The Director's Diary: Conservative Party conference

Fringe event

In the second of his diary entries from the party conferences, Imran Hussain, Action for Children's Director of Policy and Campaigns, provides a rundown of his time in Birmingham. 

Sunday

Evening: I manage to get a flat tyre minutes after leaving home. I try to convince myself that this is an omen that it will be a week of changes for the better…  

 

Monday

9.00 am: I grew up in Birmingham and my family still live there, so I catch a lift off my sister (who’s a social worker at Birmingham City Council) into the city centre.

9.45 am: I catch the end of a Centre for Policy Studies fringe meeting on ‘The Morality of Work’. A man points out to the panel that his question on disabilities was ignored by the panel. The chair assures him it will be answered (it isn’t). The next meeting is on the economist Adam Smith, someone who I’ve long been interested in because of his work on poverty.

12.30 pm: I arrive early for the Women’s Aid meeting on domestic abuse. It is in parts a very difficult meeting as we hear of the experiences of domestic abuse from a panellist and two audience members, including a mother who lost her daughter only last Christmas as a result of being in an abusive relationship. 

Victoria Atkins, the Home Office minister, tells us that when she was a prosecution barrister she sometimes stopped prosecutions on public interest grounds if she felt the defendant had been coerced into committing a crime by a partner. She says the draft domestic abuse bill – a priority for my Policy and Campaigns team – will be published before the end of the year.  I had hoped to urge the Government to say more about the help it would give to children living in domestic abuse settings, but so many people want to ask questions I am not called.

2.00 pm: I meet up with my colleagues and catch up on emails.  

5.45 pm: I attend Child Poverty Action Group’s fringe meeting on child poverty. A good opportunity to catch up with former colleagues and Channel 4 News’s Jackie Long, who’s chairing the meeting.

 

Tuesday

8.00 am: I attend a lecture by Lord Farmer on families, in which he blames successive governments for not doing enough for families. It’s introduced by Jacob Rees-Mogg. There’s much Lord Farmer says that I agree with and much with which I disagree. JRM spots my hand up and invites me to ask a question. I say that I back what Lords Farmer says about the importance of the early years and early intervention, but do not understand his claim that tax credits led to a huge increase in divorce, when divorce rates are at their lowest since 1973. 

 

Imran RM

10.00 am: We say hello to colleagues at the Royal Mail exhibition stand, ahead of our afternoon meeting. I also knock off a couple of boundaries playing Virtual Reality cricket at the NatWest stand.

10.30 am: I catch up on emails and calls with colleagues about activities ahead of this month’s Budget and our media work in the next few weeks.  

2.20 pm: Education Secretary Damian Hinds deliver his conference speech, understandably mostly on school but disappointingly nothing on early years services for families. 

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3.15 pm: Our event, on children’s mental health, which we’re partnering with the Royal Mail and the think tank Bright Blue. In front of an audience of 50 people, two young people, Rowan and Jake, who have benefited from Action for Children’s Blues Programme talk about their experiences. Both speak with insight and poise. 

Our new Chief Executive, Julie Bentley, notes the progress made in the Government’s green paper on children’s mental health but says Action for Children wants to build on this. This will include addressing the early years and the mental health issues facing children in care.  But, Julie adds, the Government does not have to do this alone; the Blues Programme is a great example of the voluntary sector and business coming together to help. 

5.45pm: I attend a fringe on next year’s spending review. I find myself nodding along with the Norfolk councillor worried that government spending cuts are putting children’s services under impossible strain. I make a point that if next year’s spending review is treated as dealing with a maths problem (cutting spending to reduce the deficit) then there’s a very real danger that more vital preventative children’s services will be lost. On the other hand, if the spending review is based on what kind of country we want and whether we want a smart, strategic government, then I hope this will mean investment in those services, to prevent problems from escalating and local authority children’s services departments being forced to pick up the pieces.

 

Wednesday

11.45 am: The Prime Minister delivers her conference speech. Her calling time on austerity is welcome – but I sense she wasn’t talking about reversing the 68 benefit cuts or crippling cuts to local government that have been made. In the week we highlight youth homelessness through our annual Byte Night, the announcement on more freedoms for local authorities to borrow to build housing is encouraging and we look forward to seeing the detail.