The impact of Brexit on children’s issues is being felt already

Posted by Imran Hussain / Tuesday 29 January 2019 / Children's rights Inequality Government spending

Another momentous day in Westminster, as MPs vote tonight on the best course to take on Brexit. But, whether the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019, sometime later, or never at all, the likely effects of Brexit on children have been real for some time.

The most obvious example of this was the rise in inflation, as the pound weakened, soon after the referendum vote in 2016. We know that low income families with children are much more vulnerable to inflation because a greater proportion of their weekly spending will be on food and drink, clothing and utility bills. One estimate says inflation has “effectively increased the cost of living for the average UK household by over £400 annually”.

Looking ahead, there is a consensus from economic forecasters that the UK economy will take a hit from leaving the EU – which has implications for government spending, such as funding services to prevent children falling into crisis. The Institute for Fiscal Studies assesses “Brexit is likely to weigh on growth for the foreseeable future. Most scenarios will see less free trade with Europe and lower immigration. This would result in lower growth.” 

Lower growth means lower public spending on vital public services. 

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Supporters of Brexit, of course, talk about more money for public services (£350 million a week…), a stronger economy boosted by free trade deals and the scrapping of VAT on energy bills. But, here too, there’s a recognition that there will be turbulence ahead – even if a “no-deal” Brexit is avoided.

But the biggest impact so far is simply the pushing of children’s issues off the agenda.

David Cameron had been expected to publish his life chances strategy the week of the EU referendum, but the leave vote scuppered these plans. Theresa May had been expected to publish a social justice strategy in early 2017, but nothing appeared. The Government currently lacks an overarching strategy to transform children’s lives and life chances.

As a result, the crisis in children’s social care has heated up. The Government has slashed budgets for local authority children’s services forcing them to rein back on invaluable long term preventative work. 

This is most clearly seen when we look at the cuts being made to children’s centres, like those in Guildford. The protection system we put in place to keep our most vulnerable children safe from abuse and neglect is under intense and sustained pressure, and is being forced to make decisions that are dangerous for children and irrational for policymakers.

Leave or Remain, that is a tragic legacy of 23 June 2016.