Tuesday 12 December 2017
[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]
Domestic Violence Refuges: Funding
I beg to move,
That this House has considered funding for domestic violence refuges.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Robertson. I believe that is the customary thing to say.
Refuge accommodation is not a bed space; it is a lifeline, a community, and an experienced and knowledgeable place for recovery. Refuge is a place where people are rebuilt, where families find each other. A bed is a place where we sleep; a refuge is far more remarkable, and we would not necessarily know it unless we had seen it.
I remember a woman coming into the refuge where I worked. She could not speak or eat, because she had been starved as part of her control. I will never forget watching a refuge worker sit with her for hours, gently feeding her some lukewarm baked beans, teaching her how to feed herself again.
I remember another family where the mother had been so belittled and so dehumanised by her abuser that she could not parent her kids any more. She had no power or influence over them at all, and her 11-year-old daughter had become the mother to a seven-year-old and a three-year-old. Refuge family support workers had to rebuild that family: teach mom what parenting was and, more importantly, teach her daughter to be a kid again. I will never forget that once-serious child twirling, dancing and giggling along with the other children living in the place, after weeks and weeks of structured activity to give her the freedom of any child. If I close my eyes and think of refuge, it is not sad; it is not the image so often seen in hard-hitting domestic violence posters of a battered woman cowering in a corner. What I see is that child’s face; I see her spinning, carefree in the atrium between the flats. She is a phoenix.
I start this debate by saying that I do not agree with the Government’s proposed new funding model. I do not agree that it is the right approach yet.
The Hull Women’s Aid service manager told me that that service, the only one of its kind in Hull, has faced year-on-year cuts of up to 15% since 2013. Loss of support for survivors would have a massive long-term impact on their mental and emotional health. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government must ring-fence the funding available for women’s refuges to ensure that those women are not let down when they need them the most?
I absolutely agree. One of the things in the proposed new formula is to do with a ring fence, but it is how we put that ring fence on and use it that will tell us whether it is working.
It is important to say that I do not think that the Government are wrong out of malice. I believe they are trying to solve an age-old problem of finding sustainable funding for supportive accommodation for vulnerable people at the same time as wanting to reduce the housing benefit bill. The new model is their well intentioned if naive solution.
To set the scene, I must explain what happens now. Most refuge providers fund their services through a mixture of Supporting People funding from council grants and housing benefit. To use my old organisation as an example, we had three refuges funded by a council-commissioned service, topped up by the housing benefit system for the women who lived there. We opened another refuge to meet the need, as every day we were turning people away, especially women with no children. That provided an extra 10 beds, fully supported, completely funded by housing benefit. It was not part of the commissioned service in the area; it responded to the needs as they actually were, not according to a pre-planned contract.
Does the Minister honestly think that if a ring-fenced funding pot now went to that local council, which has to make tens of millions of pounds-worth of cuts this year, it would not just use the money to cover the contract fees of its commissioned service? Councils would rightly use that money to ensure that their refuge contracts can be maintained in a time of cuts. At my old organisation, that would close the extra 10 beds—which, by the way, were nowhere near enough.
To use the example of the specialist refuge accommodation provider in Slough, an organisation called Dash, we can see how precarious council-commissioned services can be. Dash was always the refuge provider in the old days of Supporting People. When its council set up a commissioning process for the local refuge service, Dash did not win. Instead, the contract went to a generic housing association service. Dash, however, maintained its 14-bed refuge with housing benefit and its own charitable fundraising. Years later, when the council decommissioned its refuge offer—again because of council cuts—the generic provider did not carry on because it was no longer financially viable for it. Its 18 beds closed. Unlike the specialist service, the generic provider’s commitment went with the contract, not with the needs of the women and children. Slough used to have 32 beds servicing the local area; now it has 14. Again, does the Minister think for a second that when the Government give the proposed money to the council, Slough will go back to 32 beds? Or will it just backfill and fund the 14?
Historically, refuge support costs in Devon were funded through the Supporting People programme, administered by Devon County Council. Mirroring national trends after the demise of that funding, in 2014 Devon County Council ended grant funding and began to tender for domestic abuse services—but refuges were not included in the tender at all. That decision forced one of the two operating refuges in the county to close, cutting 12 rooms for women and children.
How will the Government decide which local area gets what? Will it be decided on the basis of what exists now, which will leave many local areas without anything? Incidentally, the Prime Minister’s own council, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, stated in a letter that I had yesterday:
“We do not commission places directly but we spot purchase accommodation for eligible clients through our housing options service”.
How will we give money to those local authorities that currently do not bother to take responsibility themselves, but rely on the housing benefit system to send women to other boroughs? I find it quite remarkable that the council area of the Prime Minister’s seat, a place that looks after her constituents, does not commission a single bed space. Instead it relies on no doubt a poorer neighbouring council and the well meaning specialist agencies to do the heavy lifting so that it can send its women there. How on earth, in the Government’s proposed system, will they get a fund that has to react to need rather than to guessed figures at the beginning of the year?
Local grant funding for short-term supported housing will be based on current projections of future need and informed by local authorities, according to the Minister’s Department. That will be a fixed pot of money, and it is not clear how that will flex or respond to actual levels of demand for refuge. Refuge demand far outstrips supply, and there is no clear model for predicting future need. For example, demand for refuge is likely to increase if the Government’s ambitions in the domestic violence and abuse Bill are achieved, and more victims come forward to seek help. It will be extremely challenging, if not impossible, accurately to project future need for refuge by consulting with local authorities alone. What happens if all the money is spent by November? Will we turn women away? The housing benefit system responded to demand, not guesswork based on already under-supply.
So to quality, and I return to the families I talked about at the beginning of my remarks. What are the Government going to do to make sure that local councils use that fund to provide more than just a bed? As the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead council said in its letter to me,
“the housing option service is confident in securing emergency accommodation for its customers”—
I would say “citizens”, but whatever—
“through either refuge space or its temporary accommodation providers”.
It goes on to say the council ensures that people are housed in “appropriate” temporary accommodation.
What does “appropriate” mean? I have been to appropriate accommodation. I have seen the bed-and-breakfast accommodation where vulnerable people get stuck. I have seen five beds all in one dirty room, a bathroom with used condoms left in the shower by the previous tenant. I have seen how appropriate temporary accommodation means placing young, 18-year-old girls who have been sexually abused and exploited in the next room to men released from prison that same week. How very appropriate. I have seen families left in rooms with no cooking facilities at motorway service stations around Birmingham—left for months to eat packets of sandwiches and travel two hours a day to get their kids to school.
Why, on a dark Sunday night, did I receive a phone call from a group of women in a refuge commissioned by Kensington and Chelsea council, whose ceiling had fallen in? My very first question was, “Where is your on-call manager for this service?” Why was there no one there? I have been an on-call manager and I have spent my nights putting on boots over my pyjamas and going to deal with a problem in a refuge: a baby being born or the fire alarm constantly going off. The bare minimum is that someone should be no more than a phone call away. These people are at risk; they are in danger. How will the Government check that councils spend the money and what they spend it on? What audit function will they put in place to make sure that quality refuge services are commissioned and actually help people? Local need, which is what has been outlined, means very different things. I want to see little girls given back their childhood. I want to see caring, well paid support workers sitting over their clients who are so traumatised that they cannot eat. I want lives to be rebuilt. I do not want a bed for the night.
One of the domestic homicide reviews I was involved with, where a young mother with three children was brutally murdered, told the story of a woman housed in “appropriate accommodation”. Left lonely in a Birmingham hotel, without any of the safety measures or supports that the proper refuge, which was full, would have provided, she went back. She is dead now.
Who will check that taxpayers’ hard-earned money is paying for care, safety and love, rather than lining the pockets of hoteliers and money-driven contractors? It is money down the drain. If Ministers care about taxpayers —I believe they do—quality and value for money matter. Currently, much of our taxes go on nothing at all. I have heard the Government talk about the thousands of new bed spaces and the experts on the ground. My own experience of trying to house victims tells me a very different story.
I asked the Department, in a parliamentary question, to tell me exactly where the bed spaces are. The Minister handed me a document just before the debate, and I received the response to that question at 8.51 this morning. I understand that there was an issue and I will give the Minister the benefit of the doubt. As I looked at the data this morning, I simply could not see a reality: the data says that there are 34 new bed spaces in Solihull, my neighbouring borough, which has joint refuge services with Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid. I texted the manager of Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid this morning; so far, she is not sure what that is on about. We shall wait and see.
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful case. Is she as worried as I am to read that only a third of women who need a place in a refuge get one? The changes she talks about could make that situation even worse. Does she agree that that is an untenable situation?
It is a totally untenable situation. I understand that we all have to cut our cloth to meet our needs; however, I never hear Ministers just say, “We can’t afford this.” If that is the reality, they should come out and say it. We cannot say that we will do something about the problem, when the reality is laid so bare across the country.
I would stake £100 million on the fact that the first page of the Minister’s speech is about the £100 million that the Government are investing to prove their commitment to the problem of domestic violence. He has time to amend that now; otherwise I will owe him £100 million. Where the hell is the money going? By all accounts it is stuck in a local authority commissioning problem in most cases, which should be a warning for the future. I am not seeing any extra money. What I am seeing is 90 women and 94 children turned away from refuges every day. I am seeing Birmingham City Council removing 2 million quid from their supported accommodation budget in 2020, including refuge accommodation. The local drop-in services for victims across the city have already gone and the housing and homeless advice provided in local neighbourhood offices has also gone—but then so have the neighbourhood offices.
Where is the £100 million? Has the Minister’s Department done an assessment of how much local councils have taken out of domestic and sexual violence services in the last seven years? The £100 million cannot be a number that people say at the Dispatch Box; it needs to mean something. Although I am not normally a betting woman, I will go double or quits with the Minister that, in fact, much more than £100 million has been taken out of local services.
I pay tribute to the 118,000 people who signed Women’s Aid’s petition to stop those changes. The specialist women’s sector have all come out to say that the proposed refuge funding changes will potentially cut a third of all refuge beds. We must listen to the sector and think again. In total, Women’s Aid estimates that 588 bed spaces will be lost—places that would have supported 2,058 women and 2,202 children during this year. When added to those who were already turned away, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) said, the result is 4,000 women and children being turned away from life-saving services that they desperately need.
I will add my two pennies’ worth—or my £10 million; I seem to be in over my head financially—and say that is not that complicated. We must make refuge accommodation a statutory requirement of local authorities and give local councils exactly what that costs, along with guidance and standards. We have written those before and it is not rocket science; we used to have them when I first started. We used to require councils to provide one bed space for every 10,000 of the population. I remember filling in the very dull monitoring forms myself. Let us look at what is actually needed and fund that.
We cannot just let some councils opt out. I have been a local councillor; in fact, I oversaw much of the vulnerable adults commissioning. Local councils care, but if there is a homelessness problem and a pot of money that will pay to solve that regardless of the actual needs of those who need housing, councils will take the path of least resistance. Local commissioning practices, which often lack domestic violence expertise, have severely damaged specialist refuge provision. In the context of major demand for refuge and other short-term services, budget constraints and pressures on local authorities to improve homelessness provision, there will be little incentive to commission a range of specialist services that meet differing needs. Instead, this one-size-fits-all model will further encourage generic, short-term housing that can be provided at lower cost but does not deliver the specialist support of a refuge. I will not bore hon. Members with details of what a murder costs the taxpayer, or how much money we spend on victims of violent crime in our A&E services. I am bored of saying how much money would be saved if we got this right. I have been saying that for years and I will say it for years to come.
I ask the Minister to do the following, and I am sure he will recognise that I will keep on pushing until he agrees, so he could save us both a lot of time and effort: he must halt the proposal to include refuges in the new funding model for short-term supported housing services, at least until the Government’s comprehensive review of refuge funding has been completed in 2018. I ask him to work with me, Women’s Aid and specialist refuge providers to design a new model that will provide a long-term and sustainable funding solution for refuges.
My hon. Friend is making a hugely important and passionate speech on this subject, which I know she cares so much about. She has mentioned lots of services in England, but could I take her to Wales for a moment? The Welsh Government have devolved responsibility for many of the areas that she is discussing. We have the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, which brings consistency, quality of service and joined-up service provision for women and children who are seeking refuge, and I am sure that there is a similar situation in Scotland. Does she agree that the Government need to learn from devolved Administrations about this work? Also, the Welsh Government have allocated an extra £500,000 to tackle some of the cuts coming from consequentials in relation to refuge and housing benefit changes linked to domestic violence cases. Does she share my view?
As somebody who moans about how everything is so London-centric, I recognise that I am a bit England-centric. I apologise for that. When I worked in a refuge, we always rolled our eyes a little at the standards in Wales and Scotland. We used to say, “We wish it was a bit more like that here.” One particular area of Wales seemed to get all the innovative projects. Scotland absolutely leads the way in promoting the message that domestic abuse and sexual violence are completely intolerable. Compared with England, Scotland has always had the run on the cultural debate. The Governments of all the devolved nations and the Westminster Government need to work together to ensure that we do not have a postcode lottery, which is exactly what we have now.
The final thing I wish the Minister to commit to is a big one. I want him to make a clear commitment that no refuges will close or have to turn any women or children away as a result of the new funding model. The domestic violence and abuse Bill will, I hope, be a great thing, and I will support the Government in making that so. It would be a shame if we had to seek to amend it to include mandatory funding for refuge accommodation. If the Government get this wrong, it will be a stain on their record. They have always committed morally to this problem, although they have perhaps found committing resources a little more difficult.
I want the Minister to focus on the dancing, laughing 11-year-old. I want him to imagine her and her family support worker working through her trauma. I want him to see her mom slowly but surely take over the reins, so that that little girl can be free from her responsibility as the protector. I do not want to see her living in any old bed in any old service, away from her things, her school and her friends, with nothing but a bed. I do not want her to be the protector anymore—I want it to be us. She was magical. Her name was Aliyah and I will never forget her.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. It is also a pleasure and a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who made a typically passionate speech about something that she really cares about and has real expertise in.
Many of us will have heard from Women’s Aid about its concerns. It does a wonderful job and should be congratulated on bringing this issue to the fore. Only recently, many of us were in the Speaker’s apartments listening to the tragic tale of Claire Throssell, whose children died at the hands of her partner. I have spoken before about a personal family situation and about the fact that this can happen to anybody. A domestic abuse cycle does not have to be started by drugs or by any other thing. It really can happen to anyone at any time, so it is important that we all speak out about it.
Women’s Aid is absolutely right, as the hon. Lady said, that this is not just about giving people a bed for the night. We need specialist services to break the cycle and give people sanctuary from their abusive partners. I welcome the fact that Women’s Aid has expressed concern and sparked debate about the closure of refuges and people being turned away, but the Government are investing £20 million to enable local authorities to increase bed space and build on the 9% increase in provision since 2010. I know that the Government take the view that local government is best placed to provide a local response, but more than two thirds of women flee to refuges outside their local area and there is concern among local commissioners about capacity. I suppose there will always be a gap when we devolve power from national to local government in terms of building expertise. However this is resolved, we must ensure that there is capacity at local or regional level.
I very much welcome the domestic violence and abuse Bill, which we will debate in the new year. I hope we can work together on that. The number of women killed by their partner or ex-partner has fallen by 22% since 2010. That is to be welcomed, but it will be scant comfort for Claire Throssell and other victims. The estimated number of female victims of domestic abuse has fallen by 15% since 2010, but again, no victim of domestic abuse can see beyond their personal circumstances, and rightly so. The Crown Prosecution Service’s conviction rate for domestic abuse-related prosecutions has risen by 4%, but the family member I referred to fully expects her abusive ex-partner to avoid a custodial sentence despite breaking into her house and assaulting her father, so that will be of little concern to her.
I hope we can work this out. I am glad to hear that the Minister has not dismissed the idea of a nationally funded service, but I hope we can come together to find a situation that works for every victim of domestic abuse and to break the cycle.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on securing and so ably leading this important debate about funding for domestic violence refuges.
In the days leading up to the debate, I spoke to refuge providers, especially in Coventry, and to people who work with victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence about their concerns about the proposed reforms to refuge funding. I want to use the words of one of those individuals, who knows at first hand the devastating impact those reforms will have. She told me:
“I’m very worried about the proposed ‘supported housing’ funding reforms. The thought that 52 percent of refuges will either close or reduce the space available for such vulnerable women and children is unthinkable. Put this against a backdrop of massive increases in the numbers of victims of domestic and sexual violence coming forward to report to the police and access specialist support services such as refuges, and this proposed reform can be seen for what it is – a huge backwards step for combatting violence against women and girls.
As a sexual violence agency we rely on being able to refer to the specialist support and critical safety net that our refuges provide to some of our most vulnerable clients. Without them we know women and children will be put into far greater danger as some will inevitably feel they have no choice but to go back to the vicinity and the control of the perpetrator. This will undoubtedly contribute to an increase in violence and deaths as a result of domestic abuse.”
“The government has given commitments time and time again that they will protect domestic abuse refuges. These proposals appear to fly in the face of this commitment.”
I hope that the Government will heed those warnings, rethink their reckless proposals and seek instead to implement a sustainable funding solution that protects refuges and the life-saving services they provide.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) for securing this debate about such an important matter.
In Bolton, Fortalice provides a domestic abuse service with 22 flats. It provides a safe and secure environment and specialist support to women and children trying to rebuild their lives. I have seen at first hand the incredibly important service and guidance it provides to those seeking help at an extremely difficult time in their lives. I also recognise and praise the work that Bolton Council has done with Fortalice to deliver its domestic abuse service over the past 40 years.
While I am broadly supportive of the Government, ultimately local authorities, not national Government, are best placed to understand local needs for refuge provision. I am concerned that, to some extent, without statutory pressure, there could be an increase in the postcode lottery that already exists, and refuge provision could become lost among other council priorities.
There is a particular risk that the possible move to generic supported housing may not provide the secure environment and specialist support that is needed. Additionally, my local refuge has informed me that not all neighbouring local authorities have their own domestic abuse service equivalent to Fortalice. I can only expect that the variation in provision puts additional pressure on its service, and that ought not to be the case.
I am also concerned that the reforms take into account that domestic abuse refuges operate as a national network. As Fortalice raised with me on a recent visit, victims of domestic violence sometimes need to move to new areas to get away from the perpetrator. On occasion, Fortalice supports women and children not from Bolton, and as part of the network it will assist in helping those from Bolton to move elsewhere. Its service operates beyond local authority boundaries, and a wider and perhaps national model for refuge provision may suit the sector far more, as will statutory requirements to ensure universal standards.
In the Minister’s response, will he say how long the Government plan to facilitate co-ordination among local councils after they have distributed the ring-fenced budget? Although Bolton has domestic abuse services, there are not universal and comparable services in all neighbouring authorities. If local authorities are to be given their own funding, there must be cohesion in provision.
The announcement of a domestic violence and abuse Bill in the Queen’s Speech shows commitment from the Government to tackle domestic abuse and that supporting the most vulnerable in society is the Government’s aim. While it is encouraging that more than £33.5 million has been spent since 2014, we should also consider the recommendations of the Work and Pensions Committee and the Communities and Local Government Committee and examine the benefits of a new funding structure for domestic abuse refuges, separate from the supported housing sector. Enabling councils to have a stronger role in domestic abuse services can be beneficial, but if by devolving funding to local authorities the Government remove a woman’s individual entitlement to support with her housing costs, that will not improve the service and is not consistent with our desire to give the needed support. While our aims are in the right place, we have to ensure that that is still true in the delivery of the reforms.
We all recognise that reform is required. We must ensure that the postcode lottery of services is ended. The Government need to listen to these concerns.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on securing this debate, and I commend her on her long commitment and experience. I am pleased to speak in the debate as co-chair of the joint inquiry of the Communities and Local Government Committee and Work and Pensions Committee on the future of supported housing. I am pleased that the Government accepted some of the recommendations in our report, but sadly that is not the case concerning refuges.
The inquiry heard evidence from across the supported housing sector, including from Women’s Aid, and I am glad that we heard oral evidence from a survivor of domestic abuse, Merida Taylor, who had spent time in a refuge when she fled from her abuser. She spoke extremely eloquently and powerfully about how desperate she was at the time she entered the refuge and how the refuge helped her to rebuild her life.
We heard evidence about the life-saving necessity of refuges, in a context where two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner in England and Wales, and the particular and specialist role that refuges play in supporting traumatised women and children. We also received evidence on the intense funding pressures that refuges have come under since 2010 and the extent of closures: 17% fewer refuge services were run by specialist refuge providers in 2014 than in 2010, and there are parts of the country where there is now no refuge provision at all. The last refuge in Cumbria closed in 2016, for example, creating a postcode lottery and resulting in a situation where 60% of referrals to a refuge in 2016-17 were refused. The current network of refuges is able to address less than half of the need for women and children fleeing abuse.
Refuge provision is unique within the supported housing sector in that it is not a local service. Two thirds of women entering a refuge do so outside their own local authority area. Refuge provision needs to be able to accommodate women away from their home for their own safety. The risk of being killed by a former partner is highest in the year after the relationship has broken down, so women need to access refuges away from the perpetrator they have fled in order to be safe. The current system relies on local authorities recognising the need for refuge provision and choosing to fund it on the basis that women from their area will be able to access refuge provision in another local authority area when they need it, but that is in a context where the overwhelming majority of funding for refuges comes through the local housing allowance, which is itself not fit for purpose because of the Government’s cap, which is resulting in real-terms cuts year on year. Nevertheless, it is a national funding source, meaning that the level of local authority grant is currently proportionately low, which limits the extent to which refuge provision competes with other demands on increasingly limited local authority resources and enables services to be responsive to demand.
Our inquiry report recommended that the Government work with Women’s Aid to establish a national network of refuges to ensure that reciprocity among local authorities is not left to chance; and that there is an even and adequate level of provision to meet the need for refuge places, to keep every woman and child who needs a refuge safe. It is therefore completely unacceptable that they chose to reject that recommendation and have instead announced that refuges, along with all other types of short-term supported housing, will be funded entirely by local authorities. They have explicitly ignored the main conclusion the inquiry drew: refuges have a distinct set of characteristics that make them unique within the supported housing sector, which demands a bespoke approach.
To reference a different but relevant example, levels of homelessness in the UK are a national scandal. In response to the public outcry and the highly visible increase in rough sleepers, the Government have announced a national approach to rough sleeping. Domestic abuse is an almost entirely invisible problem, but it is nevertheless a deadly presence in every community across the country. It is just as much of a national scandal as rough sleeping, and it demands the same level of commitment from Government to ensure that every woman and child who is fleeing an abusive home can find a place in a refuge where they can be safe and from which their lives can be rebuilt. I ask the Minister to reconsider the inquiry’s recommendation and to establish a national network of refuge provision across the country for every woman and child who needs it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) for bringing this important debate. Domestic violence is an awful crime that disproportionately impacts women. For every three victims of domestic abuse, two will be female and one will be male. In 2015-16, 4.4% of men and 7.7% of women were victims of domestic abuse. That is 716,000 men, and 1.27 million female victims: roughly equivalent to the population of all 12 of the constituencies of my Scottish Conservative colleagues and I.
The issues raised this morning have revolved around gender, but it is important to highlight that it is not just gender that defines domestic abuse. Younger people are more likely to fall victim to domestic abuse. Men and women who are separated or divorced are more likely to suffer from partner abuse. Those in workless or long-term unemployed households are more likely to suffer from domestic abuse, as are lesbian, gay and bisexual men and women, who are often doubly likely to suffer.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned young people. Does he agree that we have a difficulty with young people in their teens suffering domestic abuse within families? It has a psychological impact on them and they believe it is the norm to carry it on into their relationships.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. Evidence does support that. That is why it is so important that refuges and other Government services are properly funded to ensure that interventions can be made and the direction and trajectory of young people’s lives altered.
Several members of my family have been the direct victims of quite extreme domestic abuse and, through luck and their own strength, energy and determination, they have been able to change that trajectory and ensure it was not repeated in future generations. I think it is down to their character and luck that they have been able to do that. That is not afforded to everyone, and that is where Government must intervene.
It is a well-trodden theory that people who live in domestic violence situations go on to perpetrate that violence, but actually they are much more likely to become victims of domestic violence than they are to perpetrate it. I do not want the message to go out from this debate that someone who has a terrible time in their childhood home will also end up being a wrong ‘un—that is simply not the case.
I hope that the hon. Lady has not misinterpreted anything I have said, and I do not think the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) was saying that either. People in such situations are more likely to become victims, but a whole cycle of abuse is created that involves both victim and perpetrator. If the hon. Lady listens to the content of my speech, that is exactly what I am saying. That is why we must tackle this issue, and why there should be more funding for refuges and other support mechanisms.
Funding for refuges is devolved throughout the UK to local authorities across England, Wales and Scotland, and the UK Government are proposing some of the ring-fenced grants that hon. Members have already outlined. The Scottish Government equality unit has funded individual organisations that have been combating abuse on an individual basis, especially for women and girls. Although that budget has dropped, it has been supplemented by funding from other justice budgets. I applaud much of the work done by the Scottish Government, local authorities, and those SNP Members who have done so much to champion this important issue.
In this case, however, perhaps devolution is not the answer, and I take some of the points made by hon. Members and the Women’s Aid network that devolving this matter to local authorities might mean a difference in standards across the United Kingdom. That is something that I, and my constituents, would not want. We need more joined-up thinking on this issue so that refuges are linked with physical, social and mental health services, and so that when people are victims of these terrible crimes, they can get the support that is needed, connect to a network that will help them, and alter the course of their lives. If someone has had an unfortunate start, they should have the opportunity to have that corrected and see a better way forward.
As I said, some members of my family have been victims of domestic abuse, and I know that they would not care which level of Government was providing the service; it is about knowing that there is a proper standard wherever people live in the United Kingdom. It is important that as a country we make a clear statement that the United Kingdom does not accept domestic violence. We must ensure a standard level of provision throughout our country that supports victims and ensures that the course of people’s lives can be changed, if not through family and friends then through Government intervention.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) for making a powerful speech on a subject that she knows a great deal about. She has already raised many important points, but I want to add something about the current state of affairs.
In the north-west last year there were 140,000 reported incidents of domestic violence, and some of those women are most at risk when they take a step to leave—that is when they need us; that is when they need a refuge. Last year in my constituency 359 women benefited from the refuge service, as did 761 children. Sadly, however, 373 women were unable to access a refuge because it was full, and 593 children were also unable to be admitted. It is no good us putting signs on the backs of toilet doors, reaching out to women and saying, “Come and get help”, if there is not enough capacity in the system. As my hon. Friend said, refuges are more than just a bed, and the support that women receive there is special. The physical effects of abuse can heal, but the emotional and mental effects can last a lifetime. A planned environment of therapeutic support, counselling, and help to access services such as housing, benefits and legal advice is needed for a victim to become a survivor.
Refuges are unique and the Government must recognise that. I implore them not to view refuges as part and parcel of general housing need. Universal credit does not work for women in refuges because it is paid in arrears and claim times are protracted. Refuges need funding that is timely, reliable and flexible. Above all they need long-term sustainable funding. For too long refuges have struggled on, living hand to mouth, and never able to plan provision from one year to the next.
A couple of weeks ago I hosted a reception in Parliament to mark the opening of Jane’s Place in Burnley. Jane’s Place is a specialist refuge named in memory of Jane Clough who was brutally murdered by her ex-partner. It is a refuge for women who are victims of domestic violence and who have additional complex needs such as alcohol or drug abuse issues. I know that some Members present came to that reception, and I thank them for giving up their time. This issue is important and it meant a lot, not least to Jane’s parents who were in attendance. I pay tribute to the amazing staff at Jane’s Place. The refuge is a fantastic place that has at its heart a team of highly trained specialist staff who make it their business to rebuild lives. I hope that the Minister is as shocked as I am that funding for those well-qualified, dedicated staff is secured only until March 2018. How on earth can the board and the management team plan to deliver services with such funding uncertainty hanging over their heads? We need more centres like Jane’s Place.
The EU victims directive includes an obligation for the authorities to establish and ensure access to specialist support services. I know that we are leaving the EU, but let us take this opportunity to up our game. Current provision is woefully inadequate and, quite frankly, shames us all. When demand is increasing and refuges are closing, only 40% of demand is being met. We must do more and we must do it now, because this really is a matter of life and death.
This is the first time I have served under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson, and I am grateful for the chance to raise an issue that I care deeply about. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on securing this important debate. She has long fought for survivors of domestic violence and abuse, and I am glad that I can join her in that fight today.
For six years before coming to this place I held a number of special responsibilities on Nottingham City Council, one of which was commissioning Nottingham’s excellent, well-run domestic violence services. Whether Equation and its nation-leading prevention services, Women’s Aid with its advocacy and survivor support, our sexual violence support service, which is only ever one call away for survivors whatever the time, day or year, or the women’s centre, which acts as a fulcrum for those critical services, there is an excellent range of things happening in Nottingham. I rise today to speak up for those services, and for the thousands of survivors of domestic abuse who we believe live in my constituency.
I learned a lot during those six years, but one thing that particularly stuck in my mind is that this is a complex and fragile ecosystem of services, and that change in one part of the system can have an unintended consequence in another. There is also a complex interrelationship with other communities, which we mess with at our peril. Often a well-meant, slightly tangential piece of public policy can have a catastrophic impact, and the issue under discussion today is a clear example. We understand why Ministers want to consider short-term housing in line with wider work on universal credit, and we understand that that is a wide-ranging piece of work. We also understand that refuge provision is just 1% of that sector, but for survivors who take that difficult step and need those services, it is about 100% of their lives on that night.
There are two unintended flaws in the current plans that I hope Ministers will reflect on. First, it has been proposed to group refuge provision with other short-term housing services, but refuges fulfil a completely different function from other services such as those for people with substance abuse issues or care leavers. I fear that aggregating refuges will lead to generic commissioning and risk losing the value of refuge provision.
My second point concerns local devolution of the funding for services. I am a big fan of devolution and I believe that decisions should be taken at the lowest appropriate level. I do not believe, however, that the lowest appropriate level for refuge provision is local authority level. Domestic violence services are a complex local ecosystem, but they have a significant impact across local boundaries. The safest place for a woman in Nottingham who is fleeing a violent relationship may well be Birmingham—again that is completely different from the rest of the services in that local devolution plan.
Such measures run counter to the strategy for ending violence against women and girls that was outlined by the then Home Secretary, now Prime Minister. On page 29, that strategy references the need for services to
“collaborate across local authority and service boundaries”
and page 32 states:
“We will strongly encourage local areas to collaborate with one another through the fund so that partnerships join up across borders to meet the needs of women who may flee to seek support.”
I cannot see how the proposals that we are being consulted on support that aim.
I hope the Minister will shine some light on the ongoing funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Julie Cooper). Support has been given in the past and has been greatly appreciated, but those running Nottingham central Women’s Aid refuge do not yet know whether the funding will continue from 1 April for the next two years. I know Ministers are evaluating the success of the previous two years, but they need answers because we will soon get to the cliff edge of 90-day redundancy notices. It is a question of good planning for 1 April, so I hope something can be done, perhaps even today.
I recently completed my first six months in this place. Progress can be slow and frustrating, but things can be done immediately about this issue. This week refuges could be told about DCLG funding, so that they can plan properly, and by 23 January the well-meant but bad idea that we have been debating could be shelved.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank and commend my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) for her tireless work on this important issue.
The Government’s planned funding changes for supported housing could see wholesale closures of domestic violence refuges. This latest threat comes after years of sustained cuts to domestic abuse support services. Since 2010, a staggering one in six refuges has closed its doors, and under the proposals that number will only rise. At the same time, recorded rates of domestic abuse have sky-rocketed. It is staggering that on average two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales. In the Bedford Borough Council area there are two domestic violence services—Butterfly House and Stonewater Asian women’s refuge, as well as Victim Support. Those services are a lifeline for women and children living in the hell of domestic violence. By the time women end up in refuges, they have endured many years of being so controlled that they have almost lost the ability to think for themselves. I have been told about women in refuges who did not know how to get a bus and had no concept of the value of money. They had lived under such extreme levels of control that they had essentially been held in captivity—they were told what to do, eat and wear, and when to speak. A woman was even beaten just for opening the curtains.
The refuges in Bedford are not just a housing solution. They are a place of safety where those who have suffered domestic violence can learn to be independent and empowered, and where they regain confidence and the sense of self so brutally taken from them. Removing women’s refuges from financial support via the welfare system and replacing that support with ring-fenced money to local councils will mean that funding will be shared with other homeless people, offenders and other groups, which will make it even harder for vulnerable women to access benefits and help. We must recognise that refuges are distinct from other forms of short-term supported housing and fund them accordingly.
The refuges in Bedford are already on a very tight budget, barely breaking even. Further uncertainty about funding only makes things more unsustainable. We cannot afford to lose those vital services in Bedford. Most of the women in refuges have no recourse to money. Their only choice without a refuge is destitution or more abuse. We must ensure that we are not complicit in further abuse. I urge the Government to implement the recommendations from Women’s Aid to create a new funding model that covers refuge support and housing costs, and meets the national need for bed spaces in services that are resourced to meet women’s and children’s needs. It is a matter of life and death.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on bringing the issue forward. Her passion about the subject is obvious, and I thank her.
The issue is one that we are all too familiar with in my constituency office, and I expect that is true for all those taking part in the debate. A woman, often with young children, comes in asking for help with housing, yet the marks on her face and the flinches of the children when someone goes to ruffle their hair say more than a two-hour interview ever could. I used to be able to secure a place in the local women’s refuge on the border of my constituency for someone in short-term need, but the cut in funding is making helping those women—and, increasingly, some men who suffer domestic abuse—more and more difficult. Although Women’s Aid staff do a phenomenal job in providing support, and go far beyond the call of duty, they cannot house someone in need or take someone out of a dangerous situation if there is nowhere for them to go. If there is no dedicated funding we leave people feeling that they are alone and stuck in their circumstances. That must be addressed.
There is no reliable prevalence data on domestic abuse, but according to figures from the crime survey for England and Wales, 1.3 million women experienced domestic abuse in the past year and 4.3 million women have experienced domestic abuse at some point since the age of 16. That suggests the magnitude of the issue. It is important to note that that data does not take into account important information about context and impact, such as whether the violence caused fear, who the repeat victims were and who experienced violence in a context of power and control. There are many issues to take on board.
I thank my hon. Friend and colleague, and will come on to some of the Northern Ireland figures, which are important.
On average two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales. Domestic abuse-related crime is now 10% of total crime, and I point out to the Minister the impact and the anomaly in financing. The figure is an increase of 2% since the previous year. On average the police receive some 100 calls an hour relating to domestic abuse. During a census period one in five women resident in a refuge and one in six of those using community-based services had seen criminal proceedings being taken against the perpetrator. We need the perpetrators of the violence to be held accountable, and it is clear that that they are not.
The prevalence of domestic abuse is not decreasing in the way that we would hope would happen, when new generations of people are being raised and schooled in dealing effectively with their emotions. The Police Service of Northern Ireland released an updated statistical bulletin for Northern Ireland in September 2017, showing a continual increase in the number of people reporting domestic violence and needing support to deal with it. Domestic abuse incidents have increased year on year since 2004-05, and the Northern Ireland figures are enormous, with almost 30,000 incidents in the past 12 months. That is a continuation of the increase and represents the highest level recorded since 2004-05. Domestic abuse crime rates have tended to fluctuate but have increased in the most recent 12 months to about 15,000. Again, that is the highest level recorded since 2004-05.
We need to ensure that there is funding available to help to deal with the after-effects of domestic violence. There is an increasing need that must be met, otherwise we shall consign more generations to a vicious circle of abuse. I said last year in a similar debate that action must be taken in the House, and I reaffirm that. We must take affirmative steps and we look to the Minister for the necessary leadership and support—for ring-fencing of funding to enable people to come out of domestic abuse to a safe place. We must secure that funding today through the debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on securing this important debate.
Women who need to escape their fate at the hands of an abuser need somewhere safe to go, but the effect of the Government’s new funding model would be to block off those escape routes. Since 2012, a third of all local authority funding to domestic and sexual violence services has been cut. Many refuges have already closed and many women seeking refuge are turned away. Now the Government plan to remove vital funding for refuges, with changes to housing benefit. Those changes will no doubt see the closure of more and more refuges.
How can the Government seriously claim that they are supporting victims when their policies will force refuges to close? One woman murdered is one too many and one refuge closing is one too many. The Conservative manifesto claimed that the party would introduce a “landmark” domestic violence Bill and claimed that it would take action to support victims of domestic violence. Why, then, fiddle with the funding that provides that very support? There seems to have been no joined-up thinking about the possibility that housing benefit rules would have an adverse impact on the provision of refuges for survivors of domestic violence.
Just three days ago at my surgery I had a visit from a woman—I shall call her Nora—who is a survivor of domestic violence and is also going through the additional trauma of the legal system in the matters of access and divorce, with no representation. She has been at the local refuge for almost a year. After 52 weeks, her housing benefit will cease because she is no longer occupying her former home, and that is classified as a temporary absence under housing benefit rules. Nora is petrified that she and her two daughters, both under the age of eight, could potentially be street homeless in the run-up to Christmas. What sort of system have we created that allows that to happen?
The Bill will be toothless unless it gives funding for services, benefits and social housing. Labour, in its manifesto, pledged direct and stable central funding for women’s refuges and rape crisis centres, in stark contrast to the Government’s current plans to take refuges out of the welfare system and give a ring-fenced grant to councils that is not exclusively for refuges. The grant would also be for other short-term housing needs, and it sets up yet another barrier for women, who again have to prove their worthiness along with many other vulnerable people in society. This Government’s actions are creating a hostile environment for abused women, one laden with scrutiny, judgment, stigma and barriers to support. The Government are about to block off the last escape route for women in life or death situations. They should listen to Women’s Aid, revisit their funding proposals and secure the long-term future of refuges, the services of which we so desperately need.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on giving us the opportunity to debate this important issue and on the way she presented the argument. I must also mention my debt of gratitude to Angela Cholet, the chief executive of Ross House in Knowsley, who has provided me with some important briefing for the debate.
In Knowsley, Ross House received 168 inquiries for refuge space for women. That is a 61% increase on the previous year. They were only able to accommodate 50 women, which resulted in 118 women and their children being turned away. Those 50 women represent a 28% increase on the previous year, and they were accompanied by 69 children, a 92% increase on the previous year.
I have a few questions for the Minister on the new system. As he is aware, housing benefit is currently the only consistent form of refuge funding that contributes nationally to enable a network of refuges to operate, even if that is often on a shoestring. The new grant for funding covers all supported accommodation. I ask the Minister, “Who chooses?” Will the local authority have to choose who gets what? If I am right in that assumption, will it be aligned to current agreed housing benefit rates for refuges? Will they provide the grant based on each woman living in a refuge, or as one lump sum no matter how many women are in the refuge? That could have enormous potential for refuges to turn women away because they simply cannot afford to fund them.
I will briefly touch on one more issue, which is how the costs of children are covered. Those children, who have often gone through traumatic circumstances, need particular support; I think my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Julie Cooper) referred to therapeutic and counselling support. I ask the Minister to address how he expects children’s needs to be met through the new funding arrangement.
I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) for leading a very important debate. I know it is an issue for which she has immense passion. I hope she would also acknowledge the personal work the Prime Minister has done in taking a more comprehensive approach to domestic violence and in acknowledging that it is not always simply a physical thing; I think particularly of the new crime of coercive control and the draft domestic violence and abuse bill. I hope they will build on the progress made since 2010: an increased conviction rate in domestic abuse-related prosecutions and a 22% fall in the number of women killed by their partner or ex.
My local borough, Havering, funds its domestic violence services through external grants from bodies such as the Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime, and the council has been able to increase the number of independent domestic violence advocates to support victims. None the less, Havering has unfortunately seen an increase in domestic violence incidents, and the council is working to ensure that victims are properly supported. That includes counselling services, London’s only helpline exclusively for male victims, and bed spaces across two refuges.
The council and police in our borough have been working hand in hand. Last month, in a crackdown on domestic violence, more than 35 people were arrested as part of the Met-wide campaign, Operation Dauntless. Police used local authority knowledge in identifying those perpetrators, and that kind of knowledge can be vital. I know that my local schools also play an important role in flagging households in which there is violence. The new funding model ring-fences funding for short-term supported housing, and gives councils greater autonomy in basing services on that knowledge.
We also need to help to give victims the confidence and support to extricate themselves from toxic relationships and try to instil faith in their own strength to live without a violent or abusive partner. Refuges can play a crucial role in that. The Government’s proposal does not change the entitlement to those services. None the less, I am glad that the Government are taking a pragmatic approach by committing to a review of the new funding model in the new year to ensure that it is working as it should.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Robertson. I apologise to you and hon. Members present for not being here at the start of today’s debate; I was involved in an accident on the way here. I appreciate your forbearance.
I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on securing today’s debate, and the Backbench Business Committee—of which she is a member; I am sure that is just a coincidence—on granting it. Since we were both elected to this place in 2015, she and I have both spoken in a number of these debates. I hasten to add that we have always spoken on the same side; I would not dare do otherwise. The hon. Lady always speaks with passion, knowledge and wisdom on the subject that are unrivalled in this place. I am told that she continued in that spirit today, particularly in making the point that it is not just about ensuring enough accommodation is available, but about ensuring there is enough suitable accommodation that meets the needs of the women and children who will be housed there.
To be honest, I find it shameful that we have to debate this issue yet again. Wherever possible, I try not to be overly partisan when discussing domestic violence. Indeed, I have credited the Prime Minister and her Government when they have done the right thing in tackling abuse. However, no amount of warm words can hide the fact that this Government have presided over refuges being forced to close, and have allowed the uncertainty over funding security for existing refuges to continue for far too long. Quite simply, that is not good enough. As we have heard, the Government’s proposed funding mechanism for supported housing fails to recognise the distinct nature of refuges in comparison to other forms of supported housing. Women’s Aid have said that if those proposals are left unchanged and the UK Government push ahead regardless, the impact on provision of refuges would be catastrophic.
The issue should not come as a surprise to the Government. Domestic violence support groups such as Women’s Aid and Refuge, along with several others, and many of us in this place have regularly highlighted the dangers of the proposed funding model for short-term supported housing, particularly refuges. In addition, both the Work and Pensions Committee and the Communities and Local Government Committee have warned the Government that a failure to recognise the distinct challenge will cause serious problems, and that the Government should work with Women’s Aid and others to devise a specific funding solution to help to support refuges.
I raised this issue with the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions, calling on her to put a stop to the plans and to introduce a fair, sustainable and specific funding model to support those services. Regular viewers of PMQs will not be shocked that I did not receive an answer to my question. I had hoped that it would wake the Prime Minister to action, given her previous track record on domestic violence. Unfortunately, as we now know, that did not happen. I sincerely hope the Government are not banking on the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, or indeed the rest of us, giving up and accepting the status quo.
I suggest to the Minister that even one refuge being forced to close because of the funding model should force a rethink. The fact that as many as half of them could close, leaving up to 4,000 women and their children with nowhere to go at the most vulnerable point in their lives, suggests that an alternate solution must be found. Anything else is indefensible.
I have brought up the Istanbul convention many times in this House. The UK Government have rather optimistically oft stated that the only aspect of the Istanbul convention that they fail to meet relates to extraterritorial offences. I disagree. I do not think the Government meet elements of articles 7 and 14 in relation to comprehensive and co-ordinated approaches to prevention and education.
Article 23 of the convention clearly states that Governments should provide
“appropriate, easily accessible shelters in sufficient numbers to provide safe accommodation for and to reach out pro-actively to victims, especially women and their children.”
That clearly is not the case. I welcome the fact that the UK Government are committed to ratifying the convention, but only if they will take their responsibilities within the convention seriously, and not treat it as some tick-box exercise while giving themselves a pat on the back.
I have said time and again that the continuous improvement in legislation over the last few years is welcome, and I look forward to the Government bringing forward the domestic violence and abuse bill in the new year. However, that progress will be seriously undermined if the Government refuse to properly fund DV support services, and in particular refuges.
The true mark of any progressive or promising legislation is that it is still progressive and promising when it reaches the point of need. It is worth highlighting that in Scotland, we have some of the strongest rights for homeless people in the world, which creates a legal safety net for women fleeing domestic violence. I thank the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) for his uncharacteristically kind words about the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Government state that
“Domestic abuse and violence against women is a fundamental violation of human rights”
and that Scotland will not tolerate it. We have introduced the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, which has had its First Reading and will, if passed, provide for a specific legal definition and offence of domestic abuse. We are also investing £30 million through the equality budget in projects supporting a range of frontline specialist services working with women and children who have experienced domestic abuse, and £20 million from the justice budget supports initiatives to tackle violence against women and improve the justice response.
Will the Minister commit to meeting the Government’s international obligations and particularly our commitments to the Istanbul convention? Can he update us on the Government’s progress on ratifying the Istanbul convention? The recent report suggests that zero progress has been made since the passing of Eilidh Whiteford’s private Member’s Bill. Will he commit to working with Members of Parliament, Women’s Aid, IC Change and others to conduct a full audit on how the UK is equipped to meet the requirements that allow ratification of the convention?
Today’s debate is of the utmost seriousness. If the proposals are left unchanged, the Government will remove the safety net for people fleeing domestic violence. We simply cannot allow that to happen. There is no excuse for the Government to continue to ignore this danger. They must take action and provide protection for those who need our help the most. I will give the last word to Women’s Aid CEO Katie Ghose, who said:
“The Government’s proposed reforms to supported housing will dismantle our national network of lifesaving refuges and put the lives of women and children trying to escape domestic abuse at risk. This is a matter of life or death.”
I could not agree more.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I join other Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on securing the debate.
We are talking today about funding for women in the most frightening and desperate of circumstances. I feel that there is a double injustice: not only are these women subjected to abuse and violence, but it is they, and not the perpetrator, who have to leave their home with their children, uprooting them from friends, family and schools.
Providing shelter for anyone able to flee an abusive relationship must be a basic requirement of Government in a country where two women each week are killed by their current or former partners. The security that a refuge provides is the minimum we should be able to guarantee for survivors. Unfortunately, we are not currently fulfilling that guarantee, with 60% of referrals to refuges being declined. On any given day this year, around 90 women and their children were turned away from a refuge because there was not capacity to take them in. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Julie Cooper) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) about that exact situation. How heartbreaking for a victim who has made the incredibly brave step of seeking safety to then be told that there is nowhere for them to go.
As previous speakers have noted, this is not a niche issue. There were more than 1 million recorded cases of domestic violence and abuse last year. Although their record is far from perfect, the Government have recognised the terror that victims of domestic abuse face. They promised new legislation to provide greater protection to victims in this year’s Queen’s Speech, including welcome measures to prevent victims from having to face their former partners in court. That is something I have called for, and I joined others in delivering a petition to Downing Street on that subject. In her previous role as Home Secretary, the Prime Minister introduced Clare’s law and made coercive behaviour an offence; both those measures were extremely welcome. All of this prompts a question: at a time when domestic violence is so prevalent and when domestic abuse-related offences now account for one in three of all violent crimes, why are the Government holding back the provision of refuge for victims?
Frankly, the Government appear to have stumbled into their current position on refuges. Changes to funding were initially announced two years ago in the 2015 autumn statement, capping housing benefit at local housing allowance rates and ignoring the significantly higher costs that supported housing incurs compared with general housing. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) talked eloquently about the inadequacies of that decision. The effects of the policy had obviously not been thought through. After the likely effects were made clear, implementation of the policy was delayed, and a review was then set up. Just ahead of this year’s Budget, it was finally dropped. Thankfully, a better solution has been found for the majority of supported housing, but the proposed model for very short-term supported housing—meaning shelters for people in the most extreme and desperate of crises—is a different matter.
The Women’s Aid survey of refuge providers tells us that the new funding model could force over half to close or reduce their provision, equivalent to 4,000 extra women and children being refused the services they need because of a shortage of spaces and resources. In the light of the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher), for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) and for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), we really cannot allow that to happen. The prospect should send shivers down the spine of anyone who wishes to tackle the burning injustices present in Britain today.
Following the coalition Government’s decision to transfer the support element of funding for refuges into overall local authority budgets while making huge cuts to councils’ funding, 17% of specialist refuges had closed by 2014. It is little wonder that putting the entirety of state funding for refuges into the hands of local authorities, which are already under pressure, has caused so much concern for my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley and others working in the sector.
We have seen the consequences of the past two years of uncertainty about the future of funding for supported housing, with 85% of new schemes put on hold, denying vulnerable people the homes they need. These proposals could see that same damaging uncertainty locked into the short-term supported housing sector if the funding is liable to change from one year to the next. Some local authorities currently provide no refuge support at all—my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley highlighted the Prime Minister’s own council area. How will that be factored into the new system without requiring shelters in areas that have above-average provision to cut down?
When the shadow Children’s Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), came to my constituency last month, we visited my local refuge, which is run by the indefatigable Denise Farman. It provides fantastic facilities, with special play areas for children and extra bedrooms built into its housing provision. It also provides counselling support through play for children. The refuge receives no extra funding for that, but provides it because it is a necessary part of support for families. These places are just as important for the children as they are for the women, particularly because in two thirds of abusive relationships, the children are directly harmed, while they must also be suffering mentally from having to witness extreme abuse.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) said that the majority of victims going to shelters flee their local area and that this is a national issue, but the Government’s consultation document makes reference to local need. This really is a national issue that demands that support be provided for victims across the country.
Having read the Government’s reasons for the changes to funding, I cannot see any justification for the provision of short-term supported housing to be removed as a duty of the central welfare system. Can the Minister try to provide one today? If the change is made and has the effect that every provider of women’s refuges believes it will, where will the women go who benefit from the information made available to them through Clare’s law? What about the women who the domestic violence and abuse Bill seeks to embolden to contact the police? How likely are they to pick up the phone to report an abusive partner if they are unable to find anywhere to go?
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I begin by offering my thanks to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) for securing this important debate and for sharing her expertise in supporting the victims of this abhorrent crime. Her contribution and the many other contributions to the debate were made with great passion and great insight into the utter devastation that women and children in crisis face. She gave vivid and heart-wrenching examples. I pay tribute to the people who work tirelessly day in, day out, to support victims of domestic abuse. She and I seem to have some differences of opinion at the moment—I accept that—but I am absolutely committed to doing everything I can to help these incredibly vulnerable families. I know how important refuges are for their safety and for giving them the opportunity to start to rebuild their lives.
The hon. Lady asked a number of questions, and I hope to be able to respond to most of those in my speech. I apologise if I do not have time to respond to all the questions asked by hon. Members. I undertake to write to them if I do not cover the points raised or in order to deal with them in more detail.
The Government remain committed to funding vital refuge services. Since 2014, we have dedicated £33.5 million in direct grant funding to local authorities for refuges, safe accommodation and other services. In February, we announced that 76 projects across the country, covering 258 local authorities, would receive a share of the £20 million domestic abuse fund, creating more than 2,200 bed spaces and supporting more than 19,000 victims. Last month, we confirmed that we would support a further four projects. We also part-fund the Women’s Aid Routes to Support secure database. That provides information on refuge vacancies across England, enabling staff on the national domestic violence helpline to direct callers to the appropriate refuge. In 2015, we commissioned and funded the Women’s Aid No Woman Turned Away project to provide extra caseworker support to victims unable to access a refuge space. Last year, more than 400 women were supported.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley and others raised a number of concerns about the proposals to reform funding for supported housing. Let me be absolutely clear: the amount of funding that we are putting into supporting victims is not changing. Under the new funding model, all housing costs—core rent and eligible service charges—will be funded by a ring-fenced grant to be distributed by local authorities, and we intend that ring fence to remain in the long term. We also intend to use grant conditions to ensure that the funding is spent where it is intended to be spent. Everyone who is currently eligible for housing benefit will continue to have their housing costs met through our funding model for short-term accommodation. Vitally, our new model removes the need for vulnerable people to have the additional responsibility of paying their rent at a very difficult time in their lives.
We are consulting organisations, such as Women’s Aid, that support victims of domestic abuse, which have been mentioned by many hon. Members today. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is with us in the Chamber, and I have met Women’s Aid very recently. We will continue to discuss those organisations’ concerns and we remain open to the ideas that they are putting forward. I invite the hon. Lady to meet my hon. Friend and me to discuss some of these issues in more depth, particularly appropriate accommodation, some of the examples that she mentioned and the wider issues that she raised. As hon. Members pointed out, there is a consultation on the funding model. It closes on 23 January, so there is still time for organisations to have their say, and I encourage them to do that.
It is worth noting that the proposed grant funding model for short-term accommodation will not kick in until April 2020. A number of other strands of work are ongoing to ensure that we have the refuge provision we need. The key thing that I want to mention is our review of domestic abuse services. We are reviewing how we provide funding for care and support to make it work even harder. Our priority for the review is ensuring that victims are getting the support that they desperately need, and seeing how we can improve that support. To that end, we will, by November 2018, review funding of refuge provision in England, with a particular focus on the funding of care and support for victims. As with the funding model for short-term accommodation, we are exploring all options, including a national model for refuge provision. I can say to right hon. and hon. Members that nothing is off the table. I hope that that reassures the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green), who raised that point. We are certainly not ignoring what the Select Committees have said.
To inform our review, we are tendering for an audit of local authority commissioning of domestic abuse services, including refuges. That audit, together with the Women’s Aid Routes to Support data and Imkaan’s reports on black and minority ethnic specialist service provision, will for the first time give us a complete picture of provision across England, enabling us to assess what impact services are having and to identify any gaps in provision. Refuges are a critical part of our provision, as are the outreach services, dispersed housing and sanctuary schemes that some local authorities provide. That vital support helps victims to remain safely in their own homes, and I would like to see more councils commissioning a range of provision to meet the needs of all victims. We know that victims’ needs are very diverse.
I want to mention several other things that we are doing in this context. We are consulting on new guidance with regard to improved access to social housing for victims of domestic abuse. It is really important that in our work on social tenancies we ensure that we are on the side of victims, not on the side of perpetrators. We gave a commitment in our manifesto that we would ensure that domestic abuse victims who had to flee their area would automatically be offered a lifetime tenancy in another area. There are a number of other strands of work, including the domestic abuse Bill, on which a national consultation in the widest sense is being conducted by the Home Office. We are very keen across Government that that consultation should create a national conversation about domestic abuse.
I conclude by thanking hon. Members for their contributions today. There is certainly more work to do, particularly in relation to the funding for supported housing, and we are very keen to work not just with the various charities in this space and organisations that support victims, but with Members across the House.
I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate. It is a pain only to have two minutes to wind up the debate, but that shows me that lots of people cared, which always makes me feel very pleased. I know that lots of people outside this building will also be very pleased about how many hon. Members from across the House cared.
I welcome the Minister’s statements, but I will say that the reality on the ground never feels quite like what is presented to me at whichever Dispatch Box. I will never, ever stop pointing that out until what is said to me feels exactly like what it feels like to try to get someone a refuge bed at 10 to 5 when the office is shutting on a Friday. At the moment, that feels impossible. Until we crack that problem, we certainly have not got things right. However, I welcome the commitment of the Government. As I said at the start, I think that naivety, not malice, has led to the changes, and I look forward to working with the Government to improve the situation.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered funding for domestic violence refuges.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Government policy on animal welfare.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. It is often said that we are a nation of animal lovers and in many respects we are a world leader in animal welfare. That is something we can be proud of.
In the months since the general election we have seen a blizzard of activity from the Government that will build on that proud record. They have committed to putting CCTV into all abattoirs to prevent abuse; they have committed to increasing the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years; they have committed to closing down the ivory trade in the UK, to remove loopholes allowing new ivory to be sold as if it is old ivory; they are banning neonicotinoids, pesticides that are wiping out bees and many other pollinators; they are bringing in measures to tackle plastic waste that is clogging up our oceans, as we have all seen on the extraordinary “Blue Planet” series; and they are banning microbeads, those tiny particles of plastic that are causing mayhem to marine life.
On a bigger scale, we have seen over the past few years the creation of a network of giant marine protected areas. Our 14 overseas territories represent the fifth-largest marine estate in the world and include some of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world. This Government have committed nearly 4 million square kilometres to protection by 2020—an area way bigger than India. That represents the single biggest conservation measure by any Government ever.
Despite that, there remains much to be done if we want to bring our animal welfare and environmental policy laws up to date, as we should. In this debate, I want to centre on animal welfare. It is timely that the Government have announced today that they will bring forward a new animal welfare Bill to deliver some of the commitments that have already been made.
As hon. Members know, we are putting EU environment and animal welfare laws into UK law, but there has been some controversy over one issue in particular: animal sentience.
Does my hon. Friend share my sense that there are some who have been mischievous and misleading on that subject, because they refuse to believe that the Government take animal welfare seriously and are legislating more than any previous Government have done?
My right hon. Friend makes the point well and I agree with him. It was reported two weeks ago, as hon. Members will remember, that MPs had voted as if they felt that animals do not have feelings. That story took on a life of its own. It became a forest fire on social media. In fact, it became the top political story of the year. I have to say, notwithstanding what he has just said, it is a wonderful reflection on the British people that they made it the top story of the year, but it was, as he has said, fake news.
There has never been any disputing the fact that animals have feelings or that animal sentience needed to be enshrined in UK law. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made clear at that time that he intended to find the best legislative vehicle for translating sentience into law, and today, as expected and as promised, he has, in a new animal welfare Bill. Also as expected and as promised, the new rules will go further, because our sentience principle will apply to all policy decisions and relate to all animals. It will not be narrowly restricted to those policy areas under EU control, as it is today. That point was made earlier today by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for raising this important cause. As a farmer’s son, I know all too well the importance of protecting animal welfare. Does he agree that Brexit gives us an opportunity to strengthen our animal welfare rules and laws, so that we are putting animal welfare at the heart of our programme going forward?
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend and I will be making that point in more detail shortly.
The new Bill that was announced at midnight last night will also increase the maximum jail terms for animal abusers from six months to five years. Both of those commitments are enormously welcome. It is great news and I can hardly exaggerate my thanks to the Secretary of State for the breathtaking leadership he has shown since being appointed to his role, but I believe it would be a mistake not to use the opportunity of a new animal welfare Bill to create something truly comprehensive, so I want to make the case for some key areas that I believe should be included and I want to start with farming.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend and I thank him for making that point.
The Secretary of State has said:
“As we leave the European Union there are opportunities for us to go further and to improve… animal welfare”.
Of course, he is right. For example—this goes to the point my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) was making—as we leave the EU, we will be able to end the live export of animals for slaughter and fattening, which is a grim process for tens of thousands of animals every year. Last year, 3,000 calves were transported from Scotland via Ireland to Spain and over 45,000 sheep were taken from the UK through continental Europe. Under EU single market rules, the UK has not been able to stop that—we have tried, but we have not succeeded. I am thrilled that Ministers have indicated that they are minded to act as soon as we are allowed. If we do, we will be the first European country to do so and will be setting what I hope will become a trend.
Procurement is another area where we can make a relatively easy and significant impact. The Government spend around £2 billion a year on food for schools, hospitals, prisons and military barracks. Currently, that food is required to meet only a very basic standard of animal welfare—basic standards that still leave chickens in tiny cages, pigs in cramped and stressful conditions, cows in sheds all year long and so on.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. The five-year sentencing for animal cruelty is excellent. We need to procure food that is of a very high standard and British. We also need to ensure that, as we do our Brexit deals in future, we do not allow in food with much lower welfare standards, so that our farmers who have high-quality and high-welfare standards also have a real chance to maintain a competitive edge.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. I am reassured by a number of statements that have been made by the Secretary of State in relation to that. Putting sentience into UK law across the entire range of Government policies will also help us ensure that we do not lower our standards in return for trade deals.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he agree that it is very welcome that the Secretary of State has made clear that our sentience law will be much stronger than both French and EU law, which declares animal sentience, but then allows disgraceful practices such as cock fighting and bull fighting?
That is a very good point. The sentience principle in EU law has been held up by some as a gold standard, but it is a gold standard that has allowed foie gras, veal production, fur farming, in some cases donkey torture, bull fighting and much more besides. It is not a gold standard. We are setting a gold standard. We are going to go so much further, which we should be proud of.
Returning to procurement, we have £2 billion at our disposal, which we currently spend each year on food of a pretty low standard. In my view, that is a wasted opportunity. There are hundreds of schools and hospitals in this country already, including in my own constituency, that are choosing to use their buying power to support suppliers who guarantee higher standards. The Government need to take that best practice and make it into the norm.
My hon. Friend is making some extremely good points. Does he agree that one thing that has hitherto prevented our schools and particularly our armed forces from buying British products is EU procurement legislation? When we leave the EU, we will not have to do that, so we will be able to sell our own British-made products to British institutions.
That is exactly right. That has been a barrier all the way along from the Government’s point of view. However, they can now begin to take that best practice and make it the norm. I would like to see them commit to using their vast buying power to boost the most sustainable and highest animal welfare standards. When I first raised this point in Parliament as a new MP seven years or so ago, I was told all the time by Ministers: “You cannot do it. It will be too expensive. It is a luxury.” I helped to set up a group called School Food Matters, originally in Richmond, to try it out in my own area. We persuaded Richmond Council and then Kingston Council to rewrite their contracts. Today, every single primary school in Richmond serves Food for Life gold standard food—the very best people can get. They prepare all their food in house and take-up by parents has trebled, and we are doing nearly as well in Kingston, where it started slightly later. Here is the thing: the cost per meal went down by 38p—it did not go up; it went down. In my view, that removes the only argument against pursuing this policy.
There is no reason not to use that simple but powerful lever to support the highest standards, but the Government can do more than that: they can raise the standards as well. There are two important ways in which the Government should do so. The first, simply, is to update the rules around cages. Millions of animals are currently trapped in appalling conditions on our farms. Pregnant sows are stuffed, unable to move, into farrowing crates, typically from a week before giving birth until the piglets are weaned. Those have been banned in Sweden and Norway, and we should do the same. Chickens are no luckier. We banned battery cages in 2012, but the so-called enriched cages that replaced them are more or less the same. They are hideously restrictive, and there is virtually no additional room at all. The life of a factory chicken just does not bear thinking about. Luxembourg and Germany have banned the cages, so why cannot we?
The second way in which we can easily raise standards is by tackling the overuse and abuse of antibiotics on farms. This is an animal welfare issue because antibiotics have been used in farming to keep animals alive in conditions where they would otherwise die, but it is also a major human health issue. The abuse of antibiotics has allowed the growth of resistant bacteria, which can spread to the human population and reduce medicines’ effectiveness in treating our own infections. The brilliant chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies has warned:
“If we don’t take action, deaths will go up and up and modern medicine as we know it will be lost.”
It is worth thinking about that pretty profound statement from the chief medical officer. She has talked about a “catastrophic threat”: the risk of millions of people dying each year from common infections.
The good news is that, after a lot of campaigning, the issue has risen up the political agenda and the Government have taken action. Sales of antibiotics to treat animals in the UK fell by 27% from 2014 to 2016. That is clearly good news, but the threat remains acute and the Government need to get a stronger grip. There should be absolutely no mass medication of animals simply to prevent illness. It should be outlawed. There should be no use of antibiotics, such as Colistin, that are classified as critically important to human health. They should have no place on a farm. If we stop this madness, we stand a chance of preventing a human health disaster and, as it happens, we will also force a kinder, more civilised form of farming.
Finally, on agriculture, an issue that merits, and has indeed had, many debates all of its own is the badger cull. The Government have always said that their policy of culling badgers to stop the spread of bovine TB is based on science, but that position is becoming harder to justify. The only full Government study into bovine TB transmission between cattle and badgers, which ran from 1998 to 2006, concluded that
“badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.”
More recently, the independent expert panel appointed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to advise on the current pilot cull stated that it was ineffective and inhumane. Nobody doubts the importance of dealing with TB or the devastating impact that it can have on livelihoods—
I could not disagree with my hon. Friend more on this particular point. If there is a pool of the disease bovine TB within badgers, and someone tests their herds of cattle, ensures they are clean and then puts them out in fields where there are badgers carrying bovine TB, the badgers will then re-infect the cattle. We have to deal with both. I am sorry, but on this occasion I could not disagree with him more.
Well, we normally agree, and I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I do not believe that there is anything like enough evidence to justify culling tens of thousands of native wild animals, the vast majority of which are disease-free. This year is likely to see a trebling in the number of badgers culled, and yet in Wales, where no general culls are taking place, TB has halved. In the absence of robust science, the very least the Government should—
Does my hon. Friend recognise that the decline in bovine TB in Wales is no more distinct in the areas where vaccination takes place than it is in areas where vaccination does not take place? Indeed, the Welsh Government are now considering whether they need to bring in a limited cull because the existing methods are not working. I hope he takes that into account.
Our approach is not selective. There are huge numbers of animals involved, The approach in England is a preventive cull, as opposed to a selective cull. My view is that at the very least the Government should suspend the cull and commission a proper study into the alternatives, so that we can be sure that the policy we adopt is based on science, and not assumption.
I shall hold off on taking interventions for a few moments, as in the time I have remaining I want to briefly look at how we treat exotic wild animals. In so many areas we are world leaders, but in others we lag behind. For example, at least 23 countries worldwide have banned the use of wild animals in circuses; but despite British Government promises going back five years, it is still legal to use lions, tigers, zebras and other wild animals in travelling circuses in the UK. It is time for Ministers to make good on a promise that has been made and repeated over the past five years.
The keeping of monkeys as pets is a similar issue. Primates are highly intelligent wild animals; they are not suitable pets. Like us, they enjoy complex social lives and form deep and lasting relationships, but despite that thousands upon thousands of squirrel monkeys, capuchins and marmosets languish alone in cages across the country. Because they become very tricky as they grow old, they are often simply abandoned and then have to be picked up by wonderful, but overstretched, organisations such as Monkey World in Dorset. The emotional and physical damage that they endure takes years and years to undo. Fifteen European countries have banned the trade, and more than 100,000 British people signed a petition demanding that we do the same. Again, we need to get a grip on this issue.
It is not just individual private ownership that needs looking at. There are 250 licensed zoos in the UK. Some, such as Howletts in Kent, really do represent the gold standard. The welfare of the animals is their principal concern, and the conservation of the species that they harbour is at the forefront of their campaign. They release animals back into the wild in a way that no other zoo in the country does. However, recent incidents, such as the exposé of the grotesque conditions at South Lakes Safari Zoo, show that there is a gulf between best and worst practice, and a need for better standards and a more rigorous inspection process. I believe that we need to establish a new, independent zoo inspectorate and give it the job of drawing up fresh standards for animal welfare in UK zoos and then enforcing them.
I want to join in the applause that the Government rightly earned last month when the Secretary of State announced that we would ban the trade in ivory here in the UK. Globally, the trade takes the lives of 20,000 elephants a year—one every 26 minutes—and they are hurtling towards extinction. We in this country—I do not think that many people are aware of this—are the largest exporter of legal ivory in the world, stimulating demand for ivory and giving the traffickers a means to launder new ivory as if it were old.
The Government’s promise is not merely symbolic—it is much more than that—but I hope they will go further. Evidence is mounting of an increase in the trade in hippo ivory. There are only 100,000 or so hippos in the world, so the slightest shift in demand could be devastating for that species. I hope that the Government will expand their consultation, or the policy when it eventually emerges, to include other ivory-bearing species such as hippos, the walrus and the narwhal.
Finally on the international dimension, hon. Members will remember the outrage that followed the killing of Cecil the lion in 2015 and, too, the announcement a few weeks ago that the United States President was thinking of reversing the decision of his predecessor to ban the import of elephant and lion parts from trophy hunting. At the time it went largely unreported that this country also allows the import of wild animal trophies, including from species threatened with extinction. We need to change that. It should simply be illegal to import body parts of any animal listed as endangered by the convention on international trade in endangered species
The last point that I want to make moves into a different field. It relates not to farmed or exotic animals, or to our role overseas; it relates to puppies.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. He is a great advocate for animal welfare. Will he join me in supporting Lucy’s law, which was launched in Parliament last week and looks for a ban on third-party puppy sales? Basically, it would ensure that the scourge of puppy farming no longer exists in this country. Also, will he support the early-day motion on Lucy’s law launched today?
I thank the hon. Lady very much for her intervention, and I could not agree with her more strongly. I pay tribute to Marc Abraham who led the campaign for Lucy’s law. It is probably inappropriate to mention that I can see him in the Public Gallery, but he has been an absolute champion for the cause. I believe that we will see some results in the next few months and will perhaps hear from the Minister on that shortly.
I will cut my speech down, because I have taken far too many interventions and am running out of time. I have provided a long but not exhaustive list of measures that I think we should take. It is an important list, however, and taking those measures is the right thing to do and would put the Government on the right side of public opinion. If there is any doubt about that, we need only to look at the public reaction to the albeit false stories about MPs believing that animals do not have feelings, or at the reaction from voters to the 2017 Conservative manifesto proposal on holding a vote to abolish the Hunting Act 2004—something that I hope the Government will now rule out.
I want to give the Minister enough time to respond. I know she will be unable to respond to every point I have made, but I hope that she will do her best in the 10 minutes we have left.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) on securing the debate. He covered a wide range of issues in the first 20 minutes, and as a consequence I am afraid I will not be able to take any interventions.
I reiterate that the Government share my hon. Friend’s and the public’s high regard for the welfare of animals. We extend that regard to animals whether they are companion animals, farm animals or wild animals. I reaffirm the principles on which the Government’s policies on animal welfare are based: our recognition that animals are sentient beings, contrary to the fake news spread recently by certain media outlets. That is certainly true of this Government and of predecessor Governments. In fact, back in 1822, this Parliament was the first ever legislature to implement laws to protect animals, with the Act to Prevent the Cruel and Improper Treatment of Cattle. The Government believe that the direct effect of the principle of sentience is recognised throughout the statute book, but for the avoidance of doubt, I am sure that hon. Members will join me in celebrating this morning’s announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of a new Bill that will not only increase the maximum penalties for animal cruelty, from six months’ imprisonment to five years imprisonment, but enshrine animal sentience in law.
The draft Bill will embed the principle that animals are sentient beings, capable of feeling pain and pleasure, more clearly than ever before in domestic law. There was never any doubt or question that our policies on animal welfare are driven by the fact that animals are sentient beings. The Government are committed to raising animal welfare standards and to ensuring that animals will not lose any recognitions or protections when we leave the EU. The draft Bill makes our recognition of animal sentience clear. It contains an obligation, directed towards Government, to pay regard to the welfare needs of animals when formulating and implementing government policy. That provision does not apply to Ministers in the devolved Governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but we will work closely with the devolved Administrations on that important matter.
That will build on the long list of legislation that Parliament has passed to protect animals. The first significant general legislation was the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which introduced the offence of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal. That Act stood the test of time and was used every year by the RSPCA to successfully prosecute about 1,000 people a year for animal cruelty. It was eventually replaced by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which introduced the added offence of failing to provide for the welfare needs of an animal. That offence had been present in on-farm legislation, but its inclusion in that Act meant that it applied to all kept animals.
I could read out a very long list of Acts of Parliament, but it would take too long; however, it is an indication of how much animal welfare means to Parliament and the public, and I will mention one or two in particular. The Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925 regulates circuses and other acts involving animals; it is still in force, although the Government are in the process of replacing it. The Cockfighting Act 1952, as the name suggests, made it an offence to organise a cockfight. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 stepped up provision for wildlife, including banning methods of killing certain animals—for example, wild birds—to avoid bodily injury in a particular way. The Zoo Licensing Act 1981 imposed strict welfare and conservation standards on our zoos.
We have also introduced regulations through EU law, and we will bring into UK law any that are not already in place through powers granted by the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Those include the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007, which implemented EU legislation on minimum standards of welfare for different species of farmed animals, and the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006, which implemented EU legislation on the welfare standards for animals in transit. As I indicated, the Government intend to go further on improving the welfare of all animals, be they wild, companion or farmed.
The UK has been at the forefront of driving global efforts to safeguard the world’s most vulnerable species and we remain absolutely committed to protecting global wildlife for generations to come. As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park pointed out, that is why we are taking action to preserve elephants and are now consulting on our proposed ban of the sale of ivory in the UK that contributes directly or indirectly to the poaching of elephants. The proposals, on which we are consulting, are designed to put the UK front and centre of global efforts to end the insidious trade in elephant ivory.
Historically, the United Kingdom has been ahead of international trends on trap humaneness, outlawing leg-hold traps and establishing an approval system for spring traps in the 1950s. We propose to consult next month on UK-wide implementation of the agreement on international humane trapping standards. That agreement between the EU, Canada and the Russian Federation puts in place humaneness standards to improve the welfare of wild animals commonly caught in traps for their pelts. Under the agreement, we are required to prohibit traps and trapping methods that do not meet the standards for a list of species, five of which are currently present in the wild in the UK: stoat, badger, pine marten, otter and the European beaver. I know that my hon. Friend takes a great interest in them. When the UK legislation comes into force, only traps and trapping methods that meet the standards for species covered by the agreement will be permitted under licence.
I am afraid I cannot at the moment, but if I have time at the end, I will.
We will tighten the rules regarding dog breeding, pet shops, animal boarding, performing animals and riding stables. Irresponsible dog breeders and dealers are a stain on our national conscience and such people who exploit that trade must be stopped. We will introduce new regulations on the welfare of dogs in dog breeding establishments. We will ensure that more breeders need to be licensed. Statutory minimum welfare standards will be applied to licensed breeders and will be enforced by local authority inspectors. Detailed guidance will be provided to inspectors to assist them with the new regulations.
All pet vendors will also have to provide information to new owners to educate them about their new pet. It will be made clear that any business selling pet animals online will also need to be licensed. We continue to work closely with the Pet Advertising Advisory Group on minimum standards for such sellers. We are enormously grateful for the input from local authorities and other organisations on drafting the new regulations. I hope that they will be in place by the end of next year.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park highlighted regarding farm animals, to improve welfare of animals at slaughter and to deliver our manifesto commitment, we recently carried out a public consultation on our proposals to require CCTV in every slaughterhouse in England. The consultation closed in September. There was strong support: of the nearly 4,000 responses, more than 99% were in favour, which is an overwhelming endorsement of the policy. We published the Government’s response to the consultation last month and will follow that up by laying secondary legislation before Parliament early in 2018.
In particular, my hon. Friend raised the issue of the live export of animals, which is of significant concern to hon. Members. Compared with 20 years ago, there has been a dramatic fall in the trade in live animals going directly for slaughter. Nearly 2 million animals were exported every year, but in 2016, 50,000 sheep were exported, with 5,000 going directly for slaughter from Great Britain. Sheep are the main livestock species to be exported for those purposes, and I know the issue still causes considerable concern.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the restrictions we have now within the EU, but we have always been clear that the Government would prefer to see animals slaughtered as near as possible to their point of production. We believe that a trade in meat is preferable to a trade based on the transport of live animals, particularly when journeys may result in livestock travelling long distances across Europe. As we move towards a new relationship with the EU and the rest of the world, we have a unique opportunity to shape future animal welfare policy to ensure the highest standards in every area. Our manifesto commitment made it clear that we would take early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter once we leave the EU. We are currently considering options, but the issue is rather complex and any future proposals would have to consider trade between the UK and Ireland, whether that is with Northern Ireland or across the Republic of Ireland.
On farm codes, as well as laying new statutory welfare codes for cats, dogs and horses before Parliament shortly, we are also raising standards on farms by modernising the farm animal codes, a move that has been welcomed by industry. A new code for meat chickens will be laid before Parliament shortly and we will consult on new codes for laying hens and pigs in the new year. The updated codes of practice for England will provide clear guidance to producers on how to comply. We continue to work closely with DEFRA’s delivery bodies, including the Animal and Plant Health Agency, on the enforcement of animal welfare standards.
My hon. Friend raised a wide variety of issues. The Government and the farm sectors, such as the meat chicken industry, have taken significant strides on reducing the amount of antibiotics used, although I recognise that that may still not be enough for him. He also mentioned trophy hunting, and I think he would find it worthwhile to read Professor Macdonald’s report, which DEFRA commissioned, about the balance of conservation and hunting for commercial purposes in that way. The restriction that he referred to, which President Trump was considering removing, has put a pause to that—it was specifically from Zimbabwe. I believe that the US does allow other elements still to be imported, but that is done on a conservation basis.
The measures that I have set out clearly demonstrate the Government’s intention to avoid animal suffering and show we are taking steps to strengthen standards. In future, when we are outside the EU, we intend to take full account of the scope for the UK to set the very highest standards in animal welfare and to encourage action on a global level.
I have 30 seconds left, so I will take a brief intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk).
In considering the welfare of wild animals, does the Minister welcome the plans approved by the Government to release beavers into the Forest of Dean for the first time in 400 years? Does she agree that that should be the beginning of a longer process of reintroducing, when practical, species that were previously wiped out by human activity?
Beavers have not really been present for 400 years on this island, although my hon. Friend will be aware of the releases that have happened in Scotland. I am aware of the River Otter trial, and further trials are to come. It matters that our approach is based on science and rigour, which is what this Government will ensure.
Question put and agreed to.
Lotteries: Limits on Prize Values
[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of society lotteries, the Health Lottery and limits on prize values.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, in this important debate. You will remember that the launch of a national lottery back in the days of the Major Government was one of that Government’s great successes. When history is written, I think that it will be seen as a far-reaching and incredibly innovative measure. More than £38 billion has been raised for good causes around the country, and all colleagues will have examples of outstanding projects that have helped transform communities in their constituencies.
I have a great deal of respect for Camelot. I do not want to dwell too much on the national lottery or Camelot during this debate, because I want to talk specifically about society lotteries. Unfortunately, in recent years, Camelot has lost its way somewhat. Many of my constituents were incensed by the decision to double the price of tickets and add 10 extra numbers to the card. The impact on small family syndicates was significant, and I know a lot of constituents who pulled out of supporting the national lottery as a consequence. I want to concentrate on society lotteries, and to flag up the extraordinary revolution that has taken place over the past decade. It has been a remarkable story for the third sector.
I hesitate to interrupt my hon. Friend so early in his speech, but before he leaves the issue of the national lottery, whether one admires Camelot or not, is not the real difficulty Camelot’s length of tenure as an operator? It becomes more and more difficult to know whether it is performing as well as possible. The metrics simply are not there because of the monopoly that it has enjoyed.
That is a good point. Camelot has become complacent. It has a new chief executive now, as we know, but my right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Conservatives remember well when it was launched, because we were in government at the time. There was a tremendous spirit of innovation and a great deal of aspiration, but Camelot has been there for a long time now, and has made some bad mistakes. One, incidentally, was taking the Health lottery to judicial review in an attempt to prevent it from being launched. If ever there were antics by a monopolistic organisation, that was it.
I want to focus on society lotteries. There are now more than 490 organisations running society lotteries. In 2011, they raised roughly £100 million for good causes. The figure is now more than £250 million. Society lotteries are different from the national lottery, as we know. They are regulated under the Gambling Act 2005, unlike the national lottery, which is regulated under the National Lottery Act 1993; they have an annual turnover limit, a draw limit and a prize cap; and they cannot operate in Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man. In contrast to the national lottery, they are highly regulated and controlled.
My hon. Friend is giving a characteristically powerful and well thought-out speech on this important subject. It is clear that we have allowed the national lottery to establish its market position, but as he highlighted, a huge number of different companies and societies offer products. It is an opportunity for the market to choose between different prizes, stakes and innovative games, and for customers to choose from a variety of good causes. We should welcome any effort to support the new organisations.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, which I will come to in a moment. One key aspect of the argument is that society lotteries complement the national lottery and do not compete directly with it. There is room for them both to operate.
The big difference, obviously, is the prize cap. As I pointed out, society lotteries are limited to 10% of the value of any one draw, with a theoretical maximum of £400,000. In practice, most of the top prizes are about £25,000. That is, frankly, scratchcard territory. I will return to that later in my short speech.
The impact on our constituents of society lotteries is significant. Most high street charities now run such lotteries: cancer research; military charities; disability support charities such as the Royal National Institute of Blind People; and environmental protection and animal welfare charities. Many contract an external lottery provider to service their lotteries. The two best known external providers are the Health lottery and the People’s Postcode lottery, which most colleagues will have heard of.
I have been doing some research in my constituency. Society lotteries’ contribution to good causes has been impressive. For example, a few years ago, the Benjamin Foundation, which runs a hub in Norfolk to help homeless 16 and 17-year-olds to get their lives back on track through short-term supported housing, received £10,000 from the Postcode lottery, having applied to the lottery and not succeeded for a variety of reasons. The strength of society lotteries is that they can be much more flexible and fleet of foot in considering need.
Elsewhere in Norfolk, the People’s Health Trust, supported by the Health lottery, has given numerous small grants. The East Anglian Air Ambulance lottery has done a great deal of fundraising. The organisation HealthSuccess in Norfolk has put money into a number of good causes around Norfolk: for example, supporting local branches of Scope, Dementia UK and the Royal Voluntary Service. It has put nearly £40,000 into creative training sessions with the Wayland Partnership Development Trust, and nearly £50,000 into the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Young Carers project. Those are examples of particular successes in Norfolk, which I welcome 100%.
The Health lottery has supported two key charities in my constituency, Trading Links and the Hanseatic Union. Across Norfolk as a whole, it has granted more than £1.6 million to 45 local projects since 2011, as part of nearly £100 million in grants supporting 2,600 projects and nearly 450,000 people across the entire country. I pay special tribute to the founders of the Health lottery, particularly Richard Desmond, one of our mostly highly regarded and respected philanthropists. They can be proud of what they have done.
There are arguments for reform, and they are becoming ever stronger—I mention above all the point about the prize limit, to which I will come in a moment. The proliferation of society lotteries is a good example of the big society at work, helping out at grassroots level. It is a movement that has grown organically and gathered momentum.
The key point, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) mentioned a moment ago, is that society lotteries are not in competition with the national lottery; what they do complements it. I believe strongly that people play the national lottery because they want to win a life-changing prize. They console themselves with the thought that although the odds against them are completely ridiculous, there is nevertheless a remote chance that they might win the prize, and they will also do some good work for charity. However, they have no idea which charities their small share of ticket income will support. That is quite unlike society lotteries, which are often locally based on people’s doorsteps. People can relate to them and understand what is done by the local charity that they are supporting and what impact it will have in the community in question.
I feel strongly that there is room for both. As the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) said in a recent reply to a question:
“As Government, we of course want to ensure that we have one strong national lottery, but that does not mean that we cannot also have strong society lotteries.”—[Official Report, 16 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 565.]
I agree 100%.
We also need to bear in mind that, from the way Camelot has been carrying on, one would think that society lotteries were right there biting at its heels, with ticket sales in the billions. The truth of the matter is that total ticket sales by society lotteries last year were £586.66 million, compared with national lottery ticket sales of £6.92 billion—it is under 10% of the national lottery’s total sales. Frankly, the society lotteries deserve to have the chance to move up a gear, to increase their ticket sales and to do even more good for those causes in our constituencies.
Very simply, I am asking for some deregulation. I would like the draw limit to be raised from £4 million to at least £10 million; the annual turnover limit to increase from £10 million to £100 million; and the prize limit to be raised to £1 million—the Lotteries Council takes the view that it should be 50% of any one draw, but that could be too complicated. The key thing is that if the turnover limit is raised to £100 million, the administration costs would come down quite significantly. That is not the kind of prize that would change people’s lives in the way that the national lottery prizes can, but there is no question that it would be much more attractive. I would also like arrangements to be made for new society lotteries, which have significant start-up costs in their early years. There must be an argument for the aggregation of the 20% minimum charity contribution over a number of years.
As those of us who were in Parliament at the time remember well, when the national lottery was launched, there was an argument for it being a monopoly. Since, we have seen this revolution in society lotteries. The scenario has changed dramatically. When conditions change, the overarching regulation has to change as well. There is overwhelming support for these changes from every single third-sector charity that has been in contact with me. I quoted the Lotteries Council, which is very supportive, as was the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s last report.
Since I requested this debate from Mr Speaker and had it granted, I have had a significant number of emails from non-governmental and other such organisations. To pluck one out from a charity that I know well, ActionAid’s senior advocacy manager told me that he is incredibly supportive of the proposals that we are putting forward because:
“Such changes would mean more funds can be raised for important causes like ours and the many other UK charities benefiting from this funding source.”
He says that
“it would be useful…to mention ActionAid’s support for these proposals”.
If they go ahead, he says, ActionAid will be able
“to help tackle violence against women and girls in Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Rwanda”
as part of its outreach in Africa. That is quite powerful.
I understand that the Minister is waiting for advice from the Gambling Commission. Is there any news on that? As I understand it, these changes could be brought about by a simple statutory instrument. Perhaps she could comment on that, because that is within her power and a lot of pressure is building up.
Arguments have been put forward against these changes. I will not go into huge detail because that would take all afternoon and I do not want to get bogged down in arguments that are not particularly strong. The key argument that has been made is that a further proliferation of society lotteries would somehow take money out of the pool that is available for buying these tickets and that eventually goes to help good causes. I do not accept that argument at all, because the public are incredibly generous these days. If the ask is right, the public will continue. One very good example of that is national lottery sales, which did not dip in the slightest after the all-time record Red Nose Day.
When the Health lottery was launched in 2011, Camelot kept saying that there would be a huge diminution in the amount of support for the national lottery and in ticket sales, but it widened public support and the public view of lotteries, so the competition benefited everyone, including the national lottery. The public spent more on the society lotteries—through the Health lottery in this case—and on the national lottery.
I have also looked at independent reports. Most notably, in 2012, NERA Economic Consulting published an in-depth report on the impact of society lotteries on ticket sales and on the national lottery that found that they made absolutely no difference whatsoever. The Centre for Economics and Business Research published a report in 2014 which was quite interesting and pertinent in saying that
“there is little evidence to support the notion that society lotteries undermine the National Lottery…If regulations were to be relaxed, the potential increase in society lottery-donated funds to good causes would, in all likelihood, complement rather than detract from those provided by the National Lottery”.
That is very telling.
On the fall in national lottery income last year—it was not very significant, but it was a fall—the Financial Times reported Camelot as saying that
“the main reason for the fall in sales last year was the disappointing performance of The National Lottery’s core draw-based games—especially Lotto, with player confidence in the game still fragile following the recent game changes”.
Camelot is being incredibly candid and honest.
In conclusion, the Minister and the Secretary of State have both said that they believe in the big society, deregulation and a flowering of these different smaller organisations. They believe in communities taking control of their own destiny, and in charities in all our constituencies up and down the country working together to help those good causes. We are now at a stage in the development of lotteries in this country where we can take this important decision. The timing is absolutely spot on. There are many other competing issues in the Minister’s Department and she has many things on her plate, but I urge that this problem could be solved by a simple statutory instrument, which would have massive support from the public and from the organisations I have mentioned. I submit that now is the time to act and for the Minister, who is incredibly talented, to enhance her reputation still further by taking this action.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) for securing this important debate. I intend to keep my contribution quite brief, which I am sure hon. Members will be glad to hear, but I will emphasise the important work that funding from society lotteries has been able to support, and reiterate the point that raising the turnover and prize draw limits could enable them to do even more.
Players of society lotteries raise over £250 million a year for thousands of charities and good causes across the United Kingdom. The Gambling Commission’s latest round of statistics highlighted that the money that society lotteries gave to good causes rose to 43.6% from 43% last year. In the constituency I serve, Ceredigion, the People’s Postcode lottery, one of the biggest charity lotteries, has supported several diverse local projects and charities that have been of great benefit to communities across the county. Last year, £9,750 of funding from People’s Postcode lottery players supported Age Cymru Ceredigion’s “Silver Steps” project—a great initiative that supports the building of safe walking trails to promote activity among older people. At the other end of the spectrum, a further £1,429 grant from the People’s Postcode lottery funded improvements to Rhydlewis village hall. Many of those smaller projects do not, or often cannot, access the grants available via the national lottery, and therein lies the real value of society lotteries: they are uniquely positioned to offer funding opportunities to those smaller projects. They can support the causes that the national lottery is unable to help. The hon. Gentleman stated, far more eloquently than I can, a point that is worth reiterating: there need not be any competition between the national lottery and society lotteries—in fact, they complement each other’s good work.
How society lotteries should be regulated is a question that has been exercising Parliament, the Gambling Commission, Government and others for nearly five years, which I am sure hon. Members from all parties agree is far too long. The charities supported by society lotteries would like the issue to be resolved as swiftly as possible. On behalf of Plaid Cymru, I urge the United Kingdom Government to take the necessary action to enable society lotteries to raise more money for good causes as soon as possible.
The Minister may well be aware of my party’s support for the Lotteries Council’s proposals, which the hon. Gentleman also mentioned: to increase the annual turnover limit from £10 million to £100 million and the draw limit from £4 million to £10 million. The existing turnover and draw limits are resulting in increased administration costs. Effectively, they are capping the funds that can go to the good causes that each charity lottery supports; indeed, for some charity lotteries, the limits are having the unintended effect of reducing the amount that they can provide to good causes to begin with.
In the light of the numerous studies and reports that have considered the issue, not least the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s 2014-15 inquiry, I am confident that changes to the limits would preserve the distinctiveness of the national lottery. I conclude by asking the Minister whether she recognises the crucial role that society lotteries play, and when we can expect a response to the call for evidence on lotteries that was launched by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in December 2014. Diolch, Sir Edward.
It is a delight to be called to speak in this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) on securing it. He spoke in great detail and with great knowledge about the benefits of society lotteries. I commend him for the strength of his case and his arguments; I agree with them all.
In my seven and a half years as a Member of Parliament, I have been really moved and pleased to see the amazing actions and the positive impact of charities, particularly small charities, not only in my constituency but in other parts of the country and across the world. The commitment and dedication of charity workers, particularly volunteers, transforms lives and communities. I echo my hon. Friend’s words about the big society—that is exactly what we see in the dedication of motivated individuals who want to serve their community and help others. That is what we see from small charities and society lotteries: valuable support and service provision, responding to local needs in a way that central Government, big charities and bureaucracies quite frankly cannot and will not.
In my own constituency, I have seen many great charities supporting amazing causes, from branches of the Royal British Legion across Essex to remarkable charities such as Brainwave, which fundraises for itself, with no Government funding or support, but is changing the lives of children who suffer brain injuries and cerebral palsy and is also transforming the lives of their parents and families. From Farleigh hospice to the Witham Boys Brigade, people are working hard every week to support vulnerable people and enhance our local communities. The Health lottery, which my hon. Friend mentioned, has invested more than £45,000 in just one charity in my constituency, 2nd Witham Boys Brigade. The Health lottery is an astonishing vehicle for bringing direct support to the grassroots—the communities and charities that achieve a transformative effect. In the case of the Witham Boys Brigade, the money has gone to its stadium, a street project and a neighbourhood living project that is transforming the community and bringing employability skills and empowerment to a whole generation of young people. Enhancing outcomes for young people is something that we should all support, while also encouraging greater volunteerism within the community. Funding from the Health lottery not only enables young people to take part in activities, but helps to build skills for life and give them the confidence to become good citizens.
One of the benefits of local society lotteries is that the people who pay to play will see and know the good causes that they are supporting, because they will be surrounded by them in their local community. That is an enormous contrast with the national lottery, in which there is no direct link between someone’s stake and the various causes that it may go towards or support in some way. The national lottery’s funds go into a central pot and are redistributed from the centre—not a principle of redistribution that I support—whereas local society lotteries serve a genuine grassroots need. Their promoters are themselves active citizens within their communities, so they have that community connection.
I want to see more charities and good causes benefiting from funding from society lotteries. Having looked at this matter, I urge the Government, as other hon. Members have done, to support that goal by reforming the regulatory regime under which society lotteries work. In fact, one of the representations I received before the debate was from Essex and Herts Air Ambulance. Our air ambulances are amazing. Naturally, they believe in raising the cap on society lotteries to ensure that more money goes into communities—something that we all support.
In my former role in the Government, I saw for myself how society lotteries benefit international causes and charities—a point that my hon. Friend also mentioned. Causes such as Water Aid and Mary’s Meals, a charity that my former Department supported in Scotland, are given a tremendous helping hand in delivering support on nutrition. The People’s Postcode lottery and the Postcode Global Trust support many global charities that are helping young people around the world to develop new life skills and giving them new life chances. We should be very proud of that; I hope the Government will acknowledge it and be proud of it too.
It has been five years since a review of society lotteries was announced, but progress on regulatory reform has been slow. Local charities and organisations that support people are being held back by outdated legislation. By law, non-commercial fundraising lotteries must donate at least 20% of proceeds to charity. Outdated regulations designed to protect the national lottery from competition are preventing them from growing. That is simply not right.
The case has already been made for raising the maximum prize to £1 million—a proposition that is rightly supported by the sector. A higher prize fund will attract more players, which in turn—believe it or not—will generate more revenues for good causes. A £1 million prize is also a clear and memorable figure that is easy to market when promoting these very good society lotteries and charities with a strong local connection. I believe that society lotteries that are able to do so responsibly should be free to adapt their model, increase their maximum prize to attract more players and bring that money to our communities.
The real question for the Government is why society lotteries should be held back. We should give them the freedom to succeed and the trust and confidence to go out there and deliver the big society. We should empower more communities and charities. As a Conservative, I am naturally a great supporter of the freedom to succeed, choice, innovation and the role of the market. When playing lotteries, consumers should have a choice of causes to support, including causes that they themselves may be associated with or have an affinity with. That is really important, but it is being restricted by the existing regulatory framework. We should trust consumers to make informed choices about which lottery products they want to support. They should know how, and towards which causes, each £1 that they pay and play will be divided up, and what the ultimate benefit will be.
As we have heard already today, the national lottery has changed its product range, although that has not necessarily worked, and has put its prices up. We all want to support the next generation of Olympians and win more medals as a country, but some consumers quite frankly do not want to bankroll the fat-cat salaries of Camelot. Likewise, many people who give to charities do not want to bankroll large charities’ fat-cat salaries. As someone who has been a great advocate and supporter of local charities, and of moving moneys away from big charities and big causes, I think we should make absolutely sure that we empower smaller charities, so that they get out there and provide the support that is required.
The other point I will make—I say this with some personal experience, as my parents were shopkeepers—is that the national lottery’s monopoly completely restricts the opportunity for smaller lotteries to have a staging post in many retail outlets. The national lottery is very restrictive in terms of the regulations and the restrictions around it, and it places burdens on small shopkeepers, such as my parents once were, even though they run the types of shops that we should be supporting on high streets and in our villages, as well. They provide a great local service to our local communities, too.
Camelot has a monopoly and as there is only one national lottery that restriction obviously has ramifications and wider implications. The Government are supporting choice and competition in many other sectors—energy, banking, education or higher education—so there is an enormous opportunity for the Government now to grasp the nettle and to be incredibly proactive in this area.
This is an argument to support choice and competition, but fundamentally it is an argument to support our local communities and our local charities. Naturally, there will be benefits from increased competition, which is something I support. So, like my colleagues here today and like my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk, who secured this valuable debate, I feel that this is a wonderful opportunity to live and demonstrate the values of choice and competition, as well as to promote the role of our small charities, to show that the big society can exist and operate through the hard work of smaller charities and their lotteries, and through other society lotteries.
Sir Edward, it is always a pleasure to speak in Westminster Hall and I thank the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) for bringing this issue here for consideration.
A firm train of thought seems to be emerging today—that good cause lotteries can do a lot of good work. None the less, the topic is a very emotive one and at the outset I will say that I firmly believe that gambling can and does destroy lives throughout the United Kingdom. At the same time, I am also a firm believer that although adults have the right to make their own choices, regulation must be in place, so I am very keen on that. It is important that regulation protects individuals and families as much as possible, while at the same time allowing people the freedom to do what they want to do. That is why I support the case that the hon. Gentleman made. It is important that we consider what good cause lotteries can do across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
At the same time, I advocate the lowering of stakes for the fixed-odds betting terminals and will continue to push for that. However, that is not a debate for today. I understand that, but it is an issue that many of us feel very strongly about, and while not many Labour Members are here today, there are those who subscribe to the same point of view that I do—and many in the Conservative party have the same opinion.
I support the central theme and thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s argument—more money for good causes. How can we make that happen? Many of us across the United Kingdom, including in my constituency of Strangford, are well aware of the national lottery, for instance, and the good work that it does, as well as the many organisations that it has benefited. Community groups and their projects have benefited from the national lottery, as have churches. There are many churches in my constituency that have benefited from the national lottery and some of those schemes were massive schemes, which, without that level of investment, would never have taken place.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that because of the challenging financial envelope that a lot of hospices have had to deal with over the last few years, lotteries have played an ever more important role in those hospices being on top of their cash flow? Under the proposed changes—moving beyond the limit of £10 million—lotteries could become ever more important to those hospices, to ensure that they can serve more and more terminally ill people in the community.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and that would be the thrust of my argument, as well; indeed, it is possible that many of us in this Chamber share his opinion. But how can we support such causes throughout the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
In my opinion, today the debate should focus on how we can better regulate these society lotteries to ensure that as much as possible of the profit that they make goes to charities and is not swallowed up in administration. The right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) referred to the administrative aspect of charities, and we have to be very cognisant of that issue; we cannot ignore it.
I remember seeing an investigative report on TV about how some charities were run so that only 5% of the money they raised actually went to the cause, and the rest was lost. We are aware of difficulties in the past, and it is important that we ensure that that does not happen again. I remember being horrified by that report and from then on I checked with charities to ensure that the bulk of the money that I donated would go to the actual charity. I am sure there are many parts of the United Kingdom where charitable giving is excellent—I do not doubt that and I will not say anything different—but I know that in Northern Ireland we have some of the highest levels of charitable giving in the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) can confirm that. We are that sort of people, we are that sort of a nation and we are that sort of a region, and I want to ensure that the bulk of the money that is donated goes to the actual charities.
Nobody expects volunteers in a charity shop to go without heating to keep costs down, but there is something to be said for ensuring good stewardship of money that people have donated. It is up to us to provide legislative protection to ensure that that is the case. There is also a need for charities’ staff to be paid, and they should always be paid a decent wage; that is not what we are trying to change when we talk about cutting administrative costs.
I am equally concerned about charities’ costs; administrative and advertising costs can be as high as 49% in some of these society lotteries. Obviously Camelot, because of scale, has much lower costs. However, does the hon. Gentleman agree that by increasing turnover, smaller charities would probably decrease their administrative cost per pound, which would increase the percentage of the money that goes to deserving causes?
There is certainly an argument for that, and I think we are all committed to ensuring that the vast majority of the money that people give goes to the good causes that we wish to see receiving the money. If we can achieve that, I believe we will be on our way.
My hon. Friend knows that the legislative framework in Northern Ireland for societal lotteries is different to that for the rest of Great Britain. We have prescribed limits to expenses: 20% where the revenue is over £10,000; and 15% where the revenue is lower than £10,000. Perhaps those prescriptive percentages of 20% and 15% respectively should be considered for the rest of the United Kingdom.
So we look to the Minister, as we always do, for a comprehensive response to the debate. It is always good to see her in her place and we deeply appreciate her interest in this matter.
Businesses should not reap the benefit of charitable rates and tax exemptions if the charitable project itself is not reaping the benefit of people’s charitable endeavours. For that reason, I am supportive of greater regulation to ensure that the most money possible goes to the charity. For example, when people make the decision to buy a Health lottery ticket over a national lottery ticket, it suggests that they want to help the health service, as the hon. Member for Eastbourne suggested in his intervention, and people who are ill. As much money as possible should go to health provision, as that is what people are trying to achieve.
I am not sure whether this issue is really within the remit of the Minister, but I must put something on the record. Whenever we watch TV—I only watch on very rare occasions—the Health lottery comes up. In the small print at the bottom of the screen, it says that the Health lottery is available in England, Wales and Scotland, but not in Northern Ireland. That might be because of our legislation, but I will put it on the record that many of my constituents wish to contribute to the Health lottery but cannot do so for whatever the reasons may be. So, I again look to the Minister, to give us some thoughts on how we can perhaps ensure that the good charitable giving of people in Northern Ireland can benefit the Health lottery, so that we can also contribute to good causes through that route.
Perhaps this will be helpful for the Minister as well. Legislation prescribes that somebody from Northern Ireland cannot purchase in person a ticket in the society lotteries in GB, and similarly somebody in GB cannot purchase in person. There is no prescription in law that stops somebody from Northern Ireland participating by post, by telephone or online.
There we are. We just have to spend extra money. I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful comment. Many would wish to contribute to the Health lottery and similar charitable causes through the lottery societies if they were given the opportunity. I put on the record that we are keen to be a part of that process. Perhaps we could do it in the same way as everybody else, using the methods that they use across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I read an article recently that thankfully said that society lotteries generated more money for good causes in the year to March 2017 than ever before. That is good news, and if possible we would like to see that figure increase again as the process becomes more streamlined and more can go to the cause itself, as the hon. Member for North West Norfolk said in his introduction. Figures published by the Gambling Commission revealed that Britain’s 491 society lotteries raised £255 million, up from £212 million in 2016 and £190.6 million in 2015. It has been said that one of the reasons for the increase was that the percentage of sales income going to good causes had risen from 43% to 43.6%. The increase is exactly what the committee was looking for, and even more if possible.
The article went on to say that the funds generated by the Health lottery—again, we come back to that one—which consists of 51 local lotteries across Britain operating under one brand, have significantly increased the amounts raised by society lotteries since it was launched in September 2011. That is a supreme example of those who want to give charitably through a lottery and who do so for the benefit of all of the people—all bar one region—of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We look to the Minister to give us some idea of how we can be a part of that process.
There is an argument that says the limits are increasingly out of date and should be raised to allow more money to be raised. The argument must be carefully considered, and I am sure the Government are doing so. That was the thrust of the contribution from the hon. Member for North West Norfolk, and I think it is the wish of the rest of us to see how we can do better. I urge the Minister to ensure that enough time is taken to safeguard individuals and families when considering any alteration of regulations with regard to any type of gambling, no matter how good the cause is.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) on securing this debate. I am particularly pleased because I have raised several questions in the House on this topic and have spent weeks applying for a debate myself. Between us we have managed to get there in the end. I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk about the reforms that have been discussed by hon. Friends and hon. Members this afternoon, and the opportunities that we could create for local charities and good causes.
To touch on some of the points that other Members have made, why is reform needed? What is the purpose of society lotteries? Put simply, society lotteries are one of several ways in which charities can raise all-important funds for good causes. As Members we go to many different events and support charities in many different ways. Society lotteries engage support in a slightly different way from other forms of fundraising. In fact, they are a way of recruiting supporters. They can find themselves getting new donors and also volunteers. Some charities that have society lotteries say that people buy lottery tickets and go on to take out direct debits and leave legacies. Society lotteries have become an increasingly successful way for charities and good causes to raise all-important funds at a time when we know that demands on their services are on the increase.
The numbers speak for themselves, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk mentioned in his speech. In 2011, society lotteries raised around £100 million for good causes. They now raise more than £250 million. They have become a vital way in which well-known national charities can raise funds. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) mentioned the British Legion, which runs the poppy lottery. There are also the more regional and local charities such as St Giles Hospice and the Midlands Air Ambulance in my area.
External lottery managers provide services to operate lotteries. The best known are the Health lottery and the People’s Postcode lottery. We can see the ways in which they help. The People’s Postcode lottery operates to help raise funds for local, national and international good causes, supporting 70 larger charities and 3,000 smaller charities and local community organisations. The Health lottery has raised around £100 million, helping 400,000 people and supporting 2,500 charities, including providing just over £25,000 to Media Climate CIC in my constituency to support a project called Get Active with Music, a two-year project that is looking to deliver a weekly media creation and learning project for a group of 30 adults with learning difficulties.
As both my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk and my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham mentioned, such action is a good example of the big society. Before the general election in 2010, long before I entered this House, I conducted some market research to look at the concept of localism and the big society to try to understand how people understood it. The project is a really good example of exactly what the big society is and what it looks like on the ground in our individual constituencies.
In short, society lotteries provide invaluable funding for charities and good causes, particularly for small and local charities and good causes. Charitable need outstrips supply. Data from the People’s Postcode lottery shows an increasing gap between the funding applications received and the funds available to the three grant-giving society lotteries managed by them.
For some time there have been calls for changes and reform in the law. Society lotteries have been incredibly successful, but there is scope for them to do even more. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk outlined the limits on society lotteries, so I will not go into those in detail again. Needless to say, there is scope and a need to increase the limits and caps in order for society lotteries to fulfil their full potential. The reforms being sought, as he mentioned and which I fully support, are modest. The sector is calling not for caps to be removed completely, but simply for the draw and turnover limits to be increased and jackpot prizes increased to £1 million. In the case of the minimum charity contribution, there are calls for the rules to be changed so that it is aggregated over an extended period for newly created lotteries, recognising the additional start-up costs in the early years.
Reforming in such a way, as hon. Members have mentioned, it would enable a strong national lottery as well as a strong society lottery sector. They can both work together, maintaining their unique positons and their very different characteristics. My hon. Friend made the point, which I fully support, that they are different. There are different motivations for engaging with the national lottery and with a society lottery. The national lottery is about winning big, life-changing sums of money. Society lotteries are about contributing to good causes, with a small benefit of perhaps winning some money along the way.
As other hon. Members have mentioned, reform has been discussed for some time. Indeed, it was in 2012 that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport first announced that it intended to review society lotteries. Five years on, following a Select Committee inquiry, a review by the Gambling Commission and two general elections, we are still having the same discussion about when reform is likely. I raised the matter in departmental questions in the House last month, and I urge the Minister to come forward with plans to reform the law as hon. Members have outlined. I should specifically like to know what plans her Department has to reform society lottery law, and what timetable is being considered for implementation of reforms.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir Edward. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) on securing the debate.
Many hon. Members will have spent a lot of time in their constituencies in recent weeks—as they will in forthcoming weeks—at charitable events. That brings home to us what an impact charities and local organisations make at the heart of our communities. They are local people supporting local causes that benefit the community. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk for reminding us how much money lotteries have raised for good causes. Today we have an opportunity to recognise the work of such organisations, as well as looking to the future. When we think about lotteries, often we think of the national lottery or the Heritage Lottery Fund, but if we dig under the surface of our communities, we find many much smaller, often local, society lotteries—the ones we are talking about. The amounts of money involved may be much smaller, but the work being done is none the less vital. The financial contribution may not be great, but it can make a big difference in the community.
Society lotteries give people choice. A person who wants to support a specific cause can choose a lottery accordingly. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) has mentioned a couple in the west midlands—St Giles Hospice and the Midlands Air Ambulance. They are two among many. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to see in this country and internationally many tremendous examples of charity work, but today I want to highlight an organisation in my constituency that has benefited from the People’s Postcode lottery. Manor Farm community association in Rushall does incredibly valuable work with local people at the heart of the community, often helping more vulnerable individuals who need a little extra support. Thanks to the People’s Postcode lottery, it received support in 2012 for its project called “It’s Just the Job!”, and this year lottery funding supported its “silver connections” programme as well. I have looked at the sums, which may not be vast compared with the sums given out by other big lotteries—sums of £9,000 or £18,000—but they are big enough to make a big difference to such organisations’ work.
Smaller charities often find it more difficult to find sources of funding, and that is why society lotteries are so important. We have heard today of many organisations that benefit, including the Canal & River Trust, Royal Voluntary Service, Magic Breakfast, Whizz-Kidz and Volunteering Matters. It will come as no surprise to the Minister that demand for charity funds is outstripping the available funding, and she will be aware that there are calls, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk clearly explained, for reform of the society lottery sector. That would include raising the limits on charity lottery funding, to help to reduce admin costs and increase the funds going to the charities. That would mean more local charities and organisations like Manor Farm having the opportunity to bid for funds, which I would welcome.
Perhaps the Minister can clarify a specific point about operational costs. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke of a minimum amount from the ticket price going to charity. I understand that there is a requirement that a minimum of 20% of the ticket price should go to charity, but often it can be much more. I have seen one instance of a minimum of 31% going to charity. That is an example of a society lottery putting much more back into good causes.
The Minister will no doubt want to continue with careful consideration of the matter, including the role of society lotteries, but I believe there must be a place for a strong national lottery and strong society lotteries. I hope it will not be too long before we hear from her following the consultation. Hon. Members will all know from constituency examples that charities and community voluntary organisations often provide extra little support services that Government cannot and perhaps should not provide but which make a difference to our constituents’ lives. Those organisations often work quietly as the unsung heroes at the heart of communities, supporting older and vulnerable people, the environment and other good causes. We have heard a lot about the big society—perhaps we do not talk about it as much as we once did, but I still think there is a big society out there, and that it is worthy of our continued support.
It is as always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir Edward. I congratulate the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) on securing this important debate, and pay tribute to all those who contributed. The SNP in this place and the Scottish Government agree that the current law covering society lotteries is past its sell-by date and is in need of an overhaul. The restrictions placed on charity lotteries make that kind of fundraising increasingly difficult and complicated, and limit charity lotteries’ ability to support those working at the front line at a time when demands have never been greater and budgets have never been tighter.
Increasing the annual turnover limit and the draw limit will ensure that the moneys raised by society lotteries can be used to fund charities across the UK and the wider world, making a significant difference to the lives of individuals and communities. Like many hon. Members, while preparing for this debate I was contacted by numerous organisations seeking a change in the law. Among them was ActionAid, which explained that like many other UK charities it uses the income from its lottery to provide a level of service and support it would otherwise not be able to provide. The money that ActionAid receives goes on life-saving work here and around the world, including programmes aimed at tackling violence against women and girls in Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia and Rwanda. As a result, ActionAid and many other charities are strongly petitioning the Government to change the legislation to allow the annual turnover on a single society lottery to rise from the current £10 million to £100 million, and to raise the individual draw limit on a single society lottery from the current £4 million to £10 million.
I take on board what the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, when he made his usual sensible contribution and highlighted the danger of encouraging further gambling, but I feel that there is a growing consensus that a change in the law is required. We have heard the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the Lotteries Council, the Institute of Fundraising, the Hospice Lotteries Association, and many other charities such as ActionAid calling for that change.
One of the biggest concerns is the fear that increasing the scope of society lotteries will somehow have an adverse effect on the national lottery—as has been mentioned, there has been a drop in national lottery income and funds going to good causes this year. As I understand it, however, there is no evidence to suggest that the success of society lotteries has had a negative impact on the national lottery. Numerous studies by a range of organisations between 2012 and 2015 came broadly to the same conclusion that society lotteries complement the fundraising of the national lottery. The recent drop-off in people participating in the national lottery is believed to be due more to changes made by Camelot to the games themselves—both the Gambling Commission and Camelot recognise that.
In February this year the Gambling Commission stated:
“Despite remaining the most popular gambling activity, there has been a continued decline in participation in the National Lottery draws coinciding with, amongst other factors, the increase in ticket price from £1 to £2 which was introduced in October 2013.”
In September, Camelot was reported in the Financial Times as saying that
“the main reason for the fall in sales last year was the disappointing performance of the National Lottery’s core draw based games—especially Lotto, with player confidence in the game still fragile following the recent game changes.”
Let me be clear: this is not a case of playing off the national lottery against society lotteries. Indeed—perhaps worryingly—I find myself in complete agreement with the Secretary of State who said last month that
“we of course want to ensure that we have one strong national lottery, but that does not mean that we cannot also have strong society lotteries”.—[Official Report, 16 November 2017; Vol. 631, c. 565.]
I am therefore pleased therefore that Nigel Railton, Camelot’s new CEO, is on record as saying that, following an internal company review, he is optimistic that the national lottery will return to growth next year. I believe that we can have a world in which the national lottery and society lotteries co-exist, and that charities and good causes can continue to benefit.
We are all aware of the billions that the national lottery raises for good causes and we are delighted by that, but society lotteries also make a hugely valuable contribution and are successful in raising much needed funds for a wide range of charities and good causes. As the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) said, the current law means that there is a growing gap between what society lotteries do and what they could do. Nevertheless, they still raise a huge amount of money—as the hon. Members for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) and for North West Norfolk said, in 2011 society lotteries raised around £100 million for good causes, but they now raise more than £250 million. Such has been their success that that money has become one of the principal means of survival for many charities and organisations. As the hon. Member for Ceredigion said, society lotteries can help small local charities that could not otherwise access national lottery funding.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) and the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) spoke eloquently about the scope of local charities in their constituencies, and they were right to do so. However, not only local charities benefit. Many of the UK’s best known charities, such as Children 1st, the Red Cross, the Marine Conservation Society, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Dogs Trust, Save the Children, WaterAid, the Riding for the Disabled Association, and the wonderful Mary’s Meals in my constituency, all benefit as well. Collectively, those charities are asking the Government to revisit the Gambling Act 2005 and make it fit for purpose. They argue that raising the existing cap on what society lotteries can pay out will allow more money to go to charity and good causes while reducing administration costs. The proposed changes have been much talked about—indeed, I understand that the Government’s review was announced on 15 December 2012, which means that this was first discussed five years ago this week.
If we raise the prize money cap on society lotteries, the amounts of money won would not be the complete life-changing experience that happens by winning the national lottery. The Select Committee recognised that. The Secretary of State said recently that the Government remain committed to helping both the national lottery and society lotteries to maximise their contribution to good causes by establishing the right conditions to help them thrive with the appropriate level of regulation. Again I agree, but surely it is time for them to get on and create the conditions that will allow both to thrive.
There is clearly broad cross-party consensus for change. We know that those changes will not come at a cost to the taxpayer or damage the national lottery, and they can be brought forward easily via secondary legislation. It therefore remains only for Ministers to stop delaying and to bring forward the proposed changes as soon as possible. If the Minister is unable to make an announcement today, will she at least provide a timescale for when we can expect such an announcement?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I thank the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) for securing this debate.
As many Members have said, society lotteries do fantastic work across the country and support a wide range of key local causes, including hospices, air ambulances, sports clubs, health charities, animal welfare and support for the elderly, and many other charities across the globe. At a time when Government budgets have been cut across all Departments and in local government, some of that support has been vital.
Hon. Members will agree that there are fantastic examples of good causes being supported in our constituencies. In Tooting, for example, a local day care centre was the recipient of a new garden, a health space was created for young homeless people, a new project to help older people get online was started, and many other such groups have received essential funding. Society lotteries are a force for good, and we welcome all efforts by hon. Members to consider ways to make the system better. We must give this sector a greater degree of certainty and clarity about its rules and governance, to ensure that maximum funding is available for good causes. With that in mind, will the Minister consider raising the minimum good cause contribution for larger society lotteries?
I agree with some of the recommendations made by the Lotteries Council, and believe that their members’ No. 1 priority is to generate more income for good causes each year. Deregulation must not come at the expense of those good causes. The system and any changes to legislation that we consider must put good causes at its heart, and they cannot be forgotten in the rush to cut red tape.
I support calls for greater transparency in society lotteries, and information about where the money goes should be readily available. Given the data-driven society in which we live, why is it not the norm for us to be able to see how each lottery’s proceeds are spent? If we could see what portion of each ticket is spent on causes, prizes and expenses, that would increase trust in the system, which is especially important if the Government are considering raising the annual turnover or draw limit. Will the Minister implement the Committee’s recommendation of a 35% cap on operating costs for the largest lotteries?
We must be diligent in ensuring that caps on prize limits reflect the current political and economic climate, and that any renegotiation of the cap does not increase or promote bad gambling habits. Have the Government assessed the impact that increasing the prize caps may have on gambling habits? The Minister and I were both at the Gamble Aware conference last week, where that issue was raised.
One major concern that is often cited is the potential competition that the deregulation of the society lottery sector may bring to the national lottery. I believe that one main national lottery must be retained to maximise player participation and the financial benefits for good causes, but we must consider how the national lottery is set up and managed, given its recent drop in contributions. One organisation that is missing out is the Heritage Lottery Fund, which has announced that its budgets have been cut by more than £200 million. I am keen for the Government to have a plan to ensure that fantastic organisations that do incredible work across the UK do not lose out. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the reduction in national lottery good cause funding?
Does the Minister believe that expanding the ability of society lotteries to increase their prize draws would have a negative effect on the national lottery? Given that the current turnover and draw limit were set in 2005, it is right to look again at the rates and, potentially, to raise them. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee, as it then was, made a number of recommendations in 2015, but the Government have yet to take any action. Lotteries have been left in limbo for years, and the Government need to provide greater clarity about their intentions. Can the Minister tell me when the Government, whatever their decision, will make an announcement on any changes to the limits?
I said at the start of my remarks, and I think we all agree, that the main aim of society lotteries is and should remain to raise money for those who seek to do the best they can for the people at the heart of our communities. Motivations for playing the smaller lotteries, which are often tied to particular causes, are different from those for the national lottery, which people play to win for a life-changing amount. Both kinds raise millions for good causes, but they are distinct, and when considering easing the regulations on society lotteries, it is important to maintain that distinction. Any rises in prize thresholds must ensure a balance between the ability of society lotteries to raise more money for good causes and the national lottery’s ability to do so being protected. If we move to liberalise the market, we must take steps to ensure that where the number of players, and the prize draws, increase the potential associated dangers or harms are fully assessed as part of the reforms.
It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) for calling what has been a stimulating and wide-ranging debate on an important issue, and I thank all Members who have taken part. Many of the issues that have been raised are complex, and are exactly the ones my Department has been grappling with for a while now, so it has been timely and invaluable to hear everyone’s considered views.
I will start with some specific comments. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) asked whether I recognised the value of society lotteries. Of course I do. I certainly do. Like those of many colleagues, my constituency has benefited from society lottery funding, including for Kent search and rescue and the Luton Millennium Green community nature park. So naturally, like many people, I understand the value of both society lotteries and national lotteries.
I want to deal up front with the issue of the advice from the Gambling Commission, which has been raised by many colleagues. I have received the commission’s advice and have been considering it carefully. The commission will publish the advice in due course, and I hope to update Members soon. One particular piece of the advice, on transparency, was published just this afternoon. Many Members will know that the Gambling Commission recently consulted on introducing new licence codes to improve the transparency of society lotteries, and its proposals include requiring lotteries to publish the various proportions of their proceeds. I want first to deal with those issues—I will come back to the timetable later in my speech.
It is clear that the society lottery sector plays an important and growing role in supporting a diverse and wide range of good causes in the UK. We have seen sustained growth in the sector since 2008, when the per draw sales limit was doubled from £2 million to £4 million. Indeed, sales have increased by more than 100% in the last five years. Last year, a record £255 million was raised for good causes, which was an increase of more than 20% on the previous year. Not only are society lotteries raising more funds for good causes, they are giving a greater proportion of their sales back to good causes, with a sector average of just less than 44%.
Each year, more charities and good causes start their own lotteries to raise funds to support their important work. I recognise that, for charities, money raised through society lotteries has become an important source of funding, which allows their work to continue and grow. Colleagues will appreciate that I am the Minister with responsibility not only for gambling but for civil society so, whatever we do on the issue, I recognise the contribution the lotteries make to charities that I support in another part of my brief.
In 2015, I was a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the report of which many colleagues have cited today. We looked at society lotteries in some detail. The guiding principle then, as now, was that the regulatory regime which governs society lotteries should encourage the maximum return to good causes. The licensing regime should be light, protecting players without placing unnecessary burdens on operators. In some bizarre twist, I, in my role as the Minister responsible for lotteries, and the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), who had previously been the Chairman of the Committee, agreed either to accept the report’s recommendations, or to explore them with expert advice from the Gambling Commission. The issues are important and complex, and it has been prudent to take our time over them and to consider a number of options.
My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk and other colleagues mentioned limits, which was a recommendation for review in the Select Committee report. However, before making any changes to the current rules, it is important that all options are looked at and consideration is given to the wider picture. We do not want any unintended consequences.
The key consideration in the reforms has been how to strike the right balance between society lotteries and the national lottery. The sectors grew in tandem for many years, and it is important that any reforms enable them both to flourish. I want to pause here to acknowledge the importance of the national lottery. This year marks its 23rd anniversary and, since 1994, more than £37 billion of national lottery funding has been raised—an average of more than £30 million each week—for more than half a million projects all over the UK. The national lottery has had an unparalleled impact on 21st century Britain, making a valuable contribution to funding our many Olympians and Paralympians, our historical buildings and monuments, and even our Oscar winners, one of whom I was fortunate enough to meet a fortnight ago, alongside some of our future stars who are benefiting from film clubs run with lottery funding. It is, of course, our communities who benefit most of all from the lottery. The majority of national lottery money goes straight to the heart of our communities. Last year, most of the grants made were for £10,000 or less—small amounts going to community-led projects that make a huge impact.
I was sorry to hear that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) is unaware of some of the national lottery funding in her constituency. We are working with all distributors to ensure that people are made more aware of the local as well as the national good causes that the lottery supports. Just as a headline, in my right hon. Friend’s constituency the national lottery has funded the Museum of Power—somewhere we should all visit—Tollesbury sailing club and the local rifle club. I know that Braintree District Council covers more than her constituency, but it has had more than £18 million of Sport England funding. I do not know the details of all the other national lottery distributors, but I will ensure that we write to her with them.
I know very well the distribution of national lottery funds and support in my constituency and I thank the Minister’s officials for giving her the chance to tell the House today where the money has gone. But there is a point of principle here, which is that of competition and choice in communities—also the purpose of the debate—ensuring that society lotteries are able to compete with the national lottery and that a wider pool of funds goes to a much wider range of local charities and communities.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s point, which—she is right—the whole debate has addressed. It is important, however, and other colleagues have made this point, that we have a strong national lottery. It has become a part of our national fabric, but that does not mean that we cannot also have strong society lotteries. The Secretary of State made that point recently.
We are constantly reviewing matters. The Gambling Commission constantly keeps the national lottery under review, and I am sure that colleagues are aware that discussions are already beginning about the next licence procedure. We have to have a healthy mix of lotteries. I recognise, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Witham pointed out, that not everyone is aware of the local good causes. There has been an issue that the national lottery money that goes to those good causes has not necessarily been promoted as well as it could be. Society lotteries have done that much better, and we want to ensure that we have a vibrant mix of national and society lotteries.
I am the Minister with responsibility for charities, so I have heard from many charities that benefit from society lottery funding, whether that is their own or a grant from such lotteries as the People’s Postcode lottery or the Health lottery, both of which support a multitude of good causes throughout the country. We have heard about some of those good causes today.
I have spent a long time looking at the evidence on the relationship between the national lottery and society lotteries. We know that the two sectors offer different and distinct propositions to players. The national lottery enables players to support a wealth of good causes in the hope of winning a life-changing prize, while society lotteries focus for the most part on affinity with a specific cause and are subject to limits on their annual and per draw sales and their maximum prize. For that reason, I do not believe there has been significant competition between the two sectors up to now, but reforms must be considered through that lens.
It has been interesting to hear the arguments regarding the prize limits on offer through various lotteries. It is no coincidence that when the national lottery draws have big rollovers, there is an increase in ticket sales—bigger prizes attract more players—but I do not think people are attracted to society lotteries in the same way. Many large society lotteries offer relatively low prizes but are still thriving, which speaks to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk made. It is not always about the size of the prize; what is important is maintaining the balance and variety currently on offer.
I will briefly respond to the points made by our Northern Ireland colleagues. Although lotteries carry a lower risk of harm than commercial gambling, they are still a form of gambling, and tickets can be bought at 16. That is one reason why we are considering the evidence carefully before making a decision. Gambling policy in Northern Ireland is devolved, as was pointed out. I have listened with interest to the points that the hon. Member for Strangford and others have raised, and I encourage them to raise them with the Northern Ireland authorities. In addition, colleagues will know that I announced a consultation on social responsibility on 31 October. It will look at advertising, which was a point that the hon. Gentleman raised, and I encourage him to feed into the consultation. I continue to keep the devolved Administrations up to date on our work on this issue.
The Minister will be aware that the Northern Ireland legislation on gambling and social charities has not been revised since 1994. The Department for Communities started a consultation in 2011, and we still have not got the outcome of that process. It is no surprise that there is huge divergence between the legislative framework in Northern Ireland and that in the rest of the United Kingdom. Given that we do not have devolved institutions at the moment, and regrettably might not for some time, it might be worth the Minister engaging with the Department for Communities to get an update on where that consultation is.
I would be very happy to do that. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point.
The other comment I wanted to make was on the call for evidence. Responses to the call for evidence have been considered alongside the Gambling Commission advice. The process has taken time. There have been two general elections since it started, but I assure colleagues that it is very much at the forefront of my current work. We are carefully considering the evidence. While colleagues may say that there is consensus for change, which is true, I respectfully point out that there is not necessarily consensus within the sector on what the changes should be, and we are looking at that area as part of our consideration. As my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk and others have pointed out, changes to the limits for sales and prizes can be made by statutory instrument, but the parliamentary process, as many know—there are some very experienced colleagues in this room—can take around nine months to conclude from when an announcement is made. We are trying to work the issues through. I hope to be able to update colleagues in more detail in the new year.
To conclude, society lotteries, both large and small, play a rich, varied and important role in supporting and championing good causes. For some, they may well be the mechanism for providing their main sources of income, and it is my intention to ensure that the sector has every opportunity to grow and thrive. I thank my hon. Friend for giving us the opportunity to set that on the record.
First, I thank my hon. and right hon. Members for their support. What has been notable in this debate is the extraordinary cross-party support and the strong support from all parts of the United Kingdom: Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland and many different parts of the country. There is overwhelming support for the changes. I should not forget the official Opposition, who gave significant support to my proposal.
One thing that struck me is that every hon. and right hon. Member who has spoken has made it clear that society lotteries are truly distinct from the national lottery. There is space for both to operate. I am very grateful to the Minister for her remarks. I am absolutely convinced that the positive response she gave will be greatly appreciated. I accept entirely that these things always take longer than we expect, and I respect and understand her wish to avoid unintended consequences. I also entirely appreciate that there are issues around some aspects of gambling, but the people who buy society lottery tickets—yes, of course they are interested in that prize—want to support a charity on their doorstep that they feel an affinity with. They have a sense of ownership and commitment and passion towards that. We are only talking about a small prize—as I mentioned in my speech, £25,000 is scratchcard territory—and there has to be a bigger incentive or prize at the end of the draw. A prize limit of £1 million would not in any way trespass on the national lottery, which offers life-changing sums.
I want to pick up on one point that the Minister made. I absolutely respect her—I think she is one of the best Ministers in the Government. Her knowledge and expertise on, and passion for, her brief always come across to me. She is so knowledgeable not only on sports, but other issues as well. I absolutely expect her to look at this in great detail and go through all the arguments. She said there was not widespread or overwhelming sector support, but the only organisations that pushed back, as diplomats would say, when I launched the debate, were the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and Camelot, and I think we can discount Camelot fairly quickly. What the NCVO said was very interesting. It wants to see the process simplified to allow more society lotteries into the market. We support that 100%. It wants more transparency, which I think we can deliver. It wants to see less admin, and raising the draw limit to £10 million would greatly reduce the level of administration. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Colin Clark) made that point very clearly.
Interestingly, the briefing from the NCVO has changed. Earlier in the year, it said clearly that it would be better not to go down the route of having any significant SI or deregulation, but it now recommends that proceeds and prize caps should be increased—it is simply a matter of what they are increased to. So long as that is combined with greater transparency, the NCVO is more or less on side. I challenge the Minister to let me know, perhaps in writing, whether other organisations are putting forward a contrary point of view to the very strong arguments advanced this afternoon.
What the Minister can take away from the debate is that there is widespread support across the nations of the UK to make the changes. We have a great relationship and understanding with her, and she has our respect. We now want her to deliver, and if she does, she will have the overwhelming support of the House. As I think has come through this afternoon, that support will be not just on the Government Benches, but across the entire House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the future of society lotteries, the Health Lottery and limits on prize values.
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the provision of children’s services by local authorities.
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to debate the provision of children’s services by local authorities. My reason for introducing the debate is that I understand that the pressures facing children’s services are rapidly becoming unsustainable, with the combination of Government funding cuts and huge increases in demand leaving many areas struggling to cope.
More and more vulnerable children are in need of care. Children’s charities, including Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society, Action for Children, and the National Children’s Bureau, have described a crisis facing children’s services, highlighting that central Government’s decision to deny councils funding is affecting the quality of vital children’s services. Councils have suffered a 40% cut in funding since 2010, leaving them unable to meet soaring demand and to provide safe, effective children’s services. Local authorities overspent on children’s services by £365 million in 2014-15, and by a further £605 million in 2015-16. That overspend shows how dire the situation is for them, and that the funding is insufficient.
Due to cuts, one in three Sure Start centres have closed since 2010. There are now more than 1,240 fewer designated Sure Start children’s centres. The Local Government Association has forecast that children’s services face a £2 billion funding gap by 2020. Serious child protection cases have doubled in the last seven years, and around 500 new cases are launched in England every day.
The hon. Lady is to be congratulated on moving this important motion and I am grateful to her. I hope she will join me at a later stage in introducing a Backbench Business Committee debate so that this extremely important motion can be debated more fully. Does she agree that it is a stain on our society that we have so many children being taken into state care, and that the focus is on taking children from their families, rather than on preventive measures that would enable them to stay safely at home?
I agree, but local authorities need to have funds to invest in resources to make prevention a possibility. We cannot keep cutting their funding and expect them to do more with less. I would be more than willing to join a Backbench Business Committee debate, but the issue that I am seeking to highlight is that the funding strategy is failing our local authorities.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on securing today’s debate. Does she agree that the last seven years of cuts to children’s services have had a negative impact, leading to the closure of Sure Start centres and more children going into care, and that that impact has fallen disproportionately on poorer children?
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the debate. Does she agree that it is not just children who are in crisis, but families? The cuts to early intervention and prevention grants in my area of Leigh have led to a rise in drugs and alcohol abuse, homelessness and mental health issues, which affect both children and adults.
I agree. When we talk about funding for children, we have to look at the whole family, or at the whole child, so to speak. A child is not there in and of themselves—they come from a family. When looking at prevention, we need to look at how the child got into that position in the first place and what steps can be taken to support families, to ensure that they can be the support network that the child so vitally needs.
We have talked about this being a broad issue around the individual. Does my hon. Friend agree that social services have an impact not only on the child and the family, but in education? Not having support from social services for children with difficulties puts pressure on teachers, who are effectively having to pick up the challenge. Likewise, there is an effect on the NHS. Certainly in my part of the country in Devon, only one tenth of the overall mental health budget is spent on children. If there is no support in social services, the impact is inevitably on the NHS.
I agree. My concern, however, is that if we shift the focus solely to either the NHS or education, we are missing something, because preventive services that local authorities provide need to get in early. If funding is not there at the outset, that has a knock-on effect and affects education. Teachers have to be the parent and the teacher—raising the children rather than just teaching them. I have seen that even in my constituency of Peterborough, but we need to scale it back and look at the cause. If we start at the beginning and say that prevention needs to involve looking at children’s services, we need to ask what services we are offering the whole child and what services we can offer to the whole family. If we give support to the whole family when the child is school-ready, that should have a beneficial effect. We want to look at prevention, rather than just dealing with the consequences of the lack of funding.
As I said, the Local Government Association has forecast that children’s services face a £2 billion funding gap by 2020, serious child protection cases have doubled in the last seven years, and around 500 new cases are launched in England each day, yet no new money was given in the Budget for struggling children’s services. In my constituency of Peterborough, the local authority is set to lose another £30 million over the next three years and, as of 23 October this year, the Government grant had been reduced by 80%. Between 2010 and 2015, expenditure on services for children and young people fell by £7.8 million in real terms—a fall of 21.9%. I received email correspondence from a constituent named Tracie, who said:
“Social Services are a nightmare”.
Appointments are repeatedly cancelled and social workers do not reply to emails, because our local authorities are overstretched and underfunded. As I said, we cannot keep expecting them to do more for less.
On 31 March 2015, 1,860 children in Peterborough had been identified through assessment as being formally in need of a specialist children’s service. Furthermore, 354 children in Peterborough are being looked after by the local authority and 23% of those are living in poverty. We need sustainable forms of funding, based on the cost of delivering current and future services, and not regressively focused on past spending.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Peterborough (Fiona Onasanya) on securing this important debate. I was pleased to meet her briefly yesterday for the first time to discuss today’s topic, and I appreciated the passion and eloquence with which she argued her points, but although we may agree on the analysis of the problem, the solutions may not be as simple as she thinks.
I am sure we both agree that local authorities are tasked with providing some of our most important public services. Very clearly, we also agree that some of the most critical are the services that they provide to protect and support our most vulnerable children. That is a varied and complex responsibility, ranging from proactive and preventive early help to support children and families who are struggling to manage, to the critical end of the spectrum, as we have heard, where there is a real risk—a live risk—to young people, and where social workers are tasked with making tough decisions that protect lives and transform outcomes.
Right now, two thirds of our most vulnerable children live in local authorities where service provision is less than good. Although 89% of our schools are good or outstanding, only 36% of children’s services received the same rating. My Department works tenaciously to address that, but it is not an acceptable state of affairs. We are engaging with our colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government on the questions that the hon. Lady raises about funding, but we must be realistic. Quality is not only dependent on money. High-quality services need excellent leadership, a skilled and experienced workforce, and rigorous, evidence-based practice. Since I started this job six months ago, I have been impressed by how much of that good work is already out there and how much my Department has already done to spread it more widely.
Our reform agenda was set in 2016 and put into legislation earlier this year. The far-reaching suite of reforms set out a deeply ambitious approach to tackling the challenges within the system. It was intended not only to implement short-term interventions that would create better outcomes for children within the system now, but to lay the foundations for the future, ensuring that in years to come local authorities were equipped to deliver high-quality provision to future generations of vulnerable young people.
As part of that, over the past few years we have launched a major programme of reform to expand the numbers and quality of those entering social work. Frontline and Step Up are now well established entry-level schemes attracting high-performing graduates and older career changers into the profession, to bolster some of the excellent teams already out there. Meanwhile, the national assessment and accreditation system, due to launch in July, will raise the professional status of child and family social workers, providing a clear career path, as well as ensuring that these critical public servants have the knowledge and skills they need to practise effectively.
Our ambition is to create a truly evidence-based learning system for the sector, and the work is already well under way. This autumn, I was pleased to announce the two organisations that would establish the world’s first What Works centre for children’s social care. That vital piece of the reform jigsaw puzzle has now begun its incubation and I am excited that, not long from now, that fabulous resource will be used daily by policy makers, commissioners and practitioners, supporting them to make informed decisions, based on a rigorous catalogue of evidence that lets them know in an easy and accessible manner what interventions work.
That will be bolstered by the developing evidence from the children’s social care innovation programme, which since 2013 has injected £200 million into the sector to support nearly 100 innovative projects designed to improve outcomes for children across the country. The hon. Lady will know that her own constituency has benefited greatly from two such initiatives. Peterborough has received funding of up to £1.2 million over three years to support the commissioning of its fostering, adoption and permanency services to the Adolescent and Children’s Trust, a non-profit organisation committed to securing better and more permanent outcomes for all children and young people in care. Peterborough is also one of the four local authorities that is replicating the successful Hertfordshire innovation project. With funding from the first bidding round of the innovation programme, Hertfordshire has seen great results for children and their families with their family safeguarding model of social work. We are excited to see how the scale and spread of that model to Peterborough, Luton, Bracknell Forest and West Berkshire will replicate similar results for families in those areas.
Does the Minister agree that what he is talking about is the higher end and most costly element of children’s services, which is our looked-after children and our children in care? What we need to do is to put that resource in at the earlier stages with children, before they go into crisis.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I visited the Pause programme in south London, which works with women who may become pregnant and have their children taken into care regularly, to break the cycle that makes life so difficult for them and, of course, for the children who have to be taken into care. It is an innovation that saves money. I was told that for every £1 invested in the programme in Greenwich, they save £5 in other interventions. Life is much better for those women. I met a number of women who had been involved in the project.
That is not to say that the system is delivering across the board or that we have achieved success in achieving our vision of a country where all children are protected from harm. There are still too many examples of young people and their families being let down by poor-quality services. My Department continues to take action to intervene where performance is not good enough.
Is the Minister aware of the comment from the chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service that there are children in care unnecessarily—children who would not be in care if they had the help that is available in some parts of the country? The inference is that the service is very patchy and that a child might end up in the care system, when elsewhere in the country there would be sufficient investment to help protect them and keep them safely at home.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have authorities that have dramatically reduced the number of children being taken into care by making early interventions. That saves money, makes the local authority more cost-effective and is the sort of innovation that we want to spread around the country, from the good or outstanding authorities to the other authorities that are, unfortunately, letting down too many children and not spending the hard-earned taxpayers’ money deployed for their use as effectively as they might. We need to improve the standard of children’s social care in so many authorities where they are not delivering as well as elsewhere.
We have strengthened our approach to intervention in cases where councils are failing to provide adequate services for children in need of help and protection, looked-after children or care leavers. That programme of intervention is yielding real results. Some 36 local authorities have been lifted out of failure since 2010 and we are seeing a positive impact from the independent children’s social care trusts that we have set up in Doncaster and Slough. We also have great examples of local authorities, such as Leicester City and West Berkshire, that have turned their services around at an impressive pace, underlining what can be achieved with a relentless focus on improvement along with the right help and support. I am of course pleased with such results, but I am not complacent—we will continue to act swiftly in cases of failure and to act decisively to ensure improvement is happening everywhere in the system.
We have identified £20 million to be invested in improvement support to help create a system of sector-led improvement, founded on systematic and effective self-assessment and peer challenge. We have enjoyed real success in working with sector partners on that. Together, we are testing a system of regional improvement alliances that will, in time, spread to the whole country and enable a robust system of support and challenge between local authorities, supported by key partners such as Ofsted and my Department.
We are expanding our partners in practice programme. Our PiPs, as they are familiarly referred to, are excellent local authorities whose children’s services are secure and whose leadership is strong. For a few years now, the partners have been pioneering excellent practice and working systematically to spread it across the system. They are a model of good practice, not seen from a distance but working hand in hand alongside teams in other authorities that want to learn and improve their own practice. For example, North Yorkshire, my own excellent Conservative-controlled local authority, is working with other councils to diagnose problems and agree on what support is needed, extending practical help to nine areas across the country. We aim at least to double the number of partners in practice in the current expansion application process. That will ensure we have dedicated teams of excellent practitioners, with additional capacity built into their council, which enables them to get into struggling authorities and offer practical, on-the-ground support to help them to improve their service provision.
It is clear that much has already been done to ensure that every penny spent on children’s services is being spent effectively on delivering good outcomes for vulnerable children.
The spend on agency staff has nearly doubled across the UK, not just in Scotland or England and Wales. Does the Minister agree that spending huge sums of money on agencies drains funding, which leads to a poorer quality of services across the board, so something needs to be done to attract more people to that career path?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the typical problems that I come across when I visit failing authorities is that they have trouble retaining and recruiting staff, and therefore tend to rely on agency staff to do that work. I do not want to detract from the work done by agency staff, but the cost of using them can sometimes be twice as much as the cost of employing people in-house. It is a frustrating side effect of failure, and it means that other factors come into play that make it even more difficult to get those authorities back where they need to be. That is why partners in practice and other innovations are working so well to improve the quality of children’s social care. Getting decisions right first time is the best way of ensuring that children who may be in danger and are certainly in need get what they need.
Local authorities increased spending on children and young people’s services to more than £9 billion last year. In some areas, demand for services is rising and local budgets are under pressure. We recognise that councils are delivering children’s services in a challenging environment, and they need to make tough choices about their priorities to achieve efficiencies. The Government have already done much to support local government spend. We are in the second year of an unprecedented four-year finance settlement for local government, which was accepted by 97% of councils. It gives authorities greater funding certainty over the medium term and enables them to be more proactive in planning for the long term. It also better equips them to prepare for the upcoming reforms under which local government will be funded through local taxes.
It is indeed critical to get funding right, and we do not rest on our laurels. We recognise that funding pressures on local authorities may be greater in some parts of the country than in others, and we are aware of concerns about the fairness of the current funding distributions. The Government have therefore reaffirmed our commitment to the DCLG-led fair funding review, which aims to address concerns about the fairness of the current funding distributions. We will carry out an evidence-based review of the funding formulae to ensure they reflect the shifting factors that impact on the cost of providing services, such as changing populations and demographic pressures. Department for Education officials are working closely with colleagues at DCLG and with the sector, and are determined to get this right for children’s social care services.
The hon. Member for Peterborough briefly mentioned Sure Start centres. There are 3,130 children’s centres still open, and they deliver excellent care in many cases. That is a fall of only 14%. I think the mistake is often made of not including children’s centres that have additional sites that have been amalgamated from a management point of view. There are still a lot of children’s centres opening.
It is also interesting that more family hubs are opening. Many local authorities see a family hub as a better way of delivering services to local people. I visited the children’s centre in my constituency—I mentioned this last week in the House—where some excellent work was being done on engaging with families, who were being shown how to produce cheap, nutritious meals with simple ingredients. The lady in charge looked out the window and said, “The children we really need in this centre aren’t here in the children’s centre. They are at home looking for a dry crust of bread in the kitchen because their mother hasn’t recovered from the hangover she inflicted upon herself the night before, or maybe the family is so dysfunctional that they are not able to get them here.” The workers at family hubs have been effective in getting into homes. It frustrates me that more than a quarter of parents do not take up the 15-hour free childcare availability for the most disadvantaged two-year-olds, but I have heard that in Warrington the take-up is approaching 100% because of the way Warrington Borough Council has engaged with families and got them into the provision. There is a lot that can be done to improve the way the service works.
There are 30,000 children and families social workers employed in England, which is an increase of 4.7% on last year. Although there are 5,540 vacancies on the books, 71% of them are taken up by agency staff. Local authorities can be successful in getting their workers back on to the payroll, rather than employing them through agencies.
The hon. Member for Peterborough said that too many children are going into care. In some cases, local authorities can safely bring down rates of looked-after children. The innovation programme is part of the answer to that problem, and it enables good practice to be shared. In other cases, it is a sad but necessary intervention. It may be down to better identification of issues relating to child sexual exploitation and gang risk. Overall, the decision is for the local authority. The best interests of the child and the protection of the child have to be paramount.
Providing support for preventive services and preventing cases from escalating must be at the centre of the work of every single director of children’s services and social worker around the country. The DCLG provides funding through the troubled families grant, which supports struggling children and families. We have funded a number of programmes that focus on getting help right early in the innovation programme.
I am enormously grateful for the attention that the hon. Lady has given to this issue. It fills me with confidence to know that there are people on both sides of the House advocating for the most vulnerable in our society. As I hope she can see from the reforms I outlined, we are committed to making a real change to the system that is as deep and long-lasting as it is wide-ranging. I also hope that she acknowledges the work we have already begun, which will ensure that this crucial service has the right amount of money and that it is being spent on the right things and in the right places. Collaboration across Whitehall and across the sector will ensure that my Department builds a system that weathers challenges both now and in the future and ensures that this country continues to lead the way in its provision for the most vulnerable children.
Question put and agreed to.
Healthcare Optimisation Plan: Kirklees
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the healthcare optimisation plan, Kirklees.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, as always, Mr Hollobone. As is now widely acknowledged, our NHS is under ever-increasing pressure, and budgets are stretched beyond capacity in almost every part of the country. In my area of Kirklees, we face unprecedented cuts and challenges. Both of the local hospitals that serve my constituency have been subjected to downgrades and the closure of vital services.
The financial challenge in health services across Kirklees is unprecedented. There are reports that deficits are forecast to reach record levels by the end of this financial year. Sadly, that is mirrored across the country as a result of the Government’s onslaught of cuts to our public services. To be frank, our NHS is being starved of money to the point at which lives are being put in danger, and financial decisions are being given priority over clinical judgments. Every day, we see the pressure that the NHS is under. Hospital waiting times are up, it is harder than ever to get a GP appointment, ambulance waits are increasing, and hospital wards are seriously understaffed. As the weather turns to freezing, we are all fearful of a repeat of last year’s winter pressures, when people were dying on hospital trolleys, waiting to be seen.
Only this week, the highly respected Lord Kerslake resigned his post as chair of King’s College Hospital board, claiming that NHS funding desperately needs a rethink and that the demands for savings are unrealistic. That came on the back of comments from NHS England’s chairman and its former national medical director, following their disappointment that sufficient money was not made available in last month’s Budget.
The chairman, Professor Sir Malcolm Grant, said:
“We can no longer avoid the difficult debate about what it is possible to deliver for patients with the money available.”
Professor Sir Bruce Keogh added his personal view:
“Budget plugs some, but”
“not all, of NHS funding gap”,
“force a debate about what the public can and can’t expect from the NHS”.
He added that it was:
“Worrying that longer waits seem likely/unavoidable.”
In the face of such financial pressures, the two clinical commissioning groups covering my constituency, North Kirklees and Greater Huddersfield, have recently released plans to introduce what they refer to as a health optimisation programme, which would restrict access to elective surgery for those who smoke or who are obese. Make no mistake, whatever title is given to the scheme, it is nothing more than a thinly hidden attempt at rationing healthcare for those in need. Smokers would be given six months to quit, and for those who are considered to be obese—measured by a body mass index of more than 30—the requirement would be to lose 10% of their body weight within 12 months.
Does my hon. Friend agree with me that the use of BMI to classify whether someone is obese is, frankly, laughable? Does she agree that Greater Huddersfield CCG needs to look at an alternative measure that would not put Huddersfield Giants prop forward Sebastine Ikahihifo, whose BMI is 32.3, in that category?
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for her very valid intervention. I was just about to say that BMI is very subjective. As we are all aware, some high-performance athletes or bodybuilders have a BMI higher than 30 but are at the peak of health.
Obviously I agree that any moves to aid weight loss and stop people smoking are a good thing, but not at the expense of excluding people from NHS treatment. If the CCGs were so determined to achieve better outcomes in those areas, they would invest in better smoking cessation services and weight-loss programmes, but the reality is that in recent years those services have been among the ones to suffer cuts.
Given the budget restrictions and taking into account the views of the professionals, who advise that there is little if any evidence in support of any improved outcomes as a consequence of such measures, I can only draw the conclusion that the proposals to ration surgery are nothing more than a cost-saving exercise. The CCGs argue vehemently against that view, but North Kirklees CCG admits that health optimisation is one of 21 cost-saving measures identified to meet the existing financial challenge that might see its deficit rise well beyond predicted levels by the end of the financial year. At best, it seems to be an ill-conceived plan that has not been thought through correctly.
As anyone involved in healthcare knows, the providers and commissioners in any area often form a hectic Venn diagram. That is no different in the borough of Kirklees where my constituency lies. The two hospital trusts that serve my constituency are overseen by four CCGs. Of those, only three are considering and proposing to implement a health optimisation programme. That means, in effect, not only a postcode lottery but a waiting list for elective surgery—a smoker from Wakefield might be allowed on to the list while his or her equivalent in Dewsbury, some nine miles away, would be forced to wait six months before even being considered for surgery. That would be completely unjust, unfair and morally wrong. The irony is that those same two patients would have their surgery in the same hospital.
When reading further into the small print of how health optimisation would work, I became even more alarmed. The decision on whether people can be referred for treatment would lie initially with their GP. He or she is able to make the decision on whether to refer or to put the patient on the health optimisation programme. Patients put on the programme would have six months to quit smoking or 12 months to lose weight. After that time they would be referred to a specialist who would decide if they qualified for treatment. My understanding is that that means, in effect, people could lose 10% of their body weight in the hope of receiving a knee or hip replacement, for example, only to be told that they do not qualify for the surgery. Not only that, but one month from the end of the programme, patients are asked if they still wish to be referred. That is where louder alarm bells started to ring for me. It is absolutely clear that the decision on whether to operate, or whether the patient needs surgery, must be made by the relevant surgeon and not by people who do not have all the facts in front of them.
I ask Members to picture this scenario: Mrs Smith has been told that she has to lose 3 stone before she can be referred to a specialist regarding the pain in her knee. She tries to lose weight but finds it incredibly difficult, not least because her knee pain prevents her from exercising. Mainly being housebound affects her mental health, causing depression, which in turn leads to comfort eating. She tries to attend the weight management group that she was referred to but becomes disheartened and embarrassed when each week her weight either stays the same or increases, so she stops going. After 11 months she receives a letter asking her if she still wants a referral to an orthopaedic specialist to look at her knee. She knows that her weight has actually increased so she ignores the letter, because the thought of having to face up to her weight gain is far too humiliating. The pain in her knee is now excruciating, but she dare not face the surgeon when she feels such a failure. That could be a very real outcome if the plans are implemented. The NHS might save money and waiting lists could look far better, but what about the human cost? I implore the Minister to think about just that—the human cost.
A list of exceptions in the rationing proposals include: conditions that are immediately life threatening; patients who require emergency surgery or have a clinically urgent need where undue delay would cause clinical risk of harm; and patients undergoing surgery for cancer. Nowhere do the proposals mention any measure of the patient’s quality of life. I have heard stories from constituents who have had to give up work because their mobility has become so restricted while waiting for knee or hip operations, or whose weight has increased to levels of obesity simply because they cannot walk or exercise like they used to. How does naming and shaming those people on a rationing list improve their quality of life?
I also ask the Minister where the rationing ends. Is there a plan to stop providing surgery and treatment for, perhaps, people who play rugby, or teenagers who break their leg horse riding? Would we say, “No, you can’t have surgery, because your own actions led to this”? What about people who drink alcohol moderately? Would we say, “You cannot have treatment for your liver sclerosis because this is a lifestyle choice”? Is this the start of the beginning of a much bigger rationing programme?
In preparation for the health optimisation programme, Greater Huddersfield and North Kirklees CCGs stated that they had carried out a public engagement exercise. On research, I found the questions that they had asked, which included: “Please tell us how we could encourage people in Kirklees to live a healthy lifestyle?”; “Please tell us what support you think should be available to help people lose weight and stop smoking before their surgery?”; “When and how do you think that support should be provided?”; and, “Please use this space to provide any additional comments you have about supporting people to lose weight or stop smoking?”. Nowhere did the questions ask for opinions on whether people should be excluded from surgery because they are overweight or smoke. The CCGs’ failure to be up front and honest about their proposals can only indicate their embarrassment at having to implement such a scheme simply as a result of budget restraints.
Statistics show that approximately 30% of the population of Kirklees either smoke or have a BMI of more than 30, so almost one in every three people in my constituency could be turned down for elective surgery. North Kirklees and Greater Huddersfield CCGs acknowledge that there is not enough existing provision to support people being put on to the health optimisation programme, whether in smoking cessation services or weight-loss programmes. In the health optimisation programme proposal, the CCGs state that they will undertake a tender exercise for a
“‘Zero Value - Activity based’ contract with additional providers”.
What that means is anyone’s guess, but I strongly suspect that no new money will be made available, given the financial position of our local NHS services.
The plans have so many pitfalls that they simply must not be implemented, and the Minister can be sure that I will fight them every step of the way. Clinical commissioning groups should not face such intolerable choices. I do not believe that anyone delivering healthcare entered the profession to make cuts or to restrict people from receiving treatment that they desperately need to improve their quality of life. I therefore call on the CCGs to halt their plans to introduce the health optimisation programme for all the reasons that I have listed and many more. I ask the Government to listen to the experts, including the Royal College of Surgeons, to put an end to the draconian cuts and to provide us with a fully funded healthcare system that is accessible to all.
I would like to finish with a quote that I have used many times before, both in this Chamber and away from it. Nye Bevan, the founder of our great national health service, said that the NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it. I will never lose faith or stop fighting. I hope that the Minister will say the same.
The debate can last until 5.30 pm. There is one Member who wishes to speak, and before the debate ends, Paula Sherriff will have three minutes to make her concluding remarks. The guideline limits on speeches are ten minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and ten minutes for the Minister, but I expect that they will be able to speak a little longer. I call Rachael Maskell.
It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I want to start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) for making such a powerful case about why the health optimisation programme is failing the public, failing patients and failing all of us. Her contribution to today’s debate reminded me of the Adjournment debate that I brought to the Chamber on 28 February, which the Minister attended. My speech was parallel. That reinforces how urgent it is that this issue is addressed.
I am proud of so many things about York, but one thing I am really ashamed about is the way that it has gone about rationing healthcare. It was one of the first places to ration healthcare. When the Health and Social Care Act 2012 came in, it had to back-pedal, and then it stepped forward in 2016 in rationing healthcare, particularly surgery for patients who urgently needed it to be provided. There seem to be some key issues that we need to address that are not being addressed in the debate. I had a very helpful meeting with the Minister the other day, but there was little progress on the back of it. We need the Minister to make an intervention and not to say that it is a matter for CCGs to change their practices.
What is evolving is a massive postcode lottery across the country. My hon. Friend referred to a BMI of 30, which her CCG uses as an indicator to draw the line to provide access for surgery. I know that other CCGs use a BMI of 35. That absolutely demonstrates that this is not based on clinical evidence, but is about the financial expediency of CCGs. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial that we go back to clinical evidence when making decisions about patients. That is why we invest so heavily in our medical profession: to go through that training, to have the skills and the ability to do that. They are being completely undermined by these arbitrary figures that are being put into use for the basis of saving money. That is what this is all about, but they are not saving money, because people come back more poorly in future and require even greater resources. It may be save today, but it is spend more tomorrow. Surely that should not be the policy of any Government, let alone the one we have at a time when they keep claiming that there is not enough money.
It is absolutely crucial that the Minister intervenes because we are talking about a population with health inequality. All the demographics and the research show—I am particularly grateful for the University of York’s work on epidemiology—that there is a correlation between health inequality and social and economic inequality. The very people who are being denied surgery are the people who are most disadvantaged in society. There is a whole predication against those individuals. We know that there is a correlation with shorter life expectancy.
It is absolutely crucial that the Minister makes an intervention to improve the quality of life for these individuals. Therefore, although it seems that my hon. Friend’s CCG is attempting to do more than mine in the health optimisation programme, the problem is deeply concerning. This is not about health optimisation at all. I want to see the Minister step forward on a case of health optimisation. I absolutely agree that we have to address the obesity crisis in our country. Twenty five per cent of people are obese—that has an impact on the draw around diabetes and on other needs. I would welcome a health optimisation programme being in place in my CCG, but that is not what is happening. As I demonstrated to the Minister last week, patients in my constituency are being handed a letter that refers them to a website about some health programmes that may be far away—they are certainly not in our city because the local authority has cut them, such as the health walks. Therefore, individuals themselves have no choice about how to lose weight.
Looking at the issue of losing weight or smoking, I know as a clinician—as a former physiotherapist—those individuals need to be taken by the hand and walked through that journey, looking at all the markers around either their weight or their relationship with smoking. In the case of smoking, people need help to deal with an addiction. In the case of obesity or a high BMI, those issues need to be addressed.
I would welcome a health optimisation programme because that means that people will have a better life and they will probably not have the wear and tear on their joints. I welcome early intervention. We need to see that right through our school system, which is why I am worried about the massive fall in the number of health visitors, who could make those interventions at any early stage—as could school nurses, who have virtually disappeared—to enable people to have better, healthier lifestyles. I am particularly disappointed that the local authority withdrew the money from the NHS Health Checks, which enabled people to get their lives back on course from the age of 40 and have a healthier existence.
We fail people right through the system. At the point of crisis when they are in pain and needing surgical intervention, the system says to them, “No, you can’t access healthcare because of your behaviour over the years.” We have let people drift into that position. It is a completely failed system, which is causing individuals to be denied the surgery that they need. There is the complete nonsense of the amount of weight that people have to lose. People are told they have to lose 10%, but for somebody who is morbidly obese, 10% may take them down to the weight of somebody who is obese and who has to lose 10%. It is not a measure of a weight or a BMI figure at all. That is complete nonsense. Any clinician will absolutely recognise that this is a completely failed system. Therefore, I urge the Minister to make an intervention with the CCGs and to set the standards and the bar to enable clinicians to make the right decisions.
We had a discussion with our CCG in York and with the Minister about the programme. Obviously, we addressed the inadequacy of the healthcare optimisation programme, but we also talked about particular groups of patients who are denied treatment. Some people are on drug therapy that causes them to gain weight and are being denied the surgery they need. I gave examples of people with polycystitis, which has a particular impact on women, who are denied fertility treatment and the free surgery that would enable them to receive that treatment, because their condition is causing them to put on weight. That shows that the programme is discriminatory not only on grounds of economic status, but against women.
We have to look at the issue in the round. What we are trying to achieve? If we are trying to improve people’s health, let us put in the measures to achieve that, but let us ultimately move to a place where the right people in the system are making the decisions. Surgeons will not proceed with or recommend surgery if it puts someone’s life at risk. They know those parameters. That is what they are trained for, and they need to assess each patient in turn. I have had patients who have needed only an arthroscopy—an operation given under local, not general, anaesthetic—who have been denied surgery. We need to ensure that the surgeon makes the decision. No disrespect to GPs, but they are not specialists, and that should be a specialist’s call. I therefore urge the Minister to move clinical decision making to the right place in the health service and to ensure that surgeons, who have a responsibility to their patients, are able to put things in place.
Finally, I call on the Minister to look at NHS finances, which we know really drive the equation. We have had a bit of an exchange about that previously, too. We cannot ignore the driving factor. The Vale of York CCG in my area has done everything—it has put in the most draconian rationing system there is—but its finances do not add up. We have to be cognisant of what has happened at King’s College Hospital and the real concerns there, but CCGs up and down the country are wrestling with their finances. Public health is being cut massively by local authorities as they become risk averse, trusts themselves are in a desperate state as they gear up for a winter crisis, and the social care system is not working. We have real financial pressure.
In York, we have a capped expenditure process that limits CCGs’ choices. We need to be able to release the money to address the need. The NHS is not being fed the money it needs, and it is therefore in crisis. We cannot keep saying that it has to do more and there has been personal failure. This is becoming a national crisis, which is deeply concerning because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury said, lives are at risk as a result. We cannot go to that place.
This is about funding. It was always going to be about funding. I remember having an exchange with Andrew Lansley about the funding formula back in 2011, when he was introducing the Health and Social Care Bill and I was head of health at Unite, to highlight this risk. I therefore feel it on my conscience. I raised these very concerns about the failed funding formula and the way that finances in the NHS work against each other rather than together. That is what creates these issues, so we can avoid them not only by ensuring that there is enough money in the system, but by ensuring that the relationship is right and the funding formula works in the right way.
In my exchange last week with the Minister, we talked about individuals in the system being able to put their hand up, in the light of the massive inequality they face and the big no on money, and say, “By the way, can I have an individual funding request? I don’t like the decision that’s been made, so I’m going to challenge what my doctor”—let us face it, doctors have stature in society—“has said and say, ‘Actually, I want to have an individual funding request.’” Making that point to a GP is a massive step, and it shifts the risk in a system that is there to care for people on to the individual patient—the smallest person in the whole health system. Patients have to say, against the weight of the system, “You got it wrong over my healthcare, and I want you to review that and put the money in,” when there is no money in the pot. That is a complete nonsense of the process. We therefore need to shift the debate back to putting the right funding into the NHS so that patients are not discriminated against and clinicians can make the choices they are trained to make.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), who has been an assiduous campaigner on health issues since her election to this place. She has fought NHS downgrades in her area and, as a former member of the Select Committee on Health, forensically scrutinised the Government’s health policies. She has rightly gained a colossal reputation across the House for her committed campaigning. Today, she has turned her attention to another extremely important issue, which, as we heard, affects not only her constituents but millions of people up and down the country, and made a typically strong case.
My hon. Friend is right to categorise this as a dangerous time. Financial priorities are taking precedence over clinical judgments. Her CCG has been candid about the health optimisation programme being one of 21 cost-cutting measures that it is required to introduce. She highlighted the absurdity of that policy with the example of two patients who would be treated at the same hospital but live 9 miles apart: apparently, one would be entitled to surgery and the other would not. She is absolutely right that the decision about whether to operate should always be made by the consulting surgeon. I know that some people in the Government do not have a great deal of time for expert opinion, but that is a clear example of something on which there ought to be unanimity about the way ahead.
My hon. Friend gave examples of the questions that the CCG asked during the consultation on the health optimisation programme. As she said, nowhere was there a question about that very policy. As my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) said, denying surgery is a draconian measure and an important matter. It was a real abdication of responsibility by the CCG not to ask that specific question but to couch it in general terms. What can the Minister do to ensure that the standard of consultation by CCGs is such that we can be assured that the resulting decisions are robust and supported by the public? What is the Government’s view on the consultation standard that is currently used throughout the country?
My hon. Friend the Member for York Central also said that the public and patients are being failed, and highlighted the fact that other CCGs use a different BMI level. Indeed, my CCG uses a different one again, which highlights the totally arbitrary nature of these policies. She was absolutely right to say that people need help to stop smoking and lose weight. Those are not easy things to do. Sadly, public health cuts have made assistance much more limited. She highlighted well how losing 10% of body weight can mean entirely different things to different people, depending on what their weight is to start with; how the system fails people by not supporting them to make healthy choices; and how people are failed again when it comes to referral. She also illustrated well how the capped expenditure process in her area undermines the very basis of the NHS. I totally agree that it is time for the Minister to step up to the plate and challenge the many inconsistencies that we have heard about.
The proponents of this scheme can dress it up however they like, but we should be very clear about what it is: rationing of treatment for financial reasons—no more, no less. As we know, we have a growing population with longer life expectancy, and medical advances continue. Those are of course welcome developments, but they increase demand across the board and in this area led to a 27.5% increase in finished admissions between 2006-07 and 2016-17. The NHS has made enormous efficiency improvements to cope with that demand at a time of financial restraint. I am sure that the Minister agrees and will join me in paying tribute to the hard work of NHS staff, who made those efficiency improvements possible. However, it is clear that we have reached the limit of what can be achieved through efficiency alone—in fact, we are now moving well beyond that point.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury said, just this week Lord Kerslake resigned as chair of King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust because, he said, the NHS is under-resourced and we “desperately need…a rethink” amid unrealistic demands for savings—the kind of unrealistic demands that lead to the nonsensical and counterproductive policies we have heard about. In the aftermath of the Budget, the national medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh, said that the failure to close the funding gap would
“force a debate about what the public can and can’t expect from the NHS.”
While that was an extraordinary comment for a public servant to make, it is also something of an understatement, as it is clear to everyone—we have heard it today—that CCGs are already debating those issues and deciding what treatments should be available. So far, however, the Government have refused to acknowledge the debate or even engage with it.
I will give some further examples of where rationing is already happening. In February this year, the CCG in West Kent implemented a policy to suspend all elective surgery until the end of the financial year in an attempt to save £3.2 million. More recently, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG proposed a new policy requiring patients to wait a minimum of 12 weeks for surgery. While that decision was later reversed, it is a worrying example of the kind of policy we may see spreading across the country as the financial situation of the NHS continues to deteriorate. It is not just in surgery where such rationing applies: earlier this year, I responded to a debate in Westminster Hall on infertility treatment, and it was revealed that of 209 CCGs in England, just four follow in full the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s guidelines on IVF treatment.
The individual funding request process, once reserved for rare conditions, is routinely applied by CCGs for a range of treatments. In some areas, including east Berkshire, routine hip and knee replacements are now being considered only if an individual funding request is made. Analysis by The BMJ found that the number of individual funding requests has increased by 47% in the past four years. As my hon. Friend the Member for York Central said, that shifts the burden on to the patient to prove that they need treatment, which is not what the NHS is there for. The Minister may well say that these are matters for individual CCGs, but there has to come a point where the Government must take responsibility and accept that the rationing of treatments taking place on their watch can be traced back to central Government funding decisions.
To turn to the matter at hand in Kirklees, when responding to these debates on behalf of the Opposition I have never failed to be impressed by the euphemistic names for schemes that no doubt are dreamed up by handsomely paid consultants but actually limit patient access. I have to say that the use of the term “health optimisation programme” to describe a system that could delay treatments for a year, leaving patients in chronic pain, is well placed to win my 2017 award for worst use of NHS management-speak. In Kirklees, as we have heard, about one in four people will be affected by the new restrictions based on weight, while 14% of the population are smokers. As the Royal College of Surgeons has pointed out, while obesity leads to poorer health outcomes, its relationship with post-operative success is less clear, and there is a lack of evidence that rapid weight loss before surgery makes much difference. It goes on to point out that there is evidence of a lower risk of post-operative cardiac and respiratory complications among obese patients.
It is clear that this policy, which will leave patients in unnecessary pain and discomfort for a prolonged period, is not motivated by medical considerations or necessity. Indeed, in many cases, patients are actually prevented from losing weight effectively as a result of the debilitating condition that they are seeking treatment to correct in the first place. Given that that goes against NICE guidance, will the Minister explain why CCGs are being permitted to pursue a course of action that causes so much discomfort and has no clear clinical benefit? As my hon. Friend said, we all want levels of smoking and obesity to be reduced, but leaving people in excruciating pain for months on end is simply not the right way to do it. If the Minister disagrees, I ask him to point out even one piece of evidence that suggests that denying access to surgery helps patients to improve their behaviour.
We all know that the best way to see sustained improvements in smoking cessation and obesity reduction is though well funded, consistent public health policies, which is why it is very disappointing that the Government chose to cut significant funds from public health budgets, a move that the King’s Fund described as
“the falsest of false economies.”
In 2015, Kirklees lost £1.6 million of public health funding, which could have been used to tackle the issues we have been discussing in a much more positive way.
Concern has also been expressed about the use of BMI as a measure. As we have heard, it is a particularly crude and unsophisticated way of estimating excess body fat by simply comparing weight and height. We gave the example of a professional rugby league player, I believe, who has a BMI of over 30. It is clear to anyone that if my BMI were to be in any way elevated, that would be as a result of body-building rather than any consumption of alcohol. As the Minister will know—I say this with the greatest of respect to him—there are people far healthier than either of us who happen to have a higher BMI. Will he therefore advise whether the Government support the use of such a crude measure to determine whether someone is allowed to undergo surgery?
Of all the inequities of this scheme I have referred to, the greatest is the fact that it applies to children aged just 5 and over. Is the Minister really prepared to stand by while children in primary school, who have no say over their own diet, are being left in pain while they wait for operations, or does he agree that they would be infinitely more likely to improve their fitness if they were not suffering from a medical condition in the first place?
Just as public health cuts are a false economy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury said, delaying treatment will cost far more than it saves in the long term. There is a clear risk of patients developing complications if their treatment is delayed. A National Audit Office report on the costs of clinical negligence highlighted that 39% of claims are related to failures or delays in diagnosis or treatment of a condition, and it stated that that is likely to
“increase if waiting times are longer”
and treatment is arbitrarily rationed. I know the Government are committed to reducing the cost of clinical negligence in the NHS, but this policy seems to run counter to such intentions.
These episodes of localised rationing are becoming far too commonplace and creating a postcode lottery for patients. It is a lottery that patients did not ask to enter and one that leaves them suffering in pain. If we are truly to have a national health service, I hope that the Minister will reflect on what has been said today and take meaningful steps to end this unnecessary, unfair and counterproductive rationing of treatments.
It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am conscious that there is the possibility of a vote coming rather earlier than we had anticipated; in which case, I will try to ensure I do not use up all the available time. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff)—Dewsbury, Mirfield, Denby Dale and Kirkburton, but I will use Dewsbury for shorthand—on securing the debate and securing the support of the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), who made a compelling case today. She referred to our recent meetings on this subject and previous debates on it in the Chamber, demonstrating her clear commitment to the cause.
It is no secret that the NHS faces significant challenges. All the Opposition Members who spoke referred to some of the financial pressures currently acknowledged as affecting the NHS. However, I do not think they quite recognised that the NHS’s own five year forward view identified some significant challenges that need to be addressed in relation to the way in which the nation supports the healthcare of the population as a whole. Throwing money at it inexorably is not always the right solution. Some difficult choices have to be made about the way in which the public lead their lives. What we can do, through a combination of public health support, advice and education, to encourage the public to lead healthier lives is an important responsibility of Government. It is important for individuals to help to ensure that they lead long, independent lives in as healthy a condition as possible.
The five year forward view was put in place long after people established lifestyles either of being overweight or of smoking. To penalise them after the event was not the intention of the five year forward view. That strategy is about improving people’s health, whereas this programme is about causing health to deteriorate.
I do not accept that. It is important that we use all the tools at our disposal to encourage the public to lead healthy lives where possible. These measures form part of the suite of measures that are necessary to bring that about.
The Government have backed the five year forward view. Opposition Members raised the issue of finances. We have committed to a real-terms increase in funding through the spending review period. Most recently, in the Budget only last month, we committed an additional £2.8 billion on top of the £8 billion real-terms increase by 2020. We are providing significant extra resource, but we recognise that different areas of the country will face different challenges and so will develop different approaches to how they use their resources most effectively in patients’ interests. That will inevitably involve making difficult decisions. It is right that we trust local NHS organisations, clinically led, to make those decisions, rather than second-guessing them centrally.
Having said that, we have set certain expectations of the system, one of which is that blanket bans on treatments are completely unacceptable and incompatible with the NHS constitution. That is why I refute the challenge from Opposition Members to say whether or not we are imposing rationing on the NHS. The local management responsible for the NHS in their areas have to respect the constitution and should not introduce blanket bans, but they do have to look at ways to provide care for their populations in a manner that lives within the budgets they have been provided with.
I have listened to the Minister carefully. Can he explain why he feels it is acceptable that someone in Wakefield could have surgery, while someone nine miles away in Dewsbury could not? They might both be smokers, and the surgery would be carried out by the same surgeon, probably in the same hospital. Are we not in danger of going into a very big postcode lottery once again?
To put this into the context of how it is working in reality, patients who do not meet the thresholds are automatically put through a system, and therefore it is completely in breach of the NHS constitution. There is no individual input about the clinical needs of a patient.
I will come on to that. We are talking primarily about what is happening in North Kirklees and Greater Huddersfield CCG areas, which have not yet implemented this policy. I will explain why I do not think that that should be the case.
On the healthcare optimisation plan, I take the gentle chiding from the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) about the way in which the NHS describes proposals. I have some sympathy with what he says about the way in which language is used, but this is a plan to encourage greater public health among the population of North Kirklees and Greater Huddersfield CCG areas, for which they are responsible. I talked to the CCGs in preparation for the debate and was advised that they do not see this as a blanket ban on treatment. I have emphasised to them that they should not do so and that there should not be a blanket ban on treatment.
I will describe the proposals, as I understand them. They have been developed by the CCGs since autumn 2016, and the objective is that patients who are overweight with a body mass index of 30 or above will have 12 months to lose at least 10% of their overall weight or to reduce their BMI to less than 30, while patients who smoke will be encouraged to take up to six months to quit smoking before undergoing routine surgery. Those who quit smoking for four weeks or achieve their target weight loss will be able to be referred for surgery under the policy.
The development of the plan coincided with the UK’s childhood obesity strategy and the proposed introduction of the soft drinks industry levy, reflecting the Government’s commitment to tackling the major public health problems affecting large sections of society. The hon. Member for Dewsbury and the hon. Member for York Central recognised the need to address the obesity crisis in this country. I am grateful for their support and that of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston. I think we are united in recognising that something has to be done about this. I hope they support the proposals that the Government have made for the obesity strategy and the considerable progress we have made in reducing smoking since 2010. Hon. Members have made the point that the policy should not be at the expense of treatment if treatment is urgent or, if there is no treatment, it might lead to degradation of the health condition of the patient subject to the policy.
I will come on to that. The short answer is that I agree that the relevant clinicians should make those decisions.
Going back to where the CCGs are in this process, as I said earlier, they have not yet introduced the proposal. They have been working with the local population and with Healthwatch Kirklees, and have held a number of engagement events with local authorities and interested stakeholders to try to understand the reaction of those parties to the proposal. An engagement event was conducted in March and April of this year, and one with Kirklees Council in August and September of this year.
The CCGs have listened and responded to some of the points made. They have made several changes to their original proposals, including exempting children from the programme. They also recognise the limitations—amusingly identified by hon. Members in their contributions—of using BMI as a measure of body weight. Therefore, for example, people with high muscle mass should be excluded from the BMI calculation for the reasons that were well explained earlier in the debate.
The CCGs are including safeguards in the proposals, and they intend that, in exceptional circumstances, normal individual funding request processes will continue to apply. Hon. Members have criticised that as imposing an undue obligation on the individual to seek that route to secure treatment. That is effectively an appeal mechanism that applies across the NHS and is a well-worn and well-understood path for clinicians to support individual funding requests for patients where needed, which we should continue.
Both the hon. Member for Dewsbury and the hon. Member for York Central used the expression “lives at risk”. I would gently say that there is absolutely no intention that policies such as this should lead to lives being at risk. They are about trying to put individuals in a position where their own circumstances would lead to better outcomes from the proposed surgery. The hon. Ladies have called for evidence supporting the proposition —it was raised by the hon. Member for York Central when we met at the end of last month. I have asked for that evidence. A number of research papers support the propositions made by the CCG, in particular on the question whether obesity at the time of surgery is associated with a wide range of problems. Sustaining weight loss is the key. Rapid weight loss followed by rapid weight gain clearly do not help the patient, but the evidence from the research papers provided to me is that maintained weight loss or cessation of smoking undoubtedly and clearly have clinical benefits for the patient. There is evidence to support that.
I will come back to the point raised earlier on by the hon. Member for Dewsbury and the hon. Member for York Central, but I absolutely recognise that the clinician primarily responsible for the care, whether that is the GP or the secondary clinician, should have discretion to ensure that a referral is made, should a non-referral of a patient or a delayed procedure outweigh any benefits from a period of improving health and reducing risk factors prior to a routine operation. We will encourage the CCGs to ensure that that is in their final proposals, once those are made.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, CCGs are subject to appraisal and are accountable to NHS England, which is accountable to Ministers. It is not for Ministers to direct individual CCGs as to how they should enact their policies, but there is a route through which we can provide some encouragement to NHS England to ensure that these policies reflect its national position. That is what we will do.
On where the process is, in October the two CCGs presented details of the proposed plans to Kirklees Council’s health and social care scrutiny committee. The committee requested that the CCGs undertake a further six weeks of engagements, especially with hard-to-reach communities in the area of the hon. Member for Dewsbury. The CCGs have assured me that they are committed to that further engagement with the local community to ensure that the plan is fit for purpose, so there is a continuing opportunity to reflect on the revised iteration of the proposals. I am also advised that the CCGs have not yet made firm decisions on the plans. Instead, as a result of the engagement with local stakeholders, they are considering four options, and variations on the four options, for implementing the proposed plan, including not proceeding with the programme, which remains on the table.
Those options include: first, a phased approach, beginning with applying the programme initially only to patients who smoke and subsequently rolling it out further to obese patients if appropriate; secondly, only implementing the plan for smokers; thirdly, introducing health optimisation periods across clinical thresholds and pathways, in line with NICE guidance; or fourthly, moving away from implementation of the plan as previously defined and focusing on a strengthened education campaign to reinforce the benefits to patients of stopping smoking and losing weight. Those options remain on the table and there will be a further period of engagement. A decision on which option will be taken forward is due to be made by the CCGs in January, and further engagement on the implementation of the recommended approach will then take place later in the new year.
I said earlier that the plan is not a blanket ban on treatment. Instead, the intention is to encourage patients who are obese or who smoke to lose weight and/or quit smoking. There is evidence that that will have benefits, in terms of both surgical outcomes, as I have said, as well as reduced risk for general medical conditions, and there are clearly also benefits to patients’ general health in the long term. Hon. Members can be assured that the CCGs are providing support to the patients on weight loss and smoking cessation, and have agreed to invest £133,000 a year in such services to account for any health optimisation-related increase in uptake.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury asked how we will assure that the plan is in accordance with national guidelines. As she would expect, NHS England has been closely reviewing this and similar proposals where they have been made to ensure that there is robust supporting clinical evidence and appropriate safeguards. The Government expect NHS England to ensure that the responsible CCG is not breaching its statutory responsibility to provide services that meet the needs of the local population. I can confirm to hon. Members that NHS England has had ongoing discussions with both CCGs about the health optimisation plan and will continue to do so to ensure that it works in the best interest of patients. That is the right approach, in terms of both protecting patients and both encouraging the population to put themselves in a condition to maximise the benefits from surgical procedures, without allowing CCGs to introduce an inappropriate blanket ban.
NHS England carries out regular assurance of CCGs and holds them to account through the CCG improvement and assessment framework to ensure that they are fulfilling their statutory requirements, and NHS England can and will intervene if a CCG is failing to discharge its key responsibilities. NHS England’s regional teams also have regular discussions with CCGs about their commissioning activities and plans.
It is important in a debate like this, in which there are allegations of there being a postcode lottery, that we recognise that it is down to clinicians at a local level, through their CCG bodies, to make decisions that affect their local population, rather than, as has happened in the past, central diktat from Whitehall. Those may lead to perverse consequences and a less relevant healthcare capacity and treatments for patients on the ground.
The Minister is being very generous with his time. Is it not important in a national health service that we use the very best clinical evidence on how to produce the best outcomes for all patients? Falsely drawn boundaries should not have any relevance to the kind of treatment people receive.
The hon. Lady will recognise that there are different health challenges in different areas, reflecting patients’ differing needs. Encouraging the public to stop smoking and to reduce their weight is, as she acknowledged, an ambition that is shared by Members across the House and across clinical leads.
I will not let the hon. Lady intervene again because, amazingly, I am about to run out of time, despite what I said at the beginning. I have taken a lot of interventions.
I conclude by assuring hon. Members that we are paying close attention to what is happening in Kirklees and Greater Huddersfield, and York Central. Other areas of the country may be considering similar proposals, and we need to ensure that it is done in a responsible manner, whereby clinicians stay at the heart of making referrals where appropriate and retain that discretion. We will not get to the situation that the hon. Member for Dewsbury described in her opening remarks, in which she said that people’s lives will be put at risk by policies such as this. That is not the case.
I thank the Minister for his considered response. Like the vast majority of MPs in the House from all parties, I care deeply about the NHS. However, I am getting slightly fed up with the platitudes that we hear day in, day out from the Government regarding their putting extra funding in. The NHS is in crisis, and I say that as someone who worked in the health service for nearly 13 years immediately before becoming an MP. I hear it from ex-colleagues of different political persuasions nearly every single day.
I maintain that the concept of the health optimisation plan in Kirklees, and undoubtedly those elsewhere, is deeply flawed. I plead with the Minister to use his influence to engage with the CCGs and to encourage them to go with option 4. I think we all agree that stopping smoking and losing weight is a good thing—my goodness, I could follow some of that advice—but not at the expense of people being in pain and potentially affecting their mental health, or of having a postcode lottery. I discussed the Wakefield-Dewsbury case with the Minister. That is happening, and it will happen because of the false borders to which my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) rightly alluded.
My mum suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis and has had it since childhood. She is 73 on Friday. A few years ago she started taking a drug that gives her a quality of life that she never had—she started using it as a guinea pig and has continued to use it. It used to take her hours every day to open her hand. She was in so much pain. I once found her at the top of the stairs and she could not go down them. She was crying.
She said to me on the phone one day that she is terrified that the Government will stop her receiving those drugs, because they are not cheap. I told her not to be silly. She knows that her quality of life would severely deteriorate once again if they did, and that she would probably be in a wheelchair. I am not sure I could say that to her now, because this plan is rationing, plain and simple. I cannot have that conversation and tell her that the Government will not stop her receiving the drugs because they are expensive.
I want the Minister think about that in the wider context. She is a 73-year-old woman. Is her life, and those of all the people affected, worth less than ours? We would not stand for our healthcare being rationed. I certainly would not.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).