UK Politics

Clegg outlines plans to improve children's fortunes

Nick Clegg has outlined plans to make the UK a better place for children, saying for too many childhood is a time of "stress, anxiety and insecurity".

Areas to be examined by a new taskforce include shared parenting, flexible working, advertising aimed at children and safe play areas for children.

The deputy prime minister said the country must "rediscover the spirit of childhood" and let children "flourish".

But Labour said the government was cutting financial support for families.

A 2007 Unicef report suggested the UK was the least attractive country in the industrialised world in which to raise a child, citing levels of deprivation and the lack of time parents spent with their children as key problems.

It also raised concerns about teenagers' exposure to smoking, drinking and underage sex.

Speaking in London, Mr Clegg said too many children had been let down in recent years, being brought up in poor conditions, and that "we have built a Britain not fit for our children to grow up in".

'Dismantling barriers'

A new body, to be chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron, will identify a "small number" of proposals by the end of the year to reduce the burden on parents and to improve childrens' lives.

Areas of focus include encouraging shared parenting, extending flexible working to all, greater availability of mediation for couples to help children in the event of family breakdown and increased funding for respite care for families of disabled children.

Mr Clegg said ministers would also explore how to give "non-resident parents" and grandparents more access to children in the event of couples separating or divorcing, recognising the valuable role they and "networks of support" play.

He added that the government was committed to cracking down on "irresponsible" advertising aimed at children "to restore and protect the innocence of childhood".

"For too many British children, childhood has become a time of stress, anxiety and insecurity," he said.

"I want us, as a country, to rediscover the spirit of childhood so we can give every child the best chance to flourish. But we are realistic. It is not government's job to create happy families.

"Our job is to dismantle the barriers that prevent families from giving children the best start. Where Labour nannied you, we will empower you."

'Smokescreen'

Earlier, Mr Clegg told GMTV that the government was not "looking at" means-testing child benefits as part of its review of welfare payments.

The government has already said it will abolish child trust funds and gradually reduce the amount of child tax credits paid to better-off families as it seeks to reduce borrowing levels.

While difficult decisions on spending were needed, Mr Clegg said Tuesday's Budget would seek to "protect children and everything that benefits children".

Labour said the plans were a "smokescreen" to divert attention from planned cuts.

"This government can have no credibility on improving the life chances of children and families when they are cutting child trust funds, youth jobs, university places, free school meals for poorer families and successful programmes to tackle teenage pregnancy and youth crime," shadow education secretary Ed Balls said.

"The fact they have abolished the post of secretary of state for children tells you everything about the priorities of this new government.

"A serious approach to improving life chances of children and families in our country would be to continue with the successful reforms in Labour's children's plan which had widespread support but have now been torn up."

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