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My third point is about offending children. We are said to be as a country—I fear I believe it to be true—less than caring about children in our society. We are censorious, our policy towards offending children is punitive and the press portray children as evil. The Bulger murderers were 10 when they killed the Bulger child. When they were aged 12, one of the major newspapers carried a cut-out coupon asking, “Do you want these children to rot in jail for the rest of their lives?”—and 80,000 people replied to the coupon saying yes.

We lock up more children than anywhere else in Europe. This has been said again and again but it needs to go on being said. Our criminal system is designed to deal with the consequences of juvenile offending, not the causes. One chief constable is quoted as saying about gangs that the police cannot cope alone—that there had to be a change of emphasis by society. We know that the gang culture is intimidating to the public and scaring for the individual, but some children grow up in an atmosphere of mental health problems, drink, drugs and violence between the parents, where they are not loved, cared for or troubled about; they are in an uncaring family. They are probably excluded from school. They may go into care and often will be moved many times because, predictably, they do not settle. The worst case I know about was a child who was moved 40 times and who, noble Lords will not be surprised to hear, ended up in a therapeutic community. He was extremely lucky to get there.

For some of these children the gang is the only family, support and relationship they may know. Of course seriously offending young people have to be dealt with and the public have to be protected but, as I have said several times before in the House, we should review the extent to which we are criminalising children, look to understand their needs and regard their welfare as crucial for them and equally important for society.

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The lack of early intervention in an offending child’s life will almost inevitably lead to a life of crime, with huge costs to the public, financially and emotionally.

12.46 pm

Lord Layard: My Lords, I am delighted that we are discussing this report so soon after it was published. That is very welcome. I had the privilege of serving on the panel that produced the report and I pay tribute to its other members who worked so hard to assemble the mass of evidence on which the report is so firmly based—particularly the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, who was the prime mover of the report and our inspiration throughout our meetings.

The report that has emerged is extremely wide ranging and contains recommendations for government, parents, teachers and society at large. As has been suggested, the most important recommendation is to society at large—that we must reduce the over-individualistic ethos in our society and teach our children to get more of their satisfaction in life from being of use to others. That has been spoken of movingly by many noble Lords and I want to confine my remarks to the recommendations aimed at the Government, in the hope that the noble Baroness can give the House some idea of the Government’s thinking on these points. Perhaps I should warn her that I have picked nine, although there are more. These go beyond what we have already had from the Government—the impressive children’s plan that was a major step forward in its time—because we need, in due course, to go further.

I begin with the three main recommendations relating to schools. We believe that schools have to take the lead in developing a better set of values in our children and a better understanding of themselves. This requires the right ethos in the school as a whole and more professional teaching of life skills, otherwise known as PSHE. Many schools have an excellent ethos, of course, based on explicit values, including respect, caring, generosity and so on. But we need that ethos in every school, and the Government’s programme on the social and emotional aspects of learning is a good step in that direction.

The teaching of life skills, or PSHE, has now become statutory. That is welcome, but it needs to be much more professionally taught, especially in our secondary schools. These are extremely difficult subjects to teach—they cannot be left to someone who has a gap in their timetable—and we recommend that, in secondary schools, PSHE should be a specialist subject, and studied as such, in the post-graduate certificate of education. If it is well done, it will draw on modern evidence-based materials which have been shown to be able to transform the lives of children. It will therefore attract a new kind of teacher into the schools—more psychology graduates, for instance—which would have a very good effect on the ethos of schools. But it requires a government decision to make it a specialist subject.

Secondly, as has been mentioned, school league tables produce an excessively exam-oriented ethos in the schools and an atmosphere too dominated by the fear of failure rather than the love of learning. We are very much in favour of tests, but they should be used

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as an aid to the learning of each individual child and its planning. We understand that that is behind the Government’s new pilots, which involve testing by “stage not age”, but it would tragic if, as seems possible, the results of this new approach are again fed into the framework of a league table. Of course, parents and local authorities need to know how a school is doing in terms of measured results compared with national benchmarks, but central government should cease to be the sponsor of a national horse race.

Thirdly, there is the intolerable inequality between our schools, especially our secondary schools. If you rank schools according to the proportion of children on free school meals, and then take the poorest quarter of our schools, you see that barely one of them reaches the national average performance in GCSE. That is not acceptable. One major problem is that those schools find it difficult to attract and retain the best teachers. An obvious remedy among others, which we recommend, is pay differentials in favour of schools with high percentages of children on free school meals. That needs to be done. The differential needs to be sufficient to ensure that the turnover and quality of teachers in those schools are no worse than the national average. Of course, we know that teachers are motivated not only by pay, but if the Government are serious about reducing educational inequality, they must put at least as much extra money into teacher quality in difficult schools as into better buildings.

I turn to our recommendations for the National Health Service. As has been said already, discord in the family is the greatest single obstacle to a good childhood: discord between parents and children, and discord between the parents. The NHS is one of the main instruments that we have which can help in mitigating these problems. We have made three recommendations: first, that the NHS should ensure that free classes on parenting are available to both parents around the time of childbirth. They would cover relationships as much as the physical care of a child. They should cover relationships between the parents and the child, and the impact on the relationship between the parents of having the child. Secondly, there should be support if, as time passes, those relationships deteriorate. The Government have taken excellent steps to help parents whose children are difficult. But what if the parents are fighting with each other? There is no national system of free counselling to support parents in this situation. The third sector does its bit, but the NHS must be the provider of last resort. At present, it is not. It helps parents only if their children are in trouble; it does not help parents who may cause their children to be in trouble. Thirdly, as has been said, there are the needs of children with serious mental health problems. They represent 10 per cent of all children, but, of them, only a quarter receive specialist help. We propose that the NHS should train 1,000 extra child therapists in the effective therapies which now exist for helping those children in such desperate need. This requires urgent government action in the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

Our report covers many other equally important issues, but I shall refer to just three more recommendations. First, we deplore advertising aimed at children

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under 12—in Sweden, it is banned—and we propose that any firm selling goods in Britain should be debarred from commissioning advertising of this kind. Secondly, we deplore the Government’s failure to achieve their own target for reducing child poverty. It is vital that we get back on track. As has been said, no expenditure is more likely to stimulate aggregate demand in a recession than expenditure on children. The next Budget is the time for action. Thirdly, we need a new look at the priority given to children’s services in general. The UNICEF report that has been mentioned shows that those countries with the highest child welfare are those with the most qualified workers in children’s services. How we treat the people who work with children is the real test of how much we care about the children themselves.

I have mentioned nine specific recommendations, but I reiterate my opening point—that, if this report is remembered in 20 years’ time, we hope that it will be because it helped to turn back the tide of excessive individualism which is doing so much damage to our children.

12.56 pm

The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham: My Lords, I, too, join others in paying tribute to my good friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, for his energy, initiative and leadership in this area.

In the time available to me today, I should like to look at child well-being in terms of the quality of the relationship between parents, by which it is massively affected. Research demonstrates that the optimal child-rearing environment for children is a committed marriage relationship. It is thus no coincidence that we find ourselves having to reflect on the failure of our culture in relationship to children at a time when marriage rates are at an all-time low. Twenty-three in 1,000 men and 21 in every 1,000 women choose to marry, which is lowest the rate since 1862.

Reflecting on this in his afterword, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said of marriage in relationship to the law:

“There is certainly no quick solution when we are speaking about a large scale cultural phenomenon: laws cannot make marriages work. But what they can do is to give all reasonable support to men and women who want to be responsibly and generously there for their children, and who need to be helped to resist the sort of pressures that destroy relationships through overwork and economic hardship”.

The question that we must thus address is: does the law at the moment “give all reasonable support”?

Research published this week by CARE looks at the way in which different OECD countries share out the tax burden. I must tell your Lordships’ House that it does not provide any reassurance that the tax system provides “all reasonable support”. The report demonstrates that the tax burden on one-earner married couples on average income and with two children is 44 per cent above the OECD average—I should point out that this burden is calculated after having regard to income tax, national insurance contributions, tax credits and child benefits.

One-earner married couples are of course of particular significance to discussions about parental investment in child development, because they are invariably the result of a couple deciding that one partner will be

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based at home for the children. Such families provide the ultimate means of addressing the so-called “latchkey kid” phenomenon, which documents how many children return home from school to find that both parents are at work and that they must consequently spend a significant number of hours each week unsupervised, where they become vulnerable to behavioural problems and other social difficulties. Why is it that couples who want to bring up their children in a one-earner married environment, with all its benefits, should be penalised so severely in the UK vis- -vis the OECD average?

We must remember the concept of sustainable development; namely, that we should run our economy in such a way that it damages neither the natural nor the social environment, since to do so jeopardises long-term economic growth. We might encourage mothers back to work, but if the latchkey kid phenomenon and the concomitant social difficulties are the result, it is clear that we will pay in the long term, given that those damaged children are more likely to become damaged adults and consequently less likely to make their full contribution as citizens in the future.

In highlighting the failure of the tax system to provide “reasonable support”, CARE’s research also endorses another central theme of the Good Childhood report, its concern regarding the growing culture of individualism. OECD countries place an average tax burden on one-earner married couples on an average wage with two children that is just 55 per cent of the tax burden placed on a single person with no family commitments or responsibilities. In the UK, however, the burden placed on one-earner married couples is 76 per cent of that placed on single people with no dependants. Given the fact that we should be sensitive to family responsibility if we are to foster the best environment for children and thus increase their chances of enjoying a good childhood, it seems a very sorry state of affairs that two people with no dependants earning £10,000 each will be taxed less than one person earning £20,000 because they will access two tax allowances, whereas the person earning £20,000 will access only one. What does that say about our attitude to motherhood; that we are not prepared to allow a non-working wife to transfer her tax allowance to her husband as a small token of respect for the invaluable work she carries out in the development of her children?

Staying with the subject of government policy giving “all reasonable support” to the couple relationship at the heart of child development, I want to mention the whole issue of child poverty. There are two main groups of poor children: children of lone parents where the parents cannot or are unable to work and children in couple families where both or one parent works. Much of the debate has focused on reducing the number of children in the first group. The second group has largely been ignored. The fact is that most children living in poverty live in two-parent families. The latest figures show that 2.9 million children are living in poverty on a “before housing cost basis” and that approximately 60 per cent of them are living in couple families. Tax credits need to be redesigned to give more help to children in poverty in two-parent families, while not diminishing that given to single parent families.



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In engaging with this challenge, one must appreciate that the imperative for redesigning the tax credit does not relate narrowly to material poverty. The fact is that the present tax credit arrangements mean that many families on low to modest incomes are better off if the parents live apart, even when taking into account the extra housing costs. Given that the well-being of the children is best supported by the presence of both father and mother in the same home, encouraging parents to live apart impoverishes the child development experience and is very ill advised.

I could go on at length on this subject, but I am conscious of the looks that come from the Government Front Bench if one oversteps the mark, and I do not wish to lose the few friends I have. The Government urgently need to redesign tax credits to allow for the presence of two parents, so that while single parents get no less support, poor two-parent families get credits that take account of the financial needs of both the mother and the father. When the Government work out whether a family is in poverty, they take account of the financial needs of all members of the family. Tax credits need to do the same. As regards taxation and the tax credit system, a great deal must be done to facilitate the good childhood.

1.01 pm

Baroness Morris of Yardley: My Lords, I join others in congratulating and thanking the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Leicester. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Layard on producing the report. It has been a long time in the making. I welcome the amount of consultation that has taken place and that the voice of the child and young person has been put at the centre of the considerations. Every generation looks at how we are going on in terms of our obligations to the next generation. I have to say that there seems to be more national angst about the nature of childhood than there has been perhaps for many decades.

I certainly welcome the report. I accept its premise that putting the child at the centre of our concerns is of prime importance and that their needs must come first. That seems to me to be the nature of the responsibilities of an adult to a child. If that is how the report interprets what it calls “individualism”, I would be happy with it, although I think that it goes further than that and is worthy of a debate itself. I am prepared to support that. I also support the comments on advertising and commercialism as well as the culture of celebrity in which our children grow up.

The comments about young people and mental ill health are very well made. That is something that so many of us did not think was an issue because we did not know the extent of mental ill health among that age group. All that is welcome.

Every generation of adults is worried about children. The nature of the generation gap is that there is a bit of us that does not quite understand the world in which our children are growing up. There is another bit of us that yearns for how it used to be because for us that feels safer and more secure. That problem is more prevalent in our generation than in any other because the world in which our children grow up is so very different from the world in which we grew up

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because of the nature of change, and because of so many good things as well as so many that would give us concern. I want to concentrate a little around that edge as I think there is a real danger of either panicking too much or not really understanding why we sometimes feel so ill at ease with the nature of childhood, although I take nothing away from our concerns about that.

The length of childhood is very different from what it was when I was growing up. The old 21st birthday cards that gave you the key to the door were almost literally and metaphorically true. There was a point when childhood ended, when you left your parents’ place of residence and you moved into the outside world. There were rights of passage about that—taking an apprenticeship and getting the qualification.

Children physically mature far earlier than they used to, yet they are kept in institutions for children far longer. They are kept in schools far longer, and that is a good thing; they stay with their parents longer, and that is a good thing; and they turn to their parents for financial support, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the financial support they want. However, being a child, and the length of time you are a child, is very different from when I was growing up. That point of leaving childhood and becoming an adult is not as marked as it used to be. Therefore, those rights of passage are very different.

We try to broaden our children’s aspirations. Sometimes that widens the boundaries of behaviour, disciplines, values and rules in which they are meant to grow up. Being a child now is far more complicated and challenging, and, in some ways, it is far more difficult. Our temptation was a cigarette behind the bicycle sheds. Now it is the dealing of drugs on urban streets. However, there are more opportunities and, in many ways, childhood has never offered as many opportunities to travel, to learn, to meet more people and to change the world. Therefore, what the debate must be is how well are we preparing children to cope with those changes, not that we can turn the clock back or that that is not the world they inhabit.

I want to talk a little about family patterns because, to some extent, the heart of the report was about that. I accept that there is evidence that children are most successfully brought up by two adults, preferably their parents, living in the home for those years of their childhood. You have to be careful to debate and write about that in a way that does not blame other family patterns for almost-bound-to-fail children and young people. Although you might be surprised at the public comments that have followed those particular parts of the report, it was to be expected. They were predictable because it is a real issue in society, and we need to be very careful how we debate that.

There are other considerations behind families and family set-ups as well as the statistics that face us in this book. I want to look at a few of them. What has gone in a generation is the extended family living close by, the supportive communities and the neighbours you knew and could turn to, and—something I worry about but feel guilty about worrying about—the professionalisation of support roles. I think of my grandmother who was brought up in inner city

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Manchester without a qualification to her name. What she and her neighbours did for other families, we now allow people to do only if they have an NVQ level 3. Although I am the last person to want people not to be trained and to have qualifications, what we have caused to happen is ordinary men and women thinking that the only people who can support their families are those with qualifications and not their neighbours and people who live in their area.

When we look at how to support families, we should consider not just the nature of family breakdown—I do not underestimate the importance of that—but the relationship of the family to the community as well as the relationship of the family to the state. A range of policies is available for supporting families, now referred to as “politics in the family”. However, when we talk about regenerating communities we need a better understanding of where families are based in communities. Somehow we need to re-empower people to make some of these decisions themselves. Two generations of people have been made to feel that they almost cannot bring up their own families. We should empower them to do so.

I have changed my mind in the past five years as regards my next point. I very much agree with the comments about locking up too many young children. The state took on the role of laying down behavioural boundaries because parents should have done so but they did not. The problem with that is that the punishment for failing to keep within the boundaries is incarceration at the end of the line. If you leave the power to lay down those boundaries with the family, the penalty is something else. However, it is a big issue and I am not sure how we get out of it. Politicians often talk about the legacy that they will leave. All of us, whether politicians or not, ought to remember that our real legacy will be reflected in how we bring up our children and how much we support those for whom that is the prime responsibility.

1.11 pm

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on chairing this important inquiry and on the brilliant way in which he introduced it in the House this afternoon. I, too, declare an interest, as the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Parents and Families.

For me, the great strength of this report is that it is not afraid to talk about the importance of love. I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will support me in this. Parental love is the aspect of the report on which I shall focus, because there is no time to look at all of it. In this context it is interesting that, in the detailed family study, children referred to love some six times, whereas professionals referred to it only once. I wonder what the reason for that is. Could it be that love cannot be accurately measured and is therefore unscientific? Or could it be that professionals are afraid of public confusion between parental love and the sexual exploitation of children, what we wrongly call paedophilia? Paedophilia means love of children, whereas sexual abuse is the exploitation of children.


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