In Britain’s landscape of cuts, it’s our children who are lost – The Guardian

The number of children being taken into care in England has risen every year since the financial crash of 2008. The figure now stands at 72,000. As failures of progress go, I can’t think of anything else that’s quite so singularly bleak as this steady, inexorable rise in childhood misery, pain and trauma.

The figures come from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS). The organisation views austerity as the general policy that has contributed more to this catastrophe than anything else. Families are not getting the support that they need at an early enough stage. Or they have endured the removal of support that they had counted on, with universal credit coming now to remove even more of that. It’s so sad, so grotesque, so desperate.

The number of children assessed by social workers as being in need has risen too, as has the number living under a child protection plan. Children become “looked after” when all hope that they might be being adequately looked after is gone.

There was a time, just 10 years ago, when there was still space in public life in the UK to consider the life chances of children who had been taken into care, and to think about how improvements could be made that would give these kids a better run at creating reasonable adult lives for themselves. One of the most awful things about the current climate is that the detail of social dysfunction has slid out of focus, because the view of the vast, roiling landscape of crisis is more than can be taken in.

The thought of having an intimate look at the life of one child caught up in the tangled undergrowth of Britain’s economic, social and political crisis is daunting enough. The idea that after that there would be 71,999 more stories of childhood grief – and counting – to examine, is more than the soul can bear. You can sit around marvelling all day about how amazing the actress Samantha Morton is to have survived and thrived after the least auspicious of starts in life. But no one in the world can remind you more compellingly that she’s the exception, not the rule.

In these statistics lies the truth about the enormity of our failure to make the postwar settlement work. This country is heading merrily back to the kind of disregard we had for children before the war broke out. Vulnerable kids were exploited so thoroughly back then that the 1939 Adoption of Children (Regulation) Act required a local authority to be notified of any informal adoption by anyone of any child under nine years old. Yet after decades of progress, local authorities are now being starved of the funding they need to stem the tide of social exclusion that impacts on children most of all.

The most frightening thing about the current crisis is the way that, over a decade after it began, all that is left is a bunch of half-crazed caricatures stumbling about pretending that their fake solutions will work. The most distracting of those fake solutions is Brexit, of course, which is a bit like deciding that you’re going to cure your cancer by giving up your membership of the golf club.

Basically, anyone who sticks his or her head above the political parapet at the moment is admitting that they can’t begin to comprehend the stagnancy of the shit that we are in.

As for the will of the people, we only got to vote on the matter because it was assumed that everyone except a group of crazed obsessives could see that leaving the EU simply wasn’t worth the trouble. As it turned out, however, there were plenty of people keen to put a channel of seawater between Britain’s failures and the blame for them.

Yet the only thing worth blaming is blame itself. Those 72,000 children? Even that huge number is dwarfed by the amount of people who will see it and immediately suffocate their empathy with visions of feckless parents, joints in hand, drunkenly watching awful shows on giant TVs and spending the last of their dole money on a pizza delivery organised via a smartphone app; or of immigrants unversed in our own sophisticated ways, of course. As if neglect of, and cruelty to, children was a modern phenomenon unheard of before the advent of the “welfare state”, except in the colourful leaves of a Dickens novel or the do-gooding pages of an Engels tract.

In Britain, reports of how greatly children and young people have suffered at the hands of adult predators make headlines with dispiriting regularity. Those revelations – some contested, others sickeningly confirmed – are still coming, even as a new generation is quietly condemned to lives filled with trauma, confusion and vulnerability. When does the blame stop, and real help for the people most important to the cause of a more decent future begin?

Deborah Orr is a Guardian columnist

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