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What do the political parties’ manifestos mean for children?

The political environment feels deeply divided, with big differences of opinion between the parties on most policy areas. But it’s striking that, when it comes to providing for children, their manifestos share a lot of similar themes.

Save the Children made four calls for the manifestos. We’re pleased to see lots of these issues reflected across the parties. Here’s a breakdown of how their commitments matched up against our asks.

1 Ensure our aid budget makes the biggest impact for the world’s poorest children  

We wanted all parties to:

  • maintain the aid budget at 0.7% of national income
  • focus aid on areas like health and education that can make the biggest difference for children
  • retain an independent government Department for International Development (DFID).

All the major parties have promise to uphold the 0.7% commitment. That’s almost become standard practice at election time, but it certainly shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, it’s a powerful sign that support for the UK’s leadership in international development crosses party divides.

We wouldn’t normally expect manifestos to outline the roles of government departments, but Labour and the SNP are explicit on retaining an independent DFID. We hope this is something that all parties can agree on.

All the manifestos mention areas that can transform children’s life chances. The Conservatives have restated their commitment to girls’ education, while Labour raise the need to focus on building strong public services and improving access to medicines. The Liberal Democrats have made the welcome move of proposing a Global Education Strategy to ensure that more children are in school. And the SNP has said that the Sustainable Development Goals should set the government’s objectives for tackling global poverty.

2 Help every child survive and thrive

We called on all parties to make commitments to tackle preventable child deaths by promoting universal health coverage and provide funding for vaccinations and nutrition.

Labour and the Conservatives have both set big ambitions in this area. Labour have proposed a new Unit for Public Services within DFID to support strong health systems. The Conservatives have restated their commitment to help end preventable child deaths by 2030.

The Liberal Democrats and SNP don’t refer to aid for health in their manifestoes.

3 Protect children in conflict

We wanted to see the manifestos commit the UK to use its global influence to protect children in conflict, including producing a new Protection of Civilians strategy. No party explicitly mentions the strategy, but Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems all talk about upholding the rules-based international system, which it critical to ensuring that children are off-limits in war.

Labour and the Lib Dems mention support for specific humanitarian crises, such as the wars in Syria and Yemen and the Rohingya crisis. The Conservative manifesto speaks in more general terms, expressing pride in the UK’s “peace-building and humanitarian efforts around the world”.

4 Making the early years count for children in the UK

We called for all parties to address child poverty in their manifestos, and to acknowledge that one piece of this puzzle is to pay parents the childcare they are entitled to under Universal Credit before they have to pay high nursery fees.

Given that childcare is a major issue for most parents, it’s no wonder that all parties have big childcare pitches to voters. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have set out big investments in childcare to greatly expand the current free childcare offer for pre-school children. The Conservatives’ manifesto includes a pledge to provide more support for school-age children.

It’s great to see parties pledging support for parents, and we welcome the discussion on how to make the complicated, expensive childcare system work better for more families. So far in the campaign, Labour is the only party to commit to paying parents on low incomes the childcare they are entitled to in advance of having to pay hefty nursery bills. We want to see whoever’s in government follow suit, and address the way parents are paid childcare under Universal Credit.

What else?

In the sections of the major parties’ manifestos devoted to international development, there are some clear trends, including:

  • a sharper focus on climate and the environment
  • language promoting human rights and equality.

The Liberal Democrats propose an increase in the proportion of aid that’s spent to protect the climate and environment. While it’s great to see a plan to increase funding in this vital area, an increased proportion of the aid budget implies that there will be cuts to other areas. We’d like to hear more about this to make sure it wouldn’t result in reduced spending on sectors that are crucial to children’s life chances.

The Lib Dems, Labour and the SNP all propose reforms to the UK’s system of arms sales, acknowledging that while we are a humanitarian superpower, we sometimes play a role in exacerbating conflict. Save the Children wants to see reform of parliamentary scrutiny of arms sales to ensure that every decision has humanitarian considerations at its core.

Overall, there are significant differences of opinion between the parties on both international development and tackling child poverty in the UK. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to see they have all set out ways they believe they can improve the lives of the poorest children in the UK and around the world. Whoever ends up in government, there’s consensus both that the UK should remain a leader in international development and that the government must do more to ensure that all children in the UK can access affordable childcare.


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