Any plan to tackle both the symptoms and causes of child poverty must have improving the health and well-being of children at its core.This must start before the child is even born. Barnsley continues to have unacceptably high levels of drinking and smoking during pregnancy and therefore too many babies are born with a low birth weight, and associated health problems. This, coupled with low-breastfeeding rates in Barnsley, means that many of our babies are not being given the best start in life. Targeting high risk groups is vital to support expectant mothers to make the right choices.
Once a child reaches school age, it is essential that they have access to regular and healthy meals. The link between inadequate nutrition and poor educational attainment is well established. Support must be provided to those families that are struggling to meet this need.
As well as healthy eating, all children should be able to access regular physical activity. Whilst all children take PE lessons at school, many parents can’t afford the extra-curricular opportunities offered by after-school and sports clubs.
All of this is essential if children are to live healthy and happy lives. But when things are not going well, it is crucial that children have swift access to appropriate mental health services, a key challenge both nationally and here in Barnsley, due to the acute pressure on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
Health: what can be done?
Having seen the significant impact that the Barnsley Maternity Stop Smoking Service had on reducing the numbers of mothers smoking at the time of delivery, I was dismayed to learn that this service has lost its funding and urgently raised this with the Barnsley Clinical Commissioning Group. I am pleased that they have now found interim funding for this post until October, while they undertake a review of its cost-effectiveness.
I am also currently working closely with the Director of Public Health, who is leading on the development of a strategic, multi-agency plan to reduce Excess Winter Deaths (EWD) in Barnsley. I have twice directly questioned the Prime Minister about what the Government is doing on this vital issue.
On a national level, I continue to challenge the Secretary of State for Health on this Government’s record on the NHS, recently challenging him on funding for CAMHS, resources for local authorities to tackle EWD and vision screening for children.
Access to affordable but good quality food is also essential. The social supermarket in Goldthorpe is a model which other areas of Barnsley should consider. I am pleased to see that a similar shop will open in Athersley soon.