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Local Authorities: Relationship Support Services

Volume 782: debated on Wednesday 5 April 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they are making in assessing the bids submitted by local authorities for the Department for Work and Pensions Local Family Offer programme funding for relationship support services; and when local authorities which have submitted bids will be notified of the outcome.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as vice-president of the charity Relate.

My Lords, 11 local authorities bid for the local family offer funding in December 2016. They were notified in January that their bids were successful. Each area has now been offered £50,000 to deliver the local family offer, including a new role as advocates, as we support more areas to integrate action to reduce parental conflict.

I thank the Minister for his Answer and I am grateful for that explanation. Could the Minister explain how the local family rollout relates to the new programme announced by the Secretary of State yesterday of £30 million to support parents in workless households experiencing relationship distress and to the promised funding across the lifetime of this Parliament of £70 million for relationship support, which I hope will be available for everyone who needs it, not only parents in workless households?

My Lords, the noble Baroness has highlighted three different aspects of work we are doing in the Department for Work and Pensions, but the work goes across all parts of government. She is right to highlight the different sums of money involved in the three schemes. The one we are discussing today is a small-scale scheme designed to offer a degree of help to local authorities to access expertise and evidence in order to drive forward various local strategies. I hope that will feed into all the other programmes as well but, as I say, that particular programme is a small-scale one to help those 11 local authorities.

My Lords, we know that money, or lack of it, can be an important factor in parental conflict. Given the announcement made yesterday, about which we have just heard, that the Government’s aim is to reduce parental conflict in workless families, can the Minister tell us what assessment they have made of the impact of benefit cuts, including the ongoing freeze in benefits, on parental conflict in families who are already struggling, and will be struggling all the more with the impact of these cuts?

My Lords, anyone who has been involved in family matters will know that money is one of the major causes of conflict in parental disputes, and that can be true at all levels of income. I do not accept that the changes and reforms we have made to the benefit system, which will continue to roll out this year, are making any difference in this respect.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that at the beginning of this decade the OECD found that one-fifth of children in this country were growing up without a father, compared with a quarter of children in the United States and one in seven children in Germany? We were performing poorly against our European neighbours. I welcome the funding that the Government are introducing. Does he agree that it is hugely important that children see their parents in harmony together and that, as far as possible, their fathers stay in contact with them and stay in their lives? Do the Government plan to put additional funding into this area in the future?

My Lords, I agree with most of what the noble Earl says. How much the Government can do to solve all these problems is another matter. However, there are things that we can do and that is why I was grateful for the opportunity to respond to this Question and just deal with this one small scheme. As I say, other things can be done—that is why we published our policy paper, Improving lives: Helping Workless Families, yesterday—and we will continue to see where we can help in all areas.

My Lords, perhaps I may build on the response just given by the Minister. The Government can only do so much and we certainly need to see joined-up thinking and action if we are going to help these families. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to ensure that when local authorities bid for funding for the local family offers, they are working collaboratively with grass-roots organisations—charities, churches and so on—which are already seeking to build up relationship capacity in families?

My Lords, I cannot give precise details of what consideration was taken when assessing the bids, but I am fairly sure that the degree of co-operation that local authorities want to build with such organisations is a factor which would be taken into account.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s commitment to continue with the troubled families programme, although there were some difficulties with it. Can my noble friend tell us how the outcome of that programme is to be monitored so that it delivers what it is meant to do?

I am grateful to my noble friend for that question and I can give her an assurance that we will be evaluating phase one of the programme, which has been completed, and then phase two, about which I have just given details. We aim to publish an evaluation of phase one later in the summer, whenever that might be, and in due course we will consider an evaluation of phase two.

My Lords, I should like to return to the answer given by the Minister to my noble friend Lady Lister. Perhaps he should go back to his own paper entitled Improving Lives: Helping Workless Families, which came out yesterday. Paragraph 33 cites evidence that problem debt and financial burdens can put pressure on relationships. It attributes those issues to persistent low income and income shocks. Will he think again not only about the damage that has been done by cutting £12 billion off social security for those out of work? Also, given that this is aimed at workless families, if the DWP wants to get them back into work, why is the department persisting in cutting in-work benefits, the very things that make work pay? Before the Minister tells us more about the living wage, perhaps I may remind him of what he knows already. Most of the living wage for the poorest people goes straight back to the Treasury in taxes and lower benefits. Will the department look again at its strategy and make work pay?

There is no need for the noble Baroness to try to answer my question because I will answer it in my own way.

The noble Baroness wanted to answer my question. She can practise those things as long as she likes. Perhaps I may remind her just how high the rates of employment are. Employment is the best route out of poverty for all households, and certainly the best route out of poverty for households with children. Since 2010 we have seen a decline of some 590,000 children in families that are workless.