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Child Welfare

Volume 783: debated on Wednesday 5 July 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in addressing (1) the concerns of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, and (2) that Committee’s recommendations for changes in the implementation of measures to enhance child welfare.

My Lords, the Government continue to raise awareness and to promote children’s rights. We have been developing a robust framework of actions to implement the commitments set out in the Written Ministerial Statement in October 2016 on the UN’s concluding observations. For example, today, following DfE funding, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England published child-friendly versions of the concluding observations. We continue to monitor progress made by other government departments.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. Of course, he will be aware that Governments who signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are monitored for their impact on child welfare and children’s rights. He mentioned the Government’s response in 2016. The report for the UK, although it recorded improvements, criticised the following areas: child poverty, safeguarding, immigration, education, health and criminal justice. Does not this wide spectrum of criticism inspire the Government to create a Cabinet Minister for children’s rights so that they could have a high profile and would be more on the agenda?

As mentioned, the Government are taking action. I could go through a series of actions to show that we take this very seriously. On the question that the noble Baroness asked, the Government as a whole are fully committed to children’s rights and to giving them due consideration in all new policy and legislation. We do not think that appointing a Cabinet Minister for children’s rights is the right way forward. We want all Cabinet members to think about children’s rights and the framework of actions that are put in place. The Children and Families Minister, Robert Goodwill, is fully committed to ensuring that the commitments we set out will be implemented.

My Lords, the papers report the numbers of families who are homeless and those living in and staying for longer periods than allowed under legislation in bed and breakfast accommodation. For some of these families, young children and parents all share one room, sometimes even one bed. More than 100,000 children live in temporary accommodation in this country. What steps are the Government taking, for example, to consider the legislation proposed by the Liberal Democrats on relaxing the constraints on local authorities so that they can borrow more money to build more homes? What urgent steps are the Government taking to enable more of our people to have a secure home?

The noble Earl makes a good point. A start has been made because the Children’s Commissioner wrote an interesting report that came out yesterday. We will be able to expand upon this in a Question tomorrow on children with vulnerability. There are four key areas. This is work in progress but she has made a very good start. We will build on that to see how we can tackle these serious problems.

My Lords, some of the most vulnerable children are those with life-limiting or life-threatening illnesses. They require a lot of social care. Yet the Government omitted children when promising to address the challenges of social care. Will the Government include children in the forthcoming Green Paper on social care? Secondly, how will they fulfil their promise on end-of-life care for children when some children’s hospices and children’s palliative care charities have to review the care they offer because of a 61% cut in local council funding for their activities?

The noble Baroness is correct that the Green Paper is being produced. We aim to publish it by the end of the year. It will focus on children and young people, particularly on mental health. As the noble Baroness will know, this is a key priority for the Government. This includes preventing mental illness in children and young people and raising awareness of mental health issues among young people and adults.

In the report, published in 2016, it states that 202 children suffering from mental health issues were placed in adult wards in 2015-16, despite this being made illegal in 2010. Can the Minister comment on this?

I would certainly need to look at that specific issue. It is something that I will need to report back to the right reverend Prelate on, and I will do so.

My Lords, in talking to other departments, will the Minister draw to the attention of the Department for Education the factors listed in the report, all of which contribute to under-potential attainment by children? Will he point out that such children need nursery education and many families need adult education, along with social care? There are far too many children growing up in households with problems that adults would find impossible to overcome.

Well, indeed. The whole House will agree that every child needs and deserves the best possible start in life. The noble Baroness referred to early years and childcare. All three and four year-olds and the least advantaged two year-olds can access 15 hours a week of funded early education. The proportion of all children achieving a good level of development is improving year on year, but it remains work in progress.

My Lords, the Minister said that the Government were committed to children and children’s rights. I have to say to him that the evidence is quite to the contrary. The DWP’s own figures in 2015 showed that 28% of children in the UK were living in poverty, yet last year the Government abolished the Child Poverty Unit and abandoned child poverty reduction targets. That does not seem to be in any sense a commitment to children. Surely children should be at the forefront of all government policy. Do the Minister and what I might describe as his caretaker Government intend to introduce the recommendations of the UN committee report or have they implicitly accepted that they are on borrowed time and it is only a matter of time before a Labour Government come into power who are really committed to children’s rights and to ending poverty?

My Lords, poverty is something that the whole House needs to take seriously, as we do. We are very aware that despite record levels of employment, there are still around 1.3 million children in workless households across the UK. This is something that we are really looking to address. We need to ensure that children are in households where work gets them out of poverty.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the excellent work being done by the charity Malachi in the West Midlands in addressing the problems of families and children and the lack of help they have often had from the Birmingham local authority?

It is helpful to know about that. I am not aware of it but I will certainly look at it after this session.