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Family Nurses

Volume 461: debated on Wednesday 20 June 2007

Experiencing pregnancy in the early years of life profoundly affects the resulting child’s life chances. The family nurse partnership pilots, which are based on the extremely successful US nurse family partnership scheme, will help to improve parental and child outcomes through structured and intensive home visiting to mothers from early pregnancy until the child is aged two. I have recently visited the Slough and Barnsley pilots, where I was very impressed by the good work of the nurses and the enthusiasm with which the programme was received by all involved.

I am looking forward to the evaluation of the pilot. I am particularly interested in the pilot in Tower Hamlets, which is a borough neighbouring Hackney. Will my right hon. Friend indicate when that evaluation will take place? What particular work is being done with teenage mothers, who have three times the rate of post-natal depression of other mothers and who are a particularly vulnerable group in my constituency?

The programme is targeted at any women aged 20 or less who present themselves as pregnant in the pilot areas, so it will be offered to every prospective teenage parent in those areas. My hon. Friend is right that Tower Hamlets was the successful applicant, and I am sorry that Hackney’s application was unsuccessful. The pilots are currently being evaluated at Birkbeck college, and we anticipate that that will be a two-year programme. We are discussing across Government how we can pick up on the lessons learned as quickly as possible in order to enable many other young mothers around the country to benefit from the programme.

The nurse family partnership is one of a panoply of pilots from the Cabinet Office. As the right hon. Lady prepares to leave office, does she think that that multiplicity of pilots has contributed usefully to tackling social exclusion, or does she think that the fact that Britain is more unequal and that the lot of the very poorest has got worse since 1997 suggests that, for all the Government rhetoric, the reality of life for the most socially excluded has got little better during her time in office?

For many hundreds of thousands of children life has got better, because of the success of universal programmes such as Sure Start, improvements in education, the introduction of tax credits and changes to child benefit. There have been significant improvements for many children. We are the first Government to seek to identify and work with those who have simply not got to the starting gate in the past. Because no one has done that successfully in the past, the right thing to do is to pilot programmes to find out what works, which means that we will be better able to persuade taxpayers that we are using their money effectively in helping families to turn around their circumstances.

My right hon. Friend has referred to her visit to the nurse family partnership in my constituency. The evidence from America is that for every dollar spent on such projects, $5 is saved. That $5 saving will happen in 15 or 16 years. What consultation is she having with colleagues to try to make sure that they back investment in such programmes in order to save future spending on, for example, prisons and remedial education?

My hon. Friend anticipates the work that is going on across Government leading up to the comprehensive spending review. I have had enormous support from colleagues across Government for this particular programme. There is real interest, and many people want to visit the pilots and find out about it. One of the reasons why we are evaluating it so carefully is that our circumstances are different from those in the United States, because we already have universal services. I see that progressive universalism as a way to tackle problems. If we can make savings, we will secure the future of the programme for a long time to come.

May I start by wishing the right hon. Lady well as she leaves the Front Bench after 19 years, with two years as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the late John Smith and six years in the Cabinet? Perhaps now she will have a little more time for Sunderland football club. I do not know whether she has been giving the manager, Roy Keane, any of her Chief Whip’s tips, but I notice that the team has just got promoted.

Given that poverty is getting worse and that Professor Olds, the US pioneer of her pilot scheme, has said that success in the UK may be much reduced, when will she, or her successor, consider rolling out the programme nationally, and will there be enough health visitors and midwives to make it possible?

David Olds has said that it may be more difficult for us to gain as much as in America precisely because he recognises, and is a bit overwhelmed by, the quality of universal services in this country and how those services have ensured that not nearly as many children fall into poverty and that there is not nearly the same problem for families as there is in the United States. That is why we are going to evaluate things well in this country. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to visit some of these programmes, because then he will see the enormous enthusiasm of health visitors and their hope that the recent report will enable them to concentrate much more on working with the most disadvantaged, because that is where they think that their skills will be best used.