Children of the Coalition

JACK NUGENT on how the coalition’s ‘happy family politics’ are actually ignoring the nation’s children.

Baby P child abuse children david cameron free school meals George Osborne Nick Clegg parents single parents social mobility


When Mr and Mr Cameron-Clegg tied the knot a fortnight ago, there were a few Punch and Judy moments. Political journalists laughed as David admitted to calling Nick a joke, and Nick pretended to storm off. What jokers.

With smiling faces, Mr Cameron declared that he has always been a ‘Liberal Conservative’ while Mr Clegg said that he’s just had an epiphany, realising that the Lib Dems were actually similar to the Tories after all. You half expected Elton John’s ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight?’ to come on in the background. But amidst this Liberal-Conservative happy family, the important question should be: what about the kids?

And, I’m not referring to George Osborne but real-life, actual children. In recent years, ‘children’ has become something of a political byword: absent fathers and mothers can lay claim to their ‘children’, gay couples should adopt ‘children’, social workers need more powers to protect ‘children’, etc. Now, I’m not suggesting for one minute that these people don’t all have their roles to play in forming today’s youth and helping them to develop. But, whilst the adults are desperately trying to establish what their rights are, the actual children are ignored; their rights shamelessly neglected.

Look at what the Cameron-Clegg household plans to do for British ‘families’. Married couples will get better tax credits (possibly at the expense of single parents), non-resident parents will get better access, and there will be reforms to how those working for the government department, Sure Start (I’ve never heard of them either), are paid. Sorry, when were children mentioned?

Perhaps conveniently, the Baby P affair of 2009 was not mentioned once in the election campaign. The newspapers sold the story, the politicians paused to show ‘regret and sadness’ and then, nothing. This case exemplified exactly what needs to change in Britain. Courts, police and social services should look more at who else is brought into the home. In the case of Baby P, two other men actively participated in his mistreatment: both had a history of child abuse. Criminal checks should be run on new partners, the same way that adoptive parents or teachers have to be vetted. Why should innocent children be subjected to an unknown adult in their homes just because one parent has deemed a partner to be suitable?

Of course, Baby P was an extreme case but too many children in Britain have their childhood robbed by things like poverty and abuse. Over 40% of single parent households were completely jobless last year. And yet nowhere in Cameron and Clegg’s plans are there Scandinavian-like measures that could help to protect the poorest children in the country.

There is a similar story in education. Cameron quoted a figure when he was challenged by a student during the election campaign: out of the 80,000 children from low-income households who received free school meals, only 43 get into Oxbridge. That’s 0.054%. That’s pathetic. What makes it worse is that, unlike many of the statistics that have been quoted recently, this one has been verified. A statistics watchdog has even suggested that 0.054% is probably an underestimate: the figure doesn’t take into account the pupils from low-income households who attend FE colleges.

So why are there no changes that would improve prospects for the youth and enable more of them to go to Oxford or Cambridge? Oxbridge intakes may not be the best indication of social mobility but they are one of them. Too many students among us want to downplay the prestigious Oxbridge label for fear of looking elitist. To them, I’d just like to say: I’m one of those 43 pupils and I didn’t work so hard just for ‘Cantab’ to mean nothing. So, Number 10: forget the ‘Children of the Revolution’; it’s the ‘Children of the Coalition’ who matter now.