News

Government welfare cuts are hitting children, says BMA

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f3129 (Published 16 May 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3129
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. 1London

Recent cuts to welfare benefits and social care will hit the most vulnerable children and widen social inequalities in the United Kingdom, warns a major new report from the BMA.

Growing up in the UK says that the current high levels of poverty in the UK, including among children, are unacceptable.1 The report says that intervening early with family support and education was cost effective and essential to reduce inequalities. It highlights the value of the Sure Start Children’s Centres but adds that with local authority budget cuts and services no longer ringfenced some centres had closed or reduced their services.

The BMA acknowledged that there had been some progress since its last report on children’s health in 1999, as the overall health and mortality of children in the UK was improving. For example, in 2007 a Unicef study of children in 21 wealthy countries put the UK in bottom place, whereas a more recent Unicef study ranked the UK 16th of 29 countries. But the report said that such studies did not reflect the effects of policies implemented since the 2010 election. It also pointed out that the number of UK children referred to local authority care because of abuse and neglect was the highest ever in 2011-12.

The 247 page report calls for an annual report on the health of children, similar to the chief medical officer’s report on the state of the public health, to monitor children’s health trends. The BMA emphasised that interventions to improve children’s future health needed to start before birth, such as by improving maternal nutrition, providing parenting classes, raising awareness of the benefits of breast feeding, and targeting families at higher risk of harm early in pregnancy. Its report also makes a number of recommendations to tackle the rising prevalence of obesity, including ensuring that schools provide nutritious meals and compulsory cooking classes.

Averil Mansfield, chairwoman of the BMA’s Board of Science, said, “The BMA is particularly concerned that any improvements in tackling child poverty are in danger of being eroded by some government welfare policies. Children should not pay the price for the economic downturn. Every child in the UK deserves a start in life that will help them achieve their true potential. While there has been some progress, I still find it shocking that for a society that considers itself to be child friendly we consistently underperform in international ratings.”

Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities at the BMA, acknowledged that some improvements had occurred since the last report, including the appointment of a children’s commissioner for England, but added, “We need to do more, as we are failing our most vulnerable children. It is essential that we develop integrated policies where child welfare is central.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f3129

References