Baroness Frances d’Souza Calls for a Cabinet Minister for Children

In a debate on Friday 19/03/21 on the Education and Training (Welfare of Children) Bill, Baroness (Frances) D’Souza made a strong case for a Cabinet Minister for children and young people’s health and wellbeing.

It was also good to see the supportive comments of two other significant Lords. This idea seems to be garnering more and more support across both Houses.

Relevant text is below and a link to a video recording is at the end.

My Lords, I too wholly support the Bill and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, on bringing it forward. There is now widespread consensus that children have been and are among the groups worst affected by the pandemic. While welcoming the generous provision that the Government have made for continuing free school meals and other child welfare schemes, there are remaining concerns. The huge number of distinct projects, actors and specific funds in this field—for example, several local and central government departments, NGOs and schools—indicate a scattered approach to a continuing problem. Is it not now time to introduce a long-term coherent strategy to improve children’s welfare?

There are, of course, important initiatives, such as the National Food Strategy, the Marcus Rashford Child Food Poverty Task Force, the Food Foundation and the Children First Alliance, to name a few. However, given the funding available, the national concern and the fact that children remain especially vulnerable, a strong, accountable political voice is needed. That could be best achieved by appointing a Cabinet-level Minister for Children. Historically the Department for Education, the current responsible ministry, had a wider remit as the Department for Children, Families and Schools under previous Administrations. Today, the Department for Education has a Secretary of State, two Ministers of State—for universities and school standards respectively —and three parliamentary under-secretaries covering children and families, apprenticeships and skills, and the school system. A Cabinet Minister would pursue what needs to be done politically to ensure co-ordination and coherence around food, education, mental health and poverty programmes across government.

Specifically, a senior Minister would have the political weight to do the following: review where there is continuing need, including among older children, and what projects have proved most cost effective in meeting those needs; embrace the many diverse ideas, schemes and policies to arrive at a single, coherent strategy, such as has been achieved in New Zealand; and ensure a close working relationship with and between key players to include the Children’s Commissioner. The need is urgent, and the responsibility for children’s welfare across many different government departments risks losing the opportunity that we now have to use the funds to the best possible effect. A true voice for children at the heart of government is something that HMG might consider seriously and expediently.

Baroness Frances D’Souza

….Given the agreement that the approach to children should be wide-reaching and holistic, with responsibilities shared across a number of agencies, does it not make sense for the Government to create a Cabinet post with responsibility for children, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza? This question is being asked more and more, not just by me and colleagues in your Lordships’ House but by MPs and the children’s voluntary sector. Are the Government listening?

Baroness Massey of Darwen

….I echo the point made by my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza: the Government really should consider whether children are adequately represented at Cabinet level. The call for the creation of a Cabinet post is something to which I hope the Minister will give a positive response in respect of the question from my noble friend Lady Massey.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie

Link to video: