Dr. Caoimhe McKenna & Dr. Rosie Kyeremateng, ISSOP UK trainee group

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With the May 7th General election rapidly approaching, we have reviewed the manifestos of the five main political parties, standing in all UK regions, to determine what they are offering our children in 2015. All children exist in a context which shapes their health and well-being and from which they cannot be separated. As advocates for children, it is our duty to engage with the political system and to be aware of how policies impact on our patients.

All the political parties made some reference to children in their manifestos, but predictably with emphasis on different areas and varying degrees of assurance. The RCPCH have also published their own manifesto, ‘a vision of 2015’, which outlines key priorities for the incoming Parliament.1

One in 3 children in the UK are living in poverty and the majority are in a family where at least one parent is working2,3. Unfortunately, none of the parties had a clear strategy to tackle child poverty. In fact, the Conservatives plan to deny child benefit to any immigrant who has not contributed to the UK for at least 4 years and UKIPs desire to limit claims to the first two children could potentially lead to increased levels of deprivation. Given that the UK has one of the worst child mortality rates in Western Europe, it was also surprising that only the Labour Party highlighted this as a “key area” of improvement for the NHS. All parties promised increased funding for mental health, with the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, and Green Party mentioning child mental health specifically. All parties also gave some mention of child abuse, but only the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats specifically pledged to increase the number of social workers. UKIP and the Conservative party plan to abolish the Human Rights Act, separate themselves formally from the European Court of Human Rights, and create a new UK ‘Bill of Rights’, the contents of which are not outlined.

Given that 1 in 3 children in the UK are now overweight or obese4,5, it was disappointing to see that policies on nutrition and physical activity were lacklustre. Only the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party promised to engage with marketing and industry. Adolescents featured in a few policy areas. The Conservative Party plan to put restrictions on housing benefits for 18-21 year olds and replace the job seekers allowance with a ‘youth allowance’, which will be limited to 6 months after which an apprenticeship, or similar, will be compulsory. UKIP and the Green Party specially stated that they would maintain housing benefit for young people.

All parties placed some emphasis on apprenticeships and vocational courses, with the Greens promising to end exploitation by ending any unpaid apprenticeships lasting more than 4 weeks. Only the Liberal Democrats stated that they would introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol, a recommendation of the RCPCH, while UKIP would oppose such a policy. Other policies included compulsory age verification to access pornographic websites, proposed by the Conservative Party, and the introduction of 20mph speed limits in built-up areas suggested by the Green Party, another policy championed by the RCPCH. Unfortunately none of the parties came close to addressing all of the suggestions made by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

As the sixth richest economy in the world we can afford to give our children a happy and healthy start in life. Adult disease and wellbeing are shaped in childhood and we cannot expect a healthy future for the UK if a significant proportion of our children are left behind. Where the voices of Paediatricians are not being heard, we must work harder to engage with the political system and guide policy makers.

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Short version originally posted on the BMJ on 30.4.15

Pic: Flickr/Donnie Ray JonesReferences

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Dr. Caoimhe McKenna & Dr. Rosie Kyeremateng, ISSOP UK trainee group

Dr. Caoimhe McKenna is a paediatric trainee working in London. She has a special interest in public health, economic inequality and the social determinants of health.

 Dr Rosir Kyeremateng is a community paediatric trainee in the South West of England with interests in public health, global health and children’s environmental health.   Rosie is author of the ‘Infection in Schools’ module of the RCPCH Healthy Schools Programme, and she has contributed to a child right’s curriculum is associated with the Open University.  She is trainee representative on the International Society of Social Paediatrics (ISSOP) executive committee.