The RCSLT welcome the confirmation from Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson of the commitment that a future Labour government will provide speech and language support in the early years, recognizing that language difficulties are a barrier to children’s learning.
We’re also pleased to hear that Labour would introduce a consistent child identifier – like the NHS number – to improve information sharing between services. This is something for which the RCSLT has long called.
Labour’s education plans should go further, with a sustained focus on spoken language and communication across all stages of education, and a detailed plan to improve support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.
We are encouraged that Labour has issued a plan for children’s health. The focus on children and young people’s health and happiness, with an emphasis on prevention, is welcome. However, we’re concerned that when it comes to waiting lists, the focus is on operations and scans. At a time when children are waiting far too long for speech and language therapy, and unsustainable caseloads are driving speech and language therapists out of the NHS, any new government must prioritise children’s community health services.
Labour’s plan sets out an ambition to tackle children’s mental health challenges early. Support for children’s communication skills should be part of the package of measures. Research published this week identified that a child’s speech, language and communication abilities is one of the modifiable factors where intervention can help to keep babies, children and young people mentally well.
Fundamentally we need to see a whole government approach to supporting children, which recognises that children’s education and health outcomes are inextricably linked. We also need a cross-government strategy and outcomes framework to improve the life chances of all babies, children and young people.