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We need a part-time co-ordinator for the childrens lobby whose job would be to scrutinise all likely Bills well in advance for their potential impact on children; to summarise the issues and circulate a note of no more than two pages to Members; to identify Members who were interested and who were able to be involved; to co-ordinate their inputswhether they were going to speak at Second Reading or in Committee or just vote, or do the lot; and, when necessary, to help with research. If any noble Lord agrees that such a service would be valuable and that these thoughts are worth pursuing, would they please contact the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, or me? If there is sufficient enthusiasm, we will try to pursue the idea.
I take credit from the Whips for being probably the only person who has spoken within their allotted time.
Baroness Afshar: My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for keeping the question of the welfare of families and children always at the forefront. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for mentioning that the business of working, as well as the business of raising children, is affected by gender, and that the way in which policies are introduced often does not take into account the gender nature of work.
I shall refer to my own experience. When I had my first child, it coincided with the time when nurseries were closed, parental leave was curtailed and so on, and I ended up having to pay for the care of my child while I was in full-time employment. After paying for domestic helpI must admit that I had no training in domesticity, so I would have been very bad at itand all the childcare provision, as a full-time lecturer at a university I earned £5 a week. It shows the triumph of hope over experience that I had a second child and continued working, but then we all suffer from various kinds of madness.
I was enormously grateful to this Government for recognising the importance of childcare and for introducing measures to help with it. However, I was saddened to see that, when my daughter had her first child, she decided to give up working as the head of a faculty to go part-time in a primary school because she found out that to carry on would cost her more than she would earn. Her view was: why should she work so hard in order for someone else to enjoy her children? She decided to go part-time not least because she discovered that, because she had taken maternity leave for one year, her income was reduced every month. Had she as a teacher chosen to take leave for a year because of stress, she would have been paid full-time. Motherhood does not seem to be recognised, valued or rewarded; it is certainly not remunerated.
Recent research at the University of Yorks mother and babies unit says that middle-class women can afford at most the costs of childcare for one child and that childcare for two children becomes unaffordable. If professional women in full-time employment cannot afford good childcare, what happens to working-class women who have very few options?
I am worried about the proposed link between welfare and work. What kind of work, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, asked, can these mothers do
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Good children are raised in good families where there is support but also a bit of money. Of course, low incomes do not necessarily mean a poor childhood, but they have a connection. I ask the Minister whether it would be possible to give women on benefit, who stay at home, the funds that would otherwise be spent on supporting their children. This would also valorise the work that women do. If this is not an alternative, we need to go much further down the route of providing good, high-quality childcare locally. I applaud the support that is offered by grandparents and by family, but there is a worry that that kind of support is not open to any kind of analysis or evaluation. Many grandparents are wonderful, but there is no way of weeding out those who are not or who do not have the expertise. We need to work on those fronts and I wonder whether any of these ideas will go any further.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in particular on battling against the shortcomings of the digital age in her excellent speech.
There is no finer investment that we can make at any time, not just during a financial crisis, than investment in our children. This countrys success in the world will depend on the quality of our people and we must invest in that. Therefore, anything that prevents our children from fulfilling their potential and leading happy, successful lives must be eradicated. Unfortunately, recent sad cases have demonstrated that we have not yet got it right for children. We are still not putting enough resources into their safeguarding, their mental and physical health or their education. That must change. These are cost-effective measures, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, emphasised. I accept that this Government have done more for children than any Government, but the numbers of needy children are rising and the complexity of the pressures on their lives is growing. None the less, many of the Governments policies are moving in the right direction. I particularly support the five principles and six objectives of the Childrens Plan.
There are many aspects of childrens well-being, so I shall concentrate on just five issues from the debate. The first of those is child poverty, as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. The Government made an ambitious commitment in 1999 to halve child poverty by 2010 and to eradicate it by 2020. Although progress has been made, I know that the Government are disappointed that they did not
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Paying parents large amounts of benefit is neither affordable in the short term nor sustainable in the long term and, therefore, it is quite unrealistic. They say that it is far better to give a poor farmer a tractor and some seed than to give him a bag of grain to feed his family. On the other hand, if you do not give him a bag of grain as well as a tractor, his family will die of starvation before the crop can be harvested. I think that your Lordships will follow what I am saying, which is that the Government must address short-term poverty while at the same time putting into place those measures that will enable families to support their own children adequately in future.
This is where we come, as the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, mentioned, to the education of the parents, in particular the mother. In developing countries, funders know that the best way to help children is to educate their mothers so that they can bring up their children well. Even in this highly developed country, we know that a woman with a good education is more likely to have fewer children and a stable family structure and be able to get a job to help to support them. She is less likely to make poor health choices that will harm her children, such as smoking or drug and alcohol abuse, as the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, mentioned, all of which can destroy childrens lives as well as those of their parents. She is more likely to appreciate the importance of education and to do everything that she can to support her childrens learning. In the mean time, her education will help her to feed them well without great expense, understand their health and social needs and learn from those who have found effective and positive ways of parenting without resorting to violence.
So why has it taken the Government 10 years to agree to make personal, social, health and economic education a statutory part of the curriculum? Of course I welcome that, but they have wasted 10 years since Tony Blair made that commitment, without realising that such education would be one of the levers that would help the Government to achieve their child poverty target. Will the Minister tell us how the Government are getting on with the implementation of the new policy and with the training of the teachers and say whether parenting skills will be included in the curriculum?
Secondly, I should like to mention the importance of continuity for children, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, referred. Most families, rich and poor, are loving and caring, and the best continuity for the child is to leave it with its family. However, some families, as we have recently had brought home to us most sadly, are downright dangerous for the child. For those families, very difficult judgments have to be made by social workers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said, as to whether the childs best interests are served by staying with the family, with support, or going into care.
A couple of years ago, the cost to a local authority of taking care proceedings rocketed and the number of cases brought to the courts fell substantially. If that
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Thirdly, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has made the case brilliantly about the family courts. I agree with her wholeheartedly; it is a matter of the rights of children to be properly and independently represented and supported in court proceedings. However, the current proposals will discriminate against women and BME practitioners, just as the law was becoming more diverse. I think that that is very sad.
Fourthly, I will say a word about speech and language difficulties. The noble Baronesses, Lady Warnock and Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, spoke most effectively about the benefits of helping children with these problems, especially, in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about those in young offender institutions, where there are rather a lot of them. It is vitaland cost-effectivethat the service in custodial settings should be properly funded. However, prevention is better than cure. If more resources were put into communication problems in the early and primary years, that would probably avoid many of these young people getting into trouble in the first place and save us all a good deal of grief and money. Will the Minister say how the Government are getting on with the job of implementing the Bercow report?
Last week, the Government told all primary schools to place more importance on speaking and listening skills, following Sir Jim Roses review of the primary curriculum. I have read about I CANs primary talk project pilot in schools in Somerset, Bradford and Walsall, which accredits schools for creating communication-rich environments. Heads say that it is making a real difference, but the chief executive of I CAN said that she was frustrated over delays in implementing the Governments speech and language strategy. Can the Minister say what is being done to support such projects and implement the strategy?
Does the Minister also share with me and others a regret that the BBC has found it desirable to cut its budget for childrens radio programmes such as Go4It, which is to be axed next week? I must declare an interest as a BBC pensioner. One of my earliest, happiest memories was of sitting in front of the fire with my mother after lunch and listening for that most familiar tune, which your Lordships of a certain age will recognise as the signature tune for Listen with Mother. If we are to give children every opportunity to improve their oracy, which must always come before literacy, surely childrens radio must play its part. Last year the BBC spent £460 million on radio, but only £1.6 million went on young listeners. The numbers listening to childrens programmes may not be large
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Finally, I draw the Ministers attention to child trafficking and the report published today by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, which asks for more investment in police teams to track down victims and bring traffickers to justice. It says that immigration judges and border officials need to be better educated to recognise trafficking and that there needs to be more safe accommodation and psychological support for victims. The committee concludes that:
In effect, traffickers may be using the care home system for vulnerable children as holding pens for their victims until they are ready to pick them up.
This must end. UNICEF, in which I declare an interest as a trustee, has for a very long time urged the Government to open their eyes to this abuse. I hope that this report will ensure that the Government do so.
Baroness Verma: My Lords, I join all noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, on initiating this timely and pertinent debate. Like all noble Lords, I believe that to achieve health and prosperity in our country we must ensure that our children and young people, and their well-being, are at the heart of any government priority. I declare an interest as a provider of social care.
I have visited many schools, childrens centres and local community groups, which has enabled me to meet remarkable parents, children and young peopleparents seeking to do the best for their children and children wanting to achieve their aspirations, excel and make the most of their lives. One of my most recent visits was to Shadwell childrens centre in Tower Hamlets. Meena Hoque and her team work against a very challenging backdrop and need to be congratulated. Yet, sadly, for many families, while there is a desire to achieve aspirations, unfortunately, personal circumstances greatly reduce opportunity and choice. For some there are no childrens centres or community groups.
Many families have become institutionalised to state dependency, worklessness and poor or zero educational attainment. Children born in these circumstances face such enormous challenges that they often resign themselves to failure and the cycle continues. I join wholeheartedly with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester in arguing that the Government should look closely at inner cities, where problems are aggravated by language difficulties and lack of cultural knowledge.
We have had initiative after initiative and report after report, but very little progress has been made in narrowing the gap to enable real economic mobility to work among the most disadvantaged families. Britain
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UNICEF defines well-being as being adequately clothed, housed, fed, supported, loved and protected and where families and children are not disadvantaged in that their circumstances do not prevent them participating fully in the world and opportunities around them. But well-being is not a list of qualities against which we can tick boxes; it is a matter with real long-term consequences for many people. My noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton passionately recorded the findings of the report. I agree with her that little has changed since it was published. Many children today cite themselves as unhappy, more children are showing signs of depression at an earlier age and the lack of participation in collective activities has brought isolation and created rising obesity.
Through his excellent work with the Centre for Social Justice, my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith has shown us that society is becoming more and more broken, and that the state alone cannot hope to fix it without individuals being supported to take responsibility and play an active part in it. Time and time again we have been shown that children do better and are happier in stable family structures. They are more confident and are more likely to achieve better educational attainment. Therefore, it is vital that in supporting families we ensure that appropriate systems are in place to provide children with the outcomes that we all desire.
Early year support is particularly important to parents and children. The Government plan to create a childrens centre for every community by 2010. In 2007, the target for 2010 was 3,500 childrens centres. Will the Minister say whether this target will be met? Will she also say how centres are being monitored to ensure that they are responding to the needs of the local community? Between 2003 and 2006, the proportion of privately-owned nurseries declined from 78 per cent to 65 per cent. The number of childminders has decreased by nearly 40 per cent since 1997. There has been a continued decline in childminders. Nursery closures arise as the Government have reduced funding to PVI nurseries. While maintained nurseries receive £3,800 per pupil per year, the PVI sector receives just £1,800 per pupil per year. Good quality early years provision is one of the most important steps in equipping families with the information and support they need to bring up their children and to give children the early opportunities to lead a happy and fulfilled childhood.
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I welcome the Governments play strategy launched in December 2008, which set out that the Government would invest £235 million over 2008-09 to 2010-11 to develop play facilities for children of all ages. What progress has been made in developing the facilities? How many play facilities do the Government aim to develop by 2011? There are more children suffering on the well-being scale in Britain as British society is more unequal than ever before. This is visibly apparent in the education system. More than 3 million children have left primary school without the basics in maths, reading and writing since Labour came to power. Since 1998, the Governments expected level 4 in reading, writing and maths at key stage 2 has not been achieved by 3,114,000 children. Last year, almost 230,000 did not achieve this standard. Can the Minister say why she thinks that there has been so much prolonged failure? Will the Government reverse their wish for themed teaching and implement a primary curriculum that is rigorous and protects proper subject teaching?
It is the most vulnerable who are worst affected by this unequal education system. Government figures released in April show that only one child in seven in care reached the Governments expected standard of educational achievement at the age of 16. The gap in educational achievement at GCSE between children in care and other children has risen again this year and has widened by more than a quarter since 2001. Will the Minister say what the Government are doing to improve the education of children in care? Will they take up the Conservative proposals to set up residential academies to help children in care to fulfil their potential?
Many of the hard-working and bright children I have met at under-performing schools and schools in deprived areas are working incredibly hard to achieve good marks in their GCSEs and A-levels. Teaching staff and head teachers dedicated to teaching their pupils still struggle against the cultures of poor outside experiences. If we wish to create equality, this is an area that needs real will and direction. Children need to have confidence to participate in activities that develop different skills.
I turn briefly to the young people in, or on the edge of, care who are not getting the help they need. Part of this is due to high social worker vacancy rates and part due to excessive bureaucracy. According to figures from the Ministers own department, 34,000 new children were put on the child protection plan in 2008. Sadly, we tragically saw, with the case of baby Peter, how important it is that children do not get lost in a system mired in bureaucracy and poor training. The lessons of baby P must teach us that the Government must take an axe to social work red tape so that professionals can spend the bulk of their time with children in need, not tied to their desktops. Can the Minister say what the Government are doing to reduce bureaucracy and red tape in social care so that frontline staff are able to do face-to-face work? I put to the Government our suggestion that there should be in place a chief social worker. Will the Minister say whether there are discussions
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The 2009 Institute for Fiscal Studies report informs us that the Government would have to spend an additional £4.2 billion to meet the 2010 targets for child poverty reduction. Currently, the Government are on course to miss the target by 600,000 children. Sadly, we in Great Britain have the highest rates in Western Europe of binge drinking, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases among our young people. While we have increased in material wealth, we have increasingly become poorer in time and human contact. Children may have the latest hand-held gadget, plasma screen or designer wear, but the loss of family structures, extended families, neighbourhood activities and safe and secure streets constantly threaten the happiness and well-being of our children.
This debate raises many questions. I will listen very carefully to the Ministers response.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, I join all noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Massey on initiating this debate. She has encouraged us to think about our experience of domestic science. Sitting here, listening to the debate, I recall that, when I started at my comprehensive school in 1972, the girls were allowed to do domestic science but the boys were not. I was so outraged that I was not allowed to do woodwork or metalwork that I organised a little campaign. Shortly afterwards, we were all allowed, boys and girls, to do domestic science or woodwork. I loved my woodwork, as well as my domestic science.
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