Growing up was never easy, but a spate of recent studies show that in Tory Britain, children face more hurdles than ever.
Since the Conservative Party came to power in 2010, then secured a majority in May 2015, it has cut welfare payments, local government funding and pursued an austerity agenda aimed at shrinking the national deficit.
Junior doctors, nurses, disabled people and transport workers have all staged strike action against pay cuts and dramatic changes to conditions. But one section of society has remained largely on the fringes, its quality of life ebbing, unable to take action.
School-age children are bearing the brunt of both austerity and terror-age hysteria, a series of new studies have shown, with kids suffering a culture of suspicion in the classroom, failing friendships and criminalization across the country.
Many of the problems are faced by vulnerable children, either living in poverty or foster care, who have seen a rise in gun crime, tougher social environments at school, and have been on the receiving end of the government’s Prevent counter-radicalization scheme.
Over the past week alone, four damning studies have revealed the cost of growing up in Cameron’s Britain.
Care home criminals
Children living in care homes have experienced greater “criminalization” than boys and girls living with family, a report by the Howard League for Penal Reform warned this week (HLPR).
The group says there is a “systematic” problem with the care system, which has seen six percent of children in care convicted or subject to a final police warning, compared to just one percent of non-care children.
A total of 1,760 children live in care homes across the country.
HLPR said police data also shows some forces have been called thousands of times to deal with children in care over the past three years.
Howard League chief executive Frances Crook said children taken into care “deserve every chance to flourish.”
“Private companies, charities and local authorities that are paid a fortune by the taxpayer should give these children what they need and deserve,” she added.
Suspicion in the classroom
The government’s Prevent scheme is also creating an environment of “suspicion” in Britain’s classrooms, the National Union of Teachers has said. Prevent obliges teachers to report any behavior they believe to be extremist or at risk of extremism, but educators have warned the policy is destroying happy classrooms.
The Times Educational Supplement also reports Prevent referrals by schools have exceeded referrals from police since the policy was implemented in July 2015.
“Some teachers are scared,” Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of the ATL teaching union, told the magazine.
Some of the poorest children in Britain face further problems in their social lives, a report by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) warned this week, with youngsters living in poverty likely to have troubled friendships.
The NCB said children who have experienced poverty are three times more likely to fall out with their friends “most days.” They are also more likely to play alone and are likely to fight with other children.
“Having good friends and a happy family life is a cornerstone of positive childhood experiences,” said Enver Solomon, NCB director of evidence and impact.
“Our research confirms that living in persistent poverty is linked with factors that can undermine these relationships, with a higher risk of experiencing problems like bullying, falling out with friends or having difficulty confiding in others.”
Kids in arms
Gun crime among children is also on the rise, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show, with kids as young as 10 among hundreds of youths arrested for firearms offences in the past three years.
Some 1,500 children were arrested between 2013 and 2016 on suspicion of committing gun crimes. Arrests rose by 20 percent in the last year.
Of the arrests, police brought a total of 506 charges.
Ian Cameron Swanston, of Mothers Against Violence, said: “The more guns within the community, the more likely it is we will see younger children getting access to them.
“Gangs use children, they use their girlfriends. They use people who the police are unlikely to search.
“For some it’s about status. Having a gun is seen as having power and people become fearful of you.
“The impact of their choices is far greater than can be imagined. It is so much easier to destroy a life.”