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Social Justice Strategy

Volume 756: debated on Thursday 16 October 2014

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

My Lords, it is a great privilege to open today’s debate on social justice for the most disadvantaged of our fellow citizens. I very much look forward to hearing from other noble Lords who have between them such huge expertise and, I know, personal commitment on the subject. I am particularly delighted that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely has chosen to make his maiden speech in this debate.

At this point in the parliamentary cycle, it is very timely that we have an opportunity to consider the Government’s social justice strategy, explore the progress that has been made and consider what more needs to be done. I declare an interest as chair of the Making Every Adult Matter coalition of charities working collaboratively to find more effective ways of tackling multiple disadvantage.

To set the context, over the last 20 years, Governments of all colours have sought to improve approaches to social justice, using different approaches. To their credit, the previous Labour Administration put tackling social exclusion at the heart of their early political programme and maintained a strong focus on the issue through their term. Indeed, I should declare a past interest here as a former head of the then Social Exclusion Unit.

In 2010, just prior to the election, Iain Duncan Smith set out his vision for a new Government. He called for a joined-up approach, buy-in from Secretaries of State, a co-ordinating body, and a cross-departmental approach at local level—familiar calls to those steeped in the area. Over the last four years some of that ambition has come into being. The social justice Cabinet committee was set up and the Government published their social justice strategy in March 2012, followed by an outcomes framework, a one-year-on progress report and regular updates on each key indicator. For a balanced assessment of the strength and weakness of both approaches I commend the recent LankellyChase report, The Politics of Disadvantage, which reflects very skilfully on this and on the political difficulty of publicly articulating the case for more support for the most socially disadvantaged in the face of an often sceptical and sometimes antagonistic public and press.

However, before we debate the specific issues, let us briefly consider why social justice is so important, and what it means. In preparing for this debate I looked up various definitions used by political thinkers, commentators and interested organisations, and they were pretty wide-ranging. That said, where most people agree is that social justice is about the distribution of income, wealth, opportunities and privileges within a society so that everyone can reach their full potential, be active contributors to their own community and have an equal chance to succeed in life. For many—and I would count myself among their number—the term “social justice” also implies fairness and mutual obligation, that we have a responsibility to each other and most particularly towards those who are least able to fend for themselves. It is an issue that cuts across the life course and across generations. It is important for children, families and individual adults, and it certainly demonstrates the interconnections between many government policies and public services: welfare, education, health, housing, the labour market, and so on.

One of the biggest challenges for social justice in our country is presented by individuals—whether children, family units or single adults—who face multiple and complex needs. They are routinely failed by our public services and fall through the cracks to lead chaotic lives at the extreme margins of our communities, lives that are often characterised by some combination of homelessness, worklessness, substance abuse, mental ill health, stigma, debt, repeat contact with the criminal justice system, family breakdown and domestic violence—a depressingly long list. I contend that that group is the embodiment of social injustice in our society, and it is for this group that a more co-ordinated approach, both across government policy and local services, is so vital.

I will just try to bring this to life at a human level. I recently heard from the charities I work with about a young woman whom we shall call Lucy. At just 24 years old, Lucy carries the mental and physical scars of a troubled life. Sexually abused as a young child, she was placed in local authority care. As a teenager she started using drugs and drinking heavily to blank out her bad memories, and by age 17 she was using heroin and crack cocaine. She is well known to the police and magistrates. She needs mental health support but falls through the thresholds for secondary care, and is constantly ricocheting between rough sleeping, hostels and prison. Luckily she was able to access effective and joined-up help.

The social justice strategy has not been shy about its ambitions. It makes a clear commitment to co-ordinated local services, saying,

“We recognise that more can be done to support those who are least well served by current approaches. Through this strategy and the work that follows, we want to encourage local areas to design and commission interventions that are better coordinated and that deliver multiple outcomes”.

Therefore the key questions for today’s debate will include: how far have we progressed against those ambitions, and what more needs to be done?

The Government should be congratulated on their early bold ambition, because we know that better co-ordinated local services can have a significant impact on the most vulnerable. I am particularly aware of that through my involvement with the Making Every Adult Matter coalition of charities, which work throughout the country to support local areas as they design and deliver better co-ordinated interventions to help transform the lives of the estimated 60,000 adults with the most severe problems. An independent evaluation of local pilots recently found that that more co-ordinated approach from local agencies had led to statistically significant increases both in welfare for client and a reduction in wider service-use costs of up to 26% over two years. In areas such as Blackburn and Sunderland we are now seeing fantastic cross-agency work being championed at the highest levels by local partners.

There is no substitute for seeing these things with your own eyes. When I visited the St Mungo’s women’s hostel in north London I was struck by what can be done to provide joined-up help and support under one roof. Homeless women there had easy access to resources such as counsellors and social workers who have been trained to help them to address their myriad problems, and who are crucially able to provide emotional support to women, many of whose children have been taken into care, as well as complex care case workers who could understand the intricacies of the benefit system.

The social justice strategy also called for national-level ambition, calling for,

“national leadership and a change in the way policy is created and evaluated in central Government”.

That gives us a chance to reflect on the wide-ranging systemic reforms that are needed if we are truly to transform the life chances of the most disadvantaged and provide answers to the growing number of critics who argue that we now have a commissioning system locally which encourages silo-based working, risk management at the expense of action, and excessive gatekeeping and prohibitive access thresholds to reduce short-term costs. Too often that sort of approach excludes those who most need help, mitigating against longer-term savings, and making co-ordinated action in local areas more difficult than it should be.

In March the Fabian Society, with CentreForum and the Centre for Social Justice, produced a report called Within Reach: the New Politics of Multiple Needs and Exclusions. The report highlighted that helping people with multiple needs will require both more collaborative working across government departments and more devolution of powers to local level. The key point here is that it is both/and, not either/or. What, therefore, needs to be done to translate those ideas into action? Three issues stand out. First, we need to listen to the voice of people with multiple needs, secondly, we need to give more support to local areas in taking this agenda forward, and finally, we need to understand the impact of wider government policies.

First, it is crystal clear that we will not move forward in social justice without getting better at listening to the voices of those who are most affected. We must accept that their expertise is sorely lacking from Westminster debate and commit to changing this. The new Voices from the Frontline research programme is working to bring the voices of people with multiple needs into the very heart of the policy debate. It will soon be challenging every Member of Parliament, every Member of your Lordships’ House and every prospective parliamentary candidate to commit to listening to voices of people with multiple needs, and offering practical ways of doing that. I urge the Government and noble Lords here today to attend the launch of this in November and to support the campaign.

On local areas, the social justice strategy is quite rightly clear that solutions must be driven at the local level and that commissioners and local leaders have a vital role to play. However, there is a strong argument that the Government also need to do more to support local areas. That is certainly not to say that the Government should be prescriptive—far from it. However, it is critical that the national policy environment encourages action on multiple needs and sets the right framework.

The Government can do two things. First, they can close the accountability gap which exists around individuals with multiple needs. To do that they should ensure that a named senior official and elected Member in each local area are accountable for effective co-ordinated services, and should require them and their partners to set out a strategy for how that should be effected. This strategic focus on the most vulnerable is most needed. To try to demonstrate that, only last week, Homeless Link and St Mungo’s published research which showed that two-thirds of health and well-being boards failed to mentioned single homeless people in their joint strategic needs assessment—which are supposed to be the process by which local areas address health inequalities.

Secondly, government could help to change the national finance and outcomes structure that so often pulls apart rather than pushing together. The Troubled Families programme, with which many noble Lords will be familiar, has shown how incorporating new approaches to finance, outcomes and accountability in one national programme has made a real difference. However, not all of the most disadvantaged live in family units—far from it. By taking the best bits of the Troubled Families programme and combining it with a really strong input from the voluntary sector, a new troubled families for individuals programme could make significant cost savings over the course of the next Parliament. That is an idea backed by several leading think tanks. Accepting that budgets are tight, I believe that funding should be pulled from existing departmental budgets according to the projected savings that could be made. I strongly urge the Government to consider such a troubled families for individuals programme, developed in tandem with local commissioners and the voluntary sector for rollout in the next Parliament. I ask my noble friend the Minister to commit to considering this further in his closing remarks.

Finally, we must accept that wider government policies have an impact on social justice, sometimes for the good and sometimes less so. Recent research has shown that front-line services are hopeful about the impact of new structures, such as health and well-being boards, as indeed I am. The £25 million commitment to liaison and diversion schemes, as championed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, should certainly have a positive impact on people with multiple problems who are in contact with the criminal justice system. The recent very strong focus on mental health—in particular the Deputy Prime Minister’s announcement on waiting times and access standards to mental health services, backed up by new money, is to be strongly welcomed. However, we need to listen to what front-line agencies are telling us about the impact of some government policies—in particular, recent welfare reform —on social justice outcomes, even if they make for uncomfortable reading.

I understand the need for welfare reform and the need to contain the benefits bill during a period of austerity—and, of course, the critical importance of work as a key route out of poverty. However, it must feel fair to everyone and, above all, we must not be seen to be asking the most vulnerable, some of whom are a very long way off being able to get and hold down a job, to take a disproportionate share of the pain. A recent survey of front-line providers found that 88% of services believe that welfare changes are having a negative effect on the overall well-being of people with severe multiple needs and 86% on their mental health. Only 2% of those services believe that reforms are having a positive effect on the ability of people with multiple needs to engage with the jobs market, while 55% said that they have a negative effect. We know that the new sanctions regime is also biting hard and official research from the DWP has shown how sanctions on employment and support allowance claimants and jobseeker’s allowance claimants suggest that these changes disproportionately affect vulnerable people. Changes to crisis loans and community care grants are also a matter for serious concern.

Mitigating the impact of wider policies must be one part of better co-ordination on social justice across government. As I understand it, the Cabinet Committee on Social Justice currently holds that role. What work does the committee undertake to consider the impact of wider government policies on those with multiple needs, how regularly does it meet and does it have any plans to refresh and strengthen its vision for helping the most needy and vulnerable? Finally, if that committee does not have that brief, who does?

I hope that I have demonstrated that it is time for government to take further action on these issues so that together we can move a step closer to social justice for everyone in our communities. I thank noble Lords for their attendance today and look forward to hearing their contributions.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, for initiating this debate and congratulate her on her very clear and comprehensive introduction to this very important topic. I am also very grateful to be speaking in a debate when my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely is going to make his maiden speech. If it were not presumably against the protocols of this House, I would like to congratulate him on doing so before he has done it. However, knowing him as I do, I think that that is probably very dangerous.

I am very glad that the Government have a social justice strategy. In my few words, I want to make one major point and illustrate it from three pieces of evidence with which I have some personal experience, and ask some questions of the Government, very much along the lines of what the noble Baroness has already said.

I declare an interest in that I am chairman of the Children’s Society, a national organisation that at present has two major priorities. One is to fight childhood poverty and to bring it to an end, and the second is to fight adolescent neglect. As some noble Lords may know, I also chair, along with Frank Field, an inquiry into the reason for the sharp rise in the use of food banks in this country. Noble Lords will know that from 1999 there were no food banks; now, according to our figures—we are hoping to produce our report in early December—there are more than 800 food banks throughout the country.

I am very encouraged to read in the Government’s social justice strategy that:

“Social justice is about making society function better”.

I am therefore disappointed to see that, in reality, the social justice strategy is really about a mechanistic way, or ways, of dealing with those in poverty. It is not surprising to read in the document, Social Justice: Transforming LivesOne Year On, that the Government say that to achieve their strategy will require a “sweeping cultural change”. I entirely agree with that statement—and that is my main point.

From the work that I have done on the food banks inquiry and in my work in the Children’s Society and as a Bishop, I worry enormously that in our society we fall too easily into a tendency to demonise and victimise and fall between us and them. Social justice surely assumes that there is such a thing called society in which a key value is justice. Implicit in that is that it is justice for all people in our country. I suggest that there is clear evidence that our society is struggling to understand itself as a society today, and not enough evidence on the value of justice for all members of our society. My first piece of evidence is that there are still, apparently, approximately 116,000 young carers in this country. Is it a sign of a properly functioning society that we have so many young carers still giving most of their young lives to caring for parents or siblings?

Secondly, although I welcome the steps that the Government have taken—for example, free school meals for all infant school children and the introduction of a pupil premium—I worry that despite these measures they will not succeed in meeting their commitment to eradicate childhood poverty by 2020. In fact, according to recent statistics from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, after taking into account housing costs, childhood poverty will rise by 1.1 million between 2011 and 2020. It is therefore important to find ways in which we can continue to work together to enable our whole society to be a just place.

Noble Lords may have seen the work done by the Children’s Society in collaboration with the organisation StepChange. They have recently produced a report entitled The Debt Trap. It is clear that almost 2.5 million children across the country live in families who owe a total of £4.8 billion in bills and loans. Will the Government work in partnership with other organisations to develop a breathing-space solution for many of these families who incorporate debt as a key part of living in our world today? It is also important that the early intervention strategies continue to promote social justice. Will the Government ensure that there are no further cuts in funding for these key early intervention schemes?

Children tell us that they are still unhappy and that their lives are blighted in a variety of ways. This is clear from the latest Good Childhood Report published this year by the Children’s Society. Fascinatingly, the major issue that children and young people identify is their priority for such things as love, a stable family and friendships. Sadly, I do not see these issues, which I believe are sometimes wrongly called “soft” issues, in the Government’s social justice strategy.

My final piece of evidence comes from the work that I have been privileged to do on the food banks inquiry. We have been inundated with pieces of evidence and we have gone round the country listening to hundreds of people telling us their own stories. In doing all this, it has become very clear to me that the food banks of themselves are not part of the solution alone and can sometimes actually be part of the problem. The concern I have is that more and more people are going to food banks reluctantly and with real embarrassment because the relationships in extended families, neighbourhoods and communities are, sadly, not there. I stand second to none in congratulating those many thousands of people who volunteer to work in food banks but I worry that those food banks reinforce the commodification idea or process—that is, a problem comes through the door in a person who is in need of food and they are given a box of food. Clearly, that of itself is not the answer to a much deeper problem. The problem lies in our society and it is one of justice for all.

Given all that I have seen, will the Government try to do what they advise in Social Justice: Transforming Lives—One Year On? There is, indeed, a need for a major cultural change, which is to begin to put back into our society the glue, as I call it—that is, to note that every single one of us, whatever our status or economic position, is interdependent. We are all part of this thing called society. We should all therefore believe that a key value for us is that of justice for all people.

My Lords, I want to take a few moments to talk about prevention. In this country today there are far too many families in which disadvantage is being handed down from generation to generation, and the number continues to grow. There is a consciousness across government that families are important. In a recent speech, the Prime Minister stressed that point. Much research shows the importance of families in the rearing of children, if I may use that phrase. The Government have accepted that there is a problem and have introduced an early years programme, which I believe is doing excellent work as far as it goes. However, it cannot address the serious underlying problem in our disadvantaged families today of disadvantage being passed down from generation to generation.

How do we break into that chain of disadvantage? I believe that we have an opportunity to do this in schools because, manifestly, the parents of families with this problem are unlikely to be the people who are able to do much about it. The issue has to be tackled by an outside influence, but I do not believe that there is an enormous amount of slack in local authority services. It has come to my consciousness that teenagers in school may be being taught arithmetic, Latin, Greek and grammar—I do not know what they are being taught these days—but are we bringing them up to be the kind of human beings who will be able to get on in a community, be useful in the workplace and, above all, be able to rear a secure, happy family?

The skills that disadvantaged young people need to learn today involve learning how to become the sort of person who is most sought after in the workplace, who is confident and who believes in themselves. For a number of years, I have worked for a few weeks each year with very disadvantaged children from Tower Hamlets. The lack of self-confidence, the lack of belief that one can succeed, is one of the tragedies of young people growing up in disadvantaged families. Young people need to learn to relate to and communicate with others using soft skills. They need to play as a team, sometimes take leadership, form positive and supportive relationships, understand and respect the needs of other people, and become the sort of people who have the grit to stick to a job when they have started it.

These and many other interpersonal skills can be learnt and are being learnt in the best schools in both the private and maintained sectors. Some of your Lordships may have seen a report that Ofsted published three or four years ago. It highlighted 16 primary schools and 11 secondary schools that were graded “outstanding”, although their catchment areas were among the most disadvantaged. Ofsted looked for common factors in the delivery of those schools, and one of the first three factors was every child believing that they could succeed. We must accept that that message highlights a real problem. The best schools are doing it but such things are not being learnt in the classroom. They involve team games, being given the opportunity to accept responsibility, the possibility of being given a modest degree of leadership, consideration of others, self-confidence and communication skills. Those soft skills that we talk about so much are immensely important, particularly in our society in which scientific invention is producing machines to do all the things that less-able workers used to do. There is going to be huge unemployment. However, there is a great deal of demand for interpersonal skills in all sorts of areas.

We should consider the role of boarding education for very disadvantaged children. Again in the context of Tower Hamlets, we were involved with two schools for disadvantaged children. One was Weavers Fields School in Tower Hamlets, of which I was a governor, and the other was a weekly boarding school down in Eastbourne. We used to observe the young people coming to our summer camps and what was striking was the extent to which those who went to the boarding school improved their interpersonal, human and relationship skills. We should consider the possibility of boarding school being very important, particularly when the young people come from families in which life at home is absolute hell, with disadvantaged or chaotic family life—involving, in many cases mental illness, and alcohol and drug addiction.

I see that the Department for Education—the Minister will be pleased to hear that I am up to date on this—has written to all schools, suggesting that they should do the sort of things that I am talking about. However, that will not be much good because the sort of schools that can do it and have the money are doing it already. The schools that need help are those that do not have the money, skills or best teachers. There is a need for leadership from the Government. On that note I shall conclude because I have probably made the point that I wanted to make.

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. His speeches always repay careful study. He is an expert in the field of children and has made a valuable contribution to this debate. I absolutely agree with him about prevention and the importance of breaking the chain of disadvantage. I hope that the Minister will give that appropriate consideration when he reviews this important debate.

I am pleased that my noble friend Lady Tyler of Enfield has secured this slot. It is a bit of a graveyard slot in the parliamentary week but it means that at least we have the chance to make speeches lasting for more than four minutes. She also has huge experience in this area, and the House is indebted to her for raising this subject in the way she did. Of the many important points that she made, the most important for me was the appositeness of the timing. From a political calendar point of view, the next few months are going to be crucial not just for manifesto content, which all the parties are properly engaging in at the moment, but for the battle for public opinion, which is important. I will come back to that in a minute.

I am very pleased to welcome a new recruit to the parliamentary desperadoes who are obsessive about social security in the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely. I will sign him up as a member of this distinguished band and I look forward to his contribution. The church does absolutely excellent work in this House, dealing with what some people choose to call the “undeserving poor”. It is right and proper that it should, and it does it well. The House is indebted to it.

I should declare an interest: I am a non-executive, non-remunerated director of the Wise Group in Glasgow, which does welfare to work programmes. I derive a lot of my interest and knowledge in this subject from that work. I hope my English colleagues do not mind if I refer to the experience that we Scots have had in the recent past with the referendum. The social justice strategy has very important elements that are deployed by the Department for Work and Pensions and others which straddle the border.

The referendum was a salutary experience for me. I have looked at social security issues for more than 30 years, man and boy, in this place and elsewhere. A message of alienation that I have never experienced before emanated from some significant parts of the hard-pressed households, particularly in communities in west central Scotland and Dundee. Some of that was politically excited and stimulated by some of the participants in that debate, but I do not want to get into that now. Significant numbers of people who do not vote at elections sent the institutions of both House of Parliament a message that they will vote for anything that will get some measure of hope into their lives, which is currently absent and to which general elections do not, as they see it, provide any answer. That is my anecdotal experience and it is difficult to prove. I was in south-east Scotland for most of the time and, as the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, knows, we are much more genteel folk in south-east Scotland than in the central belt. However, there is a significant change that I do not think is specific to west central Scotland. The same would have been the case in Liverpool, if an event of that kind had taken place in that context.

The political process has to understand that we need to deal with this alienation in a way that we have not done before. I have spent my time advocating better provision for social security by looking at rates, benefits and entitlements. The kind of work that my noble friend Lady Tyler is engaged in professionally concerns support, as well as the cash transfers that the social security system provides. I have now come to the conclusion that interventionist support at a public service level across the border in some of the ways that she very expertly described is now more important than it has ever been, partly because of austerity.

Some public services are now degraded to the point of danger. That is going to get worse. I heard someone on the “Today” programme saying that everybody knows that things are going to get worse, particularly for this cohort of the population of which I speak. If that is what we really believe, we really need to respond to that. That needs political leadership. It is a very hard thing to do: leading a country to a poorer place and expecting to get the credit at the ballot box is not a trick that has been successfully managed by anybody in political history, as far as I am aware. So there are real challenges of leadership that all the party leaders need to focus on in the coming election to deal with this.

The language that they use is important, too—a point I have made previously in this House. The tabloid press are not helpful in this regard. They have their own agenda and they poison and make much more difficult the public debate about some of these crucial issues of public priorities and expenditure. However, my view is that social protection benefits everyone. Social protection is every bit as important an expenditure priority as infrastructure. It is as important as HS2, housing and all the other things that provide physical benefits and facilities so that the Government may prosper.

The recession that we have been through would have been much, much worse without the tax credits that were introduced in a Budget in the early 2000s. People have managed to survive this recession in a way that they will not be able to in the next five years because it is planned to withdraw a lot of this support. I want to make the case for social investment and to encourage people to be brave enough to support a cohort of people who are suffering disadvantage and are very unpopular. We must make the case for those whom people call the “undeserving poor”. I do not believe that anyone can sensibly be described as that. Some families need support and people do not recognise just how many barriers they face to get to a fulfilling life.

The work that Louise Casey has been doing is exemplary; my noble friend Lady Tyler was right about that. I like her idea of a “troubled families” initiative, although I hate the term. We must find some way of describing these households that we are approaching. I have always been sceptical about the role of the state behind the front door of the family because that is the family’s business. However, I now think we need to be much more interventionist. If people said that they were willing to go down that route, there is an easy fix because the predetermining risk factors are staring us in the face. They include lack of educational qualifications, big families and, to a degree, ethnicity, which is difficult but it is there in the data. If someone has been workless for three or four years, fixing their CV will not do the job. There are multiple reasons behind these circumstances.

The work that Louise Casey is doing is not perfect yet. Trying to get the evaluating indicators of success on a payment by results basis has not been properly fine-tuned. The private sector and, indeed, the non-profit and charitable sectors do very valuable work, but how they get value for money and how they can work with payment by results contracts—because many of them need money upfront—still needs work. It all needs investment and it all needs to start really quite soon. I think we will find that, over the next five years, people will face much more financially difficult circumstances.

Everyone knows that in the next 12 months interest rates will increase. Household debt is a dramatically difficult problem for many lower-income households. We may not be talking about big numbers—maybe 10% or 15% of the case load. Maybe the income decile distribution catches it or maybe it does not. I should not like to put a figure on how many families we are talking about. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, chairs StepChange, which produced a very good report in the past few days about the extent of debt. I am studying it and I hope that colleagues in the House who are interested will read it because it repays careful study. Debt in individual households is ignored by the current social security system. For my money, it is necessary to become engaged with some of these families who are facing all sorts of difficulties, tease out their exact levels of debt and start helping them to deal with it. Until the last couple of years, the government service on financial inclusion went through a phase of quite high activity with a task force, but I have seen nothing much since. I have just joined a financial inclusion commission which is doing some work looking at this issue. I think that the Government have lost the thread of the importance of getting proper money advice across to people. The credit union money has been put in and that is welcomed, but it is not enough. We need to think more about that kind of thing.

Finally, I notice that at the end of the Social Justice Outcomes Framework we talk about social investment. I do not think that the potential for that has been realised. I do not know whether that is partly because of the commercial and economic environment that we are in, with there being not an awful lot of money to invest. There is a huge amount of potential in all sorts of areas—not just in connection with ex-offenders, which I know is the area that people have been working on most directly and most immediately. A huge amount could be done to promote social investment, getting the not-for-profit and charitable sector engaged. There is an enormous amount of work to do.

Debates such as this one are very important, but I think that we have to be honest with one another about how difficult things are going to be. Only if we acknowledge how hard some of these families’ circumstances are will we have any chance at all of having a public debate and getting more public support for a cost-benefit analysis of the preventive expenditure that we heard about from the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, as well as getting young people properly upskilled so that they can become productive, wealth-creating individuals. My pension depends on wealth creation from some of the youngsters who are currently NEETs. That is not a comfortable position for a man of my age to be in. Therefore, I think that we all have to work hard and try to get something done.

Again, I am very grateful to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important subject this afternoon.

My Lords, I begin by expressing my gratitude for the welcome I have received since I was introduced into your Lordships’ House. My theological sense of direction is rather more developed than my physical sense, and I have been touched by the noble Lords who have accompanied me around bewildering corridors. Your Lordships may yet see me, like Theseus, unwinding a ball of twine to get me back to the Bishops’ Robing Room.

The diocese of Ely, which I serve, comprises most of Cambridgeshire and west Norfolk. Were it not for Cambridge, we would be identified as a rural diocese, providing a veritable bread and vegetable basket for our country and beyond. We have some wonderful farmers’ sales co-operatives, such as G’s Growers, which are leaders not only as employers but in the production of high-value foods. Today is World Food Day. I think that in any discussion about social justice we should also take account of food justice—of access for our poorer citizens to fresh foods. I also applaud the contribution of British farmers, not least those in Cambridgeshire, to the natural development of resilient new crops to be used in marginal land around the world to feed a growing population. Justice most properly includes access to food for all.

We have two world-class universities in Cambridge—the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin. With its science park and teaching hospitals, the city is at the forefront of academic research and the leading-edge conversion of that research into new technologies for business and for advances in medical treatment for all. We owe a lot of our development locally to the foresight and generosity of international institutions in our midst. As a graduate of Cambridge myself who attended state schools, I am proud of Cambridge’s record across both universities in the recruitment of diverse communities of students. This is where rigorous teaching and learning and social justice meet each other. The church and society benefit enormously from the passion of young people both for the gospel and for the common good.

The prosperity of much of Cambridge is plain to see and I rejoice that a high quality of enterprise and world-standard skills have grown the city significantly. We benefit from our proximity to London and new communities continue to be planted. This poses a happy challenge for the church as we seek to provide clergy and schools, working in partnership with developers and local authorities.

The much greater challenge for us all is the poverty, both obvious and hidden, mostly in our rural communities and market towns. I am really excited by the strategy’s commitment to the transformation of lives as well as protecting people through welfare support. Such transformation comes not only through government policy, but through the commitment of communities that everyone may flourish. As a diocese, our vision is to pray to be generous and visible people of Jesus Christ.

Generosity and visibility are by no means limited to Christian citizens. We aim to live in partnership. The market town of Wisbech is a case in point. Once a prosperous port, this Fenland town scores highly for hardship and multiple deprivation; but it is not a despairing place. In the market square, noble Lords would encounter a range of languages and a bustle of people coming from the food-packing factories and the fields where they work to put food on our tables. Many rely on friendly charity shops to assist them to manage on low pay. Many people from the town and surrounding villages deliver boxes of food to the church-run food bank, offering vital support, often to working families, not just to those living on benefits.

Beyond the market square lies the parish church, whose priest, Father Paul West, has received a large grant from the national church to run a transformational arts project through which local schoolchildren learn about art and spirituality and are given access to a range of culture and a hinterland from which they might otherwise be excluded. Close by is the Ferry Project, a night shelter founded by Christians in the town, and caring for the homeless 365 days of the year. At the Roman Catholic Rosmini Centre, there is great voluntary support for hard-working incomers from eastern Europe.

The centre also houses the Rainbow Saver Anglia Credit Union, to which I belong, which provides a simple bank account and sound budgeting for people who would otherwise be excluded from responsible saving. I would guess that none of us has much sense of what it is not to be able to have a cheque book or debit card, how excluded that makes people and how it makes them prone, despite already having a low wage, to having to pay more money to cash their work cheques at the end of the week. It is marvellous that, very often, past recipients of care from the food bank and other sources become workers and volunteers. These wonderful examples of the fruitful co-operation between church, town and business represent all that is good about Fenland—hard work, mutuality, realism and practical faith.

The Oasis Christian bookshop in the same town lives up to its name as it offers a safe meeting place for people with severe and enduring mental health needs. I have a long-standing personal commitment to the support and inclusion of those living with these challenges. Social justice for these neighbours of ours does include access to welfare and decent healthcare provision, as the noble Baroness Lady Tyler, has said. It is more fundamentally, however, about social inclusion and the removal of stigma from mental illness. I celebrate the passion and commitment of the staff and chaplains of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Foundation Trust in supporting those living challenging lives in the community, for some of whom getting up each morning is an act of profound courage and staying up an act of profound perseverance. I have been especially impressed by my experience of the Recovery College, which offers courses co-designed and led by service users and mental health professionals. Fundamental to all of this and to any approach to social justice is that the transformation of lives is about being given the confidence to do for ourselves and with others, not to be “done to”.

I am soon to succeed the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford as the chair of the National Society, which supports the vocation of children and young people throughout the church’s life and witness, and which sustains the work of church schools and the Church of England’s commitment to further and higher education. Most of the opportunities that I have been given have come through access to the best of state education. I am here only because of what all that has meant in terms of inclusion and access. Any strategy for social justice has to be rooted in supporting young people so that, regardless of background, we are offering unrivalled access to the best education in schools, colleges and universities where ethos and performance are indivisible. The Church of England is the largest provider of primary schools in rural areas and has a significant part to play in serving multicultural and multi-ethnic areas in our inner cities. We intend to continue to play a full part in raising standards and contributing to the training of high-quality teachers for the sake of our children.

The legitimacy of any legislature is judged by the sure access to justice for all citizens, regardless of age or estate. For that justice to be social it requires the active participation of all communities. I believe that this justice is rooted in the invitation of God to be generous and visible with and for others. I would love the story to be true of the vicar who locked the congregation out of church on a Sunday morning and said, “We have been practising long enough; let’s go and do it”.

My Lords, among the customs of this House that I hope will never be changed are the courtesies around the making of maiden speeches. The inevitably nervous speaker is encouraged to pay due and richly deserved tribute to our wonderful staff and no one is allowed to move in or out of the Chamber until the courtesies are completed by someone both welcoming and responding to the speaker. As I reflected on this happy opportunity, I noticed many parallels between the path of the right reverend Prelate to this House and that of my father, who as the Bishop of Wakefield made his maiden speech on a similar subject to today’s.

The first time I went to the right reverend Prelate’s lovely cathedral in Ely was as a student at Cambridge when I attended the installation of one of his distinguished predecessors, Bishop Noel Hudson, a great friend of my father’s. Bishop Noel had a very keen sense of humour. With the invitation he included an Osbert Lancaster cartoon of two bishops in full fig filling in a football coupon during the Church Assembly, one saying to the other, “Cave Basingstoke, the Arch is looking”.

Before being ordained, the right reverend Prelate taught at Glenalmond, where one of my brothers was educated. He was ordained in Durham Cathedral and spent the first 20 years of his ministry in the diocese of Durham, including two years as the Archdeacon of Durham. My father was the Bishop of Jarrow and Archdeacon of Auckland for eight years, living beside that incomparable building. Although Bishop Stephen’s time as Bishop of Ramsbury was nearer to mine on Salisbury Plain during my Army service, I note that since his installation he has been on a mission to southern India, where my father was sent in 1952, resulting in a succession of Indian archdeacons living with us in Durham during their return visits.

This has been a notable week for the Church of England in the House, with the legislation for the ordination of women bishops on Tuesday and now the right reverend Prelate’s outstanding maiden speech during this important debate. I think he has given a very clear indication that not only does he know and care a great deal about social justice, but he will make an important contribution to the work of the House. So, on behalf of all Members, I most warmly congratulate him and hope that we will have the pleasure and privilege of hearing much more from him in the future.

I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, on obtaining this debate and pay tribute to her work in this area. I also thank Maxine James for her extremely helpful Library Note.

I must admit that I always cringe when I hear Ministers and officials talk about strategy, because if the absence of a national security strategy is anything to go by, too little coherence of thought and action in too much of what passes for government policy seems to be the norm in Whitehall. I always remember being chastised by a civil servant in the Home Office for banging on about strategy. She said, “We don’t need strategy; all we need is strategic direction”. I said, “What do you mean by that?”. She said, “Top-down, of course”, and I said, “Well, that explains why we’re in such a mess”. Therefore, I have to admit to being much heartened by seeing the remarks of the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, about the Social Justice: Transforming Lives strategy—incidentally, he was once a subaltern in the Scots Guards under my command in Belfast. When he launched the strategy, he said that,

“we cannot conduct our social policy in discrete parts”,

with different parts of government working on discrete issues in isolation. He said that strategy had to have a “fundamental vision” and “driving ethos”, without which it would be “narrow”, “reactive” and unworkable. As a result, a Cabinet committee for social justice had been set up to ensure that all government departments drove forward the aims of the strategy.

At least, that was the intent, but I have to say that I am singularly unhappy that that intent is not being realised. I agree with the five principles of the intent: the focus on prevention and early intervention, so wisely spoken to by my noble friend Lord Northbourne; the concentration on recovery and independence, not maintenance; promoting work as the most effective route out of poverty; most effective solutions being designed and delivered at local level; and interventions providing a fair deal for the taxpayer. Nobody can argue with those, but I worry about how they are being turned into an outcome.

I want for a moment to concentrate on three of the seven key indicators of those principles, because they are those about which I know most. Key indicator 2 is to see an increase over time in the extent to which children from disadvantaged households achieve the same educational outcomes as their more advantaged peers. I am, among other things, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties. We did a report 18 months ago on the link between social disadvantage and speech, language and communication needs. I was inspired to do that by my firm belief that the only raw material that every nation has in common is its people—woe betide it if it does not do everything to identify, nurture and develop the talents of all its people, because if it does not, it has only itself to blame if it fails. Right at the start of all that is the need to enable all our children to communicate and engage with their developer or teacher. The fact is that in too many families, or what pass as families around the country now, there is precious little communication between child and parent or whichever adult happens to be there, with the result that they cannot communicate and engage. Therefore, as the Minister will recollect from our discussions during various education Bills, one thing that I have been very keen to see is every child having their communication ability tested and assessed before they are two. It has been discovered that that is the wisest age to do it. The test can be carried out very simply by a health visitor who has been trained by a speech and language therapist. Armed with that ability to communicate, children have some hope of engaging with education but without it there is no further progress.

However, it does not stop there. At all stages of a child’s development up to the time of leaving school, their ability to communicate with the next stage must be assessed. It is interesting, as I have found going round the country that, for example, in Walsall, people tested at secondary school were found to have had slipped through the net at primary school and were not able to go on. Similarly, we found people at the end who could not communicate with employers.

This assessment must happen. It cannot just happen if the Department of Health is left to do the initial assessment. All sorts of other ministries are involved. There is the Department for Education, of course. There is the Department for Communities and Local Government, too, because a lot of this depends on local delivery. Unless there is a proper driving of this strategy to make certain that this happens, it seems that it will not happen. It will fall through the cracks of the discrete operations of individual ministries.

The second key indicator I focus on is key indicator 3, to reduce the,

“percentage of young offenders who go on to re-offend”.

One thing mentioned is the provision of gang advisers in Jobcentre Plus offices. I know very well one of these remarkable gang advisers, a man called Junior Smart. He was himself a pretty good villain and he has employed a number of similar villains to work under the St Giles Trust in one of the toughest parts of London. When I spoke to Junior the other day, he said, “I wish people would stop demonising everything about gangs. What you must remember is that, for many of these unfortunate children, the gang is the family. They have nothing else. Therefore, we must use our work to recreate the family part of what the gang is doing and hope we can eliminate the others”. I thought that was very wise.

One thing that worries me is that, currently, the Government have embarked on a complete negation of all common sense about the treatment of young offenders—ie, the establishment of what they call a secure college in the middle of Leicestershire for 320 12 to 17 year-olds. The truth is, as everyone knows, that the present cohort of children in there is particularly disadvantaged. The people who are less disadvantaged have, thanks to the good work of the Youth Justice Board, been got out of custody. You are left now with the most troubled and damaged. Some 50% have been in care and 80% have some form of mental health problem, including a multiplicity of personality disorders. They have all been absent from some form of school for one reason or another for at least two years. They all come from chaotic and dysfunctional families. The last place they should be is in a large, impersonal institution where they have very little hope of developing the crucial relationship with a responsible adult which is the key to getting them out of this.

I am very worried that the Ministry of Justice is launching on a route that is clearly at variance with the fourth principle listed in the strategy—namely, that most effective solutions are designed and delivered at local level. It has long been known that the three things most likely to encourage the prevention of reoffending are a home, a job and a stable relationship—what used to be called “family” but you cannot call it that now in every case. All of those are put at risk by imprisonment, and there is no group for whom it is worse than children, particularly vulnerable children. I wish that instead of launching this £78 million venture, which still has so much to be proved about it, the Government would set about improving the criminal justice system. I briefly mention four elements.

First, there is the diversion scheme, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler. I pay huge tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, for his work on this, because if it is rolled out nationally, it will make an enormous difference: diverting children into proper treatment, particularly mental health treatment, rather than into custody. Secondly, we need vast improvements to the provision of work in the community, which involves not just the Ministry of Justice; it involves the Home Office, the Department for Education, the Department of Health, the Department for Communities and Local Government and, of course, the DWP. If only there were better work in the community for those children, how much better might their future be? Custody needs to be improved; no one would argue with that. There are too many in there and they are not receiving the right treatment. Finally, there is the all-important transition back into the community which, again, requires every ministry to work together.

Those two particulars are currently needed even more than when the Secretary of State launched his strategy in 2012. Although the intent was there, what worries me is that I do not see the concerted effort of the Government to acknowledge that the principles enunciated to enable those things to happen—and for the disadvantaged people whose lives are put at risk by what is not happening—are not being improved in the way that they should be.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, for raising the matter in this House and commend her consistent service to the lives of those who are disadvantaged. It is a real pleasure to take part in a social justice debate. The concept of social justice is not new. I kept thinking, what have I missed? I remembered the Commission on Social Justice, which was supported by the right honourable John Smith and even the right honourable Tony Blair. I remember doing quite a lot of work on the front line in enabling so-called engagement at the time in social justice and some of the contributions that the organisations were making in Tower Hamlets and Newham.

When the social justice strategy was published in 2012, it devoted a long chapter to how work could transform the prospect of the 120,000 so-called “troubled families” it identified—I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, and am deeply troubled by the concept of so-called “troubled families”. I hope that we will move away from that term as we continue to pursue their well-being. The strategy spoke of the “complex and interlinking disadvantages” facing one person named Barry, whose parents were drug addicts and who came to be a child in care and then a man on drugs, on benefits and then, of course, in prison—an all too familiar picture of the cycle of deprivation of parental care, education, liberty and work. That cycle demands the early and repeated intervention of the state in order to disrupt it.

Barry’s is a tale of thousands in our country who are unfortunately caught up in the social welfare system. I know and have met many such individuals throughout my 30 years at the coalface of the community work and the social work profession, and through my work with an organisation called Addaction leading the “Breaking the Cycle” project. I commend its work to your Lordships’ House and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, that we need to ensure that we work with some of the amazing, long-standing and dedicated community organisations to have a response to some of the issues that we have all raised today.

State-sponsored intervention to reduce the problems of people with multiple related disadvantages in order to break the cycle of deprivation is a worthy ambition, yet I would argue that precisely the opposite has been happening in this country. The erosion of safety nets, designed to catch people before they fall into such cycles of deprivation, followed the publication of this strategy. In particular, the outlook for the disabled has not improved one iota as a result of this strategy.

The incidence of disability is, in the Government’s own terms, higher among these 120,000 so-called “troubled families” than in the less troubled strata of society. Research suggests that children with special educational needs and disabilities are more likely to encounter family breakdown, poverty and the criminal justice and residential care systems, as well as having NEET status. Yet the state’s protection for those with a learning disability, or indeed any sort of disability, was virtually absent from the strategy—except perhaps for references to disability. It is as if they are self-created and not framed in a context of deprivation and poverty, a context that has in many cases been worsened by the initiatives of this Government. Disability should not correlate to “troubled” or “deprived” in and of itself; it exists in all communities and classes—it occurs in rich families, poor ones and black, white and Asian ones. Yet an absence of early intervention to protect people with multiple protected characteristics belies this fact.

Without taking into account the interlinking disadvantages that some disabled people face, we cannot break the connection between disability and deprivation. Take the still misunderstood but widespread condition of autism, a spectrum disorder thought to affect one in 100 people. Autism can present significant communication, social and behavioural challenges. It occurs across classes and socioeconomic groups, although in more men than women. Yet the Government have conceded that autism in black, Asian and minority ethnic families is underdiagnosed in this country. A similar trend has been identified with respect to mental health, as has been mentioned.

Research has also shown that the prospects of autistic children with educated, white mothers are significantly better than those whose mothers are not white and educated—and I can easily testify to this, over a period spanning 30 years, as a mother whose autistic son faced huge prejudice and barriers to opportunities and access to mainstream services because he and I were not. I take no comfort in saying that, more recently, I have spoken to British born-and-bred mothers from minority backgrounds and the organisations that work with them, who have described facing horrifically similar experiences to those of my son and me all those years ago.

I fail to understand how independent evidence collected by independent organisations such as the Runnymede Trust and the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign, exposing correlating, overlapping disadvantage, would not point policymakers inexorably towards targeted intervention. In the incidence of autism, it is needed to correct underdiagnosis and the consequential lack of specialist support for families from particular BME backgrounds.

The social justice strategy acknowledges:

“We know that individuals and families facing multiple disadvantages do not always get the support they need, when they need it”.

Yet, with conditions such as autism, no research has been commissioned to so much as understand the extent of social injustice on the grounds of race and ethnicity—injustice that means that an autistic child born black will probably be less successful than another born white and will be left alone to tackle this inequality as we allow the marginalised or vulnerable to disappear from view and fend for themselves. The self-confessed failure of the social justice strategy to address disadvantages that are exacerbated by factors such as ethnicity, gender or disability has diminished this impact. My question is: how does the Minister intend to promote social justice for disabled people from BME backgrounds, and others who are not, who suffer multiple disadvantages as a result of their disabilities?

I turn to the subject of employment. Although the strategy outlined initiatives to support disabled people into work, it was silent on the measures that the Government would take to protect people who are unable to work and their families. The years since the strategy was published have not been kind to such families, with the proliferation of “scrounger” labels and associated stigma as the Government have sought to justify their chaotic implementation of the work capability assessment by ATOS. Last year I was involved in the work undertaken by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Disability, which undertook a commission and highlighted serious concerns about these assessments. I would be interested to hear from the Minister how these have been addressed since.

The strategy states its commitment to,

“offering unconditional support to those who are severely disabled and cannot work”,

but the Government’s own welfare policies have rendered that support far from unconditional. The welfare system should not only offer financial support to ensure a minimum standard of living but offer universal and specialist social care, health and education services to tackle those barriers to attainment. It is a matter of social justice and economic literacy that there have been too many morbid cases recently of people who are unable to work languishing in penury.

If social justice is truly a priority for the Government, why have they been withdrawing the disabled living allowance from disabled and vulnerable people to so egregious an extent that at one stage around half of all appeals were successful? When unconditional support was promised to the severely disabled in the social justice strategy, how can the Government justify their decision to scrap the Independent Living Fund that supported them? If the strategy had any weight in the coalition today, how could the Chancellor of the Exchequer pledge to withdraw housing benefit for young people under 25 who were unfortunate enough to be born poor and, in some cases, were seeking to escape their troubled families and the cycle of deprivation outlined in the strategy? If the Conservative Party wins the general election, what will it do differently?

There is no social justice without protection for the poor and vulnerable. Taking people out of poverty cannot simply mean pushing fragile people into unpaid and low-paid unsustainable jobs. Social justice also requires ending the stigma, heartlessness and bureaucratic incompetences that have led to the penalising of disadvantaged families, and ending the withdrawal of benefits from ill men and women such as Mark Wood and Linda Wootton weeks before their deaths. In the years before and since the social justice strategy was published, the Government’s deficit reduction programme and the euphemistic mantra of ensuring,

“a fair deal for the taxpayer”,

have caused disproportionate suffering to the vulnerable, particularly disruption to the provision of disabled benefits, ignoring the needs of those very people with complex and interlinking disadvantages that the strategy sought to protect.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness who secured this debate today. It is highly significant and very apt. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely on an excellent maiden speech, which promises further interesting observations from the Bishops’ Bench.

In introducing the debate, the noble Baroness mentioned IDS—we know whom we are talking about—and his social justice committee. She went on, very well, to mention leadership, the devolution of responsibility for providing social justice, government support to local areas, government impact and the effects of welfare reform. We fought those battles for quite a long time on welfare reform, and we managed to stop some of the worst aspects of it. The key phrase I got from the noble Baroness was “listening to people”. That was spot on. It has certainly made an impact. I take the point of the view, and I think my party also takes the point of view, that the alleged social justice committee set up by the coalition Government has at its heart the wrong attitude. It is not its intention, but it has at its heart the demonisation of people on benefits. It puts them into separate categories that need to be looked at separately and given special help and all the rest of it. The phrase that came to my mind in listening to the noble Baroness’s speech was a well worn phrase from Labour Party history: it seems to me that at the heart of this social justice strategy is the image of a “desiccated calculating machine”, because there are calculations rather than taking any account of people. The intentions might be good, but we have to look at how it is operating.

I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. He is an expert on this. If ever I come across the person who caused the young Archie Kirkwood to leave the Young Socialists, I will have something to say to them because it was certainly our loss. He mentioned in particular—I was nodding vigorously—that the referendum in Scotland showed the alienation of people towards the establishment, for want of a better description. I was included. I have never been called an establishment figure before. There was certainly alienation towards the establishment. Between Mr Salmond and Mr Farage, the word “Westminster” has become an epithet to be dismissed. “He’s from Westminster” is almost an insult. If that alienation is not tackled by all of us, it will lead to further trouble. That alienation applies in England and Wales, not just Scotland. It had its focal point in Scotland because of the referendum. That alienation has to be tackled in social justice. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, also mentioned honesty from political parties and illustrated that. Hitherto, there have not been very many votes in telling people that they are going to be worse off. A change of priorities is called for.

A lot of people know that I am not a bleeding heart liberal. I take quite a hard line on various matters such as welfare reform, fraudulent social claims and all the rest of it. But unless we have a step change in how the country is run, there will be continuing problems. There are a number of steps that the Labour Party has decided on which will institute change, I hope, but at the same time will use fiscal authority and fiscal common sense to make sure that the country does not spend money that it has not got. For instance, we will agree and impose a cap on the total social security bill. We have got to come up with a series of measures which guarantee social justice in this country. I have looked at the Library Note and heard the absolutely classic dissection by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, which was very informed, and, quite frankly and unfortunately, unless there is a step change by the Government, I do not see the strategy succeeding.

That brings me to something I have to say which addresses a gap here today. Will the Minister do the courtesy of informing the House why the noble Lord, Lord Freud, is not in his place? I mean no disrespect to the Minister, but under his ministerial brief he has no responsibility for the report being discussed. I appreciate that, formally, all Ministers speak on behalf of the Government, but this issue is not an area of expertise known to the Minister opposite. In the recent broadcast of the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Freud, at the Conservative Party conference, he said he would take away the idea of paying people with a disability £2 an hour, a reduction in the minimum wage. Did the noble Lord, Lord Freud, or his department carry out any work on that proposal? Can the Minister confirm or otherwise whether the noble Lord, Lord Freud, is still a member of Her Majesty’s Government?

I am not into witch hunts or personal malice; I enjoy a robust but friendly relationship with the noble Lord, Lord Freud. However, we have at the heart of the Government—at the heart of the department in charge of social justice and social security—a Minister who has made a statement about people with a disability which even the Deputy Prime Minister says is completely unacceptable. As long as the Government continue to have at their heart a Minister who has held and displayed those points of view, there will be no credibility for him in this House if he continues in his role.

I think the noble Lord knows that all Ministers speak on behalf of the Government, of which the party opposite is constantly reminding us. This is, in fact, a cross-department matter. As the noble Lord has heard today, many of the points made—I would perhaps say the majority—relate to education matters, which are at the core of our social justice policy. My noble friend Lord Freud has apologised, and there has been no work on any of the background to the question that he was asked about the Department for Work and Pensions.

I am grateful for those partial answers. I thought that I had finished speaking, but I am more than happy to take another couple of minutes. I am grateful for the limited response so far, but that does not explain why the noble Lord, Lord Freud, is not here. I ask again for a full and concise—if that is possible—explanation as to why he is not here.

I am sorry; I did not appreciate that I was up and that the noble Lord had in fact finished. I think that I have answered the question concisely.

I start by thanking my noble friend Lady Tyler for so eloquently opening the debate on this very important strategy and our underlying ethos. Social justice is at the heart of this Government’s work. We have a two-pronged approach: education and welfare reform. These are the only ways that we can break—

I think that I must continue. These are the only ways in which we can break that dreadful cycle of generational unemployment and/or family breakdown to which many noble Lords have referred. That is why this Government have the biggest programme of educational reform for 70 years in train, and substantial welfare reforms under way.

Over the course of this Parliament my department has brought in a substantial number of reforms to support better educational outcomes for all children, but particularly for the most disadvantaged. We have introduced the pupil premium to ensure that the most disadvantaged children realise their potential. Funding for this will reach £2.5 billion in the coming year: £1,300 for primary pupils, £935 for secondary, and £1,900 for looked-after children. More children from deprived backgrounds than ever before will benefit from free childcare at the same time as we strengthen the quality of early years education. From this September, every pupil in reception, year 1 and year 2 will receive free school meals, which will make a huge difference to ensuring that every child, regardless of family circumstances, is ready to learn.

Noble Lords will know how passionate I am about the academy and free schools programme. We have created more than 1,000 new sponsored academies, turning around schools that had previously been failing for years and which often serve the most deprived communities. We have approved 363 new free schools, including 39 alternative provision schools, 22 special schools, 56 university technical colleges and 46 studio schools. When open, those will provide 250,000 new places in total, the vast majority of which are in places of need. Some 25% of open free schools have been judged outstanding, making them our top performing group of non-selective schools.

We are also reforming the curriculum and exams, both academic and vocational. Increasingly schools are doing more EBacc subjects, giving pupils, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, the essential cultural capital they need, given that they do not get it at home. We have dramatically overhauled vocational qualifications and substantially expanded and improved apprenticeships. We are reforming teacher training with far more of it conducted in school. We have introduced bursaryships into teacher recruitment, and have introduced phonics into primary schools. We are also investing in the school estate and are arresting the sharp decline in our relative educational performance that took place in the first decade of this century.

I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely on his excellent maiden speech and thank him for all the work he does in support of social justice, but particularly in the field of education, with academies and in general, and I wish him well in his new position as chair of the National Society. The church’s contribution to education in this country is long-standing, very substantial and highly impactful, as it is of course in its work on poverty in general.

So far as welfare is concerned, at the beginning of this Parliament it was clear that a new approach to supporting the most disadvantaged individuals in society was needed. Too many people spent their lives moving between different support mechanisms, never receiving the support to make a long-standing difference to their life. Too many people were faced with multiple barriers to improving; for example, poor education and lack of skills, drug or alcohol addiction, a criminal record, lack of stable family support, no stable home, problem debt and health problems. Those problems do not exist independently of each other. They can interact, and together create a vicious cycle which is hard to break out of. The piecemeal approach of the past did not effectively tackle the multiple problems people face, so this Government wanted to look for new ways to tackle these issues. We wanted to deliver real and sustained change.

First, we recognised that this was not something that could be solved by central government alone—the old top-down approach had not worked. We needed to involve local authorities, the voluntary sector and business; in other words, we needed a community-based approach. We needed to ensure that we got value for money—we knew that large sums had been wasted in this area in the past. We had to build an evidence base of which interventions work, solutions had to be on a payment-by-results basis, and we had to measure the progress we made against key indicators.

Most importantly, our reforms needed to achieve a long-lasting recovery rather than management of entrenched problems. That meant looking for and treating the cause of the problems rather than the symptoms. It also means intervening early in people’s lives to prevent problems in the first place. For example, we can work with a drug user to help them tackle their addiction. However, to turn their life around we need to ensure that they have stable housing and the skills to find employment, and we need to tackle other underlying health problems. Without that rounded support it is unlikely that an individual will be able to make a long-standing change to their life. We are delivering the strategy through growing the social investment market, using payment-by-results models and collaborating with local authorities, the voluntary sector and employers. These are not easy problems to tackle and there is no quick fix; making our vision a reality will take time. However, we have made great progress towards our goals. Our first progress report was published in April 2013. This autumn we will publish the second social justice progress report, giving details of how we are implementing the strategy and our achievements so far. This November also sees our third annual social justice conference. This brings together delegates from government, the private sector, the voluntary sector and most importantly the people whose lives we are transforming to work together to deliver social justice.

I will give a few examples of the progress we have made across the social justice strategy. The family environment is the foundation of a child’s life and we are committed to supporting safe and loving family relationships. Relationship support policy is being brought under one department, with DWP investing £30 million to successfully deliver marriage preparation, couple counselling and relationship education. However, when relationships break down, we are trying to minimise the negative impacts on children by promoting more collaboration. The child maintenance system has been reformed to encourage separated couples to agree their own arrangements and reduce disputes.

In relation to child maintenance, has the Minister seen that the first results of the applications that have come in since charging began earlier this year indicate a drop of 38% in parents pursuing formal applications? The Government thought that it would be 12%. Is that not something of deep concern as it will exacerbate child poverty?

My noble friend makes a particular point on a particular statistic. I shall take it away and write to him.

With the new Children and Families Act we are introducing a requirement to consider mediation before taking action through the courts. There is also better access to information for couples through the Sorting out Separation online service. Care leavers are at an increased risk of falling into a cycle of disadvantage, given the lack of support as they move into adulthood. JCP can now identify care leavers in the benefit system and offer more tailored support through earlier referral to the Work Programme. Following the launch of the first ever cross-government care leaver strategy in 2013, a further One Year On report will be published on 29 October and will set out how each department has met its milestones and what more will be done to continue the push for better services for care leavers. As part of care leavers week later this month, Ministers and care leavers will be undertaking exchange visits. These types of activities help to bring the voice of the people closer to policy-making. That is so important, as my noble friend Lady Tyler has said.

Earlier this year, it was my privilege to lead the Children and Families Bill, now an Act, through this House, a key plank of which was the new “staying put” duty on local authorities. It will mean that young people in foster placements can continue to live with their former foster carers beyond the age of 18, when that is what they both want to do, providing them with the opportunity to experience the stability and security of family life enjoyed by their peers.

Social justice is underpinned by work. This is the best route out of poverty. Work increases self-esteem; introduces routine into what can be chaotic lives; the individual becomes a valued member of society rather than sitting on the fringe, and they are a role model for their children. Work can replace the vicious cycle of disadvantage with a virtuous one. DWP’s innovation fund is working with 14,200 young people who are already or are at risk of becoming NEETs to improve their lifetime employment prospects. Each month’s labour market statistics bring new records. Employment is at a record high, with 30.8 million people in work. Unemployment fell by more than 500,000 on the year, the largest annual fall on record. The unemployment rate is at its lowest since 2008. Long-term unemployment, for those out of work for more than 12 months, is down 194,000 on the year, and 77,000 since 2010. The number of workless households is down over 400,000 since 2010 and that rate is now the lowest on record. In the past, the welfare system has been a barrier to people moving into work. Universal credit will restore the incentive to make the step into work, and to progress once there. It will remove the gap between out-of-work and in-work support. The Work Programme is providing specialist support for those furthest away from the labour market. So far, it has helped 330,000 people into sustained employment.

The Government are also providing support to make a sustained change to the lives of the most disadvantaged adults. Transforming Rehabilitation is changing the way the Government are working with offenders. Every offender released from custody will receive supervision and rehabilitation in the community. We are working in prisons to improve the prospects for offenders when they leave prison. Prisoners receive training aligned with employers’ needs, and advice from National Careers Service advisers. My noble friend Lady Tyler raised the question of a breathing space for those in debt. We support the principle of ensuring that people who fall into difficulties are given time to get back on their feet. The FCA has stringent rules about forbearance and how people in financial difficulties are treated. We have taken firm action to tackle those lenders who are exploiting those in difficulty. In April this year, the FCA took over responsibility for regulating all consumer credit firms, including payday lenders. It has demonstrated that it will take tough action, with Wonga recently being made to write off more than £200 million worth of unaffordable debts.

To deliver long-lasting outcomes for disadvantaged people, we need to engage locally with the people best placed to deliver real change. This is why we introduced social impact bonds, with the UK being a world leader in this area. In 2010, there was just one social impact bond, now there are 17. My noble friend Lord Kirkwood talked about social investment, which has grown over recent years. The social investment market was worth £200 million in 2012. Big Society Capital was also launched in 2012 with £600 million of funding to be both an investor in and a champion of the social investment market. We also established the Centre for Social Impact Bonds within the Cabinet Office in 2012 to encourage innovation in public service delivery, grow the social investment market and build an evidence base of what works.

Government will continue to work with localities to identify gaps in the national welfare system and reduce or remove duplication or fragmentation. Government will work with local enterprise partnerships to support their plans to strengthen their local economy by developing a response to the question of how integrating local services across geographical areas can provide value for money and improve outcomes for claimant groups.

Good evidence and data are essential to tackling social problems. The Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing, an innovative collaboration between central and local government, has been set up to break down the practical barriers to information sharing and is working across a number of areas, including troubled families, welfare reform and justice, to achieve practical, on-the-ground solutions to break down information sharing barriers.

My noble friend Lady Tyler has raised some very important points today about listening to the voices of people with multiple needs and making local areas accountable for delivering effective, joined-up services. She also suggests building on the troubled families model with a troubled individuals programme and working with the voluntary sector. We will consider these points carefully. I will take this opportunity to say a little about the Troubled Families programme, which is an example of where the partnership between central and local government is helping to turn around the lives of 120,000 families with severe problems and multiple needs, thereby reducing the cost to the taxpayer. Working with local authorities, we are now helping 110,000 of the most troubled families in England. Of these, nearly 53,000 have had their lives turned around thanks to the intensive and practical approach. In August, we announced an expansion of the programme to an additional 400,000 families. The Department for Work and Pensions will double the number of specialist employment advisers—

Will the Minister kindly give us the definition of a troubled family whose life has been turned around? I think that he mentioned a figure of 53,000. What exactly is the proof that 53,000 families’ lives have been turned around?

If I cannot provide the noble Lord with an answer before I finish speaking, I will write to him.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro mentioned that we have more than 100,000 young carers. I know all too well from my work in schools that too often we struggle to get pupils on residentials because of their duties caring both for adults and siblings. Sadly, home life has collapsed in recent decades for many children. We need to educate these children, supported by welfare reforms, out of this dreadful cycle. I agree with the right reverend Prelate’s good points about the glue of justice.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, developed the right reverend Prelate’s thoughts in relation to disadvantaged families and breaking the cycle. I agree entirely. Character development and bringing up our pupils in schools to be part of a happy family is a subject dear to my heart and to that of the Secretary of State for Education. We are encouraging and setting expectations for all schools that soft skills, character development, grit and resilience are essential parts of school life. It is increasingly prevalent in the academies movement. The noble Lord mentioned boarding, and we are keen to ensure that more local authorities see this as a real option.

My noble friend Lady Tyler asked about the impact of welfare reform in relation to the Cabinet committee. It considers many different government policies, including welfare reform, disadvantaged people and how to join up policy to support those with multiple disadvantage.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, talked about regular SLCN assessment. We discussed this as some length during the passage of the Children and Families Bill. I can assure the noble Lord that the Government share his aim of identifying SLC needs as early as possible. We believe that our reforms are designed to do that. We are, of course, reforming assessment in primary schools in particular, and ensuring that all schools have proper baseline tests to benefit all pupils. Our phonics reforms are having a substantial impact on pupils’ word-reading skills.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord that many people in youth custody lack basic skills and present with insufficient outcomes. I know that he has concerns about this model but we hope that with our EHC plans the principal of the secure college with an SEN-qualified co-ordinator will help the matter. He talked about gang advisers and the good work of the St Giles Trust on recreating a good family. I entirely agree with him. I will pass his points about the criminal justice system on to that department, as well as his points about cross-departmental work. I am sure that he will be pleased to hear that this Government have narrowed the gap in attainment for children who have free school meals.

The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, referred to the outlook for the disabled. We have seen 116,000 more disabled people in work in the past year alone. We are spending £50 billion a year on disability benefits and services—more than the previous Government. Our SEN reforms, I hope, will substantially improve the outlook for all children with SEN, from whatever background, including those with autism.

To close, I thank my noble friend Lady Tyler for bringing this debate to the House. I congratulate again the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely on his excellent and eloquent maiden speech. Social justice is about transforming the lives of the most disadvantaged people in society and is at the core of this Government’s reform. It is about intervening early to prevent problems becoming entrenched in the first place. We are working with local government and the voluntary and private sectors to provide the rounded support that individuals need to turn their lives around. Many interesting points have been raised and I thank all noble Lords and noble friends for their contributions to the debate.

Before the noble Lord sits down, will he please respond to point that my noble friend Lord McAvoy made? Where is the noble Lord, Lord Freud? Why is he not here today? My Question this morning was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Newby. There must be a reason why the noble Lord, Lord Freud, is not here. Please answer the question. I refer the noble Lord, Lord Nash, who refused my intervention earlier, to paragraph 4.31 of the Companion.

I think that I answered the question, which I was asked to answer concisely. As to the intervention, the clerk indicated to me that I did not have to give way.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in today’s debate. Despite falling in what was described earlier as the graveyard slot, it has been an excellent debate. It has been wide-ranging, as befits the subject matter. We have covered many items and areas, but those that particularly stand out are: the imperative of ensuring that every child and young person in this country, irrespective of background, receives the best start in life; the importance of prevention and early intervention; breaking the cycle of disadvantage; and the fact that social justice benefits everyone in society.

Another very interesting thrust of the discussion was—at a time when there is such deep disaffection with political institutions—the importance of this House and other parts of the political infrastructure having these sorts of debate and recognising that really courageous political leadership will be needed across the political spectrum if we are to address some of these issues. Some people talked about demonising; others talked about the “undeserving poor”. It is going to be ever more important that we are prepared to discuss these issues in the run-up to the election. This House has a very important contribution to make to that debate.

Finally, I thank the Minister for agreeing to consider further the three main policy ideas and proposals that I put forward. I fully accept that the title “troubled families for individuals” is not the right one for the programme. I was trying to get the concept across, but I am sure that there are many people who can suggest better ideas than that. I look forward to working up those ideas further with the Government and other noble Lords. Thank you very much indeed, and I would particularly like to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely for his excellent maiden speech.

Motion agreed.