Some weeks ago I was approached by a constituent who also happens to be a leading figure of the Mothers' Union in Lancashire. My constituent wanted to make me aware of th ‘Bye Buy Childhood campaign.’
The Mothers' Union commissioned a report and engaged ComRes to collate data. In total ComRes surveyed one thousand parents and one thousand members of the Union. The results made very interesting reading: nearly three-fifths of parents of children under 18 believe that advertising is harmful to them.
Every parent is acutely aware of how influenced our young people are by advertising. My two sons are no exception. I began to research the marketing to and sexualisation of children and discovered that marketing to children has become an industry; in fact it has become big business worth ninety nine billion pounds. This is a huge industry.
Just weeks before, I had appeared on Sky News arguing that airbrushing in magazines should be banned. I did this because our young people should not need to look at size zero models who have been airbrushed: our children need realistic role models and not some sort of manufactured unrealistic aspiration.
I then decided to table an Early Day Motion on these matters, gaining the support of a number of Members of Parliament in support of the motion stating:
“That this House notes that childhood is a marketing opportunity worth £99 billion in the UK; is concerned about the effect on children's wellbeing of the volume and some methods of advertising of children's products; is particularly concerned about the use of sex to sell to children; welcomes the Mothers' Union's Bye Buy Childhood campaign which challenges the commercialisation of childhood; recalls the Government's promise to tackle the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood; and calls upon the Government to take steps to fully prohibit sexualised media, marketing and products aimed at or easily accessible to children under 16.”
At about the same time a major supermarket chain had agreed to remove from sale a padded bra which had previously been offered for sale to teenage girls. Already the project was beginning to gain momentum. In my Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency several people not connected with the Mothers' Union had commented on how their children were influenced by advertising and that this campaign was a good idea.
Just a few days later Children’s Minister Sarah Teather MP announced that she had asked the Chief Executive of the Mothers' Union to write an independent report into the commercialisation of children. The report, which will be published in May, will look at four specific areas. Risk of harm and barriers to parenting; principles; consumer voic; and corporate social responsibility. The author will speak not only to parents but to manufacturers as well.
One would not wish to pre-empt the findings of the report; however, from the research available, it is very obvious that this is a big business and it is harming our young people.
Perhaps the biggest question going forward will be how do we allow manufacturers to market their products? Clearly Government cannot legislate for a blanket ban on advertising; there has to be a balance. On the one hand we must allow marketing of some description, but on the other hand the sexualisation of our children in the name of marketing cannot be condoned.