Earlier this week, the outgoing Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, delivered a challenge to the government.
"Will you put the children who were already disadvantaged before COVID19 at the centre of your plans?"
Several numbers from Anne's presentation made me draw breath.
More than two million children are in families affected by poverty, abuse, poor mental health, substance misuse at home, or where a parent is in prison. Worryingly, around a third of these - 800,000 children - are not even known to local service providers.
Last summer, the scale of Leicester's problem was highlighted by the charity, Save the Children. The city is amongst the top 20% of the most deprived areas in the UK. 27% of children in Leicester live in poverty. Eight months on, I have little doubt that COVID-19 has made things worse.
This has enormous implications for policing. Over 300,000 children are thought to be involved with street gangs. Only 8,000 of these are known to youth offending teams or children's services. Without a public health approach to gangs, children will continue to die on our streets. The Violence Reduction Network created by my office in 2019 is a direct response to this grim reality.
Supporting the most vulnerable in society is a priority for me. I have championed a broad range of community initiatives via my Prevention Fund. Money has been targeted at organisations working with young offenders and those on the cusp of crime. These include Leicester Amateur Boxing Club, Icon Music Drama and Dance and The Tall Ship's Youth Trust. These groups make a difference. Their projects reduce crime and can have more impact than longer sentences and bigger prisons.
Anne Longfield's challenge to the Prime Minister is a challenge to Politicians and indeed all of us. We need a post-COVID covenant for vulnerable children in the UK. The time has come to move these young people from the box marked 'problem' to a box marked 'opportunity'.
'Build Back Better' is just another throwaway slogan unless vulnerable children get the political priority they deserve in a civilised society.
20 February 2021
Posted on Friday 19th February 2021