I was a leader on the ChildFair State Inquiry and what drew me to the project and sustained my engagement was the inherent radical and democratic nature of the endeavour. Children England had the knowledge to appreciate the value of the welfare state, the creation of which had revolutionised the standard of living of ordinary people, but also the intelligence to understand that its modern iteration was no longer fit to serve those it was meant to. What’s more they had the bravery and foresight to ask children how to fix it.  

They were going to change things, and they were going to change things by asking those who were most affected and by empowering them to think about what better could look like. In doing this, in creating the ChildFair State Inquiry they created hope. Hope for a democratic future where people’s needs were met. This hope was not some soft intangible phenomenon, it required action and was borne out in conversations up and down the country, in meetings with politicians and in workshops in schools. 

But time has passed since those conversations began. Those children have come of age and walked out into a world that does not correspond to world we had had hoped to create. The ChildFair State remains unrealised, Children England is closing and democracy is dying.  

Democracy’s alarms bells had been ringing for a long time for those who had been willing to hear them, but it was during the pandemic that the sirens really began. Attacks on the press and the proroguing of parliament could be passed off as outliers before, even if unconvincingly, but after the pandemic the trend was all too clear. Boris Johnson’s election brought us an approach to the truth that was a best flirtatious and told everyone no serious commitment was required. It brought a disregard of experts that would soon come to haunt us somewhat literally as the virus killed people in the UK in unparalleled numbers. PPE procurement - a necessary, important but theoretically a largely administrative task - gave way to a corruption scandal so grave Transparency International is investigating. And we became all too used to taking a calculating approach to human lives the suffering of others 

The aftermath of the pandemic was when the legislative onslaught began. The combination of the Police and Crime Bill and the Public Order Bill and their repressive amendments created a legal erosion of rights at a scale not seen since the dark days of the 1980s. Together they gave the police the power to outlaw basically any protest1 and increased the consequences dramatically for anyone who transgresses. Most recently the emergency legislation created to overrule the Supreme Court’s decision on the Rwanda Deal was described by Liberty as an attempt to rip apart the basic principles of human rights.

I’ll say that again - our current government has just this month attempted to rip apart the basic principles of human rights. 

But this, though awful, is not what frightens me the most. 

We have become complacent. 

At the same time as the government has been enacting this ‘constitutional vandalism’ we are increasingly staying at home and watching this parliamentary looting from behind our curtains, or worse turning away and retreating. You Gov polls reveal that Britain’s believe ‘2 to 1 that protest should be illegal in a pandemic’ and less than a third of people thought that policing of the coronation, which saw volunteers distributing rape alarm’s arrested, ‘was too harsh’. Less than a third of people thought that an attack on the democratic right to protests was a problem. Less than a third. 

This, more than the government lies, or the repressive legislation, is what terrifies me, as in the words of James Baldwin, “It is neither love nor terror that makes one blind but indifference. 

Too many of us have become indifferent to democracy. 

That’s all very well Lauren some of you might be thinking, democracy may certainly be in trouble but why have you chosen Children England’s leaving do to get on your soap box about it?”. And I can tell you why. The answer is because it is all related. Just like the staff at Children England and the children we talked to understood that poverty cannot exist in a healthy society - and thus truly reforming the NHS would require poverty’s eradication - a transformative welfare state cannot exist in an authoritarian society. And neither can charities. 

It’s not an accident that Children England is closing now. Many of you here in this room are charity workers or leaders and know firsthand how hard it is to operate as a charity right now. Thirteen years of Conservative leadership have created these conditions. Conditions that are crushing charities and damaging lives, and we should not be afraid of being angry about it. The energy is being drained out of the sector and it is intentional. They are intentionally exhausting those would otherwise be holding power to account. Changemakers and activists are increasingly being forced, for their own sanity and safety, to turn for home or to put the future on the back burner as increasing needs force them to be permanently putting out fires. In these conditions democracy slips away.  

Beveridge, the architect of the post war consensus, entitled the follow up to his “Social Security and Allied Services report, “Full employment in a free society. Times have changed since their publication as have what we need from our welfare state, but it remains as true as ever that only a free society is able to truly fulfil the needs of its people and enable them to live good lives. And that is what Children England was all about - creating a world in which children get to live good lives in a free society. 

So here we are. Children England is closing, democracy is dying, the planet is burning.  

On the face of it we have lost and are losing at every possible level. And we have lost. Children England is closing and that is a loss. As it closes its doors a little more of the hope that fuelled the post war consensus slips away.  

What remains is the ethos that drove its work which for me defines all that is hopeful in this world; the belief that a better world is possible, one where every child can have the childhood they deserve. Children England believed in the possibility of a world where everyone’s lives really did matter and were not afraid to make the demands required to create that reality. 

So, as we mourn Children England and the many other losses that we have suffered this year it is this ethos that we must take with us. There is much to grieve. What’s more there is a special kind of grief that comes with being an activist or a changemaker that comes not just on nights like these. It is the sadness at the suffering of the present given the knowledge that the reality could be so SO much better.  

In this way such grief presupposes hope. The activist’s grief presupposes hope. 

In a TV interview given by the activist and writer James Baldwin, on being asked whether he still despaired at the world, replied I can’t afford despair [….] you cannot tell the children there is no hope.

You cannot tell the children there is no hope.  

This is true in two ways. We, in this room, as adults in a troubled society cannot afford despair. We have a responsibility to all children to keep building a better world and that requires hope. Freeing ourselves from the activist’s grief and giving up on that world is giving up on them. No child deserves that. Secondly, and most fundamentally, where there are children there is hope. Where there are children there is a future, and that future is always for the building 

Building a world fit for our children to live is no small feat. It requires radical visions that are brave enough to be worth mourning the loss of, and the tenacity and empathy to create the relationships and take the practical steps to start creating this hopeful world. 

Such a world is possible, but it requires action. Many such actions are already been taken as we speak. Many of them by those in this room. This year as a result of campaigning by the young food ambassadors, as well as many others, Sadiq Kahn announced emergency funding that would make free school meals universal in all London primary schools. Such a win, though temporary, will make a huge difference to the lives of primary school children across London and shows that change is possible even in hostile conditions. 

History too can provide some hope, and if not hope then certainly context. Similarly repressive measures were enacted under Thatcher. Yet after the ’80s came the ‘90s and a new government that enacted a mantra of ‘bringing rights home’, and a promise to end child poverty Great though imperfect progress was made. Such progress can be made again. 

Looking even further back in time, we get to the creation of Children England. Children England was born out of hope, a hope which had itself been born out of the horrors of war and authoritarianism. The post war reforms that stimulated Children England’s creation and Beveridge’s landmark report were a collaborative, intelligent and most importantly radically hopeful response to the trauma of war and the poverty and suffering that had needlessly preceded it. Such reforms and the reformers and dreamers that created them looked at the recent suffering said, “No more. No more of this. Things can be better we will make it so 

Children England itself said “No more we will let children be deprived of their childhood and the joy that this should encompass. Children England, Beveridge and all that were a part of the post war movement the created our welfare state had the bravery to envision, demand and create radical social change in a time of darkness.  

As we reflect on Children England’s creation, closure and legacy that is what I wish for everyone in this room. The hope to dream of a better future and the bravery and determination to create it for our children. 

I task everyone of us with being part of creating a democratic society whose institutions and leaders support every child, adult and young person to live and good and joyful life.  

Thank you