Posted: 02 May 2017

Our priorities for the upcoming general election

You may have noticed that since that shock announcement a few weeks ago, the news has been dominated by one thing - the general election.

During election time, we are asking all political parties to make children and young people a top priority in their manifestos.

Our two big asks for the next government

We have two key asks for all political parties to prioritise children’s mental health and well-being:

1. Mental health provision in schools

Address the growing concerns about children’s mental health by committing to offering counselling for children in all educational settings in England.

It is a symptom of the pressures of modern childhood that 1 in 10 children in this country have a mental health problem. Our Good Childhood report 2016  found that more than a third of girls are unhappy with their appearance and 1 in 10 children feel their lives have little meaning or purpose. Children’s mental health should be a defining feature in each of the political party’s manifestos, as it was in 2015.

We are asking all political parties to commit to offering counselling for children in all educational settings – including colleges - in England. Counselling is seen as accessible, non-stigmatising and effective by children and pastoral care staff, with school management reporting improvements in attainment, attendance and behaviour of young people who have accessed services.

Schooling is a devolved matter, meaning that the systems differ across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Counselling provision is statutory in all Welsh secondary schools, and schools are funded to provide this service in Northern Ireland. Whilst neither is the case in England, we know that a majority of secondary schools find the money in their budgets to deliver this vital service.

By making counselling provision compulsory and backing it up with appropriate funding, all schools will be well placed to make sure that they can meet the emotional and mental health needs of their students, helping them thrive in education.

2. Breathing Space scheme for families in debt

Help protect children’s mental health from the impact of problem debt by introducing a legally binding ‘breathing space’ to give families time and space to repay their debts, with no rising fees or visits from intimidating bailiffs.

Children’s mental health is at risk because of problem debt. Our research found that children living in families struggling with debt are five times more likely to be unhappy than children in families who don’t have difficulty with debt - putting them at risk of developing mental health problems.

We know that the most common cause of debt problems are life events such as job loss, illness or a relationship breakdown that causes a sudden large drop in income. 

Currently in England and Wales there is no statutory scheme to support people in temporary financial difficulty who are trying to repay their debts. 

A breathing space scheme would give families time and space to repay their debts, with no rising fees or visits from intimidating bailiffs. This would prevent debts worsening, stress building and enforcement action having a negative impact on children’s well-being and mental health. 

A group of 50 cross-party MPs backed the introduction of this scheme, and we hope that a commitment to take action to tackle problem debt will feature in all of the manifestos.

What next?

Over the next couple of weeks political parties will be releasing their general election manifestos. We’ll be keeping a keen eye out on what commitments they’re making to children and young people.

We want all candidates to understand the big issues affecting children and young people in their area and, if elected, know how they can make a difference. So we’ll be producing constituency data packs for every parliamentary candidate in England and Wales, outlining the big issues affecting children and young people in their area and relevant recommendations for change.

Sign up to our policy newsletter to find out how you can ask your local candidates to put children and young people at the heart of their campaigns this general election.

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By Matthew Hussey - Policy team
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