I’m up for fight over nanny state accusations, says Keir Starmer

Posted: 12th January 2024

Sir Keir Starmer has said he is “up for that fight” over accusations Labour is embracing the “nanny state”, as he announced proposals for supervised toothbrushing in schools.

The Labour leader tooth decay was the top reason children between six and 10 go to hospital.

Labour would run the scheme in breakfast clubs in some primary schools.

The Conservatives accused Labour of “borrowing” existing policies.

Rolling out a national supervised toothbrushing programme for three to five-year-olds will cost £9m a year, Labour said, and would be funded by abolishing the non-dom tax status. For children not old enough to attend school, the supervision would be provided in nurseries.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “We [have] already provided tool kits for local authorities to use for toothbrushing lessons across their local authority areas.”

The government were also already “already funding breakfast clubs around the country”, Ms Atkins added.

Speaking to the BBC, Ms Atkins said the government “very much believe in supporting our parents and supporting our families,” rather than mandating supervised sessions.

Dr Camilla Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “At present, the UK has some of the worst child health outcomes in Europe, and child health inequalities continue to widen.

“It is therefore welcome to see the Labour party’s intention to publish a dedicated child health action plan, which outlines many of the calls paediatricians have been making repeatedly – including tackling paediatric waiting times, supporting the health prevention agenda and providing support for child mental health.”

Labour’s Child Health Action Plan would also ban flavoured vapes aimed at children and implement the 21:00 watershed for junk food advertising on television.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting told the BBC that children in the UK “are shorter, fatter and less happy than kids in other countries because we’ve got a childhood health crisis brewing”.

The UK is estimated to have more obese children than France, Germany, Poland and Slovenia.

The average height of five-year-old boys and girls have fallen down international rankings since 1985. But NHS data shows the average height for boys in reception class in England has increased 70mm since 2009/10, and 60mm for girls.

Sir Keir also pledged to prioritise tackling child obesity and to introduce specialist mental health support for children in every school.

The Labour leader said that children were “the biggest casualty” of the Tories’ “sticking-plaster politics of the past 14 years”.

“Labour will end the scandal of children being held back by poor health and regional inequalities, by slashing waits for mental health treatment and hospital appointment, putting prevention first, and fixing NHS dentistry.”

Asked if he minded his policies being labelled “the nanny state”, Sir Keir said: “I’m absolutely up for that fight.”

Speaking during a visit to Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool, he said that when it came to obesity or tooth decay in children, “for a government to say ‘well that’s none of our business’ I just think is fundamentally wrong”.

“If anyone wants to fight me on this question of the nanny state or common sense – bring it on.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “While it’s good to see that supervising toothbrushing won’t be a part of the school day itself, or an expectation of teachers, we remain somewhat sceptical about how this will work in practice.

“There is no doubt that, as a nation, we should be focused on improving children’s dental health, but this will certainly need further thought and additional funding.”

Source: I’m up for fight over nanny state accusations, says Keir Starmer – BBC News

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