Cat Smith column: Thanks to Government cuts, austerity is not over for our children

Picture: PA
Picture: PA

In her weekly column, the Fleetwood MP claims Government policies are making life worse for future generations

Every weekend, members of my team and I are out and about talking to Fleetwood residents. Of late, one of the biggest concerns you’ve told us about is the rise in crime and anti-social behaviour.

In Lancashire, the Conservatives have cut nearly 700 police officers and 130 community support officers. Across the country in all we’ve lost nearly 30,000 police and community support officers. The Police Federation says the service is “on its knees and facing extinction”.

While officer numbers have been slashed, the police have also recorded the highest number of offences in a decade and violent crime has doubled. Meanwhile, Labour is committed to investing in community safety and giving police the resources they need. We promise to hire 10,000 extra officers to prioritise neighbourhood policing and bear down on crime and its causes.

As Shadow Minister for Youth Affairs I’m also appalled by the devastating impact the Conservative’s austerity measures are having on children.

A survey carried out by the Association of Schools and College Leaders (ASCL) has found 91 per cent of the schools that responded are providing items of clothing for pupils who are suffering from high levels of disadvantage. More than 75 per cent now put on breakfast clubs, 71 per cent provide pupils with sanitary products, and 43 per cent provide food banks or food parcels for pupils and their families.

The survey also found 92 per cent said there have been cutbacks in local authority support for vulnerable families and young people, 98 per cent have experienced difficulty in accessing local mental health services for pupils who need specialist treatment – with most attributing this difficulty to a combination of service cut backs and increased demand. Nearly all respondents – 405 – reported increased demand for in-school mental health support, with commonly cited reasons being the pressures associated with social media and exams.

These findings come against a background of intense pressure on school budgets. Almost all respondents said they’d had to cut their budgets since 2015 with 60 per cent saying they have had to make severe cuts.

The message from head teachers couldn’t be clearer: austerity isn’t over for our children. Conservative cuts have left schools struggling not only with desperate shortfalls in their own budgets but with the impact of poverty on their pupils. The Government’s failure to live up to its own promises on mental health provision and massive cutbacks to councils have left the most vulnerable children unable to access the treatment and early intervention that makes the greatest difference.

A Labour government will tackle poverty across the board, increase real-terms funding for schools, give all primary school pupils a free, healthy meal every day and provide counselling in all secondary schools. Young people are the future of this country and its disgraceful there is such a divide between the rich and the poor. Some children’s private school fees are more than the annual income of a parent in Fleetwood. It’s time to stop austerity – and the only way to do that is with a new Government.

Despite the issues young people are facing, I’ve been so impressed by the thousands of youngsters who have taken a stand over the Government’s shameful lack of leadership on climate change. The recent strikes show they care deeply about environmental issues and they’re use their collective power to try and bring about meaningful change. I support them every step of the way.