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Early Intervention

Volume 541: debated on Monday 27 February 2012

The Government agree with the hon. Gentleman that early intervention is important to ensure that all children get the best start in life. Ministers have discussed early intervention—including his two reports—in a range of forums, including the Cabinet Social Justice Committee. The Government responded through “Families in the Foundation Years”, which was published last year. We intend to procure an early intervention foundation, as he recommended, through a fair and open competition.

I thank the Minister for her consistent support for the creation of an early intervention foundation, which will take to scale evidence-based policies to help babies, children and young people. Will she update us on the tender process for an early intervention foundation and on where early intervention in general is in the psyche of the Government?

I am hugely grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support, help and guidance on this issue. I absolutely agree that there is a moral as well as a financial case for investing in early intervention. It is a priority for the Government. He will be aware that I cannot say too much at the moment about the early intervention foundation, but we are working with other Departments to develop a specification for the foundation and are committed to ensuring that we get best value for money. My Department will issue a public notification shortly, in advance of an open and competitive procurement process.

A challenge for early intervention can be that the beneficiaries are a self-selecting group, so what is my hon. Friend doing, working with local authorities and other Departments, to ensure that those who will benefit most from early intervention get it? Does this not stress again the importance of those decisions being made locally?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman on this point, which is one reason we are about to begin trials of payment by results with local authorities and children’s centres—to ensure that they are focusing on the families who most need early intervention. It is one of a range of areas where we are trying to focus much more on outcomes, rather than just inputs.

The Department for Education has just published an interesting report showing a clear link between poor parenting and antisocial behaviour in children. What is the Minister’s view on the report and its recommendations for more family support and early intervention, and does she not agree that the short-sighted reductions to the early intervention grant, particularly in deprived areas, run counter to her own Department’s findings?

As the hon. Lady might know, last summer we announced that we would trial a new offer of parenting classes for all parents in three specific areas. That will be an interesting exercise, and we shall see what happens and whether we can encourage more people to come forward and take part in parenting support. Of course, children’s centres offer this kind of targeted, highly intensive work for families in many situations, and schools can use the pupil premium to pay for that, should they choose to do so

The House will know that the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions have done an enormous amount of work raising awareness of the importance of early intervention. We should thank them for that. Does the Minister agree that all Ministers and Government Members should totally support the Government’s welfare reforms?

It is always nice to have friendly fire from one’s own side, isn’t it? I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman that I was delighted to see the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions introduce transitional arrangements to support children and families in difficult situations.