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The longest day, but a shortened speech

Posted by Sam Reeve / Wednesday 21 June 2017 / Government spending General election Mental health
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Not long before 04:45 this morning, as crowds gathered in celebration at Stonehenge, the dawn broke on the longest day of the year.

But this year’s midsummer also brought the State Opening of Parliament and a Queen’s Speech that, in contrast, was a much shorter affair than usual.

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With Brexit negotiations starting this week, it came as no surprise that almost a third of the bills outlined by Her Majesty related to leaving the EU. Everything from customs tariffs to fishing policy will be on the parliamentary agenda in the years ahead.

Despite the complexity of the withdrawal process, and the announcement that the Queen’s Speech would set out the Government’s agenda for a parliamentary session spanning two years rather than just one, a dialled-down occasion was already expected.

However, following closely on the heels of a snap general election that produced an outcome few had predicted, the remaining content was even lighter than had been predicted just weeks ago.

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There are some very welcome announcements – including a commitment to introduce measures on children and young people’s mental health. Three-quarters of adult mental health difficulties start before the age of 18, so promising to tackle mental health problems is a good place to start. But we can’t wait around. This has to be taken forward as an urgent priority – children and young people need help now.

There will also be a Draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill that explicitly recognises the devastating and lifelong impact abuse has on a child.

But that was, sadly, about it. This was not the bold vision we had hoped for to give all children the best possible start in life.

“We need to see a bold vision to develop the solutions that will give children a fairer chance in life and tackle the urgent issues facing hundreds of thousands of young people and their families

We know that over half of children from low-income families fail to reach developmental milestones by age five, putting them on the back foot from the outset. But the Prime Minister’s previous rhetoric on social mobility hasn’t translated into action from government. We will continue pushing MPs from all parties to address this.

There was also no mention of funding to ward off the impending crisis in children’s social care. By 2020 local councils will be facing a £2 billion funding gap. With no mention of proposed local government funding reforms being continued, there is a huge question mark over the future of funding for services which help the most vulnerable children in society. We now need clarity about future funding structures as well as adequate resource for this essential support.

In her closing remarks, the Queen opened the doors to “other measures” being laid before Parliament in the course of the coming session. If they are to have a fair chance in life, these measures must outline a brave plan for tackling the urgent issues facing hundreds of thousands of young people and their families.