Wednesday 24 October 2018
[Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered school funding.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I wanted to keep the title of the debate broad because school funding does not have the same impact in all areas. We must continue to ensure that all our children get an excellent education regardless of where they live, and that all our schools have the money in place to provide that.
I am sure that hon. Members welcome the record levels of funding going to our schools. The simple facts tell us that, overall, more money is being spent, and that is a good thing, but schools are not feeling the effects of that increase. We must differentiate between the schools budget and the teaching budget: more money is being spent on education, but that does not necessarily filter its way down to the experience for all pupils and teachers.
Last month I met local headteachers and parents as part of a Fair Funding For All Schools campaign that has been going up and down the country, which colleagues may have seen. The overall view of the group was that we need more resources in our schools budget, but they were disappointed by the line repeated by the Government that more money than ever is going into our schools. Although that may be the case, the schools are not necessarily able to feel the effects of the increase, due to the ever-rising costs and additional financial burdens placed upon them.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way—I suspect that I will be the first of many to intervene. I have done a survey of a number of schools in Coventry. Headteachers tells me that they have a number of funding problems. For example, in Coventry they have probably lost something like £295 per pupil over the past seven years. I acknowledge that the Government have put £1.5 billion back in, but they also have a shortfall of about £3 billion from cuts some years ago. Does she agree—I doubt she will—that one of the big problems is the need for specialist teachers for children with special needs?
The hon. Gentleman is pre-empting my speech; I will deal with special educational needs because they are of great concern.
If the Minister meets headteachers in Coventry or in my constituency, they may well tell him that the reality is that the current budget is not enough. Sian Kilpatrick of Bernards Heath Junior School told me that recently she wrote to parents to explain the financial squeeze that her school faces. Mrs Kilpatrick compiled a helpful list of all the additional things that she has to allocate funding to in order to keep her school running—I will not go through them all, but I am happy to share the list with the Minister. The things she outlined include: outdoor vital risk assessments, legal human resources advice, general maintenance costs and staff insurance payments. Those are just some of the additional costs that schools have to find money for. On top of that, she had to pay £8,000 to get her trees pruned.
Surely one of the problems is that different campaign groups, and indeed the Department for Education, use headline figures that vary from organisation to organisation. In working together to achieve a solution to the problem, it is not particularly helpful for words such as “deceptive” and “dishonest” to be used by one campaign against another or against the Department. Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be a much firmer grip on the use of language by the campaign groups?
I cannot comment on the campaign groups; I am commenting on what the headteachers in St Albans said, and no one used the words “deceptive” or “dishonest.” The purpose of my being here today is to ensure that there is a degree of clarity about where the funding goes. The headline is that we are putting more into schools—and we are—but the reality on the ground is that teachers face undue pressures. I want to highlight that. I cannot accept anyone’s use of inappropriate language—that is not fair on either side of the argument. We must be respectful of the pressures faced by the schools and by the Minister.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, will meet in half an hour to discuss education issues in Northern Ireland—to be fair, they are not the Minister’s responsibility. In Northern Ireland, teachers, schools and boards of governors have to decide whether to pay for a teacher or to increase class sizes, thereby affecting the quality of education. Are those the sorts of decisions being made in the hon. Lady constituency, as they are in mine?
My teachers did not exactly raise class sizes, although it was covered in the round that that was a problem. They raised the problem of not being able to refurbish toilets, pay for much-needed decoration or replace outdated PCs in their IT suites.
I am sure that the Minister will agree that the picture varies, but the signs indicate that schools are not benefiting universally, as we would wish them to, from the new funding formula. Many schools I have spoken to have reiterated that the national funding formula must cover the funding needed for schools, not just the pupil-led aspect. Pupils and parents expect those schools to be fit for purpose as well as to provide lessons. We must address the concerns raised by teachers; we must not hide behind any basic facts of a rise in per-pupil funding. We must look at this issue in the round.
The Minister said that he is in listening mode. I hope that the Government will look carefully at parents’ requests to direct money to special educational needs, as the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) outlined. The Department for Education reports that we have upwards of 1 million pupils with special educational needs in our school— a number that has risen significantly in recent years and is 14% of school pupils. I welcome the news that the Government have committed to improve funding for SEN pupils and that a further £1 billion has been put into this fund since 2013. Those are good things, but we must look at whether they are sufficient.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. There is an anomaly that schools that accept pupils from poorer backgrounds are rewarded and encouraged by the pupil premium that those schools attract for taking those children, but for children with additional or special needs the first 11 hours of the education, health and care plans are funded by the local school, which often places a financial burden on it. There is therefore a disincentive for schools to take on children from those backgrounds who have additional special needs.
I completely agree. I will touch on that issue later in my speech. Links Academy in St Albans says that it is mopping up the very pupils that the hon. Gentleman says are being cold shouldered or refused positions elsewhere.
The National Association of Head Teachers carried out a survey on SEN funding, and a mere 2% of those surveyed said that the top-up funding received was sufficient to meet the growing needs of SEN pupils. That was recognised by both teachers and parents in St Albans. Inevitably, that will have an impact on the way that schools look after SEN pupils. Department for Education figures say we have 2,800 fewer teaching assistants and 2,600 fewer support staff in our schools. That puts even more pressure on teachers and can be especially challenging for teachers dealing with SEN pupils. The increased amount of money paid to some of those who are lower paid and work as assistants or support staff was welcome, but it puts an additional pressure on school resources. We welcome the additional funds for people paid lower wages but we must recognise the true impact.
To return to the remarks of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), I have been in contact with David Allen, headmaster of Links Academy, which I recently visited, and he welcomes pupils with special needs. He described his despair at the rising number of SEN pupils being permanently excluded from mainstream schools. In fact, I was due to meet him there on Thursday with parents and the SEN group, but as soon as the SEN group heard that I was coming, it said it would pull out. Unfortunately, I have had to pull out in order to ensure a fair hearing for the pupil in that school. I was concerned to hear that SEN children are regularly subjected to bullying at school and have resorted to either drugs or knife crime as a result—that is anecdotal and not in my schools in St Albans, but the teacher has backed that up.
The hon. Lady is making some very important points on behalf of pupils with special educational needs. The Department for Education’s statistics show that at the start of this year 4,500 pupils with a statutory right to special educational needs support were not in school at all; they were awaiting a suitable place, and a lot of them were being home schooled because they could not get a place. That is only the tip of the iceberg, because those are only the pupils with a special education need statement or an education, health and care plan. The actual number of young people with special educational needs who are not in school is even higher.
I completely accept the picture that the hon. Lady paints. If we are here to do anything, it is to try to move forward consensually—education is not a hot potato that we can repeatedly pick up and drop. She mentioned statementing for children with special educational needs. Parents tell me that there is sometimes reluctance to statement a child because of the extra resources that should automatically be associated with that. We must look into that, too.
Instead of stepping in and helping SEN children, some mainstream schools permanently exclude pupils, as the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale mentioned, and academies such as Links in my constituency pick up the pieces. As a result of funding pressures, mainstream schools do not always have the staff or resources to care for those children. I have heard parents say that when they contact a mainstream school that has places—this is what the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) referred to—but inform it that their child has a special educational need, they suddenly find that the place is no longer available. That is a primary concern for teachers, and I hope that the Minister will set out his plans to secure and correctly direct SEN teaching resources, which are absolutely needed.
Has the hon. Lady heard from her local schools, as I have, that one of the barriers to getting a statement in the first place is the severe underfunding of child and adolescent mental health services? It is necessary to go through CAMHS to secure an EHCP. The referral time used to be six months, which frankly is a long time in a young child’s life, but in Oxfordshire it now averages two years.
If the hon. Lady secured a debate on CAMHS, I would attend it. I can testify that many parents in my constituency experience issues with CAMHS.
Staff and staffing costs are under severe pressure. Schools cite increased staffing costs, and the amount of their budget that those costs take up, as their main concern. WorthLess? surveyed headteachers as part of its fairer funding campaign and found that 60% had had to reduce their staff by one or more to balance their budget. That goes back to the pressures I mentioned.
Sandringham School in my constituency, which hosted the public meeting I attended—it was quite a rocky meeting, but I said I would bring back people’s concerns—explained to me its issues with staff pay rises, national insurance and pension contributions, and teacher recruitment shortfalls. Many schools across the country are grappling with those four key issues. In an area such as mine, where house prices and the cost of living are very high, wages sometimes just cannot keep up so that teachers are able to live in the constituency and work in its schools.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Although I welcome the extra £3.5 million per annum for North East Hampshire’s schools as a result of funding adjustments, there is still a big divergence in per-pupil funding across the country. That is entirely in line with her point about the cost of staffing, which has no relationship with per-pupil funding, given the high cost of living in Hampshire and elsewhere. Does she agree that it is important that future funding formulas take proper account of the cost of living?
As a former teacher, I know that there are teachers who argue vociferously for universal pay standards across the country and dispute the need for pay to reflect local house prices and so on. That is a debate for another day. However, teachers in my area say—this is awful, but I accept it—that when a valued, top-of-the-range headteacher or head of department goes, there can be a small, collective sigh of relief in the budget department because that means the school can take on a younger, less experienced teacher on a lower pay scale and the budget suddenly becomes a little looser.
It is demoralising for a school not to be able to reward and keep high-value staff because it simply does not have the money to pay them. I am experiencing that cycle in St Albans, where staff are hard to retain. Although it is great to have bright young things—I was one of those once—coming through the door, with all the enthusiasm they bring to teaching, there is nothing like an experienced head of department.
There is widespread unhappiness about the handling of the recent teacher pay rise announcement. The key problem is that schools themselves have to fund the first 1% of that pay rise, which we so generously allocated them but did not provide additional funding to support them with. Declan Linnane, the head of Nichols Breakspear School in St Albans, told me that that 1% alone will cost his school £30,000—money it will have to find from yet further efficiency savings or another member of staff in already difficult times.
With rising national insurance contributions and an impending increase in employer pension contributions, schools are under huge pressure to find more savings at the cost of our pupils’ education. Increasing staffing costs have a huge impact on schools’ budgets. Removing the need for schools to fund the first 1% of pay increases themselves would be welcome. I wonder whether the Minister is in a generous mood and would like to make a grab on the Chancellor’s Budget.
Schools are interested in the Government’s proposal to create a central staffing database to reduce agency fees. Agency staff are a big issue for many schools, which often cannot retain staff and are obliged to use agency staff as cover, or run their staff so tightly that there is no slack in the system if a staff member goes ill, for example. I would be grateful if the Minister updated me on that database and when headteachers should expect it to be available.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies, which reported last month on education funding in England, found that per-pupil school spending has fallen by 8% in real terms since 2010. That must be considered alongside the fact that, according to the DFE’s own figures, half a million more pupils are in our schools now than in 2010. The IFS also reported that school sixth forms have endured a 21% reduction in per-pupil spending since 2011, and it estimates that by 2019-20 spending per sixth-form pupil will be lower than at any point since 2002.
Those are worrying statistics, which address many of the real concerns of teachers and parents in St Albans. We must aim for funding that meets the needs of schools across the country—as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena) said, certain parts of the country are really struggling—and allows them to deliver excellent teaching that inspires pupils to succeed in life.
Worryingly, we have also heard reports of schools having to use the pupil premium to fund their core budget. A recent poll of headteachers found that 70% had dipped into the pupil premium to prop up their core budget. That is borne out in St Albans, where we are aware that happens. It should be of real concern that a fund designed to help students from the most disadvantaged families has to be used for overall school spending. That cannot be right.
Schools are also concerned about their lack of ability to plan their finances. With the NFF being introduced over a number of years and uncertainty about how it will affect individual schools, headteachers are unwilling to commit to long-term planning. That was reflected in a poll of headteachers, which found that 90% feel the NFF has given them no long-term financial certainty and has resulted in no “meaningful financial planning” being carried out beyond year 1.
I do not just take things at face value. Trading statistics is never good, as I said at the public meeting I mentioned. I believe in listening to what teachers say, and they say they are struggling to do long-term planning under the current system. They need longer-term certainty about their budgets.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the problem with long-term planning and wriggle room in budgets is even greater for smaller schools? In constituencies such as mine there are lots of very small, very good schools of 30 children or even fewer. If a large school has a bad period in which it has an issue with leadership, a poor Ofsted report or whatever, it can absorb the effect of getting fewer pupils as a consequence and still be able to plan ahead. However, that could be curtains for a small school, which would mean a community losing its school for good.
I do not have experience of that, but I recognise the picture the hon. Gentleman paints. It is vital that we address those concerns about funding.
The UK tax burden is at a 50-year high, so the Minister will be pleased to hear that I do not propose additional tax rises. We are at the limit of how much tax we can reasonably ask ordinary people to pay. Working families have felt the squeeze since 2010 as the Government have tried to tackle the enormous financial burden we found ourselves with. It is good that we have made progress. Far be it from me to tell the Chancellor how to do his job, but the Budget is looming, so I am going to put my thoughts on the record. I am certain that the Government can find the money if we prioritise our spending appropriately.
We had a manifesto commitment—the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale will probably profoundly disagree with me about this—to scrap universal free school meals for reception, year 1 and year 2 pupils, but it was dropped. That was misguided. I and some of the teachers who were at the meeting I mentioned think we should have investigated that further. Thankfully, in St Albans only around 6% of pupils are entitled to free school meals. In Hertfordshire overall that figure is about 8%. Perversely, that means we subsidise between 90% and 94% of parents in Hertfordshire who could pay for their own children to be fed. Just as I do not want budgets that should be used for pupils at the poorest margin to be taken away, I do not want wealthier parents to be cross-subsidised when they do not need it. Such largesse is costing my local authority £6 million, and it is money that should be spent on teaching. I would rather St Albans pupils received a universal quality of teaching than that those with more affluent parents should receive a gratuitous free lunch they are not entitled to.
I am a great supporter of the good aid projects that have been carried out around the world, but, again, it seems crazy to me that we ring-fence huge sums of money for foreign aid when vital public services such as the education budget lack funding. The aid budget should be under the same scrutiny and pressures as other Departments’ budgets. We are effectively shovelling money out the door to meet an arbitrary target set in law. That misplaced policy should be brought before the House so we can decide whether to look at that ring-fencing.
I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to the issues raised in the debate, including some of the experiences recounted by teachers and parents. There is a funding problem in schools and it does not seem right that more and more schools have to go cap in hand to parents for even the most basic of provisions, such as textbooks. Alan Gray started the public meeting I attended by asking “What price education?” He did not ask the price for pruning trees, painting the classrooms or replacing some broken paving slabs, but the price of education. Of course it is entirely reasonable for parents to be asked for contributions for bonus offerings such as trips, but when they are asked to contribute for vital reading materials, the central funding formula needs to be addressed.
Teachers in my constituency do not tell me that the NFF is bad policy; they want it to be funded correctly. The aim of ending the so-called postcode lottery for school funding under the NFF is sensible, but the lack of overall funding means that it is difficult to deliver. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response, and I hope to see some movement on the issue in the Budget. We must answer the call: what price do we put on our children’s education?
Six hon. Members want to speak in the debate, and we have to start the winding-up speeches at 20 minutes to 11. That gives us about 50 minutes, so Members have about eight minutes each, maximum.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), who I congratulate on securing the debate. For the first 19 minutes of her speech she sounded as if she was reading a Labour party brief, and I was about to get out a membership form to pass across to her. It was just the last two minutes that spoiled it slightly, and I am afraid as a result I cannot pass the form across after all. I certainly recognise her analysis of some of the problems that affect our schools’ finances.
I am the only London Member present, so if Members will forgive me, I shall dwell predominantly, parochially, on my own borough and mention at least one issue that affects London schools in particular. The one thing missing from the analysis given by the hon. Member for St Albans—if I may gently chide her—was consideration of the impact of cuts in general local authority funding. As a result of those cuts, most of the support that used to be available from local authorities to help schools in difficult circumstances is no longer there. Schools have had to find their own solutions—some with considerable success and others with less. That is part of the backdrop that we need to consider.
I am privileged to represent schools that, according to independent analysis by the Education Policy Institute, are in the borough that provides the best education in the country—from starting school to leaving school. The increase in achievement is, apparently, best in Harrow, according to the institute. I give particular credit to the teachers, parents and leadership of my borough’s schools, and as a former teacher I recognise the huge contribution to the country that teachers and other professionals in schools make. I want to highlight the pressures that schools in my constituency face. I should acknowledge the generous offer of the Minister for School Standards, who is responding to the debate, to receive a delegation of headteachers from Harrow. We are in the process of organising that. I hope to persuade him not only to meet the delegation but to come to Harrow to see one or two schools in my constituency that face particularly challenging circumstances.
The average annual cost implication of the financial pressures on schools in my constituency—for the current 12 months, compared with the previous 12 months—is more than £203,000 for a secondary school and more than £70,000 of additional net costs for a primary school. That comes from the increase in non-teaching pay awards, non-teaching pensions, the apprenticeship levy, the estimated likely increase in teaching pay awards and other aspects of the incremental costs that come with teachers’ pay rises. It does not include any increase in the cost of pensions. There are pay pressures as the result of rises in utility costs and there is reduced income, in particular for primary schools, which are experiencing annual reductions, related to pupils in receipt of pupil premium grant, of on average £10,000. I have described average pressures, with an assumption that average school budgets are cash flat, but in Harrow some 25% of schools that are currently protected by the minimum funding guarantee expect to lose roughly 1.5% of their pupil budget per annum, as a result of the way that the minimum funding guarantee works. That could equate to a cash reduction of a further £20,000 to £30,000 per annum.
For a primary school, losing £70,000 a year equates on average to the cost of one to two teachers. For a secondary school, an average loss of £200,000 is the equivalent of four teachers. As the hon. Lady said, school headteachers and governors are trying to find ways to protect the experienced teachers who add the most value to a child’s education, but experienced teachers who go are often replaced by a newly qualified teacher. Many of those are, as the hon. Lady said she once was, bright young things. They are enthusiastic and skilled and have a huge contribution to make, but they do not have the same experience, and that is a significant problem. Alternatively, teaching assistants can be lost, as is happening in my constituency. That has a particular impact on those with special educational needs, and there is a knock-on effect on other young people in those classes.
The hon. Lady rightly dwelt on the funding crisis for special educational needs. There has been some helpful media coverage of that, of late. I understand that roughly half of London boroughs face significant shortfalls in funding. They are overspending on SEN budgets, such has been the growth in the pressures. That is partly caused by some helpful changes in connection with the conclusion of the SEN funding review, leading to an increase in the number of post-16 and post-19 SEN children deemed eligible for funding, as well as general demographic growth and the fact that the formula for SEN is currently based on historical data on children aged five to 15, and does not reflect the post-19 inclusion.
Another particularly helpful aspect of the hon. Lady’s speech was the reference to sixth form provision. There been an 8% real-terms cut for every school, as concluded by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, but the 21% cut affecting sixth forms is a particular pressure for St Dominic’s Sixth Form College in my constituency. While I hope that there will be a general funding increase for education, I hope that Ministers will look particularly at sixth forms in that respect.
Lastly, I ask the Minister to come to Grange Farm or Norbury Primary Schools in my constituency. Their headteachers are remarkable individuals who are hugely passionate and determined to do what they can for their children. Nevertheless, given the housing crisis in London, the number of pupils who move on a regular basis, and the scale of the diversity challenge, financial pressures are adding to the general problems facing those schools, and I would be keen to host the Minister on a visit to Harrow to improve his education on the school funding crisis.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) for securing this important debate, but there is a sense of déjà vu. Over the past few years I have participated in many debates in Westminster Hall and the main Chamber on school funding, and two years ago there was a debate specifically on school funding in West Sussex, which is what I will concentrate on today. As my hon. Friend said, progress has been made with the new funding formula, but for many of us that is just work in progress. It was a move in the right direction, but it has not yet reached the destination of genuinely fair funding.
West Sussex was able to secure an additional £29.8 million funding as part of the £1.3 billion that the Government added last year, but that must been seen in the context of pupil numbers that are up substantially and the funding pressures coming down the line, such as teachers’ pay, national insurance and the other points raised by my hon. Friend. We will all plead the case for our own areas, but West Sussex has consistently been at the bottom of the table. We were the second to lowest funded local authority in the country, and with the additional money we have now gone to being the eighth lowest funded per unit for primary schools, and the sixth lowest for secondary funding. We have gone from being at the bottom of the lowest decile to nearer the top of the lowest decile. There is still a long way to go, as the Minister will be only too aware, given that he, too, represents a West Sussex constituency.
There is great confusion about what has happened to funding in real terms. Many figures have been bandied around, with banners outside schools saying that West Sussex has lost x millions of pounds. Because of the funding formula and the complications of how the deprivation, prior attainment and rural sparsity factors work, we need greater clarity on exactly what we are getting and where the money is going.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that no one on the frontline is arguing that more money is coming into the coffers of local schools?
Everybody is arguing that more money is coming into the coffers of local schools—that is plainly a fact. It is a question of how many pupils that money has to be spread across, increasing pressures on that funding, and what is left over to fund the basic education of children. It is no good saying that less money is going into schools; it is not. It is just not enough, given all those other factors.
In West Sussex we have the cumulative effect over many years of consistently being right at the bottom of the heap, so that all those savings have been used up years ago and many of my schools are running on empty. Despite that, many schools in my constituency are doing an outstanding job, such as Eastbrook Primary Academy in Southwick, St Nicolas and St Mary Primary in Shoreham, Shoreham Academy, Sompting Village School in Sompting, and Vale School in Worthing, to name just a few schools that have been consistently outstanding and good, despite all those factors. They are a mix of academies, faith schools and local authority schools—I give preference to no particular type of school, and indeed we have no free schools in my constituency. As has been said, there is a particular problem with special needs schools that are not covered by the new fair funding formula, although the numbers of pupils coming forward with severe educational needs has increased. Fantastic schools such as Herons Dale School in Shoreham are suffering huge pressures, and we are seeing the effect on pupils.
I want to concentrate on real examples, not just talk in the round. Last year I invited every head of every school in my constituency to a couple of roundtables to tell me exactly what was going on in their schools—it was not about fears of what might happen, but about what was going on and how they set their budgets there and then. This year I repeated that exercise with the chairs of governors from all schools in my constituency. As a result of those findings, I wrote a lengthy letter to the Education Secretary—I have just had a reply from the Minister—in which I gave real life examples.
There were many common factors, and in the consultation on the fair funding formula, 9% of 25,222 responses that the Department for Education received came from West Sussex. That hugely dis- proportionate figure shows how important this issue is in our part of the world. Common issues were that staffing costs, in some cases, were 90% of a school’s budget. Some years ago they would typically have been nearer 80%, and beyond that figure it becomes unsustainable for many schools. There have been many redundancies and fewer working hours, and non-returning maternity leave cases are commonplace. Senior leadership teams are covering classes to remove the need for supply teachers, and extracurricular activities and trips are being culled due to cost. Infrastructure investment and development is being delayed or ruled out completely.
Let me give a few examples from schools. One medium-sized primary school has reduced teaching assistant support by more than 200 hours and has not replaced its inclusion co-ordinator. It is unable to replace ageing and antiquated IT equipment. A junior school now has a deficit of £40,000, and will require an additional £220,000 for salaries over the next few years. Class sizes are typically 32 or 33 since 113 more pupils came into the school, yet there was an equivalent increase in full-time teachers of 0.8%. Schools are not losing funds because they are losing pupils; they are attracting pupils and yet they do not have the funds to get the teaching cover they need. The professional development budget was between £3,000 and £5,000, but it is now zero. The extended curriculum budget was around £20,000, but it is now £500. The learning resources budget was £120,000, and is now £35,000. There will be a deficit, and in that school 87% of expenditure is on staff salaries and overtime.
In a medium-sized primary school, non-qualified teachers such as high-level teaching assistants are being used to cover classes so that the school cuts the cost of supply staff, and numerous cuts to teaching assistant posts are creating greater workloads for teachers. Schools are unable to pay overtime. Counselling levels have fallen due to cutbacks, and that will be a soft target for further cuts in future. That is a particularly big worry to me because it will create greater pressures on those pupils who require greater attention and resources. They will then fall further behind at school, and they will not get the opportunity to make that time up if we do not deal with the issue soon. In too many cases the waiting list for counselling in school or beyond is many months, and during that time a condition can fester. I have many more practical examples. That is not scaremongering; this is going on now, and this is how governors and heads have to set their budgets to effect those constraints.
What can we do? I have three suggestions. First, the Minister absolutely must lobby as part of the comprehensive spending review and say that the shortfall in funding is a false economy in the extreme. Secondly, it was disappointing that the full teachers’ pay was not covered centrally—just the additional pay over that 1%, and there have been questions about some teachers not getting that full coverage over the 1%. Finally, I suggest that West Sussex, and other coastal areas where there are particular problems of deprivation and high costs, should have something like a coastal communities challenge fund, just as the London Challenge fund in 2003 addressed some of the difficulties in places where affluent areas mask areas of real deprivation, such as those found typically on the south coast, the Kent coast and other parts of the country. I ask the Government to look seriously at addressing the serious deficit in parts of the country such as West Sussex, because we are feeling the effects of it now.
I congratulate the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) on securing this timely debate.
For some years, school funding in Devon has been a growing concern, expressed on a cross-party basis. My area in the far south-west is a true representation of the wider picture in Devon of not getting our fair share of resources. Last Friday I held my monthly “Politics and Pastries” roundtable, where I fed pastries to some of our hard-working headteachers and got information out of them about the state of education in Plymouth. They listed as their top concerns the pressure on finances, the lack of support for mental health and the urgent need to fund the Plymouth Challenge.
As the proud son of a teacher, I know how hard teachers work. Each of them is full of love for their profession, their students and the subjects they teach, but it is fair to say that at the moment our education system is being held together by good will. I thank Plymouth’s teachers, teaching assistants, support staff, other professionals and volunteers for all they do, but all too often their spark is being put out. Too many are left frustrated and demoralised by the double whammy of a lack of support and an increase in pressure to do more with less.
My argument today is a simple one: every child matters. All children, whether from the north, the south, the east or the west, from London or Plymouth, should be valued equally and have a fair slice of the funding cake. That children in one part of the country should be valued the same as those in another is surely a principle that we can all agree on, but schools across Plymouth have suffered consistent underfunding, especially since 2010. Plymouth has one of the lowest education spends per head in the United Kingdom. Each of our children, on average, is valued £415 less than a child in a London postcode, and £300 less than the national average. A Plymouth child is not worth any less than any other child anywhere else in the country, and the value for their education should reflect that and not treat them as being worth less.
Cuts have consequences; the shortfall has had a damaging impact on students in Plymouth, who continue to fall behind the national average in academic performance. That is not because our teachers are not working hard enough, but simply because the resources are not there to give those children the educational excellence they deserve under fair funding. Plymouth schools face a vicious cycle of cuts and increased costs that worsen existing conditions. Class sizes have increased and the numbers of teachers and teaching assistants have decreased. It is worth remembering that some of the poorest and most vulnerable students in our communities are increasingly in the most underfunded schools.
The contrast is clear when we compare Plymouth with London. In the capital, nine out of 10 children go to a good or outstanding school, while in Plymouth only five in 10 children do so. If every child matters, why is it that children in the far south-west are worth less than those in other parts of the country? Why are schoolkids in Plymouth not being given the fair chance to succeed?
I have three simple asks for the Minister, to help our teachers and to stop our children falling behind. First, I would like him to consider reviewing and removing the 3% maximum gains cap that is part of the national funding formula. One of the key principles of the national funding formula consultation was that pupils with similar characteristics should attract similar levels of funding wherever they are in the country. That is a good thing, but the maximum gains cap prevents schools that have been underfunded for many years from receiving their fair share of their current funding entitlement.
To give an example, under the new funding formula, Plymouth is due to gain £10.6 million, but the maximum gains cap means that in practice schools in Plymouth will receive less than half that amount, £4.7 million, in 2018-19 and £8.7 million in 2019-20—less than they should be getting under the funding formula because of the gains cap. Even with that additional funding formula, Plymouth will continue to receive considerably less than the national average, so I would be grateful if the Minister reviewed whether the gains cap is appropriate for where we are and whether it could be flexed or removed to give places such as Plymouth that have received lower levels of funding a chance to catch up.
Secondly, I would be grateful if the Minister looked again at funding for mental health support for our schools. It has been mentioned a number of times, but wrap-around support for young people is especially important if they are to achieve their full potential. Plymouth schools are currently sharing a three-year mental health funding deal, but that money runs out this year and headteachers have told me there is no money to replace that funding when it expires. We know that mental health concerns are rising among our young people, with a combination of increasing pressure, social media, bullying and, sadly, for far too many of our children, the additional pressure of caring responsibilities as young carers. Mental health funding is not only an essential part of educational support, but vital if they are to achieve their potential.
Our teachers are brilliant, but they cannot also be mental health workers and professionals. We have seen cuts to mental health provision for young people in primaries, especially with the Plymouth Excellence Cluster—a body that pooled mental health funding for schools—losing its funding earlier this year. The three-year funding deal for secondaries is now due to expire. That cannot be right, and I would be grateful if the Minister gave urgent consideration to providing support, especially for young people who are receiving support at the moment and may lose it if money cannot be found within school budgets to replace that provision.
Finally, I ask the Minister to support the Plymouth Challenge. As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) mentioned, the challenge opportunities are incredible for coastal communities that have lost out on funding. Plymouth, unfortunately, was not deemed to be one of the Government’s opportunity areas, and so missed out on the social mobility package of funding that was recently announced, but Plymouth City Council, working with the Plymouth Education Board in partnership with the regional schools commissioner and officials at the Department for Education, has come up with the Plymouth Challenge, which aims to work with schools in Plymouth and the far south-west to raise standards, promoting leadership and aspiration.
There have been successful challenges right across the country, most notably in London but also elsewhere. In each case, standards and teaching quality have been driven up by considerable and focused investment of time, energy and money in our teachers and schools. In Plymouth we have the will and the passion, but we lack the funding and the time to make that work. There must be deep learning for our teachers—not simply one hour swapped out of a classroom for a quick update on skills, but deep learning, so our teachers and teaching assistants can receive the benefit of the latest in teaching quality initiatives—and the children who would otherwise have been taught by those teachers must have a high-quality replacement, ensuring that their education does not suffer because their teacher is being given additional training.
Plymouth City Council estimates that it requires between £900,000 and £1.3 million to implement the first phase of the scheme. It is supported by schools across the city, and I would be grateful if the Minister looked positively at the Plymouth Challenge and agreed to meet a cross-party delegation of teachers and political representatives from Plymouth at both national and local level, to look at how the DFE can support Plymouth in funding the Plymouth Challenge and ensuring that we can support our own teachers to do the best they can.
Those are three small asks for the Minister, but they would make a huge difference to Plymouth kids and their schools. Plymouth is unique, due to the diversity of our education provision; we have a school of every kind that every Government since 1945 ever thought of. It is not the range of schools that is the problem, but the lack of funding, and I would be grateful if the Minister met us to discuss that.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) on securing this debate, which is vital for most children in our country.
Every child deserves an equal opportunity to get on in life, with the same access to high-quality education as their peers, wherever they are in the country. I am proud that Chichester exceeds the national average for attainment at key stage 4 and A-level, as a result of the hard work and dedication of teachers from early years through to secondary schooling.
Spending on our children’s education has never been higher and the new national funding formula is a welcome step toward rebalancing some of the disparities in the old system, where there were over 100 different models across the country. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said, however, West Sussex historically suffers from being one of the lowest funded authorities. It is currently the sixth lowest recipient of secondary school funding in the country, and eighth lowest for primary school funding.
I am pleased that under the new funding formula, Chichester schools are to receive an additional £1.2 million in baseline funding for 2018-19—a welcome step toward ensuring that our schools are given the resources they need to help and support every pupil. However, speaking to teachers across my constituency, there is concern that the positive impact of the increased funding will not be felt in the classroom, simply because operating costs in the form of salaries, pensions and apprenticeship levies, to name but a few elements, have increased. All the additional moneys are being used to service those additional costs.
There is much innovation across the sector to reduce expenditure and share costs. One example is executive headships. A headteacher’s salary is one of the largest costs faced by schools, particularly small rural primaries, such as those in my constituency. Last term, two rural schools came under the leadership of one head, ultimately saving money. Those schools are just a 10-minute drive from each other, so the arrangement works. The headteacher now divides his time between the sites and is doing a brilliant job of improving Rogate Primary School, just as he did with Rake Primary School. The money saved will go towards additional resources to aid the children’s educational experiences. Of course, such a move comes with strains, particularly because of the close relationships that teachers and staff form with parents and pupils in small villages such as Rake and Rogate. It takes time to build those, and I pay tribute to the commitment shown by headteacher David Bertwistle in that venture.
Rural schools play a vital role in their communities —perhaps even more so than in larger, urban centres. They are the centre of a community and are often the frontline in offering social and mental health support to pupils and their families. The reduction of base funding from £150,000 to £110,000 leaves a £40,000 hole in the budgets of small rural primary schools that cannot easily be filled with additional pupils. Additional pupils will come within a natural catchment area, and schools are not in control of those numbers. It is important that the Government funding formula understands the additional pressures facing rural schools and ensures that the level of funding for which they are eligible through the sparsity grant reflects the uniqueness of their place in our communities.
The number of pupils with special educational needs in West Sussex is well above the national average, with 13.5% of all pupils recorded as needing SEN support, compared with the national average of 11.6%. The number of referrals for education, health and care plans has risen by 43% over the past three years. Although those plans are a much-needed device to ensure that children with special educational needs are given personalised support, we must ensure that the Government are equally adaptable when it comes to tailoring the new higher needs formula to authorities with very high numbers of pupils with special needs.
Let me give an example. I have a constituent who is fighting for her daughter to attend a specialist school equipped to provide the 24-hour care that she needs that is halfway across the country, as she fears that the SEN provision in West Sussex is just not adequate. We need investment in the right provision in West Sussex. No parent should ever feel that their child’s education is worth less than that of others. It is vital that every child has the opportunity to enjoy a high-quality education. It is a one-off shot in most cases and has a massive impact on life chances.
I do understand that the formula is designed to provide more resources for areas with higher levels of deprivation and lower prior attainment. I recently visited schools in Knowsley, where I went to school, and I know that the extra funds are essential to those schools, where 70% of the children are on free school meals and almost half the children are looked after by foster parents or grandparents. Those schools face additional challenges in terms of attracting and retaining the best teachers, but there are additional needs in West Sussex, too. The challenges of rural primary schools and pupil numbers and the unanticipated rise in special educational needs are putting severe pressure on some school budgets. Of course more is being spent on education than ever, but we have increased costs, higher numbers of pupils and more children getting the support they need for their special educational needs.
School standards have been transformed. When I go into my local schools, I am constantly struck by how much better the provision is now than when I went to school, but we should expect the best. We are living in an increasingly competitive world—one that is global and without borders. Providing our children with the best education that we can is vital to their future.
I thank all hon. Members for their co-operation so far. There is eight minutes each for the two remaining Back-Bench speakers; the winding-up speeches will start at 20 minutes to 11.
Here we are again, talking about school funding. It feels to me, as education spokesperson for my party, that it is all I have had a chance to speak about since being elected and taking this post. There is more to a school than just its funding. The problem is that the funding crisis started badly and, over the past two years in particular, it has got worse and worse, to the point that it is now the top concern of both parents and teachers when they contact me. It used to be other things, such as Ofsted and exams, when people were focusing on the curriculum. The debate about school funding has meant that the life has been sucked out of the broader debate and the vision that we should have for education in this country.
As many people here know, I used to be a teacher, but I continue to be a governor of a local school, Botley Primary School. That is important so that I can see with my own eyes the funding pressures on schools. I absolutely agree with the examples given by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and thank him for his helpful contribution to today’s debate. The point is that these are not theoretical cuts, which could happen. We sometimes look at the headline figures and forget the effect that they have on the frontline. I also very much thank the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) for securing this important debate. Although sometimes it feels as though we are in “Groundhog Day”, the most important thing we can ever do is provide a good education for the next generation in this country.
I would like to talk about numbers. As many people know, I was a maths teacher, and I have to say that I was disappointed—to use a teacher’s phrase—when it was uncovered that the Government’s claim that we are spending the third highest amount on education of any country in the OECD was pulled up by the UK Statistics Authority as not true, because the number included contributions by private schools and student loans. When the Government talk about how much “we” spend, any ordinary person outside the House—our constituents—would think that they are talking about public spending, and that it does not include money spent on top of that by those parents who want to send their children to private schools.
When I toured the schools in my constituency during the recess, as I am sure many other hon. Members did, the private schools themselves were appalled that they were being used in that way, because there is solidarity among members of the teaching profession, whether in private or state schools. The feeling was that the numbers were being conflated in that way to hide the fact that the UK is not third but 14th, which is rather different. The UK Statistics Authority therefore expressed its serious concerns, and it was also disappointing that the Secretary of State wrote to us all essentially to defend the claim.
The issue was about not just those numbers, but numbers about reading attainment. The statistic that more children than ever go to good or outstanding schools is not the full picture either, because it does not quite take into account the inflation in the numbers of students—the population increase—or the fact that, as we explored in the Public Accounts Committee, large numbers of outstanding schools have not been inspected for the best part of 10 years, so whether they continue to be outstanding is up for debate.
Sir David Norgrove, chair of the UKSA, went on to say:
“I am sure you”—
this was to the Department—
“share my concerns that instances such as these do not help to promote trust and confidence in official data, and indeed risk undermining them.”
Therefore, my first ask of the Minister today is simply this: can he give this guarantee about official statistics from now on? I appreciate that the Government want to put a positive spin on what is—let us face it—a very difficult time for teachers and headteachers, but can he at least say that any further statistics coming out of the Department will be in line with the code of practice set by the UK Statistics Authority? I ask that because without the actual numbers, without us all knowing what we are talking about, it is very hard to have a proper debate. This should be a cross-party debate; a child’s life in education will span several colours of Government, so it is important that we get the figures right.
As other hon. Members have said, there are many reasons for the current situation. It is an equation: money in versus money out. The money out, which ends up on the frontline of teaching, is less than it ought to be. In fact, when we take into account inflation, rising student numbers, national insurance contributions, the apprenticeship levy and so on, the estimate is that we are £2.8 billion behind where we should be, given all those extra burdens, compared with 2015.
We are seeing examples of all this in our schools. Let me give the example from my constituency of Thameside Primary School, which services one of the most deprived areas in the country—they exist in Oxford West and Abingdon, too, even though that is not always obvious. These schools are not now using their pupil premium money to do things such as fund trips. They try to do that, but actually what they are doing now is employing link workers to help families to access basic benefits. They do not update the books in their library, because they cannot. Meanwhile, local authority cuts have meant that mobile libraries no longer bring the new books to the children of the school. They have had to cut forest school. I do not know whether other hon. Members have forest school in their constituencies, but it is incredibly important and I wish I had had it in my school. At Thameside Primary School they have had to cut it completely. In other schools in my constituency they have reduced the hours, because they do not have enough members of staff to service it.
The Conservative manifesto said that £4 billion would be put into schools by 2022. How close are we to achieving that manifesto commitment? I would get behind it—let us all get together and put extra money into schools. The former Secretary of State attributed £1.3 billion to the education budget. In the Public Accounts Committee we have been asking the Department where that money will come from, and we are yet to get an answer for about half of it. It was all to come from within the existing budget and through the cancellations of some programmes, but at the time of questioning about half of it was still unaccounted for, so I ask the Minister: where will that money come from?
There are broader consequences to this lack of funding for our schools, particularly the paring down of the curriculum. We now have schools that no longer offer the full range of modern foreign languages and creative subjects. Those students who—God forbid—do not love maths and science, which was the case even in my classroom, need the full range of opportunities to succeed. The unfortunate fact is that in the current state of affairs schools are paring down what they are able to offer and providing less opportunities for students to get on. I ask the Minister: is education a funding priority for this Government? What has he asked the Chancellor to give to education in the Budget? Can he give a commitment, genuinely, that every school in this country will be able to offer the full-range curriculum, which we want all children to have access to?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) on securing this timely debate.
This is not a boast I want to make, but when I came into this place York was the seventh worst funded authority, and today it is the very worst funded authority. We have exchanged places in the league tables. That is why I am speaking in this debate. Some 18 out of 23 primary schools and two thirds of secondary schools in my constituency have had their funding cut. Like most MPs, I meet with my schools on a regular basis. The crisis in funding has come to the fore. I want the Minister to take away the point that when schools are struggling, the outcomes of those schools are affected.
York has one of the biggest attainment gaps in the country, particularly around early years, and we have seen severe cuts to our primary schools. We are therefore seeing a significant minority underachieving by 10%. The Minister needs to focus on those figures, which correlate with funding.
My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to what is happening in primary and secondary schools, but does she share my concern that sixth forms have been hardest hit? I was shocked by the Institute for Fiscal Studies submission to the Education Committee on school and college funding, which found that per-pupil funding in post-16 education will be the same in real terms in 2019-20 as it was 30 years ago. Does that not show that the Government are failing to address the needs of young people in the future?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I meet with colleges in my constituency, which are absolutely on their knees with regard to funding. We know that this is an issue right across the education system. It has a real impact on outcomes, which is what I want to focus on.
While our schools have excellent outcomes, in the areas in my constituency where the cuts have been the greatest in real terms, the attainment is the worst. We can easily see the correlation between money and outcomes. If we make those cuts, we must expect those children to be short-changed, perhaps for the rest of their lives.
We are also seeing a change in class sizes. York has the second biggest increase in the teacher-classroom ratio in its primary schools and the fourth biggest fall in staffing numbers in primary schools, with 20 teachers leaving between 2014 and 2017—that has an impact. We have seen the biggest increase in class sizes in secondary schools across the country—the relevant figures is 2.9, with the next biggest being 1.8. In secondary schools, York has the joint biggest teacher-classroom ratio. Pupil numbers are increasing. I know at least one school in my constituency that is really struggling and does not know how it will accommodate its children next year.
We have also experienced a real turnover of teaching staff, as hon. Members have mentioned. Experienced teachers are leaving and being replaced. In one school around 60 teachers have moved and newly qualified teachers have been brought in. That has an impact on the experience of staff and therefore on the teaching of students. We are also seeing the impact on vital support staff. When the pay increase was announced, schools had to find the resource to pay their support staff, which resulted in many having to leave. We must focus on them as well.
The excellent head teacher of Millthorpe School in my constituency, Trevor Burton, had to write to parents to inform them of the reality and what they can expect. The school is unfunded by £169,000, for four years of 1% pay increases, £56,000 for increased employer pension contributions, £78,000 for national insurance, and £21,000 for the apprenticeship levy. The school’s expenditure has increased by £324,000. The school had an 8% real-terms cut, but it received increased funding of only 3.6%, so it has had a 4.4% cut. Of course, that has had a real impact on children through increasing class sizes, cutting events, doing without teacher posts, stopping all year 10 and 11 vocational courses—as we just heard, that has a real impact on children—and not replacing staff when they leave. On top of that, the school, like many others, has had maintenance issues. It has had to spend £900,000 on double glazing in classrooms, to keep them warm and dry, and to replace school roofs in the dining hall, sports hall, gym, language lab and one of the classrooms.
Tang Hall Primary School also faces the pressure of maintaining its building—a matter I have raised since being elected. The school, which has had one of the largest cuts in the constituency, was top of the Building Schools for the Future list to have a new school built. However, that programme was cut, and the school is still struggling and desperately needs a new building. The school is so cold, because it is such an old building, that they have had to change the school uniform so that the children can wear hoodies to school. It is a disgrace that in 2018, after eight years, they are still waiting for their new school. Children cannot study when they are cold. This has an impact on children throughout their time at the school. The head teacher has pleaded for a new school.
Westfield Primary Community School, in perhaps the most deprived area of my constituency, has had the largest cut in my constituency. How can that be the case when children and families desperately need the support? The school does extraordinary work in the face of such cuts. That needs to be looked at, because we are failing some of the most needy children in our communities.
My final point is about budgets and where we need to go.
Can you wind up?
Yes. I have talked about buildings and attainment, and I concur with all hon. Members about mental health support, which we desperately need. Ultimately, however, schools just need to have funds.
There are 10 minutes remaining for each of the Front-Bench speakers. If they could give up 20 or 25 seconds of that to allow Anne Main to respond, that would be appreciated.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) on securing this timely debate a few days before the Budget. She has stood up for schools in Hertfordshire, which have faced and are facing a £33-million cut since 2015. She is right to defend the schools in her constituency. While reading out the parliamentary Labour party brief, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) pointed out, she also alluded to the disingenuousness of the statistics that have come from the Department. That was also alluded to by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran).
The Department is fast becoming the ministry for dodgy stats. We have heard that we have the third highest spend in the OECD, which was knocked back because it included private school fees and other items. We have heard that there is more new money for our schools, which was knocked back by the Office for National Statistics. We have also heard that 1.9 million children are in good or outstanding schools. I am desperate to see whether the Minister repeats that, because it was pulled up by the UK Statistics Authority. The Minister must have forgotten to tell the Prime Minister that though, because she repeated the stat in Prime Minister’s questions. We have heard that the Government will fully fund the pay rise—another dodgy stat for teachers up and down our country.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s disingenuous attempts to override the statistics are failing, because parents, pupils and teachers know precisely what is happening? That is why I welcomed children and parents from SOS East Midlands to Parliament a fortnight ago. They know that 82 out of 84 schools in Nottingham city face cuts, including every single school in my constituency, they know that their children’s schools are losing an average of £296 per pupil, and they say that that is not good enough. It has to be addressed in the forthcoming Budget.
My hon. Friend articulates the point for Nottingham city brilliantly, as my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) did for York, where 32 schools are facing cuts.
The hon. Member for St Albans also talked about special educational needs and disability—SEND—which is vital. Last year alone, 20,000 children were off-rolled because of it. She talked about a school in her constituency, the Links Academy, which takes in many off-rolled children, but we lost 20,000 to the system. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) highlighted that problem with regards to mental health too—we do not know where 10,000 of those children are in the system. In an age when we have criminal child exploitation going through the roof and the running of county lines, the school system does not know where 10,000 children are.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has stated that the stats that we have heard used are simply not accurate, and the UK Statistics Authority has rebuked the Education Secretary for his inaccuracy. The figures quoted by Education Ministers attempting to defend their pitiful record on state school funding included money spent by parents on private school fees. There has been a concerted effort by the Secretary of State and the Minister to fudge the figures and deflect attention away from the cuts to school funding that they have presided over.
Let us assess the facts. Some £2.8 billion has been cut from school budgets since 2015, and we will find out in a couple of weeks that that will be a lot more. That means that 91% of schools are facing real-terms budget cuts per pupil. For the average primary school, that will be a loss of about £50,000 a year. For the average secondary school, it will be a loss of about £178,000 a year. But those figures are based on last year’s data. When can we expect the Department to release the schools block funding data for 2018-19? With the inclusion of those figures, it is likely that the outlook for our schools will be even bleaker.
Perhaps the Minister will try to deflect the House’s attention away from the reality of the impact of his Government’s cuts to school funding again, but hon. Members already know the impact on the ground all too well, as headteachers and parents are telling us about it. It is right that we are well represented by the hon. Members from West Sussex, the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Chichester (Gillian Keegan). The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said that schools are x millions of pounds down in that borough in his constituency. I have the statistic: they are £8.9 million down based on last year’s data. It will be interesting to see what next year’s data will be when the Minister releases the block funding grants. The Minister’s own schools are threatening a four-day week because of the funding cuts.
We know that the £1.3 billion of additional funding announced by the Secretary of State is nowhere near enough to reverse the £2.8 billion that has been cut since 2015. We also know that none of the money announced so far is actually new money for education. While I, of course, support the principle that all schools should receive fair funding, the answer is not to take money away from existing schools and redistribute it. A fair approach would be to apply the lessons of the best-performing areas in the country to schools everywhere. A fair approach would look objectively at the level of funding required to deliver in the best-performing schools, particularly in areas of high deprivation, as my hon. Friend the Member for York Central pointed out, and use that as the basis for a formula to be applied across the whole country.
The F40 group, which includes my constituency of Trafford, has told us that school funding requires an injection of £2 billion to meet the needs of all schools, and that an early indication is that the shortfall for 2019-20 will be £3.8 billion. Schools need to see plans for the funding formula beyond 2020. They need a three to four-year rolling budget settlement so that they can plan for the future with confidence, and any settlement should take into account inflation, the cost of living increases and the wage and national insurance increases that have been pointed out by several hon. Members.
When will the Secretary of State and the Minister remove their heads from the sand and begin to truly hear the voices of schools, teachers, parents and Back Benchers from across the country? If that does not happen soon, our children’s education in St Albans, Harrow, Plymouth, York and West Sussex will continue to lose out.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. We all admired your agility in mental maths at the beginning of the debate.
A good education.
I am sure that that is the case.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) on securing this important debate. It is always interesting to follow a Labour spokesman talking about school funding. It was the Labour Government who left the coalition Government with a record public sector deficit of £150 billion, which is equal to 10% of GDP—on the brink of collapse—an economy in recession and high unemployment. We have reduced that deficit to under 3%, we have the lowest level of unemployment since the 1970s and we have halved youth unemployment to record low levels. The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) should be more careful when he talks about public finances.
This debate is timely, given the looming Budget next week. I am sure that everybody has listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans and other hon. Members who have spoken. We are determined to create an education system that offers opportunity to everyone, no matter what their circumstances or where they live. That is why we have delivered on our promise to reform the unfair, opaque and outdated school funding system by introducing the national funding formula for schools, which previous Governments had shied away from doing, including the previous Labour Government.
The introduction of the national funding formula means that this year, for the first time, funding was distributed to local authorities based on the individual needs and characteristics of every school in the country. This historic reform is the biggest improvement to school funding for a decade and it is directing resources to where they are needed most.
This Government want to ensure that all children receive a world-class education, and we have made significant progress. More schools than ever before are rated good or outstanding; 86% of schools are now rated good or outstanding, compared with—
Will the Minister give way?
I will not give way.
That figure compares with 66%, which is what we inherited from the previous Government. The attainment gap is beginning to close and we have launched 12 opportunity areas to drive improvement in parts of the country that we know can do better. Children’s reading ability is also improving. We have risen from joint tenth in the reading ability of nine-year-olds to joint eighth in PIRLS, the progress in international reading literacy study.
However, we have made those achievements against a backdrop of inheriting an unfair method of distributing funding, which has hindered and not helped progress. Across the country, schools with similar pupil characteristics used to receive markedly different levels of funding for no good reason, meaning that the right resources did not reach the schools that needed them most. That is why it is so important that we have delivered on our promise to reform the unfair school and high-needs funding systems and introduced a national funding formula.
Schools are already benefiting from the gains delivered by the national funding formula. The formula has allocated an increase for every pupil in every school this year, with increases of up to 3% for underfunded schools. Next year, those schools that have been historically underfunded will attract increases of up to 6% more per pupil compared with 2017-18, as we continue to address historic injustices.
The constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans will attract gains of 2.5% per pupil under the formula next year compared with 2017-18, which is an extra £3.1 million for schools in St Albans when rising pupil numbers are taken into account. Of course, how that money is allocated will depend on the local authority. Special needs funding in Hertfordshire will rise by £4.4 million this year, rising to some £107.9 million.
I listened very carefully to the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), and of course I would be delighted to accompany him on a visit to schools in his constituency and to meet headteachers.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) has attended many of these debates on school funding, as he pointed out, and made calls for a fairer funding system. He has been successful in that respect; he should acknowledge his own success in putting the case for schools in West Sussex, because they have seen an increase in the funding allocated to them. How it is allocated on a school-by-school basis will depend on West Sussex, but the funding that it has received for schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency for 2019-20 has risen by 5.5% compared with 2017-18.
My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) was right to point to improving standards in her constituency and she was also right to refer to special needs funding, which I will come to. Under the national funding formula, the amounts allocated to schools in her constituency will rise by 3.4% in 2019-20 compared with 2017-18.
I was interested to hear about the “Politics and Pastries” roundtable that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) held. I would love to have been there; nevertheless, I would be delighted to meet headteachers from his constituency at some point very soon. Pupils in Plymouth will be funded on the same basis as in the rest of the country, despite what he said, under the national funding formula. That is the whole purpose of the national funding formula: based on the same needs, those pupils will receive the same amount. The hon. Gentleman referred to the gains cap, which ensures that changes in funding can be smoothed over the years under the national funding formula. Approximately 75% of schools that gain under the national funding formula—those that were historically underfunded—will be fully on their national funding formula figure by 2019-20.
The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) raised the issue of York’s position in the national league tables of school funding, but I should point out to her that the amount allocated to schools in her constituency will rise by 5.4% in 2019-20, compared with the baseline of 2017-18. We have made a significant—
Will the Minister give way?
No, I will not give way, because I am running out of time.
Order. The Minister is not giving way.
We have made a significant investment in our schools by providing an additional £1.3 billion across this year and next, which is over and above the funding confirmed in the 2015 spending review. The additional money means that core funding for schools and high needs will rise from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £42.4 billion this year, and to £43.5 billion in 2019-20. As the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has confirmed, funding for five to 16-year-olds will be maintained in real terms per pupil across this year and next year. The IFS has also pointed out that by 2020 real-terms per pupil funding will be some 70% higher than it was in 1990 and 50% higher than it was in 2000.
Of course we recognise that we are asking schools to do more and that schools are facing cost pressures. That is why the Department is providing extensive support to schools to reduce cost pressures. We have recently launched “Supporting excellent school resource management”, a document that provides schools with practical advice on savings that can be made on the £10 billion of non-staffing expenditure in schools. It summarises the support the Department is offering to help schools to get the best value from their resources, including things such as buying equipment more cheaply and the new teacher supply agency framework, which ensures that fees paid by schools to agencies are transparent and that people are aware of what they are signing up to.
Another issue that was raised was, of course, high needs. We are firmly committed to supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities to reach their full potential. That is why we have reformed the funding for these children by introducing a high-needs national funding formula. We have invested an extra £1 billion in funding for children with high needs since 2013 and next year we will provide local authorities in England with over £6 billion in high needs funding, which is up from just under £5 billion in 2013. We recognise the challenges that local authorities face with their high needs budgets, which is why we have provided them with support to deliver the best value from their high needs funding. We are also monitoring our national funding formula for high needs and keeping the overall level of funding under review.
The issue of teachers’ pay and pensions was also raised. We have responded to the recommendation made by the school teachers’ review body to confirm the 2018 pay award for teachers, which will see a substantial 3.5% uplift for the main pay range, a 2% uplift for the upper pay range and a 1.5% uplift for the leadership pay range. That will ensure that schools are supported to continue to attract high-quality staff members and retain them.
Will the Minister give way?
I will not give way, because of time.
We are funding the teachers’ pay award above the 1% that schools will already have budgeted for, by providing a teachers’ pay grant worth £187 million in 2018-19 and £321 million in 2019-20. This funding will be over and above the funding that schools receive through the national funding formula.
I want to give time to my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans to respond briefly to the debate, so I will conclude by thanking all Members who have contributed to this important debate. It is a key priority for this Government to ensure that every child receives a world-class education, to enable them to reach their full potential. I believe that the significant extra investment that we are making in our schools—both revenue and capital, and distributed more fairly through the national funding formula—will help us to achieve that.
I thank all hon. and right hon. Members who have taken part in this debate. Let me tell that the Minister that I am going to mark my own homework. I will give myself four out of 10, because I have obviously not managed to convey the level of frustration that my teachers have been experiencing. The statistics are all fabulous and wonderful, but there is a reason why I am no good at maths, because they actually do not mean a lot to me. To me, they mean that there is a great effort on behalf of this Government to do the right thing from current underfunding, but the reality is that teachers on the ground face huge pressures, and we have got to look into this.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said that teachers are running on empty, and he is not alone. I did not refer to attainments in St Albans because I know that we do very well. However, as a former teacher, I recognise that there is value added that does not always show too well in attainment charts. Nevertheless, teachers have put in a lot of effort to bring pupils from a very low base up to a higher base, and we cannot just say that because pupils have been achieving, funding is therefore not needed. That is not the case. All schools and all teachers should have the resources they need. I will keep pressing on this issue, because this is something that we need to take forward collaboratively, because otherwise we would be letting down the children of the future. So I am sorry to say that I will put my dunce’s cap on and say that I could not persuade the Minister today.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order no. 10(6)).
Asylum Seekers: Right to Work
I beg to move,
That this House has considered asylum seekers’ right to work.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I am grateful that this debate has been granted. I am also grateful to those right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken to me about this important issue and those who have been able to join us today.
Throughout my time as a Member of Parliament, my constituency has been a dispersal area for asylum seekers, so I have seen both models—allowing asylum seekers to work and not allowing them to do so—under Governments of different political persuasions. However, since 2002, regulations have slowly changed, and now most people seeking asylum are completely unable to work. Until 2002, people seeking asylum in the United Kingdom could apply for permission to work if they had been waiting six months or more for an initial decision on their asylum claim. In July 2002, that provision was withdrawn, except in exceptional cases.
In February 2005, there was a further change: a new immigration rule was introduced to allow people seeking asylum to apply for permission to work in the UK if they had been waiting over 12 months for an initial decision on their asylum claim. Most recently, in 2010, the right to work after 12 months was extended to those who had made further submissions on their claim. At the same time, however, the right to work was restricted to jobs on the shortage occupation list, which is a restricted list that includes nuclear medical practitioners —or, in parlance that the rest of us might understand, radiographers—and classical ballet dancers.
The Home Office’s target for decisions on asylum cases is six months. In the most recent immigration statistics, released in the second quarter of this year, the number of main applicants waiting over six months for a decision on their asylum claim increased. For main applicants and dependents, 48% of people waiting for an initial decision had been waiting for over six months.
The right hon. Lady’s constituency is next to mine, so I fully understand some of the problems that she is raising, and I agree that we need to have a good look at them. A large number of asylum seekers have some very good qualifications, but cannot get the right to work, and some of them have young families to take care of. That drives them into destitution, to say the least. The Home Office now has to look at the asylum process and speed it up but, more importantly, try to give those people work where they can.
The hon. Gentleman is indeed my next-door neighbour in the west midlands, where we have enjoyed an incredible economic boom since the downturn in 2008. A number of businesses are short of skilled labour, which is one of the things that has held our region back, yet asylum seekers waiting for an initial decision have the kind of skills that our industries so desperately need. As a west midlands MP, I find it difficult to ignore that fact.
I thank the right hon. Lady for raising this important issue. The Government have been able to allocate some Syrian families to Newtownards, the major town of in my constituency. In conjunction with local community groups and local churches, we have come together to find those people accommodation and get their children into school, but also enable some access to English language classes, which will enable them to apply for jobs. With all the good will that clearly exists, with Government allocating asylum seekers locations to be housed in and the local community coming together to help, does the right hon. Lady feel that there is a need to do something with English language classes—not a voluntary group, which is the way it is being done in Newtownards, but something separate from Government? Those classes enable asylum seekers to get jobs.
As a linguist, the issue of English language learning for refugees and asylum seekers is close to my heart. If people cannot speak the language of the country that they are in, it is difficult for them to work there, so that learning is indispensable. Like the hon. Gentleman, I have had Syrian families dispersed to my constituency, and I was delighted to discover at a fringe meeting at Conservative party conference that one young Syrian lady had managed to get employment with Starbucks. A number of employers in this country go out of their way to provide job opportunities for asylum seekers, but he is absolutely right that being able to speak the language is a prerequisite.
I am grateful that the right hon. Lady has secured this important debate. In my surgeries, I have had a City banker who is now completely destitute, with no recourse to public funds, and somebody who works in the hospitality sector, at a time when we desperately need hospitality workers and care workers. Is it not right that these people should, first of all, be able to work, but that they should at least receive some resources to be able to feed their families?
As I will illustrate shortly with some case studies, being able to work transforms the situation of asylum seekers. It hugely helps their mental health, because they can integrate better, and they contribute to our economy, which is a positive for the host nation.
Waiting indefinitely for the determination of a claim can have serious effects on mental wellbeing. I have seen that all too often in my constituency, because it is a dispersal area. I have seen young men in particular who are very depressed and isolated, and even suicidal at times. I put myself in their shoes: if I had to live on £5.39 a day, struggling to support a family while feeling that my talents, my education, and everything I had learned was wasted, I would feel really down. Sadly, in those moments of isolation, I would be focused on the reasons I had left my country of origin, and some of the terrors that had caused me to flee my home. I have seen far too many asylum seekers in my surgery who have been depressed by their experience, and enabling them to work would, I think, be transformational.
On the positive side, I will share the experience of some of my constituents who managed to get work. I remember well a group of Iraqi Kurdish asylum seekers who managed to get work in a food factory. While it was not a particularly pleasant job, the men were happy. They were only earning the minimum wage, but even that filled them with pride. It meant that they were no longer completely reliant on the state, and while they were out working in that food factory they had a sense of community, both within their Kurdish community and the wider community working in that factory.
Another example from my constituency—one I am never going to forget—is the very long drawn-out battle that I had to solve the asylum claim of a lady from the Congo, who fled after her husband was executed in front of her. It took me eight years to solve that case, and not surprisingly, she was deeply depressed. Many was the weekend after my surgery when I lay awake at night, worrying about this woman and her very young child. You can imagine how I felt when I arrived at my surgery, opened the door, and saw this young woman with a smile from ear to ear and a little thank-you card for me, as her right to remain had been granted. Already, she was working as a care assistant in a local care home, contributing to our economy. I am never going to forget that as long as I live.
Even the opportunity to volunteer can break the cycle of depression and hopelessness. A gentleman called Godfrey arrived in the UK from Uganda and spent a considerable amount of time in the asylum system, and was not allowed to work. During that time he volunteered for several organisations, including the British Red Cross, and attended employability training with the support organisation Restore. In recent years, he has been employed, first in the care sector and then in housing support. His experiences in the asylum system have made him passionate about helping others who, in his view, are worse off than him. Inability to work, Godfrey argues, can lead to problems of isolation among people seeking asylum, including mental health issues, diabetes, blood pressure problems, stress, and the depression I have referred to. Worse, he has known friends forced into poverty and made vulnerable to abuse and manipulation, such as through gangs, prostitution and drug trafficking. There are countless human examples demonstrating the capacity of work to aid integration and promote good mental health among those seeking asylum. It is a good thing.
On the right hon. Lady’s point about positive integration, is she encouraged by the poll that British Future did, which indicated that 71% of the British public support the right to work as a means towards integration?
I was just coming on to the more recent research showing changing social attitudes. I very much support the research by the Lift the Ban coalition, which suggests that the current system is wasteful as it fails to harness the skills and talents of often well-educated individuals. Some 94% of people seeking asylum want to work. Some 74% have secondary-level education or higher and 37% have a degree, which is comparable with the UK population, where 42% of people have a degree. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has also recognised the gap, saying that allowing asylum seekers in the UK greater access to the labour markets would not only increase individuals’ self-reliance but avoid the loss of skills. Abilities and skills need to be used if they are not to become rusty or obsolete.
Allowing asylum seekers to work could save public money as well as provide an economic boost. Lift the Ban estimates that if 50% of the people waiting six months for a decision on their initial asylum application were able to work full time on the national average wage, the Government would receive an extra £31.6 million a year from their tax and national insurance contributions. Moving them off subsistence support but retaining support for accommodation would save the public purse £10.8 million a year. The total net gain would be much as £42.4 million.
Among European countries, the UK prescribes the lengthiest restrictions before people seeking asylum are given the right to work. In that regard, we are something of an international outlier. In comparable countries, people are largely given the opportunity to support themselves sooner. For example, the USA, Spain and the Netherlands all allow work after six months, Germany and Switzerland allow work after three months, and Canada allows asylum seekers to work on day one. In the UK, however, asylum seekers must wait a minimum of 12 months before they are given the right to work. I ask the Government to review that.
There is an indication of a wider shift in public opinion, as the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) pointed out. There is a letter in today’s Daily Telegraph from 16 religious community leaders who have signed an open letter commending the efforts of Lift the Ban and calling for the right to work to be restored after asylum seekers have waited six months for a decision. As the hon. Gentleman said, polling undertaken this year shows that when asked, 71% of people agree with the following statement: “When people come to the UK seeking asylum it is important they integrate, learn English and get to know people. It would help integration if asylum seekers were allowed to work if their claim takes more than six months.”
Given public support for such a change and that in these times of near full employment we are short of workers in key areas, surely we can now look at asylum seekers’ right to work more holistically and in a way that better respects their human dignity. I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for attending the debate today, and I look forward to hearing whether the Government will consider allowing people seeking asylum and their adult dependents the right to work, unconstrained by the shortage occupation list.
I did wonder whether the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) was going to contribute. I am not sure whether she had indicated as such to you, Mr Betts.
First, I want to apologise. I was not just at the Macmillan coffee morning; I was the host. I was giving a speech, and it was a very difficult one to cut short. I apologise. I will not take up the Minister’s time further.
Thank you. That at least clears that up. I very much appreciate the words of wisdom I have heard on many occasions from the hon. Lady and my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), who secured the debate. I absolutely recognise that the rights of asylum seekers and refugees are an important issue to them. It is a subject on which they have spoken many times in this House, with much knowledge and erudition.
This debate on access to work for those claiming asylum is important. We can see that, for a 30-minute debate, it has provoked a lot of interest from the House. Members may well want to intervene, and I will certainly be happy to take interventions, but I particularly want to thank the Lift the Ban coalition for its recent report, which was sent to me. It raised a number of important points.
Members will know that the UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it. This Government are committed to delivering a fair and humane asylum system. We are tackling the delays in decision making to ensure that most asylum seekers receive a decision within six months. In the year ending June 2018, we granted protection or other forms of leave to more than 14,000 people, and we are increasing integration support for all refugees to help them rebuild their lives here and realise their potential.
I am sure Members share my appreciation for the excellent work that all agencies do to help and protect these very vulnerable people, but our protection does not end there. All those claiming asylum are provided with accommodation and support to meet their essential living needs if they would otherwise be destitute. The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) raised that issue. They are entitled to full access to healthcare and, for those under 18, access to full-time education. Those recognised as refugees, including those resettled here, have immediate and unrestricted access to work and other services that can support their integration.
As might be expected from a former Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, I certainly recognise the importance of work when it comes to physical and mental wellbeing, building a wider sense of contribution to our society and community integration.
The Minister knows that I have a lot of respect for her, but given that the Government rightly put a lot of emphasis on tackling loneliness—there are all sorts of strategies about that—surely she can understand that one way of tackling loneliness for asylum seekers would be allowing them to work.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and important point. When I was at the DWP, I was often to be found saying that work was good not only for people’s financial wellbeing, but for their emotional and physical wellbeing. We know that children will have better outcomes if their parents are in work.
I am oft to be heard talking about finding better routes into work for our refugee populations. I absolutely recognise that we have a great deal of work to do in that respect, because the employment outcomes for refugees are way below the general population, and way below where we would want them to be, notwithstanding the fact that we know that many people who come here, particularly under the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme, have specific challenges, which may be about long-term sickness or having large families or children with disabilities. We in this place and in this Chamber will all know that we have established many of our networks, relationships and friendships through our colleagues and through being at work. It is important that we find successful routes in.
I am referencing refugee communities in particular, but it is not lost on me that I receive many representations from right hon. and hon. Members, from the non-governmental organisation community and from individual asylum seekers whom I have had the opportunity and privilege to meet. They, too, would like the opportunity to be able to make a contribution and establish the same levels of networks and friendships that we all do through work.
I am listening carefully to the complex arguments about permitting asylum seekers to work, and I will of course consider further evidence that comes forward. As many Members will know, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden rehearsed, the Government’s current policy is to grant those seeking asylum in the UK permission to work where their claim, through no fault of their own, has not been decided after 12 months. Those allowed to work are limited to jobs on the shortage occupation list, which is based on expert advice from the Migration Advisory Committee. My right hon. Friend made her point absolutely perfectly by referring to ballet dancers.
The policy aims to protect the resident labour market and ensure that any employment meets our needs for skilled labour. Members will know that the shortage occupation list is currently under review. All asylum seekers can make a valuable contribution to their local communities by undertaking volunteering activities. My right hon. Friend referenced the event she hosted recently alongside Refugee Action. We heard about the experiences of a number of people who had been through the VPRS and the asylum system more generally. The point about language was made repeatedly.
I was most struck by a young lady who had come here on the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme. She had been in the country for only six months and she used what I regarded as a terrible term, which I utterly reject, when she said, “When I came here, I was useless.” That really struck home because in no way was that young woman useless. Within six months she had got herself to such a level of English that she gave a word-perfect speech to a packed room at the Conservative party conference. That will not win many accolades from some Members here today, but conference is a tough gig. It is not always the easiest audience to speak to, but she did it beautifully. She said, “Six months ago I was useless, but now I am sitting here, working, and able to give a speech to you all.” It was hugely impressive. We also heard from a gentleman called Godfrey—the same gentleman my right hon. Friend referenced in her speech—who spoke at length about how volunteering had enabled him to feel that he was making an important contribution and given him back a sense of self-worth.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about how his community had wrapped its arms around Syrian families who had been resettled under VPRS. The work that we have done on community sponsorship, learnt from other countries such as Canada, has absolutely shown us that communities are willing to accept and welcome refugees into their midst. They are often best placed to help and are incredibly supportive, providing a network that enables refugees to make friends they can turn to for support in times of crisis. I might sound like a stuck record, but also provided are those all-important routes into work, which we all recognise are important.
Will the Minister give way?
Order. Hon. Members cannot intervene from the Front Bench.
Oh. You have educated me, Mr Betts, but I will certainly be happy to take up any issues that the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise with me outside the Chamber.
Our position is also comparable and consistent with the immigration rules for non-EEA nationals wishing to come here and work in the UK, but that approach could be undermined if non-EEA nationals were able to bypass the rules by lodging unfounded asylum claims. It is an unfortunate reality that some migrants make such claims to stay in the UK, and it is reasonable to assume that they do so because of the benefits, real or perceived, that they think they will gain.
Currently, around half of those who seek asylum in the UK are found not to need international protection. Allowing earlier or unrestricted access to work risks undermining our asylum system by encouraging unfounded claims from those seeking employment opportunities for which they might not otherwise be eligible.
May I clarify something with the Minister? When she gives figures on those refused asylum, do they take into account the numbers who, having been refused initially, will subsequently be granted asylum on appeal? It is those cases that I am particularly concerned about.
I believe that is taken into account. The hon. Lady makes an important point, because I am conscious that—I will probably say something about this later—for both original applications and appeals, the system takes far too long. We know that throughout the appeal system many people bring forward additional information that, had we had the opportunity to consider it in the first place, would have led to a case being granted at the first opportunity. I am firmly of the view that we need to continue to do more not simply to speed up the processes, but to make sure that the decisions made are the right decisions in the first place, and we need mechanisms whereby people can bring forward additional information throughout the process. Also, the headquarters in Bootle is trialling a system where we sit asylum decision makers with both junior barristers and presenting officers so that they can better understand and learn what type of case is most likely to be granted at appeal so that cases can be granted earlier. They have a much better opportunity to learn from each other and to make sure that the right decisions are made in the first place.
I recognise that there is a significant debate about the evidence to demonstrate that policy changes made by Government act as a pull factor. I am not pretending for one moment that migration choices are not complex, and I know that isolating the impact of individual policy changes is far from straightforward, but there is evidence that policies affect migrant behaviour. It is also reasonable to assume that economic incentive is at least one element in a range of factors that encourage people to choose to move to a particular destination after first reaching a safe country.
I congratulate the Minister on what has been a thoughtful and helpful speech. Can she point us to the evidence about pull factors? The Home Office’s own work on this issue indicates that the right to work is not a pull factor.
I can point to evidence from Germany, where a change in policy saw a significant increase in the numbers arriving. Interestingly—the hon. Gentleman might be fascinated by this—that was a point that I removed from my speech. I am conscious that we are concerned about pull factors. We do not want anybody making risky or perilous journeys with the aim of an economic goal, as opposed to fleeing from persecution, but of course we recognise that they can be in a position where they cannot make a choice and have to make such a journey. I felt that the message given by that chunk of my speech was too harsh. We have a fantastic reputation in this country for being a safe haven for those in need, and I really want to build on that. However, I want to build on it through schemes such as VPRS, Mandate and Gateway. Various hon. Members here have heard me speak previously about ambitions to turn them into far more holistic and comprehensive schemes instead of what strikes me as a piecemeal approach.
Will the Minister give way?
I will give way, although I am conscious that I am running out of time.
The Minister is being incredibly generous. On that point, I welcome her commitment to more holistic schemes. Does she therefore agree that if we want to prevent dangerous journeys, one of the best things we can do is honour the commitments we have made under the UN global compact on refugees and actually expand resettlement? Let us make it easier so that people do not feel forced to make dangerous journeys and let us encourage our allies and other countries to do the same.
The hon. Lady is right that we need a whole-route approach. We have to look to where we can build stronger alliances, but I am also very clear that we must make sure that refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. We know that in many cases that does not happen. We also know that in many cases—I referenced this earlier—refugees who have been granted status find it difficult to enter the job market, but that is for very understandable reasons. Rather than encourage further integration for those who might eventually not qualify for protection, our priority is focused on our efforts to support those who most need it.
We are taking action to support refugees to integrate and find employment as quickly as possible so that they can establish themselves and build lives here. The “Integrated Communities Strategy” Green Paper, published in March this year, underlined that commitment. It also set out the Government’s priorities to focus on English language, employment, mental health and cultural orientation. When I was in Jordan during the summer recess, I was struck by the work going on there on cultural orientation for people who were yet to be resettled. There were interesting and fascinating discussions in the session that I was able to be part of, but what really struck me was the importance of doing more on that front. In many cases people who are eligible and accepted for resettlement will wait many months before they make the journey here. We should not miss the opportunity to make sure that their cultural orientation and language preparation is as good as it can be. The Syrian refugees who had some level of English were really keen to use it, practise it and have conversations, whereas others in the group clearly felt much more isolated because they did not have that opportunity.
We will publish our response to the consultation later this autumn. There is a great deal more to be said about integration and training and employment. One of my first visits as a Minister was to Bradford, where I visited the specialist training and employment programme, which was all about moving refugees into work and helping them build a CV, improve their English and then find the great employment opportunities that we know are out there, with companies such as Ben & Jerry’s, with its ice academy, and Starbucks. Indeed, the STEP—skills, training and employment pathways—programme was working very closely with Tesco.
I have very few moments left, but I want to reassure Members that I am listening carefully to the argument. There is much merit in it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden has certainly conveyed her views extremely clearly and well. The issue is multifaceted and complex. I look forward to further discussions with Members and NGO colleagues. I remain receptive to the views and evidence presented to me on the right to work. However, it is important that we recognise that there is a balance to be struck and that we make sure we make the right decisions.
Question put and agreed to.
Poverty in Liverpool
[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered poverty in Liverpool.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I am pleased to be joined by my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in Liverpool. Together we will speak up for the communities of our great city and bear witness to the terrible realities for too many of poverty in Liverpool. I know that sadly we will hear some heartbreaking stories of avoidable deprivation, unfair disadvantage and incredible resilience in the face of some insurmountable odds. I hope that the Minister will listen closely and pass on what he hears to his ministerial colleagues, not least because Monday’s Budget will afford his Government an opportunity to put some things right.
I am very proud to call Liverpool my home. It is a vibrant, proud, creative and dynamic city. We are celebrating the 10th anniversary of Liverpool being the European capital of culture. Just last month the Giants came to Liverpool, attracting more than 1.3 million people from around the world to our streets. When we talk about poverty in Liverpool, we are talking about poverty in a hard-working, proud and resilient city. It is a global city that takes knocks and bounces with a smile and a joke. The ancestors of the people of Liverpool sailed the oceans to New York and Sydney and back again. They fled famine, and forged new lives on Liverpool’s streets. They are the people—many still with us—who kept the docks working as bombs fell all around them, and ensured that Britain did not starve.
How dare some people do Liverpool down. I reflect on the comments—I have made him aware that I would mention him—of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who has accused the city of wallowing in victim status, and of having
“an excessive predilection for welfarism”.
Let me be clear that Liverpool’s people are not victims. Liverpool does not want welfare, and it certainly does not want charity. Liverpool wants jobs, homes, skills, investments and opportunities—and the people of Liverpool will do the rest. As the right hon. Gentleman’s great hero Winston Churchill once said:
“Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”
Liverpool’s strength is its people: the entrepreneurs, writers, artists, actors, poets, musicians, designers, restauranteurs, architects and filmmakers who have carved out a place in world history, and our teachers, shop workers, careworkers, street cleaners, bus drivers and so many more whose hard work and grit give the city its beating heart and soul. However, Liverpool is also a city mired in poverty, which saps the ambitions of our young, mars the autumn days of the elderly, denies opportunities, and can fray the fabric of our city.
A couple who bought a house in the Picton ward of my constituency wrote to me just the other month, saying that they had witnessed something horrible. They wrote:
“'As we walked up the street, I saw two boys who must have been around 10 years old. They were opening people’s bins and seeing what they could find.”
The couple approached the children—it was 11 o’clock at night—and discovered that they had collected a discarded hoody and some half-empty bottles, including shampoo and shower gel. The couple wrote:
“This is not the Liverpool we know and has left us angry, outraged and very upset.”
Those constituents of mine have a right to be angry. We should all be angry. Let me not mince my words, because poverty kills. Infant mortality is a key indicator of poverty in our country. In 2014, across England and Wales the death rate of babies under the age of one was six in every 1,000 births. In Liverpool, the figure was nine in every 1,000 births—50% higher. In Liverpool, the avoidable death rate from diseases such as cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease and diabetes is 326 people in 100,000; in the Chilterns, it is 138 per 100,000. Life expectancy is 10.1 years lower for men and 8.1 years lower for women in the most deprived areas of Liverpool compared with some of the least deprived.
Let me briefly set out some city-wide context. I am grateful to the always excellent Commons Library, and Liverpool City Council’s policy team, for collating some of the facts that I will present. Liverpool is the fourth most deprived local authority in our country. Alongside Middlesbrough and Manchester, Liverpool is ranked joint most fuel poverty deprived local authority in England—that refers to people being unable to afford to keep their homes adequately heated, which is particularly relevant as we embark on the winter months.
Since 2012, Trussell Trust foodbanks in the city have fed 108,635 people, 36% of them children. Last year alone, more than 6,700 children had to rely on the generosity of our city’s food banks, and in the same period Liverpool City Council has made more than 13,000 crisis payments to help people with the cost of food, fuel and clothing. That was a 6% increase on the previous year. In fact, the council spends £23 million a year dealing with a range of issues surrounding poverty and homelessness to try to prevent that poverty from turning into destitution.
Despite those enormous efforts, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that Liverpool was second in the city rankings on destitution. Let us be clear about what we mean when we talk about destitution, because it is the most extreme form of poverty. It means someone sleeping rough for more than a day, not eating properly for two days, being unable to heat or light their home for five days, going without proper clothes or toiletries, or receiving an income so low that those basic essentials will stay out of reach. That is the reality for too many. Sustained low income coupled with a financial shock were the most significant triggers for a plunge into destitution, against a backdrop of benefit, health and debt issues.
Liverpool was the first council in the country to carry out an assessment of the combined impact of the Government’s changes to various welfare policies. It found that 3,400 households across the city with a long-term sick or disabled resident have been hit by the bedroom tax. It found that families with children have been hit the hardest by the combination of a freeze in child benefit, reductions in housing benefit rates in the private sector, the introduction of the bedroom tax, and the benefit cap—policies introduced by the coalition Government and continued under the current Administration. It found that young people aged 16 to 29 account for one in three applications for council emergency payments, that single private tenants aged 25 to 35 have seen a cut of around £34 a week in their housing benefit, and that women in our city account for 60% of those affected by a cut in council tax support, and 65% of those hit by the bedroom tax.
By 2020, £444 million will have been slashed from our council’s central Government support since 2010. When adjusted for inflation, that equates to a cut of 64% of the council’s overall budget over the last decade. Of course, times have been tough everywhere. Can we be accused of special pleading, or parading our poverty? No. Government policies have created more need, while at the same time Government cuts have made it harder to meet those needs. The Government have changed the funding formulae that once helped to support the most deprived cities such as Liverpool with historically high rates of poverty and low council tax bases.
Central Government support has been slashed and councils such as Liverpool have been told to make up the difference from business rates and council tax payers. However, we are unable to replace that funding with higher demands on our hard-pressed council tax payers and businesses, because such a high proportion of our properties are in the lowest band: council tax band A. In fact, council tax across the city raises just 11% of the council’s annual spending on its vital services. If Liverpool had experienced the average cut for local authorities across the country from 2010 to 2020, our city would be more than £70 million better off. Instead, it is having to deliver services with 3,000 fewer staff.
According to End Child Poverty’s analysis, 32,000 children are growing up in poverty across our city. In my constituency alone, 6,129 children—one in three—live in poverty. In one ward, Picton, more than half of children are growing up in poverty, while in nearby Kensington and Fairfield ward the figure is 45%. Figures from the Children’s Society show that approximately 3,300 children in my constituency live in families who experience problem debt; I do not need to tell the Minister all the pressures and challenges that come with that. Across Liverpool, more than 17,000 children receive free school meals, and there are continuing concerns that during school holidays too many of them are going hungry.
I congratulate Liverpool City Council on ensuring that all our children’s centres have stayed open despite Government cuts. Picton and Kensington children’s centre has been working with the Granby Toxteth Development Trust to provide meals during the school holidays. It says:
“We are dealing with huge issues of food poverty, and as of September we have also built in after school play sessions with a meal included to tackle this.”
I anticipate that hon. Friends will want to talk in more detail about how our amazing football fans are collecting every week for their city’s food banks. They do not just sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”; they prove it with their generosity—and not just the Reds, but the Blues, too.
Not long after I was elected in 2012, I became the first Member to secure a debate about the food banks popping up across the country to patch the holes that the coalition Government’s decimating policies had created in the safety net for those most in need. But let us pause for a moment and ask: why, in 2018, in one of the richest countries in the world, do we have food banks at all? Why have more than a million people had to access emergency food aid on their own or their family’s behalf in the past 12 months? That is an incredibly sorry state of affairs and we should all be ashamed of it.
Food banks stand as a testament to the generosity and decency of everyone across our country, but the citizens of Liverpool in particular. Like many hon. Friends, I have joined the biannual food collection co-ordinated by the Trussell Trust in local supermarkets. At a recent collection in Tesco, I was told that the people of Liverpool have been the most generous donors in the country. Whenever I have been involved in food collections, I have been struck by how many people stop and say, “This could be me one day—I know that I am just one weekly or monthly pay cheque away from being in that situation.” It takes just one financial shock to affect a household’s income, because so many are living literally from month to month.
Food banks also stand witness to the fact that Ministers are losing sight of their responsibility to protect the welfare of citizens in our country. Kensington and Fairfield ward in my constituency had the largest Trussell Trust food voucher count this year. In just two wards—Kensington and Fairfield, and Picton—more than 2,700 adults have been fed by food banks in the past year. Issuing food bank vouchers during my constituency surgeries and via my caseworker is a regular occurrence.
I am grateful to the Liverpool Echo for its campaigning work on poverty. An article quotes one of my local food bank volunteers, Kathleen Quayle:
“The foodbank gets busier as the weather changes. From about October, when it gets colder, people are having to choose between heating and food. A lot of the people who come are ill and hungry. They’re exhausted…You can see it in their faces and that’s a travesty in a society like ours.”
I echo that sentiment. I have made several food bank visits, and I am sure that my hon. Friends will talk about similar experiences. It is just appalling to bear witness to people having to rely on emergency food aid, through no fault of their own.
We face the spectre of universal credit arriving in Liverpool this autumn. Just this weekend, the Liverpool Echo published a story about “James”, who is originally from my constituency and now lives in another part of the city. He lost his job and was put on universal credit. He is just 31, but his experience was so traumatising that he considered suicide and his wife turned to sex work to bring some income into the family. With no money for three months and all their possessions sold, they were up to their eyes in short-term high-interest loans and left destitute and abandoned by our Government. That is happening now, not just in Liverpool but in other cities. It is absolutely appalling.
Maggie O’Carroll, who leads our local enterprise hub, says that more than 425 businesses have been established by unemployed people and nurtured through the hub since 2016. As I said, ours is a city of creative and determined people, but Maggie warns:
“Universal Credit poses a very real barrier to those who depend on benefits and wish to become self-employed to launch their own start-up business.”
I ask the Minister to respond to that point in particular, because it has so many implications that have not been addressed.
Just last month, Liverpool City Council published its own forensic analysis, “Universal Credit: Unintended Consequences”, which should be in every Minister’s red box. It shows that it is the poorest, sickest and most disabled people—who are living in the city’s most deprived wards and have already been hit hardest by the bedroom tax, failed personal independence payment assessments and housing benefit changes—who will suffer most from the dangerously out-of-control roll-out of universal credit. Debbie Nolan, health programme manager at Liverpool Citizens Advice, says:
“Payment delays and high rates of deductions once UC is in place will cause unprecedented hardship for the most vulnerable”.
To those who are looking for work, it is unfathomable that in the past year the Government have closed jobcentres across our city. In my constituency, Edge Hill and Wavertree jobcentres have both closed, which follows the closure of Old Swan jobcentre in 2012. More than 3,000 people in Liverpool, Wavertree are being denied the local help that they need to find work. I have highlighted in debates and campaigns the distances that my constituents have to travel—another barrier that makes it even more challenging for them to get on with finding work—but it has fallen on deaf ears.
Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that nationally, from May 2017 to April 2018, 359,000 universal credit claimants were referred for sanction decisions, of which 71% related to attending or participating in work-focused interviews. Looking at the jobcentre closures in my constituency, it is not hard to understand why so many people have been affected. I am already hearing from single parents who want to get to their jobcentre but cannot afford the bus because they have not been given their payments. They are having to walk for miles, and they cannot get childcare. I have raised those very real challenges with the Government but they have not been addressed. The latest statistics show that 5% of universal credit sanctions lasted for 27 weeks—more than half a year—with no access to support. That is not acceptable.
Increasing numbers of people are homeless on our streets in Liverpool, despite our council spending £12 million to alleviate the worst distress. That situation is replicated in other cities, including here in the capital. Other constituents of mine have found themselves shut out of work after episodes of ill health because our NHS regularly misses its targets for cancer and other treatment. Families are giving up work to look after elderly parents because our social services cannot afford to provide support. Parents are losing work to look after children who are too ill to go to school, but have been told that they are not ill enough to meet the rising thresholds for mental health and social services.
For example, there is the case of Ms M, a single parent of a young son with autism, who is working three days a week and was making use of 30 hours’ free childcare, only to have it withdrawn because she got lost in a bureaucratic maze. She was trying to do the right thing, but is now facing the risk of having to give up work. Where is the humanity? Where, indeed, is the cold, hard economic realisation that failing to properly and flexibly support people such as Ms M and her son to stay out of poverty raises costs for everyone?
What needs to be done? When the Chancellor delivers the Budget he needs to restore funds to our council and recommit to future Budget allocations that reflect the depth of deprivation experienced by cities such as Liverpool. Today, Liverpool City Council is forced to spend money that it should be investing in the future on patching up the holes in the Government’s botched welfare reforms, including £3.5 million on protecting 42,000 people from the full impact of Government reductions in council tax support and £2.7 million on more than 13,000 crisis payments to help people with the cost of food, fuel, clothing and furniture. A total of £9.2 million has been provided since dedicated Government funding was withdrawn.
Secondly, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must invest in Liverpool and its people. I anticipate that the Minister will tell us today that employment is up but will not mention how precarious much of that employment in our city is, thanks to the widespread and increased use of zero and low-hours contracts. He will not mention that unemployment rates across Liverpool are consistently above the national average and wages below the national average. The median household income for Liverpool is £20,373, which is nearly £11,000 below the UK median of £31,310.
We need a proper industrial strategy, including a regional investment bank, real apprenticeships and lifelong skills training to grow jobs, grow incomes and let our people grow tall. We need to devolve real economic powers to the city region. Liverpool City Region Mayor, Steve Rotheram, has made a great start in bringing our communities together, but now the Government need to get behind his and the combined authority’s efforts to transform our regional economy.
Those of us who call Liverpool home are proud of our city, but we are shamed by its poverty. We are not looking for a handout or even a hand-up. We want a fair deal to allow us to be in charge of our own destinies. Instead, the Government are largely responsible for the poverty of too many of my constituents.
The Prime Minister told us in her conference speech the other week that austerity is over. Ministers need to set out what that will mean for the people in Liverpool. They need to acknowledge the challenge that we face, do everything possible to apologise for it but also, most importantly, help us to do everything possible to turn it around.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) on securing the debate and on her excellent and graphic description of the reality of poverty in Liverpool for far too many people.
There is no doubt that the city of Liverpool has been transformed since the days when Margaret Thatcher’s Government planned what they called its managed decline, thanks to sustained investment by the European Union over nearly 30 years, at a time when Liverpool was abandoned by central Government. It has also been helped by support from the UK Government since 1997.
Liverpool, Riverside includes a thriving city centre, the iconic waterfront and world-class universities. It is a top tourist spot and the cruise liners have returned, yet too many people in local neighbourhoods struggle with poverty, which means struggling for their day-to-day existence. As my hon. Friend said, Liverpool is the fourth most deprived local authority in the United Kingdom. Three wards in Liverpool, Riverside—Kirkdale, Princes Park and Riverside—contain some of the poorest areas in the whole country.
There are two shameful statistics that epitomise some of the problems of poverty and deprivation experienced by people in Riverside. Only 67% of 16 to 24-year-olds are economically active—regarded fit and able for work—compared with 78% nationally. Such depths of deprivation are sometimes caused by ill health or long-term problems that people experience where the economic base is in fact very low. The second figure is that 40% of children in Liverpool, Riverside—6,500 young people—suffer poverty. That is a shameful figure. Many of those children are in working families. Those are just some indicators of the depths of poverty in some communities in Liverpool, Riverside, despite the great successes of the city of Liverpool and its positive developments over the last 20 years or so. What should be done to address this?
First, we must stop the cuts and fund public services. We must recognise the importance of the public sector, specifically local government and the national health service. Liverpool City Council provides a lifeline to people in need, as well as providing support to local communities and showing civic leadership for the whole city. There should be no more cuts to Liverpool City Council. It is vital that education and social care are funded properly, both to deal with immediate need and to equip young people with the abilities and the confidence to look forward to a more positive future.
Only yesterday in this House, I met young people leaving care who were very concerned about the lack of support given on leaving the care system and moving into adulthood. They were very positive young people who very firmly wanted to be successful citizens, but they were very concerned. That lack of support is not being addressed as local authorities face cut after cut. Liverpool City Council has already lost at least 50% of its central Government grant. As local government looks ahead to the planned removal of all central Government funding, it is staring into the financial abyss.
Secondly, the Government must stop the planned roll-out of universal credit in Liverpool. Without major alterations, it will simply cause more poverty. According to the Resolution Foundation, 3.2 million working families nationally will lose £48 per week on universal credit. We have already heard about the problems of people being forced to go to food banks to eat and the stress, as well as loss of income, that people on universal credit are forced to experience. I say very clearly to the Government that they should stop the planned roll-out of universal credit in Liverpool, Riverside. There are reports that it might be about to happen, and we deserve to know exactly what the position is.
We are often told that the route out of poverty is through people getting a job. Where that is possible, I certainly agree, but there are many people who are genuinely too ill to work and that has to be recognised. For many people, getting a job is the way out of poverty and I support that, which also means that I support investment in the local economy. Regional strategies are vital. There are opportunities for jobs in Liverpool’s key sectors, such as biotech, vehicle manufacturing, the creative arts—including the excellent Baltic Creative—the maritime sector and others, but there have to be specific initiatives that look at what is happening within local communities as well and help people to move from unemployment into work. Above all, there has to be the right level, type and quality of education and skills training for people to enable them to take up those new jobs. That means no more cuts to the City of Liverpool College, which is a vital provider of skills training and further education. As responsibility for skills training is transferred from central Government to Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham under the devolution agreement, it is very important that funding is not lost. Specifically, it is important that the millions of pounds of European Union funding that now go into skills training in Liverpool do not disappear. I ask the Minister for a specific assurance that that is being considered, because it is very important for the future.
I cannot end without mentioning the threats that withdrawal from the European Union will pose to employment and wellbeing in Liverpool. There is a threat to the economy as a whole, which means a threat to jobs and to public funds and finances, estimated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be as high as £80 billion in the event of no deal. With reduced public funds, there will be less money to pay for education, social services, policing and the whole range of other vital services provided by the public sector.
I conclude by restating that Liverpool has outstanding strengths—its people are perhaps its greatest strength—and has made great strides in recent years. It has recovered from being a place that was described as a “wasteland”, when people were leaving the city—all that is well in the past. It is now a positive, creative force, and more people are coming to Liverpool. It is a place for the future, but the lives of too many people are blighted by poverty. It is indeed time to stop the cuts in public services and to support local communities.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) on securing the debate. She will see from the turnout that we are glad that she secured it and that we are keen to support her. I also congratulate her on the way she set out our basic concerns as representatives in this place of the great city of Liverpool.
The Prime Minister said something very important to her party conference: she said that austerity is over. I always like to listen to what Prime Ministers say at their party conference—it is always a very important speech. We will have the chance soon to judge the political coherence of this Conservative Government and how worthwhile or otherwise were the Prime Minister’s words at her party conference, because next week we will see whether the Chancellor acts on the declaration that austerity has ended. I can certainly say that at this time in Liverpool it does not feel like austerity has ended. If it is over, we in Liverpool will expect the Budget to deliver real relief for those in the city who are in poverty and hardship. We will expect the incomes of the poorest to improve as a direct result of the Budget measures that we will see from the Chancellor next week.
Many people in Liverpool really need the Chancellor to deliver on the Prime Minister’s promise to end austerity. Some of them are the most vulnerable people in our society—people who need the most support and who have endured eight long years of that support and their income being systemically removed and reduced by measure after measure from Governments that, from their perspective, do not seem to care about their lives or wellbeing.
I have said before that the use of food banks is an indication of a major crisis and desperation, often amounting to destitution. People do not go to food banks for fun; food banks are an indication of crisis. People are reluctant to go to food banks because they think it is humiliating and an indication of a personal failure to feed their families or to be able to live. No matter how compassionate and helpful the volunteers and staff who distribute food at those distribution points are, it does not take away the humiliation and pain felt by those who have to resort to food banks. Many of my constituents who have been in such a position have made that very clear when I have talked to them about it.
Last year the scale of the food crisis increased, as could be seen at the south Liverpool food bank and at the Knowsley food bank, which covers the Halewood part of my constituency. It is possible to extrapolate from those two centres’ figures that, just in my constituency, in 2017-18, 3,933 people were given emergency food packages to enable them to feed themselves and their families. Some 1,457 of those helped were children—the figure increased from the previous year, which itself had increased from the figure for year before, which had increased from the year before that. There have been increases for many years.
Last year, there was an 8% rise in the number of vouchers presented at the south Liverpool food bank and at distribution points in the Liverpool part of my constituency. In the Halewood part of Knowsley, which is in my constituency, the number of people who were helped increased by more than 20%. The number of children who were helped was up by more than 50%. In my constituency alone, more people were helped in one year than were helped by food banks in the whole of the UK in 2005. That is the reality.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree was correct to make it clear in her remarks that this should not be something that we accept as inevitable. There is nothing inevitable about having to use a food bank. It could be fixed by ensuring that people who are currently in that position have the income to look after themselves. I should make it clear that other, non-food bank, help is available in my constituency, but is not counted in the figures that I just set out. It includes organisations such as Can Cook, a charity based in Garston that provides free, freshly cooked meals to those in food poverty who need help. Although it ranges much more widely than Garston and Halewood, last year Can Cook provided 18,000 free, fresh meals to hungry people in the Liverpool city region, some of them in my constituency.
Things are worse than the Trussell Trust figures imply; the scale of the need is greater. The experience in my constituency is that the need for emergency food help, including food bank use, is increasing, and that the poverty that it represents is deepening. In a parliamentary answer to my question this week, the Government have yet again refused to take any action to begin to collect official statistics about the causes of such an increase in dependency on food banks, suggesting only that they will review existing sources of information to fill data gaps.
In my view, that is just not good enough. The Government seem to not want to know the truth, and so they do not bother to do research or collect statistics. I have been asking them for years to do that. I can tell the Minister what the main causes of food bank use are in my constituency: in the south Liverpool food bank, 49% of those who were helped said that the main cause of their food crisis was delays in the payment of benefits to which they are entitled, or changes to their benefits. Some 32% said the main reason was low income because of low wages, underemployment and not working enough hours to make ends meet at the end of the week or month. In Halewood, the figure for benefit delays and changes was also 49%, while the figure for low pay and lack of hours was lower, at 19%. Those figures are not untypical of Trussell Trust food banks around the country. When Ministers tell me, as they did in a recent parliamentary answer, that
“People use food banks for many reasons, and it would be misleading to link them to any single cause,”
they do not want to accept that the main causes of this increasing food crisis include their administration of the social security system and their austerity cuts to our safety net.
Things are about to get worse. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Dame Louise Ellman) spoke about the roll-out of universal credit in Liverpool, which is beginning to happen. The Trussell Trust tells us that where universal credit goes live, there is an average 52% increase in food bank use over the following year, compared with a 13% increase in the areas where universal credit has been operational for three months or less. The increase is there even after accounting for seasonal and other variations. In my constituency, only 13% of the households who are to be placed on universal credit have yet been put on to it, only 10% of the children who will be in households on universal credit have yet been affected, and only 2% of the households on sickness or incapacity benefits have yet been placed in that position. That amounts to a looming tsunami of further hardship, misery, poverty and hunger that the Government are about to unleash on some of the poorest and most vulnerable of my constituents. Like my hon. Friend, I urge the Government to stop and not to roll out universal credit in my constituency. I can tell the Minister now that it will cause more poverty, hardship and desperation if they press on as they have told us they will.
Riverside, a registered social landlord that covers my constituency, has been surveying some of its tenants about the impact of universal credit roll-out. It says that 7% of its tenants are on universal credit, but that their rent arrears amount to 18% of the rental debt owed. Average arrears for universal credit tenants are £600, compared with £218 for households not on universal credit. That is yet more evidence that Government policy is imposing hardship and poverty on some of my poorest constituents through their social security policy. Universal credit roll-out creates more debt and hardship and an inability to meet the basic expenses of living. That is clear from the experience of some of my constituents, who have come to be on universal credit ahead of the roll-out. I have given examples before in this Chamber and in the main Chamber—egregious examples of real hardship and pain caused by universal credit, administrative failures and by other problems with the benefit.
The Church of England and Children’s Society’s recent report “Not making ends meet” highlighted that poverty is not being caused by universal credit alone, and I agree. The lowering of the benefit cap, restrictions on help with housing costs and sustained low income, including in-work poverty, are also increasing problems. I sometimes wonder whether Ministers understand the degree to which multiple changes to benefits, with cuts that were planned and announced years ago but are only now being implemented, and loss of support from other sources, such as the local authority, can affect already vulnerable and poor individuals and families, for whom one more blow might be the final straw. Indeed, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report “Destitution in the UK 2018” made that point. It estimated that in 2017, across our nation, 1.5 million people were deemed to be destitute—unable to access the bare essentials to eat, stay warm and dry and keep clean. Food, clothing and heating were the most common essentials that people were without. Such destitution was found to be clustered in London and northern cities such as Liverpool, with Liverpool second only after Manchester in exhibiting the worst rates. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree also made reference to that study.
Since 2010, Liverpool has had the highest level of cuts in local authority funding. By 2020-21, almost 68% of its money will have been removed by central Government. That is £444 million-worth of cuts, despite increasing demand for the help that the city council provides for its poorer citizens. It provides a lot of help beyond the amount of money it is given by the Government to provide such help. The Liverpool citizens support scheme has seen a 5.7% increase in awards, mainly due to increasing demands for urgent needs awards. The main reasons cited were that the individual was waiting to receive a state benefit or had no funds due to an unforeseen crisis. Universal credit roll-out will increase the need hugely. I know from my own case load that if not for the Liverpool citizens support scheme, many of my constituents would have had nowhere to turn.
Similarly, discretionary housing payments have increased by 35%, and the city has to put more money in than it is given by the Government to support that. The Mayor of Liverpool tops up the money because he is unwilling to let vulnerable people go without help and have nowhere to turn and become homeless, thus imposing an even higher financial burden on the state. Universal credit roll-out could push the resources and schemes beyond the Mayor’s capacity to continue to fund them effectively. Unless we see significant measures in the Budget to alleviate poverty in Liverpool and really end austerity, the trends we are discussing will worsen. We will judge the Prime Minister’s rhetoric about ending austerity by the impact of the Chancellor’s Budget next week on the lives of our most vulnerable and poorest constituents.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) on securing the debate. Earlier this year I led a debate here in Westminster Hall on food poverty across Merseyside. I will start today as I did then by saying that this is a debate that we simply should not be having in a wealthy country in 2018.
Liverpool City Council, as we have already heard, faces the near-impossible challenge that when services are needed most they have fewer and fewer resources to respond. I join colleagues in praising the Mayor and the city council for their efforts to mitigate the impact of central Government policy. The citizens support scheme to help the most vulnerable in Liverpool during a short-term crisis has provided a lifeline for some of the most disadvantaged citizens, following the coalition Government’s scrapping of the social fund. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree said in her opening speech, last year more than 13,000 crisis payments were made from the fund, which is a 6% increase on the previous year. It has provided a lifeline for some of my most vulnerable constituents.
Earlier this year a family of four in my constituency were served with a section 21 notice when their landlord decided to sell the property, forcing the family to look for another privately rented property, but they were not in a position to pay the one month’s rent and deposit up front. My constituents are both in work, but in low-paid jobs, so they lacked the means to provide the payment. As they faced the threat of homelessness, I referred the family to the mayoral hardship fund, and a contribution towards their deposit and rent was provided.
Another constituent was recently forced to move properties because of the bedroom tax. His personal independence payment had been stopped, so he had no available funds to purchase furniture for his new home. We referred him to the mayoral hardship fund, and funds were provided to enable him to furnish his new home.
A week before Christmas last year, a young mum contacted me, having recently been transferred on to universal credit. She was not due to receive her first payment until 11 January and her gas and electricity were due to run out that evening, just before Christmas at the height of winter. In the face of that dire threat, the local authority stepped in and, through the citizens support scheme, she was provided with a three-week award of almost £300, energy vouchers and a PayPoint cash voucher of £170.
A review of the scheme presented to the council’s cabinet in May this year set out a very stark warning, stating that the scheme
“cannot mitigate the multiple impacts of the government’s programme”.
The same report also warned that more people face greater hardship once the full raft of changes to the benefits system begins to bite, as my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) has said. Of course, as we know, disabled people often bear the brunt of such changes.
Last month Liverpool City Council published an excellent report, “Universal Credit: Unintended Consequences”. Its key findings were that universal credit risks forcing households into debt, increasing severe poverty and leaving too many people, including children, facing food insecurity, destitution and eviction. The report brought together community leaders, civic figures and politicians across the city to urge the Government, as I join my colleagues in doing today, to rethink the roll-out of universal credit before it is too late.
That call is echoed by people at the north Liverpool food bank. They told me:
“We don’t want to be feeding people emergency food, so we need to fix the system that lands people there in the first place.”
The food bank’s modest suggestion—I would go further—was that the current north Liverpool roll-out date of 5 December should at the very least be moved to new year, to avoid the Christmas period, so that claimants do not have to wait weeks for their benefits before Christmas. I urge the Minister, as a bare minimum, to give a commitment today at least to consider that proposal, which might give some reassurance and comfort to some of the most vulnerable families in Liverpool in the run-up to Christmas.
As has been said, the main reason people are referred to food banks in Liverpool is benefit delays and changes. The Trussell Trust has repeatedly warned that changes to benefits are forcing people to turn to food banks. One in three working-age social housing tenants in Liverpool who receive housing benefit has been affected by the bedroom tax, and there is no doubt that that has pushed many into hardship. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree said, the city council last year undertook a cumulative impact assessment of more than 20 major changes made to working-age benefits since 2010. I urge the Government to work with Liverpool City Council and other local authorities to ensure that we have the most up-to-date information about the appalling cumulative impact of welfare reforms, including universal credit.
The other reason for people being referred increasingly to food banks, as my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood said, is low income. Yes, unemployment has fallen, but in my constituency and the rest of Liverpool it is consistently above the national average, and for many people who are in work, that work does not pay enough for them to get by. Much of the increase in employment is insecure and low paid.
I have seen at first hand the fantastic work that food banks do in my constituency, and I pay tribute to their selfless and dedicated volunteers. In the year up to last month, the north Liverpool food bank provided food to more than 3,000 of my constituents, including almost 1,300 children. That represented a 10% increase on the previous year. Once a month I volunteer at the north Liverpool food bank at St John’s church in Tuebrook in my constituency. I was there last Saturday. In September we helped 137 people. While I was there I talked about the debate we are having today, and we discussed issues I might raise. The two main points that came out of the discussion, including with the vicar, were the increase in use during the several years that the food bank has been at St John’s, and the change in the profile of the people who come to it. There are still many single people—mostly men—but increasingly there are families with children. Some are people in low-paid work, and some are waiting for benefits.
I also want to pay tribute to a food bank in another part of my constituency. At Dovecot food bank there is concern about the unseen numbers of people not receiving the support they might need. The food bank has been working with local schools to identify vulnerable families and ensure that support is available to them. One of the most disturbing trends that is identified is having to serve food to hungry children because their families cannot afford to feed them. Most schoolchildren in Liverpool are enjoying the half-term holiday this week, but for many low-income families school holidays represent financial stress, hunger and even malnourishment, because of the absence of free school meals. Croxteth Gems was originally set up to provide play and youth services, but increasingly over the past few years the people there have been serving food to hungry children because their families cannot afford to feed them. During the school holidays, Croxteth Gems hosts a play scheme, including a free breakfast and lunch for the children. Sometimes they serve food to almost 100 hungry local children.
The charity Feeding Britain, set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), has established local pilot areas for programmes that provide free meals and activities for children during school holidays. Earlier this year the Government provided £2 million of funding for families to benefit from free healthy meals and activities in the summer holidays. That meant that organisations such as Feeding Britain could reach many more families. It was welcome, but it was a modest step in the right direction. I take the opportunity today to urge the Government to increase the funding provided to those programmes, so that no children should go hungry in the holidays—particularly the long summer holidays—simply because they do not have access to free school meals.
I want to say something about education, and will echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Dame Louise Ellman) said. More than 32,000 children in Liverpool are growing up in poverty. Education has a central role to play if we are to achieve a fairer society with less inequality and tackle poverty. Like my colleagues, I pay tribute to the city council for keeping children’s centres open despite austerity. Good-quality early education has a big impact on children’s development.
An area of controversy at the moment is the Government’s potential plans for nursery schools. There are two fantastic nursery schools in my constituency—Ellergreen and East Prescot Road. Both were judged outstanding by Ofsted, but at both there is concern about long-term funding. I know that the Minister responding to the debate is not an Education Minister, but I seek assurances from the Department for Education that the concerns of nursery schools in Liverpool and across the country are being listened to. Those schools equip children, often in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods, with the education and skills they need to have the best chance later in life.
Schools need to know that they have reliable funding so that they can offer the best quality education. There is concern in Liverpool, as there is in many parts of the country, that once the national funding formula is adopted it could disadvantage schools in our city. I implore the Government to ensure that such factors as deprivation, pupil mobility and prior attainment are at the heart of the national funding formula.
Finally, on further education, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside said, equipping young people aged 16—and adults—with the skills they need is vital. Last week there was a Love our Colleges campaign lobby of Parliament. I met the principal of Myerscough College, who told me about the great work it is doing, and that it faces tough financial circumstances. Investment in FE would make a big difference in tackling poverty in Liverpool. I hope that the Minister can take that message back to his colleagues at the Department for Education.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) on her excellent speech; she set out everything that the city faces, from cuts to local authorities, the hostile environment on benefits and the personal experiences that we come across in our surgeries every week, as well as the evidence in report after report. The Government seem determined to turn a blind eye to those reports and doubt their veracity, and I find it shocking when the Minister shakes his head, when we see such experiences every day.
I was not shaking my head.
You were during my hon. Friend’s speech. The experiences I am talking about are things we see every day in Liverpool.
I was elected for the first time last year, to represent a Liverpool constituency, and it is an incredible privilege. When I am asked what the biggest issue facing my constituency is, I say poverty—and it is, because that is the critical issue affecting people, in their long-term health, educational outcomes, job opportunities, living standards and mental health. Most of all, it affects their sense of self-worth. That is the most hurtful part of seeing the decline in our communities. As my hon. Friends have done, it is right to put on the record how proud Scousers are, and how strong our communities are. That is shown by the work that our community centres and food banks do day in, day out. Liverpool is an astonishing city that is doing well in many respects.
This debate set me thinking about what poverty is, and what we are talking about today. If we look back in history, we see different types of poverty. I have seen individuals fall into poverty—people can lose a job, be moved on, and then perhaps another job appears, and during that time, trade unions and charities may help out. Families also fall into poverty. My family was affected by unemployment. My dad was unemployed for seven years, and sometimes it felt as if we did not have much money when we were growing up. Nevertheless, we had a family unit, we had a community and we had support. We still had good schools and public services, the local authority did its bit, and there were youth facilities. Today we are talking about whole communities being pushed into poverty while the safety net is withdrawn from the bottom.
Poverty is man-made. It does not exist in a vacuum; it is the result of decisions made by the powerful. No one person is responsible for their own poverty. Austerity is and has been a political choice, not an economic necessity. Since 2010 this Government have handed out an eye-watering £110 billion in tax giveaways for the biggest corporations and the super-rich, paid for by devastating cuts to wages, living standards and essential public services for the rest. They have starved our schools of funding—something they deny—taken police off our streets, including 1,000 from Merseyside Police, and left our NHS and social care in crisis.
Not only have the cuts themselves been political, but so too have their distribution. New research from the University of Cambridge shows that post-industrial cities in the north of England have been hit by the deepest cuts to local government spending and that, on average, Labour councils have been hit four times harder than Tory councils. Few places have been hit harder than Liverpool, with the staggering 64% cut to local authority funding that we have heard about. Conservative Members tell us not to fear because the Prime Minister announced at the Tory party conference that austerity is over. Leaving aside the fact that we have heard such empty rhetoric three times before, I assure the Minister that the reality on the streets of Walton and across Liverpool tells a different story as austerity rolls on, piling misery on our communities.
We have already heard many of the statistics, so I will not repeat them all. Average wages in Liverpool are £11,000 below the national average, and 40% of children in my constituency are growing up in poverty. Liverpool is now classed as having the second-highest levels of destitution of any city in the UK. On top of that, this Government now heap universal credit—a policy so fundamentally flawed that it has become an exemplar of institutional incompetence. [Interruption.] I think I heard the Minister tut, but this is being played out on our streets, and we see the evidence in report after report. Perhaps he will respond to some of the points raised today, including the Trussell Trust’s report, which states that demand for food banks has soared by 52% in areas of universal credit roll-out, compared with 13% in other areas.
Housing associations, letting agents and private landlords have told me that tenants are falling into rent arrears in areas such as Bootle and elsewhere where the roll-out has gone ahead, and that evictions will increase. The calamitous roll-out in my constituency comes right before Christmas, and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) was right to call for it to be delayed, at least until after the Christmas month, when we know it will cause increased hardship. The figures are stark, but they do not do justice to the human misery that I already deal with in my casework under the existing benefits system.
Under this Conservative Government, we are being hurtled backwards to bygone days, reminiscent of when it was a crime to be poor. The Government’s welfare reforms have seen hundreds of millions of pounds sucked out of Liverpool’s local economy. The benefit freeze—in reality it is not a “freeze” but a real-terms cut for millions of low-income families—has meant a loss of £45 million for households in Liverpool. We have heard about the cumulative effect of such cuts.
Given the pressures, some people have to give up employment to care for elderly relatives. A scaffolder came to my constituency office and explained that he has had to give up good, well-paid employment because the care is not there for his elderly mother. We have heard how the local authority already has to act as a sticking plaster, which shows that the current benefits system is failing. I want to congratulate the Mayor and the local authority on their work.
Next week the Chancellor will reveal the Government’s budget, and we will no doubt have a debate about economic growth and the fudging of figures to mask deep systemic problems in our economy. Not only have we seen the worst decade for wages in centuries, but the UK is the only advanced economy in which wages have continued to fall, even when the economy is growing. That is because of a decades-long trend of the share of gains from growth going increasingly towards profit, not wages. More and more economists tell us the blindingly obvious: having money from economic growth flow to working people and the poor rather than to the rich would stimulate better rates of economic growth and lower unemployment. As income inequality increases, the potential for economic growth is constrained. Since the 1970s, while productivity and the economy kept growing, the average worker’s pay package did not. The Financial Times has stated that since 2007,
“the UK was the only big advanced economy in which wages contracted while the economy expanded. In most other countries, including France and Germany, both the economy and wages have grown…The UK sits on its own as a rich economy that experienced a strong economic performance while the real wages of its workers dropped.”
What does economic growth matter to my constituents if it does not even reach them?
We have heard reports that the Chancellor is considering bringing back regional pay in the Budget in order to deny pay rises to our constituents on a national pay scale. Can the Minister tell us anything about that, and can I urge him to feed back that it would be an absolute disaster for the regions of the country if the Chancellor were to go anywhere near the idea?
The Government’s cuts have not tackled the deficit; they have shifted it on to local authorities and public services, plunging them into crisis, while starving our economy of the patient, long-term investment it needs to thrive. The problems are so stark that the solutions must be radical. The people of Liverpool do not need piecemeal change; they need something much bigger. That is why the next Labour Government will not be satisfied with tinkering around the edges of a rigged economy; they will transform our economy so that it works in the interests of the ordinary people I represent.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) on securing this important debate.
Liverpool is a place I have got to know well, like many others who have spoken today. Part of my constituency lies within the Liverpool city region, and many of my constituents travel to work or visit Liverpool each day. Many—including my wife—have recent personal or family heritage in Liverpool, and people are well aware of what colleagues have already noted. Liverpool is a city with incredible culture, buildings, beauty—Scouse pride, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) pointed out—and history. It is also a city that has places that are suffering deep and scarring poverty and, disgracefully, 32,000 children are living in poverty. That poverty is made even worse by the Government’s austerity measures, and it looks set to deepen further as a result of the roll-out of universal credit across the city and region.
This afternoon we have heard many examples and arguments for why the roll-out of universal credit must be halted and the policy radically reformed and fixed. We heard many more in the main Chamber last week—in fact, we have heard many over the past few months. Of course, universal credit is not the sole cause or trigger of poverty—I will talk about some of the other causes later—but it is certainly not scaremongering to suggest that rolling out universal credit across Liverpool is likely to make the issues worse and the suffering even greater. There are many reasons why the Government should stop the roll-out, but surely the evidence that more people will be forced to use food banks— 69,000 used them last year alone—simply to feed themselves and their children is reason enough.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree said that people in Liverpool want jobs, skills and investment. They certainly do not want to root through bins for food and vital goods. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton rightly pointed out that austerity is a political choice, and that it is driving what we see on the streets of Liverpool. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Dame Louise Ellman) pointed out that only 16%—a stark figure—of young people aged 16 to 24 are in work. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) made a strong case that the end-of-austerity cheque should deal with the growth in food bank use and the decimation of public services in Liverpool. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) pointed out that this is a debate we really should not be having today—or on any day—and said that universal credit is exacerbating the crisis on the streets of Liverpool.
My question to the Minister is this. If the unacceptable delays, the growing rent arrears in Riverside and elsewhere, and the numerous tales of mistakes and misapplications are not enough to make the Government stop and think again, what will it take? It seems that the prospect of children going hungry in Liverpool and elsewhere is not enough to stop universal credit. That should shame the Minister, the Government and all of us in the fifth richest country in the world, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby said.
Of course, poverty is not caused solely by universal credit, although it often rises as a result. Good, well-paid, fulfilling and decent jobs can help to tackle poverty, and we have often heard Conservative Ministers talk about work being the best route out of poverty. The question, however, is, what kind of work? We hear lots of spin from the Government about jobs and employment, but beneath the headlines lies a story of insecurity, low pay and wages falling far short of decent expectations. Real-terms weekly pay is £11 a week lower than it was a decade ago. Business surveys suggest that there are 1.8 million people on zero-hours contracts in the economy, and almost 800,000 consider such posts to be their main job. The draconian cuts to in-work allowances from universal credit is a retrograde step. The National Audit Office says that there is no evidence that it leads to employment growth.
Having focused on what little the Government are doing to tackle poverty, I want to take the opportunity to welcome what Liverpool City Council and many other councils across the country are doing to blunt the ever sharper knife of Tory austerity and to support those in need. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree and others mentioned the work of Liverpool’s Labour Mayor, Joe Anderson. The Labour council and its city region Mayor are helping to tackle poverty. They have spent £12 million on services for homeless people, £3.5 million protecting 42,000 people from the full impact of Government reductions in council tax support, £2.7 million on almost 13,000 crisis payments to help people with the cost of food, fuel, clothing and furniture, and £2.2 million on 8,300 discretionary housing payments to people affected by welfare reform and hardship. They have set up a £2 million hardship fund that will run from 2017 to 2020 to help struggling residents. As has been rightly pointed out, all children’s centres remain open. There is a demand for real powers to transform the economy into one that offers high-quality, decent and fairly paid jobs—something that Whitehall control has so far failed to deliver.
My hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton and for Garston and Halewood mentioned those actions in the main Chamber last week, and they are welcomed by all Members from Liverpool. Once again, it is left to our councils—usually, our Labour councils—to help those most in need. They have already faced draconian cuts—Liverpool’s budget has been cut by 64%, or £440 million, in a decade—and yet the Liverpool Mayor is still determined to tackle the root causes of this shocking poverty. Meanwhile, the Government have cut taxes for the richest and wealthiest businesses and corporations—a £110 billion giveaway.
We accept that eradicating poverty requires more than one approach. It requires many partners inside and outside Government. We also know that two key elements are fundamental to the approach: a genuine desire from the Government to do it and the willingness to prioritise that desire and make decisions to underpin it. The Government’s record show that they have neither.
My hon. Friend will have heard the Government announce, over the summer, their intention to halve homelessness by the end of this Parliament and eradicate it by 2027. As charities that deal with homelessness and crisis said at the time, unless the Government deal with the problems in our economy and put together a cross-departmental strategy, the idea that they will ever get anywhere near that target is fanciful, because they are dealing only with the results, not the causes.
My hon. Friend makes a very strong case and a fair point.
The Minister has heard my colleagues talk about the extent of poverty and its effect on Liverpool and elsewhere. He has heard the genuine fears that the Government’s current policy direction—their cuts to welfare, nurseries, schools, colleges and local government, and their disastrous approach to Brexit—will make that worse. He has heard about the inequality and the unfairness that people, families and children are suffering in Liverpool and places like it. Their lives and opportunities are defined by their postcode, rather their talent, ambition and dreams. Will he now step back and listen to the reality of life in poverty from real people and real cases, look further than the spin of statistics about the jobs market and the economy, which far too many people see as a world away, and lobby the Chancellor?
The time to act is now. End the cuts that push people into poverty, the benefits freeze and the two-child cap. Stop the damaging, catastrophic roll-out of universal credit, which will make poverty worse in Liverpool and elsewhere. Restore the £3 billion-plus cut from the system made in 2015. Act now and fairly fund public services.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Streeter. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and all hon. Members who contributed to the debate. I clearly do not agree with all the points they made—I am sure they will not agree with everything I am about to say—but it is crystal clear that every one of them is driven by a passion to protect the most vulnerable people in society. We all want the same result; we just disagree about how to get from A to B. I am conscious that hon. Members mentioned lots of different issues. I am merely a junior Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions, so in the limited time I have got, I will try to cover the points about employment, income and poverty, universal credit, migration and food banks. If time permits, I will also cover some of the other points that fall at least roughly within my area.
All speakers acknowledged that we have seen record employment, with 1,000 new jobs created every day, unemployment at record lows, and 964,000 fewer workless households. That is important because research statistics show that workless households are four times more likely to be in poverty. I will come to the specific points made during the debate about that.
Many of the speakers mentioned that there had been an increase in zero-hours contracts, for example. That is not the case: the number of zero-hours contracts actually fell by over 100,000 in the last year alone, and they represent only 2.4% of total employment, which is around the same level as under the last Labour Government.
Will the Minister give way?
Briefly, although I will not take too many interventions because I am conscious of time.
Can the Minister explain why 32% of those using the South Liverpool Foodbank said that the main reason they were doing so was low income?
As I said, I will come to food banks—a little patience, please.
We all recognise that getting people into work is important, but ultimately the question is whether it leads to real cash in their pockets. Research has shown that there are one million fewer people in absolute poverty—a record low—and 300,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty, but there is still more to do. While food insecurity has almost halved in the last five years alone—we are at 5.4%; the European average is 7.9%—there is still more to do.
I have been reflecting on all the positive spin that the Minister is trying to put on various figures, but why then we are receiving a visit from the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in the next few weeks? Why is that person coming to this country to see the awful situation that we face?
We get reviewed as a signatory country and supporter of the UN’s work, and I will be speaking personally to the person coming.
Of the four current measures of poverty—relative, absolute, and before and after housing costs—three are lower than in 2010 and the other is the same. Those in poverty, who are the focus of this debate, are on average £400 better off in real terms than they were in 2010, while those in full-time work on the national living wage have seen a 7% real-terms increase in their income in the last two years alone. We have done that through a combination of increasing the national living wage—there are arguments about what the level should be, but I do not need to remind colleagues that the rate that we first set was higher than the one in the manifesto that Labour Members stood on in 2015—our income tax threshold, which has completely removed the lowest 3.6 million earners from paying income tax, which is worth £1,000 a year, and our extension of free childcare and other areas of support.
Let me turn to universal credit, which is very topical. One thing that surprised me was that nobody mentioned conversations with work coaches. I know that many Opposition Members have been to visit jobcentres—I have done my research and looked at their Twitter feeds. As a constituency MP—I have only recently been recalled as a Minister—I know that the work coaches on the frontline are very enthusiastic about the principle of universal credit. That does not mean that everything is right, but they are enthusiastic about it. For the first time, they can offer personalised and tailored support.
The hon. Lady says rubbish, but has she been to visit a jobcentre?
The Minister knows very well that there have been coaches in jobcentres for many years helping people on an individual basis. He seems to be arguing that there is no problem—that food bank use is going down and that poverty is going down. I can tell him that that is not the experience in my constituency.
That is not what I am saying at all. I said I would come to food banks. The hon. Lady has not been to a jobcentre to talk to work coaches and see what they have to say. [Interruption.] I know that other hon. Members have.
The key is that the legacy benefits are not some panacea, where everything is great. As constituency MPs, we all know from our casework that legacy benefits are complex, involving three different agencies—HMRC, local government, and the DWP jobcentre—and frankly, one would need to be a nuclear physicist to deal with all three.
Over 700,000 families on legacy benefits were, on average, missing out on £285 of support that they were entitled to, worth a total of £2.4 billion. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) is heckling from the sides again, but these are some of the most vulnerable people, and my role as the Minister is to represent them. I have seen in my casework, as a genuine local resident in my constituency, as the MP and, formerly, a councillor, that some people were overwhelmed by the legacy system. Under universal credit, they will have for the first time a named work coach who will stick with them throughout the process to ensure that they are not missing out. That does not mean that universal credit has been perfect—we have had many debates and there have already been many changes. In some cases, under tax credits and legacy benefits we had tax rates of 90%. I know that would please the Leader of the Opposition, but that is not what the decent public want. There were 16, 24 and 30-hour cliff edges, which created a barrier to people progressing in work. The legacy benefits were seeing £2.4 billion-worth of support missed. We cannot knowingly stand by and say, “We’ve got to stop universal credit,” because these are vulnerable people missing out on money.
We are conscious that we have had to make changes to the migration. We have always said that the roll-out of universal credit will be slow and steady—it is a “test and learn”. In last year’s autumn statement, we rightly announced that we would remove the seven-day waiting list, a welcome change that was called for by a cross-party campaign.
A lot of the cases brought up involve people who have not had access to money. We realised that people did not know that the system was not designed to provide advance benefits, so it is now a given that the work coach will push that information in the initial interview.
Anybody currently receiving housing benefit will now get two weeks of housing benefit in addition—no strings attached—which can then be used. We recognised that we should not presume in all cases that they should take full responsibility for paying their housing benefit, so we now offer, particularly where people’s housing benefit payments are sent directly to their landlords.
We have launched the Landlord Portal, which is very much welcomed by local government and housing associations, and we have protected the severe disability premium. In conjunction with the £3 billion-worth of transitional support in place, over one million disabled families will be on average £110 a month better off.
Will the Minister give way?
No, I am sorry; I am running out of time. Severely disabled claimants will benefit from higher rates, ranging from £158 to £326. That is why hon. Members should think carefully about the unintended consequences of seeking political capital by calling for a stop to universal credit. Yes, lobby for improvements, but to stop it would be to deprive some of the most vulnerable people of support.
I am very short of time but I want to touch on food banks. I have met the Trussell Trust and have visited food banks as a constituency MP, a Minister and a councillor, and I have friends who work in food banks. I welcome the work of the football clubs in Liverpool in food collection; I went to see my local football club, Swindon Supermarine FC, which was doing a food bank collection last night. People use food banks for varying reasons, but if they are missing out on formal support, we must do something about that. I made a commitment to the Trussell Trust, with which I want to work closely—I am not precious. It is important that we help those vulnerable people, which could mean having a point of contact in every jobcentre so that if the volunteers spot someone who has been to the food bank first, they can then come to us. My commitment is to do all that we can for vulnerable people.
Luciana Berger has the final word.
Thank you, Mr Streeter. I was not anticipating this opportunity, but I am grateful for it. I thank hon. Friends and colleagues for joining me and making representations—collectively, we have made a strong representation to the Minister—and I thank the shadow Minister, my hon. friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) for his remarks which, equally, elaborated on all remarks made.
We are talking about people—our constituents—who face misery every day. We sit here in a very different position to many of our constituents, who really struggle on a daily basis. I have reflected on the Minister’s remarks and I have captured some of the themes, but I am disappointed that he did not specifically respond to the experience in Liverpool—he gave national figures, but no figures specific to what is happening in Liverpool. He did not acknowledge the prevalence of various different forms of precarious employment—
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10 (6)).
Regulation of Materials used in Notice Boards
[Albert Owen in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered regulation of materials used in notice boards.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen, and to see the Minister and her Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Harborough (Neil O'Brien), in their places. If nothing else, more people have asked me about this debate than about any other Adjournment debate I have had in this place—I have had a few in my time—so I shall explain. I do not expect the Minister to answer all the points I make, but I am sure that she will read the debate subsequently and we can do something about it. However, I am grateful to have secured the debate, even though the title is rather delphic.
The subject came to my notice because a business in Stroud that makes notice boards from recycled materials came to see me. Although this is at one level a trade matter—I shall not mention the business by name, for obvious reasons—at another level it is more than that, involving safety, competition and fairness. I shall concentrate on two areas: first, the safety regulation of notice boards; and secondly, the implications for small businesses, particularly in my constituency.
Notice boards are everyday things. They are in almost every building, can be purchased in so many different ways and are relatively cheap, so people do not think a lot about them. When shopping online, the important product information is frequently so unimportant that it would not hold a consumer’s interest for long. Nevertheless, notice boards are subject to safety considerations. In the case of fire safety, post Grenfell we certainly know about some of the implications. I do not suggest that Grenfell was anything other than a tragedy; today we are talking about something of much smaller import, but the inside of buildings still matter as much as the external fire safety issues.
What drew my attention to the subject, and why I feel so strongly, is that the materials that some companies use to make notice boards are also, in other contexts, advertised as firelighters. Something that we would want to be safe and secure is also available to people to set fire to, in a completely normal way, as a firelighter. That really drew my attention.
In the United Kingdom, all wall linings—including notice boards—fitted to public buildings must conform to one of two standards: the European BS EN 13501, class D; or the national BS 476, parts 6 and 7, class 3. I understand, however, that the majority of notice boards fitted in schools are made from a material that meets the lower European standard, class E. Again, the manufacturers of the material note that it has a supplementary use, as a firelighters, which is bizarre, to put it mildly.
In addition, research shows a substantial difference in fire spread between the highest and lowest-performing materials on the market. I want the Government to take note of that, because all such materials should be as fire-proof as possible. The EN 13501 standards measure the fire index growth rate—FIGRA, to use the more acronymic description—and tests indicate that non-fire-rated materials can have FIGRA values of 500% of their fire-rated equivalents. In other words, the notice boards can be set on fire very quickly, and they will burn.
Notice boards sold online are not only vague on standards and descriptions, but are sold in the same category as fire-tested boards tagged as school supplies. In other words, there is no discrimination between the different types of board, even though in my opinion there should be. For consumers shopping online for their classroom, such vital differences are in essence hidden—they have to know what they are dealing with. There is a clear concern about that because schools and others are faced with cuts—even though austerity is now over—and they tend to look at what is cheapest and most readily available. Safety measures, however, can be compromised by cost and availability—the cheaper substitutes are available online, with all the usual people we know about, whether shopping in convenience stores or, more particularly, online.
The task of eradicating all flammable materials in schools would be exceptionally hard, if not impossible, but the particular danger presented by notice boards is that their primary method of fire spreading is with a convection current. According to the 2006 fire safety risk assessment for educational premises, fire spread by convection is the most dangerous type of fire spread and is the cause of the highest number of injuries and deaths.
The most recent fire statistics from the Home Office show that since 2010 more than 4,100 fires have occurred in primary and secondary schools in England, which is more than 500 a year. Most of those are preventable fires. According to the most recent Local Government Association research report on the impact of fires in schools, there is usually a higher number of fires than 500, but they are not always reported as full-scale ones. Also, metropolitan areas tend to have a higher number of incidents, and a third of all school fires start during school time, which is particularly concerning. People studying and the staff may be affected, perhaps by inhaling whatever is burning. That in its own way is a high risk, and some 90,000 children a year are affected by school fires.
I am concentrating on schools, because obviously they are one of the biggest users of notice boards. The notice boards that fail to meet fire safety standards end up not only in highly populated public buildings such as schools, but in nursing homes. My staff carried out some quick and dirty research in nursing homes in Stroud and, to their alarm, they found that many of the boards that had been bought were not of a fire-proof standard.
That is a cause of serious concern because, according to the Home Office’s 2017 fire statistics, people over the age of 80 are almost three times more likely to die in a fire than people under 80. According to the statistics, between 2010 and 2018 there have been nearly 3,500 fires in nursing homes in England. If dangerous materials keep making their way into those buildings, we can only expect casualty numbers to rise. As the UK has an ageing population, we must be extra careful to have the right procedures to protect people.
In addition to the public health aspect, the lack of regulation has resulted in unfair competition for local and small businesses—the company in my constituency being a classic example, because its materials are fire-proof and therefore more expensive. The Minister should not ignore loopholes for the sake of shortcuts in the market that might have life-threatening consequences.
Small businesses continue to struggle against large companies that sell non-compliant and often dangerous products online. The owner of another Stroud-based business, when asked about this, said:
“I am not against fair competition and indeed I believe businesses thrive on it, provided the rules are the same for all. Goods supplied from non-UK/EU operators can more easily evade safety and other compliance regulations as well as in some cases, VAT”—
we shall leave the VAT issue to one side—
“Of even greater concern is the potential danger from such products, whose manufacturer or supplier is outside the jurisdiction of the UK market surveillance authorities”.
An example is given in a recent study by the UK Lighting Industry Association that showed that of six domestic light fitting parts purchased at random through that model, five posed a real threat of electric shock. In that case, the fulfilment house claimed that responsibility for compliance and safety laid with the overseas supplier, not the fulfilment house. If that is correct, it means there is little to prevent those products from entering the UK market and posing a risk to consumers. Meanwhile, businesses that invest in premises and manufacturers from which we collect VAT are unable to compete on a level playing field.
The purpose of my speech is to ask the Minister to investigate, to ensure that safety is of prime concern and that there is a level playing field in the way in which materials are made available, particularly for public buildings. They should be properly advertised, safe and meet all the proper conditions that we would expect them to be subject to. In preparing for this debate, I wrote to the Education and Skills Funding Agency, to draw its attention to how schools provide their notice boards—largely on a cost basis—so that it takes account of whether those notice boards are fire resistant.
I have some specific suggestions for the Minister, which she may not be able to respond to now but hopefully she can look into them. The Building Bulletin 100 design guidance should be updated to require all boards to be fitted in schools to be fire safe to European BS EN 13501 class B standard or national equivalent, not the cheaper and easier ones that many seem to get through that loophole. That simple rule should be applied to all new build and renovation projects, to substantially reduce the fire risk, and it would be relatively easy to implement. It is not retrospective; it is looking forward.
The cost impact is relatively low. I will not go through the complicated figures but the difference is not huge, although it is substantial for the businesses that are trying to compete. Companies must promote clear advertising to avoid confusion and potential danger, particularly for schools but also nursing homes and other public bodies, labelling what the safety requirements imply.
Lastly, school fire risk assessment guidelines should be updated to ensure that existing boards are checked and brought into conformity with the building regulations—at a minimum, fire safe to BS EN 13501 class D standard or national equivalent—within an appropriate time period. At the moment, I am more interested in going forward, but there is a level of safety checking that needs to be done retrospectively. I will be interested to hear what the Minister proposes.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen, and not to be grilled by you this afternoon. I thank the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) for securing this debate—people often pronounce my constituency incorrectly as Rochester and Stroud, so it is nice to respond to the hon. Member for Stroud this afternoon.
I am pleased to speak in a debate about safety. This Government take product and consumer safety incredibly seriously. Government’s first duty is to guarantee the safety of their citizens. In my role as Minister I focus on product safety and standards, an area that I have a particular interest in, having spent my life dealing with products for sale on the market prior to joining the House of Commons.
I will give the hon. Gentleman an update on where the Government are. In January, the Government launched the Office for Product Safety and Standards, to deliver the highest level of protection for consumers and to build confidence in our regulatory system. In August, the office published its strategy for product safety, detailing how it will achieve its goals. It now has in place a dedicated intelligence unit that assesses information from a variety of sources to monitor trends and identify potentially unsafe products on the market. With a £12 million funding upgrade, it now has an operational budget of £25 million a year.
In March, in partnership with the British Standards Institution, the office published the first Government-backed code of practice on product recalls. We have trained more than 300 trading standards officers to identify products and implement that code. That means that we will be better prepared to deal with product safety incidents and support manufacturers in preparing for potential incidents.
The Government are determined to be a world leader in how we deal with regulatory frameworks. A couple of weeks ago I was at the international regulatory delivery conference, which hosted professionals from more than 60 countries. That is an example of the things that we will continue to do to be leaders in this field.
The hon. Gentleman raises concerns about the safety of notice boards in particular. The points he makes are extremely important; he rightly points out that boards can be found in schools, hospitals, doctor’s surgeries, university halls of residence and workplaces up and down the country. It is vital that products of that kind are safe and remain safe. By law—under the General Product Safety Regulations 2005—manufacturers have a responsibility to put only safe products on to the market. That applies to any product that is intended for or likely to be used by a consumer, including where the product was originally intended for professional use. Products must be safe for any reasonable foreseeable use and the materials used must also be safe.
Furthermore, where manufacturers or distributors identify a safety issue with a product that is already on the consumer market, they must take action, which may, where appropriate, include a recall. If notice boards are for sale only to businesses or public bodies for use at work, they will be caught by the Consumer Protection Act 1987, which applies to all consumer products and products used in the workplace. It places liability for any damage caused by an unsafe product firmly on the producer or importer. The Health and Safety Executive also has a role in ensuring that workplaces are safe. I am aware that a number of universities have banned the use of noticeboards or otherwise restricted their use. My understanding is that that is due chiefly to the fact that in the event of a fire, noticeboards hold a lot of paper and therefore present a risk.
The hon. Gentleman has a keen interest in schools, which formed a major part of his speech. Having also been a teacher for many years, I am sure we agree that schools must be a safe place for all pupils, teachers and visitors. It was quite shocking to hear his statistics about the number of fires that have taken place. There are already strong protections in place: all schools must follow strict fire safety regulations, including a fire risk assessment that is designed to ensure that they are as safe as possible and well prepared in the event of a fire. In addition, all new school building projects must comply with building regulations, including on fire safety. That is independently checked by building control or other such inspectors before buildings are occupied.
The hon. Gentleman referred to fire safety; the horrific and tragic fire at Grenfell last year was a shocking and terrible event. It is right that the Prime Minister ordered the full public inquiry, which is now under way, in the aftermath of the fire in response to concerns raised about the external cladding on tower blocks. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government commissioned Dame Judith Hackitt to conduct an independent review of the regulatory system for buildings and fire safety. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is responsible for the safety of building products and is leading on the Government’s response. In a statement in the House following the publication of the review, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government made clear the Government’s support for the principles outlined in the report.
On the specific things that the hon. Gentleman said he would like me to investigate, in my experience fire safety regulations and standards are extremely complex and depend on the particular product or market in question. This debate is very important—it is absolutely right that Members should bring such issues forward and challenge the Government about how we will improve standards and conditions. I was interested in his point about the different fire safety grading of products, so I will happily investigate that.
The fundamental objective of the new Office for Product Safety and Standards is to use intelligence and work with trading standards locally so that we do better at identifying bad products or areas where further action is particularly needed. I am extremely hopeful that the OPSS will achieve that, especially as it starts to implement its strategy. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for a level playing field. He is absolutely right that consumers need to know that the products they buy meet minimum standards and that they must be fully aware of the risks associated with those products.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate. I hope he is happy with the commitment I made. As the new Minister for small business, product safety and consumer protection are a particular focus and interest of mine. I reiterate the Government’s firm commitment to ensuring that everyone has access to safe products in their homes, schools and workplaces. I am extremely grateful to him for raising his concerns. I am interested to know about the company he mentioned—perhaps we can discuss that outside the Chamber.
I am sure they will write to you.
Yes—that would be good. The Government will continue to do all we can to deliver the highest levels of consumer and product safety, and to use trading standards to combat illegal products that come on to the market. I thank the hon. Gentleman again.
Question put and agreed to.
Coalfield Areas: Sports Facilities
I remind hon. Members that this is an hour-long debate and the Minister has protected time. The Front Benchers have five minutes each and the Minister has 10 minutes.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered sports facilities in coalfield areas.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. The purpose of the debate is to highlight the importance of properly funding and managing local sports facilities in former mining areas, and particularly to talk about the potential of miners’ welfares as a community hub and asset. It is great to see so many colleagues from all parts of the House present here.
Many community sports facilities in coalfield towns were built by British Coal and have since been handed over to the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, a national charity supporting former miners and their families with help and advice on disability, ill health and financial hardship; the organisation has responsibility for miners’ welfares. There are about 250 recreational charities still operating as independent welfares and an additional 425 where a municipal authority acts as the trustee. In some communities, these facilities are the only remaining social and sporting amenities available for public use.
Some centres have adapted and evolved to meet the needs of their local communities; some trustees run very successful football clubs, while others run bowling greens and other facilities, for example. Unfortunately, many have not been successfully run and their buildings and sports grounds have been run down. I am concerned that those facilities are not receiving the investment required to maintain them to a decent standard.
There are several local clubs that I would like to mention, but I will stick to two key ones, although there are many others like them across Mansfield, north Nottinghamshire and the rest of the country, all linked to former collieries. The first is Welbeck Lions football club, in Meden Vale, which is located at the old miners’ welfare and provides sporting facilities to one of the most deprived communities in the region. It has eight junior and two adult teams, with a further three in development, and has been proactive in forming positive plans for future expansion. I have hosted a meeting for it with the Football Association and other supportive organisations.
The club and its volunteers provide an invaluable service to the local community. The club is keen to grow and expand, but improving its playing surfaces is a priority. It also needs floodlit pitches, which are required to allow the senior team to compete at a higher level and the under-19s to play in a midweek floodlit league. It has an array of further issues: the sports pavilion only has one toilet and cannot meet modern regulations, and security is a concern, with vandalism and pitches plagued by dog fouling. The young people who engage with the Welbeck Lions are often from deprived backgrounds. Statistics show that Meden Vale, where the club is based, is among the poorest communities in Nottinghamshire, and the positive impact that sports facilities have on the lives of local people should not be underestimated.
The second is Forest Town Arena, formerly the welfare and now home to AFC Mansfield. It is still a focal point for the community in Forest Town and a venue for all sorts of local events. There has been good management and investment, and the result is a nice facility; it shows what can be done, and what more could be done, with the right support and co-ordination. The community spirit that once held mining communities together is very much still there, whatever the Labour party’s political broadcasts might suggest. The organisations that kept people together have evolved and some have moved on, but in some areas the pubs and social clubs that used to be the centre of life have disappeared, and coalfield communities are left with often run-down community facilities and a lack of funding and support for sports provision.
A 2008 report by the Audit Commission stated that social regeneration had been the least successful component of regeneration in the coalfields. In 2010, the Department of Health commissioned a report that sought to look at health inequalities in coalfield communities, which raised concerns about whether the previous emphasis on economic regeneration came at the cost of health and social projects. The report stated that the health behaviours of men, women and children in those areas were often characterised by poor statistics around smoking, alcohol, poor diet and nutrition, coupled with inactivity. Unfortunately, it is increasingly clear that the facilities needed to support more exercise and activity are not up to scratch in many of those communities.
More recently, the benefits for mental health of participating in sport have been established. Studies have shown that sport can improve mood, decrease the chances of depression and anxiety and ensure a more balanced lifestyle. Again, we see higher levels of long-term mental health problems across the age range in coalfield communities compared with the rest of the country as a whole. Sports facilities are not just important for locally well established teams and aspiring world-class sportsmen; they offer a wide range of benefits, including improving the health of younger and older people and creating positive opportunities for socialising.
The new community focus criterion of Sport England could be hugely beneficial for areas such as Meden Vale, Warsop or Mansfield, if that sport could be focused on bringing welfares back to life as a community hub for health, sport, social activities and even the provision of services. In Warsop, where they have unfortunately recently lost a leisure centre, a community hub based around a welfare that could bring all those things back together would be life-changing for many people in the community. It is more cost-effective than an expensive new building and could be done in some of the areas of most need, where activities already take place.
The Coalfields Regeneration Trust has supported projects in coalfield areas and helped to respond to the threat of closure of outdoor sports facilities such as pitches, playing fields and pavilions. The trust has invested millions of pounds in sports facilities in England such as multi-use games areas and 3G or AstroTurf facilities. One of the trust’s current priorities is health and wellbeing, and I am pleased that sport features heavily in its work. In 2006, it undertook a comprehensive review of sport and recreational facilities across coalfields, which provided details of facilities that were available to coalfield communities prior to the financial crash.
It would be helpful if the Government supported the trust to update that database and review which facilities remain and which are no longer available. For those facilities that are no longer in use, I would be particularly keen to learn how they were disposed of and what reinvestment was made in the communities when those facilities were lost. If land was sold, where did the money go?
As well as the grants that Sport England provides, dozens of national governing bodies award funding packages, as do local authorities, but trustees of coalfield facilities often do not have the experience to apply for those grants. It is also the case that many applications have conditions covering things such as minimum participation, which can be difficult. Once established, helping to bring different teams, clubs and other community organisations together under one roof in a welfare-based community hub could help to facilitate bidding for and winning investment to make the centres self-sustaining in future.
As I mentioned at the beginning, coalfield communities are often in a slightly unusual position in that many of their community centres and local sports facilities have a background in the coal industry rather than being built and maintained by local authorities. Since the transfer of miners’ welfare clubs and community facilities to CISWO, facilities such as football pitches and bowling greens have often not been looked after effectively. In my former role as a district councillor I was involved, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer), in a campaign on Bestwood Miners’ Welfare, which has been affected by ongoing issues surrounding its management and the maintenance of its facilities. I am keen that the Government look at how local authorities and sporting bodies can be encouraged to work with CISWO on local sports and health and wellbeing priorities in order to support such communities.
In my experience, CISWO is not always the best at facilitating effective management of the facilities and ensuring that they are looked after. It works hard to support former miners and their families and provides important assistance to those individuals, but I am concerned that, in prioritising the individuals rather than the long-term community legacy, it is allowing facilities to become run down and in some cases turning a blind eye to poor management, which is detrimental to communities.
Money raised from community buildings seems often to be invested in other priorities of the organisation and not put back into the community it came from. While that money might be spent nationally on campaigns, or on information and support for individual miners, it is being drained out of local facilities and leaving coalfield communities worse off. I am concerned that CISWO might not be providing suitable support for the trustees of these facilities and I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to investigate how the process could be improved to support the facilities more effectively.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood has previously raised concerns in the local press about CISWO taking money out of Nottinghamshire with little investment in return. He has rightly criticised it for profiting from the sale of land but not reinvesting the money back in local facilities. That is not happening only in Nottinghamshire; I know that in Yorkshire there have been similar problems. The Yorkshire Post ran an interesting story about recreation grounds in mining communities last year. I fear that CISWO’s strategic decision to focus on former miners as individuals rather than on communities, while perhaps understandable at one time, is now increasingly to the detriment of those communities.
The good news is that in Mansfield and Warsop, and across many other mining towns, there are facilities that still exist and space available for sports amenities. I am not asking the Government to commit to funding a series of brand-new facilities. It is often cheaper to refurbish and improve current facilities, with some help. I am convinced that some money already exists within a number of external organisations that could be utilised in this way.
I am keen to highlight that improving sports provision in coalfield communities will not take huge resources. I want Ministers to consider a small injection of funding to support coalfield areas in improving sports provision, which will improve health and wellbeing and rebuild social cohesion. However, it is just as important to get the political will behind improving facilities, and the Government should look at ways to encourage CISWO, local authorities and sporting bodies to work together to improve sports grounds. For the most part, facilities have willing groups of trustees and volunteers, so the main challenges are getting them to work together, giving them the skills and getting CISWO to release funding, along with support from national sports governing bodies.
As I touched on earlier, Sport England helps many communities with health and wellbeing programmes, looking at ways to support community assets and to provide multiple services from one facility. Miners’ welfare clubs and sports grounds in coalfield communities have traditionally been used for a range of purposes, and I hope that Sport England sees the potential of many of those facilities as hubs for multiple services. That would also tie in with its work with deprived communities.
Sport England’s funding programmes, such as Inspired Facilities and Protecting Playing Fields, are helpful, but I would like to see a specific focus on coalfield communities and protecting the facilities that currently exist in those areas. As a Government, we should aim to prove that we are committed to supporting coalfield communities, to advancing the cause of some of the country’s most deprived areas and to genuinely be about helping the “just about managing” to have a better quality of life.
At the end of 2015, the Government published “Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation”, which emphasised the importance of harnessing sport for social good. It was a positive publication and a step in the right direction, and the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that the Government would
“target funding at groups which have traditionally had lower participation rates”.
That includes places that are less active and less healthy, and coalfield communities generally top the charts in those statistics. Coalfield communities are generally some of the most deprived in the UK, with poorer health outcomes and lower levels of physical activity. I hope that Ministers look to coalfield communities when considering their duty to ensure that absolutely everyone can benefit from sport, because, as the report notes,
“the biggest gains and the best value for public investment is found in addressing people who are least active.”
I thank the Minister for her attendance, and hope she will be able to address some of my questions. I also hope to hear positive contributions from Members from across the House. I thank hon. Members for their time.
I remind hon. Members that I will call the first Front-Bench spokesperson at 5.10 pm.
I thank my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), for securing this timely debate. I represented part of his constituency until the boundary changes of 2010, so I know Warsop and Welbeck extremely well. I recall the work that I and my office put in to get the initial significant grants to bring Meden Vale’s playing fields up to any kind of reasonable standard, but that was the beginning of the process, not the end. In former mining communities such as Meden Vale, with the level of enthusiasm and the number of volunteers there, it is fairly obvious to me that the Government are sitting on a health gold mine.
CISWO, with its legacy from the coal industry, is responsible for more playing fields in England than any other single organisation—a phenomenal fact. However, it has never taken that responsibility seriously. It has never had a plan. I have had many battles with it, even over basics such as getting investment in. That contrasts totally with the less well funded Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which has done and still does a superb job with meagre resources; it has pennies where pounds are needed. Its approach has been absolutely to the point in terms of recognising the economic and health benefits of investment, including in sporting facilities. The hon. Gentleman was right to highlight the important role that the Coalfields Regeneration Trust still plays. It could do more with more resource.
I am interested in the possibilities around CISWO and its land. The CISWO land in my area includes land in Harworth, a former colliery. It has cricket and football clubs. There was also provision for weightlifting and archery—Olympic sports. It was given £43,000 for floodlights, so that the football club, which has been very successful, can be promoted. The colliery is good at raising its own money, but it has never had any significant outside investment, only small amounts.
The land is there, and one of the Football Association’s multi-purpose, floodlit, full-size 3G or 4G pitches could be put there instantly, losing no facility whatsoever. It has a car park and changing rooms. It has the infrastructure. It has the community involvement, including among kids, and, critically, it has the volunteers. This is low-overhead sport. It does not require paying loads of people to do loads of things; it is volunteer-led. That kind of investment there would work. However, those volunteers are not the kind of people who have spent their time learning the routes to bid for various sums of money, so the money goes elsewhere, and they continue to spend their time running mass-participation events.
Costhorpe does not have any infrastructure. It has the fields, although it gave them over to the district council, and it has the cricket pitch. It lost its tennis facilities, and the bowling facilities are long gone, although the land is still there. However, there are no changing rooms, so kids playing football have to change in cars. There are no toilets, although the youth club is sometimes open to give that generous assistance. Again, it is pretty simple and pretty basic: any plan for sport—or for football, which is the biggest sport played there—would have that automatically built in. Football bodies, with their mass wealth, are not doing that.
There is also Manton. I actually employed a member of staff, Kamini Patel, who spent three years battling with CISWO to allow investment in the facilities there. We pooled our money, Sport England money and various other types of money and put in changing rooms and a little multi-use games area. It was transformed from virtually nobody using it—one club, one football team—to thousands of kids using it, and thousands of girls playing football there. That continues to this day. It has decent changing rooms, decent toilets, a proper, safe car park, safe access and a little tuck shop room to make teas and coffees.
An all-weather facility could be put in Manton and the numbers would dramatically increase again. It needs a bit of assistance to get that going. It could also do with infrastructure money for the boxing that is held there, which is only just legal in the building used for it. There is also athletics there, which is highly successful. We are talking about potential Olympic medal winners training in the summer on grass marked out at the miners’ welfare. That is not the standard that we should aspire to in this country.
It seems to me that there is a huge opportunity for the Minister and for the Government. The facilities, the land and the consent are there. CISWO is not a dynamic organisation, but it is not the irritable blocker that it was when I dealt with it five or 10 years ago, when it tried to block every single thing. It gave me plenty of grief simply because we wanted to turn drinking clubs into sports clubs for kids. That has now changed, and CISWO will not stand in the way, but it needs some pump-priming. It needs the Government to say that they will put in extra money if it opens up football, cricket or athletics facilities, but what should the Government’s price be for doing that?
My final point, Mr Owen, is the biggest and the most important, and the one you will be most interested in, as will the Minister, I am sure. Any Government funding should be conditional on putting the NHS in the middle. The Government should tell the NHS that it has to be part of this. We put some good money into Manton miners’ welfare, and you cannot move for the vast number of parents and grandparents watching young girls and boys play football there on a Saturday morning. It is a wonderful sight, and statistically it is the Football Foundation’s most successful ever project. I hope it is listening in and recognising that.
What if NHS involvement was one of the conditions? Doctors could recommend walking round the pitch three times for each grandparent. Reading University’s academic research suggests that that will probably add half a year to their life if they do it every time they watch their grandchild play football. Let us bring in a little bit of quantified active participation and literally bring in NHS branding—force the NHS to think through using these facilities as part of its work. The key target group in Mansfield, Bassetlaw and other coalfield communities is the parents and grandparents watching their kids involved in physical activity. If what I have suggested is part of the deal, we will save the taxpayer a fortune. Three times walking round the pitch is quantified activity. We should say to those running the facilities, “It is part of your responsibility to get all the parents and grandparents doing it, because that is why we are putting the money in.”
That would be huge for the NHS. That is the little twist that I would build in. It would be transformative in coalfield communities. It would be great for mental health stuff and all the rest. Say to people, “Aye, go and have a drink if you want on a Saturday night, but these aren’t drinking clubs. They are sports clubs. As they were originally, so they are going to be again—a great national asset brought fully back into use.” What a chance for the Minister to be performing round the country and seeing great success in what she has done!
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) on securing this important debate and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) on his passion and enthusiasm for the changes that we are seeking in coalfield communities.
Coalmining was a major industry in Ayrshire from the mid-1700s until the mid-1980s, which saw the last of the deep mines in Ayrshire—or the National Coal Board west area, as it was known. Today, the surface scars of the collieries are all but gone, leaving a unique landscape of pine forests, moors, lakes and recovered open-cast sites. There are also many sites of special scientific interest, and I am pleased to report that the area hosts an abundance of wildlife.
When the coalfields were thriving, sport and culture also thrived. Over the past 150 years some remarkably talented individuals, including musicians and sports personalities, in sports ranging from boxing to bowling—not least Bill Shankly, of football fame—have hailed from Ayrshire mining communities. Bill Shankly was born not quite in my constituency but in a neighbouring constituency, in a small village called Glenbuck. It produced a number of world-class footballers.
Sadly, many such villages have disappeared, but since the mines closed the communities have remained proud and resilient. In recent years, for example, members of the Dalmellington curling club have worked to reinstate the outside curling pond at Craigengillan—currently the only self-levelling curling pond in Scotland—and almost certainly using granite curling stones quarried on the island of Ailsa Craig, off the coast of my constituency. Moreover, the Dalmellington band—it is well worth going to hear it play; it does very well in competitions throughout the UK—is playing on after 150 years in the Doon Valley.
There is much evidence to suggest an unhappy correlation between lower indices of health and fitness, life expectancy and deprivation in former coalfield communities, and a great deal of evidence to suggest that sports facilities are an excellent means by which to improve that particularly bad situation. At the moment, a number of organisations are doing sterling work for the welfare of former coalfield communities. Locally, we have East Ayrshire Council, the East Ayrshire Coalfield Environment Initiative, the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, to name but a few. Indeed, another local organisation, the Coalfield Communities Landscape Partnership—it aims to reconnect communities with the landscape by creating opportunities for leisure, tourism and, we hope, jobs—has recently secured £2.5 million of national lottery funding, which will do much to support its work.
There is, however, a danger of overlap, and although I am very much aware that elements of sport are a devolved matter, community health and wellbeing is a matter of UK-wide importance. In many communities, the loss of sports facilities such as games halls, golf courses and bowling greens has left a significant health gap. Will the Minister therefore consider whether, despite the devolved elements, a UK-wide approach, with some form of joint working between Governments and the various support organisations, might see increased efficiency in the improvement of existing sports facilities, and in some cases the construction of new ones in former coalfield communities UK-wide? I will just mention that the proposed UK prosperity fund might be a till that one could dip into to improve some of these facilities, which are much needed.
There is the potential to make a significant contribution to the health and wellbeing of these communities, which in the past have played an immense part in the success of industry throughout the UK. We have taken the deep-mine coal, we have taken the open-cast coal and, as if that were not enough, we are now stealing the wind—for renewable energy—from these communities, particularly around the Doon Valley. I say to the Minister that it may be time to pay them back for what they have given to the United Kingdom.
It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I thank the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) for raising this matter. The Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation has been mentioned. Its headquarters are in my constituency, and I have worked with it over many decades. I am referring to the work that it has done and continues to do for mining communities and individuals in those communities. Its core activity includes services to individual clients through the organisation’s personal welfare service. That includes advice, guidance, advocacy and grant assistance to former miners and their families. The organisation’s website states that that is its medium-term priority. Sadly, we all know that that medium-term priority will be lessening all the time, because there are not many ex-miners around now.
Obviously, it is a long time since the coalmines closed in some parts of my constituency and, as has been pointed out, what we have left, as a consequence, is many recreation grounds that were tied to the local coalmine. When I was a miner in Maltby colliery, we used to pay a certain amount a week from our wages to the miners’ welfare field, which was there to assist with the different activities that took place. Providing support for mining charities acting within mining trusts and preserving recreational facilities in former mining communities is difficult at this stage, but I believe very strongly that we should look after these facilities for current and future generations.
I have discussed individual projects with the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation. I ought to declare an interest. My grandson, 10-year-old Ted Barron, plays for Maltby Miners Welfare junior football club. His older brother used to play for them, but he plays for another club now. There is still a hive of activity in these ex-coalmining communities, but there are a lot of problems.
I will not talk about all the grounds—there are many in my area—but one has been empty for years and we have argued about redevelopment and getting some sporting activity back on to it. It is in a village called Dinnington, where my constituency office is. Through CISWO, we tried to get some movement on that many years ago. We have had problems with other grounds as well. It may be argued that personal fallouts have been an issue. The biggest issue we have had recently at Maltby—I am going to ask the Minister whether her Department can help in some way—concerns the local football team. There are many people there—there is bowling and cricket, and whippet racing is still an activity—I have not seen a human beat one yet, but anyway, it is still an activity that takes place. There is an issue about ground improvement. Because no miners work down Maltby colliery any more, nobody is paying money into the welfare scheme, and the bar takings are depleting by the day. The culture is changing. We have a situation that is potentially a serious threat.
There was a scheme involving the football club, called Maltby Miners Welfare. This year it was streamed in the first FA cup round playing Pontefract Collieries. Sadly, Pontefract Collieries won—I was at the match and saw it. But the main thing about that is that there was an attempt to get some improvements through the Football Foundation, but that was not possible because of the lease arrangements between CISWO, the local Miners Welfare trustees and the users themselves. There is constant debate about the costs.
There are football clubs peppered throughout south Yorkshire playing in major amateur leagues. The football clubs have abandoned those grounds and gone elsewhere. At Kiveton Park in my constituency the football club left about three years ago—it could not get one locally. The priority for CISWO is the issue of independent advice, which I accept is important, but I and others would like the legacy left by coalmining to carry on now, in terms of health and activity in our constituencies, especially given the levels of childhood obesity. I am not saying that they should necessarily get an NHS grant, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) says, but these clubs will need advice as they move into the future.
It is clear that CISWO has some assets in buildings and land. Its priority at the moment is to look after people who worked in the coal industry and their dependants, which I understand. In my view, it needs some advice about the future, so that we can get Football Foundation money to keep the recreation going, and to keep our young and elderly people fitter by using these facilities, which are a legacy from coalmining throughout the UK. I am sure that, with some assistance, CISWO would be the right organisation to do that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) on securing this important and timely debate. I am pleased to follow the important and passionate contributions of hon. Members, which reflect a combined view across parties in this part of the world. I am a near neighbour of those who have spoken, except for my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant), who comes from north of the border but whose points were just as valid.
This issue is close to my heart. I did not have the privilege of being a miner, but both my grandfathers were miners and both of them effectively died from mining. I represent one of the pits that one of my grandads worked down, before he lost his leg and was retired. I have the privilege of representing lots of coalmining villages, including my own, which I lived in and my family have lived in for nearly 50 years. I know that the passion and community spirit is still there and I know how important it is to support that. I know the experience that has been discussed already. I have been to lots of the working men’s clubs and community facilities in these villages over the past few months, because I have been renting them out to hold public meetings and to talk to residents. Huge camaraderie and community spirit remains.
We will not debate this extensively, but it is fair to say that such places had the stuffing knocked out of them in the ’80s, and over the last 30 years or so they have got back on their feet and are moving again. Yet challenges remain, and it is places such as these where the community can still come together. Often some of these communities are somewhat isolated. I represent communities that are not that far away from the main town, Chesterfield, but actually most people look internally within that community—the bus routes are not great and not everybody has cars—because that is what people see and experience day to day. As a Government, we should think very hard about how we can support and improve this area.
There is some fantastic work already going on—I will name a few examples. I recently went to Tupton to talk to the local rugby club, which is doing fantastic work with the local community and is a real asset for the village. I have been to watch Eckington football club pull together dozens of young people every single week, to work in teams and learn to play football. Killamarsh Dynamos is doing the same in the next village. Last Friday evening I was at a local basketball club, Arrows Basketball in Dronfield, which operates across Dronfield, Yorkshire and Killamarsh. I have also seen Killamarsh Juniors, a club that is run to support local activities from a sports perspective. It has its own challenges, not least with npower—something I have been trying to help with over the past six months—which has put in four different smart meters and is getting different answers every time. I know that is slightly ancillary, but it demonstrates how close some of these clubs are to the bread line in supporting the activities they are doing. As a Government, we need to ensure that we recognise the important contribution that they make.
In my section of the party, I am somebody who believes in a small state and in Government only spending where it is necessary, rather than spending badly in lots of places. However, I am a strong supporter of infrastructure spending, and this is social infrastructure. I can see from the places that I have the privilege to represent and the place where I have grown up how important these kinds of facilities are for the communities that we have been speaking about today. If there is something that we can do here, we should consider it strongly.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen—in a different forum from our usual Wednesday morning standing engagement. I am conscious that the Division bells might ring in a moment, but I will keep the Chamber going until such time as we are interrupted.
I commend the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) for securing and kicking off this excellent debate. We have heard excellent contributions from the hon. Gentleman himself, the hon. Members for Bassetlaw (John Mann), for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant)—who I will come back to in a moment—and for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), and the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron). I do not always agree with my friend, the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock. I did not agree with him—as hon. Members will have seen from my excessive gesticulation—when he suggested that we should have a UK-wide approach to spending on these matters, but I suspect that we shall have to disagree on that.
I am delighted to begin the winding-up speeches on behalf of the Scottish National party. I want to refer to one or two initiatives in Scotland, as the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock did, before placing on the record my plea—not to the Minister, because this is a matter not for her but for my colleagues back home on Glasgow City Council—for some sports facilities in Glasgow East.
Before I do that, I want to pay tribute to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which receives financial backing from the Scottish Government in Edinburgh. Some £750,000 has been pledged to the trust this year to support the enabling of grassroots activity, which can tackle issues relating to employment, sport and training. We know the good work that the trust does and what good value for money it is—it has been reported that it delivers £1.81 for every £1 it receives, so it almost doubles the money it receives.
One of the three current priorities of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust is health and wellbeing, and encouraging sport. Since 2014 it has run an annual football event for five-a-side teams aged 14 to 16 in each country, with finalists going on to play against each other in the home internationals. It is one of the few occasions when Scotland seems to do well at the moment, so I will certainly support that. The trust also recently ran a sports challenge, inviting sports clubs and groups to bid for financial support, to encourage those young people to get involved. It was not just football and rugby that benefited; we saw basketball, lawn bowling, boxing and even an Australian rules football club receive support.
The hon. Member for Mansfield was right to frame the debate in the way he did. A particularly hot topic in my constituency at the moment is the need for a new sports facility in the village of Baillieston. The village grew out of a number of small hamlets, including Crosshill, Barrachnie and Bredisholm, which developed as farming and weaving communities in the latter part of the 18th century. However, the opening up of the Monklands coalfield, with the construction of the Monklands canal and later the railway, stimulated the rapid growth of Baillieston. It soon acquired the typical character of a mining village, although some weaving survived until the end of the century, and we still have the last weavers’ cottage on Baillieston Main Street, which I am glad to see has been done up.
A continuous programme of pit sinking drew in workers from across Scotland and beyond, and the population grew rapidly to reach almost 4,000 by the time of the first world war. Of course, for reasons of politics, Baillieston does not have that mining industry now, but it is a radically different place. We once again have a growing population and the issues associated with that, and for that reason residents in that part of my constituency are quite right to say that they want proper amenities and facilities that reflect the dynamic and growing population that now lives in Baillieston and its surrounding communities. Since being elected, I have been working closely with my SNP colleague, Councillor Elaine Ballantyne, to apply maximum pressure to Glasgow City Council to make sure that the community gets what it was promised many years ago. A sports hub is what they were promised, and it is what we will deliver.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen, for what I believe is the first time. I thank the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) for leading this debate. His constituency is directly affected by this important issue, which his predecessor was also concerned about.
One in 11 people in the UK live in coalfield sites, and as many hon. Members will know, coalfield sites fall well below the national average in most national indicators. My husband is from a little mining village in Wales, and we often talk about the challenges faced by people who live in such rural communities. Whether in employment rates, prevalence of ill health or life expectancy, coalfields have some of the worst statistics on deprivation in the UK. The 1980s miners’ strike may be a distant memory for some, but for residents in coalfields across the country, the job losses that came afterward have cast a long shadow. The Government of the time were responsible for ripping coalfield communities apart, and the then Prime Minister did little to repair the fabric. We are still trying to rebuild those communities up and down the country. Sport programmes delivered in coalfield areas have been shown to have a positive impact on communities. They reduce antisocial activity, increase feelings of public security and reduce the number of young people involved in violent crime. In many of those communities, only one or two pubs in certain villages bind people together, so sports facilities provide an essential opportunity.
As the shadow Minister for Sport, I have seen at first hand how sport can change lives, especially young people’s. The physical benefits are plain to see, but just as important are the support structures it can provide: mentoring, friendship and a place to belong. I will continue to be an advocate for community sports. However, we need more than somewhere to play sports; we need coaches—people who can spot talent, or who can spot vulnerable young people and go on to help them. Sometimes people cannot get the support they need from their families and they look to coaches in sports facilities to be the person they can rely on. It is about camaraderie, the team, being together and knowing everyone is there for one another. The power of sport should not be underestimated.
Most sports facilities in coalfield sites are still privately owned and operated by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, which we have heard about already. It is a national charity that supports mining communities and oversees hundreds of formerly British Coal-owned sports facilities, which are leased out to local miners’ welfare schemes. Recently, however, the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation made “a strategic decision” not to offer grant aid to support welfare schemes running recreation grounds, but instead to focus on providing support services to individuals. That was part of a three-year plan created in 2015 to cut spending by £600,000, to extend the organisation’s projected lifespan. It has led to a growing number of sports facilities in coalfields having to close because they just do not have enough money to keep going. That has happened at a time when Government cuts have forced secondary schools to cut the provision of physical education teaching by almost 35,000 hours.
It seems clear that the Government owe a historical debt to the communities in coalfield sites. For years, people in those communities worked in incredibly dangerous conditions, as we heard from the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), who spoke about his family’s involvement. They worked in those conditions to produce the coal that fired this country’s economy for decades. What reward have they received for their service? A Prime Minister led an attack on mining in which miners were described as “the enemy within” and which decimated the mining industry and the communities that depended on it.
I urge the Minister to consider the points that have been made in this debate, to do everything she can to reduce deprivation in coalfield sites, and to focus particularly on the sustainability of sports facilities. Sport can improve lives, increase community cohesion, give young people a purpose, give families an opportunity to be together and change young peoples’ futures. I urge the Minister to ensure that the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation has the financial support to ensure that coalfield communities do not miss out.
I call the Minister to respond to the debate. Perhaps she can leave a couple of minutes at the end for the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley).
I would be delighted, Mr Owen. Unlike the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), I do not think that this is the first time that I have served under your chairmanship. I am sure that it will be as much of a pleasure as last time.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) for securing the debate. I welcome the opportunity to raise awareness of this important issue and to explore with hon. Members what can be done. I am grateful to him, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) for meeting me earlier this year. It was a helpful introduction to their concerns about the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation and to the aspiration of hon. Members to seek greater investment in their communities. I would also be very happy to meet the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) to discuss Maltby, if that would help. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) about devolution is interesting, albeit challenging, given the way that funds are distributed for sports across the UK. I will take that away and think about it.
This is clearly an important subject. Like all hon. Members who have spoken, I firmly believe that sport and physical activity should be for everyone, no matter where they come from or where they live. Sport has the power to transform lives and the benefits go far beyond the physical, which is at the heart of what we are trying to achieve through the sport and physical activity strategy. Sporting Future was one of the first strategies that I delivered as the Sports Minister in 2015. At its core is a desire to create a healthier, happier and more productive nation. Supporting people to be more active in whatever way best suits them is a crucial part of that.
One of the greatest factors that affects people’s desire and ability to get involved is the environment and facilities that they can access. Facilities are key. For some people, especially for older generations, taking part in sport can bring back memories of crumbling changing rooms, muddy pitches and jumpers for goalposts, so good-quality, inclusive and welcoming environments are important in encouraging people to get active and, more importantly, stay active.
I am pleased that the Government are doing so much to transform sporting facilities across the country. I recognise that Sporting Future is not perfect, but we are insistent that facilities and the environment for sport and physical activity should be a priority. It made clear our support for bringing together sport and physical activity facilities with other community services. It also highlighted the benefits of multi-sport facilities in improving usage and sustainability. More than that, it placed the customer—the person—at the heart of facility design. Gone are the simple days of “build it and they will come”. We must be smarter and we must think harder.
Given the local government cuts in leisure, given that the industry does not support sport as it used to, certainly in my area, and given the real problems of modern illnesses such as child and adult obesity across the UK, particularly in our coalfield communities, what more does the Minister think the NHS can do to make a large-scale material difference in improving the health of our country by promoting physical activity, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) suggested? The Minister’s strategy is worthy, but will it make a sufficient difference to deal with modern killers? Do we need to be much more ambitious and involve the NHS?
We already involve the NHS, but we can do more. That is not within my portfolio, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that a lot is going on in terms of the social prescribing of physical activity in local communities to combat the issues that he mentioned. Other things can be done—he should remind me to tell him about some girl guides from Wales who just visited me, who have been working hard to get sports such as rugby into their schools, despite opposition from their headteachers to allowing girls to do traditionally boys’ sports. I will talk to him about that outside the Chamber, because it is not the issue that we are talking about today. There is no simple solution, though; we need a partnership across many different agencies.
To support the Government’s ambitions, Sport England is investing £40 million in large-scale facilities up to 2021 through its strategic facilities fund. Its community asset fund provides grants of up to £150,000 to organisations and communities that want to take more ownership over the spaces and facilities in their local areas. I am pleased to see the extensive support that Sport England has already provided to mining communities, with £4.8 million of public investment having been awarded to 30 miners’ welfare organisations since 2005.
I was very interested in the comments by the right hon. Member for Rother Valley, because it says here in my script that the Kiveton community sports park in South Yorkshire is a particularly successful and recent example of how Sport England funding has helped to regenerate land and support mining communities to be more active. The park is used for sports as diverse as football, cricket, tag rugby and bowls; there are also para-sports such as boccia and goalball. Clearly, we need to talk about Kiveton outside this Chamber. It also says here in my script that it is a wonderful facility, and I am thrilled that so many people are being introduced to such a wide array of sports. Clearly, our perception of what is being delivered at Kiveton is very different from the reality on the ground, and I welcome his feedback on that.
It also says here in my script that Kiveton is a great example of how local interest and drive can be harnessed to make a real difference for communities. Regardless of Kiveton, however, it is clear that facilities only work properly when they are properly planned, properly used and properly maintained. That means being clear about which people we think would benefit the most from using them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield and others spoke about CISWO. Although colleagues will appreciate that I am not in a position to comment on specific details of CISWO’s operations, I encourage all interested parties, including CISWO, the local trusts, local county sports partnerships and others to come together to discuss how local communities and facilities can best be supported and managed. Sport England has huge expertise in this area and I am sure that its staff would be very happy to contribute to such conversations. If that is of interest to colleagues, we can help to facilitate it.
We all know that many of the mining communities that we have talked about today include people from some of the hardest-to-reach groups in society, who are exactly the people who benefit the most from becoming more active. That is another key message in the sport and physical activity strategy. We want a strong focus from the whole sport and physical activity sector on how we can reach people who traditionally have not got involved in sport or who think sport or physical activity is not for them.
A great deal of support is already out there. Sport England has delivered a range of opportunities that place tackling inactivity and engaging under-represented groups at their core, and it is investing up to £100 million in 12 local delivery pilots across the country. These pilots focus on bringing together a wide range of partners to solve inactivity challenges in very specific locations. We are monitoring those pilots very closely, as they will be vital in helping to deliver better interventions across the country in the future.
Public funding and support can only stretch so far, but I shall make sure that the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield is passed on to the Chancellor as soon as possible. However, as I said earlier, there is no simple answer and therefore no one solution. Organisations that have great ideas about developing their facilities need to be encouraged and directed to other sources of finance and support. They need to be brought together—even cajoled—and it is in this regard that local leadership and understanding is key. Local authorities are the organisations best placed to understand what is needed in their communities and how to build support for any proposal, and the brokerage that local leaders can offer is invaluable. I urge the parties involved to get around the table to find a solution. Whether it is the challenges of planning regulations, access to finance or a lack of co-ordination, there is an opportunity to address real community need.
What we must avoid at all costs is building facilities that do not have the support of local organisations and that have not been tested by the community. I know that as someone whose constituency received funding for a major sports facility in the early stages of Sport England and lottery funding. That facility was developed, but a few years later it went into administration, because it had not been subject to community testing and did not have the right business plan. I really encourage thinking through the bids that go into the lottery organisations.
I am very grateful to the Minister for what she has said. I will make contact with the CISWO officer in my constituency to see whether I can facilitate a meeting between CISWO and Sport England, to look at all these issues that are affecting people up and down the land in former coalfield areas.
We all want to see more and better facilities. It is important that we work together in partnership to help people to get active, but sporting facilities all need to be properly planned, and that is where the leadership of colleagues here in Parliament, including leadership of their colleagues in their own constituencies, is incredibly important. Understanding the needs of local communities and building a broad consensus are crucial, and those of us in central Government in Whitehall are probably not best placed to do those things. However, we can provide the expertise from Sport England to help to support those conversations.
In addition, the Cabinet Office and the Local Government Association’s “One Public Estate” programme brings together partners from across a range of different local backgrounds to help to deliver property-based projects. I know my colleagues in the Cabinet Office would be very happy to meet interested Members to discuss that programme further.
At the very centre of this debate is the importance of understanding how we can help communities to be more active, including how they can access better quality facilities. We all know of the benefits that people gain from sport: it improves mental and physical health, improves skills, brings communities together, and makes the country a more productive place. That is why we want to see strong local partnerships coming together to understand the needs in their area and consequently to reinvigorate their local facilities and green spaces.
That already happens in many places, but there is scope to do so much more. I want communities to be supported to ensure that everybody, regardless of their ability or background, feels able to get active and live a healthy, happy and full life. I urge Members, CISWO, the relevant local authorities and county sports partnerships to meet urgently to identify a way forward. It is only through local collaboration and the drive of the community that meaningful progress can be made.
I thank all the Members who participated in today’s debate. Their contributions have been thoughtful and insightful. The points that have been expressed have been well made and I hope that progress on this matter will be forthcoming, because, like everyone else in this Chamber, I passionately believe that sport should be for everyone and is at the heart of a happy and healthy nation.
I thank the Minister for her response to the debate, for her consideration of this issue and for touching on the many positive things that the Government are doing to help grassroots sport. I particularly welcome her interest in discussing the matter with CISWO and the national governing bodies of sports. I would appreciate her help to facilitate that, whether the discussion is about finding new money—I have spoken to the Treasury about this issue—or how we co-ordinate and bring together the partnerships that she has mentioned, to make sure that any new money reaches the kind of facilities and communities that we have been discussing today. All of that would be very welcome.
I apologise for coughing my way through the debate; my next speech is about weaponising toddler germs for use by the Ministry of Defence. [Laughter.] My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant) made some comments about the historic success of local clubs and sportsmen, and the positive contribution that lottery funding can make, which was a very good point to include. The right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) told us about his experience of local clubs and laid out the challenges with CISWO. We have touched on how important it is that we can bring CISWO funding together and get CISWO to put a plan together, as the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who represents a constituency neighbouring mine, mentioned. His point about NHS involvement was interesting; the health aspect of sport is certainly critical. He is right to say that it is the parents and grandparents of children who are the health priority in areas such as ours, and sporting facilities are clearly an access point for health services to reach those people. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), who is my Nan’s MP, touched on the community spirit that remains in coalfield areas, and the resilience and grit of these communities. He is absolutely spot on.
It was a shame, therefore, after such a positive debate about the future of our communities that the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), who is the shadow Minister, could not help harking back and politicising the issue. I find that even in communities such as ours, my constituents tend not to appreciate that. My predecessor’s will to continue to do that is part of the reason that I am now here in Parliament, truthfully. I find that very interesting.
I strongly believe that investing in sports provision in coalfield communities should be a huge priority, particularly in terms of improving the health and wellbeing of those communities. Without spending a great deal of money, there are opportunities to create a really positive legacy for the coal industry and these communities.
I appreciate everybody’s support here in Westminster Hall today and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to raise this issue.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered sports facilities in coalfield areas.