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Austerity Bites

As I come to the end of my first month in office I can pause to reflect on what an unusual month it has been.

Across the UK the month has been dominated by the General Election – an event that is usually held only once every 5 years so I can only expect to see one more during my time as Commissioner. This means that in my first month the nation has been buzzing with debate about what kind of society we want.

Children don’t have a vote and perhaps this explains how rarely their lives feature in public debates in elections. While there was a lot of talk from most parties about hard working families there was a general absence of discussion about children whose lives are most hidden from view.

That includes children living in poverty, looked after children and care leavers, disabled children and those seeking asylum. I heard child poverty mentioned in one debate by one leader but the theme was not taken up by the rest of the panel. A society that values all children equally needs to recognise the additional assistance some will need to be able to play a full part in society.

Austerity and cuts were debated of course. I would have liked to have seen more attention played by all parties to the uneven impact of cuts on different groups. Children have lost out most in the last few years. This is not just in the UK but right across Europe, as the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children’s new online video exhibition, ‘Austerity Bites: Children’s Voices’ , demonstrates from young people’s perspectives.

We can see the impact of cuts on the disposable incomes of families with children, especially when we look at how much money families have after housing costs are paid, and in the rise of food banks, but there are also other ways that cuts impact on the quality of lives.

Cuts to youth services, community centres, family support services, libraries and music services all impact more on poorer children and give them fewer opportunities to play a full part in our society as citizens with something to contribute.

We know from important economic and social analysis by people like Stuckler and Basu (The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills) and Wilkinson and Pickett’s (The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better) that when societies make an effort to close the gap between the poorest and richest everyone benefits in the long run.

Welsh Government and, in turn, our local services have to work with the money made available to them, which will mean more cuts, but we should all be talking about the unfair weight of cuts that children have to bear. That is a post-election debate worth having!