16/06/2017 13:02 BST | Updated 16/06/2017 13:02 BST

Children Must Be A Priority For New Government

Whether you love politics, loathe it, or are indifferent, the outcome of last week's General Election matters.

MPs decisions can have a big impact upon people's lives, including those of the children and young people we look out for at The Children's Society. So I am heartened by reports that more young people aged 18-24 voted this time.

Now the Prime Minister has announced her intention to seek to form a new Government, with support from the Democratic Unionists, our priority is to ensure the well-being of children is high on the agenda of new ministers and MPs of all political persuasions.

Urgent action is needed to tackle the shocking rise in child poverty, which is on course to affect five million children by 2020.

If the new Government really wants to really address child poverty it needs a fundamental re-think of policies which affect parents' ability to provide for their children - like the four year benefits freeze, and the two-child limit for Tax Credits and Universal Credit. We estimated that more than seven million children live in families which would be hit by the benefits freeze.

Families regular outgoings have an impact too, including, for instance, costs like food and heating. We are deeply concerned that many children in poverty will be affected by plans in the Conservative manifesto to withdraw free school lunches for all infant children. We would instead urge the Government to commit to free lunches for all primary and secondary school children whose families receive Universal Credit. Failing to do so could mean children missing out on an important meal - or families making the kind of impossible budgeting decisions which can lead to debt.

The Conservative commitment to introduce a 'Breathing Space' scheme for families in problem debt following our campaigning, is welcome. It is vital that ministers follow through on this and ensure these families get the space they need to agree an affordable repayment plan without the worry of enforcement action or additional charges.

There are clear links between poverty and debt, and children's mental health. We found that the estimated 2.4m children live in families struggling with problem debt were at greater risk of having poor mental health. Our report The Damage of Debt found that a quarter of these children said that they were unhappy with their lives - meaning that children living in families struggling with problem debt are five times more likely to be unhappy.

It is a symptom of the pressures of modern childhood that 1 in 10 children in this country suffer from mental ill-health. The Conservative pledge to introduce waiting time targets to address harmful delays faced by children with serious mental health conditions in accessing help is important but it must be supported by sufficient funding to ensure all young people who need it can access timely support.

Prevention is better than cure, however, and addressing issues before they escalate is vital. That is why we want to see a Government commitment to fund counselling in all schools to ensure pupils get vital early support.

The other pressing matter for the new Government is of course Brexit, and it critical that children's interests are protected during talks.

EU children living in the UK need assurance that decisions about where they can live will be based on their best interests, not just their parents' employment history. Membership of the EU brings with it funding to help alleviate poverty. We are calling for a commitment to retain or replace provision for children in disadvantaged communities which is currently funded through the European Social Fund.

Last, but not least, children's safety must be properly considered. In order to maintain and improve safeguarding for children on and offline, we urge the Government to ensure that the UK has continued membership of Europol and Eurojust, or that an agreement is in place for cooperation with these bodies and with the EU Commission.

Over the next few weeks there will be tough policy negotiations, both here and in Brussels - but we owe it to our children to ensure their welfare is a top priority.