Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): On the face of it, infant mental health might appear to be a bit of a narrow topic, but I want to explain why the mental health of infants in fact makes a huge difference to the whole fate of our society. Human babies are unique in the animal kingdom in terms of the extent of their underdevelopment at birth. What other animal cannot walk until it is one year old or fend for itself until it is at least two years old? Physical underdevelopment is only a tiny part of the matter; the human brain is only partially formed when a baby is born. The billions of neurones in the brain are largely undifferentiated at birth and parts of the brain are simply not there. A human baby's earliest experiences will literally hard-wire their brain and have a lifelong impact on their mental and emotional health.
I want to set the scene by giving a couple of fictitious examples that are common in 21st-century Britain. I shall then explain how those situations might affect the babies concerned. First, let us consider the case of a fictitious 15-year-old called Sarah who lives with her mum, stepfather and three half-brothers in social housing. Her stepfather abuses her and she has told her mum, but she does not believe her or does not want to believe her. Sarah feels unloved and unsupported and, when she is 15, she meets a boy at school and gets pregnant. She applies for a council house as a single mum and gets it-so far, so good. Sarah is really looking forward to the birth of her son because, at last, she will have somebody to love her. The trouble is, when Jack is born, he does not seem to love her at all. He just screams, messes his nappy and eats. After a few weeks of doing her best, Sarah cannot stand it any longer. She leaves Jack screaming in his cot and goes out for the evening. She gets back late and rather drunk, and Jack is still screaming in his cot. Sarah loses her temper, kicks his cot and screams at him to shut up and leave her alone. We can imagine how things carry on for Sarah and Jack. She is an unloved child herself and Jack pays the price.
Let us consider another fictitious story that is just as common. Liz and John are successful lawyers in their 30s who are well off and enjoying life. They leave it quite late to have a baby and end up using in vitro fertilisation to help them conceive. Luckily, Liz becomes pregnant quite quickly with twins, but the joy stops there. She feels sidelined in her career and resentful of her husband because he is fine and she is not. The babies are born prematurely and are whisked off to incubators for several weeks. When Liz finally takes the babies home, it takes a long time for her to realise that they are truly hers. She is one of the three in 10 women who suffer post-natal depression. She looks after the twins as best she can, but more than a year passes before she can truly say that she loves them.
I am sure that most of us in this room have heard of such cases. Stories of poor bonding or, to use the more technical term, insecure attachment are all too common in the western world. However, what is not so well understood is the impact on the baby's brain development of a key carer-usually the mum-being unable to meet the baby's needs. So what is meant by the term "having your needs met"? When a baby cries, they do not know that they are too hot, too cold, bored, tired or hungry. All they know is that something is wrong. So they cry and rely on an adult carer to soothe their feelings. Many of us will remember long nights spent walking up and down the landing, joggling a baby and saying, "Go to sleep, go to sleep." That is what loving adults do for their babies.
This is not about giving parents a guilt trip. We all feel guilty at times about the things we wished we had done, the times we shouted at our babies or the times we left them to cry because we could not take any more and so on. This is about being a good enough parent. That does not always mean being there the instant the baby cries every single time, but being there enough for the baby to realise that generally the world is a good place and that generally adults are kind. The baby who learns about the world as a good place will retain that sense almost as an instinct for life. The baby's brain will be hard-wired to expect a certain reaction from other human beings and that baby's mental health will be secure throughout the child's life. Such an individual will be more robust than a baby whose needs are not met. However, for the small but significant minority of babies who are neglected or abused, there are two critical impacts on the development of the brain.
A baby cannot regulate their own feelings at all. If their needs are not met, they will simply scream louder and louder. If nobody comes, eventually they will take refuge in sleep. So the first impact is that a baby left continually to scream will experience raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Excessive amounts of cortisol can do permanent damage to the baby's immune system. Evidence suggests that a baby left to scream throughout babyhood will have a higher tolerance to their own stress, and that violent criminals have a very high tolerance to their own stress levels, which they developed back in babyhood. Inevitably, if someone has a high tolerance to stress, they need to indulge in high risk-taking behaviour even to feel the same level of excitement that we might get from an exciting hand of bridge. There are real issues surrounding leaving babies to scream incessantly.
The second and most amazing impact on the baby who is neglected or abused concerns the social part of the brain-the frontal cortex-which starts to develop only at around six months. The peak period for development of that part of the brain is at six to 18 months old. Growth is stimulated by the relationship between the baby and the carer, for example, through things such as peekaboo games, hugging, looking into each other's eyes and saying, "I love you. You're gorgeous." Such activities between a loving parent and a baby all play a very strong role in the development of the social, empathetic part of a baby's brain.
If a baby does not receive any attention-I am sure we all remember the Romanian orphans who were left in cots to hug themselves, and did not speak to anyone or have any emotional or physical contact whatsoever-that social part of the brain may never grow. There can
actually be a long-term brain damage impact on the baby, the child and later the adult. That has profound implications for society. A human being without a properly developed social brain finds it extremely difficult to empathise with other human beings. In particular, if a baby has what is known as disorganised attachment-where one or both parents are frightening or chaotic-they cannot form a secure bond precisely because the person who is so frightening and chaotic is also the person whom the baby should be turning to for comfort. The baby's brain is confused and they experience disorganised attachment, which leads to very significant problems for that baby.
If we look into the babyhood of children who brutalise other children, of violent criminals or of paedophiles, we can often see plenty of evidence that sociopaths are not born; rather they are made by their earliest experiences when they are less than two years old. Evidence shows that more than 80% of long-term prison inmates have attachment problems that stem from babyhood. It is believed that up to two thirds of future chronic criminals can be predicted by behaviour seen at the age of two. A study conducted in New Zealand showed that a child who exhibits substantial antisocial behaviour when they are aged seven has a twenty-twofold increased chance of criminality by the age of 26.
Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. She makes a very important point about the correlation between people in prison and the problems she has outlined. Is she also aware that a very large number-I think it is some 75%-of our young inmates have some form of speech, language or communication difficulty that, no doubt, at least partly results from the circumstances of their upbringing and the early years that she is talking about?
Andrea Leadsom: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, with which I completely agree. There is no doubt that all sorts of developmental issues are affected by the earliest relationship, including communication. Why does poor attachment arise? Often, it is the result of parents' unhappy lives. A mother who was not attached as a baby to her own mother will often struggle to form a secure bond with her baby, as might a woman who suffers from post-natal depression.
Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. Given the examples that she has cited, which clearly are drawn from all sorts of backgrounds, be they deprived or affluent, as in the case she mentioned of post-natal depression, does she agree that keeping the universal service within Sure Start is vital?
Andrea Leadsom: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I will come on to my thoughts on Sure Start later, but I believe that public funds need to be focused on the small but significant minority of families whose lives are chaotic and where the outcomes for the children without support can be truly disastrous, not only for them and their families, but for the whole of society.
A woman who suffers from post-natal depression might struggle to form a bond with her baby, as can parents with drug, domestic abuse or unemployment problems. Poor attachment is no respecter of class or wealth and crosses all boundaries. Sadly, the cycle of misery is often passed down through generations, as a woman who did not bond with her mother when a baby can then fail to bond with her own baby.
I stress again that this is not about making parents stay at home or carry their babies around 24/7. Attachment means building a bond with a baby so that they instinctively learn how to be part of a caring relationship. Where both parents work, or where there is a single parent or adoptive parents, attachment can be very secure. The point is that the less caring attention a baby receives from a familiar adult, the greater the risk of insecure attachment. A caring nursery worker could become an attachment figure for a baby, as could a nanny, a child minder and, of course, members of extended families. Where a baby's home life is disturbed due to divorce, death, domestic abuse, drugs or even post-natal depression, it can be a positive experience for that baby's quality of life to be in a sensitive and caring child-care environment where a loving key worker can become an attachment figure. Where a baby's home life is happy and there is a strong bond with the rest of the family, a caring child-care environment is not harmful and can even add to the baby's quality of attachment.
Where a baby's home life is disturbed, however, putting it into an insensitive child-care environment can be a disaster. It is common sense that a baby can take only so much stress, change and disorder. If you pile up that stress and disorder, the baby will instinctively resort to the basic strategies of fight or flight, which all animals have, including humans. That translates, in baby terms, into either very passive behaviour, or aggressive crying.
A nursery might measure the contentedness of its baby room by how little crying there is, but ironically, a baby that has given up on having her needs met will sometimes withdraw, not making a sound and appearing very passive. Far from being a good sign, passivity can be an indicator of a future life that is inclined towards depression, a victim mentality or even self-harm. On the other hand, a baby who cries noisily and often could just be a fighter who has instinctively learnt that getting attention requires a huge amount of noise and aggression. Violent criminals have been shown to have a high tolerance to their own stress hormones, which means that they resort to high risk-taking behaviour in order to experience what are, to most of us, only normal levels of stress. Those two examples merely show that one cannot easily judge how contented and secure a baby is by the amount of crying they do. In fact, the quality of attachment experienced by a baby is hard to measure, even for an experienced professional.
Shockingly, research shows that 40% of children in Britain are not securely attached by the age of one. Of course, that does not mean that they will all go on to have behavioural or relationship problems, because other life events will also play a key part, but it does mean that they will be less robust in their emotional make-up to meet the challenges and disappointments of life. They may also struggle as parents later in life to form strong attachments to their own babies, thus perpetuating the cycle of misery through generations.
I draw some conclusions from that. Poor attachment may well lie behind the UNICEF report that shows that British children are the unhappiest of those in the 21 countries in the developed world. Poor attachment might also account for our high teenage pregnancy rate, as mums who are themselves children are looking for love, and for our high divorce rate, with many adults being unable to form long-lasting relationships. Some of the statistics issued by the Office for National Statistics over the past decade show that almost 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression and that 95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder. All those facts point to the devastating consequences of poor early relationships.
Human misery is only one feature of insecure early attachment; there is also the vast financial impact on the public purse of dealing with its consequences. The charity, Railway Children, estimates that up to 100,000 children are at risk on the streets in the UK every year. Each looked-after child costs the taxpayer £347 a day, or £126,000 a year. Each adult prison inmate costs the taxpayer £112 a day, or £40,000 a year. Each person in acute psychiatric in-patient care costs the taxpayer £225 a day, or £82,000 a year. No assessment is available for how much of that expense is the direct consequence of poor attachment, but in the terrible case of baby Peter, I remember asking myself what mother could allow her boyfriend literally to torture her baby, unless she simply had no bond with him? What would have become of him had he lived to grow up with his appalling babyhood experiences?
Therefore, what can we do to promote better infant mental health? The astonishing thing is that if we tackle insecure attachment early enough, ideally before the baby is one, it can be turned around quickly, to the huge benefit of baby and carer, and to the public purse. I was chairman for nine years, and remain a trustee, of the Oxford Parent Infant Project, which is an Oxfordshire-wide charity providing specialist psychotherapeutic support for families struggling to bond with their babies. OXPIP has worked successfully with Oxfordshire social services, health visitors and GPs for 12 years. Highly trained parent-infant psychotherapists work with a carer, usually the mum, but sometimes the dad, grandparents or foster parents, to improve the quality of their relationship with the baby. It sounds incredibly simple, but it has dramatic consequences for the baby's lifelong mental health
The average cost of OXPIP-style intervention is £75 a week for each family, and in many cases 10 visits are enough to make a significant improvement in the quality of attachment and to set the family on a positive path. In other cases, families receive support for up to a year or more, at a cost of around £4,000. In a small number of cases, OXPIP provides expert evidence to the family courts when a baby is deemed to be at risk. OXPIP receives self-referrals from desperate parents and also sees clients referred by health visitors, GPs and social services. There is no doubt that it saves lives, and a fortune. The cost of helping a family for a year in that way is around £4,000, whereas keeping a child in care for a year costs £126,000.
I will finish with a specific call to action for the Government. I know that so much good work is being done already through the Centre for Social Justice and the review that the hon. Member for Nottingham North
(Mr Allen) is carrying out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. I pay tribute in particular to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) and the hon. Member for Nottingham North for their commitment to helping children have a better future. There is plenty more than can be done, costing little to the public purse but giving huge benefit to human happiness and the health of our society.
First, I would like the Government to reconsider the 15 hours of educational help for each disadvantaged two-year-old. Instead of money being spent on preparing the toddler for school, it should go to supporting the parent-baby relationship before the baby's first birthday if the home life is chaotic or frightening. Helping parents to support their baby is the best route to helping the most disadvantaged children in our society.
Secondly, I applaud the Government's decision to provide 4,200 new health visitors. They do such valuable work for families, but they receive little training in the critical importance of secure early attachment. I urge the Government to require every health visitor and social worker to be trained to understand and spot families at risk. OXPIP provides such training, and it is highly valued by the recipients.
Thirdly, there needs to be an opportunity for onward referral to specialists in parent-infant psychotherapy when a health visitor identifies a real need. I recognise that the budget to do this kind of work is not available right now, but I urge the Government to consider a pilot scheme, perhaps as a result of the review that the hon. Member for Nottingham North is doing, and proactively to seek the evidence that would prove the value of early years intervention.
I am hoping to establish a pilot parent-infant service in my constituency of South Northamptonshire, and I am confident that other pilots could be established and evaluated in children's centres around the country at a low price to the public purse. In fact, the director of children's services in Northamptonshire told me that, in a previous role, he was able to balance his children's services budget by focusing on early prevention. He was able to save on the budget for looked-after children and bring the cost of the entire service down by prevention. The impact on the public purse as well as on the human happiness of children is key.
Fourthly, where a baby spends more than a few hours a day in a child care environment, there should be protocols in the nursery that ensure that the attachment needs of the baby are addressed. They could include a far greater focus on the key worker relationship, so that one adult carer does all the intimate activities with the baby such as nappy changing, feeding, and morning and evening handover to the parents. There are plenty of opportunities to maximise the sensitivity of the child care environment to support the attachment needs of the baby.
Some nurseries and many child minders and nannies make the baby's emotional well-being a high priority. Some of them recognise the importance of what they do; for others, it is instinctive. One research establishment-again, in my county of Northamptonshire, the Penn Green nursery in Corby-is specifically researching the impact on the very young of life in a sensitive nursery. Such research could be used to develop protocols for all nurseries.
Fifthly, training in early attachment for child care workers is critical. The turnover of staff in nurseries is high, and often the staff are young and inexperienced. All those factors contribute to a greater risk of insensitive care in child care settings.
Sixthly, in the small percentage of cases where the family's life is chaotic, frightening and violent, and there are child abuse concerns, adoption should be swift, ideally before the baby's first birthday. I urge the Government to look again at the adoption legislation with a view to putting a greater focus on the attachment needs of the baby. Foster adopter arrangements, where foster parents may adopt the baby if things do not work out with the birth parents, offer much less risk to the baby in cases of doubt. The baby is able to form a bond with the foster parents, who may become the adoptive parents, and the birth parents until such time as a decision is taken in the baby's best interests. Research shows that the approach has been successful for the baby because the adults bear the risks rather than the baby.
By coincidence, the first time I spoke in the Palace of Westminster about infant mental health was in 2002, on the day that the Victoria Climbié report was issued. Today, almost nine years later, I am speaking on the day that a baby Peter report is coming out. Please, do not let it take another nine years for some real action to prevent the next appalling tragedy. Prevention is not just kinder: in these times of austerity, it is also much cheaper than cure.
Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I wish to make a brief contribution to this debate. We are all the product of many complex factors, and therefore we always have to keep an eye on the whole situation. Having said that, I have had a long-term interest in attachment theory. This shows my age: I still have the original John Bowlby book, which was part of my set reading, on my bookshelf. It became a little unpopular because the women's libbers of the 1970s were not too keen on the emphasis on mother staying at home, but it is interesting that attachment theory has come to the fore again. We see it in a much wider context, and we understand the point about primary and also secondary attachments. I would like to make a few points to the Minister.
Parts of what we are saying are so obvious when one starts playing with a baby, as the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) said. The Worldwide Alternatives to Violence Trust showed me a presentation of an adult ignoring a baby-it almost seemed cruel-and one saw how the baby switched off entirely, and how totally different the situation was when someone engaged with the baby. However unscientific that might seem, all my instincts say that we really must take that on board.
From that follows the importance of early intervention. I applaud the coalition Government for setting up the review. There has been a great deal of work showing right across the board that if we invest huge sums of money in early intervention, we will save in the long
run, but the decision was a brave one. It is important to have a formalised review and to plan how we go about early intervention.
I would like to focus on the whole-family approach because, as I said earlier, there are always so many complex factors that affect the life of a child. One might focus on parent or carer relationships with the child, but adult social services issues need to be addressed at the same time. A concern that I have expressed many times in speeches is that if we put the focus on children by splitting children's services away from adult social services, in some authorities-this is not the case in all authorities by any means-the whole-family approach can be lost. It is vital that we have back-up services to deal with the parent-child situation. Indeed, there could be information from adult social services, such as information that there was an addiction of some kind among the adults. There is a lot of wraparound there.
I wish to touch on situations where we have not picked up on problems-we have many of them to deal with at present-and on fostering and adoption. Throughout the many Committees on children's legislation that I have served on, I have been concerned that not enough attention has been given to delivering mental health services. In the last Children and Young Persons Bill, which dealt with looked-after children, I failed to get an amendment accepted on Report. We achieved a requirement for a mental health assessment of children who were to be fostered-that was important-but I could not get an amendment accepted that would have ensured that the necessary health care would follow. I was told that it was an education Bill, and we were talking about health money.
How can we bring all the services together for the child and the family? When we are picking up the pieces later on in life-at the point of fostering, when psychotherapy might be vital-how will we get funding if we are approaching the matter from within children's services? How will that all come together? In a recent case, problems began to escalate at school when the child of dedicated adoptive parents got to about 12. He felt totally bereft of support. It is interesting that any damage that happened early on may not manifest itself in an unmanageable way until quite a long way into the child's life. We need to be aware of that. Although we have moved on tremendously-I am proud to have played a part in the previous Government's legislation to tackle the situation of looked-after children-parents with adopted children need a lot of support. Legislation says that they should have immediate support, but they might need it quite a bit further down the line.
Looking at Sue Gerhardt's work, the one hopeful thing is that damage can be undone. It is obviously easier to tackle it early on, but with a lot of work, we can make things better for the children and young people who deserve our support so greatly.
All hon. Members will be concerned about the amount of resources in children's and adults' mental health services. I should be grateful if the Minister could assure us that these vital services will be protected. We could stray into all sorts of areas in which children need
support from their local child and adolescent mental health services; children with autism, for example, face long waiting lists. Parents of children with autism often say that they are talking to somebody in CAMHS who does not understand their needs fully. We need to give better support generally, across the board, and in particular, we need to do our utmost to improve CAMHS.
Dr John Pugh (Southport) (LD): It is a privilege to talk in the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. It is a tribute to your unswerving party loyalty over the years that you have got to your position.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on starting an important and significant debate. I think we would all agree that the human infant, as she has analysed, has definite needs that go beyond the basic biological necessities of food, water and shelter. The human infant requires emotional support and, as the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) have argued, an element of attachment-a mother or mother substitute-in the early stages to bond or imprint with. This is essential for wholesome psychological development.
The evidence for a child's emotional needs is strong. I am aware of an experiment conducted with primates, in which a young rhesus monkey was separated from its mother but given two alternative "wire" mothers-wire constructions. One was surrounded with soft cloth and the other had milk attached to it. The monkey's behaviour was interesting. It went to one mother for feeding, but after being fed it needed some comfort and went to the other mother and cuddled up close against it, requiring some tactile contact that was not strictly necessary in terms of its biological survival, but clearly deeply emotionally necessary. Some horrific but illuminating experiments have been done in this field. One recalls the behavioural psychologist, Watson, who endeavoured to bring up his child without any tactile direct contact but provided him with all the necessary immediate needs.
It is obvious that we have a raft of emotional needs over and above our ordinary biological needs. The lack of such contact-and the evidence about this lack-is always fairly apparent, showing itself in infants in rocking behaviour, attention-seeking, unresponsiveness and slow development. We also believe that we have discovered, in addition to these obvious symptoms of emotional deprivation and abuse, other effects that we would not have picked up without the benefit of modern science. For example, it has been argued that hormonal effects lead in turn to neurological effects, some of which are long term. Heightened aggression, for example, is suggested to be an outcome of poor attachment, and other social handicaps may ensue. The hon. Member for South Northamptonshire mentioned that psychopathy can be a consequence of severe lack of attachment.
The exact causal link between all these factors is not as clear as we would like to believe. In particular, ways of treating infants and neurological and behavioural outcomes are matters for debate. The evidence is complex and can be oversimplified; it has been contested in some areas and can be interpreted speculatively. We do not know enough about the effects of cortisol to be totally sure in this respect. We do not want to go down the
Watson behavioural route to sort this matter out, conducting horrible, elaborate experiments on infants to find out what bottom-line evidence we ought to rely on.
We must recognise that the emotional deprivation and abuse endured by people in infancy is also overlaid in time by subsequent social and cultural differences. That slightly clouds the picture as well, and makes it rather more difficult to establish the clear causal links that the hon. Lady implied existed. If people believe in free will, there is an element of individual mediation at the end of the day. Despite all this, it is not difficult to spot when a child is turning out underdeveloped, unhappy and antisocial. Even if we disagree, according to our different values, about what constitutes a truly well-adjusted child, we certainly know when we have a severely maladjusted child on our hands. It is impossible to dismiss the role of first experiences in constructing those outcomes-that has been established for some time.
It is easier to identify failure than absolute success. After all, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole suggested, none of us does a perfect job of bringing up our children. All children-all of us-are brought up by amateurs. People do not get a set of children to practise on first until they get good at it. One recalls a quote from Philip Larkin, which I will not use here because it contains unparliamentary language, about the effects of parents on one's general well-being. But it is still true that some people mismanage the process far more than others, even if none of us succeeds in getting it totally right. I recall Jack Dee's remark, questioning the point of having children, because they only grow up to be teenagers and slag you off at parties. There is an element of truth in that.
There is a social policy issue concerning how we reduce incompetence, especially the worst sorts of incompetence that lead to the catastrophic effects that the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire mentioned. It is important that we find out what the state can do to encourage success, given that most parents appreciate some guidance, having never done the job before, and crucial that we find out what the state needs to do to avoid catastrophic failure-as in the case of baby P and other cases we could specify-or general failure, if that is what is happening.
The hon. Lady suggested that there is a general failure in society and quoted UNICEF statistics. She suggested that, collectively as a society-as a social group-we have something to learn. In a sense, that is what the debate on child care in the first two or three years in life has been about. There has been strenuous and long-standing debate about the conflict between the role of the mother as breadwinner and home-maker; about whether the social gains of early interaction in a nursery or child care environment are offset by emotional security; about whether encouragement to return to work is encouragement to short-change one's child; and about whether the high percentage of nursery and child-minded children in our society correlate in an interesting way with levels of general child happiness. I will pass over that debate and leave it to hon. Members around me who are more expert than me, but I want to make two observations.
It is hard to generalise in this matter. I have two grandchildren. One took to everyone in the family very early and is very social, at home with other children,
confident and assured, and I had a close relationship with the child from an early age. The other granddaughter has only just convinced herself that I am not an ogre. For the first few months of her life, she clung to her mother in a way that the first child did not. Not all children are the same, and not all homes are the same, so the consequences of keeping children at home with mum differ depending on whether the mother is middle-class and has lots of books and blocks and things, or is a heroin addict.
I do not want to embroil myself in a matter in which I have no expertise-whether the recommended techniques for dealing with babies in the early stages are correct. I do not want to get into the routine versus emotional spontaneity debate, about which there is plenty of literature that is scoured by many young mums as they take their first steps. However, the fame of experts in that field is usually in direct proportion to their tendency to challenge common sense. Books do not sell if they suggest something that is part of motherhood and apple pie, and has been well understood for years.
My fundamental point is that parenting is an art, albeit a rough art, that in some homes goes disastrously and persistently wrong. I had a chilling experience recently on a train. A young child of perhaps three or younger was being controlled by what seemed to be her grandmother. The child responded by producing expletives, which would have been a disgrace even in a football ground. The grandmother responded by saying things such as, "Please stop that because the man doesn't like it." The child showed the classic symptoms of one who has been brought up in the wrong environment with the wrong cues and has been given the wrong sort of discipline. It struck me as a disastrous way of carrying on.
When one witnesses such incidents, which are repeated in many places, and recognises the terrible consequences for the individual and their emotional stability, and the huge collateral damage for society, one starts seriously to think about what society can do to support parenting in general and to support such parents who, for whatever reason-it may not be their fault-are not making a good fist of it. Should good parenting be taught in children's centres? I certainly believe so. Do we need more health visitors? I certainly believe that we do. Do we need to build the skills of often damaged people? I certainly believe that we do.
One hugely overlooked dimension is that we simply do not do enough in schools to inculcate good parenting, or do what we can to get across to young people who are coming up to being parents how parenting sometimes works and sometimes does not.
Annette Brooke: My hon. Friend is making some important points. Does he share my vision that it should be considered normal to have parenting classes, and not a reflection on someone's inability to do something? If someone has a perpetual headache, they go to their doctor, and if they have a perpetual difficulty with a baby or toddler, it should be the norm for them to seek assistance. My ideal is to reach the cultural perspective that seeking help is the thing to do. We would then be able to move forward.
Dr Pugh: Yes, that is an important and valuable suggestion. I am trying to say that we should take pre-emptive action to encourage people to think about parenting and what goes wrong at a time when parents are thinking about all the other important issues of life. There is a lot of good practice on such subjects in personal, social and health education in schools, but the people who are pointed in that direction and encouraged to treat that area of the curriculum seriously tend to be not the most academically high-flying, and tend to be female. There tends to be an exemption for people who have better things to do, but there can be few better things to do than to teach generations to come how better to bring up their children. That can only add value to society as a whole, and happiness to people's life.
One may waffle on about academies and put money into the pupil premium, but the biggest indicator and determinant of success in the education system and therefore in life is a strong, supportive home in which good parenting is attempted. We are inclined to pay lip service to that and do not spend sufficient time on it. We tend to spend more time thinking about other things such the bias with which history is taught.
Andrea Leadsom: On the importance of a supportive family for education outcomes, does my hon. Friend agree that there is a lot of talk about intervening at all levels and all ages, but a supportive family either develops very early or not at all? That is why I focus on the under-twos. That is the point when lifelong good relationships can be set up between family and baby. It is much more difficult to put things right with later intervention.
Dr Pugh: I thoroughly agree, and that bears out the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole about the family approach. The arrival of children often puts a strain on relationships and finances, and creates a series of difficulties for couples, which may have severe ramifications. I have attended Home Start events in my constituency at which mothers testified to the initial difficulties and isolation when they became mothers, and the support that they needed. In the past, that might have been provided in the neighbourhood or by an extended family, but is no longer there for many people, who need to be able to plug into facilities and groups-charitable, voluntary, social enterprise and so on-for help with their difficult job. Society must ensure that that help exists because we all recognise the importance of parenting.
One reason for the restraint in our support for teaching parenting is the liberal angst about being too prescriptive in our society, but we must get over that. We must prioritise parenting and invest in it. We must insist on its being taught in schools, and we must assess secondary schools on how well they do that, not only with girls but with boys. Every child in every school is likely to become a parent at some time. Some will do that well and some will do it badly, but unfortunately some will begin without the faintest inkling of what to do and without the experience of a good example, or even the awareness that getting it right matters.
None of us can ultimately escape the inevitable guilt that parents feel about not having been a better parent, but we must not let people go out into the world
without knowing what they should do or, worse, not caring whether they do it well or badly. The fundamental point made by the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire was that early years and early months are crucial determinants of someone's fundamental personality. Freud also made that point, and even said that how someone is born matters. I must declare an interest. I was born easily and during a good summer, and I was a contented baby, which is probably why I became a Liberal Democrat.
Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on the great passion, and knowledge of the subject, that she has shown us all today, and on securing this debate. I pass on my best wishes to OXPIP-the Oxford Parent Infant Project-for its good work. I hope that it will continue to go from strength to strength. I am today also speaking as a mother of three, and as the former chair of the all-party group on maternity. I have listened with great interest to the debate and to the thoughtful contributions from the hon. Members for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), and for Southport (Dr Pugh). At times, I thought that I must have strayed into the House of Lords, given the level of expertise that we have heard.
I do not agree with some of the points raised. I do not agree that all parents are amateurs; I believe that the vast majority of parents are experts, but only in their own children. Of course, there are some catastrophic failures, but I believe nevertheless that it is important for parents to develop confidence in their ability to look after their child. I remember beginning parenting with an understanding that I needed to love the child, but with little further understanding. I still remember holding a copy of a book by Penelope Leach in one hand, the baby in the other hand, and looking up how to hold the baby. One struggles on, and that did not make me any less of a mother. I learned quickly on the job and was committed to it. I quickly became an expert, to such an extent that I remember showing off to my mother because my baby did not have a bald patch on the back of his head. My mother pointed out that that was because I had never put him down. Perhaps that was my own version of the application of the attachment theory.
The importance of the attachment between parents-or an adult-and a child in the first two years of life has been greatly highlighted by child psychotherapists. Those years are when the prefrontal cortex develops, which brings awareness of our emotions and those of the people around us. The infant mind is not born, but builds like a muscle over the first two years in response to parental attention and attachment. That theory has been around for some time. Attachment is considered to be a bond that develops from a child's need for safety, security and protection. Positive attachment experiences stimulate feel-good chemicals and help build pathways in the brain that support the development of higher-level functioning and help with things such as attention, memory and impulse control. Missing attachment can give a sense of insecurity, suppress neural development and stimulate stress hormones in the brain. The weight of research has been brought to the attention of policy makers and the public by people such as Sue Gerhardt,
who founded OXPIP, and who has built consensus for the view that we must focus on intervening earlier than we had thought.
The importance of early intervention was recognised by the Department for Children, Schools and Families in its report, "Early intervention: Securing good outcomes for all children and young people", which made a strong case for expanding early intervention policies. According to the Prime Minister, the new Government will be the most family-friendly ever, so perhaps expectations are high that increased support will be available to new parents. Unfortunately, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out, families with children seem to be the biggest losers in the comprehensive spending review.
The fierce debate about the long-term detrimental effects, or not, of day care has been fuelled by superficial and irresponsible reporting in the media. The question is whether the day care is good day care. What plans do the Government have to ensure that day care remains of a high quality, so that those parents who choose to put their child into day care do so in a way that benefits the child and assists in their development?
As highlighted today, maternal depression is an important issue. Under the previous Government, there was the introduction and great expansion of psychological therapies. Do the Government have any plans to target new mothers who have post-natal depression? There is also the problem of parents and substance misuse.
Another policy issue that has been raised is that of health visitors. I welcome the Government's announcement that the number of health visitors will increase by 4,200. They will give support and encouragement to new parents, which, from my own memories, is invaluable. When will those new health visitors be in place? Will they receive specific training in mental health, and if so, what sort of training? Where will the funding come from? I understand that it is likely to come from Sure Start, and although the Government have said that Sure Start is safe in cash terms, if a large amount of money is taken out to pay for health visitors, how much will Sure Start be short?
Sure Start has an important role in bringing together cross-disciplinary services and providing an atmosphere of trust. In areas such as my constituency of Islington, Sure Start services are interesting because we have the very rich living next door to the very poor. If the Government's new policy is to target Sure Start services on the poor, the concern is that there could be some form of stigma attached to getting involved in Sure Start.
Alison Ruddock, the head of Islington's early years programme, fears that Government plans could set such services back 20 years in a borough such as mine, which ranks as the sixth most deprived in the country, despite there also being great wealth in it. She says:
"The fact that we have a mixed population is hugely to our advantage...We haven't got rich centres and sink centres. So the most disadvantaged children are shoulder to shoulder with the most advantaged. If you have a service for poor children, it's very difficult to prevent that from becoming a poor service."
If one says to a parent, "There's a stay-and-play centre on your estate; it's really fun, why don't you come?", they will often say yes. However, if one says, "Let's sit down and fill in a massive form, and you can tell me all your problems," the parent is likely to say no. The
problem will be the effectiveness of Sure Start, which over the past few years, as far as we are aware, has given huge support to parents.
Action for Children estimates that for every £1 of public money spent on Sure Start, we save £4.60 in the long term. Ofsted only began inspecting Sure Start in April, and it may be too early to judge matters technically. However, in our heart of hearts we know that Sure Start has been a good policy lever. If it is to be changed, we must be confident that it will not be undermined. I understand that there will be early intervention grants. Can the Minister provide any further details about those? I am sure that she has heard concerns from councils that that might not be enough, and that early intervention projects might close, as opposed to expanding.
I would also like to highlight the issue of GPs. Although health visitors are important for new mothers, GPs are important, too. However, up to half of GPs have no formal training in paediatrics and child care, despite a quarter of their patients being children. In many terrible tragedies, some of which have been mentioned today, we see an involvement of GPs that has simply not been up to the mark. I echo the question from the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole about whether the Minister can provide an assurance that funding for child and adolescent mental health services will not be cut. If the Government go ahead with the proposed abolition of primary care trusts, will they have the policy handles to ensure that such vital services are not cut?
I conclude by congratulating the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire on raising this issue. The quality of the debate this morning has been high, and it is a great shame that there are not more people in the Chamber to contribute to it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anne Milton): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone, which I have not done before. I start by echoing the comments by the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry): it is a shame that more people do not listen to some of these debates. This debate has been of a high quality and is particularly poignant in that the serious case review on baby Peter is published today. Perhaps somewhere out there a member of the press will pick up on it, and realise that hon. Members across the House from all political parties are working together, to a large extent outside party political lines, to ensure that we get this issue right for families.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on securing this important debate on a subject that is almost fundamental to everything else that we do. I am aware that she has maintained an active interest in infant mental health for a number of years as the former chairman and trustee of the Oxford Parent Infant Project. Its work was rightly recognised earlier this year when it was one of five winners of a national award from the Centre for Social Justice. I congratulate it on that; it is good to see its invaluable work recognised in that way.
My hon. Friend described with some clarity the significant impact of early parenting, the huge challenges that exist for some families, and the problems that ensue from poor parenting that falls short of the therapeutic, loving and securing attachment that children so desperately need. She mentioned the UNICEF report that cited us as the lowest of 25 industrialised countries. It is shocking that we are at the bottom of that table for the well-being and mental health of our children. She highlighted the fact that there is not one best route to get this right. The hon. Member for Southport (Dr Pugh) also talked about it. A huge variety of support is needed if we are not to lose people in the gaps. It is vital that we approach the matter from a multifaceted direction.
Early years intervention is being actively examined by the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather). We are working closely together. I have been hugely impressed by the work that we have achieved to date and the work that is ongoing. There is no doubt that we will not achieve what we want if we come at the issue from different silos of Government Departments. My hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire is right to cite the growing evidence for what interventions work and to refer to fostering, looked-after children, adoption and a number of other issues on which I can assure her that I am working and will continue to work with other Departments.
There is increasing evidence about the importance of early life and warm parenting. An infant's early experiences have a long-lasting impact on their future health, relationships and happiness. There are also important intergenerational effects. Warm, positive parenting and a strong bond between a mother and baby, as well as the father, lay the foundation for health and happiness throughout life.
I am a mother of four children, aged from 26 to 14. I feel like getting out my 26-year-old from a cupboard and saying, "This is one I prepared earlier," to demonstrate to those who are struggling through the teenage years with their children that it does all turn out right in the end. However, parenting, from whatever background we come, is a challenge. I found it challenging. Even though we might not be in quite the situation that other parents are-we might be better resourced; we might have more money and be in better housing-all of us, in our lives as parents, have had a taste of the tensions and stresses that people feel, and can only imagine what things might be like if we did not have adequate housing and were living with three children in a one-bedroom flat.
The Government are determined to ensure that all families have the right support at the start of life. Health visitors are central to that by providing advice and support through pregnancy, after birth and through the pre-school years, supporting healthy child development and promoting parent-child attachment and positive parenting models. It was a pleasure for me to talk at the health visitors conference last week and re-emphasise our support for health visitors. We want more people in the profession and more people back in the profession to ensure that we have that universal visiting service. That is why, as my hon. Friend will be aware and as hon. Members mentioned, we are investing in 4,200 new health visitors by the end of this Parliament. That is an ambitious target, but we will do everything, pull out all
the stops, to ensure that we achieve it. In last week's spending review, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer confirmed that the money is there to recruit and train those health visitors.
We also have the healthy child programme to provide the opportunity for health professionals to identify where additional parenting support is needed. Leading and delivering the healthy child programme, health visitors are well placed to identify those families, give them extra support and help them to access more specialised services. We have seen quite a significant decline in the number of health visitors, from just over 13,000 in 2004 to just over 10,000 in 2010, at a time when the birth rate is increasing, and we need to turn that round. The message must go out loud and clear to health visitors: "We want you, we need you and parents and the future generation need you."
The chief nursing officer is working with the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association to define what makes a modern health visitor. The hon. Members for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) and for Islington South and Finsbury mentioned training and whether there is adequate training on things such as mental health issues. It is extremely important that we get that right. The service model that has been built makes clear the value of health visitors and the contribution that they make to better family and community health. Next year we shall move on to a national recruitment drive for health visitors, and we are working on better training options for returners and new recruits, so that a bit more flexibility can be built in to attract people into the profession.
I want to say a few words about family-nurse partnerships for the more vulnerable. The family-nurse partnership is a preventive, intensive programme for first-time teenage parents and their babies, whose outcomes are not good and fall well below those for other parents. Specially trained nurses work with girls from early in pregnancy until their children are two, giving them support to help them to adopt healthier lifestyles, provide good care for their babies and plan their future life goals. Following the spending review, we shall be extending the family-nurse partnership programme, so alongside the support that health visitors will offer for all families, there will be increased access to the highly targeted, highly specialised support that the most vulnerable families need. We shall set out our plans for that shortly.
The outcomes from family-nurse partnerships are very significant. Over the past 30 years, the evidence in the US has shown that family-nurse partnership children have better health development and better educational achievement and are less likely to be abused, neglected or involved in crime. Cost savings are also substantial. Early evidence in the UK is very promising. Family-nurse partnerships successfully engage disadvantaged young parents, including fathers; 87% of those offered a family-nurse partnership take up that offer, so they are significant.
There are many examples of mental health services for infants being improved. A number of regions have set up perinatal and infant mental health networks to encourage partnership working and the sharing of good practice. Volunteers from the charity Home-Start do valuable work in increasing the confidence and independence of families by visiting families in their own homes to offer support, friendship and practical
assistance and by reassuring parents that their child care problems are not unusual or unique. My goodness, I could have done with someone from Home-Start myself. We believe that we are the only person going through what can feel like a rather traumatic experience. Those volunteers also encourage parents' strengths and emotional well-being for the ultimate benefit of their children and try to get the fun back into family life.
Annette Brooke: I declare an interest in the point that I am about to make. Along with many other voluntary groups, organisations such as Home-Start are very concerned about their funding. I am a patron of my local Home-Start, and already there has been a cut. I ask the Minister to do everything that she can to support the vital work by the voluntary sector, because, as we all know, it can get into places that the statutory services cannot.
Anne Milton: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She took the words out of my mouth: I, too, must declare an interest as a patron of my local Home-Start. The important message to councils is that when funding is tight, they should think about what works, and as is always the case with the voluntary sector, £1 of taxpayers' money buys significantly more than £1-worth of care and services. Councils need to think imaginatively about how they spend their money and how they get good value for money. That often involves looking to organisations such as Home-Start. It can be extraordinarily short-sighted to cut back on such schemes at a time when they offer much better value for money than can be had almost anywhere else.
There is no doubt that the need for early intervention has been recognised by us all. The hon. Lady rightly pointed out in her speech the huge variety of reasons why we end up in life where we do. I, too, must admit to having been a mother of the Penelope Leach generation, holding baby in one hand and my Penelope Leach book in the other and trying to look up what exactly parents do at 4 o'clock in the morning when their child will not go to sleep. Having been a chairman of the Hackney and Islington branch of the National Childbirth Trust, I must also admit to having been influenced by the likes of Sheila Kitzinger and Susie Orbach, who added to my knowledge base. Some of Susie Orbach's words might still haunt me now, as my daughter approaches the age of 17 and I wonder what sort of effect I have had on her.
The hon. Lady emphasised the point about the nonsense of seeing, say, the fostering of looked-after children through the eyes of one Department. Clearly, that is nonsense-we have to look at it across the board.
I can give the assurance that mental health remains a priority. The Department is working closely with stakeholders to put together a mental health strategy-a child and adolescent mental health services stakeholder event was held earlier this year-and the mental health strategy will take a life course approach. I am determined, and I know that the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), who has responsibility in the Department, is determined that we have a mental health outcomes framework that sits alongside physical health outcomes. For too long we have concentrated on physical health, to the detriment of mental health.
The hon. Member for Southport went into some detail about the research, especially the problems with causality and, probably, the need for Governments to take account of continuing research that emerges, to see if we can better define why we are as we are. He is right that we do not do enough to talk about and inculcate parenting in school life and in the upbringing of our children. He is also right to highlight that one of the biggest determinants of educational outcomes is within the family.
In 2008, the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), now the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions-to whom my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire paid tribute-published "Early Intervention: Good Parents, Great Kids, Better Citizens", which devoted a chapter to the importance of nought to three-year-olds and parental early intervention.
In July this year, the hon. Gentleman was asked by the Government to conduct an independent review of early intervention delivery. The review will focus on three key things: the identification of early intervention best practice, which goes back to the point about research; how we spread best practice, so we do not see the rather patchy outlook that we have at the moment; and new ways to fund early intervention in the future. What is impressive, and what we have seen again this morning, is the cross-party approach that has been adopted.
The Government have a role to play, but we all know that the first place that people turn to for help and advice is often their family and friends. We should not forget that. So, it is the individuals and organisations rooted in the community that can often have the greatest influence and impact, including local community groups, the voluntary sector and Sure Start centres.
Health visitors, as public health professionals working with families, are uniquely placed to bring people together across local communities to drive change on the problems that families face. As the health-visiting work force grows, there will be more opportunity for them to develop that wider role. We will provide support through a new training programme for health visitors, to be launched next year, to refresh and extend their community health skills.
The hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury raised a number of issues. I hope that I have got them all down. I would like to touch on them before I conclude. We need to remember in so much of what we do that the issue is not necessarily about the quantity of money but how we spend it. We have an imperative to spend it more wisely than ever before, but the quality of what we get out of it is what matters, not necessarily the sum that goes in.
The hon. Lady rightly mentioned the importance of day care and the need for it to be of a high quality. It is not about whether parents stay at home or work, nor is it about making value judgments on how people live their lives. It is about providing a framework in which parents and children can thrive. Sure Start health visitors and the need for good-quality mental health awareness and intervention are crucial, and increasingly so. If one in four of us suffers from a mental health problem, we are looking at similar statistics among parents. The hon. Lady is right that universality is important-on stigma and access.
I must also point out that massive forms have been a feature of past Governments. They are always a feature of anyone trying to be a gatekeeper to scarce resources and are rarely effective. The Government are determined to banish them. The hon. Lady also mentioned early intervention grants. I can assure her that I met to discuss the matter with the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central, only yesterday. We are looking at it.
I have responsibility for public health, so I sit on a number of committees-a very large number-which is useful. I am in a group on families which the Prime Minister set up and a number of inter-ministerial groups, including the Cabinet Social Justice Committee. The same theme runs through all those areas-we have got to get this right, we have got to get the money focused in the right areas and we have got to get the money focused on areas giving us good outcomes.
In conclusion, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire for securing the debate. She made a number of important points about the mental health of infants. I hope that the NHS White Paper gives us a chance to refocus on achieving better results for them. The public health White Paper, which will be published later this year, will build on that. We also need an outcomes framework that will be a central driver of improvement, ensuring that the NHS treats the person as a whole-holistically-and not the disease.
Meeting parents' needs effectively depends on good local partnerships. Groups such as the Oxford Parent Infant Project are a good example of that. I am keen on a strong dialogue with the voluntary sector. Indeed, the White Paper is all about opening the door to such organisations. By working together in that way, we can do much better for the mental health of our infants, families and communities. We have a duty to secure the future generation of parents.
Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): It is a pleasure to take part in my first Westminster Hall debate under your stewardship, Mr Bone. I proposed the debate quite simply because no other issue is as important to me or the more than 75,000 people I represent. When the pits were closed, Wigan was devastated by not only the job losses, but the unprecedented collapse of a way of life, which pulled the borough's economic base from under it. The scars of that legacy remain to this day.
As a new Member, I am acutely aware that many colleagues have fought for many years to provide hope for communities such as mine across the country. I pay particular tribute to the work of my hon. Friends the Members for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) and for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and, of course, the former Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone. It is perhaps a tribute to the strength of feeling in the House that so many hon. Members are here today. When I was granted this debate, my office was flooded with e-mails from colleagues across the House, who said, "I've no idea who you are, but I'm glad you're taking an interest in this." On a serious note, that shows how many of us care passionately about this issue.
I hope that the Minister will take note of the concern not only in this place, but among councils, businesses and community groups, which will be watching developments closely and waiting for his response to the Clapham report. In light of the strength of feeling, I would be grateful for a commitment from him that hon. Members will be the first to hear the Government's response to the report. I would also be grateful for a commitment today that he will make an oral statement to the House when a decision is reached.
We are of one mind that the coal fields remain unique in terms of the deliberate destruction of the industry that underpinned them, the scale of job losses and the associated economic devastation. They were also unique in their reliance on a single industry to provide not only jobs, but housing and the social life that underpinned communities.
At its height, my town of Wigan had more than 1,000 pit shafts within five miles of the town centre. Although I am proud of that legacy, the health legacies remain in Wigan to this day. People in my constituency get sick earlier and die younger. There are great disparities in life expectancy between different communities in my constituency. Too many people are still in low-paid work and are therefore extremely vulnerable at this difficult economic time.
Thanks to the work of my local council, we have not suffered the high levels of youth unemployment that many of my colleagues have experienced in their areas, but too many remarkable young people have expectations of life and of what they can achieve that are far too low given their talent and ability. With the package of measures announced in the Budget and the spending review, such as the abolition of the future jobs fund, I
am concerned that those young people will be more vulnerable than ever. At a time such as this, it is more important than ever that we continue the work that we started in late '90s to support communities such as mine; otherwise, we will condemn another generation to the waste of the '80s and '90s.
The Coalfields Regeneration Trust and the coalfields regeneration programme were more than just an initiative; they were a covenant between a Government and a series of communities that had been left to suffer so much. In making that offer, the Government were telling people, "We will support you because you deserve our support." The trust and the programme have played a really important role in the progress made in Wigan and elsewhere. The gap between Wigan and elsewhere has narrowed over the past decade, and the same is true in other areas. Lives and communities have literally been transformed.
The trust understands the unique challenges and the social character of ex-coal field communities. As a result, I have seen for myself how it does things that other public agencies simply cannot do. In Wigan, for example, I have seen how it has boosted skills and confidence, enabling people to have the basic confidence they need to reintegrate into society and find employment.
Thanks to a relatively small level of investment, more people in my constituency can use the internet; more people have been helped to set up small businesses-something that they never would have conceived they could do several years ago; and more people are running self-sustaining sports and swimming clubs, which bring huge value to the community. It gives me great pleasure to remind hon. Members how much better at sport Wiganers are than most others. However, I am also delighted that the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and Wigan council have recognised how important sport is to our community, and that programmes that have helped to rebuild confidence and combat social isolation have been built around the sport that acts like a social glue in the community.
My constituency is similar to those of other hon. Members present for the debate, in that we have the twin challenges of inner-city deprivation and rural isolation. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust is uniquely placed to understand how to tackle those two factors. I am delighted that the Government have placed on record, in their initial response to the Clapham report, their understanding of the importance of a localised approach, and of local authorities in delivering the programme. Mick Clapham is clear in his view that there is still significant work to do and that there have been some limitations to the approach that has been taken thus far. It is important to recognise that and to look closely at his recommendations.
In discussing the issue with my hon. Friends in the past months I have found a strong recognition of the fact that at the outset, the previous Government were not fully aware of how long it takes to restore a community, socially, economically and physically, when it has suffered such unprecedented devastation. However, the review makes it clear that the unique character of the coalfields remains and that there is an important continuing role for the trust and the programme. I know that the Minister understands that, because he said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne on 19 July that there were
"no plans to dismantle the programme."-[Official Report, 19 July 2010; Vol. 514, c. 151.]
I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed that that is still his view. I would also be grateful if he told us when he will make a decision regarding both the programme and the trust, and when an official response will be made to the Clapham report. He will be aware that local authorities such as mine are having to make difficult decisions about their budgets in the light of the spending review, which has cut funding to local authorities by up to a third. Certainty about the programme is obviously of the utmost urgency to those authorities, so I should be grateful if the Minister shed some light on the matter.
I know how many colleagues want to speak this morning, and I want to end on this note: the Budget and the spending review have hit my constituency disproportionately hard. I have been flooded with letters from young people who are desperately concerned about their future, because of the demise of the future jobs fund, restrictions on the education maintenance allowance and proposals to raise tuition fees. I have been contacted by older people who lost their jobs and homes the last time the Conservatives were in government, and who do not think they can survive it again. I have also been contacted by many people who work for or run small businesses, who are desperately concerned about who will lend to them and support them now the regional development agencies have been abolished. Continuing to provide support to communities such as mine is both a duty and a lifeline. I know that the Minister is a reasonable man and I hope that today he will give the people I represent hope for the future.
Mr Peter Bone (in the Chair): Order. It is great to see that so many hon. Members are here, but the winding-up speeches will start at about 10 past 12. Perhaps hon. Members could keep their speeches to an appropriate length.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Welcome to the Chair, Mr Bone. I am sure that you will keep us all in order and make sure that there will be an opportunity to press the case for every single coalfield community that is represented here, and that the Minister will have ample time to reply; then perhaps we can go away with a little hope in our hearts that the coalition Government are really listening to what coalfield communities need.
I shall try to be brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on raising the issue, and giving us the opportunity to have the debate. She made the point that no one really understood how long it would take to put the life back into our scarred coalfield communities. Sometimes in this place it feels as if we are doing things for our children, but it is actually for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The coalfield community programme that the previous Government set up took a long time to establish. A lot of work was done through English Partnerships, and the then Deputy Prime Minister made sure that there was a programme that could bring the former coalfields back to life. It took a long time, and when it was finally set up and we had the wonderful work of the Coalfields
Regeneration Trust and the coalfield community programme bringing investment to our areas, and funding was secured, it made a difference.
Really, however, that was just the very beginning, and parts of the former coalfield communities, such as my own in north Staffordshire, were very slow off the mark, for all kinds of good reasons. We did not have the capacity to make the applications in the first place to the coalfield programme. Consequently a lot of work had to be done to encourage residents' associations and local partners to make applications. I thank the Coalfields Regeneration Trust for the work that was done towards the end of the programme. However, in Stoke-on-Trent we are only just beginning to reap the benefits of the coalfield programme, and much work is undone in relation to grants to local organisations and partners. For that reason I want the programme to be continued so that priority is given to the worst-scarred areas.
The other side of the coin is that, as well as the grant made by the CRT, a huge amount of money was provided from what was originally English Partnerships and then through the Homes and Communities Agency. I want briefly to mention the work that is already going on in the north Staffordshire coalfield, on the Chatterley Whitfield site. Chatterley Whitfield was a Victorian colliery and the first in the country to produce more than 1 million tonnes of coal a year. It was part of the industrial revolution. However, since the pit closed there has been little replacement work in the area. With the help of the coalfield programme we have a long-term vision for restoring the site. I am pleased to say that with the help of £15 million I opened, only this Saturday, the land remediation that has resulted in a huge countryside park for local people.
The next important step is investment in job creation on that site. I fail to see how that money can be made available without a targeted approach to former coalfield communities such as mine. Yes, what happens must be recognised as part of the local enterprise partnerships, which the Government will, I hope, agree for areas such as my constituency, but I believe that the continuation of the funding for coalfield areas is so important that we must not lose sight of it. I hope that we are sending the Government a clear message that we want the Minister to sit down with all MPs who represent the areas in question, to make sure that the funding that was put in place can, despite everything, continue in a meaningful way.
Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con):
I do not know whether I am unique among Conservative Members in this regard, but I still have a working coal mine in my constituency, at Thoresby. It is a very efficient coal mine. Welbeck, which was just outside my constituency, has just been lost. I think that Sherwood lost more coal mines than most other constituencies. There were nine active coal mines, if one goes back 20 years, and eight of those have disappeared, which left the constituency with enormous challenges in certain places. I wanted to take the opportunity to tell hon. Members how we dealt with that-to talk about some of the good things that were done, and some of the poor things-and to say how the Coalfields Regeneration Trust assisted in some areas, but did not work in others. Unless a person lives
in a constituency with those challenges, they will not comprehend how big they are. We need, across the parties, to ensure that that message gets across.
One way in which we went wrong was in concentrating on physically restoring some of those areas. Frankly, we spent a lot of money on grass seed and trees, and on renovating spoil tips and pitheads, instead of concentrating on generating jobs. Fundamentally, this is about jobs. If young men leave secondary school and do not have jobs to go to, it has an enormous social impact, and it happens because we have not concentrated enough on generating sufficient employment in such areas.
I point to several mistakes that were made in Sherwood. The Ollerton energy village was an industrial area designed to create employment, but it turned out to be a large industrial development that was successful only in relocating jobs from one part of my constituency to another. It did not generate a single new job for my constituents; all it did was move those jobs around the county. We need to think much more strategically about the type of employment that we generate.
We have also rebuilt village halls, scout huts and other such things, which are fantastic for the community. However, if a son says to his father, "Dad, I want to go to Cubs and to Scouts, and to go to the Scout camp," the father cannot facilitate that unless he has a job. However, if the father was well employed and his son said, "Dad, can you help us raise some money to rebuild the Scout hut?", he would be in a much better position.
I compare the two ends of my constituency, and the villages of Ollerton and Calverton. Calverton is much closer to Nottingham city centre; it has good public links, and young people are able to get from the village to their employment. The hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) referred to inspiration and aspiration. Fundamental to the debate is how we give young people leaving school the aspiration and inspiration to go for full-time employment.
Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for initiating this debate. I support the recommendations of the coalfields regeneration review, particularly on the Coalfields Regeneration Trust in Wales, Scotland and England.
Blaenau Gwent is a coalfield area. Many members of my family have worked in the pits. My grandfather was a miner, as were three uncles on my mum's side. Blaenau Gwent has come on by leaps and bounds in recent years. We have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. Our coal tips have been regenerated to wonderful effect. Tredegar, my home town, has a wonderful leisure area in Bryn Bach park; it has a lake and there is camping and golfing.
Former miners and their families have been retrained, including members of my family, and have gone on to get good jobs. In recent times, there have been wonderful community art initiatives, including the Six Bells memorial, which commemorates those who died in the mining disaster of 1960. However, much more needs to be done, particularly at the old steelworks in Ebbw Vale, which requires further investment. Plans are in hand for a new learning campus, a new theatre, housing and a
hospital, named after Nye Bevan, on old industrial land. However, unemployment is still at 10%, and many people still die too early.
Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing this debate at a very important time; we are in the aftermath of the comprehensive spending review, and the future of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust is under review.
I represent the seat of Easington, which comprises a series of small villages and two large towns. As with Sherwood, mining was the principal industry there. We lost all our coal mines 20 years ago. The town of Seaham, where I live, had 3,500 working miners, and unless one lives in that kind of environment, it is difficult to comprehend the scale of the pit closures. The communities that constitute Easington were formed around the coal mines, which were sunk at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.
The communities that I represent owe their existence to the mining industry, which sustained Britain's economic wealth, powered the country through two world wars, and created the energy with which the industrialisation of Britain took place. Easington and the Durham coalfields provided the coal that powered the nation; in the aftermath of the pit closure programme, I believe that the nation owes Easington and the other coalfield communities a debt of honour.
However, in our community, as in so many other proud coalmining communities, that mining legacy has been wiped away by a determined adversary. The communities that developed around the pits witnessed, and experienced at first hand, how easily the employment and social welfare that characterised our coal mining communities could be wiped away; furthermore, they witnessed the fact that support for a new economic foundation would not be supported by the Government.
No single industry could step in to replace coal mining, and support for the diversification of the local economy-vital in areas such as mine-was not forthcoming for many years. The unique challenges for former coal mining communities are as important today as they should have been at the time of the mass closure of the coal mines. It is essential to recognise the need for Government support in the transition from a wholly dominant economic sector to a local economy that is more diverse and that supports small businesses and large, new industries.
Building a modern infrastructure and laying the foundations for new industries, particularly new green industries, as well as supporting social and community development and the growth of small businesses and entrepreneurship, will bring about prosperity. Deprived areas, such as east Durham, which I represent, still desperately need an awful lot of work. The unique character and the various complexities of the challenges faced by coalfield communities require a unique and multifaceted response from the Government. The previous Government recognised that fact through their distinctive coalfield regeneration programmes. I echo the sentiments
expressed by others today, including by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan, in paying tribute to the excellent work done by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.
The public sector is one of the largest employers in my community and many other coal mining communities, and is the provider of key services for people in them, but it is again under attack. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan referred to the loss of the future jobs fund and the impact that that would have. She also spoke of the impact of cuts in local government budgets. Many of the lifelines given to my region by the last Government are being taken away. We have lost our Minister for the North East, who did an excellent job in attracting investment to Easington and other constituencies in the north-east. We have also lost the Government office for the north-east and our regional development agency, One NorthEast.
Although the review of coalfields regeneration found that the state of coalfield areas was improved when compared to a decade ago, it outlined the continuing need for social change. I hope that the Government understand the key challenges. Coalfield areas suffer due to the ill health of older generations-ill health caused by former working conditions. The situation is exacerbated by the ill health of the younger generations due to poor employment opportunities and the low expectations that result from their marginalisation in the active labour market. The Government must not set their sights on penalising the older generation, who, not unexpectedly, are suffering from disabilities. It would be eminently more sensible to put Government support into creating opportunities for work; that could prevent the next generation from falling into a cycle of economic inactivity, and eventual disability and incapacity.
I briefly want to outline some of the specific benefits that the CRT has brought to my constituency, including the support that it has provided to particular projects. In the small village of Murton, the Murton Welfare Association manages the Murton Miners Welfare Institute and Recreation Ground charity. It maintains the sports fields, cricket pitches and pavilion at the welfare park on behalf of several local sporting clubs. Examples such as that illustrate how our mining heritage, which was typified by the scenes depicted on the miners' banners, is still interwoven into every aspect of our community life. Although such associations are strong in volunteers, they require financial support that would previously have been provided by contributions from working miners at the pit point.
As hon. Members may be aware, the people of east Durham suffer from poor diet, which often manifests itself in ill health later in life. The Food Chain North East community interest company, which is supported by CRT, is a CIC that seeks to increase access to affordable, high-quality fresh foodstuffs, and make them available to disadvantaged individuals in communities in the north-east, particularly in Easington. The company works with a wide range of community groups, public-sector bodies and other agencies to encourage healthy eating, and it also contributes to the national healthy living agenda. It sources healthy, fresh food and then distributes it to local community venues, households and some workplaces with the support of more than 100 volunteers.
East Durham Community Transport offers an employment lifeline through its "bigger wheels" project. It provides vital, low-cost transport for youth and community groups, charities and other non-profit-making voluntary organisations and statutory bodies. The CRT grant has allowed the group to purchase a new 24-seat wheelchair-accessible coach. East Durham Community Transport also provides a low-cost and very innovative car hire scheme that allows unemployed people who have no transport to take up jobs further away in the Teesside and Tyne and Wear conurbations. Without targeted support from the CRT, such services would have no other means to provide assistance to some of the most disadvantaged communities in Britain.
I am aware that the Minister had some positive words to say on Michael Clapham's report, and I hope that he will today outline how he intends to back up those words to ensure continuing provision for our hard-pressed coalfield communities.
Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing today's much-needed debate. I extend my thanks and the thanks of my community to Michael Clapham, Peter McNestry and the trustees of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust for the excellent work that they have carried out over a number of years. My constituency of Wansbeck is located in the south-east of Northumberland. It is the very heart of the Great Northern coalfield. Indeed, it was the engine room of the great industrial revolution. My constituency offices are sited only 100 yards away from the largest coal mining village in the world-the largest pit in the world is only 100 yards away.
A competition seems to be developing in this debate over who has the most pits and who had the most miners in their constituency. The pit next to my office had 5,000 people working there at one time. I do not think that there is anybody in this Chamber who can beat that. I notice, Mr Bone, that no one wishes to intervene on that comment. Seriously, we are affectionately known as coal town across the world. We had 30 to 40 large mines in my constituency alone. Sadly, the thousands of jobs that were provided by the mining industry have never been replaced, and parts of Wansbeck have never fully recovered from the devastating effect of those job losses.
This week, the announcement in the comprehensive spending review that 490,000 public sector jobs are to go, and all that that brings with it, including the knock-on effect on the private sector, is quite frightening. I am well aware that there are several strands to the regeneration of the coalfields, but I intend to focus on the role of the CRT. I speak today as someone who participated in the coalfield regeneration review consultation process and as, probably, the last working miner who will come into Parliament. I am sure that comrades across the Floor will suggest that "working" might not be the appropriate word to use, but I contest that.
I support the important work of the CRT and recognise its significant contribution to the communities throughout my constituency and beyond. There is no doubt that the CRT has done an excellent job both in Wansbeck and throughout the north-east. To date, it has made grants of more than £31 million to 1,000 groups in the coalfield
communities of the north-east. In Wansbeck, the projects benefit people of all ages and from all sections of our community. The CRT grant was used by the citizens advice bureau to take on new staff to provide advice on financial matters, which is extremely important. CRT funding was used to convert a former garage into a 110-place child care centre, and the Cambois rowing club used the funds to build an extension to the boathouse, which enables it to provide rowing opportunities for all ages and for all sections of the community. The flagship Hirst welfare centre in Ashington used the funding to develop its centre in one of the most deprived wards in Northumberland.
Mr David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend not agree that at a time when major cuts are foreseen in the public sector and when a number of the organisations that he mentions will be cut back, there is room for a focused organisation such as the CRT in Scotland, Wales and England? This is a time when it will be needed more than ever.
Ian Lavery: I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend's comments. The projects that I have just mentioned, and there are a few more to come, are all waiting with bated breath to see whether they will be able to continue in the future. They are organisations that can only live and breathe in the communities if they receive funding from bodies such as the CRT. Everyone in those organisations is extremely concerned about their future. That is why it is imperative that we have this debate and hopefully get a commitment from the Minister.
Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Bone, and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for securing this debate. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) agree that one of the reasons why the problems have lasted so long in the mining industry is that the previous Tory Government had a view that it was not their role to intervene in the social impacts of the closure programme? If they had, our regions would be much further down the line than they are now. Our worry now is that we have been here before, and if the support is cut, we will go backwards.
Ian Lavery: My hon. Friend is exactly right. That is why we must, at all costs, ensure that there is a commitment to the CRT, and that help gets into the mining communities. We have not, in any way, shape or form, overcome the problems from 25 years ago. Some of the communities are still absolutely devastated by the impact of the closure of the coal industry. The health and crime rates are compounded by the fact that the industry was closed. Overnight, some communities were shut off from the rest of the world.
At the Hirst welfare centre, we have a healthy living centre, a gym, an IT suite, a community café, a toy library, a crèche facility, youth activities, photography, salsa dancing and training activities. We also have something that is pretty unique in the mining communities-a class for belly dancing. There are not many miners or miners' wives who have ever been interested in belly dancing and I would love to see some of my Labour colleagues taking up such a class. I have not done it myself yet, but people tell me that it is very good.
Ian Lavery: That is not correct. I am trying to outline what the CRT has provided in terms of grant assistance for people within the community. There are other organisations for the creation of jobs, and finances should be readily available for those organisations. For example, there is One NorthEast, but its total closure has just been announced. Those are the organisations that should be looking to present job opportunities in these communities. What I am outlining this morning is what the CRT has done in the communities to help people to regain their self-esteem, as was the case when people in those communities, including their fathers and mothers, all had employment, but now these communities have very little employment. So there is a huge difference. I really do not see the CRT's role as creating employment in the communities; its role is quite distinct from that. It has a huge role to play, without having to create jobs.
Lisa Nandy: Does my hon. Friend agree that that is precisely the point of the CRT; that it understands that when a community has been so hugely devastated-not only economically and physically, but socially-the types of activities that he is outlining are precisely the route into employment, because they give people the social integration, the confidence and the skills that they need to seek employment and to make a success of themselves, particularly those people who go on to become entrepreneurs and set up their own businesses?
Ian Lavery: Yes, of course; that is exactly right. It is about encouraging people to participate in life once again; they are reborn. They actually understand what it is like to mix with other people once again and to be part of a community again. I think that that is the essential role of the CRT, whether it be in rowing, in swimming or in belly dancing. I know that I joked about belly dancing, but it is a fact that it is important. The CRT has a whole mix of roles within the community. That is what the CRT is desperately needed for.
The north-east was once a major industrial region and it has a former mining population of more than 650,000; that is more than a quarter of the region's entire population. Those figures show the hugely important contribution made by mining communities in the north-east, and the size and the importance of the task that was undertaken when the previous Labour Government quite rightly embarked on their coalfield regeneration programme.
However, despite the excellent work of the CRT, there is still a lot more to do. In the deprivation profiles, the former Northumberland and Durham coalfields are listed as having significant deprivation across most domains. That is the issue: the deprivation situation in the former coalfield areas.
Mr Anderson: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. Does he not feel simply annoyed when the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), who was probably waving his Order Paper last week, talks about job creation, when last week we were told that the Business Link in Seaham in county Durham is sacking 115 people? Those people are part of an organisation of 400 people who, within the last three years, have created 15,000 jobs. That is the truth of what we are seeing. The hon. Gentleman should not denigrate what is happening with the CRT; the CRT is trying to fill a gap while other organisations are being attacked by the present Government in the same way that the collieries were attacked 25 and 30 years ago.
Ian Lavery: Yes. Just on that point, I must say that one of the worst things that I have ever experienced in my life as a trade union representative and a representative of the Labour and trade union movement was the announcement last week that up to 490,000 jobs were to go in huge cuts across the whole of the country, and at the same time we had people in the House of Commons-people who were elected to be responsible people-waving their Order Papers jubilantly, as if something tremendous had happened. It was an absolute disgrace and I would like that placed on the record.
I will wind up my speech by saying that the employment situation in coalfield areas such as mine looks likely to deteriorate even further as the coalition threatens to axe the jobs that I have just mentioned. Since the demise of the coal industry in the north-east, particularly in my constituency of Wansbeck, we have become dependent on the public sector for employment. It is clear that central Government need to maintain and build upon the support that has already been provided for coalfield areas such as Wansbeck. I recognise that the CRT has a huge knowledge of the coalfields and of our communities. Consequently, it should have an important role to play in the ongoing regeneration of our communities.
In conclusion, I must just cite one or two statistics: 67% of women employed in my constituency are employed in the public sector; 53% of the people in Morpeth, a large town in my constituency, are employed in the public sector; and in total 47% of all the people employed in my constituency are employed in the public sector. We are an area of high unemployment; we are a low-wage economy; we have high teenage pregnancy levels, and we have high crime levels. We have everything associated with poverty, because of the closure of the coal mining industry. And I tell you now, Mr Bone, that I am petrified for the future of my community. However, the CRT can play a major role in trying to assist the people whom I represent in my community, and it is essential that the Government continue to fund the CRT, so that it can help people such as my constituents in Wansbeck.
Mr Peter Bone (in the Chair): Order. At least five Members are trying to catch my eye and we will begin the winding-up speeches at 12.10 pm. It is helpful to the Chair if Members submit their names to speak in advance, and they are more likely to be called early in a debate if they do so.
Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I want to say a few words about the comprehensive spending review and its likely impact on the south Wales coalfield. To begin with, however, I want to refer to some of the key features of the central south Wales coalfield.
First, like many other coalfield areas in the UK, there is a relatively large public sector in my area. Local authorities, the health service and the Welsh Assembly Government are all big and major employers in my area. Secondly, following the decline of the coal industry, we have seen a diversification of the economy. Nevertheless, there are still very low wages and a low skills base in my area, and that is common throughout the region.
Thirdly, we have a relatively small private sector, and what private sector there is remains closely linked to the public sector and dependent for many contracts on that sector-we cannot differentiate between the private and public sector in any meaningful way in south Wales.
Fourthly, again like many other coalfield areas in Britain, there is a legacy of ill health in my constituency. If we look at the heads of the south Wales valleys in particular, we see a very high concentration of incapacity benefit claimants. That is a clear legacy of heavy industry. Since the demise of the coal industry, much of that welfare dependency has become intergenerational and there is a whole range of complex social issues to be considered.
Within that context, my Caerphilly constituency is right at the heart of the south Wales coalfield. Just to the north of Cardiff, it is a constituency where the coal industry was at one time by far the most dominant employer. Relatively recently, however, it has been hit by the closure of two of the largest collieries, Bedwas and Penallta, in the wake of the 1984-85 miners strike. Today the local authority is by far the biggest employer in the Caerphilly borough. Caerphilly borough council employs no fewer than 8,000 people; as I say, it is by far the biggest employer in my constituency.
As well as people being employed in the local public sector, people are of course prepared to travel. Travel-to-work patterns in the area give the lie to the recent comment by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that people are not prepared to travel. The facts clearly belie that statement. I am aware of constituents of mine who travel to Newport to work in the public sector: in the passport office-sadly, it is due to close-the patent office and elsewhere. They travel to Cardiff to work in the Welsh Assembly Government offices, the tax office, the offices of the Department for Work and Pensions and Companies House. Many people from Caerphilly travel over the mountain and down into Cardiff.
Owen Smith (Pontypridd) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the recent statement by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions reveals on his part-and, I fear, on that of many Conservative Members-a deep misunderstanding of the endemic nature of unemployment and incapacity in areas such as my hon. Friend's constituency and mine? It is fundamentally insulting to the people of those communities and implies that they are workshy, when the reality, as he describes, has to do with the communities' industrial heritage.
Mr David: My hon. Friend is spot on. The recent comments by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions show a lack of understanding of contemporary south Wales, the history of its coalfield and the true determination of its people. Clearly, where there are jobs, people are prepared to travel to them. That is a fact.
In communities in the south Wales coalfield, including in my constituency, the CSR will have a truly devastating impact on the public sector. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates, for example, that Wales as a whole will lose 52,000 jobs in the private and public sectors as a direct result. Services will be hit, the most vulnerable will suffer and benefit recipients will lose out hugely. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that the CSR will hit the less well-off the hardest, which I am sure is correct, and that the places where the pain is greatest will be geographically concentrated. I suggest that places such as south Wales will be far harder hit than, for instance, the south-east of England.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): My hon. Friend can hear that I am croaking at the moment. Does he agree that the figures for disability in the whole UK show that some of the highest percentages of disabled benefit recipients are in the south Wales valleys, which many of us here represent? Does he also agree that the new tests imposed by the Government in their mad rush to cut benefits will be distressing for people who used to work in heavy industry, such as coal miners, if they are expected once again to undergo medical tests that are already proven not to work well? We have asked the Government to delay those tests until they have a better system in place. Does he agree with that?
Mr David: Yes, certainly. I am sure that all of us from coalfield areas are aware of increasing numbers of constituents coming to our surgeries and offices to express concern about how things will pan out over the next few years. My right hon. Friend has articulately put her finger on a concern felt by many people in places such as south Wales.
The crucial point I want to address is this. The Government, particularly the Chancellor, have belatedly accepted that job losses in the public sector will be significant, but they also say they believe that the private sector will grow quickly and soak up those who lose their jobs in the public sector. I suggest that that is not the case. In areas such as south Wales, there are many key factors, which I identified earlier, that will work against private sector growth. For example, the public and private sectors are interdependent, as the Federation of Small Businesses recognises.
A number of announcements were made just before the comprehensive spending review. For example, it was announced that the Severn barrage will not be constructed. If it had been, it would have been a huge boost for the private sector economy in south Wales. The defence training college has been shelved, and effectively ended. That would have been not a public sector but a private finance initiative, and would have created an estimated 5,000 new jobs in south Wales, but it has been scrapped. We also hear-again-that it is unlikely that the south Wales railway line will be electrified, which would have proved a huge stimulus to the south Wales economy and a job-creating initiative.
We do not have a strong entrepreneurial culture in south Wales. That is not to suggest that people themselves are not entrepreneurial, but historically, creativity has not been directed into the private sector. That is beginning to change, but it is a long-term process that will only come to fruition many years hence.
It is also worth pointing out that as a result of the policies pursued by the last Labour Government, private companies have not shed as many people as was widely anticipated. Many workers now work part-time or are still on the books but not taking up their full cash entitlements. It is therefore more likely that those people will be reactivated, rather than that large numbers will come off the dole queue and go directly into the private sector. Due to those factors, it is pretty clear that areas such as south Wales will not experience a great boost for the private sector; quite the opposite. It is likely that we will lose jobs in the private as well as the public sector.
Owen Smith: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way once more. He might be interested to know that yesterday, on behalf of the shadow Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain), I met a group of 20 or so US companies, many of which have invested in this country, some of them in south Wales. I explored with them their belief in their ability to hire new people and invest in the current climate. The clear message that I heard from them was that, in their view, there is no capacity right now to take on the people who will be laid off in the public sector. They are worried that the impact of the CSR will strip demand from the economy, and they are not in a position to hire the people who will be thrown on the scrap heap.
Mr David: That is a useful intervention and it underlines my point. It is a myth that the private sector in areas such as south Wales will undergo a great burgeoning; that simply will not happen. It is depressing to recognise, but that is the reality. We must be honest with ourselves and our constituents so they realise that if this Government stay in power and do not change their policies, at least for the next few years, the immediate future will be bleak indeed. To conclude, I hope that the Government will listen and accept objective reality, because many people are concerned that an ideological fixation drives this Government's policies, irrespective of public opinion.
Mr Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): The insult by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was directed specifically at my community. It was born of ignorance. Does my hon. Friend agree that we are seeing a repeat of the lack of a strategy for transition, as a number of Members have discussed, in an attempt to deliver on the rhetoric surrounding the big society? The role of coalfields regeneration is not and never has been to act as a substitute for the state; it is to supplement and support the state's activities, thereby building the good society, consistent with Labour's ethical socialism, and not some big society, which is, frankly, a meaningless slogan without a transition plan.
I agree completely. We have heard a lot about the so-called big society, but I am reminded of what former Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher said: there is no society, only individuals. That is what we are seeing in practice. There is an emphasis on individualism without
the recognition that we need a strong, coherent society with a strong public sector and third sector-as well as a strong private sector-for individuals truly to fulfil their potential. For us to continue the transition that has started to take shape over the past few years, there needs to be a continuation of the policies introduced under the previous Labour Government, rather than a dramatic hiatus like the one currently taking place. I therefore urge the Government to think again about the policies they are pursuing and to recognise the impact they will have on individuals and communities in our poor, hard-pressed coalfield communities. If they do that, I hope to goodness they will realise that they need to readopt the sort of policies we have seen during the past 13 years.
Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): In view of the time and the fact that other hon. Members want to speak, I shall keep my remarks brief. I should refer to the fact I am a trustee of the Barony 'A' Frame Trust in Ayrshire, which received funding from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. I will make some brief remarks about the importance of the CRT in Scotland. We have already heard some good examples of work that has been undertaken in other areas and I do not intend to go through the whole list of valuable projects across Scotland, but I shall just mention briefly a few of note.
The Barony 'A' Frame Trust is symbolic in my area. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) talked about some of the things that are not useful because they do not create jobs, but it is important to remember that we sometimes have had to re-create communities that were absolutely devastated by what happened when the pits shut. In areas such as mine in Ayrshire, everyone has that mining heritage and it is important that we never ever forget the contribution that the miners and their families made in a range of ways to communities across Scotland.
Mr David Hamilton: Does my hon. Friend accept that when we talk about travel to work-a point was made about that in relation to how people can get employment-it is much easier for people in Midlothian, where 56% of the population work in Edinburgh, than for people in places such as Ayrshire, where there are no major cities or towns around?
Cathy Jamieson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The opportunities for people in the more rural coalfield areas in Scotland are difficult, which is why it is important to have schemes such as the coalfield community transport scheme in my area, which involves a fleet of yellow buses. That scheme not only enables people to get to leisure activities but, importantly, allows them to participate in things such as the east Ayrshire community planning partnership or some of the health initiatives taking place in the area. That transport scheme enables local people to go along to such initiatives and be represented, which is absolutely vital.
It is also important to stress that the CRT in Scotland tried to align its priorities with those of the Government. I do not happen to agree with all the priorities of the
Scottish National party Government in Scotland-no surprises there-but some of the initiatives that are being taken forward are very important and the CRT has sought to deal with that. It has also sought to engage with the private sector, which has been important-for example, through the midnight leagues, where there have been partnerships with HBOS, Thompsons solicitors and BSkyB. A whole range of things have been taken forward to try to ensure that capacity is built in the local community.
We have heard much today about how the CRT can enable local communities to be involved, but it can also offer match funding, which is important to enable organisations to draw down money from other areas. The CRT has also played a vital role in keeping the needs of coalfield communities alive and on the agenda, as has the Industrial Communities Alliance. That organisation has recently been re-launched in a Scottish context.
We have heard hon. Members say that it is not enough simply to invest money in a patchwork manner; we have to change the policy approach. We have consistently heard about how outcomes for young people in education and health are not as good. That means that central Government have to change how they do things. Under the previous Government, we saw much of that actually happening. In conclusion, I leave the Minister with this question. What can he do to ensure that in every Department across government, the impact of policies is assessed against how we can improve the life outcomes and chances for people in the coalfield community areas? I hope that he will make some reference to that in his winding-up speech.
Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing the debate, which is dear to my heart. I thought it might be useful to mention some of my personal experience of receiving CRT grants in a previous job at a citizens advice bureau, where we received one of the first grants in the early 1990s. We received £50,000 to provide money advice to people in the community of St Helens and Wigan near my constituency of Makerfield. That money enabled us to demonstrate that the need existed, which we had not been able to do before. It also enabled us eventually to create nine jobs for people as money advisers and secure £500,000 of funding for that valuable work.
In 2008, together with four other citizens advice bureaux and credit unions in Wigan and Makerfield, we received a grant of £250,000. With that money, we dealt with £6 million of debt; but, more importantly, we set up a project with the credit unions to help people who have got jobs to budget. Within the first six months of someone starting a job, budgeting is vital. Studies have shown that people who are assisted with budgeting stay in work and keep their jobs.
In fact, money problems are probably the most prevalent reason for people leaving a job in the first six months because, once someone gets a job, their creditors come back to haunt them. The credit unions provided loans, budgeting advice and set people up for the future. A grant of £250,000 helped at least 350 people in my
community-not to mention people in Cumbria and St Helens. I stress to the Minister that it is very important to continue providing such small grants as they sustain the voluntary sector, promote partnerships and help people in the community through the hard times that I am sure are ahead.
Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): I did not intend to speak in the debate but, to be honest, it has gripped me. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing the debate because the subject is vital to communities, particularly those in the north of England and in Wales and Scotland.
I would like to criticise something that the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) said about environmental improvements and not creating jobs. In communities that have the scars of the coalfields within them, environmental improvements are important because they have a positive impact on the mental health and well-being of a community. It is vital that those environmental improvements continue.
Over the years, my constituency of Gateshead-a new constituency, but an old name-has had many collieries within it, but none have closed in the past 30 years or so. The history of mining in Gateshead goes back much before that. Indeed, the founder of the mining union in Durham, Thomas Hepburn, is buried just outside the fringe of my constituency, but still within the borough of Gateshead, at Heworth colliery. He was a real hero in the locality and I am very proud still to be chair of governors at the Thomas Hepburn community school in Gateshead, which is close to the site of the old Heworth colliery and not far away from the old Wardley colliery.
In fact, the angel of the north in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) is built on an old pit head. We are very much a mining area. Some 300 different mine workings cover the borough of Gateshead. I was joking before with my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) that, over the years, his colleagues and union friends have done something deliberate against my community: they have continued to undermine it over the centuries. That is literally true.
I am very pleased to speak on behalf of the CRT and the work that it does. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) about the need for infrastructure development and continuing investment in our economy. I also agree that it is sad that the Government have seen fit to close down the regional development agency, One North East.
A sad fact of life is that it takes many decades for former mining areas to recover from the necessary scars upon which the wealth and sustainability of our nation have been built. Without the continuing support that organisations such as CRT bring to those communities, we are effectively saying to mining communities up and down the country, "Thank you for your endeavour, thank you for powering the industrial revolution, and thank you for keeping the lights on and industry going during two world wars. Now will the last one to leave please turn the lights out."
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I will speak briefly to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for securing the debate and to Mick Clapham, who was a colleague in this place for many years. If there was ever anyone who fought for the mining community, it was him. In every aspect of their lives, Mick Clapham came through. If anyone deserved to be a Minister, it was him, so it was a disgrace that the last Labour Government did not make him a Minister. His work has been excellent. The focus of his review is on England, of course, but I hope that the Government will ask him, either through the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, to continue his work and produce similar reviews for those regions. That would be very useful, as many of the problems in my region are precisely the same, although there are some differences.
I have represented a coal mining community for the past 26 years. Having been elected in the middle of a miners' strike, I have seen over the years how the community goes through suffering and regeneration, mainly due to their force of character. My community kept its pit for 10 years after Mrs Thatcher wanted to close it down, because we fought for it. It was difficult at times, but the Tower colliery in my constituency, which she and the last Conservative Government said was uneconomic, proved that they were wrong. Not only was it economic, but it sold coal to countries that the previous coal board failed to sell to. That is an example of the resilience of a mining community. They were ready to stand up and fight for the future of a pit that the Conservative Government wanted to close.
The Minister, who has been in the House for some time, knows the arguments about the many problems that remain in those constituencies, which the review has highlighted. Over the past 10 years, under the Labour Government, unemployment in Cynon Valley has been cut by 50%, which is a considerable achievement. I do not want those people to be thrown on the scrap heap yet again. I appeal to him to ensure that the CRT continues, that it is given the Government's full backing and that Mick Clapham is thanked again for his excellent work over the years. I hope that he will be able to carry out a similar review in Wales and Scotland.
Mr Eric Illsley (Barnsley Central) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing the debate. I want to make a few brief comments about my constituency, which is the working home of Michael Clapham. I first worked with him back in 1978, when we worked together for the Yorkshire miners union. Many of the problems that colleagues have outlined today also affect Barnsley, which lost 19,000 jobs when the coalfields were closed in the 1990s. We should remember that there was an instant loss of jobs in those communities over a very short period when the coalfields closed.
The CRT was never designed to replace jobs on anything near the scale of those losses, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) pointed out. It gave small-scale grants to kick-start credit unions and fund citizens advice bureaux. It was never designed to replace jobs, especially on the scale at which we lost them in the 1990s. With those job
losses came other losses, such as the management courses run through the National Coal Board and British Coal, which enabled young people to graduate through colleges and improve their employment prospects. In addition to education, there was the social side, as the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation ran sports and social welfare programmes. That was all lost over a short space of time. It was practically impossible to replace those jobs. No Government since have managed to replace the jobs that were lost in those communities on such a scale.
I have been present when some of those awards have been made in my constituency, such as the Dorothy Hyman stadium, which provided an Olympic-standard running track for local athletes, some of whom have gone on to compete in the Olympic games. There is also riding for the disabled, which would otherwise not be funded because the money is not available in the community. There is the Disabled Information Advice Line, which enables one or two key workers to provide a service to the local community.
Sadly, we are again facing such job losses as a result of the comprehensive spending review. We must remember that in Wales, the north-east, south Yorkshire and perhaps in Nottinghamshire, coal was the dominant industry, to the exclusion of other industries. Private industry did not want to compete for the labour force that was already employed in mining, where there were lots of jobs, career structures and so on. The private sector, as a result, did not come into the region, other than in Coventry, where there was the motor vehicle industry alongside the coal industry. We did not have that luxury in south Yorkshire, in Durham or, to some extent, in Nottinghamshire. When we lost the coal mining industry, there was nothing to fall back on, and nothing else has come into the area to replace those jobs.
That explains our reliance on the public sector. The CSR announced 490,000 job losses in the public sector, and obviously the impact will be felt far more in coalfield communities than in other areas. We cannot escape that. That makes the CSR all the worse for our area. It is essential that the CRT programme, small though it is, be retained and, if possible, expanded. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) suggested, further research should be done on the benefits that the trust has brought, because in my area they are worth while and must be retained.
Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dobbin. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing the debate, which has been excellent-I counted 16 Members who have spoken. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Mr Illsley) in congratulating Michael Clapham on the work he has done.
In the last Parliament, my constituency contained many former coalfield wards. The last remaining winding gear in Lancashire is in Astley, and it is a strong and visible reminder of our area's mining heritage. Following boundary changes, I no longer represent the former coalfield areas in Wigan borough, but I still have the
ward of Little Hulton, which is a former coalfield ward and still has open-cast coal mining at the adjacent Cutacre site.
"a unique combination of concentrated joblessness, physical isolation, poor infrastructure and severe health problems."
I saw those same problems on the Higher Folds estates in my former constituency. Higher Folds is in some ways typical of those areas. It is an isolated estate accessible via a single road, and it is remote from commercial centres such as Leigh and Tyldesley. Part of the estate was ranked within the 5% most disadvantaged communities in the country. For many years, its 3,000 residents suffered from high levels of worklessness, low educational achievement and low incomes. The closure of the pits had left that community with few jobs and poor infrastructure. In fact, the CRT singled out Higher Folds as an area where extra funding and support was needed.
The trust found many barriers to local people gaining employment, ranging from a lack of affordable child care to low confidence and skill levels in jobseekers, which are important factors. Its work included setting up a youth project on the estate and a plan to reduce worklessness from more than 30% to less than 20%. The trust plans to improve the community centre and put it at the heart of the community, and to develop new activities, including more child care.
The trust praised the sense of pride and community spirit that it found on Higher Folds, but community spirit is not enough. Without funding and support to get projects off the ground, the community could have achieved little change. One group that developed because of early support and funding was the Agape family support group. It was able to recruit more volunteers due to a grant from the trust, and to use the refurbished community centre. In 2006, one of the group's co-ordinators stated:
"The group can't exist without funding as we need to subsidise our costs for the services we provide. The CRT grant has provided funding to cover our running costs...and now that the new centre is open we are hoping to build up a busy programme and a growing band of volunteers to help out."
That group now runs a pre-school group for the estate, and the community centre has a Sure Start children's centre, so we have tackled the child care problem which was one of the barriers to local people getting work.
Community support and activism are vital for regeneration, but does the Minister recognise that they are no substitute for adequate levels of funding and support from the Government via organisations such as the CRT? Does he agree that, without adequate funding, we will not continue to see the work to remove barriers to employment that is needed on estates such as Higher Folds? The progress that has been made in many coalfield communities could be derailed. Can he tell us how that level of support can be achieved in the context of the reductions to budgets for his Department and local authorities over the coming months and years?
The Clapham review of coalfields regeneration found a marked improvement in the state of the coalfields today compared with a decade ago, but found that there is a long way to go. As we have heard in this debate, pressing challenges remain. Coalfield areas have greater
overall and employment deprivation than average. They tend to be more isolated, they have fewer businesses than the national average, they have 25% fewer jobs per resident than non-coalfield areas, and they have more young people not in education, training or employment than the national average. As many Members have said, coalfield areas have a higher than average mortality rate, with the health of the older generations affected by their former work, and that of younger people affected by poor employment opportunities and low expectations.
The Clapham review called for local authorities to be given a more active role in the regeneration of our former coalfield areas and in dealing with those difficult and challenging issues. In welcoming the report, the Minister for Housing and Local Government said that it was crucial that former mining areas continue to get the support they need, and that there is more to be done to help former mining communities where there are ingrained social and economic problems. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan said, he also said that local authorities working with local people know best what the particular needs are in each area.
However, there is a danger that local authorities will be asked to take on responsibility for programmes without adequate funding to make a real difference. Michael Clapham's report said that the Government should not leave it to local authorities to make up for reductions in Government programmes, and that coalfield regeneration funding should remain additional to local authority allocations. In the context of cuts of 28% in local authority budgets over the next four years, that is all the more important.
Does the Minister agree with the Clapham review's recommendation that coalfield regeneration funding must remain additional to other funding, and that local authorities should not be left to make up for cuts to the three national coalfield regeneration programmes? Indeed, will he commit now to an oral statement from the Government when they respond to the Clapham review?
Last week, the Government announced the most severe cuts to public spending since before the second world war. The cuts will lead to almost 500,000 job losses in the public sector, and PricewaterhouseCoopers has estimated that a further 500,000 jobs will be lost from the private sector. That loss of employment will not be spread evenly but will hit some communities harder than others. We heard today from many Members how they fear the cuts will hit their constituencies. Indeed, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research said that many city regions outside the south-east of England were likely to suffer disproportionately from public spending cuts because public sector jobs are a greater proportion of the employment in those areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) gave statistics to show that that is the case in his constituency.
Furthermore, the most vulnerable groups in our communities are likely to suffer the most from the cuts. Figures from the TUC show that the poorest one tenth of households are set to lose income and services equivalent to 20.3% of their household income by 2013, compared with just 1.5% for the richest one tenth of households. As I said earlier, it is former coalfield areas such as the Higher Folds estate that contain the poorest one tenth of households.
"it became clear that more substantial intervention would be required to turn these communities around."
As we heard in many speeches today, the coalfields regeneration programmes have had success because of central Government funding and partnership working between local authorities and local community organisations. The Government are putting that at risk because cuts to local authority budgets are likely to impact on both partnership working and the survival of local voluntary and community organisations. Given the scale and speed of the expected new job losses, we will find that many communities left reeling from the cuts will need active intervention to recover.
The Government must develop a plan for recovery in our local communities that involves more than saying to CBI members, "Over to you to create new jobs." The private sector does not have a track record since the 1980s of moving into isolated coalfield areas and intervening to create businesses and jobs there. It took support, funding and partnerships to make improvements, as it will in the future.
We await the Government's response to the Clapham review and their explanation of how regeneration programmes in coalfield areas can continue to tackle the many challenges outlined in this debate. We urge the Minister to confirm that those important announcements will be made, as they should be, in an oral statement to the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dobbin, as it was to serve under Mr Bone before you. It is good to have a debate that is so well supported by Members who have passion for, and knowledge about, a subject. Twenty Members were present, and the vast majority of them contributed. I know that it is not the form to say such things, but I was delighted that Michael Clapham was able to be present throughout to listen to the debate. I want to say how much the Government appreciate the work that he did on his report, which was commissioned by the former Government and which we have been happy to receive.
I also want to thank the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for giving the House the opportunity to discuss the matter, and for her reasoned presentation of the case. She is a new Member, but I am sure that she will quickly become established as a champion of Wigan, the miners and the mining community that she represents.
The hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) asked me to undertake to give an oral statement. Such matters are not at all at my pay grade, but I shall ensure that the point is passed on. We do not in any way underestimate the importance of ensuring that the House is well informed about progress on the subject.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|