How the Queen’s Speech can still work for vulnerable children

Posted by / Tuesday 15 October 2019 / Inequality Child neglect

When the Queen announces her government’s agenda, it’s rare that it isn’t the biggest political event of the week.

Outlining a legislative programme for the coming year, the occasion is normally seen as a statement of political intent; identifying priority issues and setting a clear direction while driving a sense of common purpose and reaffirming the important representative role of Parliament.

This week, the Prime Minister had an opportunity to do just that – to lay out an ambitious domestic agenda, offsetting the focus commanded by Brexit for the past three years and returning attention to issues at home like inequality and disadvantage.

Vulnerable children: currently neither seen nor heard

This was the first address since the slimmed-down proceedings of 2017, with over two years of Brexit logjams in the period since. A legal melodrama surrounding prorogation has dogged the Prime Minister for several weeks, while last month witnessed backbenchers wrest control of the Westminster agenda away from government.

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that hints of a coherent plan of action for future generations were few and far between in yesterday’s announcement.

While there were pledges around school funding, and measures to expand the free schools programme, other commitments were vague. There was no specific support introduced for vulnerable children, nothing envisaged to tackle the £3.1bn funding gap facing councils for children’s services by 2025, nor any action to address the 18% fall in children’s centre usage.

Instead, Brexit and a possible election have continued to suck the oxygen from debate in areas that would, in normal times, be considered to be matters of utmost priority. 

Carry on, Prime Minister? 

But there is one victory that ought to be celebrated, presenting an opportunity that must be grabbed by the horns.

With Parliament back in session, the Domestic Abuse Bill unanimously passed its Second Reading earlier in the month and has been carried over into the new session. Returning to Parliament to complete its passage, the Prime Minister has a second bite at the cherry to improve the lot for vulnerable children and young people.

The Bill provides an opportunity to rethink society’s response to domestic abuse. Significantly, it marks a chance to recognise those children experiencing such behaviour as victims in their own right, rather than simply as witnesses, and to make sure dedicated domestic abuse services for children are provided consistently right across the country.

While there’s more to do to make sure the Bill is shipshape and delivers for children and families, Parliament needs to embrace the chance to secure these vital improvements.

Achieving these changes would represent at least one Queen’s Speech victory for children.