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I turn now to Amendment 63. Our view is that this should be resisted because of practical difficulties in measuring the number of children who are cared for by family and friends, and who are experiencing the different types of poverty defined in Clauses 2 to 5. The practical difficulties arise both because the survey used to measure child poverty does not distinguish between children who are living with family or friends carers and those who are living with parents; and because the relatively small numbers of these children-although I accept that there is some disagreement about how small is small-would mean that it would not be possible to produce reliable estimates of the numbers involved. However, discussions are under way with stakeholders to consider how current data collections might provide information on the number of children living with relatives. To include reporting requirements based on households below average income surveys, which drive other targets, would not be possible because the surveys do not produce that data. Even if they did, the survey sample might produce some difficulties. However, that is not to say that there is no recognition of the need for more data. Work is under way to try to get the data, but not specifically by those means and for that purpose.
Finally, I turn to Amendment 71. We similarly appreciate the intention behind it, which is to ensure that the needs of children living with family and friends carers are properly taken into account by local authorities when conducting needs assessments in preparation for producing their local child poverty strategies. The purpose of the amendment is to require the Secretary of State to include the number and needs of children living with family and friends carers in the matters that must be considered by local authorities. There is currently nothing to prevent the Secretary of State making provision in the local child poverty needs assessment regulations on how the needs of children living with family and friends should be considered.
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The amendment therefore adds little to the Bill as local authorities can include these considerations in their local needs assessments under Clause 21 as currently drafted. Noble Lords will be aware that we have circulated draft regulations on the needs assessment, and I commit to looking at those again to see whether something more specific might be included to beef up the necessity and desirability of engaging local authorities in focusing on this. It is enabled by the Bill as it currently stands.
In addition, because the definition of family and friends carers in these amendments is very wide, it is unclear exactly which children would be included in the requirement. I say this with some trepidation but I hope that my comments illustrate the value that the Government place on the role of family and friends carers and the support that is already in place to enable them to fulfil that role. I reassure noble Lords that the Government will continue to work closely with the organisations representing family and friends carers to address their concerns about the support available to this important group.
The recent grandparents' summit and grandparents' reception provided a valuable opportunity for the Government to meet and hear the views of grandparents, a number of whom are caring full time for their grandchildren. In addition, Ministers recently met groups representing family and friends carers, including the Family Rights Group, the Grandparents' Association and Grandparents Plus, to discuss their concerns, which the Government are carefully considering. In particular, concerns have been expressed about the difficulties experienced by some family and friends carers if they have to go to court to secure their care of a child and the complexity of the support available to them. We heard that graphically this afternoon. We are concerned that some grandparent families in particular are not getting the support to which they are entitled and we want to understand more about the barriers to this.
The Government will explore with stakeholders how best to identify these families and help them to access the support that they need. The views of family and friends carers have informed the Government's families and relationships Green Paper, which was launched on 20 January. It sets out a broad cross-government strategy on supporting families and relationships, including where children are living with relatives or friends. It addresses the need for local authorities to have an effective framework for supporting family and friends carers and for fostering services to be clear about the support that they should provide where a child is cared for by a relative or friend within the care system. The Green Paper also announces a support pack for relatives who are caring for children because of a parent's drug or alcohol misuse and to ensure that future developments in family and friends care are informed by best practice. It also announces that the Government are commissioning an updated
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I am reminded that I did not deal specifically with godparents. Notwithstanding that godparents may not be included in the definition of parents for the purposes of this Bill, it does not preclude a focus on their work as kinship carers in the broader analysis of tackling socio-economic disadvantage. Part of that may be a focus on the monetary support that is available to them.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: A lot of points have been raised on this issue and I understand the power behind them, particularly about the additional financial support that kinship carers should have. That may well be something which emerges from the strategies that the Bill will produce. They may also emerge from other work that is going on across the Government, as I have explained. However, I do not believe it is necessary to amend the Bill in the way proposed in order to achieve that outcome.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My noble friend Lady Hollis asked specifically about academies and whether they have a three-year pass on responsibilities for looked-after children. I cannot answer that question. It would be a bit grim if that were the case, but I will certainly find out and get back to my noble friend. Local academies normally do really good work, but I want to understand if that is the case. A number of noble Lords focused particularly on resources and the role of local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Martin, gave us the benefit of his experience in Glasgow and picked up on the issue of the different approaches taken by local authorities. The framework within the Bill for local authority needs assessments and the necessity to work with partners will be one route towards achieving a better focus.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, asked about the cost benefits of this approach. I am sure he will understand that it is difficult to establish the costs and benefits of increasing financial support for particular families when a number of them enter into purely private arrangements and may not come to the attention of the local authority unless the child is in need. However, I think we would agree that in terms of investment in prevention and tackling child poverty, whatever the timeframe of the benefits, they are always a good investment.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: Yes, I think that is right. I have just been helped by the Box. The reference was
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Lord Freud: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. This is an important and central point. We are talking about some of the most vulnerable children with the worst outcomes of all children, and therefore this is not an issue one would want to dodge in a Child Poverty Bill. Putting jibes about Christmas trees to one side, this is a really important issue. I would like to request the Minister to ask the relevant department to make a swift, rough and ready assessment-or in the famous words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, a "quick and dirty" assessment-preferably before the Report stage, of the expenditure implications of these amendments and whether overall cost savings might be achieved. It could be done on a spreadsheet with a range of assumptions, but we need a basis on which we can look at this. I ask this because my strong instinct suggests that there are very considerable savings to be made, so I would be interested to know what the first instinct of the department is.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: Let me say first that nobody is seeking to dodge this issue. The point I have been trying to make is that the extremely valid and powerful points that have been made are effectively already encompassed in the framework of the Bill. They should be addressed as part of the strategies and nothing needs to change in the wording of the Bill for that to happen. That is the import of the Government's response on this. We are not saying that it is not important; of course it is.
Baroness Walmsley: I am so sorry to interrupt the Minister again, but we know that a lot of these good things can already be done. Local authorities are already enabled to support kinship carers financially and in other ways, but the fact is that they do not do it. That is why the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, feels so strongly that she has to keep bringing this up Bill by Bill, wherever there is a little niche to get it in. It is not happening. The noble Lord, Lord Martin, also made it very clear that sometimes when it does happen they fight over who is going to pay. We need clarity and certainty.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: Those points are very well made. My response is that the framework of the Bill and the requirements for the need assessments and the local strategies should drive people to address that. More than that, we are going to issue guidance around all this, so it should be very clear to local authorities what their responsibilities in this matter are.
I was trying to deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Freud, about a cost-benefit analysis. He will understand that if part of the strategy that emerges is the need to make better additional provision for kinship carers, issues will arise about how much that should be and what should be the baseline. Until all the detail of that is worked through, any cost-benefit analysis would be at best very crude.
I come back to the point that the Bill is not about writing the strategies. It provides the framework within which the strategies should be developed and driven.
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Lord Freud: I thank the Minister for that response, but I must point out that if I were still sitting in an investment bank, which six or seven years ago I was-I am a reformed character now, I assure him-I would get a decent-looking spreadsheet on this overnight, which would give the rough order of magnitude of cost and expenses that we were talking about, and a framework in which to look at the issue. It is clearly an issue of immense importance. I cannot understand why we cannot have a rough spreadsheet with three or four basic assumptions so that we can just look at it informally. You can tell from the debate that there is a very strong group of Members who feel that the state should support this. I anticipate that this will come back in quite powerful form at later stages. Such a spreadsheet would be an immensely valuable stepping stone to allow us to take a sensible approach to this later.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, before my noble friend responds, I hope he will permit me to speak. I am sure we all very much welcome the completely consensual approach in the Committee today in seeking how best to respond to the problem. The difficulty is that the stats do not exist. Even my noble friend Lady Massey and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who have been working with colleagues in Grandparents Plus and the Grandparents' Association, do not know whether we are talking about 200,000 or 300,000 or 100,000 or 500,000 grandparent and kinship carers of these children, and for how long, and at what cost, and at what age, and so on. The problem is that we cannot start on that building block. Most of the panel surveys do not pick this stuff up. Perhaps we have not asked the right questions. It is then very hard to get to a spreadsheet outcome, although I would dearly love to see it. That is why this amendment is asking that, if we cannot do quick and dirty because we do not have enough stats, can we at least build up appropriate stats over time? That is why I hope that my noble friend will think about an amendment to ensure that we identify this as an issue that the commission has to take on board. I think that would satisfy us.
The second point that I wanted to ask about was that my noble friend made an interesting comment in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about local authorities. He seemed to suggest, if I heard him correctly, that he was going to write to local authorities to get them to clarify their response and their relationship. Until we have the hard stats on which we can develop a well founded policy, I think I understood him to say that local authorities are going to be required to ensure that kinship placements, even of children who have not come into the formal, looked-after care system, will none the less get a degree of appropriate financial support. I understand the burden on local taxpayers and the like, but none the less they should have a degree of appropriate financial support to allow those children to remain in-I shall not call it the black care
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Baroness Butler-Sloss: To save the Minister getting up and down, I wonder whether I might add my two cents' worth. I wanted to ask him about two points. The first is in relation to data. It seems to me that it will be impossible for local authorities or the Government to be able to deal with informal arrangements between parents and kinship relations or other carers. Nobody could ask them to do that. However, the majority of the cases that we are talking about today have come through the local authority going to a member of the family, godparent or other friend and asking them to look after a child in need under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, on which I want to ask a second question. That will be a record in the local authority. That information is available. The authority may need to scrabble through its documents, but I do not see why that would do any harm. The government department would then have the data on every child placed with a kinship family in the past five years, say. That information is available to be obtained and I would have thought that those behind the Minister would say that that could be done. That would give some very valuable data. Local authorities, under the social workers, will have it in their records.
Secondly, I was profoundly disturbed to hear that the Minister had been fed with Section 17 of the 1989 Act, under which the local authority has responsibility for children in need. I would like to know whether the Minister has any evidence that any local authority anywhere within England and Wales has ever paid a kinship carer under Section 17 of the 1989 Act. I would like to bet £5, if that is not improper, that they have not done so.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, on the latter point, I cannot give an answer off the top of my head. However, I will ask the team to go away and see if we can lose the noble and learned Baroness's £5, although she did make a fair point.
I will try first to unpick the issue of data. I will deal with the data on which the targets that form part of the Bill are based, namely the households below average income surveys. As I tried to explain, the surveys do not differentiate who the adults are in the family when the data are collected. Therefore, it is not possible to look at the surveys in the same way as we do for measuring targets, and identify kinship care arrangements: it does not flow from the data. There is a separate point about the general need for data: one recognises that. Work is under way, as I have said. I am happy to reflect on my noble friend's suggestion about whether we could do anything more specific in the Bill to drive that more formally. I cannot commit to that, but I take the point. However, I would separate it from relying on the households below average income survey, which
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Local authorities are enjoined to produce local strategies. They are required to undertake a needs assessment. One would expect them to be in a strong position to assess the needs of children in poverty in their area. I hope that I have said that, as part of the process, regulations and guidance will be issued to local authorities in this area. We need to see how that guidance might be used to focus on the issues that have been raised this afternoon, so that when local authorities devise their strategies and act on them, these things are at the heart of the strategies. That was the purpose of those comments: there was no suggestion of writing to local authorities in the interim on the basis that my noble friend suggested.
I am not sure about the scope of the investment banking activities of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, or about what he did with the spreadsheets that he produced on what seemed to be a fairly broad-brush basis. Perhaps it was practices like that which led us into the financial crisis that has beset us across the globe. However, the point here is one that my noble friend Lady Hollis touched on. We do not have the data for the numbers involved; and even if we did, we have no detailed work on what sort of rate per week would be appropriate as a payment to kinship carers, and on what other considerations might be taken into account. The work that is being done as a result of the Green Paper on family relationships and support, and the further studies that I referred to would be the basis on which to produce that information. Producing a few figures on a few pieces of paper in the short term would not help us very much. I hope that we share the broad principle that addressing poverty and making sure that all children are able to flourish and have decent living standards is a sound investment for government. That is at the heart of the Bill.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I am not sure where to begin. I thank all noble Lords for their speeches in what has been a very moving debate. I also thank the Minister for his valiant responses. I know that he is not a dodger, because I have worked with him before on this issue and he has shown great interest and met many grandparents.
This Bill is about child poverty. Two things seem to be going on. One is about what local authorities know, or should know, about how many people are involved in this. I agree with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, that they must have some information, and many will have a lot of information.
They should know what the problems are if they are to address this pocket of child poverty. I know that the organisations that support family and friends carers are becoming more and more organised and determined to get something done. I should be surprised if some of them do not run out of this debate and try to do some work on the figures-maybe even before our good people behind us can get to grips with it.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: We have all worked so closely with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, on this that I assumed that she would be taking it forward, but we are delighted to have the noble Lord here, despite the spreadsheet ideas.
When we debate the issue of family and friends carers it sometimes gets clearer but sometimes it is more confusing. It certainly gets more passionate and we have to realise, as the noble Lord, Lord Martin, said, that in all these local authority manoeuvrings vulnerable children and families are in the middle of all this. For example, if a grandparent takes over a child who has lost his or her parents, the child and the grandparent will be grieving and there may be all kinds of behavioural difficulties. There is no money. One grandparent said to me, "When I should be reading my grandson a bedtime story I am filling in the bloody forms from the local authority". It simply is not good enough.
Some local authorities-Nottinghamshire is one-have at least a part-time worker who will help the kinship carer to fill in the forms, tell them where to get support and generally help them to get the money. The problem is that many local authorities do not have such workers and they do not come up with support, financial or otherwise. It depends on where you live, which is not good enough either. I have met quite a lot of family and friends carers and they all say that the local authority is a point of contact and sometimes they are absolutely useless but sometimes they are really helpful. I know that there is guidance about, but the problem with guidance is that no one has to follow it. I do not think that that is stringent enough to deal with vulnerable children.
Maybe the Minister and his officials could meet a group of us to come up with one overarching amendment that is simpler than this one. I am encouraged to ask this because there has been widespread support across all parties. We have to move forward in some way on this issue. I am not entirely happy with some of my noble friend's responses, although I know that he supports it, but I think that we could come up with something that is more solid and much shorter so that this important issue on child poverty is addressed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: Would my noble friend permit me to speak in relation to the guidance? Technically I am advised it would be statutory guidance, but that only half answers the point. I am more than happy to commit to a meeting together with officials. I stress that the issue for me is whether you need anything more specifically set down in the Bill in this regard.
Nothing that has been debated and argued for this afternoon is precluded under this Bill. These things should be addressed as part of local authority and
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Lord Freud: My Lords, Amendment 33 is short and simple, it is not quick and dirty. I tabled it to emphasise that any measures taken in the UK strategy must take account of the range of potential health problems that might be impacting on the welfare of a child.
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