Posted: 30 October 2018

Policy Update: 4 successes in the last few months

Parliamentarians are girding themselves for a return to Westminster for what looks to be a challenging Autumn session, dominated by one BIG issue. 

However, despite the tough policy influencing environment, it is still possible to achieve substantive policy changes – as some of our successes over the last few months illustrate.  Here’s a look back at what we've achieved:

A better deal for families facing problem debt

For families in debt, having a breathing space when they don’t have to make payments and they don’t have bailiffs knocking at their door can make a massive difference.

Back in May, the Queen signed off on the Financial Guidance and Claims Act which, amongst other things introduced the legally binding “Breathing Space” for families in problem debt which The Children’s Society have been calling for since 2014.  The Government had agreed to introduce Breathing Space following a Private Member’s Bill on this issue from Kelly Tolhurst MP (and supported by us), and our work to ensure that Breathing Space was included as a manifesto commitment from both the Conservative and Labour parties in the 2017 election.

There is still much more to be done to make sure Breathing Space works for those who need it – including ensuring that Benefit and Council Tax debts are included.  We will be working with the Treasury to make sure that the scheme really works for families facing problem debt.

Better financial support for care leavers

Young people leaving the care system can be some of the most financially vulnerable in society, often having to deal simultaneously with the challenges of living independently for the first time, and inadequate income.  In May we were delighted to secure the introduction of a new apprenticeship bursary for care leavers.  The bursary will be worth £1,000 for young people leaving care who start an apprenticeship after August this year and will help a great deal of young people in a very vulnerable financial position.

We have also continued to secure even more Local Authority exemptions for care leavers from council tax – including recently in Manchester.  We would like to see the exemption from the shared accommodation rate extended up to age 25, to better identify care leavers in receipt of certain benefits, and perhaps even to extend the care leaver extension from council tax right across England (as it now is in Scotland and is planned for Wales).  

'Seriously Awkward' changes to the Working Together statutory guidance

Our Seriously Awkward campaign is calling for better support for 16 to 17 year-old children in need as they start to make the difficult move into early adulthood. Our report found that too many of the most vulnerable young people are facing the bleakest outcomes as they make the move into adult life.

In July, DfE published a revised version of Working Together to safeguard children - the core statutory guidance governing inter-agency work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.  

As a result of the Seriously Awkward campaign the department has made a number of changes to the guidance around the need to support 16 and 17 year olds, and to plan for their transitions into adulthood. Small but important steps forward on the way to building a better safety net for this group.

Legal Aid for unaccompanied migrant children 

After a five-year long legal challenge by The Children’s Society, supported by other civil society organisations, the Government has agreed to reinstate legal aid for separated and unaccompanied children in their non-asylum immigration cases. 

Our research suggests thousands of children have been denied legal aid since new legislation came into force in 2013.  Since then, only a small number have been able to access legal aid through Exceptional Case Funding.  This change will help thousands of children to get the legal help and representation they desperately need.

We are in an extraordinarily difficult period for achieving policy change, and this shows no sign of going away in the near future - but despite this, these changes show that it is still possible to deliver change for children across Britain.  There is much, much more to do in the Autumn.

By Sam Royston - Policy team

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