Moved By The Lord Bishop of Leicester
To call attention to the publication of the Good Childhood Inquiry report; and to move for papers.
My Lords, the very day of the launch of the report of the Good Childhood Inquiry coincided last week with London’s heaviest snowfall for 18 years. By an unexpected coincidence, as the report drew attention to the need for adults to consider more carefully the consequences of their values, priorities and lifestyles for the development of children, so, in our parks, playgrounds and gardens, many people were finding, for one brief day, what it meant to set aside their normal routines, and the sound of laughter and play could be heard in the streets and neighbourhoods of much of England. That coincidence, neither planned nor intended, had the effect of raising for all of us the central question of the inquiry: what does it take for us to create the conditions in which the power for good in children and their extraordinary potential can flourish? What does it take for us to recognise the obstacles to their flourishing and to find the resources of mind and spirit to overcome them?
I am proud to declare an interest in the debate today. I am the chair of the trustees of the Children’s Society, which launched the inquiry in 2006, bringing together an independent panel of experts to consider the conditions for a good childhood in the 21st century and to make recommendations for ensuring that those conditions are achieved for all children.
I am profoundly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Layard, for his immense contribution to this report as its principal author, and delighted that he will be contributing to the debate today. The whole panel of inquiry was delighted to engage with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury as patron, and is grateful for his incisive afterword to the report and his presence here.
Most of all, however, we benefited from the contributions of some 30,000 people who gave evidence to the inquiry and, among them, over 10,000 children. They took part in polls, research and focus groups. They responded via the BBC “Newsround” programme and included children from all walks of life, including those in prison, pupil referral units and early years settings, as well as refugee children and disabled children. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this report merits attention because, above all, it gives a voice to the hopes, concerns and longings of those children.
One of those giving evidence in person to the panel was Adam, now aged 20. After being taken into care at a young age, he was moved from one residential home to another. After multiple failures, he was taken into foster care. Eventually, at age 14 he began the first of three sentences in prison. On hearing his story, a panel member asked him whether there was anyone in his life who meant something to him. He replied that the only person he could think of was his independent visitor—someone to talk to, someone to help him navigate choices and prepare for his release. Adam explained that he neither requested nor wanted this person. He initially used every trick he could think of to make the visitor leave and never return. It did not work. For the first time in his life, he had met someone who would not give up on him—who, regardless of his treatment and rejection would come back week after week. So began a transformation, the first constructive and positive relationship with an adult that he had ever had. Now, after six years, this relationship forms a critical and unique source of stability.
This is the closest approximation to an experience of love in Adam’s life. It is love that children and young people see as the most fundamental requirement of a good life. Our children are clear that the foundation for a good childhood is rooted in their experiences of primary, living attachments with their parents and significant adults. This report identified key factors which put pressure on those relationships. It asks why society has become tone-deaf to those most fundamental requirements of children, and why words like “love”, “happiness” and “stability” have become eroded for many adults in achieving life-giving relationships with others.
The cause of this erosion, says the report, is excessive individualism, which it defines as,
“the belief … that the prime of the individual is to make the most of their own life, rather than contribute to the good of others”.
The evidence is clear. There has been an erosion of trust, 29 per cent believing that most people can be trusted compared to 56 per cent in Britain 40 years ago. Similar, dramatic evidence points to a decline in a sense of collective moral values and a decline in a sense of community.
What are the consequences of this excessive individualism? This is an ambitious report. Its horizons and range are wide. I know that other noble Lords with an impressive range of expertise here this morning will discuss other aspects of the recommendations, including what is said here about schooling, advertising, lifestyles and mental health, among other things. However, I shall briefly draw attention to some of the key findings that support the central thesis, such as the fact that the proportion of children experiencing emotional or behavioural difficulties rose from 10 per cent in 1986 to 16 per cent in 1999, and has remained at that level. Some 70 per cent of children agree that parents getting on well is one of the most important factors in raising happy children but, by contrast, only 30 per cent of parents agreed with that statement—a significant difference of perspective. Only a quarter of the children who are seriously disturbed by mental health difficulties get any kind of specialist help. Increased exposure to television and internet measurably increases materialistic attitudes and reduces mental health. Children who spend 18 hours taking a resilience programme which teaches them to manage their own feelings and how to understand and care for others are half as likely to experience depression over the next three years, and do better academically. Britain and the United States are more unequal than any other advanced countries and have lower average well-being among their children.
I mention one other finding of the report which has attracted considerable attention and controversy: namely, that children with step-parents or a single parent appear to be, on average, more likely to suffer short-term problems with academic achievement, self-esteem, depression and anxiety. Whether welcomed or criticised, it is clear that this report has attracted widespread attention. Some reporting has focused on the potential impact of family separation on children. Indeed, some commentators have interpreted this as a condemnation of single mothers. The fact is, the report recognises that where there are high levels of conflict among adults, it may be in the best interests of the child for a separation to take place. Further, not all single-parent households are the result of separation. The critical factor has to do with how we support families who get into these difficulties. That is why the report recommends making family counselling and support services much more easily available. However, it makes no apology for pointing to some of the hard truths about the rapid changes in employment patterns in the past 25 years and the difficulties which these can raise for some of our children.
Others among the commentators have questioned whether a report sponsored by the Children’s Society, with its clear Christian roots, adequately articulates a Christian vision for society. That was not our primary purpose, but those who look for such a vision will see it in the report’s conclusions: that parents should make a long-term commitment to each other; that the decline of religious belief in social obligations means less confidence in communal values; that children need opportunities to develop spiritual qualities. Here we can find a clear echo of the values of the Christian tradition as well as of the other great world faiths.
The report, in response to these issues, makes a number of specific recommendations, but in the time that I have remaining I want to highlight two urgent priorities. The first relates to inequality. It is now widely understood that after the United States, Britain is the most unequal of the rich countries. In Britain, 22 per cent of children are below 60 per cent of typical income, in contrast with only 13 per cent 30 years ago. Combinations of inequalities can have a drastic effect on children’s life chances. Research has shown that a young person aged 13 or 14 experiencing five or more problems in the family, such as mental health problems, physical disability, substance misuse, domestic violence, financial stress, neither parent in work, teenage parenthood, poor basic skills and living in poor housing conditions, is 36 times more likely to enter the care system or to have contact with the police.
The Children’s Society is a founding member of the End Child Poverty campaign and is committed to supporting the government target of eradicating child poverty by 2020 and halving it by 2010. This requires significant and immediate investment. The 2009 Budget offers the last realistic opportunity to reconnect to the 2010 target, requiring an investment of £3 billion.
As recession bites ever deeper, most financial crisis meetings now take place not in boardrooms, but around kitchen tables. The financial crisis that poor families constantly struggle with comes at a tremendous cost to all of us. Recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation research reveals that the economic costs of educational failure, health inequality, disability and social breakdown from child poverty are more than £25 billion per year to the economy, or more than £1,000 per household. There cannot, therefore, be a choice between rescuing the economy and rescuing children from poverty. Fiscal stimulus, delivered through poor families, using tax credits and child benefits, is morally right and economically prudent, since the money delivered in this way will be spent immediately by families on their children’s needs, boosting the economy at its grass roots.
The second recommendation to which I want to draw attention relates to the question of collective responsibility. Children learn their behaviours and their values from those around them. An important example is alcohol consumption. The report’s chapter on lifestyles highlights excessive alcohol as a very serious threat to young people’s well-being. This is widely understood, and the publication by the Chief Medical Officer of guidelines for parents on the consumption of alcohol by children and young people was a welcome move. However, in the media reporting, scant attention was paid to the example set for children who see many adults regularly drinking significantly more than the recommended daily amounts.
This corroborates another central theme of the report—that we remain an essentially adult-centred society in which the response to many of the challenges of the report tends to centre on the question: how does this proposal affect our understanding of the good adulthood, rather than what contributes to the good childhood? So there is much in the report about parents, who carry the greatest responsibility for our children. This is rightly described as an “awesome responsibility” requiring a long-term commitment by the parents to each other, as well as to the welfare of the child. It requires that before the child is born, parenting classes should ensure that the parents be informed of what is involved in bringing up the child.
Time does not permit me to touch on many of the other recommendations in the report, which I hope will repay your Lordships’ careful study. We were all taken aback two years ago by the UNICEF report, showing that children in Britain and the United States face a much more difficult world than those in continental Europe. This report attempts to explain why that may be so and points to some remedies. Its central thesis is that a society for whom the acquisition of wealth, property and personal status has become the primary focus has led to damaged childhoods, damaged relationships and communities, anxiety and stress for children in an overcompetitive educational system. In the midst of very difficult economic times, we have an opportunity to rebuild our financial health in ways that create a society that is better fitted for children, who are our sacred trust.
Many noble Lords will be familiar with the anonymous verses which distil so tellingly the influences which make a child, but they bear brief repetition:
“If a child lives with criticism
he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility
he learns to fight …
If a child lives with shame
he learns to feel guilty …
If a child lives with security
he learns to have faith.
If a child lives with approval
he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship
he learns to find love in the world”.
If this report contributes to the discovery of that love for our children who most desperately need it, it will not have been a labour in vain, and it will have made a worthy contribution to the society we all want to build.
My Lords, I am delighted that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester has secured this debate. He introduced it with humility but passion, and I agree with much of what he said. As a humanist, however, I maintain that spirituality, morality and values are not limited to religious faith but apply to our human condition. However, the right reverend Prelate has given us the opportunity to discuss matters related to children, at which this House is extremely good. I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children.
I welcome the report as a platform for debate, as the right reverend Prelate said, and I salute those who had the difficult task of putting the inquiry together. I also salute my noble friend Lord Layard not only for his work on the book but for his dedication to insisting that material well-being is not the sole aim of life and may have distracted us from other important qualities.
Now comes the “however”. I am disappointed in some aspects of the report. People’s circumstances affect the way that they see life and they affect their values. Society has to sort out much that is practical before people can be happy, decide about their values and relate successfully to others. I agree that children need both “inner and outer harmony”, but I have difficulty with the statement at the beginning of the report that,
“outer harmony comes from a spirit of giving, and inner self-worth makes getting less of an imperative”.
Tell that to the single grandparent trying to bring up her daughter’s children because the daughter has died of a drug overdose. Most people, I think, have to be reasonably happy before they can help others to be happy. This is not about selfishness; it is about having the resources, internal and external, to be content with one’s life.
When I say that we have to sort out practical issues, I am not just talking about poverty. Many children have been brought up in poverty and have gone on to succeed in all kinds of ways but, as the book points out, many more do live in relative poverty in Britain and the United States. We are also less mobile; we have family break-up in all classes; and there are exam pressures on children. “Excessive individualism” is identified as being at the root of all the problems, but I find that too simplistic a concept. The report talks about children and working parents, and the choice of staying at home, but later in the book is the statement:
“To cut child poverty, three main factors are involved. The first is whether the parents work”.
We really cannot have it both ways. I am totally sympathetic to the need for, ideally, two parents. Child rearing is a tough job, needing, I think, at least 2.5 parents. I totally agree with the need for a child to have a secure attachment with at least one person, and to be loved, encouraged and supported in what psychologists have called “unconditional love”, well described by the right reverend Prelate. However, this does not apply just to childhood. Having unhappy or unemployed parents is not ideal. People have to have some basic security to parent well.
We do not need more declarations making women feel guilty about working and having childcare for their children. And they do feel guilty—ask any working mum. Many work not because they have to but because they enjoy their job and are fearful of what might happen if they have a career break. What they need is reassurance that their child is being well cared for and is forming healthy attachments. This is not selfishness. Happy and fulfilled parents make for happy children.
A child should never suffer violence or abuse in the home. The report says on page 31:
“If parents are in conflict, children should tell them how this impacts on them”.
However, I think that that will nearly always be unrealistic. In fact, if I may say so, it is breathtakingly naive. Children may need mediation. Families in difficulty need support, which is recognised in the book. Some children will not be able to live with their parents and the inquiry is right, of course, in saying that the professionals dealing with those children must be well trained and able to supply the emotional support that has been lacking in these disrupted and damaged lives.
These problems will not be sorted out by personal, social and health education in schools, by social and emotional learning programmes, or by the excellent UNICEF Rights Respecting School programme. The problems are too deep seated. I am a great supporter of such programmes, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who may say more about this. I have often spoken about the need for them to be statutory. But for some children, the damage is severe and needs sustained intervention.
I was disappointed to see so little reference to children in substantial difficulty, such as disabled children, those with special educational needs, young carers, immigrant and asylum seeking children. Children in custody are referred to on page 145. There is a call to help them earlier and to give them the care that all children deserve. They are indeed damaged and needy children, many of whom have gone through our care system. Custody should be the last resort. In the recommendations to this chapter, I should have liked to see a strong call for early intervention for children in difficulty. Children can often identify tipping points in their lives, such as a death, abuse or a failure. This is when we should catch them, which is promoted by many reports, including the excellent report from the UK children’s commissioners published last year.
I cite these examples to reinforce my earlier point that children and families need practical support—some more than others. Numerous reports and recommendations have come from government and other organisations, including the very strong and dedicated voluntary sector, in the past few years. Many have been referred to in the inquiry. Two government reports—these are only two examples among many—suggest ways of helping families and young people to live in harmony and to achieve. The reports are full of references to the importance of values, relationships and collaboration. The 10-year children plan from the DCSF in 2007 suggests practical ways of delivering services for all children and families, for example, through children’s trusts, local safeguarding boards, personalised teaching and learning, extended schools, and so on. The report Aiming High for Young People discusses characteristics of successful provision. We should focus on what works for families. If children and families have real help, maybe we can achieve what so many reports call for: a better society and better treatment of children. Programmes such as Sure Start and the nurse-family partnerships have produced evidence of what works for parents and children.
Does the Minister agree that we need practical solutions to help families and children, as well as values? Will she say what policies and programmes provide those practical solutions and talk about the family intervention programmes which I believe are already showing positive outcomes?
I may have appeared somewhat negative about this inquiry. I am not. I think that it could have gone further, and could have been more precise in its examples and recommendations, but I am sincerely glad that it has been produced and am delighted that we have had the opportunity to discuss it today.
My Lords, this is a most welcome report and I thank all those who gave and took evidence on which it was based. I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for introducing the debate today, thereby giving us the opportunity to discuss the issues raised in the report.
None of the recommendations is comfortable. Some demand attitudinal changes towards children; some require government intervention; and some have large financial implications. My concerns reflect on the importance of family life, the need for community involvement, factors that can mar a child’s progress to adulthood and the demands placed on them before they reach maturity.
The report is clear. Families vary greatly in their structure but the principles of loving care are the same in any family in any culture—good physical care, unconditional love and clear boundaries for behaviour. I was particularly glad that that was included in the report. It also stated that 60 per cent of women giving birth are married, 25 per cent are cohabiting and 15 per cent are on their own. Lone mothers are perfectly well able to love and care for their children but it is more difficult and more tiring without a partner to help. Above all, children who are daily exposed to a loving, caring relationship between mother and father will absorb the values of sharing, forbearance, support, loyalty and many others.
To make matters even more complicated, there are sizeable numbers of young adults who want a family of their own but lack the knowledge to create a family atmosphere for their children. This fact has long existed and been recognised by a variety of communities that have worked to assist young parents. I am reminded of Margaret Harrison who, many years ago, founded Home-Start in Leicester, whose cause went on to be taken up elsewhere. One family befriended another to ensure a ration of shared play in addition to the daily chores, which was a help to the struggling family. It is equally true that families that live in poor housing often have poor health and additional problems. The report recognises that:
“Children, above all, need to be loved. Unless they are loved they will not feel good about themselves and will, in turn, find it difficult to love others”.
Support from the extended family can be an enormous help. Relationships with other children and their grandparents and interaction with cousins and siblings can add profoundly to a lifelong sense of well-being.
The section on friends struck a chord with me. I am sure that we all have memories of friends we met in our early lives and an awareness of the impact they had on us. Many families today are heavily influenced by the national emphasis on child safety and are consequently concerned about the degree of freedom they ought to allow their young children. As the report states, we should ensure that there are adequate places for children to play safely or make friends for themselves in the wider community. In that connection, I should declare an interest as president of the Leicestershire Clubs for Young People and take the opportunity to pay tribute to the thousands of volunteers and professionals who run youth clubs, and there are many like them throughout the country. Through these clubs, young people find new friends, gain confidence, progress to further education and training.
Schools affect all children. I believe that for the overwhelming majority they provide a positive experience. Some of them stand in loco parentis for up to 12 hours a day offering, as they do, breakfast clubs, homework clubs and a range of after-school activities. All of these may be crucial to the well-being of some children, and I am extremely grateful for the dedication of teachers, other school staff and governors. I fear, however, that we are approaching the point where schools cannot and must not be expected to take on responsibilities that should be undertaken by families. In particular, we cannot expect them to compensate for the lack of a family life, the break-up of marriages or regular discord at home. Indeed, the right reverend Prelate referred to the effect that seeing parents getting on well has on children. I do not know whether the survey analysed how many mothers and fathers disagreed with the statement. However, I suspect that some of the dissenters were expressing their own lack of self-esteem. None the less, the discrepancy indicates that parents are too often unaware of the effect that their behaviour has on their children and that the ideas and attitudes that children absorb in their youth are often carried with them for the rest of their life.
I cannot finish without mentioning those inspiring young children who care for other members of their family on a long-term basis. Children as young as seven and up to those studying for A-levels look after parents or siblings who are disabled, long-term sick, suffering from alcohol or drug addiction or terminally ill. They cook, shop, clean, give encouragement and take on responsibilities way beyond their years. They need to be appreciated and helped. They do not need to be patronised, told what to do or bureaucratised.
In some respects they could, I suppose, be accused of being too close to their families, while at the other end of the spectrum there are those who no longer live with their family but are fostered. Families who are foster carers are very special. The parents take in youngsters whose attitude is very often not one of gratitude, and the children of the family accept them and share with strangers not only their favourite toys and the family pets but their parents too. Those taken in may move to live in with strangers twice or 10 times in a relatively short life. They may have abandoned all attempts to adjust to a new set of values, a new way of living and a whole new menu.
Yet it is those precarious ventures that often succeed. It may be that success at school eludes foster children, but there are countless examples of grown men and women living a happy, useful and fulfilled life today who are a real credit to those foster mums and dads. I agree that we should help those young people in every way possible; that we should support foster parents in the service that they give; and that we should assist our schools to provide any extras that may be necessary. I question the statement in the report that we should condemn them because their exam pass rate at 16 does not meet some arbitrary target.
The report is an outstanding piece of work. It makes 41 recommendations. In an ideal world, we would expect every child to have a good upbringing, a good start. I fear that it is not possible to achieve that and the report’s recommendations should be studied in that light. Our challenge is to take on board some of the recommendations and to make it work for children and the overall benefit of society.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on initiating this debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Layard, on his part in producing the report A Good Childhood. It comes at a time of other relevant thought and activity about children’s well-being. UNICEF is urging the UK to incorporate into UK law the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and has started the Rights Respecting Schools award, which has had some good results, as the noble Baroness mentioned. There has also been the launch of Family Week. From all sides, voices are speaking up for children and becoming more insistent.
Professor Judy Dunn, who chaired the inquiry, made clear at the launch that the book was intentionally short so that more people would read it. It has succeeded in that, but its findings are given great authority by the expertise and standing of the individuals and organisations that contributed to the final report and the extensive contributions from children themselves. Noble Lords will raise many different aspects of the report, but I shall restrict my remarks to a few of its findings. The first is the matter of family relationships—complex indeed. It refers to the golden days that never existed. One such stereotype was to be found in the Ladybird Early Reader books, where Peter and his father tinkered with the car in the garage while Jane and her mother baked cakes in the kitchen. Then they all went for a healthy walk with Pat the dog.
Fifty years ago, there were families that fell constantly into those conventions: the father the breadwinner, the mother the homemaker. Social pressures and employment practices made it harder not to conform, but for many in those days they were far from perfect circumstances and the conventions were deeply uncomfortable. In the past century, there were many examples of single-parent families. The two world wars left women bringing up children on their own where they had no choice in the matter, often combining parenting with work out of necessity, social demand or choice. If they had not been married to the father, they may also have contended with social disdain and lack of support from the community. However, that generation of children was not notably dysfunctional.
Today single parents are an accepted part of society. As the report indicates, we are much more tolerant of diverse lifestyles, and there are certainly benefits in that tolerance but, at the same time, many of the conventional strengths of community have been eroded, leading to the lack of respect and the damaging excessive individualism set out in the report, where people become more self-centred in the pursuit of happiness and fulfilment rather than for the greater good and the good of their children.
The term “working mother” has seemed to me tautologous ever since my days as a non-working mother, when the joy of parenthood also meant days of 24-hour responsibility. It was perhaps inevitable that the media would pick up those parts of the report that appeared critical of mothers who go back to work. I was pleased to see that yesterday Professor Dunn responded in a letter to the Guardian. She emphasised that the report did not suggest that mothers ought not to go out to work. Indeed, the report places emphasis on love and care. It states:
“Crucial are the warmth, understanding, interest and firmness which parents bring to their relationship with their child”.
In order to help parents of the future, there are some excellent recommendations, which start in school. We on these Benches have argued the case for personal, social and health education to be a key part of the school curriculum. It is encouraging that this is now accepted as it provides material for children to learn, to understand themselves and their relationship with others, to build confidence in their ability to make a positive contribution to society and to feel good about it. It is hoped that in due course that will spill through into the children themselves becoming parents. We would encourage the Government to promote the training and appointment of specialist PSHE teachers as rapidly as possible.
Learning should be exciting, and testing is part of ensuring that young people have learnt; but league tables have moved testing into costly and damaging areas. Some years ago, I was at a presentation by the head of a school for pupils with severe learning difficulties. He talked of the dedication of the staff, the efforts of the pupils and the small achievements which meant so much. He said that the worst day of the year was the day of the publication of the league tables. With grim inevitability, his school would be at the bottom. The morale of staff and parents plummeted.
I was reminded of this yesterday on a visit to Treloars school and college, which provides for 300 severely physically disabled young people. It is inspirational to see dedicated staff and positive young people determined to achieve against immense challenges. Many will go on to gain GCSEs and NVQs, and will go on to college and university. But for many, success will lie in mastering some form of non-verbal communication and manipulating their wheelchairs around the corridors. What possible relevance are league tables to schools like this?
Not everything of value can be measured. The amount of time and money currently spent on formal, external tests and assessments has seriously undermined resources which could be better spent on motivating and encouraging young people. How heartily we support the report’s assertion:
“Education should never be synonymous with teaching to the test”.
This report has gathered immense amounts of evidence and has subjected it to intense analysis. The difficult financial times ahead may give an impetus to review what really matters in life and how the next generation can best be taught to manage changing circumstances. Adjusting to having fewer belongings will pose more of a problem to this generation, who often confuse having material possessions with being a worthwhile person.
The inquiry concludes:
“This ought to be a time of hope for children in Britain”.
The recommendations make thought-provoking reading and give clear and simple guidance to different target groups. We hope that each of those groups, and the Government, will consider the matters that refer to them and will take action.
My Lords, I am very happy to declare an interest both as vice-president of the Children’s Society and as patron of this inquiry. I am delighted that my right reverend brother has secured this debate.
The report paints a very sobering picture of a society that has become clumsy and neglectful in the priority it gives to the central task of civilised humanity: the task of inducting children into a responsible and fulfilling life. That being said, however, the report is not an apocalyptic document. It does not simply paint a picture of a society ravaged by feral youngsters, and it does not, despite some versions of it in the press, seek to find scapegoats for all problems. The aim of its analysis is not to find one simple root cause for the problems currently surrounding childhood in our society but to identify a “climate” in very broad terms—specifically a climate, as we heard, of individualism, but not only that. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that simply to speak of individualism is a simplistic strategy in this context. However, I think that we need to take into consideration, alongside issues around our attitudes to the individual, attitudes that also have to do with our short-term perspective on decision-making. This is perhaps a rather timely observation given our financial straits, but I pass hastily over that.
When we make choices, we make choices that have a cost. We like to avoid the awareness of that cost; none the less, it will not go away. No choice fails to bring some sort of cost, and if cultural and economic factors press us towards certain choices rather than others, the costs remain. And that, I believe, is the essence of what is being said about patterns of work among parents. Cultural factors make it desirable and natural for women to seek fulfilling work. Economic factors, as we have been reminded, make it desirable and sometimes necessary for a family to think of two working parents. Those are moral and reputable choices but their moral and reputable character does not remove the cost. The question, therefore, is not where we apportion blame but how we are to look long and hard at those things that offset the cost. The report suggests that we have barely begun to do this effectively in terms both of our attitudes to paid work in our society and our attitudes to the professionalism demanded in childcare.
Attitudes to working practices are a very significant and troubling dimension of our life in society today. We all know how heavily work presses upon those in employment, and we know the demands that can be made on working mothers and fathers in ways that are deeply detrimental to family life. But we also have a deficit in many of our attitudes to the status of those who work specifically with children. I wish to pass on briefly to think about some of the issues that surround this question. The report notes the undeniable fact that those working in education and in mental health care with the young are often poorly paid, inadequately resourced and seriously undervalued in our society overall. Perhaps I may be permitted to spend a little time on these two areas.
Chapter 7 of the report repeats the now quite familiar statistics on the levels of young people’s mental health, the decline of those levels during the 1980s and 1990s, the relative stasis since then, but the lack of any improvement. The point is not the trivial one that one in 10 young people is unhappy but the far more serious point that this significant percentage suffers from serious, diagnosable, treatable mental health problems. The report also notes that only 25 per cent of them gain the right kind of specialised help. The report calls for an integrated approach to the mental health of young people involving both schools and the care system. It calls for training in the recognition of mental health problems, for professional assessment as a priority and, therefore, for evidence-based treatment as the way forward. All of these points seem to me to be of the greatest importance as we look at what children’s mental health requires in our society.
There is an implied point here about the professionalism of those who work in this area—not that it is poor at the moment, but that it could be better and more extensive—and the urgent need for more workers. A specific call is made for a five-year programme to train 1,000 more child therapists. I hope to hear from the government Benches their sympathy for this proposal. I also underline the need for a fair and proper regional spread of such provision, and I do so having in mind a painful conversation last weekend with a friend from west Wales who described the dire situation of mental health care for young people in the area.
This of course spills over into the broader area of issues around schooling and the causes of stress in our schools. I note another specific recommendation here, already mentioned by a previous speaker, which has to do with testing in schools. The report observes that, sadly, testing is frequently oriented towards what we might unkindly call PR and marketing rather than to feedback for those most deeply involved: the children themselves. The demand made in the report that testing should always have a strictly educational purpose through feedback is one that I hope will be weighed very carefully. There is also some significant material about the payment of teachers and also about apprenticeship schemes as a way of releasing the energy and creativity of young people. A request is made for government guarantees about apprenticeship schemes, and once again I shall be delighted to hear a response to this. Already some schools are running imaginative projects in this area. Some months ago I was privileged to visit a church secondary school on the south coast, in a deprived area of Eastbourne, which had devised an extremely imaginative project whereby early school leavers were encouraged to return to the school part-time to study for their A-levels while being trained in various IT skills.
Mental health and education are just a couple of aspects of a very rich report, and to focus on them illustrates the level of failure in our society to give value and priority to the work of forming adult personalities by the way in which we engage with our children. But to form adult personalities means that we must first take children seriously as children, not simply as embryo adults. That means listening to them and taking very seriously their own account of their needs and their problems. One of the great strengths of this report is that it seeks to do just that.
The dimension of religious faith and spirituality has already been mentioned in this debate. To develop a sensible, creative, celebratory attitude to our children requires at the very least a vision of what human maturity looks like, and a sense of the absolute imperative of creative care, not merely protective care, for the growing and the vulnerable. Religious faith may not be the only source from which such a vision comes but it is a crucially important one both individually and socially. Above all, if I may speak here as a Christian, the Gospels’ injunction to take example from children is one of the strongest possible cultural incentives to look with pleasure, with gratitude and with eagerness towards our young people. Very little except such a perspective can break through the mixed climate of fear and dislike which sadly seems to surround so much of our perception of young people, at least as reflected in the media. This report is a crucial step towards breaking through that sad stereotype towards a more celebratory and more creative approach.
My Lords, it is extremely difficult to follow immediately on from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on initiating this debate, and particularly on his devoted service to the Children’s Society. I would also like to thank him for giving me a copy of the excellent report and his instruction that I was to speak today—so I have obeyed. It is sad that this report echoes and amplifies in an authoritative way the report of the four United Kingdom Children’s Commissioners to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the report last year of the UNCRC itself. I would like to make three points from my own experience as a former judge, and I declare an interest as a patron, governor or other similar position in a considerable number of charities, notably Coram, One Plus One, Childhood First and the NSPCC.
The first point concerns the value of marriage, and I think it is time that that is said. I am biased in favour of marriage, having just had 50 years of it and still surviving. Statistics show that marriages, despite the high divorce rate, last longer than other relationships. Cohabitation has a poor track record from the point of view of its sticking ability. The best for children, as is said in the report, is to be part of a stable, secure, loving family with preferably two parents offering two role models, male and female. This is not to decry the single-parent family, two parents of the same sex, or indeed step-parents. Many children blossom in such family upbringings, but it is not the best. The points made in the report about love, moral values, the respect of parents for their children and the respect of children for their parents and other adults, and the importance of authoritative parenting are crucial aspects of a good family.
My second point is about the effects of the separation of parents upon their children. Children are not concerned about the marriage lines; they usually love and want both their parents. When parents separate, most of them are concerned about the welfare arrangements for their children but often overlook the children themselves as people with worries who need to be given the facts, and with the right at least to know what is going on. Often children have no idea what is going on when their parents separate and after their parents have separated. There is a widespread lack of knowledge, which is totally unacceptable for children.
Children also have the right in many situations at least to be consulted about their future, although not, of course, for that to be determinative. I make a small but important point for parents: do not arrange access at the time of football practice or matches unless the non-residential parent is going to attend them.
Changes are inevitable—home, parents, siblings, school, loss of friends—and this all leads to a degree of insecurity. In a small but significant minority of parents, all too well known to me when I was a judge, the corrosion of a broken relationship and the acrimony between them results in endless court proceedings, where the parents fight their unresolved conflicts in battles over the children. I sometimes think that the last person who ought to be allowed to care for the children is one of the parents in this conflict. Anyone else would be better for them.
But even without parental disputes there can, none the less, be adverse effects on the children which can be short, medium and sometimes long term. Where there are disputes between the parents, the effect can be very damaging and long lasting. Adults whose parents have divorced sometimes have a fear of making long-term commitments and enter into the danger of repeating the mistakes of their parents, with the inevitable unhappy consequences for the next generation of children.
On the issue of instruction in parenting, particularly before having children, which is mentioned in the report, it is important to have mediation between parents intending to separate and conciliation at the door of the court where their applications for residence and contact is to be heard. All of this can be extremely successful. There also needs to be a widespread recognition by mothers—I speak as a mother and a grandmother—of the love and need of the children for the father as well as the mother. Fathers remain seriously underestimated.
My third point is about offending children. We are said to be as a country—I fear I believe it to be true—less than caring about children in our society. We are censorious, our policy towards offending children is punitive and the press portray children as evil. The Bulger murderers were 10 when they killed the Bulger child. When they were aged 12, one of the major newspapers carried a cut-out coupon asking, “Do you want these children to rot in jail for the rest of their lives?”—and 80,000 people replied to the coupon saying yes.
We lock up more children than anywhere else in Europe. This has been said again and again but it needs to go on being said. Our criminal system is designed to deal with the consequences of juvenile offending, not the causes. One chief constable is quoted as saying about gangs that the police cannot cope alone—that there had to be a change of emphasis by society. We know that the gang culture is intimidating to the public and scary for the individual, but some children grow up in an atmosphere of mental health problems, drink, drugs and violence between the parents, where they are not loved, cared for or troubled about; they are in an uncaring family. They are probably excluded from school. They may go into care and often will be moved many times because, predictably, they do not settle. The worst case I know about was a child who was moved 40 times and who, noble Lords will not be surprised to hear, ended up in a therapeutic community. He was extremely lucky to get there.
For some of these children the gang is the only family, support and relationship they may know. Of course seriously offending young people have to be dealt with and the public have to be protected but, as I have said several times before in the House, we should review the extent to which we are criminalising children, look to understand their needs and regard their welfare as crucial for them and equally important for society. The lack of early intervention in an offending child’s life will almost inevitably lead to a life of crime, with huge costs to the public, financially and emotionally.
My Lords, I am delighted that we are discussing this report so soon after it was published. That is very welcome. I had the privilege of serving on the panel that produced the report and I pay tribute to its other members who worked so hard to assemble the mass of evidence on which the report is so firmly based—particularly the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, who was the prime mover of the report and our inspiration throughout our meetings.
The report that has emerged is extremely wide ranging and contains recommendations for government, parents, teachers and society at large. As has been suggested, the most important recommendation is to society at large—that we must reduce the over-individualistic ethos in our society and teach our children to get more of their satisfaction in life from being of use to others. That has been spoken of movingly by many noble Lords and I want to confine my remarks to the recommendations aimed at the Government, in the hope that the noble Baroness can give the House some idea of the Government’s thinking on these points. Perhaps I should warn her that I have picked nine, although there are more. These go beyond what we have already had from the Government—the impressive children’s plan that was a major step forward in its time—because we need, in due course, to go further.
I begin with the three main recommendations relating to schools. We believe that schools have to take the lead in developing a better set of values in our children and a better understanding of themselves. This requires the right ethos in the school as a whole and more professional teaching of life skills, otherwise known as PSHE. Many schools have an excellent ethos, of course, based on explicit values, including respect, caring, generosity and so on. But we need that ethos in every school, and the Government’s programme on the social and emotional aspects of learning is a good step in that direction.
The teaching of life skills, or PSHE, has now become statutory. That is welcome, but it needs to be much more professionally taught, especially in our secondary schools. These are extremely difficult subjects to teach—they cannot be left to someone who has a gap in their timetable—and we recommend that, in secondary schools, PSHE should be a specialist subject, and studied as such, in the post-graduate certificate of education. If it is well done, it will draw on modern evidence-based materials which have been shown to be able to transform the lives of children. It will therefore attract a new kind of teacher into the schools—more psychology graduates, for instance—which would have a very good effect on the ethos of schools. But it requires a government decision to make it a specialist subject.
Secondly, as has been mentioned, school league tables produce an excessively exam-oriented ethos in the schools and an atmosphere too dominated by the fear of failure rather than the love of learning. We are very much in favour of tests, but they should be used as an aid to the learning of each individual child and its planning. We understand that that is behind the Government’s new pilots, which involve testing by “stage not age”, but it would tragic if, as seems possible, the results of this new approach are again fed into the framework of a league table. Of course, parents and local authorities need to know how a school is doing in terms of measured results compared with national benchmarks, but central government should cease to be the sponsor of a national horse race.
Thirdly, there is the intolerable inequality between our schools, especially our secondary schools. If you rank schools according to the proportion of children on free school meals, and then take the poorest quarter of our schools, you see that barely one of them reaches the national average performance in GCSE. That is not acceptable. One major problem is that those schools find it difficult to attract and retain the best teachers. An obvious remedy among others, which we recommend, is pay differentials in favour of schools with high percentages of children on free school meals. That needs to be done. The differential needs to be sufficient to ensure that the turnover and quality of teachers in those schools are no worse than the national average. Of course, we know that teachers are motivated not only by pay, but if the Government are serious about reducing educational inequality, they must put at least as much extra money into teacher quality in difficult schools as into better buildings.
I turn to our recommendations for the National Health Service. As has been said already, discord in the family is the greatest single obstacle to a good childhood: discord between parents and children, and discord between the parents. The NHS is one of the main instruments that we have which can help in mitigating these problems. We have made three recommendations: first, that the NHS should ensure that free classes on parenting are available to both parents around the time of childbirth. They would cover relationships as much as the physical care of a child. They should cover relationships between the parents and the child, and the impact on the relationship between the parents of having the child. Secondly, there should be support if, as time passes, those relationships deteriorate. The Government have taken excellent steps to help parents whose children are difficult. But what if the parents are fighting with each other? There is no national system of free counselling to support parents in this situation. The third sector does its bit, but the NHS must be the provider of last resort. At present, it is not. It helps parents only if their children are in trouble; it does not help parents who may cause their children to be in trouble. Thirdly, as has been said, there are the needs of children with serious mental health problems. They represent 10 per cent of all children, but, of them, only a quarter receive specialist help. We propose that the NHS should train 1,000 extra child therapists in the effective therapies which now exist for helping those children in such desperate need. This requires urgent government action in the next Comprehensive Spending Review.
Our report covers many other equally important issues, but I shall refer to just three more recommendations. First, we deplore advertising aimed at children under 12—in Sweden, it is banned—and we propose that any firm selling goods in Britain should be debarred from commissioning advertising of this kind. Secondly, we deplore the Government’s failure to achieve their own target for reducing child poverty. It is vital that we get back on track. As has been said, no expenditure is more likely to stimulate aggregate demand in a recession than expenditure on children. The next Budget is the time for action. Thirdly, we need a new look at the priority given to children’s services in general. The UNICEF report that has been mentioned shows that those countries with the highest child welfare are those with the most qualified workers in children’s services. How we treat the people who work with children is the real test of how much we care about the children themselves.
I have mentioned nine specific recommendations, but I reiterate my opening point—that, if this report is remembered in 20 years’ time, we hope that it will be because it helped to turn back the tide of excessive individualism which is doing so much damage to our children.
My Lords, I, too, join others in paying tribute to my good friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, for his energy, initiative and leadership in this area.
In the time available to me today, I should like to look at child well-being in terms of the quality of the relationship between parents, by which it is massively affected. Research demonstrates that the optimal child-rearing environment for children is a committed marriage relationship. It is thus no coincidence that we find ourselves having to reflect on the failure of our culture in relationship to children at a time when marriage rates are at an all-time low. Twenty-three in 1,000 men and 21 in every 1,000 women choose to marry, which is lowest the rate since 1862.
Reflecting on this in his afterword, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said of marriage in relationship to the law:
“There is certainly no quick solution when we are speaking about a large scale cultural phenomenon: laws cannot make marriages work. But what they can do is to give all reasonable support to men and women who want to be responsibly and generously there for their children, and who need to be helped to resist the sort of pressures that destroy relationships through overwork and economic hardship”.
The question that we must thus address is: does the law at the moment “give all reasonable support”?
Research published this week by CARE looks at the way in which different OECD countries share out the tax burden. I must tell your Lordships’ House that it does not provide any reassurance that the tax system provides “all reasonable support”. The report demonstrates that the tax burden on one-earner married couples on average income and with two children is 44 per cent above the OECD average—I should point out that this burden is calculated after having regard to income tax, national insurance contributions, tax credits and child benefits.
One-earner married couples are of course of particular significance to discussions about parental investment in child development, because they are invariably the result of a couple deciding that one partner will be based at home for the children. Such families provide the ultimate means of addressing the so-called “latchkey kid” phenomenon, which documents how many children return home from school to find that both parents are at work and that they must consequently spend a significant number of hours each week unsupervised, where they become vulnerable to behavioural problems and other social difficulties. Why is it that couples who want to bring up their children in a one-earner married environment, with all its benefits, should be penalised so severely in the UK vis-à-vis the OECD average?
We must remember the concept of sustainable development; namely, that we should run our economy in such a way that it damages neither the natural nor the social environment, since to do so jeopardises long-term economic growth. We might encourage mothers back to work, but if the latchkey kid phenomenon and the concomitant social difficulties are the result, it is clear that we will pay in the long term, given that those damaged children are more likely to become damaged adults and consequently less likely to make their full contribution as citizens in the future.
In highlighting the failure of the tax system to provide “reasonable support”, CARE’s research also endorses another central theme of the Good Childhood report, its concern regarding the growing culture of individualism. OECD countries place an average tax burden on one-earner married couples on an average wage with two children that is just 55 per cent of the tax burden placed on a single person with no family commitments or responsibilities. In the UK, however, the burden placed on one-earner married couples is 76 per cent of that placed on single people with no dependants. Given the fact that we should be sensitive to family responsibility if we are to foster the best environment for children and thus increase their chances of enjoying a good childhood, it seems a very sorry state of affairs that two people with no dependants earning £10,000 each will be taxed less than one person earning £20,000 because they will access two tax allowances, whereas the person earning £20,000 will access only one. What does that say about our attitude to motherhood; that we are not prepared to allow a non-working wife to transfer her tax allowance to her husband as a small token of respect for the invaluable work she carries out in the development of her children?
Staying with the subject of government policy giving “all reasonable support” to the couple relationship at the heart of child development, I want to mention the whole issue of child poverty. There are two main groups of poor children: children of lone parents where the parents cannot or are unable to work and children in couple families where both or one parent works. Much of the debate has focused on reducing the number of children in the first group. The second group has largely been ignored. The fact is that most children living in poverty live in two-parent families. The latest figures show that 2.9 million children are living in poverty on a “before housing cost basis” and that approximately 60 per cent of them are living in couple families. Tax credits need to be redesigned to give more help to children in poverty in two-parent families, while not diminishing that given to single parent families.
In engaging with this challenge, one must appreciate that the imperative for redesigning the tax credit does not relate narrowly to material poverty. The fact is that the present tax credit arrangements mean that many families on low to modest incomes are better off if the parents live apart, even when taking into account the extra housing costs. Given that the well-being of the children is best supported by the presence of both father and mother in the same home, encouraging parents to live apart impoverishes the child development experience and is very ill advised.
I could go on at length on this subject, but I am conscious of the looks that come from the government Front Bench if one oversteps the mark, and I do not wish to lose the few friends I have. The Government urgently need to redesign tax credits to allow for the presence of two parents, so that while single parents get no less support, poor two-parent families get credits that take account of the financial needs of both the mother and the father. When the Government work out whether a family is in poverty, they take account of the financial needs of all members of the family. Tax credits need to do the same. As regards taxation and the tax credit system, a great deal must be done to facilitate the good childhood.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating and thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Layard on producing the report. It has been a long time in the making. I welcome the amount of consultation that has taken place and that the voice of the child and young person has been put at the centre of the considerations. Every generation looks at how we are going on in terms of our obligations to the next generation. I have to say that there seems to be more national angst about the nature of childhood than there has been perhaps for many decades.
I certainly welcome the report. I accept its premise that putting the child at the centre of our concerns is of prime importance and that their needs must come first. That seems to me to be the nature of the responsibilities of an adult to a child. If that is how the report interprets what it calls “individualism”, I would be happy with it, although I think that it goes further than that and is worthy of a debate itself. I am prepared to support that. I also support the comments on advertising and commercialism as well as the culture of celebrity in which our children grow up.
The comments about young people and mental ill health are very well made. That is something that so many of us did not think was an issue because we did not know the extent of mental ill health among that age group. All that is welcome.
Every generation of adults is worried about children. The nature of the generation gap is that there is a bit of us that does not quite understand the world in which our children are growing up. There is another bit of us that yearns for how it used to be because for us that feels safer and more secure. That problem is more prevalent in our generation than in any other because the world in which our children grow up is so very different from the world in which we grew up because of the nature of change, and because of so many good things as well as so many that would give us concern. I want to concentrate a little around that edge as I think there is a real danger of either panicking too much or not really understanding why we sometimes feel so ill at ease with the nature of childhood, although I take nothing away from our concerns about that.
The length of childhood is very different from what it was when I was growing up. The old 21st birthday cards that gave you the key to the door were almost literally and metaphorically true. There was a point when childhood ended, when you left your parents’ place of residence and you moved into the outside world. There were rights of passage about that—taking an apprenticeship and getting the qualification.
Children physically mature far earlier than they used to, yet they are kept in institutions for children far longer. They are kept in schools far longer, and that is a good thing; they stay with their parents longer, and that is a good thing; and they turn to their parents for financial support, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the financial support they want. However, being a child, and the length of time you are a child, is very different from when I was growing up. That point of leaving childhood and becoming an adult is not as marked as it used to be. Therefore, those rights of passage are very different.
We try to broaden our children’s aspirations. Sometimes that widens the boundaries of behaviour, disciplines, values and rules in which they are meant to grow up. Being a child now is far more complicated and challenging, and, in some ways, it is far more difficult. Our temptation was a cigarette behind the bicycle sheds. Now it is the dealing of drugs on urban streets. However, there are more opportunities and, in many ways, childhood has never offered as many opportunities to travel, to learn, to meet more people and to change the world. Therefore, what the debate must be is how well are we preparing children to cope with those changes, not that we can turn the clock back or that that is not the world they inhabit.
I want to talk a little about family patterns because, to some extent, the heart of the report was about that. I accept that there is evidence that children are most successfully brought up by two adults, preferably their parents, living in the home for those years of their childhood. You have to be careful to debate and write about that in a way that does not blame other family patterns for almost-bound-to-fail children and young people. Although you might be surprised at the public comments that have followed those particular parts of the report, it was to be expected. They were predictable because it is a real issue in society, and we need to be very careful how we debate that.
There are other considerations behind families and family set-ups as well as the statistics that face us in this book. I want to look at a few of them. What has gone in a generation is the extended family living close by, the supportive communities and the neighbours you knew and could turn to, and—something I worry about but feel guilty about worrying about—the professionalisation of support roles. I think of my grandmother who was brought up in inner-city Manchester without a qualification to her name. What she and her neighbours did for other families, we now allow people to do only if they have an NVQ level 3. Although I am the last person to want people not to be trained and to have qualifications, what we have caused to happen is ordinary men and women thinking that the only people who can support their families are those with qualifications and not their neighbours and people who live in their area.
When we look at how to support families, we should consider not just the nature of family breakdown—I do not underestimate the importance of that—but the relationship of the family to the community as well as the relationship of the family to the state. A range of policies is available for supporting families, now referred to as “politics in the family”. However, when we talk about regenerating communities we need a better understanding of where families are based in communities. Somehow we need to re-empower people to make some of these decisions themselves. Two generations of people have been made to feel that they almost cannot bring up their own families. We should empower them to do so.
I have changed my mind in the past five years as regards my next point. I very much agree with the comments about locking up too many young children. The state took on the role of laying down behavioural boundaries because parents should have done so but they did not. The problem with that is that the punishment for failing to keep within the boundaries is incarceration at the end of the line. If you leave the power to lay down those boundaries with the family, the penalty is something else. However, it is a big issue and I am not sure how we get out of it. Politicians often talk about the legacy that they will leave. All of us, whether politicians or not, ought to remember that our real legacy will be reflected in how we bring up our children and how much we support those for whom that is the prime responsibility.
My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on chairing this important inquiry and on the brilliant way in which he introduced it in the House this afternoon. I, too, declare an interest, as the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Parents and Families.
For me, the great strength of this report is that it is not afraid to talk about the importance of love. I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will support me in this. Parental love is the aspect of the report on which I shall focus, because there is no time to look at all of it. In this context it is interesting that, in the detailed family study, children referred to love some six times, whereas professionals referred to it only once. I wonder what the reason for that is. Could it be that love cannot be accurately measured and is therefore unscientific? Or could it be that professionals are afraid of public confusion between parental love and the sexual exploitation of children, what we wrongly call paedophilia? Paedophilia means love of children, whereas sexual abuse is the exploitation of children.
What is this love that all children yearn for? What do children mean when they talk about love? I can only suggest some of the things that children need from parental love. The first is to feel safe in a frightening world, to feel loved and to know that they matter to someone whom they love. They need to be given clear boundaries, but to know that they will be forgiven when they make mistakes. They need to have time with their parents and to be stimulated and encouraged in order to build their self-esteem. They need to learn by example how to communicate and, indeed, how to behave. In his interesting and excellent afterword to the report, the most reverend Primate refers to,
“love not as warm feeling alone, but as long-term commitment to someone else's well-being as something that matters profoundly to one's own well-being”.
The report's findings on the importance of parental love, especially in the early years, confirm the accepted wisdom that Bowlby and Ainsworth postulated more than 50 years ago about the importance for young children of secure attachment. Secure parental love enables the young child to have an experience of loving and being loved in a way that will stand him in good stead in all subsequent relationships. However, the converse must also be true. A child who has not had the chance to develop socially and emotionally and to build self-esteem during the early years in the family will find it much harder to integrate into school and will not be emotionally equipped to cope with the challenges of romantic and sexual love when these come along later on. That is part of the reason for much of the insecurity, anger and hate in some of our young people today.
If early and secure parental love is so important to all children, why are we as a society not doing more to nurture and encourage it? Much could be done. This Government have said repeatedly from the Dispatch Box that they do not believe that government should interfere in the way that adults choose to live their lives. In a sense they are right: you cannot make a law that parents must love their child. But that does not mean that you cannot try to persuade and encourage—to nudge—all parents to do what is best for their child. I quote again from the most reverend Primate's afterword. It states:
“We need to develop a culture in which people are not only interested in their right to have a child but in how they guarantee the conditions in which a child can be brought up in security and emotional confidence”.
I suggest that three things are needed to persuade and assist parents: information, motivation and help. Information, emotional literacy and relationship education—the noble Lord, Lord Layard, referred to this—should be a major element in the curriculum of every school, not just something tacked on to sex and relationship education. It should be more important than that and comprise a major cross-curricular theme throughout the whole syllabus, because relationships are taught by example, practice and experience as much as in any other way. All young adults should learn about the social and emotional needs of young children, and that parents are crucially important in providing for those needs.
Fathers have been mentioned. Fathers must be made to understand that they are just as responsible as mothers for their child, including for its conception. In this context I refer to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, about bicycle sheds, because the other day I visited a school where the bicycle sheds were built with transparent Perspex, which seems to me to be a dirty trick. Both boys and girls should learn in school that parenthood is no light matter and that no one should bring a child into the world unless they are prepared to make the sacrifices that will be involved in giving their child the love and support it needs. Parents need a clear road map. Frank Field MP recently suggested that there should be a “highway code” for parenting. That sounds a good idea.
As for motivation, tax and benefits policy should be revised to encourage parents to live together and to love and care for their children. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham mentioned that a new study by CARE was released yesterday which indicated that the “couple penalty” in the tax and benefit system must be removed or reversed. Tax and benefit systems should take account of taxpayers' family responsibilities and transferable allowances for married couples should be reintroduced. Government housing policy should also be reviewed to ensure that every young couple has access to somewhere affordable to build a nest for their new family when they have their first baby, even if it is only a mobile home. Parents cannot fulfil their role if they do not have time to do so. Issues about flexible working are involved in that.
The report suggests a “naming day” for each child with a ceremony at which parents can commit themselves to one another. This kind of “second-class marriage” might help to crystallise commitment, but I am not entirely convinced about that. The Government have a number of excellent programmes to help parents. All that is really needed in that field is to ensure that the personnel are available to deliver it and that the funding is available on a long-term basis.
To summarise, we need parents at the centre of our policies for children. The report provides evidence that young children need, above all, parental love and commitment. We need to persuade parents that they have a key role in providing this stable, loving and supportive environment—this family life—for their children, and that it will involve some sacrifices. We have to convince them that this is a job that we as a society believe is very important, and that we are prepared to respect and empower—and perhaps to reward—them for doing this most important of all jobs.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for introducing this most impressive report with great wisdom and eloquence. This is the first time that 11 leading experts debated the subject among themselves, spoke to nearly 30,000 children, adults and professionals, and took three years to identify the problem, trace its causes and propose solutions. It is a great tribute to the Children's Society and the inquiry panel: the noble Lord, Lord Layard, Professor Judy Dunn, and, of course, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose spirit protected and informs the report.
Many of the report's 20-odd recommendations are persuasive and I hope the Government and other agencies will act on them. The current economic climate is likely to worsen the situation. It could easily lead to domestic tensions and violence, an atmosphere of anxiety and depression, suicides, mental ill health and a culture of victimhood. All these will take their toll on our children. The question, therefore, is urgent, and the report deserves to be taken in the spirit of urgency.
However, I have three or four reservations about the report. In my view, its diagnosis of the problem, its explanations and its solutions do not go far enough. First, it homogenises British society and ignores important differences between England, Scotland and Wales, as well as between the various communities that make up our multiethnic society. The problems relating to children and teenagers are not as acute or, rather, are of a different kind within the Chinese and Indian communities. We might need to ask why that is the case.
Secondly, I find the report somewhat ahistorical. It does not explore how British society has developed since the 1950s, which it takes as its point of reference. It does not explain what important cultural, economic and political changes have taken place which explain the decline. When did excessive individualism enter our national life? Why was it not spotted? Why was it not arrested? Why was it not fought? Unless we understand when excessive individualism entered our national life, we will not be able to understand its nature or its causes. Noble Lords have talked about what happened in the 1980s and 1990s. The event which I recall happening in that period was the Thatcherite revolution and the idea that there is no such thing as society. It might be worth asking what profound changes it reflected and introduced into our society.
My third reservation is of a slightly different nature. The report rightly said that Britain comes out rather poorly on the indices of child well-being. UNICEF placed us 21st out of 25 industrialised countries. The Primary Review, a three-year Cambridge University study into primary education in England, pointed in the same direction. Since the problem is in some sense peculiar to us and the United States—and I am more interested in us than in the United States—the question is: what is it about our society, or our ways of bringing up children, that creates these problems? Why is it not found to the same degree in other western European countries, such as France, Italy or Spain, compared to which we do so badly? It cannot be capitalism, a competitive economy or individualism, all of which we share with other European countries. I would therefore like to see a comparative study that isolates uniquely British factors and tells us what lessons and good practices we can learn from other European countries.
Let me give one example. In France and Italy, for example, parents go out for meals with children and spend a lot of time with them, and children sit in on adult conversations. We tend not to do that here. We spend a lot of time with our children, but largely in children-related activities. We play with them and take them on holidays, but we do not let them enter our own worlds. When guests come for dinner, children either are put to bed or retire to their rooms. In other words, we do not integrate our children into adult life in the same way as other western European countries seem to do. Why does this happen? What can we learn from them? This is important, because it is not enough to talk in terms of values. Values are not acquired abstractly or through lessons; they are acquired through structures of human relationships and integration with adults. In other words, the question of our poor performance can be answered only in cultural terms, an area which is largely neglected by the report.
As an African proverb says, it takes a village to raise a child. That proverb needs to be updated to say that it takes a whole nation to raise a child. The principles of solidarity, community and responsibility that the report stresses cannot be limited to the family or acquired only within the framework of the family. They need to be embodied in our major economic and political institutions, and the conduct of our leaders. Politics sets the tone of society, and if it leaves something to be desired, as it currently does, wrong messages are sent out to society. In other words, we need a strong sense of national purpose and values. I would like to think that the way we cope with and resolve the current financial crisis would send out some important messages as to the kind of society we are and wish to be.
There is another small factor to consider: more women go out to work in Britain than in many other European countries. This has its obvious advantages, but it also has its disadvantages. The advantages are: it gives women a greater sense of self-worth and self- fulfilment; they bring new ideas and experiences from work into the family; and their absence from home accentuates their appreciation of the importance of the family. But there are obvious disadvantages: children are sometimes left on their own, and women are tired and emotionally exhausted when they come home.
For all these reasons, families need far greater support than they currently have. We cannot wish for a situation where women do not go out to work—that is simply impossible for economic, moral, cultural and other reasons. What we need to do is cope with and find ways of dealing with the cost that this entails. Parents need more flexible working hours, greater maternity and paternity leave, more childcare facilities and better co-operation with schools than is currently the case. We also need to reduce economic inequality and child poverty. And this is where the state comes in. This is what has happened in Scandinavian countries. It is increasingly being taken on board by France, Germany and Italy, and we have much to learn from them. The report was right to stress this, and I suggest that we need to build on it and go beyond it.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for tabling this important and timely debate. I thank the authors of this landmark work, the noble Lord, Lord Layard—Professor Layard—and Professor Judy Dunn. I also thank Mr Reitemeier, chief executive of the Children's Society, for facilitating this production and for his excellent preface. I was grateful to be consulted on the early findings of the inquiry, and note that Camilla Batmangeildjh, renowned for her outstanding work with children otherwise forgotten by society—she caters for 2,000 such children daily—was one of the consultees. The noble and learned Baroness referred to gangs as families. What Miss Batmanghelidjh has done is to provide a much more positive family environment for children who would otherwise enter these gangs on the streets.
I am most grateful for this landmark report and its encouragement to parents and politicians to reforge their commitment to our children. I hope that the Minister will give thorough consideration to the report's recommendations, and I particularly look forward to her comments on these today. The report refers to the importance of sex and relationship education, and we have heard that the Government have now made PSHE statutory. That seems to me to be a very welcome step forward, and it may be important in meeting some of the concerns raised by the report. The investment that the Government have made in teachers over the past 10 years and in raising the status of the teaching profession may also be very important in helping us to meet some of the concerns raised in the report. I declare my non-pecuniary interests as a trustee of the Michael Sieff Foundation and of TACT, the Adolescent and Children's Trust, a not-for-profit foster care organisation.
Of all the striking insights that this report provides about the state of childhood in the UK, I was struck most by what Mr Reitemeier says in his preface about the importance to children of parental commitment, which was repeated by the right reverend Prelate in his opening speech. There was the story of Adam, the young man in foster care, residential placements and then in the criminal justice system and the importance to this young man of meeting an independent visitor who stuck by him through thick and thin over many years, and who rebuilt his faith in society and in the possibility of making a contribution to society. All my experience with young people supports what Mr Reitemeier says. Each child needs the full commitment of, ideally, two parents and of society as a whole. This is the point that my noble friend Lord Northbourne has sought to impress on your Lordships year after year.
I welcome the attention that the report gives to childcare for young children. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury drew our attention to this matter. I quote from page 30 of the report:
“At the same time, for parents who are both at work, there is an urgent need for higher-quality child-care. Research has consistently shown the link between high-quality pre-school provision and good child outcomes at later ages. This requires well-educated staff who are well paid”.
While Her Majesty's Government have introduced the first childcare legislation, invested heavily in early years staff development, provided the early years framework to direct early years workers and introduced the first national strategy for childcare, we are still 30 years behind the best countries in this area. Nursery workers still tend to be young, poorly educated women, who are poorly paid and working on a short-term basis. Turnover of staff can be high, and this can be aggravated by poor investment in the development of staff. This high turnover of staff, the low status of the work and shift patterns can give rise to poor-quality, impersonal care, where children have little opportunity to build warm relationships with individual staff members.
Jay Belsky in his research in the United States finds that prolonged exposure to poor-quality childcare at an early age gives rise to a small but significant increase in behavioural difficulties on entering school. He expresses concern that if large numbers of children experience this early poor-quality care, the social impact may be significant and harmful. The Good Childhood Inquiry acknowledges the benefit to cognitive development of nursery care in the early years and the lack of research in the UK with similar results to Belsky. It refers, I think, to research finding that children with experience of nursery care can be more sociable when they enter school and can get along better with other children. It points out that research in the UK indicates that adverse aggressive behaviour resulting from childcare tends to disappear after the age of 10. It calls for more research into the impact of childcare.
I share the report's desire for further research. In particular, I am concerned about the long-term impact of prolonged exposure to poor-quality childcare in a child's earliest years. John Bowlby, the clinician writing in the 1960s whose work on attachment theory, which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has referred to, has become so influential in recent years and is referred to by the Good Childhood Inquiry, took the view that the earliest relationships set the pattern for later relationships. For example, the first romance with the parents and the love of the parents set the pattern for the later romance with the child's lifetime partner. It may be that experience of early poor-quality childcare hinders the formation of strong, committed adult relationships. Poor-quality early childcare may contribute to the problem identified by the authors as being at the core of decline in the quality of childhood and to the decline in the ability of parents to fully commit to one another and their children. Therefore, I would particularly welcome evidence from longitudinal studies relating early attachment experiences to later adult relationships with partners and children. The research that I have seen cited so far goes at the furthest to the age of 18.
I am glad that the report highlights the need to go far further in developing nursery staff and childminders. The noble Lord, Lord Layard, finished by saying that we show our commitment to our children by our commitment to the people who care for those children. I entirely agree, and I welcome the steps that Her Majesty's Government are taking to develop such work. I ask the Minister and her colleagues to proceed slowly and modestly with regard to childcare provision. We start from a low base. We do not know the harm that may be caused by advancing too quickly with insufficient attention to quality of childcare. At the same time, I acknowledge the importance to parents of access to childcare, particularly for those wishing to escape from poverty.
I would be grateful for answers from the Minister to the following questions. I regret not having been able to give her much notice of these, and I quite understand if she would prefer to write to me in reply. What percentage of nursery settings provide regular—once a month or more frequently—staff work discussion groups, when staff have an opportunity to present their experience of individual children for discussion among colleagues, a senior practitioner being present to offer advice? What are Her Majesty's Government doing to encourage this model of good practice? How are Her Majesty's Government monitoring turnover of staff within individual nursery settings? What level of turnover do Her Majesty's Government consider harmful or necessitating investigation? How are Her Majesty's Government monitoring whether the key person role is being effectively implemented in nursery settings, which is a requirement of the early years framework?
Again, I understand if the Minister will need to write to me in reply. I conclude by repeating my gratitude to the Children's Society for this very helpful report and to the Government for their continuing interest in and concern for the welfare of children. I look forward to the Minister's reply.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, and I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and the Children's Society on the report and this debate. I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF, to the work of which a number of noble Lords have referred.
The report set out to identify what is important to children. I am pleased to say that the researchers did the right thing and asked thousands of children. It is a very important report because, while it addressed the problems of children in the 21st century, it emphasised what children have always needed and always will need—love and happiness. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was correct in predicting that I would mention that. It concluded that we need to change our culture to bring about a more positive attitude to children who are, as the right reverend Prelate said, the responsibility of us all, so we should set them a good example. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, it takes a village to bring up a child, or perhaps a whole nation.
The report, which was not well served by its media coverage, appears to identify too much individualism as the cause of the problems of today's children. This is blamed for family break-up, teenage unkindness—does that mean bullying?—commercial pressures towards premature sexualisation, unprincipled advertising, too much competition in education and acceptance of income inequality. While I agree that all these things are bad for children, I fail, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, to see the connection with individualism in all cases—it would be too simplistic a generalisation. These negative elements in our children's lives have many different causes; many families break up for reasons other than too much individualism on the part of one or other parent. I do not see what it has to do with little girls being persuaded to wear make-up and to dress like their mothers. Advertising does that. I do not think that any of us accepts income inequality, but it has become a very hard nut to crack, despite the best efforts of Governments and charities such as the Children's Society, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham explained.
I agree with the report that loving, nurturing families in which children observe and feel love and learn how to love others are the best environment for a growing child. However, as my noble friend Lady Garden said, there are many models of such families. When I was a young mother, Sunday lunchtime often found me with my head under the bonnet of the car and my husband in the kitchen cooking the lunch, such was where our talents lay.
Children thrive in loving families because it is in such an environment that they will experience the least stress and the most positive feedback. Stress is extremely damaging to growing children, as I elaborated in my speech last Thursday about domestic violence. It affects their brain development, growth, current and future health, intellectual ability and emotional maturity and is to be avoided if possible.
As the report points out, there have been two major changes in family life in recent years: more women going out to work and more families breaking up. However, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, the stress on the child can be reduced if they are consulted, if grown-ups behave like grown-ups, not like children, and if they put the children's well-being first in all their arrangements, offsetting the cost, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury put it.
Of course, what a child needs most is an enduring, loving attachment to at least one adult, which is why it is so difficult to do the best possible for children in care if they keep moving around.
I blame the pharmaceutical industry, to which I, and many other women, have cause to be grateful. First of all, along came the contraceptive pill, so that I did not have to have 10 children like my grandmother did and so I could go out to work and contribute to the family economy. Many children today are better fed and clothed and have much more fun than ever before because their mothers go to work. Then along came HRT, which kept us all young, gave us more energy and enabled us to work longer than our mothers did. This means that many grannies cannot look after the children while mum goes to work because they are at work themselves. However, the report tells us that 44 per cent of children of working mothers are cared for by a relative, at least in part, and this is fine as long as they are well supported, especially in the early years.
That brings us to the subject of childcare. Research shows that, as long as the relationship with the parent is good and the quality of childcare is high, the child in a good nursery does not suffer at all; indeed, from the age of two, the child can benefit enormously from good group care. He learns to socialise and share as well as having more stimulation than most homes can give. He comes into contact with well trained professionals who can identify problems and arrange early intervention. We on these Benches believe, therefore, that investment in a good amount of high-quality childcare from the age of two is an investment worth making. We also believe that parents should have 19 months of shared parental leave so that father as well as mother can bond with the child. The report's recommendation that parents should be allowed up to three years' leave from work, albeit unpaid, is ambitious. However, I wonder how many people could afford it.
This brings me back to the subject of fathers. It is sad to learn that 28 per cent of children from separated families have no contact with their father after three years. Fathers are, of course, as important to children as their mothers. The child's relationship with the father affects his or her psychological well-being, enables him to develop friendships and empathy with others, affects his self-esteem and educational achievement and makes him less susceptible to drug abuse and crime. That is why we on these Benches are so keen on parental leave, not just maternity leave, and on more rights to flexible working. I suspect that a father who has held a baby in his arms, changed its nappy, dried its tears and really got to know its developing personality is much less likely to go away and lose interest. Sadly, many fathers who have had broken relationships find it terribly difficult to keep contact with their children. The resident parent has enormous power and can even prevent the non-resident parent from receiving information from the child's school, doctor, et cetera. Of course, this is warranted in the case of abuse or violence, but usually it is not. Can the Minister say whether the details of the non-resident parent must be on the new ContactPoint database?
It seems a great pity to me that courts do not, or cannot, enforce contact orders, since far too many break down against the wishes of the non-resident parent. It can be very hard for fathers to keep contact, so we need to think how the state can help—more conciliation services, more counselling for parents in danger of breaking up and more help with parenting strategies. The report proposes parenting programmes for all parents around the time of birth, free on the NHS. Hooray for that, I say.
Grandparents need help too, especially if they are separated from their grandchildren because of a difficult divorce or separation. Grandparent carers should also have access to advice and support from children's centres. After all, it is probably a long time since they looked after a toddler.
Before I close, I turn briefly to the subject of friends. I found it interesting that children value friends second only to family. Most children today keep in far-too-regular touch with their friends on mobile phones and the internet, but I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that they need places where they can meet in the flesh to share interests and enjoyment. That is why it is wrong that youth services have been so reduced in recent years. I congratulate the Government on putting the proceeds of abandoned bank accounts into youth services and I applaud the report's recommendation for a high-quality youth centre for every 5,000 young people. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government will be able to match up to that?
Very finally, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and my noble friend Lady Garden about school league tables, SATs and raising the status, pay and training of people who work with children. We pay people who clean our houses more than we pay some of those who work with our children. The status and pay of teachers have been successfully raised over recent years. Can we not learn lessons from that in relation to those who work in early years settings and children and family social workers? As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, these are two important groups of the children's workforce and they need more support and recognition, since they are looking after our country's future and our most precious resource.
My Lords, in joining noble Lords in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and all involved in the report, I should like to add that I feel especially privileged to participate in a debate led by the Bishop of my great home city of Leicester. Leicester is very fortunate to have someone so passionate about the welfare and well-being of people, children and young people in particular. The right reverend Prelate laid out eloquently the findings of the report. Indeed, I listened carefully to all noble Lords, including those whose experiences certainly outweigh my own.
Reading the report, I was continually reminded very much of what we as a party have being saying for a very long time: stable, loving relationships are the best way for children and young people to flourish and become responsible citizens. The report looked at a number of key areas and, like other noble Lords, I shall speak on a number of them and ask the Minister questions posed by the report. The report identified that in order for children to flourish, be happy and achieve their potential, having a loving, stable family structure was important. The comments made in the report by children clearly identified a need for stability, avoidance of conflict and a desire to be nurtured. My noble friend Lady Byford rightly pointed out that the implications for society are enormous if parents abrogate their own responsibilities, and that economic and social factors usually hugely impact upon these fragile structures even more so.
The rise in family breakdown and the increase in divorce rates have had adverse effects on our society. Where there were once obvious networks of friends and family, we now have transient relationships, with people coming in and out of the lives of these young children. Does the Minister accept that, under this Government, the traditional family structure has been penalised by the tax system, providing fewer incentives for people to stay together, so rightly highlighted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham. He rightly says that more support for two-parent families does not have to be at the cost of supporting single parents. Surely both relationships should be strengthened.
When families separate, 28 per cent of children sadly lose all contact with their fathers by three years after separation. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, about the importance of the father in the lives of children. Children from broken families are 50 per cent more likely to fail at school and suffer behavioural problems, anxiety or depression. Can the Minister say what progress the Government are making in ensuring that schools are better equipped to address these rising problems?
Child poverty is up by 100,000 children, standing at 2.9 million before housing costs are calculated. These figures have remained unchanged for the past five years. The number of families living in severe poverty has risen to 400,000 since 1998-99, and I suspect, with the current economic climate and the increasing numbers of job losses, that will be set to rise. Does the Minister still believe that the Government will reach their target to halve child poverty by 2010, by 500,000 children; or will she accept the predictions made by the Institute for Fiscal Studies that, on current policies, the Government will miss all their targets?
The Government have made much over the past 11 years of the number of jobs that have been created in the UK. Can the Minister then say why we have a higher proportion of children living in workless households than any of our partners in Europe? Would the Minster not agree with me that the approach taken by my party of looking at both worklessness and educational failure together will deal with the problems culminating from these crucial areas?
Children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds often perform less well in school. They are 13 times more likely to fail their maths GCSE. Often there is a greater pressure on teachers to teach disruptive pupils rather than exclude or expel them. The cost of expulsions for schools of around £5,000 has often put schools off from proceeding with them, especially as one in four is unsuccessful under the current system. Can the Minster say what the Government are doing to improve teacher authority in the classroom and school authority over expulsion?
The Government have without doubt spent enormous amounts of money on education. Yet the gap between schools in more affluent areas and those in poorer areas widens. Truancy rates have increased, as have the cases of both physical and emotional bullying. Schools need to be places of safety and security, places of happiness and learning, of friendships, and of exploring the world through critical eyes and exchanging experiences. If you are academically minded and attend a school in an affluent area, you will be one of the 89 per cent expected to reach key stage 2, compared to only 69 per cent in more deprived areas. In 2006, 67 per cent of children in the least deprived areas achieved five GCSEs at grades A to C, compared to 28 per cent in the most deprived areas. What are the Government doing to address the shortage of male graduates, in particular, going into teaching, especially as there is a real need where male role models are scarce? Will the Minister say more about how teachers are being encouraged to stay in the profession, as the numbers leaving seem to be ever increasing?
The report overwhelmingly points out the importance of families in providing stability and love for children. It is crucial that, with the fragile networks many children have to exist on today, all is done to ensure that they share a loving and stable relationship. In times of economic pressure, job losses and rising unemployment, the most stable and strong families are tested. What are the Government doing to help those in vulnerable positions? I have in recent days had many letters from people frightened of repossessions, afraid of losing their benefits if they cannot find employment. Yet they cannot find employers taking on new employees.
The Government have promised childcare for all parents seeking employment with children under four. Will the Minister say what is being done to accelerate the numbers of nursery places available to parents? Is the Minister confident that the Government will reach their target of 3,500 Sure Start centres by 2010? If they are in areas where there are no state funded centres, will parents still get access to funding to use at their local PVIs?
On children's health, it has sadly been widely reported that as the economic downturn hits there is an even greater tendency to eat cheaper food, often cheap fast food. We know that children are less active now and spend longer periods in front of the television and the computers. There is also a much greater tendency for parents not to let their children play in unsupervised open spaces, such is the fear for the safety of the child. Sadly, there are fewer open spaces and only one in four young children has access to a youth club. Children are becoming so risk-averse that decision-making becomes a real challenge. Of course, this will have a negative impact on the decisions they take in later life.
The Government have of course pledged in the Children's Plan to increase open spaces, and that is very welcome. But can the Minister say that she will also work with other agencies to address the culture of fear and mistrust felt by both parents and children of our streets and open spaces? Will she also revisit encouraging parents to get their children to become physically more active? Can she say whether all schools are providing at least four hours of physical activity in school?
We are seeing increasing numbers of children suffering with behavioural and conduct disorders. These children are then more likely to be involved in crime, truancy and anti-social behaviour. What is being done to put in early intervention programmes? Are there adequate resources available to health professionals to ensure that assessments can take place at the early stages of a child posing difficulties? What support, if any, is there for children wishing to seek support?
Alongside the problems of obesity, we have underage drinking and teenage pregnancies. There was a 14 per cent increase in alcohol-related admissions to A&E departments in 2006 of under-18 year olds, and violent attacks under the influence of alcohol went from 40 per cent in 1996 to 46 per cent in 2007. The UK has the highest teenage birth rate in the EU. What more is being done to ensure that sex education in schools is introduced much more with relationships at the heart of the subject's teaching, and that it is introduced at an appropriate age? The easier availability of contraception has sadly led to an increased rise in STIs. Does the Minister agree with me that, while contraception advice is important, it is also crucial that young people are aware of the other dangers involved with sexual relationships?
While there is so much to discuss, I have some brief points on the need for equality of all children to be able to enjoy a well supported home and school life. We must do all we can to see that children with special needs and learning and physical disabilities are able to enjoy happy experiences throughout their childhoods. That is why I urge the Government to stop the closure of any more SENs. While we all accept that inclusion is important, there may be children who need the specialist pastoral care that only specialist teachers can provide.
This has been a fascinating debate. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, I believe that we have a real duty to ensure that our children get the best possible start in life. I look forward to the Minister's response to the many questions raised by your Lordships today.
My Lords, I am afraid that I will not be able to pick up all the many questions raised today, but I will do my best, as usual, to respond in writing to those I cannot cover now. I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for calling this important debate. I also thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has joined our debate today, and all those who have contributed to this very interesting and, as ever in this House, valuable session. The commitment of every speaker today to the health and well-being of children has come over loud and clear, and I hope that this is one of many more debates that we will have about what constitutes a good childhood.
I welcome A Good Childhood, the report published by the Children's Society, and pay tribute to the authors, my noble friend Lord Layard and Professor Judy Dunn, and those who took the time to contribute to the lengthy and extensive consultation that the Children's Society carried out. The way in which a society treats its children is a good indication of its values, and the report has much to say about the values of modern society. As my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen said, the Government's commitment to children and young people is very clearly set out in the Children's Plan. It could be argued that the five principles of the Children's Plan strike at the heart of the very individualism that the Children's Society report is concerned about. The five principles are that the Government do not bring up children; parents do, so those in Government need to do more to back parents and families. That picks up the concerns of my noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley that we do not forget about the contribution of families and friends and do not err towards overprofessionalisation.
The second principle of the Children's Plan is that all children have the potential to succeed, and we should help them to go as far as their talents will take them. Thirdly, children and young people need to enjoy their childhood as well as grow up prepared for adult life. The report makes that point, too. Fourthly, services need to be shaped by and responsive to children, young people and families, not designed around professional boundaries. The fifth principle is that it is always better to prevent failure than tackle a crisis, a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, made.
Our vision is a future where this is the best place in the world for children to grow up and where every child can achieve the Every Child Matters outcomes. I believe that we will see more promising results as we work with UNICEF on future reports. The Every Child Matters outcomes are a golden thread that runs through all our work in government and in local government. These are: to be healthy, to stay safe, to enjoy and achieve, to make a positive contribution and to achieve economic well-being. The approach set out in the Children's Plan is for a holistic approach to children's services to help ensure that no one falls through the net. That means universal services for children, backed up by targeted support for those with particular needs, for instance, young people suffering from mental health problems or with special educational needs.
My noble friend Lord Parekh issued a challenge to us, calling for a more historical analysis, which I am sure would be very welcome. I agree with much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, said. A lot of the coverage of this report tended, sadly, to focus on an assertion that the quality of life in childhood is in decline. Like her, I wonder when this golden age of childhood was. Children growing up in this country today enjoy a standard of health and opportunities for fun and learning that would have been unimaginable to their ancestors. As my noble friend Lady Morris suggested, perhaps we sometimes yearn for a world that we can understand a little better. Do we understand anything like as well as we should what it is like for children growing up in a modern world? Modern childhood contains pressures that would have been equally unimaginable to earlier generations.
Twenty-first century parents need to balance work and family life, and must find ways of dealing with new challenges such as the internet and increasing commercialisation. At the same time, they must keep their children safe while allowing them the freedom to explore the wider world. Our very ambitious play strategy looks at the question of how we can help children take safe and proportionate risks.
The latest results from the regular Tellus report, based on a national survey of 150,000 children and young people, show that the majority—69 per cent—report that they are happy, and that 95 per cent say they have one or more good friends; that is, not just a name on Facebook. Fewer feel unsafe in school: the figure is 11 per cent compared with 14 per cent last year. Talking to children on a regular basis is very much at the heart of our work in government and our Children's Plan.
Despite all this, there is no reason for complacency. Behind improving statistics on health, education and living standards, too many children are growing up in poverty and failing to thrive. Our Government have always recognised that some children face many social and economic problems, and that is why I am proud that we have lifted 600,000 children out of relative poverty, and are introducing legislation to end child poverty in Britain by 2020. This House will have the opportunity to debate that in full.
We want schools, children's services, health services and the police to engage parents and tackle the barriers to the learning, health and happiness of every child. That is why we are giving children's trusts a new strengthened leadership role and encouraging schools to become real centres of their communities. We have today published, with the Department of Health, the first ever children's health strategy. Healthy Lives, Brighter Futures is a long-term strategy to support children's and families' health. Our aim is to achieve world-class health outcomes and minimise health inequalities, by providing services of the highest quality.
We have heard of the importance of fiscal stimulus in this debate. Most people would agree that these programmes to help children and support families are essential but, of course, they also cost money. So it would be interesting to hear from the Opposition exactly where in a future Budget they might find cost savings in this area.
We agree with the authors of A Good Childhood that families are the bedrock of society, and we believe they must be given all the support they need in the face of the costs that that involves. The fiscal stimulus is as important for families as it is for business. Families come in all shapes and sizes, and we should provide support to all of them. A good family is one in which children are loved and valued. Yes, I will, as a Minister, say the word “love” from the Dispatch Box. We see the importance of children being loved and valued by their families. That is why we need to support families. We are taking action on many fronts to support mothers and fathers, including flexible working and paid maternity leave, and we have also introduced paternity leave.
The Government have invested £25 billion on early years and childcare services since 1997. All three and four year-olds are entitled to a free part-time early education place if their parents want one. I am so glad that Sure Start had a mention in this debate because I am not sure that it made it into the report. There are more than 2,900 Sure Start children's centres open, offering services to 2.3 million young children and their families. I, too, was glad to see Professor Judy Dunn's letter in the Guardian yesterday clarifying the report's views on working parents, which some in the media have interpreted in perhaps more mealy-mouthed terms than would have been ideal.
Central to the Government's vision of a good childhood is the provision of high quality education. Standards in schools have hugely improved since 1997, with results at 11, 14, 16 and 19 now at or about the highest ever levels, far fewer weaker or failing schools and more young people than ever before going on to university. As my noble friend Lord Layard suggests, schools are key. We have set out our vision for how we want schools to be the hub of their communities and we are calling them 21st-century schools. They will offer personalised, responsive education with excellent teaching and easy access to other services to support children and young people as they grow up. I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that we see this as enhancing the impact of the school in the community.
Our vision is that schools should offer a universal service to quickly identify and resolve additional needs at the centre of a system for early intervention and targeted support. The 21st-century schools will be a community resource, working with families alongside health and youth services, voluntary organisations and the police to contribute to the local community fully.
Many noble Lords mentioned child poverty. We have already made significant progress in tackling it, and the 2008 Budget announced further investment which takes us another step towards the 2010 target and beyond. Measures announced in the Budget 2007, the PBR 2007 and the Budget 2008 taken together will lift a further 500,000 children out of poverty. I have very generously been given a copy of the report The Taxation of Families. I know that we are not allowed to use props in the Chamber, but no doubt we will have a very interesting debate, when we come to the Child Poverty Bill, about how we can all work together in society to achieve our 2020 targets. No doubt the report will surface again then.
The issue of testing has emerged a number of times in this debate. Testing and assessment help heads and teachers to secure the progress of every child. It gives parents the educational information to choose the right school for their child and information on their child's progress, and allows the public to hold national and local government and governing bodies to account for the performance of the school system, which is key. The report advocates testing by stage, not age. My noble friend Lord Layard is right; the Children's Plan has signalled our intention to roll out single-level tests on a national basis. This, of course, is subject to positive evidence from the pilots and the endorsement of the regulator. All schools have progression targets that recognise the achievement of those things that move pupils great distances and focus attention on underachieving groups.
I hope perhaps that we are closer together than noble Lords might think. The OECD's PISA research, published in 2006, shows a correlation between improved school results and the availability of achievement data, even after accounting for sociodemographic factors. Testing is important, but we hear noble Lords' concerns.
The noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, my noble friend Lord Layard, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and many others talked about PSHE, an issue close to our hearts in this House. We have indeed made it clear that we will make PSHE statutory, and of course a great deal of thinking needs to go into how to do that properly.
The question of how we address schools which are not serving their communities as well as they should is being picked up by the National Challenge. We have discussed this previously, but we are investing £400 million in support over the next three years to make this possible.
I am told that I have one minute left; I thought that I had 20 minutes. We have heard an awful lot about the importance of family intervention from my noble friend Lady Massey. Today, as I have said, we launched the child health strategy. Importantly, we are looking at making available programmes to support mothers- and fathers-to-be in preparation for parenthood. That was an important issue in the report. Work is going forward on that.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, talked about the importance of fathers. I agree that we need to do more to support them, and that is why we are working hard through the relationship summit. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is very committed to promoting the importance of fathers.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked some detailed questions. I know that he is very concerned about the quality of childcare. I hear his points and will write to him with a very detailed response.
Perhaps I may make a few closing remarks about the importance of mental health. We commissioned a review of child and adolescent mental health services. It reported very recently and showed that 62 per cent more funding has been going into this area, and we have seen a 14 per cent fall in recent times in the number of people waiting to be seen by CAMHS. We have established a national advisory council to keep an eye on the recommendations of that review, so that we cannot take our eye off the ball and can make the important developments required. We are delivering the social and emotional aspects of learning in schools around the country, and are putting £10 million into making that happen, along with the £60 million of targeted mental health resources in schools, which will be rolled out to every local authority soon.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester talked about the alcohol challenge in this country. We have seen the Chief Medical Officer's advice to parents on alcohol. We are very concerned that parents understand their role in helping children grow up with a sensible attitude to alcohol.
We should celebrate children and young people, as the most reverend Primate suggested, and all that they achieve. The Government will welcome this report and continue to have the very highest aspirations for all children in this country. We will back parents as they bring up their children, and I believe that we will unlock the talents of all our young people. With schools, children's services, the third sector and government all playing our part, we can ensure that every child has the very best start in life.
My Lords, I know that we are very short of time. I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate, which has ranged widely across some of the most complex questions facing our society, without avoiding the need to look at difficult, but specific, issues. We have avoided complacency on the one hand and excessive problematising of childhood on the other. Whether or not the analysis of excessive individualism stands the test of time, we shall wait to see, but I hope we shall continue to ask ourselves what that is telling us about the nature of the country we inhabit. I am grateful to everyone who has made a contribution. I hope that this debate will give us the courage, determination and resources to take forward the issues and the political will to do so. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.