.

Earlier this year I wrote about the pressures on families on our own doorstep here in London, and warned that we were in danger of becoming a ghost city for children if we don’t value our children and young people more, and start shifting the dial to deliver change to make a real difference. The UK in 2024 is not a country for children and young people. This must change.

Coram’s own YouGov polling shows that the majority of the public understand the need for a greater focus on our youngest citizens and that this crosses lines of party and age. Substantial majorities are in favour of more support for children in care, free school meals and the reforms necessary to deliver a first-class early education and childcare system.

As a charity, it is not our role to make value judgements on the proposals made by the competing parties in their manifestos. Where we can make a difference is by amplifying the voice of children and young people and putting them at the centre of our policy making and social development in the coming years.

The IFS has reported that over the last 20 years we have seen a reduction in public expenditure focused on children and young people. In 2010, the then coalition government introduced the triple lock on pensions, building economic security into the system for older people. We now need to give the youngest in society a similar guarantee.

In December, we published Coram’s Charter for Children, calling for a triple key of financial and policy commitments to ensure children have a fair share of national resources, a secure future no matter their family circumstance, and an equal chance irrespective of age or place. In other words, we need a just settlement for all generation.

Our independent costings put the bill by the end of the decade at between £16.2 billion and £17.7 billion per annum at current prices, between 0.6 and 0.7% of our joint national income and significantly less than a penny in the pound. The average annual increase in public spending would be in the region of £2 billion a year. Achieving this will require a sustained cross-party approach in the face of financial pressures. This will take more than one parliament, more than one sector and more than one generation.

Is this an ambitious vision? Certainly. However, I close with a challenge to anyone who considers our plan naïve or unachievable. is the goal that we educate, feed and nurture our children and young people and ensure their rights are upheld too much to ask? Or is it the minimum that a civilised society should be offering its next generation to safeguard our future?

For more information on Coram’s vision for a just settlement for children and young people, you can read our Charter for Children.