SWU has signed UNICEF UK’s open letter to Rishi Sunak on child health

UNICEF: Open Letter to PM Rishi Sunak

More than 50,000 members of the public along with 83 organisations, UNICEF UK ambassadors, and high profile supporters are calling on prime minister Rishi Sunak to provide better support for babies, young children, and their parents.

Today more than 80 leading charities, experts in early childhood development, and UNICEF Ambassadors and high profile supporters have added their support to UNICEF UK’s call for the UK Government to commit to a National Baby and Toddler Guarantee, which would help families with babies and young children across the UK.

NSPCC, Save the Children UK, The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), and The Institute of Health Visiting are among the charities that have signed an open letter to the Prime Minister led by UNICEF UK, urging him to ensure the government takes urgent action to support families that are struggling to access the vital services that they need. This includes maternity, health visiting, mental health, affordable and high-quality childcare and Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) support.

The letter to the Prime Minister says:

‘Families in Britain need your help now. Summer holidays are just around the corner and instead of looking forward to fun-packed, carefree days, many families are faced with the worrying reality of not being able to put food on the table[1] as they struggle to make ends meet.

‘The latest Government data shows that child poverty in the UK has increased by 300,000 in a year, bringing the latest estimate to a staggering 4.2 million[2] – but behind these figures are real children and families. Last year, the UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) polled parents of children aged 0-4 years and 66% told us that the cost-of-living crisis has negatively impacted them as they struggle to afford food, pay their bills and cope with increasing childcare costs[3]. To compensate, many said they are having to cut back on buying books, toys, and other items for their children.

‘Basic support services like maternity care, health visits, mental health support, affordable and high-quality childcare and support for Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND), can offer a vital lifeline to parents at this crucial time in their children’s lives – especially when they’re struggling financially.

‘We know that with reduced funds and prices rising, Local Authorities have been forced to make impossible choices[4]. Across the country, children’s centres and childcare settings have closed their doors, health visiting appointments have been missed as staffing has reduced and caseloads increased, mental health support for parents and children is hard to come by, waiting lists are long and provision is patchy across the sector[5]. The universal services that many new parents desperately need are not there for everyone.’

More than 50,000 members of the public have signed UNICEF UK’s petition calling for the Government to commit to a Baby and Toddler Guarantee that would ensure equal access to vital early childhood services. More than 300 parents explained why this issue is so important to them:

“I have twin boys who I found myself being a single parent to and they saw a health visitor just once before their second birthday. I had massive post-natal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and I was forgotten. It wasn’t until I called begging for help that finally something was done, and support was sent. It does need to be free and open to everybody because it is terrifying, absolutely terrifying to be left on your own. I’m just lucky that I have the friends and family that I have.”

Claire, Northamptonshire

“I’ve noticed a huge disparity in postnatal care between me and my friends depending on where we live […] It’s a really overwhelming thing having one baby, let alone two. […] Many of my friends have been left alone, to their own devices, without any signposting or wellness checks […] There’s not enough support out there for new parents and it should be standardised across the UK…”

Milly, Swansea

“I’m the mother to a little boy who has autism, and the early years provision in the area has been awful, we’ve struggled to get any help since my son was diagnosed. We’re struggling to even get access to the nursery hours we’re paying for and can’t get any additional help […] When he starts school, it’s likely it will take me out of my job permanently as there is no SEND provision in the area during the school holidays.”

Rachel, Kent

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of UNICEF UK, said: “Every child deserves a bright future, but as families recover from the impacts of the pandemic and face unprecedented rises in the cost of living, this future is under threat.

“Basic services like health visits and mental health care provide essential support that households need during these turbulent times. They should be there for every baby and young child during their vital early years, but across the country this isn’t the case and urgent action is needed. Together with leading organisations, experts and families across the country we call on the Prime Minister to deliver a Baby and Toddler Guarantee, to ensure all children get the support they need no matter who you are or where you live.”

Sign UNICEF UK’s Early Moments Matter petition calling on the UK Government to introduce a National Baby and Toddler Guarantee here: https://unicef.uk/early-moments-campaign

Data sources

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/households-below-average-income-for-financial-years-ending-1995-to-2022

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/households-below-average-income-for-financial-years-ending-1995-to-2022

[3] https://www.unicef.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/EarlyMomentsMatter_UNICEFUK_2022_PolicyReport.pdf (page 18)

[4] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/2036/203605.htm

[5] https://www.unicef.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/EarlyMomentsMatter_UNICEFUK_2022_PolicyReport.pdf (page 44)