|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Commission on Integration and Cohesion has a most impressive title and a difficult task. Its report shows the strain placed on local authorities where there is a high level of migration. The Office for National Statistics has acknowledged that no one really knows the truth about the numbers of migrants. I have in the past raised the point in your Lordships House that there are so many invisible people in our community, unknown to either the Revenue or the local council, using local amenities and working in the black economy. In addition, new migrants are moving in legitimately. These large extra numbers of people make it difficult to provide the necessary services, and impossible for the Government correctly to assess the grant support that they should give to the local authority. For a successful community to be built, the infrastructureeverything from clean streets to youth sports facilitiesneeds to be in place. Without properly assessed and calculated national funding to local authorities, government are failing the individuals within those communities.
Iain Duncan Smiths excellent and comprehensive report, Breakthrough Britain, published last year, extends to almost 700 pages, so one can see that it is quite impossible for me to do more than skim the surface in my allotted minutes. I hope that others will cover other aspects in their contribution to the debate.
The Prime Minister was right in asking the newly formed Council on Social Action to use a one-to-one approach in helping people to help one another. When I chaired an NGO helping the poorest children in the world, we had this approach and it worked well. If one suggests a major onslaught, people turn away: it is too much to consider. If one asks them to help one other person, they will probably do it and the ripple effect will be great.
We, too, must be willing to work with neighbours and other members of our local community to change the climate of our areas, to remove the climate of fear where people are afraid to do anything but look away from unpleasant or dangerous behaviour, to stop bullying wherever we see it, and to recreate a community where aspirations can thrive and people of all ages are motivated to make the most of the most precious thing that each one of us has: our lives. I beg to move for Papers.
Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, on securing this debate, which could not be on a more important topic. I apologise to the House that, because of a long-standing commitment, I shall have to be absent for part of the debate to host an event downstairs.
I am sure that the noble Baroness would be the first to agree that this topic is extraordinarily wide-ranging. Families and their role in society have been a
28 Feb 2008 : Column 766
I shall concentrate on two small parts of the topic: those families with caring responsibilities and those who have children and are at the point of breakdown. CaringI declare an interest as vice-president of Carers UKis one family issue where the story is almost entirely positive. Families do not need strengthening in their commitment to provide care. One may hear rhetoric about families not caring any more, but it is simply not true. The obligation to care for your family is alive and well in our country. Six million people do it, willingly and with love, and nearly 1 million of them do it for more than 50 hours a week, with financial, health and physical consequences and a lot of emotional distress in many cases. In spite of the stress that they undoubtedly feel, however, there is no sign at all of caring families wanting in droves to give up their onerous responsibilities. We are lucky that that is the case, because how would we provide most of our social care if they wanted to give up?
None the less, we have responsibilities to strengthen these families, who are undoubtedly facing more caring problems, because people live longer with greater degrees of disability and with much more time at home or in the community than in hospital. Moreover, we are increasingly encouraging carers to combine paid work with caring, which means that, with longer working lives and people doing two jobs, we may need 9 million carers in future. We have to encourage that, but we may have to look differently at how we provide services.
Much progress has been made in this area in recent years, I am happy to say; I shall speak more on this in a debate in your Lordships House next week. We have a Standing Commission on Carers and a new carers strategy is about to be launched. We also have the new agenda on social care, which promises more recognition for carers and caring families. There was a time when I felt like a lone voice on this issue, but I do not feel like that any more, I am happy to say.
The other topic that I want to address is the welfare of children at a time when family breakdown occurs. I declare an interest as chair of CAFCASSthe Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. As the noble Baroness said, families today are not made in the image of families in the 1950s. Divorce happens, however sad we may be about it and however hard we may work to encourage lifelong pair bonds. Families are a different shape. I speak as somebody who is divorced, who has three step-grandchildren and a son-in-law older than I am. Many of us have such personal experiences. But if a husband and wife divorce, when there are children there are still family responsibilities, and the family, even if split, must be supported and nurtured, as it resolves its difficulties and moves to form and reform its shape. The welfare of the child must be paramount in that.
There are between 150,000 and 200,000 relationship breakdowns involving children in this country. The majority of children continue and want to have contact
28 Feb 2008 : Column 767
Mercifully, about 90 per cent of divorcing parents reach agreement, but the 10 per cent who do not have major ongoing problems, which is where CAFCASS operates. Our skilled workers have to try to resolve disputes, some years long in duration, all the time being mindful of the Every Child Matters agenda about children being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and experiencing economic well-being, which is often a difficult matter in these cases. That is what every child deserves and it is what the skilled CAFCASS workers try to achieve.
We have made great strides in developing dispute resolution schemes, whereby families do not come to court at all but resolve their difficulties and reach agreement through family counselling or extended dispute resolution. We now find that 60 per cent of couples who come to dispute resolution can reach agreementand the figures continue to rise. That is just one part of the whole family justice system beginning to look much more closely at prevention rather than going immediately down the court route. Certainly CAFCASS is increasingly involved in voluntary sector organisations, which the noble Baroness mentioned, and in trying to find other partners to provide a more integrated service where possible.
CAFCASS can contribute to more stable families by providing support to help parents to make contact work. We want to highlight opportunities for universal services, to spot warning signs of relationship breakdown at an early stage and to signpost both parents and children at critical moments. This work should and does place heavy emphasis on listening to children and finding out what their needs and feelings are. That is not an easy thing to do. Devising a feedback system in such sensitive areas as family justice is a complex matter, but we are making progress on that.
We have recently launched an online feedback system called HearNow, which seeks to capture the experience of children and families. It is at an early stage, but we will continue to develop it. A great deal of work has been conducted by our childrens rights team, which has been exploring ways, in partnership with our young peoples board, to ensure that the voice of children is at the heart of what we do. Together, they have devised a needs, wishes and feelings pack, which is used by our practitioners to ensure that childrens voices are put directly in front of the courts and their views are put in their own words. In this and many other ways, we can help to ensure that family ties are continued and strengthened, even if the family itself is no longer in its original form.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parks, for securing this important debate. The debate is timely because families, communities and the need for social action seem already to be the flavour of the year. We have seen frequent government pronouncements, particularly on youth crime and the role that parents and families can play. We have had repeated debates about immigration policies and their impact on community cohesion. There is no lack of advice from politicians, academics and practitioners. Todays debate gives us the opportunity to bring all these contributors together to see how effectively we can plan social action.
Another concern needs to be reflected. In January 2007, the Government published Strong and Prosperous CommunitiesThe Local Government White Paper Implementation Plan. It is a good read. It will be helpful if the Minister can give a progress report on how some of the key recommendations are being implemented. Let me give an example of why that is important. The Government say that they are,
There is no problem with that. However, in some areas of government responsibilities, such as criminal justice matters, I see a tendency not to devolve but to centralise power. Communities and individuals, particularly young people, are less inclined to participate in our democratic process if they feel removed from the decision- making process.
We tend to forget that government can provide leadership, but only people and communities can deliver change. Nowhere is this more relevant than in matters relating to climate change, health, ageing and diet. No longer can we allow Whitehall to be in total charge of such issues. Many local authorities feel impotent, with the result that communities feel isolated, remote and distanced from the decision-making process that affects their lives. Community cohesion is a case in point. Whenever I hear government pronouncements on this subject, I feel that I want to scream. I do not for a moment dispute that the development of a value-driven British identity is a core goal, but you cannot respond to the debate about ethnicity, multiculturalism and immigration if you are not part of the consultative process.
Commentators, both politicians and the press, have pointed to the impact of globalisation, devolution and asylum and immigration issues, as well as to concerns over the growth of fundamentalism, be it Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or that of other faiths. If the community is not part of the policy-making process, the only people who will benefit are extremists such as the British National Party.
We all accept that the old British spectrum of left and right is less important now and that politicians are competing to be tough on crime and promoting concepts such as community cohesion. However, frequent debates and statements on similar subjects lack strategic thought. They have therefore led to a search for shared values of what it might be to be
28 Feb 2008 : Column 769
I am quite happy that such issues should be addressed, but not in an atmosphere of hysteria predominantly directed at our Muslim community. We have gone through this phase before. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, who I am glad to see is participating in this debate, chaired the Runnymede Trusts Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. Those of us who participated did so with the intention of opening a national debate on the issues that we are addressing today, but the report was greeted with a sustained hysteria instigated both by politicians and the media. This is simply unacceptable.
It is right that in a democracy there should be a sensible debate about such issues. It is now more than 30 years since the Race Relations Act 1976 was introduced. Only last year we celebrated the bicentenary of the passage of the 1807 slave trade abolition Act. We have been at the forefront of legislation and other machinery to establish equality of opportunity for all our citizens. There is now a strong emphasis on race, disability, gender, age, faith and sexual orientation, which puts a new emphasis on promoting good relations between different groups.
It is clear that leadership is uneasy when issues of multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism surface. There is a kind of schizophrenia in the state response to immigration on the one hand and community cohesion and a pluralist society on the other. The progress that we have made in achieving some sort of multiculturalism is too valuable to be treated cynically. This is backed up by a perception among the majority population that despite all our history and our pride in tolerance they are somehow not able to live as part of a community of communities.
Cultures do not remain static. Communities change. Conflict often occurs on matters of gender, generation, religion, language and the communitys relationship with the wider society. There is nothing to be frightened about. We are already witnessing fusion in music, the arts and fashion. What is required is the political wisdom appropriate to a multicultural, multiracial and multireligious society. The narrow and often blurred focus on religion undermines an approach that takes into account political and social identities.
I am delighted that the debate has now moved to citizenship. I trust that this move will not be the death of multiculturalism but that we can finally clearly define what the concept of multiculturalism should really be about. It is right that we should celebrate British citizenship and the rights and responsibilities that come with it. If we built active participation of communities into our democratic process, supplemented
28 Feb 2008 : Column 770
Citizenship means much more than learning English. No one disputes that communication helps to achieve an integrated society, but citizenship is about much more than that. It is a social contract encompassing the whole community. Its aim must be social inclusion, tolerance, equality and a diverse society where human rights flourish. It is also about balancing citizens rights and responsibilities. Importantly, citizenship must also entitle individuals to state protection, respect for the diversity of their culture and freedom of expression. These are all encompassed within the framework of the Human Rights Act. It is not for the Government to pick and choose which rights suit them.
If we take this to its logical conclusion, citizenship cannot be divorced from the needs of the individual. The social contract must also include decent public services and decent social support for the weak and infirm, including those who feel persecuted. It must provide the community with a healthy and pollution-free environment. If individuals feel that they are protected from crime, that there is less oppression and that discrimination does not blight their lives, there will be respect towards a healthy, decent society. That is the way to achieve cohesion.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, for giving us the opportunity to discuss these subjects. In the short time available to me, I will talk a little about the role of fathers in our society today. Fathers are, after all, about half the population, and they ought to be a fundamental part of our society. They are therefore most relevant to its cohesion.
In our debates on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which we recently sent to another place, the Government were prepared to put on a three-line Whip to remove the word fathers from the Bill. I understand that their reason was that the specific mention of a father was offensive to those women who want to form a partnership with another woman to bring up a child. I personally have no problem in accepting that two women committed to the welfare of a child could give that child the supportive parenting that he or she needs, provided that the child, if it is a boy, has somewhere in his life an appropriate male role model. Why do the Government give such priority to the concerns of what must be a very small group of women while putting at risk the something like 150 children every day of the year who are being permanently separated from their fathers? I hope that I am correct in that figure. I understand that the number of children in our society today who have no contact with their fathers is of the order of 800,000 and if you divide that by 365 days it comes out at 150 children a day.
I turn to the obvious question of why fathers matter; and I fear that I may be stating the obvious. US research shows that children, especially boys, need a male role model in their lives. At about the age of seven or eight, boys begin to ask themselves what it means to be a boy and how they are different from all
28 Feb 2008 : Column 771
Fathers also matter because they can take the strain off the mother by helping and sharing burdens and worries. Above all, a father matters because all children need security and love. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, mentioned love. However great the goodwill and commitment of one parent, it is harder for a single parent to find time to have that kind of relaxed relationship with the children that they need. Parenting alone, where money is short, is likely to be stressful, and there will be even less time and energy left over for love. Except where there is a breakdown in the parental relationship, two committed parents have an easier job than one and tend to be able together to give their child more security and more love.
All political parties today are concerned to eliminate financial poverty for children, and I wholly endorse that objective. Unfortunately, a small minority of childrenalthough there are too manyare suffering from another kind of poverty; poverty of love. We should also be doing everything possible to eliminate poverty of love. How can that be done? Some years ago, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, on a child maintenance Bill, said to me that you cannot make a law that a father must love his son. That is obviously true, and that is the nub of the problem. However, there are things that we could be doing to increase the chances that he will do so, and I will mention one or two of them.
First, you can reduce the chances that he will unintentionally or recklessly father a child who he does not want or will not accept and will not want to love and care for. Secondly, every boy and young man has to be taught in school and at other times in their lives that in our society today he will be held responsible jointly with the mother for any child that he fathers. He must understand that there will be penalties, including, but not restricted to, paying maintenance for the child.
The problem of teaching these facts is that our teachers of PSHE and citizenship in schools do not have a clearly defined statement by the Government or anyone else of the responsibilities of parenthood in the curriculum for PSHE. The responsibilities of parenthood are printed there in heavy type, but when I asked the department and the Minister, Where do I find the responsibilities of parenthood clearly set out?, there is no answer. It is in case law, they say. Maybe it is in case law, but that is not much help to parents and it certainly has never helped teachers who do not want to get on their back legs and start teaching a subject like this if they feel that they are not on firm ground. We have to set firm ground under the feet of teachers of this subject.
All this teaching needs to be repeated to mothers and fathers in ante-natal clinics before the child is born, and by nurses and health visitors in home
28 Feb 2008 : Column 772
I shall mention one other of the many things that we could do to help couples to stay together and fulfil their role in bringing up their child. It would help enormously if within a day or two of the birth of their child they were offered appropriate and affordable housing that would enable them to start building a nest together for their new family. Living with your mother-in-lawGod bless heror in a hostel for four or five years before you get a house is almost certain death to any relationship, and certainly provides little opportunity for building a nest for the new family and for the child.
These are just a few of the things that I wanted to mention. Perhaps the most important of all is a change of heart. Fathers in our society need to be valued and encouraged to understand how important their role is. This is not to say that the important job of being a second parent cannot be done by someone else who is not the birth father. It is simply to recognise that without birth fathers it would be impossible to find enough people willing and able to do the job properly. We need to mobilise fathers to show them that we appreciate what they are doing and to challenge them to do more.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|