Tuesday 26 February 2019
[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]
Unhealthy Housing: Cost to the NHS
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the cost of unhealthy housing to the NHS.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank right hon. and hon. Members for attending the debate, particularly the Scottish National party spokesperson, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day); the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn); and the Minister. I look forward to positive contributions from all those able to participate.
I am grateful to have been allocated the debate. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for healthy homes and buildings, I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise awareness and concerns about the cost of unhealthy homes to the NHS. I thank the background staff, who are in the Gallery, who have given information to us all, myself in particular, to help us in the debate.
Our APPG was created to shed light on the many problems caused to our nation’s health, wellbeing and economy as a result of people living and working in unhealthy homes and buildings. Given that most of us spend some 90% of our time indoors, it stands to reason that our homes need to contribute positively to our physical and mental health and wellbeing, not diminish it. This debate is so important because it pulls together the critical issues. It is perhaps not a normal Westminster Hall debate, but it pushes very much to the fore the effect of the homes that we live in on our health and, ultimately, on the NHS.
The APPG, following a weight of written and oral evidence received, launched a report, “Building our Future: Laying the Foundations for Healthy Homes and Buildings”, in October last year. It was a well addressed report, to which there were many contributions, and it brought together those with a deep interest in homes and those with a deep interest in health issues. It is good to have the report finished.
I have given the Minister a copy of the report, which contains a series of excellent recommendations that are helpful to the Government and will help us to move forward. I hope the debate will be a turning point, and that those recommendations will lay the foundations for change. The report sets out what needs to be done to ensure that new and existing homes do not cause or exacerbate health problems, because they often do. Many of us here, as elected representatives, will have people coming to us every week to complain about their home and, more often than not, the health problems related to that.
This debate is long overdue. It is time to raise awareness of the extent of the problem, and to recognise the human cost to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of doing nothing. It is clear from the White Paper that unhealthy homes cost the economy and our society each and every year. Living in or occupying unhealthy homes directly and negatively impacts on human health. Unhealthy homes that lack daylight, or are cold, damp, poorly insulated, energy inefficient, overcrowded, noisy, badly designed and generate poor indoor air quality can, in the extreme, lead to unnecessary deaths.
The hon. Gentleman is an old friend of mine. I think he knows that those of us who campaign on carbon monoxide poisoning really welcomed his excellent report. I have lost three constituents to carbon monoxide poisoning, which is one symptom of an unhealthy home. I assure him that we will work closely with him to ensure that no more people die of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. My hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), who is sat to my left, also had constituents who passed away a few years ago due to carbon monoxide poisoning. That was in a holiday home, but it was none the less a problem. We in the APPG will take the comments of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on board, and we look forward to working with him.
Let me detail some of my concerns arising from the evidence that we heard. The effects of poor housing are estimated to cost the NHS £2.5 billion per annum; that rises when we consider all housing throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The true cost lies in human misery and lives lost. Some of the figures are quite extreme, but they underline the issue. Some 43,900 excess winter deaths occurred in England and Wales in the winter of 2014-15, with cold homes causing one fifth of those. That is more than the number of deaths caused by road accidents, alcohol or drug abuse, which puts into perspective the need to make sure that homes are healthy. Children in cold homes are more than two times more likely to suffer from a respiratory problem. Cold homes increase the incidence of cold and flu, and worsen conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism. Again, we see that every day in our constituencies.
One in four adolescents living in a cold home is at risk of multiple mental health problems, so we are not always talking about physical issues; there can be emotional and mental issues as well. Those in poor-quality homes that lack effective ventilation suffer from indoor air pollution, which has been linked to allergies, asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and, more recently, dementia.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and on championing this cause. I apologise: I will not be here for the whole debate. I am double-booked. There have been steps forward on this issue, such as the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, which was recently taken through Parliament by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck). However, are conditions not getting worse for a lot of people? My experience is that there are two principal causes—the failure to build social housing, and the benefit cap—that force people into substandard accommodation in the private rented sector. Given the hon. Gentleman’s party’s special influence over the Government, could he persuade them to change those two egregious policies, which cause so much human misery?
If only we had that power! That is not to take away from the importance of the issue of social housing, which I will touch on later. Let us be honest: many people go into the housing that their pockets allow. As a result, they end up in housing that is not particularly in the right category, the right condition or the right shape. The hon. Gentleman is right that the benefit cap also dictates where someone can go. I will give the Minister plenty of time to get her thoughts together on that. However, that is an important point, and I will touch on it later.
Poor indoor air quality has an annual cost to the UK of more than 204,000 healthy life years. It causes thousands of deaths per year, and gives rise to health costs in the order of tens of millions of pounds. One third of people in the United Kingdom suffer from mould in their homes and are at increased risk of respiratory problems, infections, allergies and asthma. Just last week, I saw three constituents with mould growth issues in their houses—mould not caused by condensation, but ingrained in the walls. Sometimes ensuring that the housing associations or housing executive take those issues on board is quite a job.
There are more than half a million overcrowded households. The issue affects one in 10 children—something we cannot ignore. Overcrowding is linked to health and development issues, including meningitis, respiratory conditions, slow growth rates, accidents in the home, stress, anxiety, depression and poor adult health. Occupants of poor-quality housing are more likely to suffer from restricted daylight and noise pollution.
We cannot ignore noise pollution. In the news this morning someone put forward the idea of building houses and flats over railway lines. I am not sure if any hon. Member saw that. The first thing that came to my mind was the noise of the trains continually going underneath. How could those homes be adapted to mitigate that? We need to address noise pollution. Natural light helps to improve the recovery times of long-stay patients and reduces anxiety and the need for medication. Noise pollution can cause long-term health issues and increase stress and the risk of cardiovascular effects.
It is clear that there is a lack of public awareness of these problems, and limited knowledge of the facts. Too often, the homes we live in are, in so many ways, causing or aggravating health problems.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very good speech, and I am nervous about intervening again, but will he accept this point? He talks about the noise pollution from living over a railway, and we know that private rented accommodation is a real problem. On the other side of the equation, very modern and expensive housing that is totally hermetically sealed could be as dangerous, because it traps all the gases and pollutants within the home—not only carbon monoxide, but many other emissions.
I thank the hon. Member for Huddersfield for intervening again. It is always good to have him adding his words of wisdom to any debate, at any time, in this Chamber or in the main Chamber. The issue is clear: too often, the homes that we live in are, in many ways, causing or aggravating health problems. That cannot be ignored. Given the plethora of health issues that I have identified as caused by unhealthy homes, and given the cost to the NHS, it is time to ask who in Government is responsible and accountable. We look to the Minister for answers.
One issue that has been raised with me in Northern Ireland—I am sure that it affects the whole United Kingdom—is that when it comes to old and listed buildings, and particularly rows of listed houses, it is sometimes very difficult to get adaptations done, because they have to be done in a certain way.
My hon. Friend highlights one of the kernels of the debate. Our white paper calls on the Government to take a holistic approach to future housing and ensuring that people’s health and wellbeing is placed at the heart of the built environment. That is clearly what my hon. Friend is saying, and that is where we are. Our white paper states that there must be effective leadership, and recommends that there be one Department responsible for healthy homes and buildings to ensure, critically, that homes and buildings maintain the highest standards for health and wellbeing; to identify where homes and building are causing health issues; to measure the economic and social benefits of healthier homes and buildings; to reduce health inequalities, of which there are many across the postcodes of the United Kingdom; and to provide for a common definition and approach to policy, regulation and standards. That makes complete sense to me.
Furthermore, an interdepartmental Government committee involving all Departments and agencies responsible for health, housing and construction—including the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Education, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and Public Health England—should be formed to ensure that health and wellbeing is placed at the heart of existing and future housing provision.
If we are to build houses, let us build them right. Let us ensure that the issues to which the hon. Member for Huddersfield referred do not arise, whether the homes are very expensive or of a lesser quality. I have serious concerns about the standards and quality of new housing inadvertently being driven downwards, without consideration of the cost to human health. In the context of the Government’s very healthy ambition to build 300,000 new homes and their healthy new towns initiative, standards must be driven upwards. It is essential that the Government adopt a holistic approach to delivery that addresses safety, space, energy efficiency, ventilation, heating, noise, air quality and lighting. We must all want to see quality new homes and communities being built with health and wellbeing in mind. I hope that the Government will agree that maximising the occupants’ health and wellbeing must be placed at the centre of new housing provision and building design.
Of course, we live in homes that have already been built, most of us in the privately owned or privately rented sector, to which the hon. Member for Huddersfield referred. Renovation of existing housing stock must also become a Government priority. This is not just about building new homes, but about ensuring that the homes that we already have are up to standard. Our white paper calls on the Government to develop plans to retrofit existing homes to maximise health and wellbeing and improve health performance.
Today, I have set out the problems caused by unhealthy homes and buildings. I now call on the Government to take on board the recommendations in the APPG for healthy homes and buildings white paper, which are as follows. There needs to be greater public awareness of the health problems exacerbated by unhealthy homes, and the health benefits to be gained through simple improvements and behavioural change. Importantly, how we live in the homes we build becomes part of where we are. In building new homes, priority must be given to ensuring that people’s health and wellbeing is foremost, specifically at the planning stage and through the national planning policy framework. Again, we look to the Minister for responses on these issues.
The Government need to commit to building greater numbers of quality social and affordable homes to help to alleviate issues of overcrowding and poor physical and mental health, which are all part of this. The Government need to optimise the health performance of new and existing homes, and ensure that they are built or retrofitted to “full health”. There must be greater focus on enforcement and quality control of home renovation standards, so there is a role for councils to play when it comes to checking the work that is done and ensuring that it is done to an acceptable standard.
The Government must commit to building the evidence base and promoting the link between housing and health and wellbeing. That would result in considerable savings to healthcare costs, increased educational attainment, improved productivity, and people leading longer, healthier and happier lives. The exact cost of unhealthy housing to the public purse, and the human cost, in terms of health and wellbeing, educational attainment and social care, is unfathomable. To date, Government attention to and policy thinking about this problem have been—I say this respectfully—woefully absent. We ask the Minister to address the issue in her response. We are looking for constructive comments. That is what I am about—indeed, what we are all about in the House—but we do need answers on what we are putting forward.
Ultimately, the recommendations made in the white paper provide the basis for a step change in policy, which will drive up standards and help to reduce the health problems caused or made worse by living and working in unhealthy homes and buildings. That is the purpose of this debate: to consider how we can do this together, and better, across the whole United Kingdom. The white paper is testament to the need to build better quality homes and buildings, as well as to upgrade existing housing stock, which comprises the vast majority of the homes that people live in today. We need to do something with new homes and set the standards, and then we will have to do something with the homes that we already have to bring them up to the standard necessary.
It is beyond doubt that there is a problem that needs urgent action. There is a lot to be gained by building and retrofitting homes to the highest quality and standard to achieve health and wellbeing. These are the pluses: lower costs to the NHS and a healthier population; better finances; better educational attainment and workplace productivity; reduced emissions—the hon. Member for Huddersfield referred to carbon monoxide—lower energy bills and a lower carbon footprint; improved health, wellbeing and comfort; and greater life chances and independent living and care.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, and on the work that he continues to do on these issues. Does he agree that the subject that he is entering into—the need to renovate and upgrade housing stock—is particularly applicable in lower socioeconomic areas, in both Northern Ireland and, I am sure, across the UK? In those areas, health issues are even more prevalent than in the rest of society, so his point about the benefit to the NHS is even more applicable with regard to those socioeconomic groups.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those are the cases that we deal with in our constituency offices each and every day. Those issues are the subject of the site meetings that we have with the executives of housing associations, and of the meetings that take place with councils’ environmental health departments, back home and over here. There is a greater impact on those at a certain socioeconomic level, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) also said. Benefits also come into the process; there is the question of what people can afford to purchase and deal with.
I call on parliamentary colleagues from across the House to join me in taking forward the recommendations in the white paper, and call on the Government to join together and provide the necessary leadership and focus. We look to the Minister to do those things. The cost-benefit and rewards could be significant. The economic burden and sheer human misery created by poor homes and buildings, to which other hon. Members have referred, are simply too great to ignore.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for being here, and thank those Members who have come along to make a contribution. It is so important for us to deal with this issue. We look to the Minister for a significant and positive response—no pressure, but we do think it is important that we air these issues.
I pay credit to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing the debate and for all the work he does with the all-party parliamentary group, from which I have enjoyed gaining expertise and knowledge. The cost of unhealthy housing to the NHS is a fantastic subject to tackle, especially in the middle of winter. We have not had a particularly cold spell yet—that is still around the corner—but nearly a year ago, a few days of significant snow cut off my village, which is extremely rare in the warm south-west.
It is great to speak on this important and urgent issue, but it is not new for me. When I pitched up as a new MP, all sorts of people came to tell me how good or bad my constituency was. I met a representative of the Association for the Conservation of Energy—ACE—who came to see me and said that my constituency had the leakiest homes in England, and potentially in Europe, based on off-grid and poor-quality buildings. We were not good at cavity walls 30 or 40 years ago—perhaps longer. I took that seriously because I was concerned about the issue of fuel poverty—we are a low-wage area—and about people’s health.
Cornwall Council and others, including my colleagues and me, have worked together to find the money to improve our homes. As of January, we have improved 1,085 homes and taken them out of fuel poverty altogether by securing various bits of money from all sorts of funds, including social landlords. As I say, it is an urgent issue. In particular, I credit Anthony Ball and his public health team at Cornwall Council for leading on the issue and for their great expertise on how to resolve the challenge.
From the figures that the council has provided, it is estimated that 210 people in Cornwall die due to the cold every year; that poor health resulting from a lack of warm homes affects 31,000 households—74,000 people—in a population of just under half a million; and that a winter death in Cornwall is preceded by eight emergency admissions to our hospitals, which are already under pressure, and 30 social care visits. As is true elsewhere in the country, delivering social care in Cornwall is a challenge, because it is a large but sparsely populated geographical area with a lack of people working in it and a distance to travel between appointments.
If there are potentially 30 unnecessary visits for each individual because of cold homes, that puts pressure on an already strained system. It is estimated that that costs the health service in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly £13 million each year, which could go to areas of health and social care where we would much rather spend our money, instead of collecting people because they are living in poor homes that can be fixed.
I have long campaigned on unhealthy homes and the need to fix them. As a newly elected MP, one of my early debates was about fuel poverty, in which I made similar points to those that other Members and I hope to make today. The previous Chancellor set aside £100 billion for infrastructure spending. I argued then, and I would still love the Minister to take it forward, that it would cost only £2 billion of that to improve UK homes and raise their energy performance certificate rating to C—if we trust those ratings. That would be £2 billion well spent, because of the saving to the economy, the saving of people’s lives, and the improvement in attainment and economic productivity.
The recently published 10-year plan for the NHS is a welcome vision that sets out how the NHS needs to adapt over 10 years to meet current and changing demands; how we need to change the way we treat people and bring healthcare to people where they need it; and how to help people to manage their conditions. We are waiting for the Green Paper on social care, which we understand will come out in April. If we do not include one of the driving factors for why people end up in health and social care in the first place, however, that 10-year plan will be weakened or compromised.
That is why the debate is important, because now is the time to look across Government. If we want to deliver the NHS that we are all committed to and want to see in 10 years’ time—if not much before—and if we want to make social care work for everyone who needs it, we need to look at how we improve our homes and the health and wellbeing of everybody in the country who lives in a home that is not up to the job. I call on the Minister to look at the issue across Departments to see what we can do to deliver a more sustainable health and social care service partly by improving the homes we live in.
In the 21st century, in the fifth-richest country in the world, we should have healthy homes that we can be proud of. We cannot tolerate the situation for much longer. I will give an example of how that could be achieved, because just to say, “There is £2 billion. Go and sort your homes out,” will be a challenge. Money will be wasted and it will not be delivered in the way we would like or expect.
My suggestion, as it was when I first spoke on the issue, is to use Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly as a pilot. Cornwall Council and the Council of the Isles of Scilly are well placed because they know the problem, the homes that need fixing and the skilled workforce in the area. There is also a challenge in Cornwall to drive up skills, to give people the opportunities they need and to drive up wages, which it could help with.
The pilot would improve all the homes in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which are the leakiest in the country. It would be a good way for the Government to see if such a scheme works and how it works, and how we could improve homes, create skilled jobs and improve attainment in children. It is well proven that children learn better and are healthier in warm homes; it is not just older people who suffer as a result of leaky homes and fuel poverty.
That work could also reduce the carbon footprint, which is important. Cornwall Council recently voted to consider how it could make Cornwall carbon free in the next 30 years and achieve a net zero emissions target. Reducing the leaky nature of our homes and improving the carbon footprint with well-insulated homes is a significant part of that. As I said, improving homes will also reduce the demand on health and social care services.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. This urgent issue presents a real challenge and I would welcome the opportunity for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to demonstrate to the rest of the country how it can be tackled.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing the debate.
Housing is central to the wellbeing of individuals, families and entire communities. When people have decent, safe accommodation, which is suited to their needs, they have a strong foundation on which to build their lives and expand their life chances. That in turn has a stabilising effect on their families, local neighbourhoods and the wider community.
Poor housing has the opposite effect. It can have a detrimental impact on many aspects of personal and community life, and can significantly affect the mental and physical health and wellbeing of the occupiers. Every week, I hear about housing problems from constituents. Their properties are often in a state of disrepair—cold, damp and mouldy. Living in poor housing such as that can take a significant toll on the physical health of an entire household by increasing the risk of cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological and musculoskeletal conditions, as we have heard.
People with underlying health complaints are particularly vulnerable. Poor housing can act as a trigger that causes asthma symptoms to worsen, which results in hospitalisation, or exacerbates symptoms of arthritis and reduces the ability of sufferers to perform everyday tasks proficiently, thereby increasing the risk of falls and accidents.
Moreover, when an individual’s physical health deteriorates, their mental health is often affected. It stands to reason that if someone lives in a property that makes them physically ill, which fails to meet their family’s needs and which makes life more difficult on a daily basis, they are likely to feel depressed and anxious, and their self-worth is liable to plummet. When physical and mental health is affected in this way, because homes are unsuitable, that has an impact on someone’s wellbeing and their ability to participate in work, education, and social and other activities, and consequently impacts on public services such as social care and, of course, the NHS.
In Coventry, our local authority recognises the human costs for the individual of poor housing, as well as the economic costs for public services such as the NHS. That is why its new draft housing strategy places significant emphasis on improving the condition of the city’s existing housing stock.
The strategy prioritises integration of the housing and public health departments to deliver affordable warmth projects, tackle fuel poverty and improve residents’ overall health. It also aims to tackle rogue landlords who leave their tenants at risk as a result of poor maintenance, poor standards and poor management of homes, and it explores the option of introducing discretionary licensing schemes to improve standards. Moreover, it seeks to maximise the existing housing stock in the city and bring empty homes back into viable use.
Those are just a few steps that the council is taking to tackle the city’s unhealthy homes, but it could do much more if it was given the necessary resources. With greater resources, the council could employ more enforcement officers, fund partnerships between advice agencies and GPs’ surgeries, and fund for the long term “safe and well” checks, which would be conducted by the fire service when vulnerable people were discharged from hospital.
Sadly, the Government remain committed to their vicious austerity policies, which prevent the council from making long-term strategic interventions. Without proper funding, I fear that, despite my council’s best efforts, housing conditions will continue to deteriorate, damaging the lives and life chances of families and individuals, with the NHS of course picking up the tab.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair this morning, Mr Robertson.
I start by thanking the all-party parliamentary group for healthy homes and buildings for its report, which is excellent and so needed in the light of the serious housing situation in many of our constituencies. Consequently, I am delighted that the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler), is here in Westminster Hall today. I had wondered whether a Health Minister would respond to this debate, but it is really important to get to the root of these problems. We hear that £2.5 billion is the cost of unhealthy housing, which I think is a very modest estimate. If we could shift that money into building and retrofitting homes into a better condition, what a better society we would have.
Of course, I look back to Michael Marmot and the report he produced when he looked at the social determinants of poor health and identified housing within them. The report by Dame Carol Black also emphasised the impact of poor housing. And, of course, we know from living experience the impact of poor housing on our constituents today.
So this is a timely debate and an important debate. We must look not only at physical health. We have heard about respiratory conditions; as a former physiotherapist who worked in that area, I certainly know the impact that poor housing had on my patients. However, we must also look at mental health, which is also incredibly important; I see that every week in my constituency.
We also know that there is the wider issue of affordability, and the stresses and strains that the failed housing market places on our constituents. In York, buying a property now costs ten times the average wage and therefore it is becoming completely inaccessible. People are having to up sticks and make a choice about their career or their living environment. Renting is also completely inaccessible in the private rented sector, and in the social rented sector the amount of stock has been reduced and therefore people’s options are also being reduced.
The quality of housing is also a massive issue. In York, 200 houses have a water course running under them—under the floorboards. As a result, there is damp, particularly at this time of year, which really impacts on the families in those houses. The council has a programme for those houses, but it is taking too long to move people out of their homes and make the changes that are required, which almost amounts to rebuilding the underneath of the property so that residents can move back in. So the quality of housing is a serious issue, including in York.
We have also heard about fuel poverty. I think we are all absolutely stunned into silence when we hear that 51,000 people in our country died prematurely last winter, with 46,000 of them being older people who were unable to afford to flick the switch and put their heating on. Those are unnecessary deaths and it deeply concerns me that we have not redressed this issue; it is essential that the Government put a real focus on it.
I will talk about one or two cases in my constituency that have completely appalled me. I have already shared the information about some of them with the Minister, and they have to do with the behaviour and the conduct of my local authority.
People will remember that a few weeks ago it was bitterly cold, with freezing fog. An 18-year-old woman in my constituency had not complied with all the obligations placed on her as a young person in housing; her complying with them was challenging, both for her and for the authority. Therefore, the authority removed her right to be in housing provision. Putting a young woman on to the streets is one thing; to do so in freezing conditions, when the temperature is minus 6° C, is another. So we really have to consider what was behind that decision. Thankfully, my office jumped in and secured that young woman a placement elsewhere, in the light of our holding up a mirror to that situation.
We also have to think about our homelessness services. I have spoken in many debates in this place about what has happened with homelessness. Again, dealing with homelessness is about the joining-up of services, to make sure, first of all, that Housing First is in place. I know that if Labour were in the administration in York, we would end homelessness within a term of being in charge of the council, because we believe that housing is a human right. We are a human rights city and we believe that it is a human right for people to be able to access a home. We know that not being able to access a home has a serious impact on people, including on their physical health. We know that 41% of the homeless population have serious physical health conditions and 45% have serious mental health conditions. However, there is also the tie-in with substance misuse and other issues that have a serious impact.
The case that perhaps shocked me the most was that of a woman whose partner had moved out of their home, for certain reasons. Initially she was left in the property, but because of the change in the tenancy she was then forced out of her property. A relationship breakdown is stressful enough for somebody, but being told that they have to leave their property because a tenancy—an arrangement—has changed, and having to move into another property, was incredibly stressful for my constituent. She became seriously ill: she lost two stone in weight; she developed anxiety and depression; and she became extremely ill. In fact, she could hardly speak, because the stress on her was so great that she could hardly talk. Her mental health was in a very poor place, and yet the council pursued her and continued to move her from her property. She lost her business, she lost her work and she ended up on benefits, and was finally forced to move over the Christmas period.
That kind of behaviour by our local authority is contemptible, and I say to the Minister today that we must have mechanisms by which we can put the impact of housing policy and housing policy decisions, not only on people’s physical health but on their mental health too, at the heart of decision making, because that situation with my constituent should never have arisen. As soon as she started becoming ill, the council should have started to pull back, but it did not.
I have seen that with another tragic case in my constituency. A young man has support needs. He had been living with his parents, but sadly one of his parents died and then the other. However, the Government policy about successor rights for property meant that this young man, whose home was his place of safety, was turfed out of his home and then placed in hostel accommodation. In that accommodation he lost his security, his surroundings and the neighbours who had kept an eye on him, and he ended up walking the streets during the day. He found that incredibly difficult. He was dealing with the double trauma of losing his parents and then his home. We need to put compassion back into housing policy, because not doing so makes people ill.
I thank the hon. Lady for her significant contribution. She has reminded me that in my office we have had three cases of homeless people over the past month, and the last one she referred to is very much in my mind. We seem to have people who slip under the microscope, with complex issues regarding health and losing their homes, contacts and friends. As the hon. Lady said, we need a better way of dealing with those issues. One way to ensure that those people do not fall under the radar would be to mark up any early-recognised physical or mental issues as a priority for the officer.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. A home is not just a physical structure of bricks and mortar; it is a whole environment in which someone lives and probably spends most of their time, whether asleep or awake. It is a security, a setting, and a place where the family is based, and it affects someone’s wellbeing.
We must take a more humane approach to housing, and York, as a human rights city, is determined to see that. Housing is a major issue in the city; we have a massive supply problem. Every time the Government say they are building more homes, I say, “But not in York”. Our council has completely failed on that front, and it now looks like the local plan, which has been prevaricated over, is in real danger of falling because sites are pulling away. We have overcrowding because we do not have the housing supply we need, which means we have families who have been living on sofas for months on end. I received a letter just this last week about a gentleman who is not well and has been sleeping on the sofa for three months. The council has not intervened in that kind of case. It is right that we get a local plan to build the housing the city needs to address future accommodation needs—not all those luxury apartments we see going up everywhere.
My final point concerns my role as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for ageing and older people, and the provision we are making for our older people, ensuring that we have the right environments for them to live in. Increasingly, older people live in the private rental sector, which provides insecurity in later life. Others in the sector also face that insecurity, but it is compounded in the later stages of life. It is really important to build secure housing for older people.
We know that isolation and loneliness have a massive impact on wellbeing, but it is also about the place and the environment in which people live. I urge the Minister to look at some of the impressive projects in the Netherlands, building villages that are safe environments for older people. In Hogeweyk, a dementia village, people have their independence, which keeps them on their feet, which then keeps them healthy, and they can move safely around a village environment while at the same time having a few people keeping an eye on them. Three or four people, at various stages of dementia, live in each house. There is a shop and a hairdressers on the complex, and other places that people can go, but it is a closed environment that keeps people safe. There are some good models out there of how we can build proper homes for life and ensure that people do not have the stress—we all know that moving home is stressful—of having to move at a fragile point in their life.
There is so much more we can do with this agenda if a real aspiration is there to change how we look at the complex dual issue of health and housing. Should Labour come into power in York in May, our plans are to build transformation, ensuring both that we have private rental sector licensing to drive up standards, and that we build the homes that people need in a healthy environment, place making as we go, so that everyone can enjoy the place where they live.
What a pleasure it is to serve under the firm but fair chairmanship of your good self, Mr Robertson.
I will not be very political in my speech; I might make a couple of swipes at the Conservative Government about one little item that worries me. In 1963, the enlightened Conservative Government asked Sir Parker Morris to look at homes for then and for the future. He came up with a very good report that was accepted as guidance by that Government, but it was not until 1967 that a Labour Government made that guidance statutory in the Parker Morris standards for housing and homes. Those standards guided us well and provided a framework for the quality of our housing. People had to build according to those good standards—cavity wall insulation, the size of the living room, the size and accessibility of the toilet, and all the stuff we took for granted.
Unfortunately, in the 1980s another Conservative Administration abolished the Parker Morris standards. That was an age when a woman I knew very well—Margaret Thatcher—believed passionately in the private sector leading and delivering more effectively than the public sector. At that stage, when that was fashionable—I am not blaming anyone who is around today—the standards were abolished and we have suffered from that for many years.
I chair both the all-party parliamentary carbon monoxide group and Policy Connect. We have taken a strong interest in carbon monoxide, and it hits home hardest when one of your constituents is affected, especially if they die. A little 10-year-old boy, Dominic Rodgers, was found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning by his mother when she went to wake him for school, in a little terraced house in the middle of Huddersfield. The poisoning was not from that home but from a faulty boiler in the house next door. The silent killer had seeped, as it does, across the passageway and killed the little boy. A few months later, a couple who ran a Chinese restaurant were sleeping over the premises and they too died from carbon monoxide poisoning—a cowboy builder had blocked the chimney. Like all good campaigns, the carbon monoxide one started at the constituency level, and I have been campaigning for many years with a very good all-party team to make people aware. The more research we do, the more we know that carbon monoxide issues are related to healthy homes.
As I said in my intervention on my very good friend, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—what a good debate he has initiated—the fact of the matter is that there are two worrying sectors. Huddersfield is the average, classic British town on all the criteria; what happens in Huddersfield is a symbol of what is happening in the greater United Kingdom. We have two problems in the town, one of which is old social housing. Over the years, that housing has been progressively upgraded and renewed. The situation has not been helped by some of the poor effects and unintended consequences of right to buy, but social housing has a much better record than private rented accommodation regarding healthy homes and intervention to ensure that people live in a healthy, safe environment.
The real problem, in Huddersfield and elsewhere, is private rented accommodation. It is a sad fact that the standard of private accommodation is very variable. Until recently, many of the students who came to university towns—certainly my four children—found themselves living in rented accommodation that was pretty awful. A parent would not want their children living in accommodation of that quality, and they were certainly not healthy environments: I am talking about accommodation in Cambridge, Bristol and Edinburgh. However, we have had a revolution in the private rented sector for students. At one stage, I teased the housing Minister, because in Huddersfield we had cranes, new blocks, and wonderful, posh, modern accommodation for students. I kept asking the various housing Ministers who came and went, “If we can do that for students, why can we not build those sorts of buildings—modern, high-quality accommodation—for elderly people in our constituencies and in our country?”
The fact of the matter is that private rented accommodation is difficult, and one aspect of that difficulty arises when we want to look at smart metering. We want to go into a house to fit smart meters, in order to bring down the cost of energy and the amount of money that people on low incomes spend on heating. Getting in for that purpose, or to check whether there is a carbon monoxide detector or a smoke alarm, is very difficult in private accommodation. A lot of people do not want us to know how many people are living in that accommodation; they want to be private, which makes it difficult. We know that a high percentage of gas appliances in those rented homes are very dangerous indeed. They have not been serviced every year, and they could very well kill the people living in that accommodation.
I do not want to concentrate just on carbon monoxide, so I will finish my remarks by saying that this morning, when I was getting up early in order to speak in this debate at 9.30, I was startled when I turned on the radio to listen to the “Today” programme and heard someone from the housing sector—I have to say, a rather complacent person—being interviewed. Mr Robertson, as a working politician like me, you probably shout at the radio sometimes, because you want John or one of the other interviewers to really push a particular question. This morning, I wanted that representative of the housing sector to answer this question: “What happened to the Help to Buy programme?” We know that that money did not flow into Northern Irish homes and housing, and it did not flow into homes and housing in my constituency: it flowed into the coffers of the big housing companies. We thought that those tens of millions of pounds were going to regenerate the market and provide homes for people who needed them, but it all went wrong. It is another bit of public policy that started with brave intentions and went awry. Those tens of millions of pounds could have been spent on investing in healthy homes, improving them and bringing them up to what was the Parker Morris standard.
That is the most political thing that I will say today. I have found that, across the House and in this very Chamber, there is a lot of consensus that there is a problem, and that the problem can be solved. However, we have to start focusing our energy and, for goodness’ sake, both parties need to show some real leadership in providing what people in this country deserve—great standards for homes and housing. The 1960s were pretty good for music; I think the Beatles’ first album came out in 1963. Some very good regulation and legislation also came out in the 1960s. I beg the Minister to listen to a bit more Beatles music, and to have a spring awakening to the fact that she has the ability and capacity to lead on this issue, providing healthy homes for all the people in this country who deserve them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson, in what has been an interesting, consensual and informative debate that I am grateful to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for having secured. All too often, we describe debates as important when they are not, but this debate is genuinely important, and it is good to see consensus about that across the Chamber. I thank the hon. Gentleman not just for his thorough opening speech, but for his work in chairing the all-party parliamentary group for healthy homes and buildings, and for the excellent report that it recently produced.
There is no doubt that housing is the foundation that connects people to their communities, or that healthy homes help empower full participation in community life. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, healthy homes lead to better educational attainment, higher workplace productivity, reduced emissions, lower energy bills and a lower carbon footprint—objectives that we would all unite in supporting. Poor housing, on the other hand, detrimentally contributes to physical and mental health inequalities through the effects of housing costs, housing quality, fuel poverty and the role of housing in community life, and many Members have provided examples and case studies that have helped to illustrate that point. Many people do not live in a home that is warm, dry and affordable, and those on the lowest incomes are most disproportionately affected. The hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) made some good points about housing and fuel poverty, an issue that affects my constituency, and one that we should be doing a lot more to tackle in this modern age.
Income, wealth and the welfare system are undoubtedly at the heart of the relationship between housing and health inequalities. Poverty-related inequalities represent thousands of premature deaths every year. In Scotland, both housing and health are devolved. I have some Scottish figures that give a wee bit of flavour; they are pretty similar to those we have heard from Members from elsewhere in the UK. Figures from NHS Scotland show that men in the most deprived areas spend nearly 25 fewer years in good health than those in the least deprived areas; for women, the figure is 22 years. Housing clearly has the potential to reduce or reinforce those inequalities. In Scotland, all homes are required to meet the tolerable standard of habitability. It is estimated that 1% of all homes fell below that standard in 2017—that is down from 4% in 2012, so we are going the right way. Perhaps more worrying is that, as Members have mentioned, the private sector is lagging behind; the public sector is leading the way. Private homes, which are a different matter, are in between.
There is a lot of work that we need to do in all areas of housing tenure, and there are several linked factors in that, such as the number of properties available in an area. The quality of the homes is also a major factor—as is affordability, perhaps more importantly. In Scotland, the Scottish National party has delivered more than 76,500 affordable homes since 2007, and is investing more than £3 billion to deliver at least another 50,000 affordable homes during the current parliamentary Session. The Scottish Government continue to support the empty homes partnership, which has brought 3,200 empty homes back into use since 2010. There are empty homes all around our country that could be put to use in housing people. The Scottish Government have introduced the Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill, which sets a target of no more than 5% of Scottish households being in fuel poverty by 2040. In my opinion, 5% is still too many, but if we can achieve that, it will be a step in the right direction.
Between 2007 and 2017, the average price of domestic fuel rose from £856 to £1,249 per annum—a rise of approximately 46%. That is a frightening figure over a decade; people’s wages certainly have not kept pace with that rise. Fuel poverty causes misery, ill health and debt, and living in a cold, damp environment can exacerbate health problems such as asthma and heart conditions, as a number of Members have mentioned. It is unacceptable in this modern age that any household should have to choose between heating and eating, yet people who are struggling to pay their bills often ration their use of energy, perhaps heating just one room, having to choose between cooking or heating their home, or limiting the use of washing machines and heating water for baths or showers, all of which can have an impact on people’s health and wellbeing. There is a correlation between fuel poverty and increased winter mortality, or excess winter deaths. Increased winter mortality is associated with low indoor temperatures, and the excess winter mortality figure for 2017-18 in Scotland was 4,800, a figure not significantly different from the English figures mentioned earlier.
To become a fairer and more just society, it is crucial that we end the scourge of fuel poverty. As technology moves forward, we should do a lot more on the “Big Mother” scenario, rather than the Big Brother scenario. Smart meters and other technology are growing all the time. It would not be impossible to have feedback from people’s homes on the temperature in their houses. Action could then be taken, particularly in areas where we know there are elderly people, or people with social conditions, to intervene and check why they are not heating their home properly. Perhaps we should even think about the health sector being able to prescribe heat. It may save money in the long run.
The worst housing position for anyone to find themselves in is homelessness. The health of people experiencing homelessness is significantly worse than that of the general population. The Library briefing provided for the debate highlighted a Local Government Association report that identified that 41% of homeless people have a long-term physical health problem, and 45% have a diagnosed mental health problem, compared with respective figures of 28% and 25% in the general population. That certainly fits with my experience locally; the people whom various homeless charities have been dealing with increasingly have mental health issues, as well as being homeless.
The last estimate of the healthcare cost associated with the homeless population was £86 million a year in 2010; the figure will undoubtedly be higher now. That shows that we can save money for the public purse by tackling homelessness. The Scottish Government are committed to eradicating rough sleeping in Scotland. They have allocated £21 million to rapid rehousing in the past year. The money came from their “ending homelessness together” fund. As a result of the Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003, local authorities in Scotland have a duty to find permanent accommodation for all applicants who are unintentionally homeless. Last year, The Guardian reported that the National Audit Office had stated that homelessness is
“likely to have been driven by welfare reforms”,
which brings us back to poverty, the issue at the heart of so much of the homelessness and housing issue.
It is not all bad news, though. A report authored by Crisis and PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that allocating appropriate housing to homeless people improved their wellbeing, and increased economic output as a result of them entering employment. The same report stated that the Exchequer is projected to save a staggering £6,361 million as people are moved out of homelessness, through the reduced use of public services, ranging across everything from the NHS to criminal justice. We cannot afford to skimp on this. Austerity does not get us there. We need to spend money to save an absolute fortune by solving the problems.
Time is moving on, and there are so many aspects of the debate that I would have loved to have gone into. The debate is so wide-ranging, and the hon. Member for Strangford has picked a genuinely fascinating issue. I will touch briefly on overcrowding, which is at the opposite end of the homelessness spectrum. It has serious links to mental health, particularly for children and young people. Living in cramped conditions puts enormous pressure on family relationships. I have seen case studies in my constituency of marital break-ups and people forced to live with their extended family for an undue period. It causes depression, stress and anxiety. We need to tackle not only the extreme ends of the issue, but overcrowding. Fixing the housing problem is key to ensuring that everyone has their fundamental needs met and reducing pressure on our NHS. It can also bring in a huge amount of money for the public purse that we could put to better use.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for bringing forward this important debate on a critical issue related to housing. It is reflective of the crisis in housing. From the contributions we have heard today, it is painfully clear that alongside the families left waiting for social housing, the young people unable to get on the property ladder and the thousands of rough sleepers on our streets, the NHS is suffering as a result of an ongoing housing crisis in which one in three people in the UK live in poor-quality housing.
If we take a short trip down memory lane, we will recall that the last Labour Government’s decent homes programme invested £22 billion and brought 1.4 million social homes up to a habitable standard. Contrast that with the position now: the English housing survey gave us data across the whole housing sector showing that 20% of homes in our country were considered non-decent in 2016. More than 500,000 social homes failed to meet the decent homes standard in 2017. That perhaps comes as no surprise when we consider that just £1.6 billion was spent on the decent homes programme between 2011 and 2015, when funding was stopped altogether, with the Government expecting councils, which are stretched to breaking, to pick up the pieces.
Cold and damp houses have a detrimental effect on health by increasing the risk of cardiovascular, respiratory and rheumatoid conditions. They can exacerbate the symptoms of arthritis and reduce dexterity among elderly people, thereby increasing the risk of falls. They cause mould, colds and flu. Being cold can impact a person’s ability to cook, shower and clean.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) painted a clear picture of how poor housing also affects our mental health. Our homes are places where our children grow up, where we celebrate milestones and where we spend a great deal of our time, so it is completely understandable that the state of our houses can have such a detrimental effect on our mental health. Research by Shelter indicates that 20% of adults have experienced mental health issues in the past five years as a result of housing problems. Further research by the Sustain project has found that the physical condition of someone’s home is strongly predictive of their mental health. According to Mind, people with a mental health condition are four times more likely to report that poor housing has made their health worse.
The Government’s failure to build anywhere near enough new and appropriate homes—my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) recognises this only too well from her constituency—ends up in a direct cost to the NHS: unhealthy homes affect our mental and physical health, leading to increased pressure on the health service, whether that is on GP appointments, hospital bed spaces or carers. The NHS even has a diagnosis code for inadequate housing, which was listed as a secondary diagnosis in almost 3,500 hospital episodes in 2017-18. More than half were among those aged 65 or over.
Poor-quality housing has particularly disastrous effects on those on low incomes, many of whom lack the means to replace out-of-date boilers and central heating systems, or end up renting off unscrupulous landlords who let their homes fall into disrepair. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) made some excellent points about the difficulty of getting private rented sector properties up to standard, and reminded us all of the dangers of the silent killer that is carbon monoxide poisoning, which can often happen in homes of a lower standard. Those things all inevitably lead to avoidable GP appointments and hospital stays.
The cost of the lack of accessible housing cannot be overstated. Elderly and vulnerable people across the country struggle every day in homes that do not meet their needs. As Members have pointed out, some cannot afford to heat their homes properly. Just 7% of homes have basic accessibility features. Those who feel they can no longer live safely or comfortably in their homes are forced into care homes at a cost to their family, the state and their independence.
According to the Royal College of Physicians, falls cost the NHS £2 billion every year. However, many falls are not the inevitable result of ageing and could be easily avoided by removing hazards around the home. Fitting grab rails in bathrooms, building houses with walls strong enough to support grab rails, making sure homes have level access and building stairs with an easy-going pitch are all cost-effective ways to avert extremely damaging falls. Research by the Building Research Establishment indicates that removing category 1 hazards that lead to falls would save more than £400 million every year and would pay for itself within just five years. If we make those changes pre-emptively, the number of hospital bed days lost due to delays in hospital discharge while a suitable home is found will be dramatically reduced.
One of my constituents is a nurse at Scunthorpe General Hospital. She reported to me that she routinely has patients in her care who are forced to wait in hospital for up to three weeks longer than they should for changes to be made to their homes, or for a carer to be assigned. My local hospital trust says that one of the worst things for patients, particularly elderly patients, is to be in hospital longer than they should be. They are at increased risk of infection, and unfortunately that increases mortality rates. That really brings home how important getting housing right at every stage is to individuals’ life prospects, and NHS statistics reflect that.
An NHS annual report on delayed transfers of care in England in 2018 found that nearly 50,000 bed days were lost because of delayed discharges due to housing inadequacy, with patients waiting for major home adaptations, alternative housing arrangements, manual handling equipment such as a hoist, living equipment, a bed, deep cleaning, decorating, or basic decluttering.
The NHS is already on its knees. NHS doctors, nurses and workers deserve better than to be burdened by the failure of the Government to provide healthy homes. The Government cannot ignore the impact of their cuts to local government on the state of our housing. Environmental health departments have not been protected from very severe cuts, and many simply do not have the resources to enforce housing standards fully in their area. The hon. Member for Strangford raised concerns about people slipping out from under the microscope, and that is a prime example of ever-widening gaps in social policy. It is people, not statistics, who end up falling through those gaps.
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), presents a real opportunity for tenants to take some control over their housing standards, but it will not replace the need for proper council enforcement, and the Government must consider whether cuts to local government truly offer value for money when they stop councils protecting tenants from unhealthy housing, and lead to less money in the pockets of our NHS.
We must take the health impact of our homes into account as we build for the future. The current state of affairs is unsustainable and places too much of the burden on the NHS. A change in the way that we build houses will reduce the cost of social care, give people a sense of independence, and allow the elderly to live an active lifestyle at home well into their 80s and 90s.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. We have had an excellent debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate on the cost of unhealthy housing to the NHS. He is a long-standing advocate of healthy housing, and his knowledge and passion about the subject has been evident today. Indeed, I congratulate all Members who have spoken. The 11 contributors spoke with passion about the links between housing and health. I acknowledge and commend the amount of work that the hon. Gentleman has undertaken on behalf of his constituents and the public as chair of the all-party group on healthy homes and buildings. He has provided welcome scrutiny of one of this Government’s top priorities: safe, decent, housing. I have read the APPG’s white paper with interest and will use this opportunity to respond to that as well as today’s debate.
The APPG is carrying out very important work, and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) and the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mary Glindon) on their roles as co-chairs of the APPG, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) and the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on their work in the APPG.
I cannot speak to figures relating to the cost of unhealthy housing to the NHS, because that is not within my gift as a Minister for housing, but that does not mean that the Government do not acknowledge the cost of poor housing on health, and the cost is enough to justify driving through changes. Everyone deserves a decent and safe place to live, and we have seen clear improvements under this Government. The number of private rented homes failing to meet the decent homes standard is down 15% since 2010, which is a record low, and the number of social homes failing to meet the standard is down 32% since 2010: a near-record low.
However, the Government want more action to be taken, which is why our recent social housing Green Paper asks whether we should reconsider what constitutes a decent home. We supported the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, introduced by the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), which gives tenants the right to take legal action if landlords fail in their duties, freeing local authorities to focus on using their existing strong and effective powers against rogue landlords.
I want to speak about the actions that the Government are taking on each point of the system. Again, I congratulate all the Members who have contributed today. My Department is reviewing building safety regulations, mindful of the needs of people in fuel poverty and the importance of maintaining air quality in our homes, and we are working across Government to ensure an holistic approach to building regulations. To answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), we take the risks and consequences of carbon monoxide poisoning very seriously, which is why we committed to review carbon monoxide alarm requirements. I am pleased to say that the first stage of the review is complete and we have gathered information on the falling costs of alarms and on uncertainty about the fact that carbon monoxide poisonings are perhaps under-reported. We are now considering the updated evidence and will respond shortly.
Local authorities have strong powers under the Housing Act 2004 to tackle poor property conditions that might impact on people’s health. They must take enforcement action where the most serious hazards are present, which are usually assessed through the housing health and safety rating system—the HHSRS, which I always have difficulty saying. Enforcement activity can range from informal work with the landlord to emergency repairs or even prohibition of the use of the whole or part of the property in extreme circumstances. The HHSRS is crucial to local authorities’ enforcement of decent standards and thereby the protection of people’s health. That is why on 26 October 2018 we announced that we were commissioning a review to assess how well the HHSRS works in practice and to ensure it remains fit for purpose.
To reply to the hon. Member for Strangford, in October we laid regulations to extend mandatory licensing of houses in multiple occupation, bringing a further 170,000 HMOs within scope. It is an important tool for preventing overcrowding and the harms associated with it. I again congratulate the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) on her dedicated work on housing and her tenacity in fighting for her constituents.
Winter mortality is a result of many different factors, but it is clear that living in a cold home can lead to adverse outcomes for health and wellbeing. An investment of £3 billion a year demonstrates that it is not something that the Government take lightly. We have a comprehensive package of policies to support households over the winter months. All pensioner households receive winter fuel payments of £200 to £300, and more than 2 million low-income and vulnerable households receive a further £140 rebate through the warm home discount. Additional payments are made through the cold weather payment scheme during spells of cold weather. In addition, £640 million a year is currently available through the energy company obligation to upgrade homes, tackling fuel poverty in the long run.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on managing to mention Parker Morris at least three times in this debate. We are looking at future standards. Sometimes we need smaller homes as starter homes, but equally we need better-quality homes all the way through. I will perhaps come on to that later in my speech.
The health impacts of cold homes and fuel poverty require action from a wide range of organisations across the health and social care sector. Partnership approaches are key. Local authorities are now able to work with the charitable and health sectors to determine which households should be eligible for support under a new flexible element of the £640 million-a-year energy company obligation energy efficiency scheme, which is focused on low-income and vulnerable households.
There has been significant improvement in the average energy efficiency of fuel-poor homes. The latest fuel poverty statistics showed that there were nearly 800,000 fewer fuel-poor properties rated E, F or G in 2016 compared with 2010. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives that the role of housing will be a crucial part of our considerations in the forthcoming social care Green Paper. I also note his pitch for a pilot. That shows that the policies are working to help those living in the least efficient homes, who can least afford to keep warm.
There is no doubt that it is essential that buildings are well ventilated, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield mentioned, for the health of the people in the building, and the health of the building itself. It is not merely a means to resolve overheating, but a matter of air quality. For that reason, part F of the building regulations sets minimum requirements to provide adequate means of ventilation. As set out in the Government’s clean air strategy, we plan to consult in spring 2019
“on changes to standards in Part F of the Building Regulations relating to ventilation in homes and other buildings.”
In setting minimum ventilation standards, we take advice from across Government on indoor air quality, including from the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Public Health England. Indoor air quality is a complex issue, and many factors determine the concentration of pollutants in a space. Ventilation is one such factor, but outdoor air quality, the location of the building, emissions from products and the activities of occupants in the building all play a role as well.
Health and wellbeing can be affected by what is outside as well as inside a home. The revised national planning policy framework therefore includes a dedicated chapter that deals with the creation of healthy and safe places. It states:
“Planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places which…promote social interaction…are safe and accessible…and support healthy lifestyles”.
At my Department’s recent national design quality conference in Birmingham, attended by more than 400 representatives of the community and housing sector, we had a dedicated session on healthy place-making, and we recognised the importance of creating places that have a positive impact on health and wellbeing. On that matter, too, there is extensive cross-Government collaboration. As the hon. Member for Strangford is aware, my Department has been part of the NHS England healthy new towns programme and sits on the steering group. I hope that he will be pleased to hear that in 2019-20, NHS England will build on that by working with the Government to develop a healthy new towns standard, including a healthy homes quality mark to be awarded to places that meet high standards and principles that promote health and wellbeing.
The Government recognise the importance of having safe and healthy homes and buildings, and provide common definitions and approaches to regulation and standards, consistently striving to ensure that they remain up to date and effective. MHCLG has taken the lead on many aspects, from undertaking a comprehensive review of building safety to strengthening consumer redress. There is extensive cross-Government work on healthy homes and buildings, from planning and place-making to design, delivery and standards and support. Again, we take on board the comment about Parker Morris.
Officials across all policy areas regularly engage across all levels of Government, industry and the third sector. For example, we are an active signatory of the memorandum of understanding on improving health and care through the home. That joins us up with 25 other signatories, including the NHS, the Local Government Association and the Royal Society for Public Health. We have positive relationships with our counterparts in the devolved Administrations, but always welcome the opportunity to deepen engagement.
Perhaps the APPG for healthy homes and buildings is the place to examine which specific relationships could be strengthened. However, the responsibility for ensuring that homes and buildings are safe and healthy is a shared one, lying with product designers, developers, building owners and managers and local authorities, as well as central Government and devolved Administrations. That is why the work that the hon. Member for Strangford has undertaken through the APPG is so valuable, and why Ministers from my Department would be pleased to meet the group, to ensure that no stone is left unturned in our mission to make the housing market fit for everyone.
I thank everyone for their valuable contributions. As the Minister said, it has been a constructive debate. Everyone who contributed, whether with a speech or an intervention, added important information.
The hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) referred to removing people from fuel poverty, winter deaths, delivering social care, and how children learn better in warm homes. My hon. Friends the Members for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) and for Upper Bann (David Simpson), and the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), focused in their interventions on social housing and socioeconomic issues. Health and housing cannot be divorced, as the debate has reinforced.
The hon. Member for Coventry North East (Colleen Fletcher) referred to how house deterioration makes people physically and mentally ill, and to the issue of rogue landlords, which the Minister also mentioned. Tenants are at their wits’ end. The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) referred to 200 homes with water rising under the floorboards. She is clearly in touch with her constituents when it comes to raising the standard and condition of older homes. She referred to the APPG for ageing and older people, and security in later life, which is important.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) referred to carbon monoxide and cowboy builders. Old homes need to be upgraded, but social housing, private rented accommodation, student accommodation and smoke alarms are also all critical issues. The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), the Scottish National party spokesperson, spoke of the debate’s importance, and how homes must be warm, dry and affordable. He gave us a Scottish perspective on the issues. Again, overcrowding, pressure and family relationships are so important. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), described how many homes are not up to standard. She talked about low incomes, renting from disreputable landlords, health and infections in homes. Those issues are all important.
I thank the Minister for responding so well to all our contributions and questions. It is always a pleasure to be in her company, and it was a pleasure to hear her response to the points that we made on cold homes, healthy place-making, and safe, decent housing. She responded by showing her commitment to those issues. I am very pleased that she suggested a meeting. It is very clear to me that on safety regulations, she answered the questions regarding healthy homes and buildings.
I thank the secretariat of the APPG for healthy homes and buildings, who are in the Gallery, for their valuable contribution to making this happen, and to the white paper inquiry and its conclusions. We have all contributed to a very important debate on healthy homes and buildings and the NHS. There is so much more that we can do. Today we demonstrated to the Minister, singularly and collectively, that there is so much more that we can do. We are all committed, alongside the Minister, to ensuring that we deliver on that.
Again, I thank all Members for their contributions, and for being here on a Tuesday morning. It is such a pleasure to be here on a Tuesday morning, rather than at 3.30 on a Thursday afternoon.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the cost of unhealthy housing to the NHS.
Animal Rescue Homes
I beg to move,
That this House has considered regulation of animal rescue homes.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank the Minister for attending this debate, on an issue of great importance to our constituencies.
Many MPs will, like me, have rescue centres in their constituencies, serving to protect animals who have been abandoned or whose owners cannot look after them due to ill health. Such centres offer an invaluable service to communities across the UK, especially as we are a nation well known for our love of animals and pets. It is estimated that our pet population last year was an incredible 9 million dogs and 8 million cats. That means that an estimated 44% of households own a pet.
However, with so many pets across the country, sometimes things go wrong. For various reasons, an estimated 250,000 animals go to rescue centres each year. In their time of need, we expect those animals to receive the best possible care, and thankfully the vast majority do. I have had the pleasure of visiting some such rescue centres, and we all appreciate the amazing work that they carry out across the sector. Their work is invaluable, and it is a testament to the passion that those working in the field have for animal welfare that a great many of them do so voluntarily. Visiting Battersea Dogs and Cats Home recently brought into sharp relief for me the impact of rescue shelters and rehoming shelters, not just because of the high value that is placed on animal welfare, but because of the social impact of such well-run centres. In each of the clean and well-maintained rooms was a story. Some were sad—some made my heart ache—but I left there happy that day. I was happy that all the animals in the care of Battersea were being looked after to the highest of standards and by people who had the interests of the animals at heart.
My own cat, Lucky, who I got just over two years ago, was rescued from a building site by Cats Protection. I got to meet the amazing foster mum who was looking after him and other cats in her home. It was heart-warming to see the love and commitment from a volunteer, who helps cats to socialise and supports those who desperately need a home.
Although we have fantastic organisations and volunteers doing great work, there are some that take advantage of the lack of regulation or are simply not equipped to manage the welfare of already vulnerable and distressed animals. Without regulation, animals may not be adequately checked for diseases, they may live in cramped and overcrowded conditions and they may not be given the tailored support vulnerable animals need. It is often only after many complaints or accusations that the issue of competence or regulation is ever raised.
I am delighted that this debate is taking place. I visited Battersea Dogs and Cats Home only yesterday and came away with a very positive impression. I have been supporting the idea of reintroducing dog licensing, so that we know where dogs are, which would help to deal with any problems, but it was brought to my attention that when introducing legislation, we want to be awfully careful not to drive things underground. Does the hon. Lady agree that we need to tread carefully as we consider introducing legislation?
I will come on to the Government consultation later; smaller charities and those who do this work voluntarily, without the shelter of a larger organisation, do have concerns, and legislation is about supporting those people as well. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point.
We know that good guidance and transparency works. Membership of the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes has raised standards in rescue centres—I am pleased to have seen the work of such organisations at first hand—but that is sadly not the case for a large number of shelters and refuges across the country. When I tried to research how many rescue centres operate in the UK and how many face any regulation or scrutiny at all, the statistics were simply not there. Nobody had any idea. I asked each local authority in England how many centres operated in their districts. About half of the councils that responded did not know how many rescue homes they had in their area. In those that did, only 18% of shelters had any regulation at all, through their voluntary membership of the ADCH—although the vast majority of those not taking part in the self-regulation scheme are beyond reproach in their efficacy and attention to the welfare of animals in their care.
Recently, the Blue Cross reported an increase in rescue centres that import dogs from abroad and sell them to members of the public. They are obviously not genuine rescue centres. Does the hon. Lady agree that the Government need to discourage that practice and ensure that only genuine rescue centres are recognised?
I absolutely agree. There is an issue of understanding what we are dealing with—how many people are opening up as refuge centres and sanctuaries, and how many are doing that voluntarily. There are people who are probably not getting the support they need to look after vulnerable animals.
I have heard some truly horrific stories, and formal regulation is now surely necessary to ensure that the care of all animals is of the highest standards, regardless of their circumstances. I am particularly pleased that in the Government’s recent consultation on third-party sales of pets, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recognised the deficiency in animal rescue centre regulation. I understand that 90% of respondents agreed that there needed to be regulation. With a constructive approach, I hope we can work together on this important issue to make regulation work in the best interests of pet welfare.
When I previously asked DEFRA why rescue homes are not licensed, the answer was that smaller charities or single volunteers would struggle. That is a legitimate concern, but not one without solutions. We need to collect data on the number of rescue homes operating. We must also assess the impact any regulations will have on local authorities. Cuts to central funding often currently impair local councils from providing enforcement on a range of civil matters, and legislation for animal shelters must make provision to ensure that, where concerns are raised or scrutiny of provision is required, the regulatory body responsible has the necessary tools to ensure best practice is maintained.
Any licensing regime must also ensure that applications are from those with the right skills, dedication and resourcing to protect the long-term welfare of the animals. Community operators, often with a small number of animals in their charge, also provide immediate and ongoing care for animals in need and are extremely valuable, both in terms of the service they provide for animals and in their wider community. However, they should not be simply exempt from a requirement to be recognised and regulated. In such cases, perhaps an accreditation to a larger organisation would negate the possibility of smaller groups being unable to function with the additional regulations.
I have laid out just a few of the areas that I hope we can work on, across party lines, to put animal welfare first. As a nation of dedicated animal lovers, I am sure that is what our constituents expect from us. The Minister can count on my support and that of many others in realising a new regulatory framework for animal shelters and rescue centres that protects our most vulnerable animals and gives the public confidence that animals are receiving the best possible care in all cases. Animals who are in need of shelter or need to find a new home should be expected to receive good care regardless of which organisation provides it.
One thing is uniting the animal charity sector—they all agree that regulation is urgently needed. Cats Protection say that regulation would provide transparency, helping to ensure consistent and high welfare for animals within sanctuaries or rehoming centres. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals points out that without regulation the forthcoming ban on third-party sales could result in current third parties disguising themselves as rescue centres to evade regulation, and warns how easy that would be, as some pet shops already operate charitable arms. It concludes that the regulation of rescue centres is the best option, a view reiterated by the majority of rescue centres I have spoken and met, despite the additional burden it would place on them.
Ultimately, if animal welfare is their guiding motivation, rescue centres will always welcome measures to ensure they are doing all they can to help the animals they look after. That is why we must build on the work of the ADCH, with its incredibly robust framework that strives to drive up standards in animal welfare. It provides a strong basis and starting point for the regulation needed, as well as the support network to promote best practice and assist member organisations to continually raise their levels of care.
I hope that in answering the debate this morning the Minister can update us on the progress of the consultation, outline a timetable in which regulation could be introduced and commit to working together in the interests of animal welfare and the sector as a whole. What has become clear to anyone looking at this issue is that we must regulate and license animal shelters and rescue homes to ensure adequate levels of care. We must close the loophole that would allow third-party dealers to pose as shelters to evade the ban, and we must provide the resourcing and powers to give real teeth to any regulatory system. I look forward to hearing the plans to finally make that happen and recommit my support to any efforts to ensure that this is a system that does justice to our incredible rescue centres.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank the hon. Member for Leigh (Jo Platt) for securing this debate on a subject that I know is very dear to the hearts of many people, and is particularly close to her heart. I respect the amount of hard work she has put into fully understanding this subject and into pressing for further action, for which she is to be commended. I am also grateful for the contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling), with his particular interest in the subject, and my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns).
The hon. Member for Leigh has set out clearly her concerns about regulation of animal rescue and rehoming centres. She has sincerely and strongly held views, and I agree that we must do everything we can to ensure that good welfare practices are in place in all animal rescue homes. With that in mind, I recognise that the vast majority of animal rescue homes up and down the country are legitimate, and I pay tribute to the valuable work they do in rescuing and rehoming thousands of sick, abandoned and stray animals each year. The work of rescue homes can too easily be taken for granted, and we should remember that most people working at them are volunteers who are incredibly dedicated to the welfare of the animals in their care.
The RSPCA, the Dogs Trust and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home have been referred to on a number of occasions. I was fortunate enough to visit Battersea just before Christmas, when we announced the third-party sales ban. Redwings Horse Sanctuary and World Horse Welfare are also well known to us, as is Cats Protection. They do a brilliant job of caring for and rehoming animals in a responsible and dedicated manner. We can be confident that the animals in these organisations are looked after to the very highest welfare standards, as the hon. Member for Leigh pointed out.
We should not forget that the smaller and lesser-known rescue homes also do really important work in taking care of unwanted and stray animals. The Government value the work of these legitimate, committed animal rescue homes. Without them, many animals would face abandonment and an uncertain future. From our preliminary work exploring this sector with the various bodies that have an interest, we know there is a large and diverse animal rescue and rehoming sector in the UK.
The hon. Member for Leigh indicated the findings of her research. We estimate that those organisations rescue and rehome somewhere in the region of 140,000 cats, 110,000 dogs and 3,000 horses per year. There are various types of organisations that operate according to different models. In addition to their relative size and the types of animals they rehome, one of the main differences between organisations is whether they care for animals in one central place or rely on other people to provide foster care for their animals. It is important to understand this distinction, because their regulation could be very different. We know that the majority of those organisations are registered charities, which means that they meet the requirements set by the Charity Commission—for example, in respect of their finances.
For some rehoming centres, membership of the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes brings key benefits. The chair of the ADCH is Claire Horton, who I am sure is well known to many hon. Members present. She is the chief executive of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and a member of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, which reports to Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Under Claire’s skilled chairing, ADCH has developed clear good practice guidelines for the sector and encouraged more centres to come under its influence. I encourage other rehoming centres that are not members of ADCH to consider joining it for the benefits and advice that are available.
The hon. Member for Leigh set out her clear concerns about some rehoming centres and the need for them to be regulated. I agree that, sadly, some rescue homes, for whatever reason, fall below an acceptable standard of welfare. As with any keeper of animals, animal rescue homes must provide for the welfare needs of their animals, as required by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, but they are not licensed in the same way as dog breeding or pet shops. In February 2018 we issued a call for evidence on our proposal to ban the commercial third-party sale of puppies and kittens. In response, many stakeholders pointed out that we should also consider closer regulation of rescue homes, as the hon. Lady pointed out. Their argument was that we need to address concerns about animal welfare standards in some unscrupulous rescue homes, and to address concerns that third-party sellers would simply set up as rescue homes to avoid proposed bans. The Government definitely share those concerns.
The Minister mentioned unscrupulous rescue homes; are not many rescue homes set up by well-meaning people who want to do the very best, but who suddenly become overwhelmed by the number of animals they take on board? It is more to do with outreach—getting in touch with these people to inform and educate them, so that we can help them to run a proper home, rather than their filling their houses with many animals that they cannot manage.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Most of these homes—the vast majority—are set up with good intentions in mind, and sometimes those setting them up can be overwhelmed. However, there is support available, and in the months ahead we need to ensure that it is readily available and understood.
It is worth responding to the point on dog licensing made by the hon. Member for Leigh. We stopped dog licensing in 1988 due to low compliance. Those countries that have dog licensing schemes invariably still have low compliance rates. We have found it much more effective to rely on compulsory microchipping, and our focus is on increasing its uptake.
The consultation on the third-party sale ban, which we took forward in August 2018, attracted nearly 7,000 responses, and we published the summary of responses in December 2018. As a result of concerns being expressed similar to those articulated by the hon. Member for Leigh, the summary of responses document makes it clear that we will bring in a ban on third-party sellers of puppies and kittens as soon as possible. The document also made it clear that we would undertake further consultations with key stakeholders, such as welfare charities, vets and local authorities, on the idea of licensing rescue and rehoming centres, with a particular focus on centres that rescue and rehome dogs, cats and horses.
The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018, which came into force in October, already require licensing of commercial pet sellers, dog breeders and certain other activities involving animals. The regulations provide the tools for regulating rescue and rehoming centres. We would need to set out the necessary specific conditions for such centres, which the sector is happy to help develop. However, I want to make it clear that in regulating this sector, we need to be confident of the benefits and the impacts, particularly on some of the smaller rescue and rehoming charities, which is why we are exploring these issues with the organisations involved. The hon. Member for Leigh alluded to that in her speech, and I hope she will understand that we are taking some time to ensure that we get our approach to the various aspects of the sector absolutely right.
The RSPCA is a member of the ADCH. The charity says that in the past eight years it has investigated some 11 individuals and obtained 80 convictions against five persons involved in animal rescue. A further two people received a caution. These cases involved a total of over 150 animals of different species, including dogs, cats, horses, farm animals and birds. This is despite the ongoing assistance that the RSPCA gives to failing establishments to ensure that they meet the needs of the animals under their care. My hon. Friend the Member for Clacton alluded to the fact that support was required. The RSPCA does fantastic work in this area, which can involve years of work in providing advice and education to the same establishment. Sometimes those organisations fall foul of the law, which is when the RSPCA can get involved, as can local authorities in some cases.
Although regulation could benefit the rehoming sector and, importantly, the welfare of animals involved, we must remember the work and contributions of smaller rescue centres, which in the vast majority of cases do all they can to promote the welfare of animals in their care. Many of these centres are not members of ADCH, and we are discovering that there are likely to be hundreds out there. The latest estimates indicate that there are over 1,000 organisations operating in England that rehome and rescue dogs, cats and equines. In a way, that fits with the analysis that the hon. Member for Leigh obtained through her freedom of information request.
Clearly, we are dealing with many hundreds of these organisations. DEFRA is working with them and other welfare organisations to build a better understanding of the issues for smaller organisations. We want to work with them to improve the standards of welfare in those that are operating genuinely with the best intentions. More can be done to address the work of well-intentioned rehoming centres in the context of puppy imports. I have zero tolerance for unscrupulous dealers—I am sure the hon. Member for Leigh and other hon. Members share my view—who clearly abuse the pet travel scheme to traffic underage puppies into the UK. These puppies travel long journeys in very poor conditions and are not effectively protected against serious diseases, such as rabies and tapeworm, which pose a risk to their health as well as to that of other animals and people. These puppies spend their early weeks of life facing unacceptable welfare and health conditions, and we must put a stop to this.
A key aspect of tackling puppy smuggling and assisting rehoming centres in their work is helping the public better to understand how to responsibly purchase or adopt a puppy and raising awareness of puppy smuggling. Through the umbrella body, the Canine and Feline Sector Group, we are in early discussions with key stakeholders on the development of a behaviour change campaign. I strongly believe that a unified message across Government and respected non-governmental organisations can have a real impact, and I look forward to working together with our partners and hon. Members to achieve this. We can work with them to share our early understanding of this and develop a better approach, and I look forward to engaging with them on this issue.
We must also guard against those who might be tempted to set up a rescue and rehoming operation with the primary intention of profiting from the public’s appetite for pets, and effectively operating a pet-selling business, rather than a genuine rescue and rehoming charity, as my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood said. Pet-selling businesses should be regulated under the animal activity licensing regulations introduced in October 2018. We will help local authorities with clear guidance to help them distinguish between those selling pets and genuine rehoming centres.
The Government have made it clear that we take animal welfare very seriously. We have a clear, positive action plan and have followed it up with a series of plans and actions, including updating and improving the laws on the licensing of certain animal-related activities, increasing the maximum penalties for animal cruelty, banning third-party sales of puppies and kittens, and looking at the options for licensing rehoming centres to ensure all rescue homes meet good standards of animal welfare. We will take the steps necessary to address the concerns relating to the regulation of rehoming centres and animal rescue centres. I thank the hon. Member for Leigh for securing this debate and for giving us the opportunity to debate these important issues.
Question put and agreed to.
Global Education for the Most Marginalised
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered global education for the most marginalised.
It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I thank all hon. Members for their attendance this afternoon. These days—and today of all days—it feels like our focus is relentlessly on Brexit, yet there are other pressing issues on the agenda. I am particularly grateful to fellow members of the all-party parliamentary group on global education for their support and for being here this afternoon. I thank RESULTS UK for its excellent and informative briefing ahead of this debate. I draw hon. Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, specifically to the fact that I took part in a delegation to Tanzania in September 2017. It is largely my experience in Tanzania and the work of the Send My Friend to School campaign that motivated me to apply for this debate.
Some folk watching are probably wondering why the MP for Glasgow East was in Tanzania, not Tollcross, just a few months after a narrowly fought election contest during the general election. It was precisely because of my experience during the general election that I wanted to dedicate some of my time as an MP to international development and advocating for the most disadvantaged in our world. During the election campaign, I faced a number of relatively hostile questions about the 0.7% target. I was asked why we bothered with international aid. Some folk even reeled off soundbites such as, “Charity begins at home.” As a first-time candidate, I was faced with an instant dilemma: did I keep my head down and just nod along, agreeing with those uninformed, right-wing, reactionary arguments, or did I stand up and speak out, demanding that children in eastern Africa get the same level of education as my children in Glasgow East? During my time in Tanzania, my eyes were truly opened to the shocking educational inequality that the world faces.
Before I come on to the substance of my remarks, it will be useful to set the scene and provide a bit of context about my concerns and why I applied for this debate. We know from UNESCO data that 262 million children and young people are unable to access education; that 387 million children of primary school age do not achieve the minimum proficiency levels in reading; that twice as many girls as boys never start school; that half of all children with disabilities in low and middle-income countries do not go to school; and that refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than their non-refugee peers. Crucially, many of the furthest-behind children experience several factors of marginalisation at the same time, in overlapping and reinforcing ways, which increases their exclusion.
Girls in conflict-affected countries are almost two and a half times more likely to be out of school than those in countries that are not in conflict. The poorest children are four times more likely not to go to school than the richest. That is an incredibly stark statistic. We all agree that education is a universal human right, but due to inequality, millions of children are still locked out of education simply because of who they are and where they live. Members of Parliament would not countenance the idea that the children in the poorest parts of our constituencies do not go to school while those in more affluent polling districts get an education, but on a larger scale that is essentially what is happening in the world today.
In 2017, I had the privilege of joining a parliamentary delegation to Tanzania alongside the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) and Lord Watts. I want to reflect on some of what I saw on the ground as I travelled through Dodoma, Sigita and Dar es Salaam. To understand better the challenges we face in global education, let us drill down and see why such inequality in education persists. First, unequal education systems around the world perpetuate and reinforce inequality, as the critical early years of education are neglected in development, humanitarian and crisis settings. Put simply, schools that serve disadvantaged communities, despite the fact that they have the greatest needs, have the poorest teaching and learning environments because they are under-resourced and under-supported. Disadvantaged communities are more likely to suffer from a shortage of schools and only have schools that are of the poorest infrastructure quality. Basic things such as a lack of sanitary provision at schools means that there are further consequences for young female students, in particular.
Secondly, inadequate domestic resources mean that education systems are under-financed. Far too many Governments still fail to meet the internationally recommended allocation of 15% to 20% of total public expenditure allocated to education. Education budgets are often spent without enough sensitivity and attention to reaching the furthest-behind groups. That often creates a situation in which households have to bear the significant financial burden of paying fees to send their children to school. Fees remain a major barrier to education for the world’s poorest. We need greater and more effective international financing, as aid to education is stagnating. In short, domestic and international education financing should be underpinned by progressive universalism and expanding provision for all, while focusing on the furthest behind.
Thirdly, many children are locked out of learning because their identities are culturally devalued or because of a lack of political representation. Discrimination can be explicit through laws and policies that exclude certain groups of children from learning, such as national education systems that prevent refugee children’s access to education, or implicit through social and cultural norms, such as taboos and myths about menstruation, which prevent girls from attending school, or the perception that children with disabilities are unable to learn.
I was appalled to learn that young girls in Tanzania miss at least one month of the school year due to menstruation. According to the Netherlands Development Organisation’s baseline survey report on schoolgirls’ menstrual hygiene management, about 84% of schools have no hand-washing facilities. Village girls either use inappropriate materials to manage menstrual flow or simply miss school altogether. We see period poverty on a massive scale, with hugely detrimental consequences. Many girls struggle to complete their studies because of teenage pregnancies. A 2010 reports from the United Nations stated that about 8,000 Tanzanian girls per year are forced to leave school due to teenage pregnancy. We know from experience how difficult it is for them to return.
I want to turn to children with disabilities. When I visited a school in the Bahi district, I witnessed a child with a hearing impairment sitting at the very back of the class with no hearing aid. I questioned the logic of that with the teacher. There are also issues relating to how we resource teachers, and the training and resources they get. For example, Bahi Makulu Primary School had 804 pupils and just 12 teachers, whose training was extremely limited, not least regarding additional support needs provision.
Fourthly, there are issues relating to accountability. Unless decision makers are held accountable for the progress of the most marginalised in education, the learning crisis will persist. Accountability for the most marginalised children in education is difficult, given that there are few countries that collect sufficient data to identify and track the children who are falling furthest behind. Too many children remain invisible in datasets, including children in conflict and crisis-affected contexts, and children with disabilities. Decision makers must commit to collecting more data and using it to map how inequalities intersect and overlap, and to plan interventions and investment accordingly.
Having comprehensively set the scene, I want to turn to the action we should take. I commend the schools in the east end in my constituency and those right across the UK that will be joining Send My Friend to School in its “Unlock Education for Everyone” campaign by creating paper keys depicting the inequality in education around the world. They will present those keys to Members of Parliament and will call on the UK Government to unlock education for everyone.
That brings me nicely to some of my asks of the Minister. I sent them to her in advance, so I am not just about to bombard her with lots of questions. What can the British Government do? I believe that they should reaffirm and champion the “leave no one behind” pledge in education and lead on its implementation. They should also use international meetings and events, including the G7, G20 and the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, to press other Governments and international organisations to take action to address intersecting inequalities in education. In determining global policy, we should engage and collaborate with disadvantaged and marginalised children and their families at the grassroots level. That should include engagement with teachers and their unions, developing partners and networks, including the organisations that represent local people, and locally based community groups.
On our work with other countries, the UK Government should work with developing-country partner Governments and other key stakeholders to support inclusive gender and disability-responsive education sector plans and budgets, to ensure that no child or young person is left behind. For our part, we should ensure that all UK-funded education programmes, including development and humanitarian programmes, disaggregate data by age, socioeconomic status, gender, immigration and disability, and where possible, by ethnicity and locality.
We should also build measures for evaluating the impact and effectiveness of programmes in addressing intersecting inequalities in all education programmes. That should include specific measures to evaluate their impact in including and providing quality education to the marginalised. We should also promote the importance of holistic, cross-Government and cross-sectoral commitment and action to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4, particularly across Ministries of education, finance, gender, health and child protection, in tandem with civil society.
When it comes to ensuring that we invest equitably, the Government should commit to increasing financing for education and ensuring that it reaches the hardest to reach. That can be done, for example, by renewing and increasing the UK’s commitment to Education Cannot Wait. We could support the inclusive education initiative and advocate for additional donors to support the fund. We should support the Global Partnership for Education financially and through critical engagement with its governance and operations.
We should encourage any new mechanisms in the education financing architecture that would deliver on the “leave no one behind” education pledge, including through adopting equity-based stepping-stone targets. We should accelerate progress for hard-to-reach adolescent girls through continued support for the girls’ education challenge and by strengthening its approach to addressing intersecting inequalities.
Having set out that long list of asks and questions for the Government, I will round off, not with clunky data or questions, but with a case study. Aquira is head girl at her community school in rural Zambia. She says:
“When I was younger, my uncle took me to Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia, and his wife made me into a maid. I did the housework, cooking, and looked after their children. After some time, I was 10 years old and I contacted my mum and said Uncle wasn’t taking me to school so she said she would come and get me. But my Uncle refused.”
Aquira was eventually able to return to school, after contacting her mother again, but she continues to face obstacles. She says:
“Sometimes, I stopped coming to school because of money.”
Aquira faces many barriers in her education journey, including a rural location, gender discrimination, employment and fees. None the less, she is supported by her family and her community to go to school, so she can realise her dream of becoming a nurse. That is Aquira’s story.
Hon. Members have perhaps noticed that I have been wearing a rather wonderful tartan tie throughout the debate. It is the school tie of Mount Vernon Primary School in my constituency. I have visited that school on a number of occasions and I know that the children there receive a first-class education, which they get because we as a society have chosen to invest in their education and provide them with the resources that they need. The distance from Mount Vernon Primary School to Aquira’s school in Zambia is well over 7,600 miles, but in an educational sense, they are probably even further apart.
My message to the Government today is crystal clear: let us get to a place where children like Aquira receive the same high-quality education as the children at Mount Vernon who proudly wear these ties. With political will and the support of hon. Members, as well as that of our constituents, that is not an unachievable aim, but one towards which we should all be proud to work.
The debate can last until 4 o’clock. I am obliged to call the Front Benches no later than 3.27 pm, when the SNP, Her Majesty’s Opposition and the Minister will each have 10 minutes. David Linden will have three minutes at the end to sum up. Until 3.27 pm, we will hear Back-Bench speeches. We will start with Henry Smith.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone, for calling me in this important debate on global education for the most marginalised. It is a pleasure, once again, to serve under your chairmanship. In the light of those time constraints, I will attempt to be brief. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing this important debate and on the powerful message in his speech.
Earlier this month, I received an email from the assistant headteacher of Northgate Primary School in my constituency, to let me know that, like many schools up and down the UK, it will take part in the Send My Friend To School campaign this year. The school has invited me to its year 5 assembly in support of that cause. I was delighted to accept the invitation and I look forward to meeting the pupils and teachers at the school in a few weeks’ time. I will share with them a copy of Hansard so that they can read this debate for themselves.
Half of all children with disabilities in low and middle-income countries do not go to school at all. I know that I am not alone in my experience of visiting schools in the developing world—the hon. Member for Glasgow East mentioned our visit to Tanzania with RESULTS UK—and I echo the concern about the many children, particularly those with disabilities such as visual or hearing impairments, who are often at the back of a very large classroom. I have seen classrooms of over 100 students where those with special educational needs are marginalised. They really need to be at the front, especially in a classroom environment that would be challenging for any of us given the numbers involved. There is also more deliberate exclusion, with certain groups of children sometimes being blocked by laws and policies restricting their access to education, as we heard in the introductory speech.
Northgate Primary in my constituency and hundreds of other schools across the UK are supporting the call to “unlock education for everyone”. Through its support for the Global Partnership for Education and the Girls’ Education Challenge, the UK has supported 11.4 million children, including 40,000 girls with disabilities, to gain a decent education. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State places a high importance on the role of education, and I urge her to continue to ensure that the UK Government use forums such as the G7, G20, the UN and others, to keep this matter at the forefront.
It must never be forgotten that UK aid is of course British taxpayers’ money. UK support for education in the developing world goes far beyond what the Government can do. My constituency of Crawley is home to Vision Aid Overseas, which, for more than 30 years, has helped some of the world’s poorest people to see more clearly. Their Christmas appeal last year exceeded its target of raising £50,000 to help provide school-based eye health services across Ethiopia, Zambia and Sierra Leone to over 180,000 children. Crawley can be proud of the contribution that a locally based charity is making globally.
Vision Aid Overseas has been supported by the Department for International Development, with a three-year project to help improve the livelihoods and educational outcomes of adults and children across rural Ethiopia—a country where up to 10% of children have easily correctable vision problems. More than 184,000 patients were screened during the programme, with almost 15,000 of them receiving glasses and over 5,000 being referred for minor surgery. The organisation also trained more than 700 teachers to be able to identify common eye issues in their students, which has resulted in more than 2,500 children who previously struggled to see receiving new prescription glasses. Almost three quarters of children surveyed at the conclusion of the programme showed an improvement in their grades, reaffirming that promoting eye health in schools can improve children’s attainment in a tangible way.
That is only one example, but a reminder of what can be done to support and empower some of the poorest and most marginalised. Up and down the UK, such efforts are being made by groups such as Vision Aid Overseas in my constituency.
I hope that the students of Northgate Primary School in Crawley will be able to look at this debate to see how seriously we are taking this issue across the House. Schools in this country realise the importance of ensuring that all young people get a chance of an education, which will better help a more secure and prosperous world for all our futures.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing this important debate off the back of a new report from the Send My Friend to School coalition. One of the recommendations in the report is:
“Ensure Official Development Assistance to education is free from commercial interests, does not support for profit providers, and ensures education is free and universally available at the point of use.”
On that basis, I want to use this opportunity to add to the debate by speaking about the people I met in Nairobi, as their voices are not in the room.
Last year, while in Nairobi, I heard at first hand from parents and teachers about the problems they face with low-fee private schools. Parents spoke about unaffordable fees, and teachers spoke about poor labour standards. The situation was so extreme that they felt driven to lodge a complaint with the World Bank about Bridge International. The report findings are echoed by the International Development Committee. Its inquiry into DFID’s education work expressed concerns about the inability of Bridge to reach the poorest and most marginalised children, and questioned the sustainability of the costs of providing education in that way.
Supporting a model that leaves out the poorest and most marginalised means that we would fail in our commitments under the SDGs to ensure that no one is left behind. I am pleased that DFID no longer uses official development assistance to fund Bridge schools, but I want reassurance. First, do the Government agree with Labour that that model of low fee for-profit education is not the way to deliver education to the most marginalised children? Secondly, will the Minister, in her summing up, guarantee that the Government will commit to not supporting such education models in future?
I welcome the recommendations of the new Send My Friend to School report, in particular the one calling on the Government to ensure that education ODA is “free from commercial interests” and does not support for-profit providers, and that
“education is free and universally available at the point of use.”
I recognise that children in the global south deserve the same standards that we expect for our children in the UK.
As I come to a close, I will echo what the hon. Member for Glasgow East said. I too believe that no one in this debate would disagree that all children in the UK have the right to access free public education, regardless of their postcode. I also believe that that standard should be core to our overseas development work on education.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. It is also a great pleasure to follow all three of the previous speakers in this debate.
I wish to contribute a comment in my role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria. Many Members who have heard me speak before about it will know that I look on that job not simply as one about trade but as one with a wider perspective of the UK’s relations with Nigeria. Education has been a great factor in that.
I will first comment on the figures mentioned, such as our commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income to fund foreign aid. If we think about that for a minute, it means that for every £100 that we earn, only 70p goes to foreign aid. That is all that the commitment is, so I find it amazing that it generates such hostile press for some people in the UK. When I looked at the DFID figures—I praise the Department enormously for its work—education took up something like 11% of the budget. I do not know whether the figure remains the same, but it is about 11%, which is a substantial contribution.
Like the two previous speakers, I want to comment on the Send My Friend to School programme. My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) made a comment about the Hansard report, and I found that the response of No. 10 to submissions from schools involved in that programme has been outstanding. It has been very supportive of the whole initiative, which has gone down incredibly well with the schoolchildren.
On that basis, let us look at what we fund and how we should fund it. The first point to make is that, although it is difficult on 11% of the budget to segment the market, there is a need to improve girls’ education, in particular in Nigeria. I have been very pleased to see programmes undertaken by DFID to improve girls’ education. I noticed one in particular, which was intended to improve the social and economic basis on which girls had opportunities to exist in the country.
Why is the role of girls in Nigeria important? We do not have to look far. In recent news programmes, we have seen the kidnap of so many girls in Nigeria, and their use and misuse by Boko Haram, and that is the origin of my fears. I have also made a much broader point to the leaders of that country over a number of years: they will not defeat Boko Haram by military means; they will have to defeat it by giving the people of the area something that they do not already have. One such thing that they can give is education, which can play a great role in that.
It is also important to look not only at education itself but at the other side of the coin, which is the provision of training for teachers. In Nigeria, one impressive project is to train another 66,000 effective mathematicians as teachers, its particular effect being to improve the lives of up to 2 million children. That is something we should all be proud of, because we are talking not just about people—the girls and the teachers—but about the quality of schools, of teachers and of the learning, which all need to be improved.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I join my colleagues in congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing this debate and on setting out the case in such a powerful and comprehensive opening speech. He began by talking about the challenge of winning the public argument on 0.7% and our commitment to the poorest people in the poorest countries of the world. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) also made that case very well. Investing in global education is one of the best ways in which we can ensure value for taxpayers’ money, but as my colleague from the International Development Committee, the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) said, that is often matched by voluntary public donations to charities and other civil society organisations.
I chair the all-party parliamentary group on global education. We receive secretariat support from RESULTS UK. Like other Members, I have made a visit with RESULTS, although I went to Liberia, where we looked primarily at some of the health challenges after Ebola. We also took the opportunity to look at some of the education challenges that that country faces. I join others in paying tribute to the fantastic Send My Friend to School campaign. It is a remarkable coalition that mobilises children and young people in this country in solidarity with children and young people in some of the poorest countries around the world. I am especially pleased that Send My Friend has decided this year to focus its efforts on the most marginalised children—hence the focus of today’s debate. I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to the recommendations in the Send My Friend report.
Every child deserves an education, but as the hon. Member for Henley rightly reminded us, they deserve a quality education. The shift in public policy on global education to greater priority on quality alongside quantity is vital. Millions continue to miss out on that basic human right to a quality education simply because of who they are or where they live. Existing inequalities in societies are reinforced when the various exclusion factors overlap. Education is crucial if we are to tackle the twin evils of global poverty and global inequality. Rightly, it runs through the core of the sustainable development goals, most explicitly in SDG 4, which commits the world to improving access, quality and equity in education. It is worth mentioning that the sustainable development goals are universal—they apply here as well as in other parts of the world. We still have challenges in our country to do with addressing inequalities and quality in our education system.
After the 2016 general election, the International Development Committee decided to complete its predecessor’s work, which led to the publication in November of that year of our report “DFID’s work on education: Leaving no one behind?” We reached the conclusion that the Department for International Development has prioritised investment in education in a way that many other donors have not. We welcome that priority, but we also said that if global goal 4 is to be achieved, all donors must considerably increase the amount of aid allocated to global education. For that reason, we called on the UK to go further than the 10% or 11% of recent years, to commit to allocating a larger proportion of our overseas aid to education.
As part of that inquiry, we visited refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, mostly to look at how they provide education to children who have fled conflict in Syria. While we were in Jordan, we visited a very impressive United Nations Relief and Works Agency school for Palestinian children. Last month UNRWA launched its 2019 emergency appeal and budget requirement, which totalled more than $1 billion. That is the amount it needs simply to maintain last year’s level of service. At a time when the Trump Administration have cut their support for the UN Relief and Works Agency, we need to work with our international partners to ensure the funding gap left by US reductions is closed, to protect services for Palestinian children.
The Committee’s attention on education for the most marginalised has continued; next week we will publish our report on forced displacement in Africa. As the hon. Member for Glasgow East said in his opening speech, refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than children on the whole; in fact, the majority of registered refugee children around the world are simply not in school. Children caught in crises that are not of their making should not be denied their right to an education, but humanitarian finance suffers from being short term and unpredictable.
Education Cannot Wait tells us that education in emergencies gets just 1.9% of all humanitarian spending—that is less than one fiftieth. I welcome the leading role that DFID has played in the development of Education Cannot Wait. The Minister will know that Education Cannot Wait is due for replenishment this year. I echo the hon. Member for Glasgow East and ask the Minister to give a commitment that the Government will continue to support Education Cannot Wait. Indeed, I will go further and ask for an increased UK commitment to Education Cannot Wait, and an early announcement, so that we can trigger additional support from other donors.
Save the Children reports that more than 70% of Rohingya children who have escaped genocide in Myanmar are out of school in Bangladesh. UNICEF warned that
“if we don't make the investment in education now, we face the very real danger of seeing a ‘lost generation’ of Rohingya children”.
In our report, the International Development Committee recommended a long-term strategy for education in emergencies. The tragic reality is that as conflicts become more protracted, if education provision is ignored, the futures of those children are put at real risk.
A number of Members, most notably the hon. Member for Crawley, who is the Committee’s rapporteur on education, reminded us that disabled children face some of the greatest barriers to education. That is the case in our constituencies, and it is even more the case in some of the poorest countries in the world. Recent analysis estimates that half of disabled children in low and middle-income countries are out of school. In some countries, the figures are even worse, with an estimated 90% of disabled children out of school according to UNICEF.
When the Committee visited Kenya as part of the education inquiry, we were hugely impressed by the Girls Education Challenge project in Kisumu, which is run by Leonard Cheshire Disability. Through such programmes and its disability framework, the Department for International Development is making good progress, but it needs to ensure that the framework is implemented across all DFID’s education programmes. After what we saw in Kisumu, the Committee reflected, on a cross-party basis, that we want more of those sorts of programmes to be funded, because it felt like the very best of UK aid reaching those who are often the most left behind, and the best value for money for UK taxpayers.
The Department should use its influence to shine a light on the needs of disabled children, just as it has done very successfully with regard to education for girls and young women. As we believe this area is vital, we recently launched an inquiry into DFID’s broader work on disability. If we are to reach the most marginalised, it is vital that we do more to encourage developing countries to invest in education. Last year, the Department committed £225 million to the Global Partnership for Education. That is a very welcome UK commitment, though it was below the amount that civil society organisations had been calling for.
The GPE takes an approach that deserves great respect and commendation. It says that before it will work with a poorer country, it wants a commitment from that country’s Government to increasing the amount they spend on education, ideally to 20% of the budget. That is a challenging figure for many countries, but it means that the support that comes from the multilateral organisation triggers further domestic resource mobilisation through taxes in the country concerned. Four in five of the countries that GPE partners have maintained their education budget at or above a fifth of public expenditure, or increased their education budget in 2016—the most recent year for which we have figures. Some 41 million additional girls enrolled in school across the partner countries between 2002 and 2016.
To give just one example, Niger in Africa was one of the first countries to join the Global Partnership for Education in 2002. It has increased its spending on education from 5% of public spending to 22%, despite an extraordinary backdrop of political instability, recurrent drought and conflict. In 2009 only 40% of children in that country completed primary school, but eight years later the figure had increased to 73%, showing remarkable progress in one of the poorest countries in the world. The International Development Committee has called on the Government to use their influence with partner countries to secure greater domestic spending on education, and I want to repeat that call today.
I will finish by saying something else about the way in which we can raise the money needed. As various colleagues have said, aid on its own will not resolve the matter. The scale of the challenge is such that even if all the wealthy countries of the world matched our 0.7% commitment on aid and prioritised education, as I wish they would, it would not provide the money that is needed. Alongside increased aid, we need to look at other mechanisms that mobilise resources for education. The international finance facility for education, which has been promoted by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, was first recommended three years ago. It has been given support in principle by the British Government as well as the United Nations, the World Bank and regional development banks. The aim is to multiply donor resources and motivate countries to increase their own investments. I genuinely believe that the facility, once up and running, has the potential to help deliver better-quality education to millions of the most marginalised children. It aims to raise at least $10 billion of additional finance to help meet global goal 4 and thus—to remind ourselves—guarantee that by 2030 every child has access to quality primary and secondary education, and, crucially, quality pre-school learning. We know from all the evidence that early investment in education makes the largest difference to life chances. I know that the Secretary of State has offered her support in principle to the finance facility. I hope we will hear soon that the British Government are able to match that principled support with financial support.
One of the central aims of the global goals adopted almost four years ago is to leave no one behind. If we are to achieve that goal in education, it will require the sustainable increase in finance that I have described, but also a relentless focus on access, on the most marginalised and on quality, to which Members in this debate have rightly given priority. There is a worrying trend: despite a lot of progress since the millennium development goals were adopted almost two decades ago, education outcomes among the most marginalised have stagnated in many countries. In some cases, they have even declined, particularly in countries affected by conflict and with resulting displacement. It is incumbent on our country, the UK and the wider international community to step up our efforts to deliver on the pledge to leave no one behind in education.
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow East and the Send My Friend to School coalition for providing the House with this opportunity to address such a crucial issue. If we get this right, we can make a massive difference to millions of children and young people, and their families, around the world.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing this important debate. I apologise, Mr Hollobone, for not being here on time; I was at the Backbench Business Committee asking for a debate that I will hopefully secure in the near future. The issue is of particular importance to me. I want to put on the record my thanks to the Minister for the commitment and passion that she has shown in her role. We understand that we will get a positive response from her, and I look forward to that. I also very much look forward to the contribution from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill).
My constituents—indeed, all our constituents—have been involved in the Send My Friend to School campaign. I remember taking the petitions, and the massive piece of cardboard that they were put on, to No. 10 Downing Street to hand it over to Prime Minister David Cameron. That was great for the kids back home in the schools, because it meant that what they were doing in the primary schools in my constituency was being heard by the Prime Minister and the Government at the highest level. It was really good news.
Hon. Members know that in my role as chair of the all-party group for international freedom of religion or belief, I have campaigned for many years on behalf of those who are persecuted for their faith, and indeed those who are persecuted for having no faith at all. The groups are often some of the most marginalised communities in the world. One of the most important ways in which they are marginalised is through the denial of their right to education. I was reading about Send My Friend to School. Particularly young girls have been penalised, unfortunately, and children experience unfair treatment for reasons including having a disability—a point to which the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) referred—being a girl in a place where gender discrimination is rife; living in a rural area; experiencing poverty; and being caught up in an emergency. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) referred to Nigeria. I pray for the young girl, Leah Sharibu, who was kidnapped by Boko Haram almost two years ago and has still not been released because she is a Christian, whereas all the others were released. I am conscious of that as well.
I want to speak about three things: the state of education discrimination against religious or belief minorities; the benefits of tackling such discrimination; and what the UK Government can do to address that unjust discrimination. Last year, Christian Solidarity Worldwide produced its excellent “Faith and a Future” report, which examined the state of education discrimination against religious or belief minorities in countries around the world. It found that children and young people from marginalised religious or belief communities are often significantly discriminated against in many different ways when it comes to education.
In September last year, along with colleagues from this House and the House of Lords, I visited Pakistan, where children from minority faith communities are regularly subjected to psychological and physical abuse by fellow students and even teachers. We were able to talk to some of those who suffered discrimination because of their religious beliefs in Pakistan. I am pleased to see that Dr Shoaib Suddle has been appointed to his role; I tabled an early-day motion on that subject. Hopefully he will be able to address some of the issues of minority religious, sex and ethnic groups in Pakistan.
In Burma, non-Buddhist children from Chin State are placed in Government-run Buddhist monastic schools, where they are prohibited from practising their faith and are forcibly converted. In Iran, Baha’i children and young people find their access to education at all levels actively denied by state law policies. I have spoken numerous times about the Baha’is. I grieve for them, because when it comes to education in Iran, they are directly discriminated against.
CSW’s report highlights how intolerance in education systems is often facilitated by school curricula and textbooks, which, at their worst, stigmatise and incite violence towards religious or belief minorities, and at their best simply omit those groups from curricula entirely to paint a picture of countries that have only one religion or belief. There is no country in the world that I am aware of that has only one religion or belief among its constituents, its people, its nation. Such intolerance often leads to violence, both in schools and wider society. Just last week, I heard the heartbreaking story of a young Pakistani boy who was stabbed with a machete by his schoolmates simply for the crime of being Christian. In Pakistan, I met a young lady who has a doctorate, but who was in one of the Christian slums, giving children the rudiments of an education, to give them a chance to better themselves.
DFID has clearly invested large amounts of money in Pakistan, which is a country close to my heart—as many countries are; but I have always had a soft spot for Pakistan, although last year was my first time visiting it. DFID has invested almost £680 million in education in Pakistan, including £122.7 million in 2017-18. I am not sure whether the Minister will be able to respond, but I would certainly like to be reassured that the money is going to people of different religions and to ethnic minorities. It is important that that be on the record.
Is it any wonder that some turn to violence or extremism when they are repeatedly told, from an early age, that certain people are bad and do not even deserve to come to the same school? What message do we expect children to learn if we turn a blind eye to bullying, deny certain belief groups access to education, ignore their contribution to society—they clearly have a contribution to make—and at every level suggest that they are inferior, wicked or unworthy? How can we hope for societies free of the scourge of extremism and violence when school textbooks preach hate against certain communities? That is why tackling educational discrimination against religious or belief communities is so important.
That leads me to my second point. In the long term, if we want to reduce conflict and build cohesive communities that are resilient against violence and extremism, both in the UK and around the world, we must invest in education systems that celebrate diversity and encourage mutual respect. I thank the Library for its comprehensive and detailed background briefing for the debate, which contains many helpful comments. It quotes a speech that seems to me the key to the debate, or its core:
“People—children—are not broken just by the wave that submerges the life vest or the convoy that does not make it to the besieged town. They are broken by the absence of hope—the soul-crushing certainty that there is nothing ahead for which to plan or prepare, not even a place in school.”
Today’s debate is about giving them hope and opportunity.
“What holds them back is not just their location, their homelessness, and their poverty—but the death of their dreams. The only way to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of every child at school is for a child’s real passport to the future stamped in the classroom—and not at a border check post.”
That is the key to what we are trying to achieve.
Apart from the obvious benefits of tackling educational discrimination against marginalised religious or belief communities, the other principal benefit for Governments is the economic growth that can come from giving whole communities the skills and knowledge to participate in the workforce. In 2012, a UNESCO report found that for every $1 spent on increasing education, as much as $10 or $15 could be generated in economic growth. That is the sort of considerable return on an investment that we all wish for—a 1,000% or 1,500% return. It is also a considerable investment in young people and the education that we want them to have.
Another speech quoted in the Library briefing states that
“your education stays with you. It defines your future path, whatever start you may have got in life. Wherever you go in the world—this is a universal truth.”
It mentions Malala, the young girl who was shot in the head in Pakistan:
“Remember what Malala told the UN after being shot in the head for going to school: ‘The terrorists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them.’”
That is another reason for pushing education and giving everyone who really wants it the opportunity to have it.
I want to finish within the timescale you asked for, Mr Hollobone, and to set out five things that can be done to tackle educational discrimination. First, DFID can invest more resources in training programmes for teachers around the world that will teach them how to promote tolerance and respect in the classroom. We can all probably identify a teacher or teachers who had a significant impact on our lives. I am no different; I can do so quickly. There were a number of my teachers who promoted tolerance and respect in the classroom, and we need to do that. That focus is my No. 1 point.
Secondly, the UK could work with Governments to develop school curriculums that promote respect for others and include the contribution of minorities. How greatly that is needed! I automatically think of the example of Pakistan, because of my visit last year; the Government there sets aside 5% of jobs for religious minorities and ethnic groups, but if a person does not have the educational achievement, they cannot get one of those 5% of jobs, and will end up doing the most menial of jobs. Let us give those people the opportunity for educational attainment, so that they can achieve and get jobs. There are jobs, including jobs for nurses, but training is needed if people are to get those jobs and move forward.
The UK can show its commitment to the endeavour by doing the same in UK schools. The Government could take the lead by ensuring that the contribution of minorities—such as the Commonwealth soldiers from India and elsewhere, who fought and died for the United Kingdom in the great wars—is recognised in the British school curriculum. DFID could make funding available to non-governmental organisations that provide education to those in marginalised religious and belief communities, seeking them out and helping them to achieve that remarkable goal.
The last of my suggestions is that the UK could encourage countries such as Pakistan to commit to temporary measures to address educational discrimination, such as having quotas for people from religious or belief minorities in educational institutions. We want members of Christian and other religious minorities, and ethnic minorities, to get the chance to be teachers in schools. Would not that be a wonderful opportunity? What an achievement it would be if some of the people DFID encouraged could do that for children around the world.
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) for securing this important and timely debate and for his insightful reflections on his time in Tanzania, which obviously proved incredibly fruitful. They were an education for all of us in the Chamber, and for those who are watching the debate. It has been a pleasure to hear all the speeches this afternoon, which have put the highest value on education. I am reading a speech that I have written, and many people in the world will never have the opportunity to do such a thing. It goes without saying that I and my colleagues, and the Clerks and anyone else working here, would not be here without the essential education that has been provided. Another thing that goes without saying is that education is a human right—and not only that: quality education should be a human right for all.
Without doubt, education can be the most valuable tool in the fight against global poverty. Public health, skilled workforces, economic prosperity, civil society and peace all benefit from sustained development of global education. Yet some of the world’s most vulnerable people have no access to education, which leaves millions of children locked out of learning altogether, because of humanitarian crises across the world.
It was nice to hear Members reflect on their time in local schools. I was at Camperdown Primary School two or three weeks ago, and a programme was being run there on what it is to be a global leader. Homelessness, peace in the world and prosperity were highlighted as priorities, but everyone prioritised education. Those were P5 to P7 children, so I am looking forward to sending my speech to them after the debate—because it is for people in my own communities that I am speaking, as well as those around the world who have no education.
The UNHCR has reported that
“over the past two decades, the global population of forcibly displaced people has grown substantially from just under 34 million in 1997 to 68.5 million in 2019.”
In other words, in 30 years it has more than doubled and, indeed, is more than the entire population of the UK. That trend is set only to increase with the continuing impact of climate change. Astonishingly, those people include more than 25 million refugees, more than half of whom are under the age of 18, and refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than their non-refugee peers. In the Central African Republic, for example, half a million children are out of school, and in Afghanistan, 3.7 million children—more than 2 million of whom are girls—are being denied an education. UNESCO has estimated that twice as many girls as boys will never start school. Can anyone in this room imagine that happening to their own children or in our society?
My esteemed colleague, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who chairs the International Development Committee, mentioned the 1 million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, which I visited along with the Committee last year. Some 70% of those refugees have no access to education, which is a great loss for that generation. The Rohingya are in Bangladesh because of the most awful crimes in Burma that were akin to genocide, and because a lack of education in Burma resulted in the targeting of ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya—another reason why education is fundamental for all. The story is the same in conflict and post-conflict zones around the world. The Education Cannot Wait fund has estimated that 75 million children worldwide have had their education disrupted because of conflict in the last decade alone.
As we heard, in 2017, the International Development Committee, on which I sit, published a report on the Department’s work on education, highlighting the global learning crisis. It recommended that DFID increase its share of UK aid for global education and give the full amount requested—$500 million—to the Global Partnership for Education. The report went on to state that the groups most likely to be left out of education are the most vulnerable—the very poorest, girls, disabled children, and those affected by conflict and emergencies. To be sure of fulfilling the UK Government’s commitment to the sustainable development goals, DFID must now focus on those groups and ensure that no one is left behind.
Aid spending has been in the press over the past couple of weeks, and we should be mindful of that issue—indeed, I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) mention the importance of that 70p in every £100. I have been deeply concerned over the past couple of weeks to hear the former Foreign Secretary call for a change in the Department’s purpose from poverty reduction, to furthering
“the nation’s overall strategic goals”.
Last weekend, we learned that private letters have been sent to the Chancellor by a number of international development organisations and charities, warning that UK aid is being diverted from the poorest countries to promote commercial and political interests. I have said this many times in the Chamber, and I cannot emphasise it enough: development spending must be focused on helping the poorest and most vulnerable, and on alleviating global poverty, not on advancing the UK’s foreign policy goals.
It is particularly concerning that a recent UNESCO report noted a clear decline in the proportion of international aid being spent on education since 2011, and stated that levels of international aid for education remain much lower than aid allocated, for example, to government and civil society, health, or infrastructure. Last year, the UK increased its support for global education funding in developing countries by 50% to £75 million per year. That is undoubtedly welcome, but to put it into perspective, last year schools in the UK spent more than £75 million just on advertising for new staff. If the UK Government are serious about helping children to access education, they must commit to increase funding, and ensure that it reaches the most vulnerable people. Will the Minister confirm whether her Department will review and increase the UK’s commitment to the Education Cannot Wait fund this year?
The SNP is clear: aid spending must contribute to sustainable development and the fight against poverty, injustice and inequality, and there are few better ways to do that than by funding education for the world’s most vulnerable people. If we are to establish lasting peace in regions of the world that are scarred by conflict, education must be the foundation on which that is built. DFID is recognised as a global leader in promoting education in developing countries, and I urge the Minister to consider the needs of the most marginalised children and young people across the world and to put money—as recommended in the Committee’s report—into championing those needs. I want to go home to my constituency and say to the young children I met just a few weeks ago that this country is truly delivering on education and global leadership.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) for securing this debate and for his passionate speech. I congratulate the Send My Friend to School coalition on its report, and on its broader work in calling for quality education for children across the globe. I thank the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) for his contribution—it is wonderful that schools in his constituency are involved in the Send My Friend to School campaign. My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) shared her experience of education provision in Nairobi, and spoke of her concerns about Bridge International, making the point that education should be free from commercial interests. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) spoke in support of the 0.7% commitment for UK foreign aid, which was welcome, and reminded us that for every £100 made in the UK, 70p goes towards foreign aid. I thank him for that contribution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who chairs the International Development Committee, made a passionate speech to remind us of our commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 4, not just globally but in the UK. Education in emergencies was a key aspect of his speech, and I thank him not just for highlighting the challenges but for offering solutions. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who chairs the all-party group for international freedom of religion or belief, spoke about children who are discriminated against based on their faith and belief when accessing education, and he rightly raised concerns about what some children are taught about intolerance of others. He is a great champion in the work he does, and I thank all hon. Members for their contributions.
As we have heard, the most marginalised people are not a homogenous group, and we must consider how people with disabilities are treated and catered for, how refugees and internally displaced people may be excluded from formal education, and what impact emergencies and conflict situations have on access to education, especially in countries such as the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which may not garner as much international attention or resource mobilisation. Each group deserves to be recognised, and the specific nature of their educational needs addressed.
The World Bank’s “World Development Report 2018” declared an international learning crisis. Across the world, some 260 million children are not enrolled in primary or secondary school, and many of those who are do not receive the quality of education that they need to equip them with the skills required to thrive in adulthood. The report from the Send My Friend to School coalition presents a series of practical suggestions about ways to provide quality education for all.
Hon. Members have rightly raised issues and concerns about the vast number of young people who are not getting the education they deserve. Researchers at the University of Cambridge found that girls living in poverty in Pakistan and Nigeria spend an average of just one year in school, and in India, Mozambique, Cameroon and Sierra Leone they spend just two years. That figure is even more shocking when compared with wealthy urban boys in those countries who receive between 10 and 12 years of education. Limited educational opportunities for girls are not only a human rights issue, as girls are unable to realise their right to education, but cost countries trillions of dollars in lost lifetime productivity and earnings.
Last year, Save the Children revealed that we are not on track to meet Sustainable Development Goal 4.1, which seeks to ensure that all girls and boys
“complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”.
Does the Minister acknowledge that warning? With 85% of children in low-income countries having no access to pre-primary education, what does she make of the chances of reaching target 4.2, and does she think we will meet the global goal of education for all?
I appreciate that the Government have acknowledged there is a problem with marginalisation and inequality, particularly for women and girls, but unfortunately they have not always undertaken projects that will reach the most marginalised. Analysis carried out in 2016 by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact into DFID’s support for marginalised girls stated:
“DFID does not have a coherent strategy for addressing girls’ marginalisation in education, and that its various activities are not well joined up.”
ICAI went on to say that it had
“identified a clear pattern of DFID programmes losing their focus on marginalised girls through the implementation process, leading to disappointing results.”
The Government have had almost three years to act on those disappointing findings. Will the Minister explain how the Government have addressed those concerns, and what work they will undertake to ensure that all girls receive the education that they need?
I would particularly welcome the Minister’s response to those points, given that a more recent evaluation of DFID’s partnerships with the private sector under the girls’ education challenge—the so-called strategic partnership windows—found that those projects undertaken in partnership with the private sector
“had little or no impact on literacy and numeracy outcomes of the marginalised girls that they reached.”
The evaluation also found:
“Projects focussed on marginalised regions, not always on the most marginalised girls.”
Most peculiarly for projects designed to reach marginalised girls, they actually reached more boys than girls.
The Opposition recognise that the main way to address inequality and access to quality education is to build strong public services. I welcome the fact that the vast majority of DFID education funding goes to public education, but I am concerned about the minority of UK aid that supports for-profit private education because, as I have just mentioned, we know that such models cannot reach the most marginalised children.
On the matter of UK aid being used to support commercial education companies, I am deeply concerned that during January’s education world forum the Minister reportedly met with the Ugandan Minister of Education to discuss expanding private British education centres in Uganda. Will she guarantee that DFID’s work on education will always prioritise the children who need to access education, and that she will not seek to use the aid budget to further the commercial interests of UK companies?
With regard to global education, the UK rightly seeks to be a global player. To do that effectively we must remain open to learning from others. The European Parliament recently passed a strong resolution in relation to its aid spending on education. Among other things, it concurs with the recommendation in the report that we are discussing today that we should ensure that education aid is free from commercial interests, that we do not support for-profit providers, and that education is free and universally available at the point of use by reaffirming a commitment not to use official development assistance to support private, commercial educational establishments. Does the Minister agree with that recommendation?
I congratulate the human rights experts who drafted and adopted the Abidjan principles on the right to education two weeks ago in Ivory Coast. The principles recognise that free, quality education is a universal right, and that the role of private actors in education must be regulated to ensure that they do not undermine that right. When the final document is published in March, will the Minister agree to look at it and act on advice on the rules and regulations necessary to ensure that private schools do not negatively affect the right of everyone to access a free, quality public education? Will she also encourage all states where DFID operates to ensure that all UK programmes, policies and projects support public education systems, which are the most effective way to advance equity?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) on securing this important debate. I also congratulate the Send My Friend to School campaign, which has successfully engaged so many children, particularly in primary schools, on the importance of education around the world, and the work that we do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) spoke about 70p for every £100. I think £100 is probably too much money for most primary school children to relate to, so when I go into primary schools I use the example of whether, if they had £10 in pocket money, 7p would seem too much or too little to spend on overseas development assistance. I am always encouraged by the support shown for it by young people.
I am proud to have been a member of the Government that enshrined the 0.7% commitment into statute, and I am proud that all the major political parties in this country stood at the last election on platforms of continuing to respect that commitment. The support shown for it by young people gives me great confidence that the primary school children of today will continue to endorse it when they become voters.
I highlight one of the excellent programmes that we run from the Department for International Development—the Connecting Classrooms initiative. Not all hon. Members may have yet had the opportunity to promote that in their primary schools. I do not know whether Mount Vernon Primary School or Northgate Primary School have thought about applying to be Connecting Classrooms schools, but in my constituency, for example, Great Malvern Primary School and 10 other primary schools in the Malvern area have a very vibrant link that has lasted for a decade with schools in Tanzania. I know how much the young people and teachers in both countries have benefited from those links, so I draw hon. Members’ attention to that.
In his excellent opening speech, the hon. Member for Glasgow East highlighted the importance of education for girls, children with disabilities and refugee children. I will highlight the work that the UK Government do on that. The only area of political dissent, in a remarkable debate which saw an outbreak of consensus, was on whether private investment in education around the world should be allowed. As Members pointed out, the UK itself is not currently using any of our overseas development assistance with Bridge schools, although 5% of the education support that we give does go to schools where private capital is involved. CDC, which is our private sector investment arm, does have an investment in Bridge schools—an investment that creates a return that can then be further used to expand education.
I am not in the same ideological camp as Opposition Members: I am much more open-minded. We need to focus on 12 years of quality education for all. That should be the objective. I was inclined to support what the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) said regarding the fact that all the development budgets of all the countries in the world will not be enough for us to address the learning gap that Members have rightly highlighted. Therefore, why should we be ideological and draw the line at other providers coming in and providing support?
In my constituency of Strangford, Elim Missions is a very active church group that helps in Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Many other churches do similar educational projects outside of what DFID does. We all know of such examples from our constituencies—the Minister probably knows of some from her own. We should put on record our thanks to those church groups and faith groups for all that they do.
The people of the United Kingdom are remarkably generous, and I am always struck by the range of different ways in which people help to support this agenda, independently of what we are doing in DFID. I pay tribute to all that work, and highlight the small charities fund within DFID, from which people can apply for funding for their projects. Opportunities are also given by aid match. Mention was made earlier of child soldiers in the Central African Republic. We were able to aid match War Child’s project; for every £1 raised by the British public, we matched that with £1. That is just one example of how we can draw on the generosity of the British people.
I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley as trade envoy to Nigeria. He mentioned Boko Haram. It is worth reminding ourselves that the very words “boko haram” effectively mean “western education is a sin”, loosely translated. It is so important to recognise the power of education in combating those dangerous terrorist movements. Colleagues also highlighted the importance of teacher education in delivering 12 years of quality education.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby asked about the International Finance Facility. As he well knows, we support that principle. We support anything that is successful in bringing more funding into this important agenda. We are doing more technical design work, and then we will set out the UK’s position as far as that is concerned.
I say to the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), that we should all acknowledge that we are not on track in terms of meeting Sustainable Development Goals 4.1 and 4.2 by 2030. The world has not done enough to address that, so I welcome Members’ support for the work we do and encouragement for us to do even more.
I was saddened that the hon. Lady mentioned the ICAI report dating back to 2016. She will be aware that we have subsequently published a very clear and welcome education strategy paper, and that we have made further announcements about funding to address girls’ education. On my bilateral meeting with the Ugandan Education Minister during the Education World Forum, I do not recall the specific point the hon. Lady mentioned, but I remember telling the Minister how much I had enjoyed visiting a school run by Promoting Equality in African Schools in Kampala this year. I believe that may be a privately funded provider. It is outstanding, so I reiterate on the record my support for the excellent education I saw being delivered.
We heard resounding support for the UK’s campaign for 12 years of quality education. We are absolutely committed to driving a step change in the global response to the learning crisis that colleagues rightly highlighted, and we match our commitment with resources. In fact, I hope colleagues report back to the schools in their constituencies that the UK provides more than 10% of all global education funding through overseas development assistance. We work bilaterally in 23 countries and multilaterally in 66 further countries. I am immensely proud—I hope colleagues report this back, too—that between 2015 and 2017 the UK supported 7.1 million children to gain a decent education, of whom at least 3.3 million were girls.
In fighting marginalisation, our first priority is to close the gender gap, which a number of colleagues mentioned. We use our position on the world stage to shine a spotlight on the needs of the most marginalised and their right to a basic education. In the past year, we have joined forces with international partners at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting; at the G7 in Canada, where the Prime Minister announced further funding to help girls’ education; and of course at the United Nations last September. I can commit to all those hon. Members who asked that we will continue to look to such forums to lead the campaign on 12 years of quality education.
DFID’s published education policy prioritises three things: better teaching, identifying and backing system reforms that will deliver better results, and, above all, targeting the most marginalised children, who are at risk of being left behind. We heard staggering figures on the learning gap, and people highlighted the particular challenges for children with disabilities and those who never attend school. Children in conflict-affected countries are a third less likely to complete primary school, and girls in sub-Saharan Africa are nearly 25% more likely than boys to be out of school.
Educating girls is one of the best buys in development spending, because one extra year of primary schooling for girls can increase their future wages by 10% to 20%. We know, too, that educating girls is the bedrock of healthier and more peaceful societies. The UK is therefore committed to supporting girls to access a quality education.
Last year was a landmark year for girls’ education. DFID, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Education all got behind the Government’s girls’ education campaign, Leave No Girl Behind. Our flagship girls’ education challenge supports up to 1.5 million girls to access education and acquire know-how for their life and work. Many of the initiatives that form part of that provision will help girls who do not attend school because of menstruation, and will combine with other work we do to ensure access to water and sanitation. In the coming months, that challenge fund will reach 250,000 highly marginalised girls who have never attended school or have dropped out due to poverty, motherhood, disability or conflict, and, importantly, give them a second chance to learn.
Colleagues mentioned children with disabilities. We held a summit last year to tackle that important issue. I do not have time to draw out the progress that has been made as a result of that summit, but I assure colleagues that Governments in Rwanda, Zimbabwe and elsewhere have stepped up their provision and their commitment to giving children access.
Colleagues also mentioned children who are suffering through conflict and crisis in places where education can be the difference between a future of exploitation and squandered potential, and one of hope. Education can give children the tools to rebuild their lives and, eventually, their countries. School provides children with stability in a conflict environment. That is why we are proud to be a founder of, and one of the largest contributors to, Education Cannot Wait, which reached more than 650,000 children last year and built more than 1,000 classrooms. We are reviewing and renewing our funding for education in emergencies. Our objective is to get displaced and refugee children into classrooms faster, and to put short-term international funding on a much longer term footing.
We also fund the Global Partnership for Education. We will fully support 880,000 children in schools for each of the three years covered by our pledge. Some 450,000 of those children will be in fragile and conflict-affected states. Whether it is in Syria, in Lebanon or in other conflict-affected areas, we are doing what we can. We also announced our endorsement of the safe schools declaration, which underlines our political support for the protection of schools and the children in them. We will step up our work in the Sahel; Niger was mentioned, and I also highlight the work we are planning to do in Chad.
Let me conclude by again congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow East on securing the debate. I hope a large degree of consensus was reached. We are committed to continuing this important work.
At one point I was worried the debate would collapse early, given the rate at which we were getting through speeches, but we can always rely on certain Members—the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) included—to pad things out.
In all seriousness, we had an excellent debate. I often say to my constituents back home in Glasgow that Westminster Hall is the place where I most enjoy being in Westminster. I am a Scottish nationalist politician, so I generally do not enjoy being in Westminster, but Westminster Hall is the safe space I come to. It is a place where we do consensus politics, and the House is at its best when we speak with one voice.
The Minister is right that there was only one bone of contention. Well, perhaps there were two, if we count whether we should explain 0.7% to primary school pupils as 70p in £100 or 7p in a tenner, but the only real bone of contention was private involvement, on which there is perhaps more for us to talk about.
Debates like this are about ensuring that the House empowers the Minister to go to the Treasury and argue for further investment and resources. I think we did that very well. Much more can be done to move this agenda forward through the all-party parliamentary group on global education for all, which is chaired by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), but given the consensus we heard today, I am confident that we can move forward. I am sure we all look forward to having many more debates like this one and much more of the open dialogue I have greatly appreciated this afternoon.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered global education for the most marginalised.
Environment Agency Permits
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Environment Agency permits.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
I count myself very lucky to be the Member of Parliament for East Surrey, an area characterised by beautiful rolling countryside and vibrant towns and villages, all within easy reach of London. The north of my constituency even falls within the M25, although, with all the green space, people would be forgiven for not realising it. East Surrey is the epitome of what makes England unique. We know how fortunate we are, and we take very seriously our duty as custodians and protectors of our stunning local environment for future generations. I called for the debate because I am concerned about our ability to protect the environment for our children and grandchildren, but I am hopeful that is something that can easily be rectified by the very able Minister.
If hon. Members indulge me, I will tell them about the constituency case that has prompted the debate. Oxted quarry, regulated by the Environment Agency, has been problematic for a number of years. My predecessor, Peter Ainsworth, was doing battle with the side-effects of the quarry as far back as 2005, if not before. The leader of Tandridge District Council, Martin Fisher, who is in the Gallery, has also been doing battle with the issue for several years, on behalf of residents.
The quarry has two functions: chalk extraction and waste infill. However, the problems for the local environment stem from the volume of heavy goods vehicles that end up on East Surrey’s country roads, because a working quarry needs to transport its materials. We have long had issues with HGVs thundering through small villages and along narrow lanes, causing distress to residents and costly damage to the highways. I am sure colleagues in rural constituencies and my Surrey neighbours will recognise that.
The latest chapter in the story of Oxted quarry began in 2005, when the Environment Agency granted permission for the operator to infill the quarry with 100,000 tonnes of inert material a year. That was in addition to the 18,000 tonnes of chalk that has been extracted annually since the 1930s. Why was that a problem? Before the licence was granted, only four or five HGVs made return trips each day, which was some 10 movements. After the licence was granted, there was a dramatic increase in HGV movements: local authority records show that at their peak, in 2008, an average weekday saw 150 HGV movements. On six days, there were in excess of 216 HGV movements, which meant roughly one vehicle every three minutes.
To put this in context, the access road to the quarry that HGVs must use is a narrow category C lane, known as Chalkpit Lane. I am sure that hon. Members can picture what kind of road it is. North of the quarry is a steep hill with an HGV restriction, which is often breached. The correct route in and out of the quarry passes rows of cottages without footpaths and pavements, and goes under a railway bridge and through a residential area with mainly grass verges. At some points, it is nearly impossible for an HGV and another vehicle to pass each other when travelling in different directions. It is not a road that can withstand such huge volumes of HGV traffic. It is damaging to the road itself, but more importantly it is hugely dangerous to residents and pedestrians, some of whom use the lane to get to local schools.
Fast forward through a time of some respite in the area, when the quarry paused operations, to 2016, when the operator sought permission to double its infill to 200,000 tonnes per year and the Environment Agency was asked to make a further decision. Permission was granted, which caused distress locally. The decision set in motion a two-year battle between Surrey County Council as the mineral planning authority, the quarry operator and local district councillors, led by Martin Fisher, to ensure that strong limits were placed on vehicle movements and to stop the narrow, country Chalkpit Lane becoming akin to an HGV highway.
When discussions began, the operator wanted the limit to be set as high as 200 movements a day. They had a licence for 200,000 tonnes of infill, which needs a lot of lorries. After discussions with the operator—and while facing the threat of legal action for potential loss of revenue should restrictions be brought in—Surrey County Council officers recommended a limit of 156 movements. Fortunately, due in large part to my hard work and that of local councillors, the limit settled on by the Surrey County Council planning committee was much lower, at 112 movements. I thank Tandridge District councillors, led by Martin Fisher, for their hard work. The limit was an improvement and the best we could have hoped for in the circumstances, but ultimately Surrey County Council should not have been in the position of making this decision.
I have talked a lot about roads and mentioned the Environment Agency briefly, but I am sure the Minister is wondering why I called a debate on Environment Agency permits. I hope the Minister will agree that the reason why HGV movements had to increase, and why Surrey County Council was put in a position where it had to allow over 100 movements on a narrow country lane not designed for lorries, is because the permit was granted. The Environment Agency’s procedures meant it had no reason not to grant the permit. It was not just Surrey County Council that had its hands tied, but also the Environment Agency, whose representatives informed me at a meeting that legislation restricts them to considering whether only the site itself and the environment on the site can cope with the permit arrangements.
Oxted quarry can cope with 200,000 tonnes of infill—I have no doubt that it is big enough—but the wider environment of Chalkpit Lane and Oxted itself most certainly cannot cope. As I understand it, the Environment Agency has no statutory obligation to consult local authorities or even to consider the wider environmental implications outside the site. It is also unable to add conditions to the permit relating to areas that are the responsibility of other public bodies. In this instance, it cannot add vehicle movement conditions as they are the responsibility of the local authority.
I recognise that the Environment Agency and county planning authorities have different responsibilities, but I believe that there must be stronger co-ordination to ensure that projects that are given the go-ahead are consented to with a full, rounded view of the impact, and not in the current disjointed and piecemeal way. The current approach has meant that Surrey County Council has faced a long battle with the operators, who believe—rightly or wrongly—that they have a right to infill 200,000 tonnes. The local authority was faced with an extremely difficult choice: should it bow to pressure from the operator, cover itself against potential legal action but put residents at risk, or should it do what was in the best interests of residents and run the risk of costly legal procedures, which would have an impact on how much money it would have to spend on the local area?
I called for the debate because it is obvious that there is a gap and mismatch in the legislation, which is causing wider problems. It is one of those cases where things fall between the cracks. I know that the Minister is capable and imaginative, and that the Government can do something about this, which will make a big difference across the country, not just in my constituency. Will the Minister commit to looking at the issue, so that the Environment Agency’s permit procedures are changed, to ensure that local authorities can have a greater say before permits are issued or varied? I appreciate that that might require primary legislation, which could prove difficult in the current climate, but anything that can be done in the interim would be welcomed by residents.
The Environment Agency does a great job in protecting our environment, and does everything it can to ensure that businesses can function in rural communities in a way that protects them from harm. Unfortunately, legislation means that it cannot protect the wider environment around the sites it controls. I hope the Minister will agree that simply joining up procedure and closing cracks would bring enormous benefit to rural areas and ensure that entire communities can be protected for future generations.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) on securing this debate. I must admit that when I saw him sitting on the other side of the Chamber I was worried that he had perhaps left the party, but I am delighted that he is certainly has not. I am sure he will understand that people may be twitchy at the moment.
My hon. Friend certainly has the courage of a lion in championing his constituents; I am sure they will be pleased that he is bringing forward this important matter in debate. We have corresponded previously on this topic, and I appreciate his frustration, but this debate clearly reflects the importance of ensuring we have clear and strong pollution and planning controls that work for environment, for people and for business.
As the Minister responsible for environmental permitting, I would like to clarify the purpose of the permitting framework, and the Environment Agency’s role in relation to permitted sites. It is important to say at the outset that permitting is entirely distinct from planning matters which, as he will be aware, fall to the planning authority, but it is important that all parties involved in consideration of these matters work together openly and transparently at a local level to achieve the best outcome for all.
The development of the environmental permitting framework was designed to make regulation simpler, more straightforward and more proportionate to the risk that it regulates. The objectives of the framework have been to make environmental permitting clearer for businesses while maintaining the same level of environmental protection. Before the framework was introduced, permitting and compliance systems developed largely in isolation and had, often for good reasons at the time, adopted various approaches to controlling different types of polluting activity, even where activities were undertaken on the same site, leading to duplication of regulatory control.
Under the environmental permitting regime, regulation of activities is more straightforward for business and regulators to use and apply. It allows the consolidation of different permits and delivers a streamlined approach to applications, guidance, and inspections. Environmental permits allow for flexibility and prescribing the environmental outcome, but not the way it is to be achieved; for example, a permit might require the operator to ensure that the site is sufficiently secured rather than setting a specific fence height. By cutting unnecessary red tape but continuing to provide protection of the environment and human health, that approach has been largely successful.
Environmental permits are issued for regulated activities carried out at sites. In the case of a permitted landfill facility such as that located at Oxted quarry in Surrey, a permit covers hazards and risks arising from the activities on the site of the landfill itself. Landfill involves the disposal of waste to land, so those risks include waste reception and quarantine, leachate and landfill gas containment and collection, wheel-washing, litter collection and various other operations on site.
It is the case that environmental permits specifically apply to what happens within the boundary of a site, while other matters such as traffic outside the site fall under wider planning controls. That distinction is important to avoid regulatory duplication; it is not the right thing to have two regulators making decisions over the same issue and therefore coming up with potentially different outcomes.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the county council is responsible for the relevant planning controls because it is both the minerals planning and waste planning authority. The council’s stated aim in those roles is to minimise adverse impacts of minerals and waste-related development on local communities and the environment. As he has pointed out, Surrey County Council has restricted vehicle movements in and out of the Oxted quarry site to no more than an average of 76 daily HGV movements, or 38 in and 38 out, but I am conscious that there is also a maximum capping.
I understand the Minister’s point about seeking to avoid regulatory duplication. The challenge we have is that we want not to duplicate regulation, but to have a more rounded view of the regulatory process. As it happens, it looks as if one arm does not know what the other arm is doing, and it does not take into account all the factors, particularly the impact those factors have on residents. To the extent that any success was achieved in our campaign, it was more through sheer force of will than through the regulatory system working effectively.
My hon. Friend will be aware that there has been a permit in place for the activities at the quarry since 1980. Following an assessment in December 2016, the agency granted a variation, as he has pointed out, to increase the annual quantity for waste from 100,000 to 200,000 tonnes per year. That application was done legally; I think it is fair to say that the variation was lawfully granted and I also think it is accurate to say that the agency has not received any complaints from members of the public about the performance of the site since operations were scaled up in 2016.
When evaluating an application for a permit variation, the EA is required to consider any negative impacts that may result from managing waste within the boundary of the site. Other impacts outside the boundary of the site must be controlled through the planning process. Being transparent and open matters, but just as my hon. Friend cited the challenges a council might face as to why it would not make a decision on traffic movements, I am sure he will accept that the Environment Agency can be challenged on not making a variation to the permit if the environmental impact is not deemed to be negative. Since the scaling up of operations, there have been no complaints about the operation of the site, although I am conscious that the movements are causing concern to people.
The agency has visited the quarry site on a number of occasions in the past year to assess compliance with the permit. Compliance has generally been good, and where the agency has identified minor non-compliances they have been addressed by the operator. I am conscious that on one occasion there was evidence of mud and soil being tracked out of the site by exiting lorries which the company did not clean up as quickly as it should have; it stated that its roadsweeper had broken down.
I am also conscious that at the time of processing the variation of the permit, the Environment Agency did not carry out a wider consultation with the local community. I recognise that if it had been aware of concerns or complaints, that is something that it could have done at the time. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Environment Agency has since committed to consulting more widely than is statutorily required for any future mineral extraction applications in Surrey, but it is important to make clear that the agency can only consider matters raised through consultation that are within its regulatory remit. In the case of the Oxted quarry landfill site it regulates the disposal of waste and requires that Southern Gravel comply with its environmental permit, but it does not have the power to regulate the impacts of HGV movements.
The Environment Agency and local planning authorities each have clear, strong and distinct roles with regard to pollution and planning control. The necessary distinctions in regulatory role and remit can lead to practical issues on the ground. I fully understand that the mindset of local residents and my hon. Friend, who is their MP, is that the increase in permitted tonnage allowed at the Oxted site is inseparable from the increase in HGVs,
Our published guidance makes it clear that where a regulated facility requires a permit and planning permission, the operator should make both applications in parallel wherever possible. That helps the operator, the planning authority and the Environment Agency to join up where that is of benefit to all concerned. The same principle of joined-up regulation should apply to significant permit variations, and I have asked the agency to ensure that it discusses that with local authorities in relation to sites of possible high public interest.
That should be a matter of good practice, which picks up links between planning and permitting responsibilities where they arise. Locally, the Environment Agency has said that it will continue to work with Surrey County Council and applicants to consider the twin tracking of planning and permitting applications where appropriate. That is sensible local co-ordination that can be established on a case-by-case basis, without the need for additional legislative controls.
I am conscious that what I have said today will not necessarily satisfy my hon. Friend. He will recognise that legislation that adds further regulatory barriers to the progress of business is not something that this Government instinctively support. However, I hope that his example shows that the Environment Agency has listened carefully and is trying to work with local authorities, particularly in Surrey, to learn lessons from this. I commend the council for being strict on the number of movements allowed per day. I am confident that both the county council and, as I have demonstrated, the Environment Agency are undertaking their enforcement actions accordingly. This is an important way for central Government and local government to work together.
Question put and agreed to.
Former British Child Migrants: Payment Scheme
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the former British child migrants payment scheme.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, on this very important issue. This is not the first time that we have debated the issue in this place, and I am very pleased to say that since the last time that we had a debate on it, the Minister has managed to get the Government to move, for which we are extremely grateful. Former child migrants across the world have contacted me in the last few months to talk about how grateful they are for that movement. However, there are outstanding concerns and worries, and as the Minister knows, many of the people affected are getting older and so time is of the essence.
It is almost a year since the report by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse—IICSA—shone a damning spotlight on the severe sexual, physical and emotional abuse experienced by many of the thousands of child migrants sent abroad unaccompanied as a result of the policy of child migration practised by successive post-war Governments. The report exposes the harrowing abuse that took place before the children travelled, during the journey and after they migrated. It often continued for years and took place at the hands of more than one perpetrator. For some children, the most devastating aspect of the experience was being lied to about their family background and even about whether their parents and siblings were alive or dead.
The experience that many of the former child migrants had has had a lifelong impact on their physical and mental wellbeing, their educational attainment and their future employment prospects. The child migration programmes effectively ended some people’s lives just as they were beginning. Over the last few months, I have also been contacted by many of the partners and children of former child migrants to talk about the impact that there has been on them, too. This is not just about children losing their parents and parents losing their children; it is about generations being separated—grandparents being separated from grandchildren and young people growing up and not knowing any family beyond their parents at all.
While acknowledging the failures of the institutions, including charities and churches, that were involved in the process of migrating children, the report, as the Minister knows, overwhelmingly concluded that Her Majesty’s Government were primarily to blame for the existence of the programmes after the second world war and that successive British Governments, of all political persuasions, allowed them to remain in place despite a catalogue of evidence showing the treatment that children were receiving. That is surely one of the most shameful periods in British history.
However, things went silent until well into the 1980s, when Dr Margaret Humphreys and the Child Migrants Trust sought to bring the matter to public attention. The policy position maintained throughout the 1990s and 2000s was that the Government may have been aware of
“allegations of physical and sexual abuse”,
“any such allegations would be a matter for the Australian authorities”,
as former Prime Minister John Major put it. It was not until 2010—it was nine years ago to the day on Sunday—that then Prime Minister Gordon Brown publicly apologised to former child migrants on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government and established the family restoration fund, which was endowed with £6 million to help former child migrants to reunite with their families in Britain.
Despite that scheme, IICSA found last year that the UK Government had failed to provide adequate redress to the more than 2,000 surviving former child migrants and it recommended that financial redress be established without delay, with payments beginning within 12 months; the relevant date is 1 March 2019. The report recommended an equal award for each applicant, on the basis that they were all exposed to equal risk of abuse. Given the age and ill health of surviving former child migrants, it stated that action was urgently needed. However, it took the Government almost 10 months to publish a formal response to the recommendations. During that time, 36 former child migrants died, meaning that they would never see the justice that they so badly deserved or the redress that they were owed.
When the Government did publish their response, they accepted the recommendations on financial redress, for which we are extremely grateful, and confirmed that they would establish a scheme to ensure that each surviving former child migrant receives an ex gratia payment as soon as possible. It was also very welcome that the Government acknowledged that the delay in establishing the scheme had had a major impact, and stated at the time that they would accept claims in respect of any former child migrant who was alive on 1 March 2018, when IICSA’s report was published.
I was alerted to the fact that the scheme had happened by the Minister’s office. I was alerted to the fact that the details of the ex gratia payment scheme had been published via the Child Migrants Trust. The details appeared on its website on 31 January 2019. It was stated that each eligible former British child migrant would receive £20,000 and that the Child Migrants Trust would support applicants in establishing their identity as former British child migrants. I understood that payments would then be administered by the NHS Business Services Authority.
I have a number of questions for the Minister, which I sent to her in advance; I hope that that will help her to answer them today. They are not my questions, but questions that have been raised with me by the many former child migrants who survive around the world. As the Minister can imagine, they were delighted when details of the scheme were published, but that delight quickly turned to anxiety because many of the details are not currently in the public domain.
First, many former child migrants are very concerned about the lack of involvement that they have had in the Government’s response to IICSA and the development of the payment scheme. I do understand that the Minister was alive to the possibility that some of the former child migrants needed to see justice and see it quickly, but it would be very helpful if she could tell us what consultation has happened with former child migrants. The president of the International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families wrote to the Home Secretary on 10 January to voice concerns that there had been no consultation with survivors of the programmes and to request a meeting regarding the Government’s response, but to date no response has been received to that letter.
This Minister will be aware, because I have raised it many times in the House, including with the Prime Minister, that there has been confusion about which Department was responsible for this issue in the past. That has been one of the problems that the former child migrants have had. It seems to me that those people who have spent decades feeling and being ignored by the British Government are entitled to a speedy response from their Government now, when they are seeking answers towards the end of their lives. I would be grateful if the Minister would acknowledge those concerns and agree to meet representatives of the international association of child migrants and the Child Migrants Trust to discuss these issues further.
I have also been asked to raise concerns about the payment amount. It is unclear how the figure of £20,000 was reached. IICSA’s report stated that any financial redress scheme should make a
“real, immediate and lasting difference to the lives of the former child migrants.”
Without any consultation, can the Minister be confident that the £20,000 amount lives up to that recommendation? Could she tell us how it was arrived at? By comparison, the average payment issued to claimants under the recently established Australian scheme, which is open to former British child migrants, is the equivalent of £43,000, with a cap at £82,000.
The Government did respond to a question that I tabled on the methodology that was used and stated that the methodology was based on the Northern Ireland historical institutional abuse inquiry, which in 2018 had recommended the amount of £20,000 for former child migrants sent from Northern Ireland. However, I have been unable to find any information from the Northern Ireland Executive about what methodology was used and how this figure was calculated, so I would be very grateful if the Minister could explain how the amount was arrived at.
I would also be grateful for some clarity about the tax arrangements, because there is little detail on the Child Migrants Trust website and the Child Migrants Trust is unclear about the process. Will the payment be taxable in the UK or in any other country where the claimants live and will receive payment? After all this time, and many broken promises, there is not a great deal of trust out there—there is a huge amount of anxiety. At the very least, the former child migrants who have suffered appallingly at the hands of successive Governments are entitled to know from this Government what they will actually receive and whether the payment will affect any other benefits that they are receiving.
On the application process, I am aware from my work with the Child Migrants Trust that it has excellent contacts throughout the child migrant community and an established track record in verifying child migrants for eligibility for the use of its services and for redress schemes in other countries. I can well understand why the Government were keen to ensure that it took a central role in the process, but I am concerned about whether it has the capacity to administer the new scheme, particularly in the timescale set out by IICSA, which would give it only a few days to process the applications.
There is also concern about the Child Migrants Trust’s ongoing capacity issues. As I understand, it has not been offered any additional resources to deal with the increased workload. It has already received hundreds of inquiries about the scheme and, with an estimated 2,000 potential claimants, it is important that it has the resources to handle claims in an efficient, thorough and sensitive way to ensure that the people who are eligible for the payment actually get it.
Given that the payment scheme is likely to introduce new former child migrants to the work of the Child Migrants Trust, it is anticipated that there will be an increase in demand for its other services, such as the family restoration fund and counselling. Will the Minister look at the trust’s long-term funding to make sure that it can do what the Government have asked it to do and continue to provide vital ongoing services to former child migrants?
There are concerns about the eligibility criteria. I have been contacted by several individuals who were migrated with a family member or guardian present on their journey and who may not be eligible under the scheme. The Government have stated that
“children who went overseas with their parents or guardians, or were sent overseas”
with apparent permission from
“their parents or guardians, are clearly in a different category: they were not the responsibility of local authorities or Government organisations in the United Kingdom and their parents or guardians made the arrangements voluntarily.”
Several people have contacted me to say that they disagree with that position. They say that from the early 1960s, some child migrant schemes arranged for children to be accompanied on the journey by migrating parents before being taken into a child migrant institution. Once in an institution, they were treated in exactly the same way as other children and exposed to the same risk of physical, sexual and psychological abuse as every other child.
Others have pointed out that excluding those
“sent overseas by their parents or guardians”
could be problematic. They tell me that after 1946, the British Government required all British child migrants to have the signed approval of their parents or guardian before they could be sent. IICSA heard evidence of some cases where carers illegally signed those approvals, but the authorisations were overwhelmingly signed by parents or guardians. By signing their approval for children to go, are the parents now deemed to have effectively authorised them to be sent and if so, will those children be ineligible for payment?
There is an urgent need for clarity and detail about the eligibility criteria for the scheme to ensure that the maximum amount of people put at risk by the programmes can receive the payment. Those who are deemed ineligible are entitled to a clear and sensitive explanation for that decision.
I am concerned about the way that the payment scheme was announced and the amount of promotion that has taken place. As I understand, the details of the scheme were announced solely in the form of a note published on the Child Migrants Trust website. There was no oral or written statement to outline the details of the scheme to Parliament and there was no press release from the Department of Health and Social Care, despite the scheme potentially costing a significant amount of public money. The details of the scheme are still not published on the Department’s website or on gov.uk.
It seems that the job of raising awareness of the scheme has fallen completely on the shoulders of the Child Migrants Trust, which is doing an excellent job of using its networks to promote the scheme, despite no extra resources having been committed to help it. In answer to a question that I asked about the establishment of a communications strategy, the Government indicated that they had publicised the scheme through the high commissions of receiving countries. Can the Minister provide further details about that work and what it hopes to achieve? Can the Minister also tell us what the Government’s future communication strategy will be?
The future funding of the Child Migrants Trust and the family restoration fund is a key concern. The Minister will be familiar with the work of the family restoration fund and its life-changing impact. It has been funded by successive Governments, including this one, and it continues to make a real difference. Since it was established in 2010, it has facilitated 1,248 visits. The IICSA report states clearly that
“the establishment of the Redress Scheme should not be used as a reason for reducing funding for the Child Migrants Trust or the Family Restoration Fund”.
In the Government’s response to the report, they seemed to agree and recognised
“that the Family Restoration Fund continues to provide a valuable service.”
However, they also stated that they
“will continue the Fund until the end of the scheme, by which time the Fund will have provided over £8 million to support reunions, over more than a decade.”
When I asked about future funding for the family restoration fund, I was told that it was a matter for the upcoming spending review, which has caused real concern that it will cease to exist after its funding ends later this year. The Minister previously extended funding in 2014 and 2017. The fund should not end until there is no further demand. In fact, the findings of the IICSA report underline how vital all the services provided for former child migrants are. It would be unfair if child migrants applying for the payment scheme in 2019 could also apply for restoration fund support but those applying afterwards could not benefit from that service.
The Minister and I have had public and private conversations about the raw emotional impact of the scheme on child migrants. I am grateful to her for listening to our concerns about the timing of the announcement that compensation would be made and for making sure that no bad news was delivered just before Christmas when many people are struggling to cope.
The Minister will be aware, however, that even such a positive announcement can open up some difficult emotions for people who are dealing with it, which might bring them into contact with services for the first time. This may be the moment when, after a lifetime apart from their families, people think that they need and wish to seek support as they come to the end. A clear commitment from the Minister that the money provided for the redress scheme will not be used as an excuse not to fund the family restoration fund, and a longer term commitment to the fund, would be extremely welcome.
All over the world, people are watching this debate who were taken from their families at the beginning of their lives. They have had to fight all the way to survive and for justice. There have been many moments in their lives when we collectively, as a country, have fallen well short of what they deserved from us by kicking the issue into the long grass and denying them the justice and support that they were entitled to. That has caused them severe harm, but they are still there—fighting and campaigning. As we bring this shameful chapter in British history to a close, the least that we can do is issue them with the payment, the clarity and the support that they deserve.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
First of all, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for securing this debate, for her excellent contribution to it and, of course, for her campaigning on this issue over many years. We have seen today her continuing tenacity, and the importance of continuing to raise these vital matters on behalf of the victims. She described the inquiry report as damning, and said that it exposed harrowing abuse and that this issue was exacerbated by the lies that were told about it. She is right that this was a shameful episode for our country.
My hon. Friend was also right that the issue went beyond the abuse that people suffered; they were also wrongly separated from their families for generations. Think about what it would mean for someone to be separated from their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It is very difficult to appreciate just what kind of hole that would leave in their life, and it is also very difficult to appreciate just how harmful that is. I add my voice to hers, and would like to show my appreciation of the courage of those who have been affected by the child migration programme: the 130,000-plus British children who were deported without their consent—sometimes, as we know, even without their parents’ consent—and the estimated 4,000 unaccompanied child migrants who, as we have heard, experienced sexual, physical and emotional abuse as a result of this devastating policy, which was practised by successive post-war Governments until 1974.
As was highlighted by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse report on the child migration programme, and in the accounts that we have heard today and in previous debates, these children suffered abuse before, during and after their migration, often over a period of many years and sometimes at the hands of more than one perpetrator. As we know, for many of them, that has had a lasting—indeed, lifelong—impact on their physical and mental wellbeing, their educational attainment and their employment prospects—in effect, their whole life. No one can fail to be moved by the personal accounts that we have all heard from those who suffered abuse, and I am sure that we are all united in our desire to do everything we can to put right those wrongs, as far as it is possible to do so.
There is no doubt that the victims of the child migration programme suffered for too long at the hands of successive Governments, and that successive Governments chose to turn a blind eye. Of course, these people also had to wait far too long for an apology. It saddens me that that took until 2010, when Gordon Brown, the then Prime Minister, formally acknowledged that successive Governments had failed in their duty of care.
Gordon Brown also established the £6 billion family restoration fund to help former child migrants to reunite with their families, so that they could build relationships, be involved in significant family events, or even urgently visit relatives at times of crisis. However, as we have heard from last year’s inquiry, despite this scheme, the UK Government have failed to provide adequate redress to the more than 2,000 surviving child migrants.
I am sure we all agree that victims have been let down all their lives by successive Governments missing opportunities to take action over the years. It is with regret that we note that it took more than nine months for the Government to respond to the inquiry report, especially given that the inquiry stressed the importance of urgent action because of the age and ill health of some of the surviving child migrants.
I welcome the Government’s acknowledgement that the delay in establishing the scheme was unacceptable, and that they will accept claims on behalf of former child migrants who were alive when the report was published last March but subsequently passed away. The report recommended that financial redress be established without delay, and that payments be made within 12 months. As we know, that would be by this Friday, 1 March. I share the frustration felt by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan about the details of the ex gratia payment scheme having been published only on 31 January, and only on the Child Migrants Trust website. As she acknowledged, although the trust has excellent contacts throughout the former child migrant community, we need to learn from the Government whether there are any further things that they can do to publicise the scheme, to ensure that nobody is overlooked.
I share my hon. Friend’s concern that former British child migrants have raised legitimate points about their lack of involvement in the development of the payment scheme. In any case of abuse, it is absolutely vital that the victims’ voices be heard. In this case, they were not heard at the time of the abuse and they have not been heard since; it is important that they are heard throughout the whole inquiry process, which includes the determination of the payment to be made.
I hope that the Minister will say whether she is confident that the £20,000 figure will provide adequate redress. As my hon. Friend said, so far there has been little clarity about how that figure was arrived at. People absolutely need transparency at all times, not least when they have suffered in the way that we have heard about today.
My hon. Friend also asked reasonable questions about the taxable status of these payments, and so on. I hope that the Minister can respond to those questions, so that former child migrants do not suffer any more uncertainty about whether they will qualify for the scheme. I hope that he will also provide clarity about the eligibility criteria, as my hon. Friend requested, because there were child migrants who were sent to the receiving institutions with permission from parents or guardians, but as my hon. Friend clearly set out, no matter the vehicle by which children arrived at those institutions, the abuse that they suffered within them was the same. We hope that there will be no further delay to victims of the child migration programme receiving the redress they are entitled to. Will the Minister say whether she is confident that the Child Migrants Trust has the resources to administer the scheme? If it does not, what further measures will be put in place?
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns that the Government’s pledge to continue the family restoration fund until the end of the redress scheme does not meet the inquiry report’s expectation that the continuation of the scheme will not lead to reduced funding for the Child Migrants Trust or the family restoration fund. I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to provide reassurance that the Government will continue to provide funding until the family restoration fund is no longer needed.
In conclusion, as a politician, it angers me to hear the inquiry’s conclusion that the main reason for the failure of Her Majesty’s Government to take action to end the child migration programme after the second world war—despite the evidence of ill treatment and abuse, including sexual abuse—was politics. I hope that in today’s politics we are a very long way away from that place—a place where the importance of continuing relations with other Governments and with charitable organisations, and the need to avoid reputational risk, was prioritised over the wellbeing of our children. The politicians of today may have our differences, but we must never again allow the suffering of children and their search for justice to be subservient to the politics of the day.
Unusually, due to important parliamentary business elsewhere, we will have the Opposition spokespeople in a different order. We have heard from Her Majesty’s official Opposition; now we will hear from Stuart C. McDonald for the Scottish National party.
Thanks very much, Mr Hollobone, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and I genuinely thank you for offering me the opportunity to speak very briefly.
Clearly, it will be difficult for me to sum up a debate that I have only heard a tiny fraction of, but I congratulate the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing it. She secured a similar debate something like seven or eight months ago. She has done Parliament a favour by drawing attention to this issue; most importantly, of course, in doing so, she has helped the survivors of these horrible child migration programmes. I thank her for bringing this issue to Parliament once again.
As well as the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, which we discussed last time, there is the inquiry established by the Northern Ireland Executive and chaired by Sir Anthony Hart, who has also reported in detail on the child migration programmes, and the Scottish child abuse inquiry under Lady Smith, which is ongoing. As was well discussed and well established in our previous debate, even if they are looked at by the standards of the time, these programmes were appallingly ill-conceived, and the actions and supervision of those involved fell drastically short of the standards that were expected. Concerns about the programmes were ignored, and little effort was made to ensure that the children being “exported”, to use that horrible term, were safe.
The conclusions of the IICSA report were stark: successive Governments had failed to respond properly to concerns that were raised, and the programmes were allowed by successive British Governments to remain in place, despite a catalogue of evidence showing that children were suffering ill treatment and abuse, including sexual abuse. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), talked about some of the reasons why these programmes were allowed to continue, including politics, which chimed with what we discussed last time.
After the Ross report in 1956, nothing was done. It is stomach-churning to read the IICSA report’s conclusion that that was because of the patronage of persons of influence and position. It is clear that in some cases, the avoidance of embarrassment and reputational risk was more important than the institutional responsibilities towards migrated children. That is a truly damning indictment of successive Governments.
Both the Northern Ireland and the IICSA reports recommended compensation payments for those who had been sent abroad under the child migration programmes over and above any compensation for other wrongs and abuses suffered. The Government’s announcement of the compensation is very welcome indeed, and it is only fair to reflect on the fact that it has been welcomed by groups working on behalf of survivors, including the Child Migrants Trust and the International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families, and also by former child migrants themselves, who have given evidence to the inquiry.
It is important to hear more from the Government. A statement would have been ideal. We need to know much more about the detail. How has the compensation been calculated? What is the timing? How are folk to apply? Will the Government continue to work with all the groups to ensure that the compensation scheme operates smoothly and reaches as many survivors as possible? After the Windrush scandal, there have been welcome announcements about compensation and redress, but the proof is always in the pudding, and there have already been trials and tribulations in getting that up and running. We do not want that repeated here.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. I apologise once again for not having been able to play a full part in the debate, and I again thank the hon. Member for Wigan for securing it.
I would normally start by saying that it is a pleasure to engage in the debate, but to be honest this has not been the most comfortable of subjects on which to speak on behalf of the Government. As we have heard, this was a shameful episode in our history, and all the more shaming that it was under successive Governments of different colours. I think everyone in the room would wish to dissociate themselves from that kind of behaviour.
However, I congratulate the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on bringing the matter to my attention, again. She has been my conscience on this. Quite rightly, because, as she mentioned, we had the recommendation almost a year ago and it took time to get cross-Government agreement on how to take it forward. Having got that agreement, it was my desire that we make progress with the implementation but, by definition, that has left a number of questions unanswered. I hope that some of the points I make today will answer some of those outstanding questions and settle any anxiety that the child migrants have. Ultimately, they have not been dealt the best cards over the years and it is important that we do our very best to redress the situation. I pledge to continue to do my best in that regard.
The hon. Lady rightly highlighted that there was confusion about who owned the policy, and that is one reason it has taken so long. This all came about because of the child abuse inquiry, which sits under the Home Office, but historically the Department of Health has had responsibility for child migrants generally, and that led to the confusion. I really hope that we can settle the matter more formally, so that we can have more certainty for the child migrants. While I am in this place, the hon. Lady can rest assured that she can always nag me if things go awry, and history tells me that she will. All power to her elbow for doing that, because it is important that we do this right.
Once we had made the decision to make the payments, it was important to make the announcement quickly, not least because some of the individuals are elderly—I am advised that the eldest is 102. Speed is of the essence, to ensure that everyone can get some enjoyment from the payments.
The hon. Lady has once again demonstrated her commitment to ensuring that the welfare of those children is not forgotten; we should never forget what was done in our name. The policy was misguided and wrong, and has caused suffering and distress. The conclusion of the child abuse inquiry was that payment should be made not because people were exposed to abuse—compensation exists for that—but because of the very fact that organisations of the state sent the children away without consent. It is in that spirit that we have adopted the recommendation, recognising that organisations of the state exposed the children to harm, regardless of whether any harm materialised. As a consequence, we have taken the opportunity to announce the payments.
All Members have made very fair points about how the scheme has been communicated. That came about, again, because of the speed with which we wanted to make the announcement. It is also worth noting that the Child Migrants Trust has extremely good relationships with the affected people, so although it was not bells and whistles, we were, in a way, using the right channels to get to those who needed to know. However, we will reflect on what has been said and consider whether and how best to disseminate more information, recognising that not all those affected are necessarily in contact with the trust and it might be a pleasant surprise for them to know about the scheme.
As I mentioned, the payments are on the basis of being exposed to risk; they are not compensation for abuse. We have announced that each former child migrant will receive £20,000 in recognition of that exposure. It is only fair that, in recognition of the passage of time since the recommendation, we backdate the payments to 1 March 2018. As the hon. Lady mentioned, a number of the individuals have passed away since that date, and we will honour any claim made in respect of a deceased migrant.
The wider communication of the policy is important precisely because of that group of people who have passed away. I imagine that their relatives would be much less likely to look at the Child Migrants Trust website and much more likely to look at gov.uk or the Department of Health and Social Care’s site. If the Minister would at least consider putting something on the Government’s website, that would be helpful.
I will take that point away. Part of me thinks that it will be appropriate to do that once we have all the details written down; none the less, I will reflect on what the hon. Lady says, because she is right. The very act of making the payments is in itself an acknowledgement that the Government have failed their own citizens. If individuals are no longer here to enjoy the benefits of the payments, they would have wanted their families to do so, and we need to make every effort to ensure that they can.
As I have said, this is not compensation; it is a payment for the fact that the individuals were deported by organisations of the state and were put at risk of harm. There are other routes to compensation for migrants who suffered harm or injury and this payment is in addition to and does not interfere with that; it does not affect the rights of any individual to pursue avenues of compensation. The scheme provides for an equal award for every applicant, regardless of income. Essentially, we want to make it simple, and to get the payments out to those affected.
Setting the amount was difficult, because it is impossible to put a figure on the costs, the damage and the harm; in that sense, it is difficult to come up with any calculation. But we have engaged with the Child Migrants Trust, which many migrants trust to represent their views, and have consulted it on the design of the scheme. We did not want to go through a formal consultation process for exactly the reasons we have discussed: we wanted to act promptly and in a way that would get the money out as soon as possible. In setting the sum at £20,000, we have taken note of the recommendation of Sir Anthony Hart’s report into institutional abuse in Northern Ireland. He recommended that the payment should be a sum sufficient to recognise the injustice that young children suffered through being sent to a far-away land and losing their sense of identity as a result. He recommended the figure of £20,000, and on that basis, we considered it to be an appropriate figure for a UK-wide scheme. Again, it is important that we do not have any discrimination between the four nations; it is right that we deliver this scheme in a way that is consistent across them.
It would be helpful to those child migrants if we could get some clarity about why Sir Anthony Hart came up with that amount. The aim is not necessarily to question that amount, but if we are seeking to put a figure on the level of harm and dispossession that was caused, those child migrants would appreciate—and indeed are entitled to—an explanation of how the amount was arrived at. If the Minister’s office could help us find out how that figure was arrived at in Northern Ireland, that would help many of those child migrants to put together an important piece of the puzzle.
That is a fair challenge. With the caveat that any figure would not be adequate to compensate for harm, some methodology about why that figure was arrived at would be helpful.
The issue of eligibility has been raised on a number of occasions. The only condition that needs to be met is that a claimant is a former British child migrant sent from the United Kingdom and Crown dependencies before 1971, meaning anyone who was below school leaving age and was sent by a church, state, voluntary or other organisation to one of the receiving countries: Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia. However—to answer one of the hon. Lady’s questions—they must not have been accompanied by an adult family member or guardian, sent by an adult family member or guardian, or sent to live with a member of their birth family, because this payment is rooted in the fact that these were people who were sent by organisations of the state. I recognise the point made by various hon. Members that those sent by family members may also have been exposed to abuse, but again, the scheme does not alter those people’s routes for seeking compensation in other ways. This scheme is the Government taking responsibility for decisions made in their name, rather than for those made by families.
We have kept the eligibility criteria as simple as possible, to make the process of claiming the payment as simple as possible. Those eligibility criteria are the same as those being used for the family restoration fund, and are the same criteria that the Child Migrants Trust has used over many decades to determine who can access its services. Clearly, we want to make the application process as simple as possible, and as the hon. Lady has mentioned, we have asked the Child Migrants Trust to act as the first point of contact for child migrants who wish to apply for payments. I have heard the hon. Lady’s points about resource: we are in close contact with the Child Migrants Trust and give it support as appropriate. I hope, given the extensive network of contacts that the trust has, that this work should not prove massively onerous; in fact, in some respects, it may be helpful to the trust’s wider work.
We will of course continue to engage with the Child Migrants Trust, especially given that we want to be sure that in rolling out this scheme, we are getting to as many people as possible and doing it as efficiently as possible. I do not think anyone is better placed to advise us than the Child Migrants Trust.
The trust will reach out to all those who it has supported in the past to help them to apply for the payment. I know that it has already promoted the scheme widely, and it has also contacted all of the known sending agencies—those organisations that were responsible for sending children. We are aware that there has been extensive coverage in the Australian media, but we will look at where there is a need for further active communication, and how best to do that. We expect the high commissions in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Zimbabwe to have extensive contact programmes, making sure that they are using their networks to make people aware of the scheme. Those former child migrants who have not previously been supported by the Child Migrants Trust will need to go through a separate application process, but the trust has given undertakings that it will help those people to do so. We have evidence that a number of child migrants who were not previously in contact with the trust have made contact, which is an indication that the message is going out. We have put some details of the scheme on the Government’s website, but I will make sure that we keep that website properly updated so that it is signposting people to where they can access help.
The hon. Member for Wigan is right that although the Child Migrants Trust will accept applications, the actual application payments will be made by the NHS Business Services Authority. The aim is to make those payments within 60 days, but more quickly if at all possible: we are determined to get these funds to those who should benefit from them as quickly as possible. Some reference was made to tax and benefit issues, and I am clear that every one of those beneficiaries should receive that £20,000 in its entirety, free of tax and separate from benefits, but that is not entirely in our gift. We are having conversations with overseas Governments about that issue, and we will also look at what needs to be done for those who are resident here so that they are not adversely affected.
Again, part and parcel of having made an announcement very quickly and then trying to get a scheme going is that we do not have firm answers on all of these subjects. I assure the hon. Lady that I am determined that these people should get this sum in its entirety, and I will do my best to make sure that that is the case. It should be noted that the majority of recipients live in Australia, with significant numbers living in other countries and only a very small number living in the UK. Experience tells us that the Australian Government are sympathetic to this group of people, so I hope that we can make representations that are received sympathetically, even though we have no power to dictate the tax, welfare and benefits arrangements of other countries.
I hope that hon. Members are reassured by some of the details that we have announced. Clearly, the scheme is not as buttoned down and finished at this stage as we would like it to be, but the fact that we have proceeded to implement this decision as soon as it was taken is an indication of how committed we as a Government are—and, in fact, all political parties are—to putting right a wrong that, frankly, has been a cause of shame for so many of us. Nothing can repair the damage that has been done to those individuals. We can acknowledge it, we can apologise, and we can make these payments, but the most important thing that all of us in this room can do is to make sure that nothing so unjust ever happens in the name of the state again. At a time when some of our colleagues are distracted by other issues, this debate is a reminder of why so many of us got involved in politics in the first place—to fight for justice, to right wrongs, and to champion the rights of people who perhaps have not had them championed before.
I will conclude by again congratulating the hon. Member for Wigan, who has been dogged in her determination to do right by this group of people. In doing so, she has made my life uncomfortable from time to time, but I thank her for it, because that is what this place is all about. We will make sure that we deliver as we have promised.
I am very grateful to the Minister for that comprehensive response and for taking so many interventions. I am grateful to all the Members who have spoken in the debate. I have given her a hard time over the past year or so, and she has taken it on the chin and responded. It was she who came to this place and said that it was incredibly difficult to get things through Government with everything going on with Brexit. I have seen that for myself—we have all seen it—and I know she has fought hard to get us here. I thank her on the record for that and for her ongoing commitment to try to resolve the outstanding issues.
There was one issue about the family restoration fund that I might write to the Minister about to try to get some more clarity, given the uncertainty about the ongoing nature of that scheme. I was glad to hear about the level of urgency within Government to try to resolve some of the issues and the ongoing commitment to meet and work with the Child Migrants Trust as we move forward. I suspect that this debate will not be the last time she hears from me on this subject.
I am reminded by the Minister’s closing remarks that far too many people do not have a voice. I hope that those who have been watching today—the people affected and the families of those who are sadly no longer with us—will feel that at least they have had a voice today because of the efforts of some of us here in this room. I hope we have reassured them that they will continue to have a voice going forward. The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse was established by the Prime Minister, the then Home Secretary, to learn the lessons from the past and ensure that such things never happen again. It seems to me that that cannot be done without seeking to right some of those historic injustices. We have made a small step forward to keeping children safe in the future here today.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the former British child migrants payment scheme.