Question for Short Debate
My Lords, this is the first debate that I have spoken in with the noble Lord, Lord Prior, and I welcome him, rather belatedly. I refer to my interests in the register. I am also grateful to other noble Lords for agreeing to speak in this debate, given the lateness of its timetabling only last Thursday.
I begin by reminding noble Lords that most factors that influence child and adolescent physical and mental health lie outside the health sector and that a preventive approach is essential to secure the best outcomes. Health outcomes, social achievement and resilience in adult life are largely set during the developmental period: in the first 18 years of life and particularly in the first 1,001 critical days from conception to age two. Even before conception, maternal behaviour can have long-term consequences for a child’s health and well-being. I am thinking here, for example, of foetal alcohol syndrome, which is the leading preventable cause of disability in children, and the need for women to be better informed and to discontinue drinking alcohol before conception. At the moment, government advice on the matter of alcohol in pregnancy is less than clear.
I would like assurances from the Minister about three key issues, which interweave with the other issues that I will go on to discuss. First, will the Minister assure the House that the Government intend to improve the collection of outcome data, including a child-led outcomes framework such as that requested by the Coram Foundation? This would enable us to better understand the scale of the problem, to plan services and to monitor progress. It would also allow children, young people and carers to express the outcomes that matter to them, because they are the recipients of care.
Secondly, will the Minister commit to focusing on preventive measures in all policy relating to children and young people? This should be targeted both at high-risk individuals and families and at a public health level, because this matters to all children and young people.
Thirdly, will the Government invest in early intervention systems and strategies in both physical and mental health? When things start to go wrong, there is less distance to travel back to wellness and health than once a chronic condition has set in. We see this all too frequently in child and adolescent mental health services—CAMHS—and with childhood obesity.
The BMA has called on the UK Government to adopt a “health in all policies” approach, whereby health is incorporated into all their decision-making areas. I ask for this to always include a particular focus on the 25% of the population who are children and young people, even where a policy may, on the surface, seem to relate only to adults. The BMA has highlighted that austerity measures and welfare reform disproportionately affect families and children. Disabled children feel the effects even more. Is it not time that the impact of austerity and funding cuts on the availability of children’s health services should be objectively monitored?
We know that childhood poverty has a significant negative impact on children’s longer-term mental and physical health life path. We also know that at least half of all mental illness starts by the age of 14 and probably more than three-quarters by the age of 24. The total economic and social cost of mental health problems in England alone is estimated to be £105 billion, and mental health problems are the leading cause of sickness absence in the UK. With such a clear link, it seems unfathomable that 3.5 million children live in poverty in the UK, according to Barnardo’s.
The BMA Board of Science report, Growing Up in the UK, published two years ago, advocated a life-course approach to child health where health and well-being are integrated on a continuum. As I said, this begins prior to conception, by ensuring the optimum health for the mother, and runs through to adolescence. The report made a wide range of recommendations that remain relevant, including that there should be an annual report on the health of the nation’s children with accountability at ministerial level for children’s health and well-being. Are the Government planning to develop a national children and young people’s health strategy, as recommended even more recently in the 2014-15 report of the Children and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum? I should express a little disappointment that the Five Year Forward View hardly mentions children in any of the areas identified as a priority.
Secondly, the BMA report stressed that children’s services should be family centred, with a focus on the importance of parenting and treating the child and family as a unit. The Department of Health’s own report, Future in Mind, advised evidence-based programmes of intervention and support to strengthen attachment between parent and child, avoid trauma, build resilience and improve behaviour. I am pleased that there is increasing recognition from Government on this issue of early years intervention. The cross-party manifesto The 1001 Critical Days places an emphasis on pre-conception until the second birthday as a period to dramatically improve outcomes in childhood. I hope the Minister will support its recommendations.
Prevention is always better than cure, but it also worth noting that infants, children and young people regularly use NHS services and account for about two-fifths of a typical GP’s workload. I will use mental health and obesity as two examples where early intervention should be prioritised once things start to go wrong.
Parity of esteem with respect to mental and physical health should be aimed for with children and adolescents just as much as with adults. Remember, there is no health without mental health and separating the two just does not work and is not cost effective. Considerable investment in child and adolescent mental health services will be needed to ensure sufficient specialist counsellors are available locally. Freedom of information requests by the charity Young Minds found that more than half of councils in England cut or froze budgets for CAMHS between 2010 and 2015. That had a detrimental effect on the early intervention and prevention capacity of child and adolescent mental health services. Cutting their budgets means that the threshold for treatment has become much higher and many CAMHS must now concentrate on acute crises in adolescents and have little capacity for family interventions with younger children with severe emotional and behavioural disturbance. That goes against all the advice coming from the professional bodies and the Department of Health.
Despite having one of the most advanced health systems in the world, child physical health outcomes in the UK are among the poorest in western Europe. If we compare ourselves with Sweden, the country with the lowest mortality for children and young people after controlling for population size among other variables, we find in the UK that every day five children under the age of 14 die who would not die in Sweden. That equates to the alarming figure of 132,874 person years of life lost each year in the UK, the majority of which would be as healthy adults contributing to the country’s social and economic strength.
Childhood obesity is another key area where preventive work in physical health needs to take priority, as it also causes diabetes and heart disease. The BMA and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have expressed serious concern about the rapid rise in rates of obesity. A new BMA report to be called “Food for Thought: Promoting Healthy Diets among Children and Young People” will be published later this month. The report will call for the appointment by government of one person to drive a co-ordinated obesity prevention strategy. I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to widely supported recommendations that a strong regulatory framework should be central to the approach to reducing the burden of diet-related ill-health in the UK.
The Prime Minister publicly expressed his concerns over the commercialisation of childhood and commissioned the Mothers’ Union to report on it. The report by Reg Bailey Bye Buy Childhood generated considerable media coverage, with many commentators expressing serious concern over the targeting of children for commercial benefit. Children and young people, as well as adults with learning disabilities, are particularly exposed and vulnerable to a range of food and drink marketing tactics.
While there have been some notable improvements in measured health outcomes for children and young people over recent years, the evidence is telling us that the rate of improvement is slower than it should be. The infrastructure for the delivery of clinical research in the UK is unparalleled internationally. However, the RCPCH report Turning the Tide identifies a continuing imbalance between research that targets adults and research that addresses the needs of infants, children and young people and calls for an increase in the number of child health research posts in the UK and a designated fund for child health research which must address mental and physical health.
Safeguarding has two meanings in this debate, one being the need to safeguard health outcomes, but it would be strange for me not to mention child protection concerns. So many children in the UK have been sexually abused. It is shocking that the scale of child abuse of all forms led to the need for the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. This issue requires a debate all of its own to cover it adequately, but given the Prime Minister’s launch of a child protection task force, will the Minister commit to commissioning and introducing a standardised, compulsory multiprofessional safeguarding training programme for all professionals working with children and families across health and social care? This would need to have a centralised government point of accountability to prevent the fragmentation of responsibility caused by mandated responsibility written into the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
In closing, I will summarise my key areas of concern: outcome data relevant to children and young people are needed to allow us to assess the scale of the problem and track progress; preventive measures, beginning before conception, are needed in all policy decisions that affect children and young people, regardless of government department; and we need a commitment to early intervention strategies where there is evidence things are going wrong. While healthcare professionals clearly have a key role to play in improving child health, it also requires political will and leadership. With concerted action from government, we could make health outcomes for children and young people comparable to the best in the world.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this important debate about children and young people’s physical and mental health. I hope I am not at risk of repeating some of the things that she said, but I hope she will take it as significant endorsement. I am not an expert on physical or mental health, but I have a lifelong interest in these issues, not least because I am a fellow of the Centre for Social Justice, which has spent more than 10 years researching the root causes of poverty and disadvantage.
These overlap to a very large extent with the root causes and effects of poor mental health. The National Audit Office has documented how young people who should be poised to make their mark on the labour market yet struggle with pronounced depression and anxiety are much more likely instead to be unemployed. Conversely, early episodes of unemployment can have lifelong effects not just on wages but on mental health. Working with Graham Allen MP, the Centre for Social Justice blazed an important trail in social policy by emphasising prevention rather than cure. The concept of early intervention when it is clear that deep and potentially intractable problems are brewing in a child or young person’s life is not rocket science but common sense, yet much government spending has been focused in the past on late intervention.
I am encouraged that there is cross-party consensus that that needs to change. Take the troubled families programme, for example, which built on Labour’s family intervention project pilots. The coalition Government estimated that £9 billion was spent per annum on disruptive and highly distressed families, but only £1 billion of that spend was helping them to turn their lives around and prevent further harm. The other £8 billion was used to mop up the mess: over three-quarters of a billion pounds was spent on health, for example, over £2.5 million on criminal justice and almost £4 million on safeguarding children and behavioural interventions in schools. And that was a conservative estimate: for example, the health spend did not take into account domestic violence and other A&E admissions, yet violence is a factor in around three-quarters of so-called troubled families.
While families in that category are in a small minority, the Government have recognised that many of the problems affect a large number of families, hence they have expanded the programme significantly. Surely they were influenced in doing so by the Riots, Communities and Victims Panel’s estimate that at least half a million families were teetering on the brink of considerable difficulties that were not simply financial.
All this is a preamble to my main point that if any Government are to safeguard the health and well-being of children and young people, they would do well to start with parents, strengthening and stabilising families and helping to prevent the relationships within them from breaking down. Government research shows that the poor outcomes of many children who experience family breakdown include poor mental and physical health, particularly depression, smoking, drinking and drug use in teenagers.
We know that a high number of under-18s cannot get local help when they experience a mental health crisis, further compounding their loneliness and difficulties. Either they are treated on adult psychiatric wards or they have to travel hundreds of miles across the country to receive hospital treatment. The Government and local health commissioners simply have to address this, but they also need to do far more to prevent mental health problems from arising in the first place.
Addressing our epidemic levels of family breakdown is vital. This is not an argument for families to stay together however abusive or conflictual the relationships within them, but it is a plea for recognition that adverse childhood experiences, many of which could have been prevented by working early with families, are like a child’s footprint in wet cement—they last a lifetime.
Standing back for a moment, it is important to acknowledge that families can greatly benefit society and boost a nation’s economic competitiveness, and to acknowledge the profound social and financial consequences when, for whatever reason, families fail. Family breakdown costs £48 billion per annum and disproportionately affects people in the poorest communities, where two-thirds of children do not grow up with both their parents, compared with two-fifths of children in more affluent areas, although that is still a high proportion.
So while I applaud the Government’s launch of a task force to improve the mental health and well-being of children and young people, I also want them to develop a robust and comprehensive range of family policies, and to appoint a family champion who will drive and sustain this agenda—a Secretary of State with clear accountability for families who has the resource and clout to drive through a programme to strengthen families, boost stability and uphold fatherhood and its importance. This range of family policies must support all the main functions of families: family formation, and separation when that is inevitable; relationships between parents; and economic support for child-rearing and caring for older people. The family test introduced in 2014 is a great start but, while this views all departments’ policies through a family impact lens, it reacts to what other departments propose rather than being proactive in strengthening families.
A lot is being done already in terms of childcare: the CANparent programme; the troubled families programme; 4,200 extra health visitors and the doubling of family nurse partnerships; shared parental leave; family-based arrangements in child maintenance; an additional 10,000 family mediations; the marriage allowance, which recognises interdependence within couples; and funding for relationship support. Coming down the tracks, this Government have promised to increase income tax thresholds, provide better mental health support in pregnancy and introduce better measures to eliminate child poverty by recognising the root causes of poverty, including family breakdown.
However, a truly comprehensive approach to strengthen the family and prevent relationship breakdown requires ensuring that a family strand runs though practically every area of government. For example, the MoJ should encourage parenting and relationship support in prisons. Robust research shows that when offenders leave prison and are in a good relationship, that can help them turn away from crime, and their children are less likely to suffer bereavement and loss if they come back into their lives with a better idea of how to be good parents. BIS needs to look closely at what Lloyds and other employers are doing with regard to employee webinars on parenting and couple relationships. Helping employees cope with family worries reduces absenteeism, so the Government should be encouraging employers to help pick up the tab for relationship support.
There are many other examples across government, hence the family champion need not be someone heading up a department for families but could be like the Cabinet Minister for Women and Equalities. Alongside their main departmental role they would spend time on this responsibility, with the necessary governmental structures in place to ensure that adequate attention was given to it. For example, there should be a statutory duty to report on the extent to which family stability has improved or worsened on their watch.
Adequate and appropriate healthcare services are essential, but the welfare society begins in the home, and in children’s earliest years. It is essential that we focus our efforts on families and take a preventive approach to reduce demand—and deep human misery.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, for introducing this debate. I hope she will forgive me, but given the other recent debates on children’s mental health, I feel that I have said all I need to say on that subject for the moment, so I will concentrate on children’s physical health, although I am of course well aware that there is a major link between the two.
There is good news and bad news about the health of our children in the UK. On the good side, according to research from the King’s Fund and the LGA, some damaging health behaviours among children have halved over the past 10 years, with fewer children taking drugs, smoking and drinking alcohol. This is particularly good news, because we know that half of the big adult health-risk factors are initiated in adolescence, so if we can nip it in the bud at that age, we will save lives and money. Smoking is still a big killer in this country and is a particularly large factor in health inequality. Alcohol, too, is particularly harmful to immature livers, and abuse of alcohol also leads to other risky behaviours, so a reduction there is also very good news. The finding about drugs may or may not take into account the so-called legal highs, because the finding was up to the year 2013, but any improvement is good. The paper does not postulate a reason for these improvements but it could have been caused by an improvement in the standard of PSHE in schools. I still regret the fact that this life-skills learning is not mandatory in all schools but I concede that the last Government put a great deal more emphasis on it and took some of the good advice offered by the PSHE Association.
On the other side of the balance we have rising childhood obesity, many children who do not take enough exercise—for various reasons, including lack of facilities—one of the poorest records on child mortality in Europe, far too many unwanted teenage pregnancies, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases among young people, and poor children who can have up to seven years’ shorter lifespan than their well-off counterparts down the road.
Let us talk about obesity. I will not repeat the many and varied serious disease risks that result from obesity. We need to invest in prevention. I am a firm believer that good health begins at home—as does poor health—and that it can be reinforced by schools. Indeed, it is wise for schools to care about their children’s mental and physical health, because they affect academic achievement. Therefore, if we are to have a long-term effect on the health of the population, we need to start, as many noble Lords have said, with the parents, before birth if possible. Again, there are considerable inequalities here. The percentage of premature and low birth-weight babies among deprived communities is much higher than among the higher demographic groups. Some of this, as we were told by Simon Stevens this morning at a seminar, is due to the higher incidence of smoking in pregnant women, but not all of it. Poor nutrition, stress and poor antenatal care are contributors. Stress is a killer and is particularly damaging to the brain development of young babies and children, especially if it is caused by domestic violence.
It is appalling that in this highly developed country, there are pregnant women who do not have access to good fresh food. There are food deserts: places where people cannot get to shops that sell good fresh food because there are none; moreover, they do not have the means of transport to get to one. The main problems, however, are the lack of cooking skills, and poverty. Cheap food tends to be highly calorific and low in nutrition. As we know, overweight mothers more often have overweight children—and so the cycle continues. I would like to see compulsory cooking lessons in schools and good-quality health education, through which children are taught how to eat well. Many schools have done really well on this. They have school meals staff who are passionate about providing fresh and nutritious food; in some places, they even grow it.
Of course, this requires leadership from head teachers, who have a lot of other things to worry about, but as I said, it pays dividends, because well-fed children learn better. That is why the Liberal Democrats in the last Government were keen to bring in free school meals for key stage 1 children. School meals in local authority schools have to be up to certain nutritional standards, which is why I want to ask the Minister why the Government do not insist that academy schools abide by these standards. Currently, they do not have to.
School food is particularly important for very poor families who may be in houses with poor cooking facilities, who may have had the electricity or gas cut off, who may be in bed-and-breakfast accommodation with no cooking facilities at all, and who may have chaotic lifestyles, meaning that the children do not have regular mealtimes. School food is therefore particularly important to poor children. We really need to pay attention to this issue for the sake of their future health.
You may ask why I am concentrating so much on food—apart from the fact that I like it. The reason is that if we instil healthy eating in children, we are carrying out a major preventive programme against heart disease, diabetes, strokes, musculoskeletal diseases and the rest. Given that resources are scarce and the population is both growing in number and ageing, this strikes me as common sense.
Let me turn from prevention to care. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, said, 40% of GP visits are made by children, so those who suffer most when it is hard to get a GP appointment are children. The Government have a commendable ambition to reduce weekend mortality by making primary care services available seven days a week, but if this is done without more resources, by spreading out what is already there, the result could be disastrous. I have already mentioned our poor child mortality figures. Like the noble Baroness, I was horrified to learn that every day in the UK, five children die who would not have died if we had the same child mortality figures as Sweden. Will the Minister look into this? That is five family tragedies every single day that could have been prevented. If they can do it in Sweden, why can we not do it here?
I am also concerned about services for children with physical and learning disabilities. In the last Parliament, Sarah Teather, as Children’s Minister, initiated education, health and care plans in an attempt to co-ordinate all those services around children. But many of these services are delivered by local government, and there have been many cuts to local government funding. I am therefore concerned that the thresholds above which children become entitled to such services may not be appropriate. Will the Minister say something about that?
Health inequality is worse in this country than in many other developed countries, so we need to focus on child poverty and scrutinise every statement from the Chancellor about taxes and benefits, asking what effect they have on the health of our children. Will the Families Minister be doing this tomorrow, when the Chancellor announces his Budget? I doubt it but I shall be pleasantly surprised if the Minister assures me in a few minutes that she will.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and particularly her words on the physical health of children. She reminded me of the importance of my parents to my physical health—and not only genetically. My mother used to take us for two-hour walks across Hampstead Heath. I also remember my father’s hand on my back when I learned how to cycle, pushing me forward and helping me to balance. He taught me to swim and we would go swimming together. He taught me to play tennis and we would play tennis together. So I think that we need to reach the parents, as they probably have the most influence on our children’s physical health—which may be one of the most difficult things to influence. Of course we need to try in schools but we also need to begin at the beginning with parents.
I went ice-skating over the weekend and asked whether there were any family concessions. The answer was no. Part of this strategy, which I hope the Minister will talk about and perhaps write to us about, is asking how to get fathers-for-free passes for leisure activities so that they can engage in them with young people. It would strengthen their relationship with their children and also be a good model for healthy activity. So I was grateful for what the noble Baroness said about that.
I will speak a little more about the importance of strong families in terms of the mental and physical health of children. In particular, I want to talk about father-daughter relationships. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, covered this, but I would be grateful to hear the Government’s strategy for families, and particularly for engaging fathers in families. Perhaps the Minister would write to me about that.
I want to say a few words about the mental health of looked-after children. I remind your Lordships of a report produced last month by the Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers. There have been a couple of recent reports on the mental health of looked-after children and the key themes are the importance of stable relationships with these children when they come into care and the importance of recognising their need to recover from early trauma. Enver Solomon, one of the co-directors of the alliance, is quoted as saying:
“Ultimately, the care system should help children overcome their past experience and forge the lasting and positive relationships that we know are vital”,
to their future well-being.
The NSPCC produced a report yesterday on the emotional well-being of children in care. In the executive summary are five key points, the first of which is to:
“Embed an emphasis on emotional wellbeing throughout the system”.
The report goes on to develop that idea, saying that a key part of the job of foster carers and residential childcare workers should be helping young people to recover from their earlier trauma.
The fourth of the five key points is that we should support and sustain children’s relationships. A key means by which these children can recover from early trauma is by having strong relationships with their foster carers, their residential childcare workers and their teachers. Today I met a few young people in care. I heard from Ethan, who is a 10 year-old. He was complaining about the number of different social workers that he has experienced, and which other young people are still experiencing. I also heard from a 10 year-old girl who expressed concern about the number of changes of foster placements for young people in care. When we mentioned to her the very welcome introduction of the Staying Put scheme, she wanted to be reassured that many young people would now be able to stay with their foster carer from the beginning of their time in care to the age of 21, as Staying Put allows. So young people in care also believe that this is the right thing.
The Future in Mind report on child and adolescent mental health support services looks at the care of the most vulnerable children. I want to highlight to the Minister and your Lordships a key passage in the report. Paragraph 6.9, “A consultation and liaison mental health model”, is a bit jargony, I am afraid, but I will quote a little from it:
“Applying an approach whereby specialist services are available to provide advice, rather than to see those who need help directly to advise on concerns about mental health … is already best practice in some areas … Consultation and liaison teams can be used to help staff working with those with highly complex needs”.
Let me give an example of that. Kent, for instance, offers that kind of support to groups of its foster carers. A very experienced clinician will work with groups of foster carers. They may present a particular child and talk about them, share that experience with the group and then the clinician will facilitate the group.
Another example is my experience of 11 or 12 years ago, when I was told that there was a very effective hostel for young people in Olympia—effective in terms of keeping young people off the streets. I went along to visit Lydia Beckler, the manager of that hostel. She said that a clinician—a child and adolescent psychotherapist—visited the home every two weeks and the staff had a couple of hours with them to present a child to the group and get the clinician’s input. She said that the secret of their success was that kind of support.
It was a Centrepoint organisation—a large organisation for vulnerable young people—and these staff were working with perhaps the most challenging young people in the whole of the organisation. Miraculously—perhaps not so miraculously—they had the lowest sickness absence rates in the organisation. It supports the staff and helps them to be resilient in the face of very challenging young people. One young woman there had an unmentionable number of scars on her wrists from self-harm. These were really troubled, difficult young people, supported well.
Unfortunately, that kind of approach is so vulnerable, and it was lost to that particular institution after a couple of years because of financial worries. It seems costly to have staff spend time away from clients to sit with the clinician and think about what needs to be done. In fact, it is very efficient. In terms of making the best use of scarce CAMHS resources, having a clinician supporting the staff in that way enables them to make the right choices about when to refer children to more intensive services. I commend that to the Minister and to your Lordships as an approach.
Moving on—I am aware of the shortage of time—I would like to talk again about families. We have spoken about the importance of perinatal support, but I draw the attention of the Minister to a report from the OECD from 2011 entitled Doing Better for Families, which highlights that, in 2011, the percentage of children in this country growing up without a father in the home was approximately 21.5%, in the United States it was somewhere in the region of 25%, in Germany it was, I think, 15% and in Italy it was 10%. The report also projects that, by 2025 or 2030, we will have overtaken the United States considerably, when beyond 35% of children will grow up in households with just one parent. That really means without a father—nine out of 10 of those absent parents will be a father. That poses some challenges for us. President Obama, when he was Senator Obama, spoke very movingly and powerfully about his experience growing up without a father and the experiences of other young men growing up without fathers.
However, I think that girls are less talked about, and we really should think about the relationship girls have with their fathers, which may also have a strong influence on the future relationships that they make with men. We may be setting up a very perverse cycle of failed partnerships leading to further failed partnerships down the line. I want to quote from a book on father-daughter relationships that quotes an American journalist—I need to find my glasses before I do so—although it is a bit alarming. I have not looked at the research that this is based on; it is quite personal, as it is about her experience, but she is a well-respected journalist. I wanted to quote from Linda Nielsen’s book, Father-Daughter Relationships: Contemporary Research and Issues, but I see that my time is up. However, I hope that we will have another opportunity to discuss these matters very soon. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I want to delay your Lordships for about three minutes. I did not think that anybody was going to talk about schools. I want to do so because they have a major part to play in both the mental health and the physical health of parents. It is a kind of religion that schools are only about academia; they are not, and we have to use them as we can to solve the problems of our society.
All schools, particularly those teaching pupils of secondary school age, should focus more on building self-confidence and interpersonal skills in all their pupils, especially in those who are likely to miss out on high academic achievement. My experience in working with disadvantaged children has led me to believe that fear of failure often blights the life of the disadvantaged child. All schools, especially all secondary schools, should give their pupils opportunities—somewhere, somehow—to succeed.
This is not a pipe dream. The best schools are doing it already, through a range of extracurricular activities—through involvement in running the school where appropriate, and in activities and adventures and sport and commitments of many different kinds. All are potential opportunities for children’s involvement and success. I admit that to do these things costs money, but it does not cost as much money as does having the number of disengaged children that we have in our society today.
My Lords, we have had a very good debate, and I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, has enabled us to do it. Rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I want to start by focusing on physical health issues. As she said, the frightening obesity rates among young people are associated to a certain extent with lack of exercise, but I agree with her on what she said about food, eating and poverty.
We have heard the noble Lord, Lord Prior, speak at a number of seminars recently. He has stressed the Five Year Forward View, which the Government have endorsed. One of the encouraging things about that report is that I see—I think for the first time—some passion coming from NHS management about the need to deal with public health issues. That document points out the issue of obesity among young people and the problems that it is going to store up for the future. It also recognises the role of government in terms of legislation. Does the Minister accept the need for legislation when it comes to basic issues of the amount of salt, sugar and fat in foodstuffs, particularly those marketed at young people? He will know that in this country young people drink more of those super-sugary drinks than in any other country within Europe. Of course there is always a balance to be struck between the emphasis on individuals, the parental role and schools, but in the end legislation is sometimes required. I urge the noble Lord that his department ought to be battling in Whitehall to get some legislation around the protection of young people.
I hope that the noble Lord will respond to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about academy schools and their ability to go outwith much of what is sensible in relation to the teaching of young people in this area. Also, alongside the issues of food and healthy eating, there is a real concern about where exercise for young people has gone within our schools.
Frankly, we have now reached a point of hysterical obsession with testing young people, and that is crowding out the agenda and the focus. When I talk to year 6 teachers about the SATS testing that now has to be undertaken, I realise that in many schools they are doing nothing else but preparing for the tests for six months, mostly all the wretched testing around maths and English to the exclusion of almost anything else. We are reducing children’s education to a miserable exercise, one in which teachers do not believe, but they are being forced to do it. This is the Government’s obsession, and of course Ofsted has lost any notion of independence in terms of its own role.
The noble Lord may ask what all this has to do with him. It has plenty to do with the health department now that it is no longer concerned with NHS performance—or at least we are being told that, because the 2012 legislation promised it. The department has the space in which to argue in Whitehall for some of the measures that now need to be taken.
I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the whole issue of access to leisure facilities and the impact of local government reductions on many of them. Many local authorities have decimated their leisure service provision, which has a devastating impact on the ability—particularly of those who do not have access to resources—to use such facilities. This will become a very serious problem for the future.
I do not want to spoil the noble Baroness’s Question for Oral Answer on Thursday, and she might have mentioned it, but the Government and certainly the Chancellor have rather undermined NHS England when he swiped £200 million from the public health budget of local authorities in-year. There is a sense in which the Government are saying that of course prevention is important, but their first action after the election was to reduce the amount of money available to local authorities to act in this area. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, made some important points about families, which I hope the noble Lord will respond to.
We have debated the issue of mental health some four times, I think, over the past few weeks. That is important because it is an important subject, but we know from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which is one source of information for this debate, that one in 10 children and young people suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder. Half of all diagnosable mental health conditions start before the age of 14, and 75% by 21. We also know that the figures are even more worrying for young people from BME backgrounds. The Health Select Committee report published in November 2014 talked about,
“serious and deeply ingrained problems with the commissioning and provision of children’s and adolescents’ mental health services”.
I know that the Government are going to talk about the task force, and that is welcome, but perhaps I may put four questions to the Minister. First, why is the funding for children’s mental health services still so low in view of all the problems that have been identified? Secondly, I understand that, of the joint strategic needs assessments that are written by each public health director for their local authority, very few mention children’s mental health services. I also suspect that even fewer pick up the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the health concerns around looked-after children. Why is that? Does the Minister believe that directors of public health need to have their attention drawn in their annual report to the importance on the state of the health of their local authority, and that this is an important area for them to be concerned about?
Finally, I want to ask about the introduction of waiting time standards for mental health services. The Minister will know that this was introduced in April 2015 and people are guaranteed talking therapy treatment within six weeks, with a maximum wait of 18 weeks. For individuals experiencing a first episode of psychosis, access to early intervention services will be available within two weeks. I recognise that it is early days; we are only four months away from the start of these new standards, but I wonder whether the Minister can say something about how he thinks the service is progressing.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, on securing this debate. One advantage of the debate having quite a broad title is that one does not quite know where noble Lords will be coming from.
I shall start with schools, and I declare an interest. I was a founder of two free schools and, until recently, I was chairman of a free school and an academy group of schools in Norwich. It is good that they have freedom to decide on things such as school meals; it is right that academies should have that freedom. I spent last week talking about a sports strategy for our schools. Competitive sports and physical exercise are extremely important, and I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that the curriculum crowds out those activities. One can make room for them. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that not just in secondary schools but in primary schools such activities are essential in building up young people’s self-esteem, self-worth and a sense of purpose, whether they are doing competitive sports, the Duke of Edinburgh’s gold award or any schemes of that kind. They are hugely important.
The thing that ran through the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and many other speeches, was early prevention. We have had four debates on this subject in the last few weeks. What I have learnt most is the importance of early prevention, right through to early pregnancy—and indeed before.
I also draw attention to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, on the importance of the family. Other noble Lords have also stressed that. There is no substitute for family; the state can never be a substitute for the family. The noble Baroness put a figure of £48 billion on the cost of family breakdown but that does not do justice to, or begin to reflect, the family misery that that encompasses. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, drew our attention to the number of families growing up without a father. He mentioned that the figure will be 35% by 2030, according to an OECD report, which is truly frightening.
I hope that I can pick up a number of other points made by noble Lords. I was shocked by the comparison between our performance and that of Sweden. I have not seen that figure before. Infant child and adolescent death rates in the UK have declined substantially, but the overall UK child mortality rate is higher than that of some other European countries. I had not realised that as many as five more people under the age of 14 die each day in our country compared with Sweden. I think that that is what the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, said. Sometimes numbers can detract from an argument; that number certainly adds to this one. The Why Children Die report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health stated that there is no single cause for the disparity between countries and, equally, there are no simple solutions. I have no doubt that inequalities of health and of life contribute more than most to that rather startling statistic.
If I have time, I shall talk about three broad areas: ensuring that children are properly supported by health services; steps to ensure that children can live healthier lives; and those services that ensure that we can protect our children. I will leave the issue of child slavery, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, for another day. Perhaps I may write to her on that?
Starting with maternity, what happens in pregnancy and in the early years of life has a long-term impact. There can be no doubt about that. We have made some achievements over recent years. Again, I am not sure that the numbers add much to the argument, but I have a list of the additional midwives and midwifery-led units, and of the extra money that we have spent in this area. I do not think that that adds much to the argument because we know that much more can be achieved.
Noble Lords are probably aware that my noble friend Lady Cumberlege is leading a major review of maternity services and that the Government will provide an additional £75 million over the next five years for services to support women with mental health issues in the perinatal period. We heard in an earlier debate from, I think, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who said that one in five children whose mother suffers from mental illness—postnatal depression—will, in turn, suffer from mental health problems. That was another point that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, made: there is a cycle to these things. If a child is brought up in a family that has suffered a breakdown, there is more chance that, in turn, that child’s family will also suffer. I know from personal experience how mental health, whether for genetic or other environmental reasons, can dog families through the generations.
Support in the community in early years is provided through the Healthy Child Programme, led by health visitors and their teams. Over the last four years, a major programme to revitalise the health visiting workforce has taken place, with 4,000 new health visitors now in post and a further 9,000 completing training. I ought to mention, although it is not an easy question, the £200 million that has come off the public health budget, as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I hope that the noble Lord will allow me to defer an answer to that until the Question that will be asked on it early next week. From September 2015, health visitors and early education practitioners will deliver integrated reviews with the aim of giving families and health and education professionals a more complete picture of child development.
A number of noble Lords raised obesity. Childhood obesity is clearly a huge issue. The latest estimate of the cost to the NHS of overweight or obesity-related conditions is £5.1 billion, but of course obese children are more likely to become obese adults, with all the health conditions that go with that. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said that he detected signs of passion in NHS England, reflected in the NHS Five Year Forward View, about this subject and about prevention more generally.
There is a wider debate to be had about the role of government, how much legislation we want in this area and how much we rely upon personal responsibility. If we bring tax into these areas, for example, does that fall disproportionately on the very people who can least afford it? These are big issues and I do not think there is a right or a wrong answer.
It is not acceptable that one in five children leaves primary school clinically obese—that is, obese children aged 10 and 11. Obese children are more likely to be ill, absent from school, and suffer psychological problems than children with normal weight. While some progress has been made, we know that we must go much further. We have invested £222 million in programmes such as the PE and sport premium for primary schools, School Games, and Change4Life Sports Clubs. Last week we launched this year’s Change4Life 10-minute shake-up campaign with Disney, which encourages children to do 10-minute bursts of moderate to vigorous activity, inspired by Disney characters. I guess it is a fact that we cannot do enough in this area and there is a lot more that we, schools, families, parents and society could do. Clearly, there is a role for government but it is easy to say always that government should do more.
I should touch on preventing domestic abuse and child sexual abuse. As part of our strategy to prevent violence and abuse towards women and girls, we are providing tools and guidance for health and care professionals to enable them to better identify cases of violence and enable the young people affected to access the right therapeutic support. Routine inquiry into domestic abuse is expected to be undertaken in maternity and adult mental health services. Following publication on 3 March of the Government’s report, Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation, this will be expanded to settings used by children at risk of sexual abuse, including mental health services for people over 16 years old.
Last week, the Care Quality Commission published the results of its children’s in-patient and day case survey. I was going to talk about this but as no noble Lord raised it I will leave that for another day and move on to children’s mental health. It is an issue that we have discussed before but it is important to say that the Government are committed to spending an additional £1.25 billion over the next five years. That is a huge increase in the budget. This is on top of the £150 million for children and young people with eating disorders. That has to be one of the most shocking and ghastly illnesses that any child or family has to cope with.
This Government have also introduced the first ever waiting time standards for mental health. I think it is too early for me to report back to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on how that is going. Parts of these standards will apply to children and young people, including the target of treatment within two weeks for more than 50% of people of all ages.
I am afraid that my time is up. This has been a very quick whistlestop tour of some very important issues. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, for bringing this debate to the House.
House adjourned at 7.38 pm.