Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to deliver the Life Chances Strategy to transform the lives of the most disadvantaged people in Britain, as outlined by the Prime Minister on 11 January.
My Lords, I am delighted that time has been found for such a debate this side of Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech next week. I cannot think of a better way to spend precious time in your Lordships’ House so near the end of this Session—
I am sorry, but some of my noble friends are walking in front of my noble friend while he is trying to introduce his debate. I ask my noble friends to leave the Chamber in such a way that does not cut across in front of my noble friend, because I know that those who are remaining for this debate very much want to hear him introduce this very important Question and hear what he has to say.
Thank you. I will begin again. I am delighted that time has been found for such a debate this side of Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech next week. I cannot think of a better way to spend precious time in your Lordships’ House so near the end of this Session than to talk about how the Government can most effectively help the most disadvantaged people in our country.
I thank from the outset every participant in this debate, for whom the striving for better life chances is not just an agenda item but a lifestyle: a cause that gets them out of bed in the morning and wakes them up in the middle of the night.
I am sure that much personal insight will be shared today. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, has a towering reputation not only as a former chief executive of Gingerbread, which campaigns tirelessly for parents raising children on their own, but also played a crucial role in the riots commission. This body came to the very important conclusion that at least half a million families in this country were close to breaking point and has, I am sure, been a prime mover in the expansion of the troubled families programme. We are indebted to her; strong and stable families are the wellspring of good life chances and her work has obviously borne much fruit with the present Government and the previous coalition Government.
I am similarly eager to hear what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro has to say. As chair of the Children’s Society, he represents an organisation that has an impressive track record in championing all children and especially the most vulnerable. The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, will I am sure have many insights from the time when she led Relate most ably before she came into this House. She has been a leader of cross-party efforts to ensure that mental health is at the forefront of all our minds. She also chairs CAFCASS, which assists families going through contested complex court cases at that most stressful time of divorce, separation and public law proceedings. Finally, the quality of representation from my own Benches could not be higher than those who have kindly put their names down to speak at such short notice—for which I am deeply grateful.
To set the scene, the championing of life chances by our Prime Minister is the maturation of a process that has unfolded over the 10 years that he has led my party. On his first day as leader he went to London’s Eastside Young Leaders’ Academy, which nurtures and develops the leadership potential of young African and Caribbean men—often living in disadvantaged communities—and enables them to succeed. Moreover, the first policy group he set up to give him the ideas that he would need to transform Britain was the Social Justice Policy Group, led by lain Duncan Smith and charged with looking at the full range of root causes of poverty. The focus desperately needed to be shifted away from the simple redistribution of money and on to tackling the drivers of the problems that poison life chances. As soon as he became Prime Minister, he asked Frank Field MP to lead a review on poverty and life chances. This again signalled his intent not to ignore poverty—this has never been the way of one-nation Conservatism—but to address it root and branch, broadening the focus away from the income targets that had impoverished the poverty debate.
The poverty plus a pound approach can callously leave people behind if, say, alcoholic parents are deemed beyond the concern of government when a financial transfer tips them over an income line but their lives and those of their children remain unchanged. Since 2010 a deep evidence base has been laid by one review after another: for example, on the importance of early intervention and the early years. These led in turn to the establishment of several What Works centres, such as the Early Intervention Foundation, which act as guardians of effective practice to improve poor life chances.
The new life chances strategy will stand on a sure foundation of academic research and tried and tested solutions that work across the whole of people’s lives to eradicate disadvantage. Similarly, the very concept of life chances has not just been plucked from a spin doctor’s playbook. It has an unimpeachable intellectual pedigree reaching back well over a century to one of the founding fathers of sociology, the German Max Weber. His concept of Lebenschancen, or life chances, is a social science theory of the opportunities that each individual has to improve the quality of his or her life. It is a probabilistic concept concerned with how likely it is, given certain risk and protective factors, that a person’s life will turn out a certain way.
I am sure that today we will be articulating not only what these risk and protective factors are—what will likely produce bad and good outcomes for individuals and families—but also how to boost the good and counteract the bad.
Chief among protective factors is the influence of safe, stable and nurturing relationships, which are essential foundations for human flourishing. If tiny babies, children, young people and adults do not have these, it is very hard to tackle the root causes and effects of poverty, such as addictions, serious personal debt, educational failure, mental ill health and worklessness. It is also nigh on impossible for those with disabilities to thrive if they do not have supportive relationships.
As I said in my maiden speech, my own origins were filled with shame, neglect and poverty, caused by my parents’ alcoholism and bankruptcy. My father died very early but bequeathed me a contact in a London Metal Exchange company, which enabled me to start my career there, albeit at the very bottom. This relationship gave me a much-needed starting opportunity as I did not cover myself in glory at school—partly, it must be said, because my family was collapsing around me.
I therefore speak from personal experience when I say that our epidemic levels of family breakdown act against the likelihood of having people to help one through adversity. Efforts to tackle this, particularly in our poorest communities, have to be front and centre of the life chances strategy. Two-thirds of children on our poorest estates are no longer living with both their parents by the time they are 15; half of them are in this position by the time they start primary school. This is not just about money: the stability of poor couples who are married is far higher than those who are not.
For example, we have to support marriage more effectively at the poorer end of the income spectrum, where its collapse has been most extreme yet where aspirations to marry remain high. Marriage is a social justice issue because it is so much harder to overcome cultural and financial barriers to marrying for those who are poor than for those who are comfortably off. Will the Minister take back to the Treasury the proposal that we should sharply increase the marriage tax allowance for those in the poorest parts of the country, where rates of single parenthood can be as high as 75%? Ironically, the money to do this is already in the budget because of the low take-up of the current trifling tax allowance.
Yet family support has to go beyond this. I have been speaking to Ministers across government about the need to have policies to support family stability in every single government department. We have universal healthcare, universal education and policies to encourage full employment, but all these social goods and reforms will be undermined by poor family functioning and the breakdown of relationships.
Universal family support, which would mean that all struggling families have somewhere to go where someone has the answers, such as family hubs, requires cross-government buy-in. The Department for Education has a clear interest but so do the Ministry of Justice, given the need to support prisoners’ families in the community, and the Ministry of Defence, which has thousands of service families who would also benefit—to name just two. This debate will, I am sure, cover many different areas, and it is clear that there will be no lasting success in any of them without several government departments and organisations working well together. Will my noble friend the Minister lay out what is being done to make sure that this is the case?
I reiterate the potential for good that our time together today holds. One of the paramount roles of good government is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to flourish, whatever their starting point. This debate will, I am sure, brim with ideas and examples of good practice, and I look forward to seeing the trace of our passion expressed today in the life chances strategy shortly to be unveiled.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on securing this vital debate. I declare an interest as vice-president of Relate.
When the Prime Minister spoke on life chances in January, he noted that society cannot be strong as long as there are,
“millions of people who feel locked out of it”.
With that in mind, I will argue that a life chances strategy must consider the entire life cycle and I want to highlight three prerequisites for progress. First, it cannot ignore entrenched inequality and the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. Secondly, it must focus on addressing the multiple causes of deprivation throughout people’s lives. Thirdly, it must support parents and families comprehensively if we are to help the next generation.
I strongly support the call to intervene early to ensure that all children have access to high-quality early education, as well as to ensure support for their parents. I doubly emphasise the importance of policies such as the pupil premium, which give increased support to the most disadvantaged, but must register my grave concern that their effectiveness will be diluted by the growing cuts to mainstream school budgets. However, the strategy to date is missing one important element: there can be no equality of life chances so long as entrenched inequality continues to grow.
How is that the case? Think about the child who grows up on a council estate but nevertheless manages to beat the odds and make it to Oxford. She may even think that she could be Prime Minister one day. But we have only to look at the latest research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies to understand why she still feels locked out: a rich university student from a wealthy background earns up to 20% more than a poor student who has done everything right by studying at the same university and on the same course. For a child growing up on a council estate, giving them early years education—desirable as that absolutely is—will not give them equal chances, when entrenched and inherited advantage from social networks gives access to key jobs and professions. Until we address this point head on, millions of people will continue to feel locked out.
This brings me to my second point. As well as stemming the problem for future generations, the Government must use the life chances strategy to develop a better co-ordinated, cross-government approach to supporting those adults who face a range of social problems which, to quote the PM,
“combine and reinforce each other”.
The need is pressing because there is also a close relationship between experiencing multiple needs and long-term poverty and the lack of opportunity. For example, we know that just under 60,000 people experience multiple problems of homelessness, substance abuse and contact with the criminal justice system in any given year. A staggering 40% of people with severe multiple needs ran away as children, while 25% have experienced abuse and 18% were in the care system. As a result, more than 90% of these individuals have a self-reported mental health problem and 55% have a mental health condition diagnosed by a professional. These problems can develop at any time in an adult’s life.
Some progress is being made and that is to be welcomed. Increasingly, government policy calls for a more co-ordinated approach. The Mental Health Taskforce report rightly calls for better joint working between mental health and housing, a new prevention concordat and joint commissioning. Even beyond the moral case, the economic case is clear: research from the Making Every Adult Matter coalition of charities, which I have the privilege of chairing, has shown that local areas taking a more co-ordinated approach can improve individuals’ well-being and reduce the cost of wider service use by up to 25%. Despite all this, there is still no national cross-departmental strategy to support and incentivise local areas to develop better responses for people with multiple needs, so what plans do the Government have to develop one?
This brings me to my final point: a life chances strategy must include support for strong families and relationships that in turn support the next generation. The focus in the life chances strategy on parenting is welcome. However, it is important that we do not lose sight of the central role of couple relationships in determining parenting quality. A recent evidence review by the Early Intervention Foundation, commissioned by the DWP, concluded that the quality of the interparental relationship is a “primary influence” on effective parenting and children’s long-term mental health and future life chances. So we need simultaneously to aim to improve parenting skills and relationship quality, rather than focusing on parenting skills alone.
This makes all the more vital the need for everyone to benefit from relationship support, particularly the most disadvantaged. The evidence shows that poverty puts great strain on relationships and that relationship breakdown can in turn lead to poverty. It is therefore vital that the life chances strategy addresses financial barriers to relationship support.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate. There could barely be a more significant subject for us to consider in your Lordships’ House. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Farmer on securing this debate. As we heard in his marvellous introduction, his commitment in this area is truly copper-bottomed. In the time allowed, I intend to restrict myself to comment on sport and character education, and the positive impact that they can have on life chances.
I was fortunate enough to be taught to swim at the age of two by my mum—at least when I came above the water and started to swim, that is what she claimed she was doing for me. The power of sport to transform lives is seen in every element, from the first time someone has the opportunity to dive into a swimming pool, step on to a running track or merely run around the school playground.
To give some hard statistics, according to a recent survey previously inactive young people, once involved in physical activity and sport, increased their numeracy by 29%. There were similar improvements in behaviour, clearly demonstrating that sport is not just about the physical benefits: it goes across to psychological, social and, yes, economic benefits. None of this is mutually exclusive.
For example, the Hackney Boxing Academy runs a support scheme where one of the qualified trainers takes six young people, and works with them and mentors them, helping them to have confidence in their schoolwork and to focus on their sport—the benefits could hardly be overstated. A graduate of the scheme, Dylan, said in 2012, “I’m a completely different person”. How can we say any more than that about the transformational power of sport to enable people’s life chances?
Again on boxing, when I was on the board of UK Sport, we understood that special facilities were needed for our boxers if we were to enable them to escape what life had predetermined for them. We did not just get boxers to competitions, to the national team and to internationals; we got boxers from some of the most challenging backgrounds in this country to go to the Olympic Games and bring back gold for Great Britain—transformational.
I commend my honourable friend the Sports Minister for the sports strategy which was recently published. This demonstrates how sport has to go across Whitehall, to all relevant departments. As I have said, it is about psychological, social and economic benefits. If we could truly get the inactive active, there is a £53.3 billion prize to be had for this nation. To expand on that, in light of the incredibly worrying mental health stats, what are the Government doing to address that most significant of issues? I highlight the work of great organisations, not least YoungMinds, in that area.
In a sense, all education needs to be character education, because it is character which will pull people through. As in sport, it is about getting that sense of self-belief, self-discipline and self-worth—to consider that anything could be your destiny. Yes, we need literacy and numeracy, and yes we need digital literacy, but we need character education throughout every element and all around the curriculum, including in sport, art and music—stuff that touches our hearts and souls as well as our minds.
I end where I began. Few subjects could be more significant and more profound, and have more of an impact on the individual and, through that, on our society and, yes, on our economy—again, these things are not mutually exclusive. I conclude with the words of perhaps one of our greatest Britons:
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings”.
Through government policy, through leadership and through the work of hundreds of thousands of people up and down this country working in sport—through all of that and more—let underlings be gone. Let us unleash the potential and address that most significant of issues: talent is everywhere, while opportunity is not.
My Lords, follow that. I start by thanking my noble friend for introducing this debate so ably and for his very inspiring introduction. The life chances strategy is a crucial step towards the Government’s goal of achieving social reform. True social reform cannot be achieved just by good GDP statistics, nor by binary targets on relative income poverty. What social reform needs is a holistic approach to tackle all the roots of poverty, as set out so clearly in the Prime Minister’s speech in January. I heard him earlier today confirming that this will be a top priority for the rest of his period as Prime Minister.
The speech in January and the White Paper to follow are about making sure that children who simply happen to be born into poorer homes are not condemned to poverty but have opportunities to advance themselves that more closely resemble the chances enjoyed by those born to more privileged parents. Issues of addiction, mental health, educational attainment and, above all, family stability all need to be addressed as well as the economy. We need to start a conversation about soft skills and their role in social mobility. Privately educated children do not do well just because of their exam results or social connections but because they learn the confidence and social skills to fit in to professional environments and top universities.
We have to start with the fact that the early days and a stable and loving family are crucial to later success. It is tempting for politicians of all parties to treat social mobility as primarily an education issue, suggesting that all that is needed is better schools for poor kids. Of course, those things are crucial, but we need to accept that what also matters is things such as social networks—who you know and grow up with—and role models, as well as parental ambition.
Those are things that cannot be changed by pulling one lever in the government machine room, passing a new law or increasing a budget. Instead, it is about changing culture and outlook, the way people think and feel, the ambitions kids grow up with and the dreams parents give their children. Delivering such culture change is very hard for government to do, but the Prime Minister and the Government deserve credit for at least starting the conversation.
Although it is difficult, we need to talk about parental ambition. Perhaps we should go further and look at how parental ambition differs by race and background. Are poor black parents more ambitious for their kids than poor white ones? What about immigrants? There is evidence that they aim highest for their children—look at the tiger mum, for example. How do we share that ambition with native British children? Likewise, a new mentoring scheme and better careers advice and work experience all provide really worthwhile opportunities.
How do we tell poor kids that they can grow up to be doctors, lawyers and engineers if no one they know, no one who looks and sounds like them, is a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer? Those of us who travel in very poor countries are always struck by children’s ambitions to become doctors and lawyers, despite the fact that they, too, are unlikely to have ever met one.
Role models are also crucial, and I very much hope that the White Paper will expand on that. Let us take a look at British culture as a whole. Where are the role models for poor children to emulate who do not involve football or show business? How do we ensure that more white working-class boys dream of becoming Richard Branson, James Dyson, the noble Lord, Lord Sugar—or, more importantly, my noble friend Lord Holmes—as well as David Beckham; Karren Brady—my noble friend Lady Brady—rather than Kim Kardashian? My noble friends the Leader of the House and the Minister are great role models. I am sure I will have unleashed a Twitter storm of outrage by venturing into this controversial space.
Political role models, too, are important. Although things are changing with, in my party, a postman, a cancer nurse and a medical doctor in the NHS all elected as Conservative MPs last year, all parties need to do more to reach out and attract more candidates and politicians from all kinds of backgrounds.
These are all difficult issues to talk about and difficult for a Government to act on, but I congratulate the Prime Minister on starting the journey and look forward to seeing where it goes.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on securing this important debate. He kindly mentioned me in his introduction, and I probably ought to note that I once used to work in a college where, much later, he was on the governing body. He was also very sweet to mention that I might say something interesting. I find that most people look forward to what I have to say rather than look back on it.
I welcome much that is in the life chances strategy. It is good in particular to see the emphasis on the family. Of course, families come in all shapes and sizes and are very important. I had the privilege to be the Anglican Communion’s representative at the Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops on the family last year in Rome. If your Lordships have not yet read it, I commend you to read Amoris Laetitia, the joy of love, Pope Francis’s profound and fascinating document written in response to that synod, where he makes the comment that families do not land from heaven in a perfect state. Families need our support, and I welcome that this is mentioned so well and powerfully in the strategy. I am also especially grateful that the Government have put money into the Church of England LifeSavers scheme, delivering education in primary schools on money and debt. I also want to underline what the Prime Minister said in his speech introducing his strategy on 11 January, that,
“each person is an asset to be realised, human potential is to be nurtured”.
I would say amen to that, would not I?
I declare an interest. As the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, mentioned, I am the chair of the Children’s Society and very proud so to be. In that role, I also welcome much of what is in the strategy. I am keen to see, as the noble Lord said in his introduction, how this strategy is delivered and implemented—and on that, of course, there will be some questions. I remind noble Lords that the Children’s Society, in a recent report called The Debt Trap, showed that 10% of families had previously taken out credit to pay for food for their children. I bring to the attention of this House the recently published United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report, Voices of the Hungry, which, using a food insecurity experience scale developed by the United Nations FAO, shows that, in 2014, 4.7 million people in this country were severely food insecure, while 8.4 million were in some way food insecure. I ask the Government to bring in regular measurement of food insecurity to assist in the life chances strategy and in the very important delivery of it. If you are poor and are food insecure, your chances will inevitably be less.
I accept the good focus in the strategy on early years, but we must not forget older children and that people do not have only one chance. Indeed, the strategy is called life chances, with an “s” on the end. We need to make sure that we are giving chances to people all through their lives. The Seriously Awkward campaign, again run by the Children’s Society, demonstrates that older teenagers, in particular 16 and 17 year-olds, are often forgotten and in many ways fall into a no man’s land; they are neither children nor adults. In this area, as has been mentioned by previous speakers, I underline the importance of mental health. It is a key issue, and I urge the Government to ensure that it is properly resourced—in particular, for older teenagers. I would ask that in looking at this whole matter the Government might consider using some of the additional CAMHS investment to provide programmes to promote positive well-being, particularly targeting groups of children such as those affected by bullying and living outside the family, for whom well-being is known to be lower.
As I say, I welcome much of what the strategy contains, but I would also like to underline: how will it be delivered and implemented? When the Children’s Society published the Good Childhood Report some years ago, it showed—shock, horror—that children themselves value family, friendships and love. Of course, we must not pretend that poverty is not a key factor, hindering many life chances. I urge the Government to put in place mechanisms to assess levels of food insecurity and consider carefully the recommendations in the report that I had the privilege of co-chairing, the Feeding Britain report, which have still not been addressed.
There is not a level playing field, so some people’s life chances are less good than others. It is very good to see a focus in this strategy on opportunity. How do we ensure, at best, that we can encourage everyone and ensure that everyone has the opportunity that they deserve to achieve their human potential? I, too, would like to know what steps the Government are going to take to deliver the strategy and make sure that it is part of a comprehensive package of proposals and not, as it were, an add-on in some way. I underline the need to notice the reasons why people are disadvantaged and so ask for regular means to assess what is happening, most obviously in the area of food poverty. I underline especially the need to work with older teenagers who have mental health issues, and ask Her Majesty’s Government to look at the CAMHS programme and what is on offer for such people, who I fear have limited chances. I urge the Government, in delivering this strategy, to ensure that they are listening in particular to the voices of those for whom the strategy is shaped—those who have few life chances.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Farmer on securing this important debate on life chances. I know how passionate he is on the subject and on enhancing life chances in general. Transforming the lives of the most disadvantaged is not just a strategy of this Government but is the mission of many charities, some of which have been talked about today, and of philanthropists.
My poor health in childhood—especially severe asthma—which caused me to miss some school and much sport, was transformed by NHS treatment and later by neural surgery, and my family’s fortune was transformed largely by education, so I will focus my speech on these areas.
All the research I have seen on transforming life chances shows that the key to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty is for a member, or possibly two members, of a family to get a worthwhile job. Two of the barriers to this goal—my noble friends will talk about many more—are poor childhood health and lack of good academic qualifications. As someone who benefited from the NHS on the former and from a scholarship, left by a benefactor in the 16th century, to Manchester Grammar School for the latter, while I cannot claim to have ever been one of the most disadvantaged, I have personally benefited in these two areas.
As my favourite actor, Kevin Spacey, said recently at a charity gala, if you are fortunate enough in life to reach the top of your profession or to earn significant income from your chosen career, then it is your duty to send the elevator back down. So, starting with children’s health, I refer to my non-financial interests shown in the register, which include being president of the Evelina London Children’s Hospital at Guy’s and St Thomas’. Not only is the hospital treating some of the most vulnerable children from the poorest boroughs to the south of London, but it is using valuable resources provided by our Government and philanthropists to intervene with babies who are most at risk of being born disabled, either by very premature birth or by risk factors identified in the pregnancy of their mothers. A team led by Professor Edwards has pioneered treatments, including the cooling of newborn babies’ brains, that significantly reduce or eradicate several of the disabilities that these babies often suffer. There is also groundbreaking research at the hospital to identify the underlying cause of peanut allergy and to treat it successfully. The early results of the research carried out by Professor Gideon Lack and his team have demonstrated how this debilitating and, sadly, sometimes fatal allergy can be overcome. The Government’s commitment to protect health spending and to continue to fund research has been valuable in making a difference in these areas and in many people’s lives. Will the Minister tell the House about the Government’s ongoing commitment in these areas of research?
I am proud to be a trustee of Ark, an educational charity which runs one of the most successful chains of academy schools in England. It has managed to reduce the shameful achievement gap that plagues the most disadvantaged children. Those in receipt of pupil premium are much more likely to fail to get five good GCSEs and in fact many schools really give up on them. Looking at the tables published in 2014 ranking schools by the amount of progress made by the most disadvantaged students between primary school and the age of 16, I was proud that Ark had four academy schools in the top 50 of 6,500 schools. That is a remarkable achievement that shows that the attainment gap can be closed.
The academy I chair has a valuable relationship with the local diocese as it is a Church of England school. I believe that my noble friend Lord Farmer’s school is also a church school and that he works in partnership with the local diocese.
The work that my right honourable friends Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan have done in building on and expanding the original concept of academy schools from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has been inspirational and genuinely transformational. I applaud the excellent work done in this area by my noble friend Lord Harris of Peckham and several other noble Lords who are committed to academies. However, good schools go beyond the academic measure of GCSEs. We work harder on getting good-quality work experience, which is one of those advantages that middle-class parents and kids take for granted, and we try to get access for most of our students to visit universities. Many of our students have never had a family member go to university, and in some cases no one from the predecessor school went to university.
In my view, the acid test of whether many of these strategies work—a point that I made at the start—is the number or percentage of children growing up in workless households, because role models really count. When the Government took office in 2010, almost one in five households had no one in work, and around 1.4 million people had been on benefits for most of the previous decade. Since 2010 the number of workless households has fallen by over 680,000 to its lowest level since records began. This clearly demonstrates that the whole range of policies has already started to deliver on the strategy to transform the lives of many of the most disadvantaged.
My Lords, I would like to spend these few minutes concentrating on the vital need for early intervention in the lives of deeply troubled children, a topic I covered in both my maiden speech and an Oral Question. Before I do so, I shall try to put in context this Government’s attempts to transform the lives of the most disadvantaged people in Britain. In doing so, I want to make a point that probably only a newcomer to this House can make, which is that it seems unproductive to overlay the intractable social problem of poverty, which has been with us for centuries, and its causes and solutions with excessive party politicking.
The causes of poverty are not easily assuaged only by taxpayers’ money. It is a fact, rather than a party political point, that, according to Treasury figures, expenditure on tax credits and equivalents, when expressed as a percentage of GDP, have risen from around 0.6% through the mid- to late 1990s to around 1.5% in the early 2000s, peaking at 2% in the run-up to the 2010 election. In current terms, the difference from top to bottom is over £25 billion per annum, a truly staggering figure. Despite this massive increase in expenditure, there are few if any of us in the House who do not think that there is still a serious poverty issue to solve, however you define poverty, but opening the taps without an adequate plan is proven not to work.
So, in approaching the challenge of how best to tackle one of the biggest issues of our day—ingrained, seemingly permanent, poverty in a section of our society—I am still fresh enough in this House, bearing few battle scars, to express the hope that we could tackle such a complex social Rubik’s cube of a problem with a more collaborative mindset than I have seen to date. I suggest that, had your Lordships addressed some elements of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill in this spirit, there might have been a greater willingness to accept, for example, that definitions of poverty based only on income levels might have been doing as much damage as they were good, not least because they may have unintentionally created targets that could be met by infusions of taxpayers’ cash without addressing the underlying causes. They were like a thin sticking plaster seeking to cover a severed artery.
In January this year, the Prime Minister set out his bold vision on fighting poverty, following from the success of the coalition Government in the creation of 2 million jobs and bringing the dignity of work to so many previously permanently unemployed. In that speech, he was clear that we needed to move beyond just the economics of either what he described as,
“the leftist, statist view—built around increased welfare provision and more government intervention"—
he then reminded us that it was he who started the troubled families programme, so he is not averse to state intervention where appropriate—or the more free market approach, that the rising tide will lift all boats. He argued that we now need a more social approach—what he described as the “human dimension to poverty”. He went on to set out four key planks of a plan to extend life chances: first, the importance of the family as a unit, which I shall talk about; secondly, a good education; thirdly, equal opportunity; and, fourthly, the provision of the right treatment and support for those in crisis. In my last minute or two, I would like to emphasise the first of those planks: how vital I believe early intervention is when young lives are going off-track, often as a result of dysfunctional families.
In recent years, my wife and I have spent many hours talking to deeply troubled children in south London who, as young teenagers, get excluded from their schools in the morning and are pushed out on to the streets and turn to prostitution and drug-dealing. We have read the medical research, which suggests that a sustained increase in adrenalin as a response to repeated abuse may chemically affect the frontal lobe of the brain, which is thought to control temper.
Last autumn, we visited the Mulberry Bush School in Oxfordshire, which carefully, and at huge expense, reassembles the shattered spirits and souls of dreadfully abused children who have had no experience of what might even be termed family life. We have also talked to superheads while visiting their schools in Hackney and other parts of east London about the benefits of and need for early counselling both for troubled young children and their parent or parents. Sixty-five per cent of children aged 12 to 16 in disadvantaged households do not live with both birth parents—a figure which is 26% worse than for better-off households. We must all support the initiatives around strengthening families. Six hundred million pounds in total has now been committed to the troubled families programme, while—this touches on the excellent point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler—160,000 couples have taken up the preventive relationship support programme. As Labour MSP and former Scottish Health Minister Tom McCabe said while summarising six months of expert evidence presented to the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee:
“There is empirical evidence stacked from the floor to the sky that backs up our taking a different approach to preventive spending and investment in the early years”.
We must both listen to the bottom-up needs and be prepared to be granular in our interventions. For example, I suggested last autumn that we impose a higher duty on schools to ensure that school kids are properly looked after when excluded, rather than ending up on the street. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that reducing the number of workless households is not just about the economics of a pay cheque but about giving children a good role model for the benefits and dignity of work that will be crucial to creating their motivation to get on in life?
To finish with my first point, we need to recognise that this whole issue is of national importance. We must not allow party politics and dogma to slow down and hinder the development of solutions. The nation has every right to expect the expertise of so many noble Lords in this House—I certainly exclude myself from that description—to be deployed to maximum advantage.
My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Farmer for having given us the chance to address this very important issue, which will be a major ingredient in the maintenance of our social cohesion over the next 20 or 25 years. I thank him not only for having given us a chance to debate it but for introducing it in his characteristically self-effacing but highly personal style. In the few minutes that I have, I would like to address two specific points: the role of the apprenticeship programme and the role of the voluntary and charity sector in delivering the life chances strategy.
I strongly support the Government’s ambition to create 3 million new apprenticeships over the life of this Parliament. These can provide a practical, technically focused pathway to a well-paid, long-term job which may be better paid and longer lasting than one resulting from—dare I say it?—a 2.2 in media studies. When we first discussed this policy during the Committee stage of the Enterprise Bill, we were concerned that the scale of the ambition might mean that there could be some problems in maintaining quality standards, so I was very glad to see that the Government have now introduced a regulator charged with ensuring that an apprenticeship provides what it says on the tin. It would be helpful if my noble friend, in winding up, was able to update us as to developments on this point. In particular, are there any plans to establish a confidential hotline so that, if young men and women do not feel that they are receiving the training they have been promised, they have some potential avenue for redress?
Among the disadvantaged, those who are disabled face a particularly steep climb. I hope that they will be given every opportunity to participate in apprenticeship schemes. Perhaps the Minister can also reassure us on that.
We must not lose our focus on improving general educational standards. In our earlier debates on apprenticeships, it was depressing how often we heard about candidates for apprenticeships having inadequate English and maths. To fulfil the Government’s policy, apprenticeships need to be seen as something special leading to a valued, worthwhile qualification, not just a continuation of education by another name.
I turn now to my second point: the role of the voluntary sector, a sector in which I take a particular interest and about which I have written several reports for the Government. The localised nature of many voluntary groups makes them particularly well suited to address the challenges of implementing the life chances strategy. For example, creating family stability, which underpins the strategy, will not be achieved in Whitehall; it will be achieved by the hard yards—door by door, case by case. A local voluntary group often may be best placed to provide the flexible, personalised approach that is needed.
How can the Government help these voluntary groups become more effective? One important way will be to review and improve the process by which services are commissioned. Commissioners are, by their very nature, risk-averse. It is much easier for them to use safer and bigger organisations.
How can we address this imbalance? First, commissioners could be reminded that, while they have a duty to ensure value for money, the number of tenders called for should reflect the size of the contract. For example, asking half a dozen organisations to tender for a contract worth, say, £200,000 represents a huge wasted investment for the five inevitable losers. Dare I say it, for some very small contracts, a grant may be more effective than a contract.
Secondly, the cost of completing a tender should reflect its size. I have suggested in the past that the cost of completing a tender document should not be more than 2% of the contract value up to half a million pounds, and 1% thereafter. A similar guideline could be set out for complying with the monitoring requirements. Of course the taxpayer needs to know that his money is being well spent, but onerous and, above all, frequently changing methods of measurement weigh heavily on the smaller organisation.
Finally, commissioners need to be reminded that, if they do select a large group as the main contractor, it is not right for those large contractors to take the easier, vanilla-flavoured cases for themselves and pass on the more challenging cases to the voluntary sector.
To conclude, if the Government believe that the voluntary sector has a useful role to play in delivering the life chances strategy—and I certainly think that it has—something along these lines would be very encouraging for the sector to increase its participation.
My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Farmer on securing this important debate. I thank him very much for the opportunity it gives me to put on record how heartened I was by the Prime Minister’s speech on life chances, to which other noble Lords have already referred. I particularly welcome the Prime Minister’s declaration that we need to think big, opening ourselves up to new thinking.
As someone with a severe disability, I would encourage those developing the strategy not just to include disabled people within it but also to think big about disability, especially on how we challenge the enduring, institutional prejudice which all too often makes disabled people victims of low expectations—both society’s and their own. In short, the strategy needs to be inclusive, because, as we all know, disability remains a major cause of disadvantage. An effective life chances strategy therefore has to include measures for how the life chances of the UK’s 11 million disabled people, particularly younger disabled people, can be improved.
I agree wholeheartedly with the Prime Minister that seeing through our long-term plan is not optional, because, for me, reducing the deficit is about protecting the long-term sustainability of the support on which many disabled people’s life chances depend. I think of schemes such as Access to Work, on which the Government currently spend around £100 million a year and through which approaching 40,000 disabled people are now helped through, for example, payments towards equipment needed at work. I welcome the fact that the recent spending review awarded a real-terms increase over the course of this Parliament to 25,000 new customers—almost 10,000 of them in the 18 to 34 age group.
It is that age group that I am particularly interested in because they are the ones who need to be helped to break the attitudinal glass ceiling which frequently holds them back. So often, disability is seen as synonymous with dependence; I dream of a time when, for those disabled people with the intellectual aptitude and potential, disability is seen as synonymous with excellence. Yes, Access to Work is crucial in the workplace, but so is thinking big on how we help ensure that talented young disabled graduates can take the practical steps necessary to live close enough to work and to get to work.
So my questions, not so much for my noble friend the Minister but for those drafting the life chances strategy, include: will the strategy include a package of cost-effective measures to empower disabled graduates to realise their professional and earning potential and their contribution to the economy and society? Will it identify non-workplace related barriers, such as parking outside their place of work in central London—an issue that local authorities could do so much to address?
The Prime Minister rightly argued that,
“children thrive on high expectations: it is how they grow in school and beyond”.
Talented disabled children are no different, but they need to be identified early on so that they can be given support and encouragement to excel as early as possible.
The Prime Minister touched on the important issue of equality when he said that a part of the strategy,
“must be to make opportunity more equal”.
But for that to happen, life chances must mean that babies, non-disabled and disabled, are given an equal opportunity, an equal chance to live. I ask my noble friend the Minister to read Dominic Lawson’s powerful article in Monday’s Daily Mail about his daughter who has Down’s syndrome and to urge her colleagues, who are currently considering whether to make it even easier for children with Down’s to be denied the chance to live, to read his article as well.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Farmer for securing this debate. His credibility and commitment to this agenda, and in particular to issues concerning the family, is beyond doubt. I refer to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests.
Through my work, I have spent time exploring and outlining the causes of poverty in Britain. The Breakthrough Britain report referred to by my noble friend Lord Farmer showed that there are five essential root causes to poverty—unemployment, family breakdown, educational failure leading to lack of skills, addiction, and serious personal debt. The Government have recently set out that they intend to pursue a life chances strategy incorporating these drivers of poverty into their traditional income-based approach to tackling poverty. I strongly support the direction of these reforms. I am particularly pleased that the five pathways have all been recognised and that two of them—employment and education—have been placed in statute and are being measured.
However, we now wait to see what strategy the Government will adopt to deliver the life chances agenda and what further measures will be included in that. The strategy will be strong if it matches the scale of the social challenge with the ambition of solutions and appropriate accountability to drive forward the life change that is so desperately needed by families. To do this, I ask the Minister and those drawing up the strategy to consider two things: first, to extend and deepen the measures to reflect current and future life chance risk; and, secondly, to align the Government’s main social programmes to focus on the delivery of the life chances agenda.
On extending and deepening the measures to reflect current and future life chance risk, the two measures that have been placed in statute reflect two different aspects of life chances. The first is the risk to current life chances—a child growing up in a family where there is no work. The second is the risk to future life chances—the educational attainment of that child. Metrics need to be included in the strategy that drive government action to support these families.
On current life chances, we need to measure where only one parent is able to work, for example—maybe because he or she is a lone parent or due to sickness—so that we can offer support. We need to measure addiction or mental health levels to ensure that the scale of the support matches the scale of the challenge. We need to measure where educational failure is leading to a lack of skills so that we can ensure a coherent and strong skills agenda. We need to understand the nature of unmanageable personal debt. This could be classified as being behind on one’s rent or needing an APA in universal credit, which are indicators of unmanageable personal debt.
For future life chances, we need a measurement of GCSE attainment at 16, as already planned. We could also include reporting on early years school readiness, tests for seven year-olds and 11 year-olds, and A-levels. We should also measure the educational outcomes of children in need and children in care. It is important that we track their educational attainment to ensure that they are not left behind.
I am also pleased that the Government are continuing to monitor the HBAI data as a proxy for income. While I would be the first to say that this measure is far from perfect, until we have something better to replace it with it captures those we are concerned about and ensures the maintenance of an important longitudinal study. We could use this income metric as a gateway to the other life chances measures, ensuring that government policy is directed towards not only everyone who is unemployed or sitting exams and has fears for their educational outcome, but those with an income risk, whom we are concerned about.
The new life chances agenda has enormous potential to bring coherence to deliver the Prime Minister’s all-out assault on poverty by aligning all the Government’s social programmes so that they focus on the delivery of life chances. The Government have four primary social programmes which could be aligned as part of a life chances strategy. Of these, the main initiatives are universal credit accompanied by universal support, the Work Programme, the troubled families programme and the pupil premium. At present, each of these programmes follows slightly different criteria and all are trying to achieve slightly different things. As the Government firm up their life chances and poverty agenda, it would make sense to use the life chances measures as the criteria for the underlying rationale of each of these programmes. The troubled families programme, universal credit, the Work Programme and the pupil premium could all be redirected to deliver life chances outcomes, including family stability, narrowing the educational achievement gap, recovery from addiction, financial literacy for those carrying unmanageable personal debt, and employment and progression in work.
The launch of a life chances strategy provides the Government with an opportunity to assess existing programmes and refocus them to improve life chances measures. We have a moment when we can seriously communicate the strength and effectiveness of our commitment to vulnerable people and genuinely deliver an all-out assault on poverty.
My Lords, I join others in commending my noble friend Lord Farmer on the introductory speech he made at the beginning of the debate and for drawing attention to the Prime Minister’s 11 January speech on life chances. The speech would have got more attention at the time had it not coincided with the sad death of David Bowie. Re-reading it last night, it struck me as a significant speech, rich in content—and it reminded me of the David Cameron who campaigned more than 10 years ago to become the leader of my party and then to reposition it in its one nation tradition and champion social reform.
The speech showed that he wants to be remembered not as the Prime Minister who kept Scotland in the UK or indeed keeps the UK in the European Union, but as a Conservative Prime Minister as committed to lasting social reform as the Thatcher Government were committed to lasting economic reform. As my noble friend Lady Jenkin said, in summary the speech was about ensuring that children who are born into poorer and sometimes chaotic households have the same life chances as those who are born to more able and better-educated parents. They should be able to advance themselves despite the start they got in life. Parts of the speech echo some of the other speeches the Prime Minister made at the time about general well-being being more important than GDP.
I have no idea what is in the Queen’s Speech next week or what is in the Government’s future programme, but I suspect that the Prime Minister will want to follow up on that speech with measures to take forward the agenda it contains, including measures on prison reform and mental health care reform as well as some of the other subjects mentioned by noble Lords in this debate, including apprenticeships, which were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hodgson. We also need measures to promote the soft skills that accelerate social mobility. Privately educated children do well not just because of better exam results or social connections but because they have the confidence and social skills that enable them to succeed at a top university or in a professional environment. Part of the agenda also needs to be a new mentoring scheme, better careers advice and a much more accessible programme of work experience.
I want to focus briefly on the housing section of the Prime Minister’s speech. The social divisions that are sometimes caused by tenants on local authority estates being in one part of a town and owner-occupiers on private estates in another part have been eroded to some extent by the right to buy and by Section 106 pepper-potting social housing in newly developed housing estates—but much more needs to be done. The speech refers to how housing estates, especially those built after the war, entrench poverty because they isolate and entrap so many families and communities. The speech says that they design crime in rather than out, leading to ghettos, gangs and anti-social behaviour, and thus to social segregation. The plan goes on to state that it wants to transform 100 housing estates across the country. It is a great idea, but a word of caution: we need to get the Treasury on side because transforming those estates is not cheap.
Some noble Lords may remember the housing action trusts of the 1990s, which provide a template for this transformation. There was a particularly successful one in Birmingham. So supportive of that trust was the local Labour MP that when he joined your Lordships’ House he gave himself the title of Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, which was the name of the housing action trust in his constituency. There were similar trusts in Liverpool, Hull, Waltham Forest, Brent and Tower Hamlets. They were preceded by a ballot of tenants to secure their assent to the transfer to a trust run by the local authority, the tenants association and the private sector. The tenants were key partners in the redesign of the estate, and training and employment were built into the transformation. At the end the estate could either go back to the local authority or it could set up a housing association to run itself. Guarantees were given on rents and obviously on rehousing, and there was mixed tenure.
Those trusts were a great success. Some of the people who ran them are still around and I hope they might be engaged. As I said, the only people who did not like it were in the Treasury. I hope that when my noble friend replies to the debate she can give us an assurance that the housing section of that speech will be taken forward by the Government with energy and with vision.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this very interesting short debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, in particular, for the very gracious way in which he introduced the debate and for his commitment and evident sincerity about the importance of this issue.
The depressing thing about having only five minutes is that I would love to take up every point that was mentioned. When the life chances strategy comes out, I think I will sit in the Bishops’ Bar and wait for people to come along and buy me coffee. I would like to have conversations about each of the points made—there is something I agree with in each contribution.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, about the importance of character and opportunity, and with the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, about relationships. The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, referred to ambition and culture, which are essential to the chance to move on. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro, I feel very strongly about the dangers of food insecurity and what we can do for families who worry about the most fundamental of things: putting food on the table for their children.
The noble Lord, Lord Fink, made some very important points about health, work and worklessness, which I will come back to. I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lupton, on early intervention, although I confess that I disagreed a bit at that point. He runs the risk of one of those irregular verbs, which is that I have common sense and you have party-political propaganda—I may come back to that as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, made some very important points about the voluntary sector and commissioning to which I would love to come back. The noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, in a very moving speech about disability, gave some real cause for thought, and I hope his noble friend the Minister is taking very good care of that. I very much thank him for that. The noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, who knows so much about this area, gave us much to think about, as did the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. To the person I am bound to have missed out, I apologise at this point.
I shall focus briefly on just one of those because I do not have much time. I want to talk about work, because a number of us could share the importance of work in trying to tackle the issue of work and life chances. I shall not reprise the occasionally quarrelsome debates we had on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill—for which I take at least half the responsibility, being occasionally a quarrelsome person myself—but one of the questions that came out quite strongly from all sides was concern about the issues of working poverty and work incentives. I want to flag up to the Minister the importance of this and what is happening to universal credit. I do this intentionally in a spirit of friendship. If around this House we support the principles of universal credit, it falls responsibly on all of us to make sure that we protect it from the ravages of the Treasury which, too often, sees it as being a little piggy bank it can raid for other things. So we need to protect it from that.
I should declare an interest, as I was an adviser in the Treasury when Gordon Brown introduced tax credits. The reason why we introduced tax credits was specifically to enable those who wanted to work but who were struggling to afford it to do so. We kept finding people who wanted to work, especially people with children or maybe a disability, who could not earn enough in the hours they could supply to be able to do the essentials, plus deal with the extra costs of disability or childcare. Tax credits were specifically designed to address that problem. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lupton, that one of the reasons why the tax credit bill rose is because at the same time the bill for welfare benefits for those out of work fell. Money was being transferred from one to the other.
One thing we must do is address making work pay. The Resolution Foundation’s recent report on universal credit did a lot of detailed work on modelling this. It flags up that there is a real danger that universal credit, because of the last round of cuts, will succeed in merging benefits but destroy the very point of UC, which was to make work pay and make progression through work possible. It said that quite specifically. It also said that,
“even some of the welcome progress made over the last 15 years under the tax credit system in reducing worklessness—particularly among single parents—is at risk of being dismantled. Improving financial incentives to start work alongside gradual labour market reform over the last two decades have underpinned the strength of recent employment performance”.
Those are the Government’s stated aims, with which we agree. We want to increase employment, cut the disability employment gap, reduce the number of workless households and make work pay. Universal credit has a real contribution to make but can only do so if properly funded. It was originally going to be able to do that job; I fear it no longer will.
Normally when I raise this, somebody will get up and point to tax cuts or the national living wage, but the Resolution Foundation modelled those as well, looking at those changes alongside universal credit. It found that 3 million working families who get tax credits now, or can do, will not get any help in future. They will lose about £42 a week. Another 1.2 million families will still get universal credit but will lose about £40 a week. Crucially, only around 200,000 families who lose universal credit will still be better off as a result of the tax cuts and increased national living wage. These things are welcome but do not compensate for the cuts and we should not kid ourselves that they do. It really matters, and families notice the difference.
We are tackling problems with the incentives to enter and progress in work. The results are that the gains from work are much lower than anticipated when UC was designed. That is especially true for second earners. Because of the loss of the work allowance in universal credit, if you are the second earner and you are a parent who goes into work and earns £5,000, you will keep only £1,750 of that—and that is before you pay your childcare. It is not worth it. What are we doing?
Some noble Lords might say, “Don’t worry, one parent can choose to stay at home if they have kids”. That is true, but it is only a choice if you can afford to do both. I work with single parents. A lot of them wanted to work part-time when the kids were young and to keep a hand in the labour market so that, when the kids were older, they were able to get back to work. Pre tax credits, I met lots of single parents who, when they got divorced or separated, had to give up their job and then really struggled to get back into work because they did not have recent work experience. I urge the Government to look carefully at this.
The last Budget cut down things specifically aimed at working families. This House persuaded the Chancellor to reverse the cuts in tax credits, but they were not reversed in universal credit. I ask the Minister just two questions. First, what urgent action has her department taken to address specifically work incentives within universal credit? Secondly, will she in due course respond to the Resolution Foundation recommendations? There is a lot of very sensible, thoughtful work in there.
I am sorry I have been able to focus only on one aspect of poverty but it is incredibly important. If work is not a route out of poverty, frankly we are offering a hollow victory to those people who manage to obtain it.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Farmer on securing this debate today, and also thank all Members from all sides of the House who contributed to the discussion.
This is a priority issue for the Government. When we talk about life chances, what we mean is a relentless focus—an all-out assault, as the Prime Minister calls it—on tackling the root causes of poverty in Britain today. It is about ensuring that every individual, no matter what their background, is able to realise their potential. Some people are held back by deep-rooted social problems. The life chances strategy will set out our comprehensive plan to tackle disadvantage and extend opportunity, as announced by the Prime Minister in his speech of 11 January. The strategy will describe how we are working across government to break down some of these barriers to opportunity and to transform people’s lives. This will be a cross-government initiative.
We have already introduced the new life chances measures through the Welfare Reform and Work Act, which will focus action on the root causes of child poverty rather than the symptoms. The Act introduces the new duty for the Government to report annually on children in workless households and children’s educational attainment—two of the five measures outlined by my noble friend Lady Stroud. We have chosen these measures because the evidence is clear that these are the factors with the biggest impact on child poverty and children’s life chances.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and many others have observed, we know that being part of a working household is the best route out of poverty. Children in workless families are around three times as likely to be in poverty as those where at least one parent works. As my noble friends Lord Lupton and Lady Jenkin and others have observed, this is important from the point of view of role models as well as just having more money coming in. Evidence shows that nearly three-quarters of poor workless families where the parents found full employment escaped poverty.
I am proud that this Government have a strong record on improving employment to date. The employment rate remains the highest on record, at 74.1% and with 31.4 million people in work. The number of children living in workless households is at a record low. It has fallen by 450,000 since 2010. That is 450,000 more children who now benefit from the role modelling, the health benefits and the economic security of living in a home where adults are going to work. The Government have introduced major structural changes to the welfare and tax systems to ensure that work always pays for families. This includes universal credit, changes to the personal tax allowance and the national living wage. I hear the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, about universal credit, but it is designed to ensure that work pays. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Freud has already met the Resolution Foundation to go through some of its findings and some of the areas which its analysis may have missed.
Of course we all recognise that education can be central to transforming children’s futures. I recognise the contribution of my noble friend Lord Fink in this area, and the involvement of many Members of this House in the academies programme. It is clear that educational attainment is the biggest single factor in ensuring that poor children do not end up as poor adults. We are determined to deliver educational excellence everywhere so that every child, regardless of their background, reaches their potential. Let me set out briefly what we are doing to achieve this. The Government are raising standards with a rigorous new curriculum, world-class exams and a new accountability system that rewards those schools which help every child to achieve their best. In particular, the Government introduced the pupil premium in the last Parliament, which provides schools with additional money to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils of all abilities. It is up to schools to decide how to spend this funding.
I certainly agree with the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro on food poverty. We have invested £1 billion over two years in universal infant free school meals, for example. Our measures on education will drive real action and will make a big difference to disadvantaged children both now and in the future.
I echo the sentiments expressed by many noble Lords about the importance of the family and improving life chances via that most important element of any society. I certainly agree with, and support, the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro in that regard. We must continue to affirm and reaffirm the importance of families in helping to give their children the best start in life. I am personally passionate about the role that all members of the family, including grandparents—an often overlooked and underplayed element of many families—can play in improving the well-being of children.
We are doing more to support couples and parents during difficult times—and even to anticipate difficulties—with our relationship support programmes. The recently published report from the Early Intervention Foundation found that conflict between parents can have such a devastating impact on children’s mental health and long-term outcomes. That is why it is so important that we help every mother and father be the best that they can be. I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, about the importance of relationships in that regard. That is why we have already doubled the funding for relationship support and have increased the amount of free childcare to support parents. It is also why we have targeted those families that need the most help. Our troubled families programme has turned around 120,000 families that had complex and deep-rooted problems and we are extending this to 400,000 more families. It is another prime example of collaborative work across government, with DCLG working with my own department and others on this programme. I hope that noble Lords will recognise that the Government are indeed working on a cross-departmental basis on this important new strategy.
Our life chances strategy will include a wider set of non-statutory measures on the root causes of disadvantage, including problem debt and drug and alcohol dependency. These non-statutory measures will work alongside the statutory life chances measures in the Welfare Reform and Work Act and will help us to drive real action on the deep-rooted and complex social problems that so many disadvantaged people face. The Prime Minister announced in his speech in January several new policies to transform the lives of the most disadvantaged.
As my noble friend Lord Holmes, the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro rightly stated, mental health issues must also be tackled. We are making a £290 million investment into mental health by 2020, which will mean, for example, that at least 30,000 more women each year will have access to specialist mental health care during or after pregnancy. We are committed to improving access to better services and promoting early intervention to address children’s and young people’s mental ill health issues before they worsen and we are investing an additional £1.4 billion over the next five years. We have also invested £120 million to introduce waiting time standards for mental health services for the first time.
I could not agree more with my noble friend Lord Farmer on the importance of stable relationships in ensuring better life chances and that it is about far more than just giving people money.
My noble friend Lord Holmes also made an important contribution in his powerful speech. I am pleased that he welcomes the Government’s sports strategy and I echo his commendation of organisations such as YoungMinds and comments on the importance of supporting those with both mental and physical needs. A healthy mind in a healthy body is certainly something that I fully endorse.
We are also making a £1 billion investment in the National Citizen Service, which will be extended to 60% of all 16 and 17 year-olds over the next few years, to show young people the power of public service. We will be using work experience much more creatively to give young people the encouragement they need to get into further education, employment or training when they leave school. We will also be supporting those with drug and alcohol addictions to help them to turn their lives around and fully recover.
I also agree with my noble friend Lord Hodgson about the role of the voluntary sector and the contribution that it can make. I know that other noble Lords also very much support that sector, which has a vital role to play.
As my noble friend Lady Jenkin mentioned, social networks are important, as are role models. She is absolutely correct to set out a number of the challenging issues faced by so many in society.
My noble friend Lord Young mentioned the importance of mentoring and careers advice, which, again, we are focusing on. It is true that there is more to be done on tackling housing and transforming housing estates. It is unarguable that this will have cost implications and I certainly assure my noble friend that we intend to pursue this energetically and with vigour.
Of course, I agree with my noble friend Lady Stroud, who knows so much about this area, about the importance of monitoring the impact of the life chances strategy and developing indicators, as well as a special focus on children in care.
It is important that the Minister is able to give the House an assurance that the Prime Minister’s earlier exercise in trying to family-proof new legislation is continued through the rest of this Parliament. Can she give us an assurance that the legislation in the Queen’s Speech will be subject to the family-proofing that the Prime Minister set out some months ago in his speech?
As the noble Lord is well aware, I cannot anticipate what will be in the Queen’s Speech, but I can certainly repeat that the family test is applied to all new policies developed by this Government.
My noble friend Lord Shinkwin made an emotional and passionate intervention on something that I feel very strongly about, and I certainly agree about the importance of considering all the requirements for a successful working life for disabled graduates, as well as the early encouragement of disabled children.
In conclusion, we have already committed to tackling the root causes of poverty. I am sorry that I have not had time to go into more detail about all the points that have been raised in this excellent debate. But I assure noble Lords that our intention is that, by putting people first and reiterating the importance of family in our new life chances strategy, we will, together, be able to transform people’s lives. Our forthcoming explanation of and further information on the life chances strategy will demonstrate how we and others across society will be able to achieve this.