Our time at the 2023 Party Conferences

Monday 23 October 2023
Selfie with Rishi Sunak

This year, we attended the Labour and Conservative party conferences. But what happens at these party conferences? What do we do there? And how do these trips support Action for Children’s mission of providing safe and happy childhoods.

Party Conferences are a yearly event where political parties share their policies, ideas, and outlook for the years ahead. By attending them, we can talk to politicians and leaders about the challenges young people face and how they can make a difference.

So, what did we do at the party conferences this year?

8am: Panel discussion with a coalition of children’s charities

We kicked off the day (very!) early at the Conservative Party Conference with the first Children’s Charities Coalition Roundtable. This was in partnership with our friends at NSPCC, NCB, The Children’s Society, and Barnardo’s. The roundtable featured the Children’s Commissioner, Rachel de Souza; Dr Mike McKean from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health; the CEO of The Children’s Society, Mark Russell; and two of our young Ambassadors. We spoke about the challenges children and young people face, and how the next government must put young people at the heart of policy making.

Rishi Sunak with young people at party conferences

Young representatives meet Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak

A real highlight of the Conservative Party Conference was a surprise visit from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak whilst he was on a conference tour. This meant each of the five charities' young representatives had the chance to speak to the PM directly. The young people shared their personal priorities for change; from mental health support to helping children seeking asylum.

A week later, we held the same event at the Labour Party Conference – sadly, we didn’t get any surprise visitors!

9am: Meeting MPs and Shadow Ministers

Party conferences bring everyone together in one place, so it’s a great chance to meet people we don't normally speak to.

At the Conservative Conference, we met MP Scott Mann who'd been invited to meet with us by one of his constituents who's an Action for Children supporter. We spoke to him about what he could do to tackle child poverty in North Cornwall.

At the Labour Conference, we were also invited to a private roundtable with Helen Hayes, Shadow Minister for Children and Early Years. The roundtable talked about putting children at the heart of the next Labour Manifesto. Helen spoke about the importance of quality childcare, free breakfast clubs in primary schools, and better support for care leavers.

Helen Hayes

Members of our Policy and Campaigns Team with Helen

10am: Fun and games at our stand

We had a stand in the Exhibition Hall for the Labour Party Conference and came up with some creative ideas to catch people’s attention.

Rachel, a care-experienced young person working with us, designed a card game called ‘Walk In Our Shoes’. The game took the player through the tough decisions children in care face. The aim of the game was to help develop empathy and understanding.

We also had a 4ft high game of Jenga, with blocks that held facts about children in care and care leavers. The unstable tower represented the shaky state of the children’s social care system and its need for immediate reform.

Jenga game

The games led to conversations with councillors from across the country. We shared our concerns for the financial pressures placed on local authorities and its effect on the quality of care that children receive.

12pm: Fringe event – “Beyond the School Gates – overcoming barriers children face to fully access education.”

Fringe events are panel discussions or events that happen alongside the main conference business.

These events bring together thinktanks, charities, businesses, and MPs to talk about the big issues of the day. In this panel discussion, hosted by the Centre of Social Justice, the panellists discussed school absenteeism and what more could be done to remove the barriers to education facing children in the UK.

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1pm: Lunch!

After a busy morning, we took a much-needed break for lunch and explored the rest of the stalls. Highlights included seeing a life-sized plastic tiger and winning tickets to Chester Zoo. We also raced a shopping trolley around the custom-made Sainsbury’s Scalextric track and received a free coffee with a picture of our faces stamped on the foam.

2pm: Fringe event – “Making the UK the Best Place for Children to Grow Up”

As well as attending several fringe events, Action for Children’s policy experts were also asked to sit on a number of panels to share insights from our research and policy work. We joined Ella’s Kitchen, one of our corporate partners, for their ‘5 for the under 5s’ campaign.

Joe Lane, Head of Policy and Research at Action for Children, spoke about how we can reduce child poverty in the UK by strengthening the safety net for families. This includes removing the two-child limit, increasing the child element of Universal Credit, and removing the benefit cap.

3pm: Watching the leaders' speeches

We joined the crowds around the screen to watch the leaders’ speeches, and even saw security officers running towards the hall moments after Sir Keir Starmer was glitter-bombed by a protestor.

4pm: Thought-provoking conversations at our stand

As well as games, we also shared the latest version of our Child Poverty Tool at our stand, which allows people to explore different measures for child poverty in their local area. This started several conversations with activists and councillors who are frustrated by the poverty they’re seeing around them.

See the scale of child poverty in your area
Use our interactive map (opens in a new tab)

Across the conferences, we were approached by several people telling us about their relationship with Action for Children. We were touched to hear from a parent who told us that Action for Children provided them with the only support they were offered during a challenging time, when other services let them and their child down.

We also spoke to Birdy from Stevenage, who managed several of our family centres in their early days in the 1980s. Birdy was keen to talk to our CEO, Paul Carberry, who's also been with the organisation for decades. They discussed the organisation’s growth over the years since it was known as National Children’s Homes.

Party Conferences 2023

Our CEO, Paul Carberry, with Birdy from Stevenage

6pm: Children’s Charities Coalition reception

We worked with our partners at each conference, where we held speeches from experts, MPs, and a video from all the CEOs. The heart of the event was powerful ‘game of life’ played by our Ambassadors Darryl and Rachel, and young people from all the organisations. The game played out the barriers that prevent children having an equal start in life. It was very moving to see so many people gathered with a shared goal.

Game of Life game at party conferences 2023

Playing the Game of Life

7pm: End of a long day

While lots of attendees keep going into the early hours, after a long day of hosting events and running the stand, we were keen to get some dinner and some down time! And so, after all the excitement and inspiring conversations, we drew a close to our time at the 2023 Party Conferences.

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