Our Chair, Anne Longfield, and Rev. Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis, which hosts the Commission on Young Lives, share their joint message to the Chancellor ahead of this week's financial statement.
Dear Mr Hunt,
On Thursday, you will put forward your plans for mending our broken economy. The decisions you take and choices you make could change the lives of millions of children and their families, particularly the most vulnerable and those on low incomes, for years to come.
There is no doubt that the Government faces difficult choices, but we believe it cannot choose to balance the books now on the back of the futures of our children and our schools - both so critical to our country's success.
These are desperate times for those who are already struggling to pay the bills and to put food on the table. Every day we see ourselves the consequences of a cost-of-living crisis that has arrived while some vulnerable families and deprived communities are still coping with the impact of the Covid pandemic. After years of austerity, they face the prospect of a long recession and the threat of more cuts to vital services and support in the years ahead. Many families are already in crisis or on the edge of it, and our fear is that some could become destitute if they are pushed any further.
The communities and families we have worked alongside for decades have already had a very tough few years, but they are now facing unprecedented challenges. Some of the problems we are hearing about are as bad as any we have ever known. Just a few days ago, one head teacher wrote to us about a Year 7 boy who was unwell. She told us that the child had not eaten for two days. At home there were seven in the family living in a two bedroomed house, all of them unwell and hungry. She bought food and sanitary products for the family for a week but commented that this was just one family amongst many in the same situation from her one school.
This same situation is played out across the country. We see it in the queues at the food banks we run, in the "warm rooms" we are setting up to provide support for families who just cannot afford to have their heating on, and in our Oasis schools where growing numbers of children tell their teachers how worried their parents are about money, and how worried they are for them. Many parents - and their children - are having to miss meals. This constant pressure and anxiety chips away at their resilience and aspiration.
We have even heard how some children are being lured into criminal gangs and county lines to earn money for their struggling families.
We believe there can be no fix, no pathway to shared prosperity, and no long-term growth for any country that does not choose to prioritise help for these families. Ensuring there is a proper safety net of support and that children are provided with a good education are two pillars of any strong and successful society. These are the foundations of growth and the positive future that Government should seek to protect.
It is inconceivable then that schools should be facing another round of spending cuts. There is now simply nothing left to cut that will not adversely affect the education we are able to provide, or the support we are able to offer to those children who most need it. Another round of lower budgets will seriously damage our ability to deliver the breadth of care and the curriculum that every child deserves, particularly at a time when the attainment gap is widening, when many children are still trying to catch up on lost learning, and when one in five children are leaving school without even basic qualifications.
Instead, we encourage the Government to choose to widen the number of families receiving free school meals, to scrap unfair benefit caps that hit the poorest hardest, to be much more generous to low-income families facing ever higher bills, and so to ensure that those who pay for the mistakes of recent months are not those who can least afford it.
We believe that it is our duty to implore you to choose this Thursday to set out a vision which recognises that investment now is the best way of saving the billions we already spend on broken systems and problems that have scarred so many communities and families for generations, and which creates a positive future for those who believe they have been forgotten.
As you prepare your final plans, we urge you to make these choices, and to put vulnerable children, their families, and the country's schools first.
Their futures depend on it.
Rev. Steve Chalke MBE (Founder of Oasis) & Anne Longfield CBE (Chair, the Commission on Young Lives)