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Children’s Health and Wellbeing

Volume 657: debated on Tuesday 26 March 2019

1. What steps he is taking to help ensure better co-ordination with (a) the Department for Education and (b) other Departments to support children’s health and wellbeing. (910022)

The Department of Health and Social Care works across government to ensure every child can have the best possible start in life. This includes a significant increase in mental health support in schools.

I thank the Secretary of State very much for that reply. May I first pay tribute to the former Minister, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine)? I think his actions last night were very honourable, and he has been an exceptional Health Minister.

May I ask the Secretary of State also to look at how we can join up services much more strongly on the ground? Whether it is early years, child mental health or special educational needs and disability support, time and again we hear problems about how services are not joined up.

I agree with the hon. Lady on both counts. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) was an excellent Public Health Minister, who did exemplary work and drove the agenda with great passion and determination, and he has behaved honourably in every sense.

On the point about cross-government working, the hon. Lady is completely right. The need to join up, breaking down the barriers of silos that sometimes exist between agencies, is vital. There is a huge amount of work under way in all of the areas she mentioned, and I am determined to see that work.

On Friday, I met two clinical commissioning groups that cover my constituency specifically to discuss mental health and children’s health and wellbeing. While it is an extremely complex issue, does the Secretary of State agree with me that, with the perceived rigorous spending rules requiring health providers to spend only on pure health services, it will remain extremely challenging for them to work with other agencies to support methods, such as those to build resilience, that improve outcomes for children’s health?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. The most forward-looking CCGs in the country are working with all sorts of partners—the voluntary sector, charities, local authorities—to deliver better services that make people healthier, even if they are not purely medicinal in the first instance. For instance, tennis lessons may sometimes help people, Mr Speaker, as may all sorts of other activities. This is all part of a broadening social-prescribing agenda to get people healthy, however that is best done.

The Secretary of State will be aware that, last Monday, I published my report, with the Royal Society for Public Health, on children’s mental health and social media. May I place on the record my thanks to him for his tweet in support of the report? I have asked Education Ministers and I will be doing this with the devolved institutions as well, but would he agree to a meeting with me—and with the Mental Health Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price)—to look at the report and the recommendations so that we can start working across Departments and across devolved institutions?

I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his all-party group on social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. It is an incredibly important topic. We must make sure that social media is safe and that we protect children’s mental health, which the evidence increasingly shows can be negatively impacted by the wrong use of social media. Social media can be a great, powerful force for good, but it also has its downsides and we need to mitigate those, and there is a lot more coming from the Government soon.

May I ask the Secretary of State to meet the Sport and Recreation Alliance to hear its ideas on how we ensure children and young people lead healthier and more active lives?

Yes, I would love to. I think this is an incredibly important agenda. It ties in directly with the question from my former ministerial colleague when I was at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). There is lots to do on this agenda.

There has been an alarming rise in the need for the use of baby banks for children. While I am proud that organisations such as Little Village in Tooting are doing such amazing work, it is shocking that we even need baby banks in this day and age. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that it is a stain on this Government and highlights the drastic inequalities seen in our society?

We are determined to do everything we can to support people, especially at the time—in the first 1,000 days—that is so critical to people’s whole lives, and that is an incredibly important part of the work. Improving maternity services is important, but the link-up with other broader agencies is also important, and we should not denigrate or downplay the vital role that charities too can play in supporting people.

I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to Hinckley to see co-ordination and social prescribing in action. Will he be taking steps to further develop personal budgets, which save money and improve lives?

Yes, absolutely. Driving the social prescribing agenda, which is based on increasingly strong evidence of the power of social prescribing to help people stay healthy and get them healthy again when they are ill, will also involve wider use of personal budgets. Almost 1 million people have personal budgets.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) in paying tribute to the very hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), and I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders). Has the Secretary of State seen Professor Clare Bambra’s research in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health this month, showing that inequalities in infant mortality between deprived and more affluent areas fell between 1999 and 2010 when there was a Labour Government, and then increased from 2011 to 2017? Is it not true that only Labour has the range of co-ordinated, cross-governmental policies that reduce inequalities in child health?

No. The NHS long-term plan has a whole swathe of policy to reduce health inequalities. The best thing we can do to reduce health inequalities is ensure that more people are in work, and the record number of jobs that have been delivered is a vital part of that agenda.