ourNHS: Opinion

As a pediatrician, this is the most important parenting advice I can give

We have the power to change things, right now. We have the opportunity to give the best to our children.

11 December 2019, 8.56am

As an NHS paediatrician, I get asked for parenting advice a lot. “What’s the best thing I can do for my children?” I’ve never met a parent who wants anything less than the best for their kids. I hear this ethic articulated by parents over and over again, rich or poor, regardless of their background or race.

This week, I can’t help but feel that the best parenting advice I can give goes beyond nutrition and play and emotional support. It has to do with politics.

Public policy has an extraordinary impact on the lives of the children and young people who I see in my clinic. I never talk about politics in the clinic, but the truth is that our political choices will shape the world our children will live in, and determine the kinds of lives they will be able to live.

I have read every single party manifesto for the upcoming election, poring over them for a glimpse of what they will mean for the patients and families in my care. With the general election just around the corner, what follows is the most important piece of parenting advice I can give:

We know that we need an effective and efficient health service that will care for our families when we need it, and that will help keep us well the rest of the time. So let’s vote for genuine investments in improving our NHS, and genuine investment in mental health, children’s and elderly care services. Let’s vote to reverse the brutal cuts and back-door privatization that has so damaged the NHS that we all love and depend on.

We know that children need access to quality education. So let’s vote for investments in our schools, and an end to tuition fees and crippling student debt. Let’s vote for teachers who are empowered to focus on teaching and not on stressful exams and inspections, with better wages and more support.

We know that we need an economy where every young person has the chance to make a meaningful living after they leave school, and where inequalities no longer cause insecurity, anxiety and mental health problems. So let’s vote for a real living wage, an end to zero-hours contracts and for universal credit to be ditched in favour of proper social supports.

As our children grow up, they need to be able to afford safe, clean housing. So let’s vote for a realistic plan to build more homes that are genuinely affordable across all the councils in the UK.

We want our children to be able to live in a functioning society where transportation is affordable, public services work and people are safe on the streets. So let’s vote for the rail system to be taken back into public ownership, along with water and electricity, so that these services can be run for people and not for corporate profit. And let’s vote for our police services to be restored after years of cuts.

And lastly, but most pressingly, we know that we need a stable, flourishing planet that will sustain our children, our grandchildren, and life on Earth for generations to come. So let’s vote for strong, decisive action against climate breakdown, with a rapid transition to renewable energy and a credible plan to reduce carbon emissions to zero by no later than 2030.

Let me be clear: I am not a member of the Labour party. My first concern is for the welfare of my patients and their families. But on all of the vital issues that matter, it’s clear to me that the only way to guarantee our children’s future is to vote for a Labour-led government.

We have all been led to believe that Brexit is the biggest issue in this election. But this is a false accounting. Whether Brexit happens or not, what really matters for people’s lives is what our government will do in terms of domestic policy, social services, and climate action.

For our children’s sake, we must rise above the petty media smears against Labour – smears orchestrated by a press that is largely owned by billionaires – and focus on the facts of Labour’s manifesto. We cannot risk another 5 years under a Conservative government that is so clearly bent on destroying our public goods, undermining the rights and freedoms that we have fought for, and handing a ruined future to our children. The idea that the Liberal Democrats are a credible alternative just doesn’t stack up: support for harmful austerity policies, a confusing plan on NHS spending and inadequate climate targets will not create the better world our children deserve.

I am voting for Labour on December 12th, and I am doing so out of solidarity with and love for my patients and their families.

This is a pivotal moment in our country’s history. In years to come, our children will ask us how we chose to vote in 2019, during a moment of climate emergency, at a time when one of the most prosperous countries in the world had unprecedented levels of poverty and homelessness, and as our precious NHS teetered on the brink. What will we say? Will we be able to look them in the eye?

We have the power to change things, right now. We have the opportunity to give the best to our children. On December 12th, we are not merely choosing between political personalities, which we may like or dislike, we are choosing a vision for Britain’s future. Let’s give our children hope. As a pediatrician, this is the most important parenting advice I can offer, and the best gift that we can give to our children.


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