Boris Johnson must show he is serious about putting children at the heart of his “building back better” pledge, the Children’s Commissioner will say on Wednesday.
In a fiery outgoing speech in the role, Anne Longfield will accuse the Treasury of “institutional bias against children”.
And she will blast ministers and officials, saying she is shocked at how many “have never met any of the children they are responsible for.”
So many seem to view them as remote concepts or data points on an annual return.
“This is how children fall through the gaps – because too often the people in charge of the systems they need simply don’t see them and try to understand their world.”
“I have to force officials and ministers to the table, to watch them sit through a presentation, maybe ask a question, and then vacantly walk away. I do not believe this truly reflects the extent of Government and the public’s commitment to helping children succeed,” Ms Longfield will add.
Ms Longfield, who will step down at the end of this month, will warn the Prime Minister’s promise to “level up” the country will be “just a slogan” unless children are put at the “centre stage”.
She will call for a new “Covid covenant” of education and wellbeing support to help children recover from the pandemic.
“It’s impossible to overstate how damaging the last year has been for many children – particularly those who were already disadvantaged,” she will say.
“Covid is the biggest challenge to our society in seventy years. But also an opportunity to reflect and rebuild … ‘Building back better’ must mean rethinking our priorities and the way we care for children.
“We must be honest about the scale of the challenge and face the tough questions about the gaps that we know exist.”
She will add: “Two weeks ago the Prime Minister said educational catch-up was the key focus of the entire Government – yet we still don’t know if next month he is planning to take the Universal Credit uplift away from millions of families. The two positions aren’t compatible.
“If the Government is really focused on educational catch-up, it wouldn’t even countenance pushing 800,000 children into the type of devastating poverty which can have a much bigger impact on their life chances than the school they go to or the catch-up tuition they get.”
And she will brand it a “national scandal” that almost a fifth of children leave school or college without basic qualifications.
She will conclude: “My parting plea to you is this: please don’t forget about vulnerable children … these are your children now. You have a chance to put them centre stage.
“When you do build back better, make sure you do it around them.”
A Government spokesperson said: “Protecting vulnerable children has been at the heart of our response to the pandemic, driven by our commitment to level up opportunities and outcomes.
“That’s why we have enabled the most vulnerable children to continue attending school in person, while providing laptops, devices and data packages to those learning at home and ensuring the most disadvantaged children are fed and warm. We have also driven forward crucial reform in adoption, in the care system, in post-16 education and in mental health support – and our long-term catch up plans and investment of over £1 billion will ensure we make up for lost time in education over the course of this Parliament.
“Anne Longfield has been a tireless advocate for children, and we’re grateful for her dedication and her challenge on areas where we can continue raising the bar for the most vulnerable.”