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Baroness Meacher: My Lords, I support this amendment. My noble friend Lord Northbourne has
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goes a long way towards achieving what is sought in the first three proposed new subsections. If children at school had any idea of the impact of a baby on their lives, and any idea of the impact on children of family break-up, the loss of the father and so forth, I think we could expect radical change. Surely we could expect to see the increased engagement of parents, long-term parental commitment and a reduction in the number of underage and unwanted pregnancies. There is a tremendous case for doing something on the education side in relation to parenting.
I have to say that I find it quite remarkable that we have been teaching geography, history, biology and so on for all these years, but we do not teach parenting. All these subjects are important, but are they actually more important than the ability to parent a child? Clearly, they are not. We now have social and emotional health education in schools, but what do those classes focus on? They concentrate on sex, tobacco and alcohol. Again, these are important issues, but none in my view is as important as parenting. I know that the Bill is not about the curriculum, but nevertheless an effort of some kind to allude to the importance of these matters in the Bill is absolutely essential.
I warmly welcome the amendment on the basis that poverty does not depend only on the amount of money coming through the door, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly said. It probably depends even more on the ability of the parents, first, to stay together so that there might be two incomes coming in, and secondly, to manage their resources in a warm, loving relationship and to run an effective household. So I strongly support the commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, to the notion that we need parenting to be included in the Bill. It is fundamental to the partnership of sufficient money and good parents. If, before the Report stage, we could sit down and think about how this amendment might be reframed to achieve the objective we seek, that would be wonderful. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, would be more than happy to have such a discussion.
Lord Freud: My Lords, before I comment on the amendment, I want to preface my remarks with two other points. First, I thank the Minister for giving an indication in our last debate that the word "mental" in terms of health might be looked at. I am grateful for that. Secondly, I would like to observe that we began to see a little bit of causation creeping into the Bill in the last set of amendments, some of which were government amendments, in terms of nutrition, so we are now beginning to look at what causes poverty rather than just the measurement of poverty-
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Certainly many of the arguments we are making turn on how poverty causes poor nutrition because the money is not available to pay for school meals that we would all like to see. I really do not accept how the noble Lord seeks to turn it the other way around.
Lord Freud: I am sure that in practice it works both ways because a child whose nutrition is poor is likely to have a worse outcome than one whose nutrition is good. I think that we can afford to have an all-encompassing definition.
The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, fits in closely with several of the amendments that we have tabled. The proposals on supporting and monitoring the relationships of parents chime closely with the non-financial targets amendment that I withdrew earlier. It ties in closely with the intention behind my amendment last week of renaming the Child Poverty Commission in a way that stressed the importance of families and parents. It also chimes with the amendment on adding parenting skills to the mix of the important things required.
It is clear that parents are and should be the central pillar to ensure child well-being. We rely on parents to do the job yet many find it difficult to fall naturally into the role and need support. That support has been pretty skimpy although some excellent services are now being developed. It is, however, far from being a universal service. It is worth stressing the central importance of stable and committed relationships. They produce the best outcomes for adults and children. As the Centre for Social Justice stated in its excellent Green Paper last week:
"Children do best when living with both biological parents".
"If you have experienced family breakdown as a child you are more likely to experience family breakdown as an adult".
The shape of families is of immense import to the state. The cost of break-up of relationships is enormous at many different levels and most importantly in the damage done to children. So the state has a very material interest in supporting parents in their commitment to each other. This is of course why my party is committed to recognising marriage-the highest form of commitment-in the tax system and getting rid of the material couple penalty in the tax credits system. According to the Centre for Social Justice:
"The Government's Working Tax Credit actually undermines stable families by disincentivising two-parent family formation. As a result of the 'couple penalty' approximately 1.8m low-earning couples are materially worse off than their single parent counterparts, losing an average of £1,336 a year because they live together. Just three of the 26 OECD countries have larger couple penalties than the UK".
I remind noble Lords that family breakdown is concentrated disproportionately in deprived areas. We have heard a lot about social engineering. It is, of course, impossible to draw simple lines of causation in this area where various factors such as poverty, joblessness and family breakdown form a toxic brew. But the introduction of such a large incentive to stay apart or break up is likely to have a real impact. It is heartening to see that the Government have at last realised the central importance of families and, just before an election, have published their own Green Paper-the first for 11 years. I was amused to read Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, justifying the long silence in an article in the Sunday Times. He said:
"Because we knew it was complicated we ended up not talking about families and talking about children instead. One of the
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I like the "a little bit". I would call a material couple penalty of £1,336 a year more than a little bit. I would call it a built-in snub to family relationships in the state support system and a signal of how little this Government have cared for stable, committed, two-parent families.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Does the noble Lord not agree that his remarks are completely at odds with his previous amendment on the disparities in the equivalence scales, which suggest that couples are over-provided for and single-parent families are under-provided for? That was the noble Lord's own argument.
Lord Freud: I do not accept that. This is a material couple penalty. It has been found that if you move apart or if you go together, that is the loss.
Let me go on and quote Frank Field, who put it so eloquently in 1999:
"Why marry a fellow-supposing an offer is there-when a benefit claim as a single parent results in more money proportionately than by marrying, particularly if the boyfriend also claims his welfare cheque, together with housing benefit, and sub-lets his flat while living with his girlfriend?"
I assure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that we strongly support his amendments. They are central to strategies to put the role of parenting in the central place in which it belongs for the well-being of our children.
Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on his amendment and the sub-headings within it. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Freud, had to say. As someone who has been very happily married for 42 years, I have no argument against marriage, but I know that it is not always the case that when there is a married couple with children, those children are always happy. There are some situations, which we know through our own families, in which, because the couple stay together, the children are very unhappy indeed, because there can be family arguments and all sorts of tension within the house. Children at a very young age can pick up the tensions within the household, even if the arguments take place after the children go to bed.
So we have to watch what we say when we suggest that with married couples everything is fine, but with unmarried girls and single parents, that is not so good. I had cases when I was a Member of Parliament. Often a girl would come to me and talk about housing and what a bad time she was getting from the husband, who was a bully and a rascal. Sometimes, the bullying is not necessarily about lifting their hand to a woman. Sometimes it is verbal bullying.
Lord Freud: I am grateful for the point that the noble Lord is making. I want to make absolutely clear what I am saying. What are valuable to children are stable, committed relationships. Unstable, uncommitted,
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Lord Martin of Springburn: We are at one. It has got to be a happy relationship within the home to be of benefit to the children. The first paragraph in the amendment comes back to socio-economic disadvantage. I can think of a couple sitting in their house saying, "Anna, why is it that we don't have two ha'pennies to rub together?"
I cannot imagine Anna saying, "Well, it's because we're in a socio-economic state of disadvantage". At one time, the late Charles Dickens did a job in here as a Hansard writer. They serve us very well. When I think of language like that being used, the chapter about Mr Micawber explaining poverty to young David might have been different and it would not have been so interesting.
I am interested in the first paragraph of the amendment, about,
There is something that worries me greatly. There are housing estates in Glasgow that were built with very good intentions and provided excellent houses, right from the days of John Wheatley, when he was a Minister and allowed local authorities to build good council housing. Some of that council housing is still standing today, under the provisions that John Wheatley made as housing Minister. When Margaret Thatcher said that we were going to sell every council house in the land, a lot of the John Wheatley houses were the first to go up for sale and are still standing.
The difficulty with the housing estates that I know is that in the 1950s, and before that even in the 1930s, there were big factories adjoining them. That is why the housing estates were built. Therefore, you had a working population. You had a social mix. You had the foremen and the managers living in the community; you had the doctors and the teachers living in the community and in those housing estates. If you think of going into a village with 400 households, there would still be the doctors, lawyers, accountants and other people. Young children, including those in poorer households, could look at them and think, "I want to be like that lawyer or that accountant".
In Glasgow, which I know-it will be the case throughout the country-there is a fantastic amount of kindness, goodness and willingness to help neighbours on the housing estates. I do not like to criticise public leaders, but that is why I was disappointed when that little girl from the estate got kidnapped and it then turned out that a parent was involved and it was not really a kidnap. Every night, the men and women in that estate and their children-I have never visited there, but I watched the newsreel-were out looking for that wee girl while she was reported missing. There was an unfortunate remark and an apology has been
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I shall give an example. In one deprived housing estate that I know of, a lady who was involved in a marriage breakup stayed in another part of Glasgow. The situation was so bad that she could not afford a removal van. She got her bits and pieces on to public transport and had to make three, four or five journeys from her old house to her new one. When her new neighbours found out about it, they decided to join her on the public transport and help her to do her removal in such poor circumstances. She says, "I never forgot that and I have stayed in this community, poor as it is, with all its difficulties, for the past 15 years and my children, and now my grandchildren, are staying here". That is the goodness that is there.
I turn to the reason I have risen to speak. One of the difficulties with so many of the housing estates where terrible poverty exists is that those who are prepared to help and to engage parents will come into the community and then go back out again. No-one is staying in the community with the people who have these hardships, with the exception of the religious clergymen and women-in my case, the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church. They often stay within their communities 24 hours a day. Even the police, good as they are, need a phone call before they come in for any difficulty that arises. We have all these serious problems, and people need help. We have to find a way of trying to get those who are seeking to help to engage in the community seven days a week and 24 hours a day. It has to be done before we can make any impact and help them.
It is not going to be easy. Take a nice suburb on the edge of a city: if a social worker is needed there, they are going into a nice area. In some of these housing estates, there are drug problems, or dogs that are trained to be the first line of defence if police officers are going to raid a house. It is very hard for a social worker to go into a home like that.
We have heard of cases where children have been terribly neglected. In almost every case there is a dog in the house, and sometimes more-two or three. Yet as a society we do nothing about it. In fact, if a local authority says, "Let's keep dogs under control", because they attack postmen and other people who come in to help the community, right away you will find a journalist saying, "That's terrible, people aren't being allowed to keep their pets". But there are pets, and there are wild animals. This is one of the difficulties that children have in some of these communities: pit-bull terriers are there because of criminal elements, while these children and their families try to rise above it. If we are putting adverts on national television about getting social workers to help, we have give those social workers back-up and allow them to get into these estates freely. They are not always able to do that.
I am very supportive of the amendment, but to engage with people we must find ways of getting into the community, and not just staying there from 9am to
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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for his amendments, my response to which has been anticipated by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley-I would have been safe to put a fiver on it.
Let me start with the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and the couple penalty. We had a debate about this last time. We do not accept the noble Lord's analysis, and when we asked him last time about how costs featured in that analysis he was unable to answer. Also, his party has a commitment to introduce some transferable married couple's allowance, which was costed at something like £4.9 billion. None of the benefit of that will go to people on low incomes who are not in the tax system; most of it will go to people who are on higher incomes.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: And third marriages.
Lord Freud: The Minister will expect me to make an observation on that, and I thank him for giving way. Clearly, our policy is not to give a full transferable at any particular rate; it says we will recognise marriage in the tax system. However, we also have a commitment to get rid of the difference in the tax credits system, which is much more material.
There has been a lot of mealy-mouthed use of the word "correlation" in this Committee, rather than "causation". The Government like the word "correlation". I went to find what the causation effects are in terms of the effect on poverty of marital splits. This is not the worst type of split-
Lord McKenzie of Luton: Is this the noble Lord's observation on my observations, or is it another contribution to the amendment?
Lord Freud: I am defending the point about the importance of marriage that the Minister attacked. I am willing to drop the point.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: I will make it clear that I never-
Lord Northbourne: The amendment is not about marriage. If noble Lords want to talk about marriage, I have another amendment coming up-on which I shall not be supporting the noble Lord, Lord Freud.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: The noble Lord is quite right. My comments were focused on proposals for a tax allowance related to marriage, which would give people who are married an extra tax benefit. My question was: how would that help the poorest and how would that help child poverty, which is what the Bill is focused on?
The amendment requires the Secretary of State, in preparing his child poverty strategy, to consider what, if any, measures ought to be taken in a range of additional areas relating to parental engagement, including
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We have today debated a number of possible additions to the list of building blocks in Clause 8. As I said in response to the other amendments, it is not necessary or appropriate to specify in the Bill the types of proposal referred to in the amendment. Clause 8 already makes clear the intention of the strategy to look at a range of issues. I reassure noble Lords that the work under way to develop the first child poverty strategy is considering support for parental skills, as required by subsection (5)(c). As I said in response to Amendment 31, support for vulnerable parents and families, including education in parenting skills, is one of many factors that we will consider in preparing our child poverty strategy.
The Government are committed to strengthening parental engagement, and there is a range of help available to support parents in developing better parenting skills and stronger relationships. The Government fund a wide range of support for parents that can be accessed in different ways. For example, the significantly expanded parenting and family support offered through the relaunched Family Information Direct programme aims to deliver support to parents when and where they want it, and in a form that suits them. Parents can ring a telephone helpline, go online for personalised advice, join a social network, watch online videos or read articles in newspapers and magazines. Under Family Information Direct, 12 key third and private sector organisations are working to provide a co-ordinated programme of 14 different services, which have supported more than 2.5 million parents since April 2008. Parenting information and support is also available through print and video channels, which have reached more than 20 million adults over the same period.
At the same time, we are clear that firm and effective action must be taken to challenge poor or inadequate parenting, which has serious consequences for children and communities. The national roll out of Think Family is supported by more than £170 million in funding over 2009-11, which will enable local authorities to roll out a programme of targeted interventions that address poor parenting and improve parenting skills, including family intervention projects in every area to support the most chaotic families using whole-family intensive support.
As has been acknowledged, last week we published a Green Paper on families and relationships that focuses on enabling families to help themselves through a range of support measures. We believe that this must be pursued in ways that fit with the reality of family life today. This means, for example, that the crucial role that fathers play in their children's lives must be recognised.
The Green Paper specifies that the bounty packs that are given to newly pregnant women will also now include materials that are specifically designed for fathers. This new scheme has been launched to approach fathers at an early stage, which is key to engaging them later on. The dad's guide, among other issues, will cover birth registration, parental responsibility, key health issues, communicating with and keeping the
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Another example is the commitment through the 21st Century School Parent Guarantee to involve parents in their children's learning and to ensure that they are told if something is going wrong. This includes easier access to children's services when they are needed, such as health and social care; and access to lots of services to help parents as well as their children, including parenting advice, adult learning and training opportunities, access to childcare and help into work.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lords, Lord Freud, Lord Martin and Lord Northbourne, focused on the importance of parenting. We agree that parents have the biggest influence on their children's development. Parental involvement and aspiration shape children's achievements.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, absolved me of responsibility when it came to his previous attempts to get a more specific definition of parental responsibility into legislation. I plead guilty because we also debated this when we considered the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill. Let me be clear that we believe it is the parents' duty to act in the best interests of their children at all times. We know that the home environment and the parents' influence are the most important factors in determining children's aspirations and outcomes. The Government expect all parents to provide a stable and nurturing home environment and to be responsive to every physical, emotional and material need. We expect mothers and fathers to act as the primary role models for their children and to instil positive standards of behaviour. Should any of these responsibilities prove to be too burdensome, we reasonably expect parents to seek appropriate advice and to ensure that the problems that some parents face do not affect their children's well-being and life chances.
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