Recently, I joined fellow MPs and local councillors in signing a joint letter to the Prime Minister calling for the cuts to Children’s Services to be reversed, and for our councils to receive the investment they need and deserve. As we all know, Theresa May’s time in Downing Street is coming to an end. She still has a golden opportunity to transform the lives of some of the poorest children and young people in our communities, by reversing the cuts that her government, and previous Conservative and Coalition governments, have inflicted upon areas like ours. Indeed, Barnsley has borne the brunt of almost a decade of austerity. We are the hardest hit Borough in the country, and, at the same time, we have some of the most vulnerable children to look after. Sadly, I have no confidence whatsoever that this opportunity will be taken. If we are serious about making sure that every child gets the best possible start in life, then we have got to take the necessary practical steps to make this happen.
As both MP for Barnsley Central and South Yorkshire Mayor I am committed to ensuring that we have outstanding early years support for all our children and young people. The postcode in which you are born can have such an enormous impact on where you end up. Growing up in a more deprived area can dramatically affect the quality of your school; whether you go to university or Further Education; how much you earn in the workplace; even your life expectancy and the number of ‘healthy years’ of life you can expect to enjoy. It shouldn’t be this way. Where you grow up should never determine where you end up – which is why I am working hard to make sure that every child gets a fair start in life, because I believe passionately in social justice and social mobility.
I have committed to investing in the ‘Children’s University’ – which is a truly innovative programme run by Sheffield Hallam University and South Yorkshire Futures – and expanding it to cover Barnsley and all of South Yorkshire, not just Sheffield. This programme will work closely with local schools to provide extra-curricular activities and events that add real value on to a child’s education and will help them perform better in the classroom as well. I am investing £95,000 of Mayoral funding into this scheme to help improve the life chances of our young people.
I saw first-hand the scale of child poverty in this country when I led the ‘Child Poverty Reduction’ Bill through Parliament in 2017 with the aim of introducing a specific target for the Government to reduce levels of children living in poverty. Although the then Government would not support my Bill, it demonstrated to me the vital importance of tackling child poverty for good. Two years on, there are still almost 4 million children living in poverty in the fifth-richest country in the world. That statistic is an enormous source of shame for our country, but it is what drives me to keep up the pressure and fight for every child – in Barnsley, South Yorkshire and all across the country.
This article was originally published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 28 June 2019