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The First 100 Days: Missed Opportunities for Children and Young People

10/08/2015 16:55 BST | Updated 10/08/2016 10:59 BST

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To mark 100 days of the first Conservative government in nearly 20 years, HuffPost UK is running 100 Days of Dave, a special series of blog posts from grassroots campaigners to government ministers, single parents to first-year students, reflecting on what's worked and what hasn't, whilst looking for solutions to the problems we still face.

In its first 100 days the government has taken big decisions that will change the lives of children and parents living in poverty.

It announced its intention to scrap the child poverty target based on family income and identify new ways to approach the problem by focusing on 'life chances'. New measures will be based on factors such as unemployment, addiction and family breakdown. This is an opportunity to tackle issues that affect children and families over generations but we must not lose sight of the everyday impact of living in poverty.

The Budget introduced a new 'living wage' but, at the same time, changes to child tax credits will actually leave many of the poorest families and young people worse off.

At Action for Children we work with children and their families who are struggling with the day-to-day practicalities of living on a low income. This can involve advising parents who are behind on the bills or aren't getting the financial support they're entitled to. We help them to purchase white goods they can afford and avoid getting into problems with debt. Even the simplest things make a difference every day - our services teach families how to cook cheap, healthy meals, how to set routine and keep their children and family healthy.

Our overarching aim is to help children and families at the earliest opportunity to give them the best chance in life. We believe, with good reason, that this should inform the government's anti-poverty strategy. A more rounded approach, that addresses financial problems that cause suffering to children today, alongside measures to break cycles of intergenerational poverty, is required.

Children's early years have a lasting effect on their later development. Ensuring all families can give their children a good start in life and prepare them for school is vital to breaking cycles of poverty. Children need the chance to develop their language skills, learn to make friends and benefit from a secure and loving home life that builds their confidence and self-esteem. But financial and housing pressures on families make this harder to achieve.

With the Budget lowering the benefit cap again, more children are going be uprooted when their parents can't afford to meet high rents. Some will have to spend time in cramped conditions, like bed and breakfasts, without space to study, cook or relax.

Getting parents into decent work can help families greatly by providing a steady income. However welfare changes mean that many of the poorest working parents will take a hit to their income, even when the new 'living wage' comes into effect. Families where parents cannot work full time or at all will also be affected. This will put greater pressure on children who care for severely disabled parents.

Young people who have left home or are preparing to do so have also lost out from the government's first 100 days. Apart from a few exemptions, they will no longer be eligible for housing benefit, limiting their ability to move to areas rich in employment opportunities. Young people will also be left out of the new 'living wage', meaning many will struggle to earn enough to climb out of poverty.

An area where the government could quickly do something positive for young people is making sure that the most disadvantaged benefit from financial education and information. We know from talking to young people in the care system, young carers and others that they have often missed out on learning about managing money. As one young person told us, "I wouldn't even know where I receive this sort of information". These young people can't afford to make mistakes to learn from so arming them with the right information would give them a better chance to get it right. One obvious and low-cost way of doing this would be to include money skills in existing employment training programmes. By being creative with current resources, the government could give young people the tools to improve their own lives.

Too many young people struggle to live up to their potential because of the situation they were born into. The government didn't create this problem, but some of the changes introduced in their first 100 days will make it harder to overcome.

For the remainder of this parliament, the government must plan how it is going to achieve the prime minister's aim of "spreading opportunity". Supporting young people to have the best start in life requires a range of approaches, including the guarantee that families get help when they need it so that problems with parenting, housing, health or education don't escalate into crises. It means making sure all young people get educational and work opportunities that they can take up and truly benefit from. And it means making sure all young people get the practical financial support they need as they move into adulthood, whatever challenges they have encountered in their past.

Sir Tony Hawkhead is the chief executive of Action for Children

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