Politically Speaking: By Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford
Our children and young people deserve more
With summer holidays coming up, this should be the time to support children and young people after the tough year they have had.
But the danger is that children in our towns are being let down again as the Delta variant soars, classes are being sent home again, and the government summer support for children is far too weak.
Ministers need to get their act together and come up with a much better plan to get our children and young people back on track.
Once again local schools and colleges are being hit by Covid – this time by the new variant. This is incredibly frustrating because it was not inevitable. India should have been put on the red list much, much earlier, and stronger action should have been taken at the border to stop the Delta variant spreading in the first place.
Ministers also should have acted faster on surge testing and vaccinations.
As soon as Kirklees became a hot spot, I called for extra vaccines and testing for Wakefield and other neighbouring areas to try to slow the spread.
The extra drop-in vaccine clinics in Castleford and Wakefield last weekend were really welcome, but the government should have been pushing those a month ago before the Delta variant took hold.
As for their public health messages, the former Health Secretary Matt Hancock has undermined all those.
While people round here weren’t hugging their grandchildren, it turns out the Health Secretary who wrote the rules was busy ignoring them himself.
But all this makes it even more important to have a proper plan for our children this summer because they are paying the price of the new surge in cases – not just missing out on lessons, but end of term trips, fun activities and work experience have been cancelled again too.
Yet the government’s so-called catch up plan for children is a joke.
It is too weak and empty. Even the expert advisor that Ministers asked to work on the plans has resigned in disgust.
I’ve talked to local head teachers and parents about what is needed.
Parents have told me they want more support for children’s mental health.
Yet there is barely anything in the government’s plan. Meanwhile schools have told me the government’s tutoring plans aren’t working.
I’m calling for a much wider tutoring programme with extra teachers and support for special educational needs.
We also need breakfast and after school clubs with additional creative activities, sport and support for mental health. And during the summer holidays, we need far more fun activities for children to do.
Wakefield Council are doing their best – but with more money, they could do much more. I’m working with them to get more local children’s activities and we are running our children holiday books scheme again too – but we still need more government support.
Other countries are providing more than ten times the amount of catch up support that our kids are getting. That’s not fair.
We should be much more ambitious for our children and young people.
They’ve shown great determination getting through this year but they deserve something much better now.