Keeping Parliament Informed

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Children has held three meetings since the beginning of 2007:

  • Tuesday 16 January: How Every Child Matters can deliver for disabled children and young people and their families.  With speakers Lord Adonis (Department for Education and Skills Minister) and Christine Lenehan (Director of the Council for Disabled Children, and a member of the Every Disabled Child Matters (EDCM) campaign board).
  • Monday 22 January: Child benefit from an international comparative perspective.  With contributions from Kate Green (Chief Executive, Child Poverty Action Group), Ann McKechin MP, and Armando Barrientos (Institute for Development Studies).
  • Tuesday 6 February: Every Child Matters and children in the legal system.  With Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP (Minister of State in the Department of Constitutional Affairs).

Tuesday 16 January – How Every Child Matters (ECM) can deliver for disabled children and young people and their families

Christine Lenehan said that the challenge is to make the ECM outcomes relevantto disabled children and young people, because they and their families are currently missing out on both universal and targeted services.  For example, while she welcomes the new common assessment framework (CAF), it is important that this does not add to the burden of over-assessment already experienced by disabled children and young people. 

She also informed the Group that EDCM has worked with Gary Streeter MP to introduce the Disabled Children (Family Support) Bill, a Private Member’s Bill that would place a duty on Local Authorities and Primary Care Trusts to provide short break care for disabled children, where families provide a substantial amount of care on a regular basis.  The provisional date for second reading is 23 February 2007.
Lord Adonis agreed that these were a complex set of issues, which were integral to the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.  He said that the Government’s key priorities for disabled children and young people and their families are: childcare, equipment, speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, key workers, and short breaks. 

The Government recognises the need for further investment, and over the next months it will develop concrete proposals, including monetary considerations, to be published in the summer. 

Monday 22 January – Child benefit from an international comparative perspective

This was the APPGC’s first meeting on international issues, and as it was so successful, the Group has decided to hold one internationally themed meeting per year. 

Kate Green provided the perspective from home, setting out the history and impact of child benefit in the UK.  She said that child benefit is a near universal benefit for all children, is not means tested, follows the child, and is not withdrawn as income rises. It helps families to cope with the additional costs of having children at the point costs are incurred, and acts as a recognition that the bringing up of children is not only the responsibility of the parent, but of society as a whole. 

The benefit is an effective tool for achieving two policy objectives: establishing the case for financial support being a right for children in their own right, and combating child poverty.  In the past, child benefit has been threatened with having conditions attached, and making it means tested or taxed, but it is the lack of these measures that makes child benefit so effective. 

Ann McKechin MP said that benefits in some form are essential to tackling poverty in the developing world.  This can help move us away from relief efforts, such as food aid, that are based on the concept that ‘the poor cannot be trusted with money’, and creates a direct link between the poorest and their government.  There are many political and financial decisions for a country to make in order to introduce a social protection system, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, but it is important that their introduction be based on a clear human rights structure. 

Armando Barrientos (Institute of Development Studies) said that there has been an increase in the use of benefits (or ‘cash transfers’) to tackle childhood poverty and vulnerability in developing countries, and he provided the meeting with some examples in Latin America.  He said that cash transfers are effective on many different levels: they reduce poverty, help local economies, and the fact that transfers are usually given to the mother may be increasing women’s status in the household and society. 

However, it is important to look at cash transfers in the context of integrated interventions, such as health, education, nutrition and child protection, which are not always in place in developing countries.  Sometimes conditions, relating to nutrition or school attendance for example, are attached to benefits, partly to gain sufficient public support.  

Tuesday 6 February – Every Child Matters and children in the legal system

Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP said that she has always felt that the family justice system has been the ‘poor relation’ in the court system, despite the fact that family justice affects many people’s lives dramatically, and that decisions taken in family courts are so difficult and finely balanced.  Financial and human resources are needed to improve the system, and this requires that a spotlight be shone on the family courts.  She said that, while people understand the need for investment in police and prosecutors in the high profile criminal justice system, work of the family courts does not get the same level of recognition because it is not visible and therefore hard for the public and politicians to understand. 

The Minister is concerned that by emphasising the need to keep family proceedings private for the individuals, we have stopped there being proper public accountability, and it is very hard to rebut allegations of malpractice effectively.  The closed nature of the family courts also becomes an obstacle to getting more resources, as those outside the system who make the choices about allocation of resources cannot see what is needed.  For this reason, she believes, as set out in the DCA’s recent consultation on family proceedings, that more openness is needed subject to anonymity for the parties involved.    

Forthcoming meetings of the APPGC are:

  • Monday 26 February: Every Child Matters and Housing: poor housing and its impacts on children and young people.  With speakers: Caroline Davey (Deputy Director, Policy and Research, Shelter), Anne Whiteley (Director of Children and Young People’s Services, Devon County Council), and young people from Sunderland YMCA Foyer.
  • Tuesday 6 March Mental Health Bill.  With speakers: Louis Appleby (National Director for Mental Health); Kathryn Pugh (YoungMinds); and Camilla Parker (Mental Health and Humans Rights Consultant).

Please contact Sally Cole, Clerk to the APPGC on 020 7843 1907 or by email to [email protected]:

  • To be added to the email mailing list to receive minutes and invitations to meetings
  • For copies of minutes from any of the meetings
  • For any further information about the Group

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