PM pressed to take lead on ‘Dickensian’ conditions for vulnerable children
The Prime Minister has been urged in the Lords to take a personal lead in tackling “Dickensian” conditions faced by millions of vulnerable children in England.
Labour’s Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde said a report by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, had exposed “horrific” figures.
Opening a debate on the report, Lady Dean said it was a “sad indictment of our society today” that so many children were regarded as living vulnerable or high-risk lives.
She said the findings needed a response at prime ministerial level if the situation was to be tackled.
“Only by Mrs May expressing her determination that this scandal will now be solved, that Government departments will work together, is there any chance that progress will be made,” Lady Dean said.
Former High Court judge and president of the family division, Baroness Butler-Sloss, warned that only the “tip of the iceberg” had been exposed over the trafficking of children.
She said trafficked Vietnamese children were being forced to work in cannabis farms: “They are being treated by the Crown Prosecution Service very often as offenders and not victims, despite being locked in and ill-treated.”
Lady Butler-Sloss (pictured) also warned about a “new form of modern slavery” where thousands of children were being picked up by gangs, taken from their homes and moved to other towns and cities, where they were used to peddle drugs.
She said these children were too often treated as offenders rather than victims. “They are controlled, abused and exploited,” Lady Butler-Sloss told peers. “This is an emergency and more needs to be done.”
The Children’s Commissioner’s report found that 580,000 children are so vulnerable the state has to step in and provide direct care, intervention or support.
It also found almost 670,000 children are living in families that have vulnerabilities, including more than 15,499 living with an adult receiving treatment for alcohol issues and nearly 11,624 living with an adult in drug treatment.
The report revealed in July that around 805,000 children aged five to 17 suffer mental health disorders, an estimated 46,000 children are thought to be part of a gang, while 1,200 children are newly identified as victims of modern slavery every year.
Independent crossbench peer Lord Warner, a former Labour minister, said about 6,000 children were attending illegal, unregistered schools in England.
He said there was concern about the “narrow religious curriculum” of these schools and the “unsuitable books and texts being used”.
But although it was a criminal offence to operate as an unregistered school, no operators have ever been prosecuted.
Lord Warner urged the Government to ensure prosecutions were brought to safeguard the thousands of children at risk.
Opposition spokesman Lord Hunt of Kings Heath stressed the need for accurate data and a “joined-up approach” by the Government in tackling the plight of vulnerable children.
He said: “Above all we need high-level commitment to drive progress and ensure different departments effectively work together – only with that will we have any hope at all of dealing with these very, very pressing issues.”
Responding for the Government, education minister Lord Agnew of Oulton said: “Despite the progress being made we need to be engaged on an ongoing effort to search out children’s needs that have been overlooked and to identify where problems are being stored up for the future.
“Supporting vulnerable children and reducing the opportunity gap sits at the heart of all we are trying to achieve in education and beyond.”
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