Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

It set out to turn around the lives of people, primarily youngish men, who have become addicted either to drugs or alcohol. As it was explained to me, there is no shortage of authorities or organisations which are willing, for short-term aid and assistance, to give such young men two months, three months or even longer, but then pat them on the back when they have dried out and send them out into the community. The raison d’ĂȘtre for Charis is to say that that will not work. They need at least 12 months. Charis has a fine record of approaching authorities which address that kind of need and persuading them not to invest in six people for two months but in one person for 12 months.

As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, we need collaboration with the local authority for housing and local employers for work, so that when those people have finished their 12 month course, they are sent out into the community with a place to live and a job to go to. We have the difficult job of trying to decide how best to spend finite resources, which way will pay the greatest dividend—not the quickest dividend, but the greatest. That is not easy. Great appeals are made by Charis. At one time, it raised more than £2 million for extensions. It is undergoing that process again. It does good work and has good friends. I was much taken by the raison d'ĂȘtre—it is all very well dealing with the symptoms, but we need to deal with the causes as well.

I wish the amendment well. I do not know what the Minister will say, but that problem is a syndrome, a canker eating away at the fabric of our society and it ought to be tackled more strongly than it is, bearing in mind the calls on resources.

Lord Best: I support my noble friend Lord Listowel and thank him for and congratulate him on years of hard work for care leavers. He has been absolutely tireless.

First, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation produced some research in 2005 entitled Life After Care. The figure mentioned by my noble friend was about a third. In that survey, in the year following their leaving care, 35 per cent found themselves actually homeless—street homeless. It seems an incredibly high proportion, but that is what the survey showed. Perhaps it is not surprising, if you are a 16, 17 or 18 year-old and you do not have a family to look after you. That very high figure came out of that study.

My second point is that 8,000 young people leave care every year, which means that in the great scheme of things, with something like 240,000 new households being formed every year, they are a very small minority group that can easily be overlooked. The value of the amendment, and possibly of the things that the noble Baroness will say in her reply, is that we must not forget this vital but very small group. If my sums are right, it is 3 per cent of the total number of new households being created. You can easily forget a little group of 3 per cent, but they are so vital that mentioning them in the Bill sounds like a very good idea.

The Earl of Onslow: There is one other thing from the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It became

19 May 2008 : Column GC450

apparent that a disproportionately large number of young offenders come out of care. It is fairly obvious that if you come from a broken home, you might go into care. For those of us who had happy, contented and privileged childhoods, like I did, it is an enormous contrast. One must be permanently conscious of these things. I would have thought that one of the essential things to do is to find these people some sort of housing, which I hope would help to keep them out of trouble. The more that we can keep people out of trouble, the better it is. It is a never-ending struggle, but it is something that we ought to do.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and I will confess my ignorance and say that I am not sure how to pronounce his name; I am sure that he is used to answering to both. He made a kind reference to my former constituency. Because of the nature of the people to whom he is referring, very few of them would have turned up in a surgery of mine, because they would not have known enough to do so. I have no difficulty at all in recognising what he is saying, because one had a great deal to do with the various charities, in a generic way, that were coping with these things, notably in the West End.

I remember—I freely acknowledge that for obvious reasons this is not directly within the terms of the amendment—one of the last constituency cases that I took on before I retired from the House of Commons in 2001. It was someone who had just come out of prison, where he had been for drugs offences, who appeared genuinely penitent that he had ever been seduced into the drugs industry. He laid out the circumstances in which he found himself in terms of what was available to people who came out of prison. I could see that recidivism was likely to occur pretty rapidly unless someone provided some help. I took down the case in considerable detail and sent it to Sir David Ramsbotham, as he was then. I asked, “Dear David, is this typical?”. He replied, “I fear it is very typical indeed”. The issue is obviously not germane to the amendment, but the generic case is a major problem for all of us.

Lord Dixon-Smith: It is very easy to follow my noble friend Lord Brooke. The figure that I have is that 27 per cent of all prisoners begin their lives in care, and once they have left care, sadly, for various reasons, they have drifted into crime, which is difficult to get out of once you are in it. It was easy for me to add my name to the amendment, because my dear wife has spent quite an amount of time working with the YMCA, particularly in her home county and also for a time in London, where she was overseeing a hostel for people in just this situation. They were 17 and 18 year-olds who had nothing and who had nowhere to go.

This is a very small and special demand. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, it is probably some 8,000 a year in a much wider spectrum of housing demand. These are people who on the whole, at least initially, do not need housing. What they need is a room where they have an element of supervision, guidance and

19 May 2008 : Column GC451

community life and, above all, where they are in a safe and honest environment. We are talking about specialist facilities. Yes, this is special pleading on another of those small problems that to the individuals involved is vital and essential, even if we are inclined from time to time to overlook it. None of us intends to do that.

There is no easy answer, because we are dealing with a community ill. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, picked up that point again. Once you get into the wrong sector of society in early life, it is very difficult to get out of it. That leads rather more than simply to the provision of appropriate hostel accommodation where these young people can be made safe. You must also provide them with occupations. I recently met a young person who got into difficulty; the YMCA had got hold of him in time and, thank heavens, he was all right subsequently—but it could easily have gone the other way.

I have nothing to add to what has been said, except to say that I am sure that the noble Baroness will be as sympathetic as everyone else has been to this issue. I repeat the dreadful mantra that this is a specialist demand that we lose sight of at our peril. If we cannot sort the problem of these young people—I do not mean that only they are a problem, but that it is a problem for us—the difficulties of an ever-increasing prison population and so on are what follow from our inability. None of us wants that to happen.

Baroness Hamwee: I add the support of these Benches to the points powerfully made by the noble Earl. It has often seemed to me that the term “looked-after children”, which is in more common use, points up the problems. They are children and they are looked after or, as is often the case, not looked after. The noble Earl referred in his amendment and his remarks to something much wider than the physical environment. I wonder whether this is just a question of housing supply coupled with other support, rather than the supply of a particular type of housing for children who have this need, to avoid a situation whereby groups of young people come out of care and find themselves in unsuitable private rented accommodation, with all the difficulties that there may be of dealing with not particularly helpful or responsible landlords. The issue certainly includes supply and the type of housing, but it is a good deal wider than that, as the noble Earl said.

Baroness Andrews: I am grateful that we have had an opportunity to debate this issue. Like other noble Lords, I pay tribute to the work of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, over the years. I do not think that there has been a Bill in which the noble Earl has not brought our attention to what we can do to improve the lives of these young people. The whole House is grateful to him for that. He was right to move the amendment in the way that he did at this point.

5.15 pm

The question for me is: how do we make the lives of those young people better? I have to say, as the noble Lord anticipated, that I do not think it is served by including this in the Bill, not least because once we

19 May 2008 : Column GC452

identify these particular young people, we have to think of other young people with other problems and whether they should be named in the Bill as well. The broader point is that the HCA would not be fulfilling its objectives if it were not meeting the needs of people, as it states in Clause 2, which is about meeting the needs of the people and the well-being of the community.

For all the reasons that noble Lords have given in the many ways that they have brought it to our attention—not least my noble friend Lord Graham, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow—we see all the implications of a life spent in care, not by choice, written in our criminal justice system, in the people on our streets, in people with mental health conditions who are very difficult to help. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, pointed out, it is not a question of a single solution. It is a question of finding the right housing for the young person involved. It is about providing support through agencies in programmes such as Supporting People, for which my department is responsible, which literally supports people in their home environment. It is a question of dealing with the small but hugely significant group of people, this 8,000 population, who have so much to contend with not just when they are in care but especially in transitional states. They need a place that they can call home, but we have not been very good at providing that and we are living with the consequences.

However, thanks not least to the efforts of the noble Earl, children in care have never been so much in the forefront of our minds in what we are trying to do through the work of the education department and our emphasis in the care pathway on providing support at critical times.

I turn to what we can do through the HCA and in the DCLG. Traditionally, we have had responsibility for social exclusion, which has now passed to the Cabinet Office. We are working for the first time on a cross-government PSA, PSA 16, which is about social exclusion. How do we help four particular groups of very vulnerable people access services that they need, including accommodation? One of those groups is care leavers. We will be working very closely with the Homes and Communities Agency and with local authorities as they put in their bids for supported accommodation, and so on, to plan for the needs of those young people more intensively than we have been able to do before.

Beyond that is the responsibility of the local authority to know what is going on in its community and to address housing needs. There are not many people more vulnerable than those young people, who have a higher call on the concern not simply of housing officers in local authorities but all those dealing with the Children’s Plan, with transitional arrangements and with what happens to those young people as they leave school.

That is the work that the Housing and Communities Agency will take forward, informed by the work of local authorities in its partnership identifying local needs within the regional context. That is a key aspect of the agency knowing where to invest—which housing

19 May 2008 : Column GC453

associations or which types of building to support. That is what will make a difference on the ground.

As the noble Earl will know, that is happening much more positively following the passage of the Children (Leaving Care) Act. That has led to regulations that require the responsible authority to take steps to ensure that 16 and 17 year-old care leavers are maintained in suitable accommodation. That is one of the things that the HCA would also have a care to. Eighteen year-old care leavers should have the same entitlement to accommodation as other young people, but they should also be able to depend on continuing support and planning by the responsible authorities, not least the mental health services. Investment is going into the county services too.

The Care Matters White Paper that we published last June includes a range of commitments to improve the quality of care provided to looked-after children. Crucially, leaving care is seen not as a single event but as a transition into a new life with greater adult responsibilities. That means we need to know how to bring the services together. We are taking forward 11 “right to be cared for” pilots that give young people a greater say over when they leave care. Young people are going to be more involved in managing their own transition to adulthood. Through the Children and Young Persons Bill—and there are veterans of that Bill in this Committee, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—we are introducing a requirement that children in foster placements or children’s homes who move to independent living do so only as a consequence of a review of their care plan, so that they move on to their final care placement only when it is recognised by all the people responsible that they are ready to take that step. That will help as well.

We are also legislating to extend the personal adviser role for care leavers up to the age of 25 for young people who wish to resume courses of educational training. As part of our Care Matters programme, we have allotted funding to contribute to the costs of building additional units of supported accommodation for care leavers. We hope that discussions about that commitment will take place among the Housing Corporation and the other stakeholders later this year. That work will be taken forward by the HCA. There is a great deal of thought, care and action going on. In that context, I can mention the good practice guidance on housing and children’s services co-operation, in relation to homelessness for young people. We have new pilots—Staying Put, 18 Plus family care—to enable young people to remain with foster carers.

I will not go into endless detail, but I hope I am giving the impression that not only are we serious about co-ordinating services and identifying those 8,000 young individuals in different circumstances with different backgrounds but we are also piloting some new ways of doing things.

The noble Earl asked me some specific questions. I have some very long answers, but if he does not mind I suggest that he and I meet officials and someone from the DCSF to go through them. We will also discuss how much more we may be able to do within

19 May 2008 : Column GC454

the new constructs that are emerging, particularly within the HCA. I hope that will be helpful to him. We can certainly involve him in the way we take those things forward.

The Earl of Listowel: I thank the Minister for her full, generous and encouraging reply. I also thank noble Lords who took part and showed understanding, sympathy and support for the general direction of the amendments. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for putting their names to my amendment. I recognise what the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said: we need to put long-term investment into vulnerable adults and young people. The Government are to be commended on striving to achieve that end. We still have a long way to go.

A foster carer told me last week that she had been fostering for 13 years but had now decided to give up because she felt that she did not get enough support in what she was doing. We have a shortage of 10,000 foster carers in England alone. I was told at the meeting of the Fostering Network that 10 per cent of foster carers drop out each year. The Government are putting tremendous effort into improving the situation, but the stability for young people while they are in care is often still not adequate, although it is improving. We need to ensure that when they leave care they get the support and long-term engagement that the Minister has described is being attempted. I will read carefully what she has said, and I look forward to the meeting that she kindly offered.

I just want to check whether there are any further questions to put to the Minister at this point. I warmly welcome what the Government are doing to allow children the choice of whether to stay in foster care to the age of 18 or 21. I recently heard Kevin Brennan, the Minister in the other place, speak about this, and I welcome the commitment. It is so important that these children can choose to stay with their carer until the age of 21. It should certainly be at least that. Again, I thank your Lordships for a very helpful debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Lord Greaves moved Amendment No. 22:

“( ) to contribute to the reduction of poverty and to the reduction of inequality of opportunities within society,”

The noble Lord said: The amendment, which is grouped with a very interesting amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, on diversity, seeks to state in the Bill that one of the objectives of the HCA is,

I probably meant “the reduction of inequality within society”, but perhaps if I had put that I might have been thought rather old fashioned. The Minister says not, so perhaps I should have put that.

I am not challenging the Government to say whether these are government objectives. I am prepared to believe that they are, although they have not been very

19 May 2008 : Column GC455

successful ones in the past few years, certainly as far as inequality is concerned. However, the interesting thing is whether an agency such as this, which is about the provision of housing and regeneration, is overtly expected to contribute to these aims. That is all I want to say. I am interested to hear what the Government have to say about this. I beg to move.

Lord Mawson: I shall speak to Amendment No. 23A, which is in my name and is part of the group. It is a probing amendment, which recognises that the creation of the Homes and Communities Agency presents us with a real opportunity to move away from public housing monocultures of the past and to invest in the creation of new towns and areas that have both a physical and a social identity.

Having spent many years working at the centre of a large housing estate, I know how damaging these monocultures can be to local communities and how important it is that the new agency is empowered to respond to the social, economic and cultural contexts in which it invests and to encourage real diversity across the country. The public sector and housing associations are not the only ones guilty of creating monocultures. Private developers also have quite a track record in this regard, and have on many occasions missed the opportunity to create truly sustainable developments that have a real sense of identity.

Place-making is not just about having the right public sector structure or a clear leader, bringing people together or having a clear quality design concept. It is also about having a clear and rooted purpose and vision for the place. The desolate estates on the outskirts of many of our major cities are good examples of rootless places with no clear vision in their conception.

Over the past decade or so, we have talked a great deal about joined-up thinking and joined-up action. This is correct, but in many of our poorest communities these fine words are often not being turned into practical reality on the ground. I was in Bradford recently on an outer estate—here I declare an interest—and discovered a range of buildings sitting very close to each other at the centre of the estate. In reality, however, they had little relationship to each other and there was no real sense of place. It just felt empty and desolate. There was a community facility, which was run by a charitable body, a healthy living centre, a row of shops, a school and a church, and very soon there will be a new small supermarket. Yet the amazing thing was that none of the buildings bore any relationship whatever to another, and there was little of the joined-up activity necessary to create a sense of place and build a sustainable community. However, a number of the buildings had been built and extended in the past decade. All the government structures were there, but the words were not being translated into reality on the ground. There was no heart to the community, and apparently little relationship between the different services in a community which desperately needed a focus.

5.30 pm

My experience suggests that place-making will not happen by chance, and it will not automatically occur through the various public sector structures and

19 May 2008 : Column GC456

bodies created by the Government. Something else has to happen, and it has everything to do with people and relationships on the ground. Two years ago I was asked by the then chief executive of Tower Hamlets council to take a look at St Paul’s Way, a group of rundown estates some 500 yards from Canary Wharf. Again, I must declare an interest. Violent clashes had been taking place outside the school and the lead officer wanted a clearer picture of what was happening on the ground. I discovered that there were two large housing estates divided by a main road. On one side of the road were the homes of members of the Bengali community, and on the other housing for traditional white East End families. I was assured that a helpful social reality had developed over many years as loyal local authority officers followed public sector rules and processes which sought to create more equitable and integrated communities, yet the unintended consequences of their actions had not been foreseen. One local resident described the road as the Berlin Wall. Although the public sector structures had been set up to encourage neighbourhood renewal, in reality it was not happening on the ground.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page