Opinion

Politicians are failing our children and our children's children. We must protect future generations

As millions of children face poverty, Sophie Howe, former Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, calls on the next government to do more to protect future generations

keir starmer visits a school

Labour leader Keir Starmer visiting a school ahead of the general election. Image: Flickr/ Keir Starmer

There are 4.2 million children living in poverty in our country. It is a damning and depressing indictment of government and our society.

Beyond this sobering statistic is the hunger that children suffer each and every day, unsuitable and unstable housing, the increasing impact of climate change and the diminishing of opportunity and children’s life chances.

This tragic situation has not just come about through political choices, as harmful as individual policies can be. It has also occurred due to a dearth of political direction and vision, and an absence of proactive, collective will and a failure to consider future generations in decision making.

To an extent, we are all culpable. We are failing our children and our children’s children by allowing our politicians to make short-term, siloed decisions.

But I know there is another way. For seven years, I had arguably one of the most rewarding jobs a public servant could ask for. The people I looked to represent couldn’t always write to me to tell me what a good (or bad!) job I might have been doing, in fact most of them could not speak, and certainly did not vote.

That is because as the first future generations commissioner for Wales, and indeed the world, I represented not only Wales’ younger generations, but also those citizens who are not yet born, namely our children’s children and beyond.

As commissioner I had a legal responsibility to represent the future generations of Wales, and to listen to and help build the future of communities, and I had to constantly ask the question: what do we want to leave behind, for our children, grandchildren and the generations that follow? 

The Well-being of Future Generations Act (2015) set out the legal obligations that all public bodies in Wales had to consider, to help improve our country’s social, environmental, economic and cultural wellbeing.

While there is of course much more still to be done, I believe that the achievements so far have helped to lay a blueprint for a new, bold, healthier, prosperous, and more resilient society in Wales. The act challenged us to change how we think about the way things work in Wales, for the better. And it did.



We now need political parties in Westminster to show the same ambition, and roll-out a UK-wide Future Generations Act.

Neither political party has provided a good enough plan for our future generations to date. The Conservatives have focused on a national service, pensioners and taxes. Meanwhile, while the Labour Party has identified child poverty as an issue, they have not yet fully committed to the solutions needed to tackle this generational crisis.

Labour’s Child Health Action Plan is a welcome step in the right direction, and their ambition for the next generation to be the healthiest ever is certainly laudable.

However, the change that our children desperately need will only come about if there is a tangible, joined-up, sustainable direction of travel that underpins a party’s programme for government.

A Future Generations Act would empower local communities, and public bodies, to help build a better future for younger generations. It would hold our institutions accountable to tangible, long-term policies that improve society, health, and the economy to make the UK the best place to grow up.

There is already of groundswell of support for such a change. Ed Miliband highlighted the concept in his book Big Ideas. Former Green Party Leader, Caroline Lucas MP, has long argued for similar legislation, and the founder of the Big Issue, Lord John Bird, has previously campaigned for a cross-party Future Generations Bill.

Just last week, the House of Commons liaison committee, made up of the chairs of all the parliamentary select committees, issued a report calling for new mechanisms to be established in parliament and within government to ensure the interests of future generations are considered.

It is not just politicians either. Kids’ food brand and early years advocates, Ella’s Kitchen, are also calling for a UK wide Future Generations Act to be adopted, so that political leaders place the health and well-being of our children at the heart of government decision-making. We are seeing other countries beyond Wales consider similar measures too, and the UN Secretary General has also proposed a Future Generations Declaration.

Sticking plasters simply are not going to cut it any longer, we need fundamental change. If political parties want to lift children out of poverty, provide them with security, and give them back their future, then they must commit to a Future Generations Act.

Sophie Howe is the former future generations commissioner for Wales and Wales TEDX Speaker.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us moreBig Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Labour has a chance to stop domestic abuse at its roots – here's how
A woman's hands holding a cup of tea
Caitlin McCullough

Labour has a chance to stop domestic abuse at its roots – here's how

Keir Starmer promised to tackle child poverty – but we need action, not empty words
Sanah Ahsan

Keir Starmer promised to tackle child poverty – but we need action, not empty words

'It was a long, dark night of the soul': What the first 24 hours in prison is really like
prison leavers
Gary Crooks

'It was a long, dark night of the soul': What the first 24 hours in prison is really like

Why can no government ever plan for the future?
John Bird

Why can no government ever plan for the future?

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know