Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the case for delivering equality of opportunity and beneficial quality of life for young people.
I cannot think of a better group of speakers to join me for the next two and half hours to shine some light on this all-important issue. I thank in advance all noble Lords participating in this debate. I also welcome our young guests in the Gallery, the participants in the webinar we held last night, and the responses to the Twitter poll we held this morning in advance of this debate.
I worry that too often the voices of the next generation are left out of the debate altogether. I hope we can instead find ways today to ensure that we can put young people at the very heart of policy-making. One of the basic principles of British society is that each generation helps out the next. The taxes of today’s workers fund the pensions of their parents and the education of their children. It is therefore unsurprising that surveys find that a majority of people think that each generation should have a better life than the one before. But this goal is increasingly under threat. In the economy, housing, health and education, the millennials are not getting the same opportunities as the generation before them. Millennials are the first generation not to earn more than people born 15 years before them when they were the same age. Over 3 million people aged between 20 and 34 still live with their parents. According to the IFS, we will shortly reach a point where there is a crossover between the under-30s who are not even on the first rung of the property ladder, and the over-55s, one in six of whom owns a second property. The inequality is clear.
Nowhere does this become more acute and obvious than in the debate about Brexit. In our Twitter poll this morning—I thank the respondents—34% put this as a priority. We are concerned that the Government’s relentless yet futile attempt to secure a Brexit deal that can pass the Commons has meant that the big issues facing young people are not being properly addressed. At present, the Commons seems to shut up shop earlier and earlier, but these are critical issues that need solving now for a future generation. Brexit must have consumed thousands of years of the time and energy of politicians, civil servants, policymakers and journalists—time that could have been spent dealing with the real challenges of our day, such as the impact of an ageing population, the mental health challenge for young people, and the all-important issue of combating climate change. It could have been spent putting greater focus on the brilliant work started by my colleagues, my noble friend Lady Featherstone and Jo Swinson MP to tackle the issues of body confidence or negative stereotyping—issues raised in a recent poll of school leavers by Central YMCA as all-important to them. Instead we are stuck in this endless loop.
What is so worrying is that young people have lost out most from this. They voted overwhelmingly to remain and feel that their opportunities to live, work and study abroad have been constrained. They must pick up the pieces in a few years’ time, when the pension system becomes unsustainable, sea levels rise uncontrollably and deadly extreme weather across the world—and the resulting movement in populations—becomes the norm. So it is right that we ask ourselves today and continue to challenge ourselves on how we can improve young people’s quality of life and make it more equal.
First, we need young people to be at the centre of the political debate, not just an afterthought. Secondly, we need to find the right mechanisms to hear their voice. Neither the current political process nor the policies it produces have made young people think that they matter to the politicians. Here, then, is a proposal that I and my colleagues on these Benches sent to the Minister in advance of this debate. Just as the Government have an industrial strategy to govern their relationship with businesses, we need an equivalent young people’s strategy to help them work alongside our under-25s to deliver the policies they care about most and that will deliver equality.
The Government could start by ensuring that the Conservatives deliver their own manifesto commitments to young people. In 2017, they promised that apprentices would be provided with discounted bus and train travel and that a new, UCAS-style portal would be set up for vocational and technical courses. Both proposals appear to have been quietly dropped—unless the Minister has any further news on these issues for us today.
We also wrote to the Minister in advance with five key policies that we would like introduced. First, we would give young people aged 16 or 17 a vote and a voice in elections, including any people’s vote on Brexit. I look forward very much to hearing more about the democratic engagement of young people from the noble Lord, Lord Bird.
Secondly, we would end the funding emergency in our schools and colleges, so that policies such as the pupil premium, introduced by the Liberal Democrats, targeted to help those most in need, are the priority. Ninety-one per cent of schools will still have less money per pupil in real terms in 2020 than they did in 2015. This must end.
It was obscene to read in the press at the weekend about the fears of social engineering from independent schools as a result of Oxford and Cambridge shifting a tiny percentage in favour of state schools. The belief that writing a cheque for your child’s education means that your child is entitled to a place at a top university is abhorrent and the opposite of equality. According to the Sutton Trust, the system still shows significant bias in favour those from of independent schools getting into Russell group universities. I look forward to hearing much more on that issue from my noble friend Lord Storey and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar.
As the Social Mobility Commission recently stated, inequality is now entrenched in Britain from birth to work and the Government need to take urgent action to help close the privilege gap. It goes on to say that,
“the dominance of background factors on future outcomes is further compounded when we look at the interaction with gender, ethnicity and disability”.
I look forward to hearing from my noble friend Lord Dholakia on that.
Last night, we held a webinar in advance of this debate. We heard from Dom from Bournemouth University, who stressed the importance of the arts in education. Colleagues will be aware that we very much believe that the arts and creativity have a critical role in the future of the UK if we are to nurture more of the genius talents—yes, this a gratuitous mention—of the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. If we had a fully funded state school system that included arts in our priorities—in other words, STEAM, not STEM—we could ensure that talent for the future.
Our third ask, which we wrote to the Minister about, is to guarantee that every young person can see a mental health professional within two weeks if they have experienced a breakdown. This is an issue that my noble friend Lady Tyler has campaigned on for many years and spoke eloquently about this morning. I look forward to hearing further thoughts on this from other noble Lords.
The charity YoungMinds warns that the NHS has the resources to provide mental health support to just a third of the young people who need it. Last night on our webinar, we learned about a student who has had to abandon his degree because mental health support was too far away. We learned that students had to de-register from their home GPs to get support in college, which was reducing their overall level of support. About an hour ago, outside Parliament, we met some young people who talked to us about the delivery gap for CAMHS, the plight of students needing access to mental health support and—much, much worse—the plight of those who are not students who need access to mental health support.
My fourth point, which is very close to my heart from my background of working at Shelter, concerns having somewhere decent to live. How can there be equality of opportunity if someone under 25 has nowhere to live? I look forward to hearing from my colleague and annual sleep-out compadre, my noble friend Lady Suttie, on that very subject. As the Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee recently found, lack of housing provision underpins unfairness in rent levels for 25 year-olds. It is key for our future generations that we build more homes. My noble friend Lord Shipley’s commitment to building council houses is something I have long admired.
The charity Crisis and others have had great success recently in their help-to-rent schemes, but, as we wrote to the Minister to say, this is something that we would like offered at a national level, so that young renters can afford a deposit on their first home. In our Twitter poll this morning, 33% of respondents said that that was an important priority for them.
Fifthly, Extinction Rebellion and the recent visit of Greta Thunberg are signs of a younger generation who care about others, the planet and a global community. I applaud them for that. We should hear them loud and clear, recognise the outcry of young people against climate change and create a legal target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. Instead of the Government’s current policies of banning the cheapest form of renewable energy—onshore wind—slashing renewable power subsidies and ditching the zero-carbon homes standard and the green deal, we would restore them and achieve some of those targets.
This is our five-part package. It is simple, ambitious, life-changing and would help young people to feel that they are changing the debate, not shouting from the sidelines. However, this will not fix the policy-making process or ensure that young people feel that they are contributing to how policies are devised and implemented.
The Government’s industrial strategy includes a council of key stakeholders that monitors progress and holds Ministers’ feet to the fire. In the same way that we have the UK Youth Parliament and the Youth Select Committee to mirror the work of the UK Parliament, a UK young people’s strategy council would put young people’s voices at the heart of the Executive. It could comprise members of the UK Youth Parliament or representatives from young people’s charities. A similar council has already been set up in Canada by Justin Trudeau, and I look forward to hearing more detail on it from my noble friend Lord Purvis.
To conclude, we ask the Government to consider our young people’s strategy proposal and our five key policies. We offer those flagship policies to ensure that young people feel listened to: giving young people aged 16 and 17 the vote; reversing the real-terms cut to per-pupil school funding since 2015, while providing a commensurate boost to FE funding for young people aged 16 to 19; ensuring that no child or young person has to wait more than two weeks for mental health treatment following an episode of psychosis; creating a nationwide help-to-rent scheme, giving loans to first-time renters so that they can afford to pay the deposit; and creating a statutory target to reduce net CO2 emissions in the UK to zero by 2045. We wrote in advance to the Minister and would like answers on those specific proposals.
None of us should be willing to stand by and let the voices of young people be unheard any longer. It is time for this Government to be held to account by a younger generation. Our proposals would help to deliver that: we owe it to a future generation to deliver.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate and am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, managed to secure it. Two and a half hours is certainly not long enough to talk about what the young people of tomorrow or today should be getting out of society and life—I am sorry about my voice, I have a bit of a throat.
I am interested in the word “equality”. Is it equality before the marketplace? Is it equality in the democratic sense of everybody having a vote? Is it the equality that often does not happen, around people’s ability to have social mobility and to move on? Is it the equality we associate with being highly educated and knowing the difference between certain things? Is it the equality that comes from what I call a cognitive democracy?
What is the difference between a cognitive democracy and the democracy we now operate under? We operate under a representative system that, at the moment, seems unrepresentative because it cannot bring enough people together to share this representation. The Brexit issue is a confounding of what we have come to see as representative democracy. That is a great fear for the future and for our children, because it devalues this House, the other House and the whole process of what we call representative democracy.
Let us move on to participatory democracy. Why should young people be involved in participatory democracy? Why should they get off their rears and do things? Why should they study? Why should they burn the candle at both ends when, at the end of it, there is no opportunity to have a fuller life? We need to look seriously at the problems associated with the fact that many young people will do all that—go to university, go to college, do their apprenticeships, sweat both ends and burn the midnight oil—but at the end they will get some crummy job, because the crummy jobs are the only ones on offer.
I would love to see the equality of opportunity that comes from future generations not being controlled by the claptrap of the division between left and right and the division in society between rich and poor. We spend so much time trying to square the circle of the fact that a handful of people can own half of London while other people move along in a very shadowy sort of existence. These are the kind of things that the next generation are going to sort out, because we have not. We have not been able to develop the methodology or the pedagogy that would enable us to do so.
We fail 33% of our children at school. We can go on about public schools and private schools and all sort of things. We can say that, because there are private schools and public schools and privilege for some, we fail 33% of our children. I do not know if it follows like that. I come from the failed 33%. I failed many years ago—50 or 60 years ago—but even in that failure there was something quite grand. It was called Her Majesty’s custodial system, which took children who had done wrong and gave them a second, third and sometimes fourth chance. It moved them on, out of crime and wrongdoing. If they wanted to climb Mount Everest, as long as they did not rob old ladies in the process they would be encouraged to do that. I was encouraged to become an artist, a printer and all sorts of things by a system that worked: the system of rehabilitation. For those 33% now, we do not have that system. We have a system that is clogged up, full up and has a real problem: people go in bad and come out worse.
I was in the care system between the ages of seven and 10. We were fed, looked after and marshalled. There was no individualism, but at least we came out untainted at the other end. The care system now is open for perverts to abuse. Now, if you have been through the care system, you have more chance of ending up in prison, on the streets or in the kind of job that will never, ever lift you out of poverty but actually keeps you in poverty—earning £6, £7 or £8 an hour means that your children will never get to university or get the opportunities of true equality.
I have been working very much on the idea of dismantling poverty. That is why I came into the House. It was a most grandiloquent thing to do: why would anybody come into a House that believes in and runs a system and say that it does not work? This system does not work. When I look around, I am astonished and appalled at the number of people who really want to help the poor have a little more comfort or opportunity but do not want to actually get them out of poverty. This ideological war is taking up too much of our energy. We should be addressing whether we can bring about equality using the old, ideological arguments that have brought us to a situation in which 69% of the damage done to the planet has taken place in the last 40 years.
I am running out of time, but I need to say this. Today, I am launching a very important magazine about social literacy, which to me is one of the central things; we have to pass social literacy to our children. Unfortunately, I have to skedaddle; please forgive me, but at 5 pm we close the magazine. Noble Lords will all get free copies in compensation.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, especially with the plug for the magazine towards the end of his contribution; no doubt we will all study it very closely. I also commend my noble friend Lady Grender, not only on how she introduced this debate and on securing it, but on engaging so widely in advance of it. I hope that that may become a model for many of our debates in this House—making sure that Parliament is about not only the debate in its Chambers but can stimulate debate outside it, as well as be as open and inclusive in our own proceedings as possible.
My noble friend suggested that I might refer to international perspectives and look at some comparative examples from the Commonwealth. In doing so, I will reflect on a slightly wider perspective. According to the United Nations, the world population in 2050 will be over 9 billion, which will be an increase of a third since 2010. Overall, the world’s population is the youngest it has ever been and will proportionately get younger in the next generation, even while life expectancy increases.
When I was born in 1974, the population was 4 billion. The world has grown rapidly from a global economy of $5.5 trillion then to $76.7 trillion today, with average per capita GDP globally going from $1,400 to $10,300. This per capita average growth is marked but masks major inequalities. Often these are class-born, rural and urban, or driven by conflict and post-conflict situations. There are global similarities in such relative inequalities—the world is now a smaller place—so the issues my noble friend raised have relevance across the globe. The marked economic development is reflected in life expectancy, which has increased from 61 to 72 in my lifetime, with child mortality reducing from 132 deaths per 1,000 births to just 43. Our investment in girls’ health, women’s health, education and opportunities at the start of life has led to major developments, but there are still massive discrepancies.
As my noble friend indicated, the way in which young people communicate now will transform even more in the future. In many respects, the world is a much smaller place, offering greater opportunities but also, as young people perceive it, much greater threats to their privacy and security. For example, the number of air passengers in 1997 was 401 million around the world; in 2016 it was 3.7 billion. That increase raises issues not only of climate change but of the benefits of connectivity. The world is more closely connected as a result of the internet and the contribution of the world wide web. Half a trillion text messages are sent out every day, compared with hardly any until the mid-1990s. This means that a child growing up in the UK from whatever class or background will be able to communicate more freely. That offers greater opportunities but also more threats to security and more difficulties.
Politically too there has been major progress. The number of countries considered democratic when I was born was 34, today it is 87; and the number of young people living in a democratic or largely democratic environment has risen from 1.7 billion to 4.1 billion today. This means that with the social, economic and democratic progress also comes a belief that the individual is a stakeholder. The young people of today are far more empowered because they live in a democratic society. However, that democracy, which has an established and accepted social contract which states that your Government will provide you with greater services and better opportunities than the previous generation, is under stress. Now the expectations of these young people are being outstripped by the ability of the democratically elected Governments to deliver. This is the case in developed and developing countries and in countries where there are older populations, such as in Asia and the West, and where there are younger populations, such as in Africa and the MENA region.
What does this mean? It means that the life chances for children born in Britain today are immeasurably greater than a child such as me, born in 1974 to a mechanic dad who became an ambulance technician for the NHS, and a mother who brought up her sons and worked part-time as a cleaner and then in a shop. That fairly typical working-class family that I am from, if born today, would be born into a radically changed world. The policymakers now looking towards life opportunities until 2050 at least, given the growth of the world’s population, must think differently. The traditional policy choices of a social bargain and investing for social justice have to be challenged.
The question at hand, which my noble friend Lady Grender is tackling, is how these opportunities can be secured for the widest number of young people and how can government respond more and better to the views of young people to make sure that there are equal opportunities? A critical first step, as my noble friend said, would be a universal right of young people to vote at the age of 16. I have believed in this passionately since I joined a political party at 16. I was angry then that old people could vote to shape my future and I did not have a vote to shape my own. That was confirmed in the European referendum and other votes, where the older generation was not necessarily making decisions for the future generation.
A second step would be to formalise the structures of government so that young people are not only listened to but involved. Yes, the UK Youth Parliament, the Scottish Youth Parliament and the Welsh Youth Parliament have been positive developments, and I was the first Member of the Scottish Parliament to do joint advice surgeries with members of the Scottish Youth Parliament in my area. They are to be commended, but we need across the UK youth strategies, as my noble friend Lady Grender said, which inform and involve young people.
We can learn from the excellent initiative of the Liberal Government and Prime Minister of Canada. In 2015 Justin Trudeau appointed himself Minister of Youth at the same time as he became Prime Minister. He started the process of having the country’s first dedicated youth strategy, informed and shaped by the Prime Minister’s Youth Council, which he initiated. The introduction to the resulting strategy states:
“Investing in youth is in Canada’s social and economic interest. As a country, we must respect and value young people’s opinions. Almost all government policies and decisions have an impact on young people’s lives and youth have the right to influence these decisions, both individually and collectively. Multiple perspectives also strengthen decision-making and policy development by encouraging innovation, creativity and change”.
The participation of young people is critical to that. It went on to refer to something to which I am deeply committed, saying:
“Furthermore, involving young people in political processes will help build trust in democratic institutions, in turn protecting Canada’s democracy”.
The use of the word “protecting” is deliberate. We need to have that kind of language in our society today because it is under threat given the distance between policymakers and the young people who will have to live with the consequences of the major decisions being made by Parliament at the moment.
If we are to properly realise a strategy which has a direct impact on the life opportunities ahead, we need to make sure that it is the majority that seeks the opportunity but does not shoulder the burden of the difficulties. A respondent to the consultation in Canada said:
“Every young person should be afforded the opportunity to be the best version of themselves”.
That is surely an ambition that a young person in London, England, or London, Ontario, and in Banff, Scotland, or Banff, Alberta, can share.
My Lords, there is no more important issue to society than the well-being of our young people and the creation of an environment in which they have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, on drawing this topic to our attention today.
Before young people come of age they remain our responsibility and under our protection, whether we are parents or citizens of the country. They are educated in our schools, treated in our hospitals, breathe the air of our cities, live by our laws, must abide by the results of elections in which they do not vote and have to put up with the decisions our generation make, some of them good and some of them less so. This is a huge responsibility and certainly should not be taken lightly.
It is a responsibility brought home to me every morning as I look at my sometimes quite intimidating Generation Z children sitting across from me at the breakfast table. This is a generation that has still to find its voice. I think of the immense challenges that they and all young people face, but with which I am sure they will have the vision and capability to grapple. One of our jobs is to make sure that they have the opportunity to do just that and to be the best they can be.
However, there is clearly a range of issues—some of which have already been discussed in this Chamber—that we need to address to make this a reality. What kind of things do I mean? A new think tank called Onward, on whose advisory board I sit, published fascinating statistics a few weeks ago and I should like to share a few with the House. According to the OECD, millennials are being squeezed out of middle-income households. According to Civitas, nearly 1 million more young people live with their parents than 20 years ago. Onward’s survey of Generation Y discovered that more than half of those aged under 35 are worried or very worried about their personal finances. One in four people aged between 18 and 24 say that they find social media pressure difficult to manage, and they are rightly worried about climate change.
We also know that at least 10% of young people in Britain today suffer from mental health issues. That could be as much as 20% if we include those not yet caught up in the system. This a problem of epidemic proportions and I single it out today in my comments, echoing today’s earlier debate.
If we consider that 50% of mental illness in adults starts under the age 15 and 75% before the age of 18, the problem of today’s children will soon become the problem for tomorrow’s adults. We are projecting a mental health problem of major proportions towards the future. If we are to try to deliver equality of opportunity and beneficial quality of life, as the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, suggests, this is a big obstacle. We see it in the worrying level of mental health issues that have arisen in our universities with tragic cases of student suicide on the rise. As the Times columnist Clare Foges wrote recently, on top of the stresses of a life on social media and financial stress,
“there lurk three further assassins to wellbeing: too much unstructured time, too much isolation, too much distance from the comfort of home”.
This can result in tragedy for some and misery for many.
Our universities need a good long think about how they can provide more support and a more engaged environment for students, but the problems often start well before university. I welcome the growing awareness of the problems of children’s mental health in society today, I pay tribute to the many powerful charities, such as YoungMinds and Place2Be, which do so much to help, and I commend the Government on making this a priority and on the many proposals set out in their Green Paper.
However, awareness is only the first step, and we are some way from rolling out a holistic solution. Let us look at the Government’s focus on solving the problem in schools, which I welcome. The proposal to introduce a designated school lead for mental health is not yet fully explained. We must make sure that these leads are well trained and their role is clear. Without properly trained counsellors, there is a danger that we will get better at identifying who needs help without being in a position to offer them the help they need. A recent EU-funded study shows the UK way down the European league table for the numbers of CAMHS psychiatrists and hospital beds. A recent study from the Children’s Commissioner found funding down in real terms in one-third of areas in England. Inconsistencies in funding are undermining efforts to get to grips with the problem.
We continue to face a toxic combination of stringent thresholds, which lead to rejected referrals—nearly one-third—and those who are lucky enough to be referred often being left languishing on waiting lists. By the time they get to see someone, the situation is quite a lot worse.
We owe our young people more. We need to do what we can to give them the best chance of a worthwhile life and playing their part in society, fulfilling their potential and being the teachers and doctors, mums and dads of tomorrow. They are our future, and at the moment we are a long way from where we need to be in supporting them.
My Lords, this debate is timely. It comes at a time when our young people are excluded from the political process that will affect their future for generations to come, a point well made by my noble friend Lady Grender. Millions of us voted in the referendum to decide whether we remain in or leave the European Union. However, only those aged over 18 took part; the opportunity was denied to our young people. In Scotland, 16 year-olds can now vote in Holyrood and local elections, so why do we continue this anomaly, which had a substantial impact on the outcome of the referendum? The Lord Speaker’s programme for schools has clearly identified young people’s craving to learn about and participate in our political process. Why are there no immediate plans for the UK Government to lower the voting age for general elections? Surely delivering a beneficial quality of life will be more meaningful if young people have a say in their future.
My other concern is that the age of criminal responsibility in the UK is the lowest in Europe. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is 10 years old, which contravenes international juvenile justice standards. In the two previous Parliaments I have promoted Private Members’ Bills to raise the age to 12, and in this Parliament I am awaiting the Third Reading of my Bill. The current limit is arbitrary and not evidence-based. It is also out of step with other age limits for children. Criminalising children adversely affects their prospects. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly criticised this and called on the UK to raise the age to 12. How will the Government improve the quality of life for this group of our young people if they continue to retain the lowest age of criminal responsibility in the UK?
Last week I watched with horror a news item on the BBC about a gambling habit swallowing Kenya’s youth. Online sports betting is worth billions of pounds every year. This habit is fuelled by the faster internet, cheaper phones and the English Football League. One Kenyan Minister called it “a curse on youth”. It must be a worry that children are being sucked into a cycle of betting, debt and poverty. I welcome the campaign led by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans on this matter. We need to do much more to divert young people away from gambling. We must have a clear strategy to ban the effectiveness of gambling adverts. We must be one step ahead on the impact of gambling on children. The use of mobile phones has increased, and so has young people’s participation in unconventional or new forms of gambling or gambling-like behaviour. Are we satisfied with the betting industry’s ability to regulate its clients? It would be helpful if the Minister could explain whether systematic monitoring of the betting industry is taking place and whether the Government have in mind demanding a mandatory tax on that industry to fund treatment for addiction, particularly in young people.
In the past I have taken every opportunity to reduce the impact of sentencing on our young people. I refer to my Private Member’s Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill. I am glad that the Government have now realised that short custodial sentences have little rehabilitative impact on the lives of young people, but more initiatives need to be taken to reduce the unacceptably high rate of incarceration among our young people. We need to reform the childhood criminal record system so that it is child-specific and reflects the nature of childhood offending. I am impressed by the work of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice. I share its concern that the current system allows widespread, lengthy and unnecessary retention of childhood records and acts as a barrier to rehabilitation by preventing children growing up and moving on from past mistakes. At present, the system is by far the most punitive I have come across. I support the SCYJ’s call for the Government to reform the system so that it provides a better balance between public protection and rehabilitation. Such sentences should be significantly reduced, there must be a presumption against the disclosure of police intelligence relating to children, and there should be an ability to wipe or delete records. Will the Minister look at the Supreme Court judgment and undertake a wide-ranging review for significant reform on this point?
The report by the House of Lords Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee spells out unfairness between older and younger generations. The committee observed:
“There is a structural shift taking place, with younger generations not seeing the increase in living standards enjoyed by the previous generations”.
I am afraid this disadvantage is built into the lives of black and ethnic minorities from the time they come to the United Kingdom. Of course we have race relations and human rights legislation on the statute book, but discrimination and disadvantage remain an everyday reality in the lives of many people. Geographically and economically, they occupy the place allocated to them when they arrived here, and organisations and institutions still fail to take into account the cultural diversity of our communities. Of course I welcome the Government’s initiative to audit their workforce, but after nearly 70 years of settlement here, we should have eradicated such disadvantages a long time ago.
We saw the ugly face of racism filtered through the last London mayoral election, followed by crude comments about migrant workers during the EU referendum. Many have argued that it is important to articulate a shared sense of national identity in contemporary conditions of flux and change. If so, how can we reconcile this with diversity, openness and pluralism of belief and practice? With the growing generations of young people in our black and ethnic minority communities, fixed notions of shared identity—even if they could be agreed on—are less necessary than promoting individual identity, pluralism and genuine multiculturalism. We need to take into account post-war migration and the process of globalisation, which cross the geographical boundaries of all nations. Unfortunately, much of the public debate on multiculturalism and “Britishness” has been on shallow grounds.
Multiculturalism is about more than a vague, well-meaning tolerance of difference. The passive position has led to the perception of many separate communities with separate interests which are in conflict. True multiculturalism is proactive and means that equality and diversity are at the core of everything we do, from government to individual responsibility. It means taking a much more proactive stance towards combating racism and discrimination, really tackling inequality in all aspects of society—the social and economic aspects and civic participation—positively valuing the contribution of different cultures and perspectives, and treating them with respect. We should not fail, or generations of minorities growing up in this country will never forgive us.
My Lords, it is a depressing fact that there are now 500,000 more children living in poverty in the UK than there were in 2012. With so many young people starting from this position of early disadvantage, ensuring equality of opportunity is more important than ever, and I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, for providing a platform to air these issues today.
Being born into poverty has a profound and enduring effect on the opportunities that will be both available and attainable in later life. Privilege may be an accident of birth but the propulsion that it provides, throughout the life course, is not.
Children from disadvantaged families have the odds stacked against them from the outset. By the age of three, they are likely to be 18 months behind the children of more affluent parents. In areas of high deprivation, up to 60% start school without adequate speech, interaction and communication skills. This early disadvantage accumulates: if you are lagging at age five, you are six times more likely at age 11 to be behind in English and 11 times more likely to be behind in Maths.
The terrible truth is that, by the age of five, 40% of the overall gap between disadvantaged 16 year-olds and their better-off classmates has already been set in train, and it continues throughout the educational journey. Only 26% of free school meal students go on to higher education, compared with 43% of their more affluent peers. Just 5% win places in the most prestigious institutions and, for those who do, drop-out rates are a third higher.
Early disadvantage continues to exert its insidious influence on employment prospects, career progress and earnings potential. A degree will certainly make a difference, but students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to be in work six months after graduation, they will be earning less and, as they are less likely to have gone to a Russell group university, they will not be enjoying the 40% earnings premium of those who have. Even when disadvantaged students go on to gain a prestigious first, they are still likely to earn around £7,000 a year less than more privileged graduates with identical results. The recent State of the Nation report says:
“Being born privileged in Britain means that you are likely to remain privileged”.
Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison, authors of The Class Ceiling, go further, describing privilege as a,
“following wind … an energy-saving device that allows some to get further with less effort”.
It is not that the upwardly mobile cannot progress, as we know that they do, and it is not that they will never reach the top; it is just that they often have the wind against them. Their analysis in The Class Ceiling of Labour Force Survey data confirms that, showing that only 10% of people from working-class backgrounds will climb the steep social ladder to the highest professional, managerial or cultural occupations. It would be easy, and it would certainly be easier on our consciences, to put that down to merit—to justify it on the basis of talent alone—but research shows that this is not the case. Unless we believe that talent is reserved solely for the middle classes and above, we have to admit that something has gone wrong.
Education ought to be the great equaliser, but all the challenges of disadvantage are compounded through our twin-track education system: one track for 94% of UK children and another for the remaining 6%. That part of the system employs one out of every seven teachers in the UK and the spend on students’ education is three times higher—all underpinned by fees that are now, on average, 50% of the median UK household income. Pupils at these schools mix with a peer group of equal privilege—the beginnings of a valuable network that will support them in their future careers—and they benefit from a vast range of extra-curricular activities and facilities, such as theatres, sports fields, drama and art, all of which help cultivate character, confidence and cultural capital.
To those of us who regret falling arts provision in state schools, it is bitter-sweet to see how frequently fee-paying schools sell themselves to parents on the basis of their outstanding arts provision. These schools fully understand the multiple benefits of arts engagement—discipline, resilience, empathy and creative thinking, for example—but they also understand the value of cultural capital in high-level careers: the contribution it makes to that elusive quality of “fit”, not just to getting in but to getting on. All that is borne out by the statistics: 48% of A-level grades in independent schools were A and A*, compared with a national average of 26%. Their pupils win 43% of the offers from Oxford and 37% of the offers from Cambridge. They also continue to dominate the professions: 74% of judges, 51% of journalists and 71% of top military officers are privately educated. Even in those fields that we think would be genuinely meritocratic, we see the same discrepancies. One-third of British Olympic medal winners in 2012 went to fee-paying schools, as did 42% of the 2016 BAFTA winners. Those are a lot of statistics, but it is hard not to conclude that our twin-track education system risks entrenching privilege more than ever before.
This matters for three reasons. First, educational credentials matter more than ever before. Secondly, it risks perpetuating inequality far into the future. If these schools were more diverse, society’s leaders would ultimately be drawn from a broader cross-section of the population, able to bring wider perspectives to the processes of decision-making. Thirdly, if there is an education system that is so successful in developing potential and opening up opportunities, should it not be available to everyone, especially those young people who need it the most?
Despite successive Ministers and Prime Ministers making it a priority, inequality is a wicked problem that is not going away. So what might the Government do? First, invest more in early-years education, which has a direct effect on the adults that children become. We know that children’s centres lead to better outcomes, yet up to 1,000 have closed over recent years. Can the Minister confirm when the promised review will be completed? Will he also consider the Sutton Trust recommendation that early-years teachers be given qualified-teacher status?
Secondly, the Government should lead a national conversation about how to harness the best qualities of independent schools, reimagining how the advantages they confer could be shared more equitably and articulating more clearly the role they should play in advancing social mobility. There are excellent examples of partnership in place, but there is a lack of definitive best practice and thought leadership to shift the status quo. The Social Mobility Commission’s report promises more detailed recommendations. Can the Minister say when those will be available?
Lastly, perhaps one of the reasons progress on social mobility has stalled is the absence of any imperative to monitor and report on socioeconomic diversity in the workforce. In January the Government published guidelines on how employers might do that, but their use is currently entirely voluntary. It is a well-worn truth that we measure what we value and we value what we measure. Given that, does the Minister agree that the time is right to move to the compulsory measurement and publication of social mobility data, particularly in the highest-level professions? Only then will we know whether our efforts to equalise opportunities for young people are having a genuine impact on the opportunities available to them in later life.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow that incredibly powerful and inspirational speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. I commend her for it and I hope the Minister replies to all the questions that she has put.
I congratulate my noble friend Lady Grender on securing this extremely important debate. Investing in young people is a vital and all-embracing subject but I shall limit my remarks today to areas that I feel are particularly important: housing and homelessness, building resilience and the opportunities offered through international travel and exchanges. Twenty-five years ago, when I was 24 years old, I bought my first flat in Streatham in London. It was a two-bedroom flat with a small garden. I still remember the excitement of receiving the keys and knowing that I had my own place to call home. I was able to buy that flat without parental help and at a time when I was receiving a very modest Liberal Democrat salary. For most 24 year-olds nowadays, however, the very idea of buying a flat in London, Manchester, or Edinburgh is virtually unimaginable unless you have extremely generous parents or have inherited money. The same applies to rented accommodation. My young professional friends in their 20s and early 30s have to give up a huge proportion of their salaries renting a room in a flatshare, often with very basic facilities and with a long commute to work. In real terms, salaries have not remotely kept up with the increases in house prices or rented accommodation since the 1990s, when I was able to afford to buy my first flat.
All mainstream political parties agree on the urgent need to build more affordable housing but I feel that more radical and creative solutions need to be found if there is to be a solution to the current generational divide in access to housing. I should declare an interest as an ambassador for the homelessness charity Depaul International, which works with some of the most vulnerable young people in the UK and abroad. Last year Depaul UK worked with more than 3,700 people at risk of homelessness and rough sleeping, most of whom were under the age of 26. The number of people aged 16 to 25 sleeping rough in London has doubled since 2010.
Investment in tackling homelessness—for example, through the rough sleepers initiative—is reducing rough sleeping in some areas. However, the Government will not meet their own targets to end rough sleeping unless they do more to prevent homelessness and address problems with the welfare system. There are three particular areas where I believe that government action could make a difference. The first is bringing housing benefit for young people back in line with the cost of renting. In many areas there is no accommodation available that young people on low incomes can afford, even when they are receiving housing benefit. Like other types of housing benefit, the shared accommodation rate has been frozen since 2016. In the 40 local authority areas with the highest number of 18 to 25 year-olds sleeping rough, there are just not enough affordable rooms available. Will the Government consider returning the shared accommodation rate to a more realistic level in line with local rents?
Secondly, the current five-week wait for universal credit payments can result in young people falling into rent arrears and being unable to pay for travel to find work. This can very quickly lead to a vicious cycle of debt and despair and ultimately to sleeping rough. Will the Government now consider plans to give new universal credit claimants access to housing benefit payments to cover the five-week period, similar to those planned for transferring claimants next year?
Thirdly, short-term preventive services can help young people to remain in their family home or find alternative accommodation before they reach a crisis point and end up homeless. Homelessness family mediation services can help young people and their families resolve issues that might otherwise lead to a young person leaving the family home and sleeping rough. Will the Government consider substantially increasing investment in preventive and family mediation measures to prevent young people becoming homeless in the first place?
The second issue I would like to raise is looking at ways to help young people develop their skills and build their resilience. Research undertaken by CFE Research and LSE Enterprise on behalf of the British Council found that 82% of individuals with international experience were confident in their ability to adapt to new and unfamiliar situations. Respondents with international experience were also more likely to describe themselves as resilient.
On a personal level, I know that my three-month exchange as a 20 year-old in Voronezh in the Soviet Union in 1988 had a profound impact on my ability to deal with adversity and cope without the luxuries of living at home. It certainly improved my ability to communicate in the Russian language too. At present, international exchange programmes are mostly available to young people in the higher education sector, but I would like to see ways of making them more widely available, and not just to certain socioeconomic groups. We should investigate the current barriers to these international exchanges. We should also look at ways of encouraging young people from all backgrounds to participate in international programmes and school exchanges, as well as encouraging them to learn foreign languages. That becomes all the more urgent if we leave the European Union.
With the British Council, I have been very privileged to attend a great many events in the UK and abroad that help young people to develop their skills, confidence and resilience. The annual Hammamet Conference is one such positive example. It brings together young people from the UK and five North African countries from a variety of backgrounds to allow them to share ideas and experiences in a very practical way. For many of the British participants, it is their first opportunity to travel abroad and most certainly their first opportunity to visit the African continent.
The conference encourages active listening and listening to what young people really think, rather than what we think they think. I would like to see if there are ways in which such positive events can be scaled up to include a greater number of young people in future. I would be grateful if the Minister commented on this in his concluding remarks.
Investing in young people and allowing each individual to find a way to fulfil their potential is surely the single most important thing any society can do. Young people have so much to give and so much to offer if we are just prepared to listen. As my noble friend Lady Grender spelled out so powerfully in her opening remarks, we need to make sure that we find effective ways to tap into that rich seam of talent, in this country and beyond.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, for securing this important debate. Listening to what the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a care-experienced adult who is 30 years of age. Just recently, she had visited Italy and had visited a children’s home there, and she said that in Italy it is normal for the staff to have a degree-level qualification. That led me to think of a conversation I had with a man from Finland, who worked in a children’s home there. He said, “In Finland, we just don’t allow somebody across the door unless they have a degree-level qualification. The children are far too vulnerable, and we just feel that they need the best quality care possible”. In this country, our system requires that people have only an NVQ level 3 to work in a children’s home; 80% of staff need to have that qualification.
Yet the children in our children’s homes are much more vulnerable than those in Finnish or Italian children’s homes. In Italy and Finland, about half of the children in care go into residential care, and half go into foster care, compared with only 10% in this country. This is understandable, because of the history of child sexual abuse in our children’s homes. That is not to say that other countries have avoided that, but residential care is a very unpopular option generally. I speak to very well-respected social workers who say they would never place a child in a children’s home if they could possibly avoid it.
To my mind, that is a great pity. Developmentally, it is absolutely right. Adolescents move away from their families. Many young people do very well in boarding schools, if there are high-quality staff and support. Parents can visit for the weekend, or for lunch. Tim Loughton MP went to Denmark to look at its children’s homes and said that they were quite like boarding schools, with parents coming along on Saturdays. They have highly qualified and very well-supported staff.
Nowadays, in this country, the risk is not so much the low level of qualifications of children’s home staff. Because they are highly regulated and monitored, it is unlikely that they will sexually abuse children or commit other kinds of abuse. It is when a girl is aged 14 to 16, it is a Friday or Saturday night and there are people who wish to groom them outside the premises who have maybe succeeded in grooming a friend of the girl and they are calling her out. It is how the staff prevent that young girl joining that group or gang. I remember having breakfast in a children’s home a few years ago. Maybe it was Saturday morning. The staff were congratulating a girl, who was 14 years old, on not going out the previous night because she had been called out by a young woman who they feared was involved in such a gang. Thanks to the excellence of the staff and the support they had offered her, they managed to persuade her to stay in.
I mention this to highlight the main theme that I would like to discuss in this debate. All young people start as foetuses, then become infants and then children. One really needs to think about their whole development and supporting them from the very beginning if they are to have good opportunities in adolescence and beyond. Something I would single out that we are, regrettably, very bad at in this country is recognising the complexities of children’s and young people’s needs and the importance of childhood and adolescence. We talk about it and there is a growing understanding of its importance, but consider, for instance, early years educators and carers. There is an early years degree. We all recognise that we want more qualified staff in early years settings because of its vital importance for young people’s education and other outcomes, yet it is quite possible to qualify as an early years graduate and to be paid no more than when one was unqualified and yet have more responsibility and look after more children.
Thankfully, the Government introduced the minimum wage, or whatever it is called. That probably raised the level of pay for many early years practitioners, but many of them are on the lowest possible wage that can be paid. This is enormously sophisticated work. I mentioned to a colleague that we should have more graduates in early years settings. She said, “Why do you need a person with a degree in an early years setting?” There is a whole culture of misunderstanding. I visited Denmark and spoke with a social pedagogue—a thoroughly well-educated young woman who worked in the early years and whose father ran an early years setting. She was very middle-class and well-educated. Our settings are very often very low paid and people are poorly educated. It is often seen as the sort of job that young women do when they perhaps do not see many other options other than doing these things.
Maybe I can take this opportunity to apologise for and retract something I said to a group of educationists this week that I think was unhelpful. I said that I rather thought it was a good idea to advise young people not to become a teacher in this country. That was an extreme thing to say. Obviously, our children need their teachers, but I feel so frustrated at the way we teach our teachers, youth workers, social workers and residential childcare workers. It denigrates the importance of childhood and the complexity of children’s needs, especially those who have experienced trauma and sexual abuse.
I do not wish to be too negative and there is lot of good progress being made, but will the Minister keep very much in mind what he can do to make teaching more attractive and to ease the burden on teachers? I have an old friend who is a primary school teacher in an inner city. For years, her family have been trying to persuade her to stop doing the job because they get to see so little of her because of the long hours she works. Speaking to another colleague whose wife is a teacher in an inner-city school in the Midlands, it is quite normal for many of her colleagues to work 50, 60 or 70 hours a week.
How can we expect children and young people to thrive? They need good relationships, most importantly with their parents, but going on to their early years provision and then their primary and secondary school teachers, to help them through often difficult times. If we do not treat our teachers well, if we do not treat the people who care for our children well, then we will not be treating our children well. We have to be kinder and more thoughtful to our teachers. We should not leave them feeling so despairing that they wish to leave the profession.
I know that the Minister is doing some excellent work in this area. Perhaps he may say something about the work that he is doing to ease the caseloads and workloads for teachers. However, we compare poorly to the way that those on the continent invest in the people who care for their children. I hope we can do better.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and for his very honest and thoughtful contribution to this debate. He has reminded us of the complex needs of children and young people, and I particularly appreciated the international comparisons that he drew to our attention.
This debate has raised a large number of concerns, to which I want to add two structural problems that the Government must address. The first relates to Whitehall and its silo thinking. Several Whitehall departments have responsibilities for the policies affecting young people. This does not mean that the interests of young people are adequately integrated, and the Government must take steps to enforce that integration. Does the Minister really feel that, across Whitehall, the interests of young people are properly integrated?
The second issue is a failure to assess the impact of government legislation on young people generally. It seems to be left to think tanks such as the Resolution Foundation, or to the Office for National Statistics, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the House of Lords, through its Select Committees. Inevitably, this a hit and miss process. I suggest that it should be for the Government themselves to join up their policy-making and not simply to leave it to other organisations. I hope the Minister can give the House some confidence on this matter, and that the Government will adopt cross-departmental policy impact assessments in relation to young people.
The House of Lords Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee published its report last month. It is a very good piece of work, which concluded that “a structural shift” is taking place between the generations. That must concern us greatly. Can the Minister tell us whether we will have an opportunity for an early debate on this report, rather than be faced with the usual six-month delay after a Select Committee has published its report?
In her excellent opening speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, proposed a UK young people’s strategy council, which I strongly support. It is a positive idea, which would give a voice directly into government from young people, and would help to address the need for that integration of policy that I referred to. I have been considering whether we should have a young people’s commissioner or commission.
Whether or not we do those things, a young people’s strategy council would be essential as a foundation for any other bodies that were created. It might address, for example, the impact of huge cuts to youth services and whether there is a relationship between those cuts and the rise in knife crime. It might look at travel costs for young people, which differ across the country, particularly in getting to post-16 education. It might look at how we support young people who do not go to university. It might examine issues of income for young people.
It has been reported that a quarter of young people are always in debt and that half run out of cash each month. That must create increased levels of worry and stress. Such a strategy council might also examine how young people can be expected to put aside enough money for their pensions, and how to boost FE funding for young people aged 16 to 19 to give them the work opportunities and level of pay that should be justified.
A number of speakers referred to housing issues. It is the case that we are creating a generation of renters who are not able to save for a deposit to buy their own home because they have to pay high rents. People in their 20s and 30s are spending one and a half times more of their income on housing than my generation did at that age. As the Library briefing has reminded us, on average young people today have less floor space and tend to live further from work, so their travel costs are higher. On average, private renters spend 35% of their income on housing at age 25, while my generation paid just 15% at that same age. I strongly support a nationwide help-to-rent scheme, giving loans to first-time renters so that they can afford to pay their deposit. It would at least be a start on the ladder. However, as my noble friend Lady Grender said, the biggest barrier of all in housing is a lack of supply. We have to build more social housing. It is not just a question of the Government trying to meet their commitment to building 300,000 new homes a year by converting offices.
I want to comment on a recent figure produced by the Office for National Statistics, which suggested that there had been a slowdown in new household formation. There is a problem with this conclusion. It is now estimated by other research that around 900,000 young people are living with their parents because they cannot afford to live on their own. If they are doing that, they are not forming new households, so one has to be really careful with a statistic suggesting that we need fewer than 300,000 new homes a year. A major issue in relation to equality of opportunity has been confirmed in research by the Resolution Foundation, showing that at the age of 30 those whose parents do not own property are 60% less likely to be homeowners themselves. I hope the House will agree that such a division in society cannot help to reduce social exclusion.
Inequality seems to have become entrenched in our country. Social mobility has now been stagnant for four years. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, has been quoted as saying that young people are becoming the “squeezed generation”. The point has been reached when the Government need to do more than just take note of a debate like this. I hope the Minister will be able to confirm that the Government are willing to do more to create the structures that meet the challenge of addressing the needs of young people, and that we will not simply bury the issues debated this afternoon in long grass.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, for calling this debate. I want to talk about SMEs and the army of young entrepreneurs being generated in the British economy, not only in London but across the north of England. Many of them are one-man or one-woman bands; many of them face a mountain to climb daily.
Over the last four years, I have been leading a programme in 10 towns and cities in some of our poorest communities across the north of England, which is now called Well North Enterprises. I declare my interest. In Denaby Main, an ex-mining town, we carried out over 400 conversations with residents in 2015. It was clear that the community was missing opportunities to thrive in an area defined by a dependency culture, long-term unemployment and double the borough average rates of employment support allowance. Get Denaby Enterprising was a way to offer non-traditional avenues into employment through self-employment, allowing young people to work and manage their condition.
By the end of year one, 24 SMEs were registered with HMRC and trading. A successful part of the approach was the establishment of a business club for new and established local businesses. The group grew quickly by word of mouth and relationship-building. The business club was used as a forum to celebrate these new businesses at the end of the first year. Each business was recognised for its hard work and success. In 2018, the programme widened to include four other communities across Doncaster, with 15 further SMEs. The business club continues to grow, with 32 members.
It is interesting how youth unemployment varies in the western world. The youth unemployment rate in the European Union averaged 19.05% from 2000 to 2019. Youth unemployment in Greece today is 39%; Italy, 33%; Spain, 32%; and France, 20%. By contrast, in the UK it is 11%, and in the US, 8.3%. This broadly suggests that those with the most regulated employment regimes have the highest youth unemployment. Why is this? Is it about unintended consequences or the awful paradox that, when Governments pass more regulations to protect workers’ rights and regulate the marketplace, the unintended consequence is often increased unemployment, especially for the young? This is not because legislators have the wrong motives; they have excellent motives. It is just that the consequences of some of our motives and values are often the opposite of those intended.
Total employment in SMEs in the UK is 16.3 million people, which is 60% of all private sector employment in the UK, contributing 47% of revenue to the UK economy. Damage this and you damage the employment prospects of young people for a generation.
I have been in correspondence with the Treasury over the last six months about a list of the 42 different pieces of red tape that I have discovered that any small single-handed business, church, charity or social enterprise has to pay attention to each day simply to operate legally. It is getting to the stage where hiring a local hall to run an exercise class, for example for two hours once a week, has become almost ridiculously complicated. Whether the person running the class is employed or not is now a highly complex question. What about their pension? Do they have a contract or holiday pay? What about tax and insurance? Have you complied with all the health and safety regulations? The list goes on.
I could imagine that hiring a hall will get caught up in regulations for the gig economy. Imagine you are going to sell food afterwards—another mountain of regulations to which we are about to add more. Imagine you make some sandwiches at home first—horror of horrors. If the class is going to involve children, forget it. Now imagine a young person wants to set this up, with little or no experience; it is likely that, after a few hours of research, they will just give up, or they could get it wrong and be hit by a disproportionate fine from HMRC. Imagine they are on universal credit and want to work out its impact on their benefits. Could any noble Lords in this Chamber work it out? These are the practical issues we are seeing in Doncaster and east London.
Those with family connections to help may find a way through but, if you come from a disadvantaged background like Denaby Main, and do not know anyone who runs a small business who can help you, how likely are you to succeed? It is hardest for those trying to get going as young entrepreneurs.
Last week I was talking to a young builder in east London, who I have known since childhood. Last Saturday, he was going to drive to Bristol and take out a large loan to buy a new van, because of the Mayor of London’s latest decree on clean air in the capital. Another young man I know gave up his own business in Hackney after 10 years and moved out of the country because, as he told me, every time he was starting to get a bit of a bank balance to help him grow the business, another bit of local, London or central government made yet another financial demand on him. Is that what the black cabs are trying to tell us with their horns each week, outside this building? It seemed, he said, like a hamster’s wheel that he could not get off. These things affect young people and their mental health. Those two young people cannot afford to buy their own homes where they grew up; one had to live with his parents.
This is the net effect of thousands of pieces of legislation—a salami-slice approach. Each one is perfectly valid in its own right, but the net effect can be completely stultifying. We are going to add a whole lot more: on zero-hours contracting and food labelling, and a ton of stuff around reducing carbon and online reporting to HMRC—to mention just a few.
What is it going to be like in a few years’ time for a young person in, let us say, Skelmersdale or Rotherham who wants to set up a small business? Is anybody thinking about them when we draft all this new legislation? Is anyone in the Civil Service interested in the cumulative effect of all this? We wonder why they do not trust Governments.
I expect that part of the problem is that most of us in the Palace of Westminster and the Civil Service have no experience of trying to run a business as a young person, and it is thus not surprising that the legislation does not work from their perspective. Perhaps we should involve those affected by legislation more directly in its drafting.
I suggest that this problem is partly because we have stopped listening to one another. If we are concerned about keeping a lid on the national debt and not passing it on to our children, we are accused of destroying communities through evil austerity. If on the other hand we are genuinely worried about the impact of reduced services on communities, we are unprincipled, unrealistic spendthrifts. The truth is that people hold both positions for perfectly valid reasons and they all genuinely care about our country’s future. Populist rhetoric on all sides seeks to amplify difference and simplify arguments, whereas the truth is often more complex and nuanced.
Is it possible to work together for the future for our young people, recognising the validity of a wide range of opinions and perspectives from across the political landscape? Can we all reduce the spin and talk and focus a bit more together on solving some of the practical problems that our young entrepreneurs face day in, day out? Would the Minister be willing to bring together some of his colleagues to look at these burdens placed on young businesses and explore how they might be reduced?
My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Grender said so powerfully in her excellent opening speech, it has long been considered a given that each generation would have a better quality of life than the one before it. According to the Intergenerational Commission, more than half the individuals in every age group believe that each successive generation should have a higher standard of living, but we live at a time where this is no longer the case. Since the recession, young people have overwhelmingly faced worse outcomes than did their parents.
As well as facing mounting inequality between the generations, as we have already heard, young people now face great inequality within their generation. According to the Social Mobility Commission’s recent State of the Nation report, as already referenced, social mobility has been stagnant for the past four years and,
“Inequality is … entrenched in Britain … from birth to work … Those from better off backgrounds are almost 80 per cent more likely to be in a professional job than their working class peers”.
This entirely echoes the findings of the recent report Closing the Regional Attainment Gap produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility—of which I have the pleasure to be the co-chair—which showed that, without policy changes, we are more than 40 years away from closing the gap between the educational attainment of disadvantaged children and that of their more affluent peers, with that gap varying wildly across the country.
The failure of successive Governments to tackle the underlying causes of such unequal life chances was laid bare in a hard-hitting report from the IFS, published this week, which exposed the ever-widening inequalities in pay, health and opportunity in the UK which are undermining trust in democracy.
As a member—and the original proposer—of the Lords Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision, which published its report just after Easter, I was struck by the evidence that we heard about the number of challenges faced by many of our young people. The picture that our report paints is deeply worrying, with too many young people facing barriers at every turn. The report demonstrates starkly that our post-16 education and training system does not provide those in further education with anything like equal opportunities. Too many young people are being held back by schooling which does not prepare them for a rapidly changing labour market and a considerably longer working life. Once they move into the workforce, young people are disproportionately faced with insecure employment, low pay with few prospects of progression and little prospect of owning their own home.
It is perhaps, therefore, no wonder that young people’s well-being has fallen dramatically. The Intergenerational Foundation’s 2018 index found that young people’s overall well-being fell by a whopping 10% over the last two decades. The message here is clear: we need to improve young people’s opportunities or risk damaging their mental health and well-being—a subject covered comprehensively in the excellent debate in this Chamber this morning.
When it comes to education, the paths that young people take are not equal. Further education and vocational training provide a vast range of opportunities; they are fantastic resources for those who do not wish to pursue other, more academic routes. Yet our report found that further education and vocational training have been chronically underfunded. That means that students taking this route are simply not getting a fair slice of the cake when it comes to educational resources. That is why the report included a recommendation to rebalance public spending to put higher education and further education on a more equal footing. For this to happen, the Government must reverse the cuts to further education. Will these deeply unfair funding mechanisms be looked at in the forthcoming spending review?
We also need to ensure that young people receive an education which equips them for the real world. It is worrying that many young people feel they are leaving school without the life skills they need to function as adults. For example, there is no statutory requirement to teach young people about housing in their PSHE lessons. However, the young apprentices in our contact group who gave evidence to the Select Committee as part of its work told us that their key concerns were housing and homelessness. They told us that they did not know enough about how renting worked or what their options were if they had trouble affording housing. How are young people supposed to navigate the complexities of renting and housing if we are not giving them the knowledge and skills to do so? This is why our report also recommended that the Government should increase housing and financial education in PSHE lessons.
Once young people leave education, the barriers to opportunities do not end. Instead, as the House has already heard in this debate, too many young people are faced with insecure employment. Indeed, the proportion of individuals who are self-employed, on zero-hours contracts or involved in the gig economy has rapidly risen among young people. Many companies propagate a myth of self-employment to avoid providing their workers with the rights and protections they are entitled to. By denying young workers access to vital employee benefits, insecure employment can have a huge impact on their financial stability. As recommended in the Select Committee report, it is vital that the Government act to ensure that there is a default presumption of worker status when people are employed. This will help tackle companies rebranding their young employees as “freelance contractors” to deny them the worker’s rights and employee benefits to which they are entitled.
Not only are many young people in insecure employment, but they are also not getting paid fairly. According to the Financial Conduct Authority, in 2017 real earnings for those in their 20s were 5% lower than they had been in 2008. Poor pay not only has negative consequences for young people’s well-being; it also has serious consequences for their relationships and family life. This is starkly demonstrated by the results of a 2018 YouGov survey of young workers between 21 and 30 years old. It found that over one-fifth of the respondents had put off starting a family because of a shortage of money. Another quarter had put off changing careers and over 40% had had to ask their family or friends for financial help due to a shortage of money.
An exacerbating factor is that young people are spending a rapidly rising proportion of what they do earn on housing. Our report on intergenerational fairness highlighted that young people born between 1981 and 2000 spend one-and-a-half times more on housing at the age of 25 compared to previous generations. That might be acceptable if young people were getting housing which is one and a half times better than previous generations. Instead, we were shown evidence that they get less floor space and longer commutes. As my noble friend Lord Shipley has already said, a recent estimate by the Resolution Foundation suggested that one-third of millennials could still be renting privately at the age of 65. This is a really major shift in how society is living.
Tackling the issues raised in this very good debate this afternoon will take sustained government action and political will. Solutions do exist, we have heard many of them this afternoon and I totally endorse the excellent package of proposals set out by my noble friend Lady Grender. Let us just hope that the Government are listening.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, for securing this debate and providing us with the opportunity to discuss the issues facing young people today. I particularly commend her efforts to engage young people through social media: last week, when we debated the toxic nature of public discourse, I suggested that we often talk about social media’s negative impacts but not how it can be used positively. It has been really refreshing to see engagement with young people and an effort to get them to participate.
In recent months, a number of reports have highlighted that we have an increasing divergence in equality of opportunity for young people and that social mobility is stagnant. The Social Mobility Commission’s recent report said that inequality is now entrenched in Britain, from birth to work. It concluded that being born privileged still means you usually remain privileged and that the dominance of background factors on future outcomes is further compounded by gender, ethnicity and disability.
One of the contributory factors is of course the discrepancy in educational opportunities in further and higher education, so vividly illustrated by my noble friend Lady Bull. While there have been substantial improvements in university participation among students from disadvantaged backgrounds in recent years, the gap remains significant. Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to go to university and more likely to drop out. Those who do complete their studies start their careers with huge debts. Many have to work to support themselves while studying and have anxiety about their job prospects when they qualify. The Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee, already referred to, suggested that there may be a mismatch between the jobs graduates expect and the jobs available.
If we are to offer young people true equality of opportunity, reform of the funding of further and higher education must be one of the strategic milestones to achieving it, as well as ensuring that education aligns with business needs—indeed, we have to look at funding cuts too. Will the Minister tell the House what reforms the Government are considering with regard to funding and what action, if any, they are taking to align education and business needs?
The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that those who attend Russell group universities have earnings 10% higher for women and 13% higher for men. The university that a student attends is impacted by her socioeconomic background. There is also evidence that an attainment gap between students of different ethnic origins exists at the vast majority of universities; a gap that cannot be explained by a student’s background or prior qualifications. A recent report by Universities UK and the NUS called for further research to review what works in addressing these inequalities. Will the Minister say what plans, if any, there are to look into this area?
Good quality apprenticeships have the potential to be an important vehicle for social mobility, with lifetime earnings on average better than many degrees, and they offer the opportunity to earn while you learn. However, according to the Sutton Trust, despite the recent growth in apprenticeships there are still relatively few degree apprenticeships each year compared to undergraduate places, and disadvantaged young people are less likely to take up the best apprenticeships compared to their better-off peers.
There is a need to provide more high-quality apprenticeships—not just boosting the numbers or employers converting existing employees as a way of claiming the money. As there is no centralised system for apprenticeships, the need for better advice is even more crucial; as is awareness of the apprenticeship route among teachers, parents and students. There is also a need to rebalance the value attributed to higher and further education and apprenticeships, to ensure that different and more appropriate pathways to education are better known to students and given equal value.
The other area is housing, which has already been highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, in her introduction. The Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee argued that the Government are not taking action to provide a sufficient supply of affordable housing. We have seen an increase in the number of young people living in private rented accommodation and a decrease in 25 to 34 year-olds in owner-occupation. This is a worrying trend. The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, talked about her experience of buying a house at the age of 24.
We need action in at least two areas to deliver equality of opportunity. The first is housing affordability; that is, ensuring that house ownership remains in reach of this generation. It is disappointing that the Government are withdrawing the Help to Buy ISA in November, which supported saving for a mortgage deposit. Declaring an interest as a non-executive director of Nationwide Building Society, I can tell the House that, on average, Nationwide members with a Help to Buy ISA have been able to have their own home two years earlier and have required £1,000 less as a deposit than standard first-time buyers. Perhaps the Government might consider not withdrawing Help to Buy ISAs.
Secondly, we need a better private rented sector. Young people are vulnerable to bad practice. Again, in 2017, Nationwide set up the private rented sector partnership board, bringing together representatives of landlords, tenants and agents to improve the situation. The board has developed some themes for change in the sector and has set out the framework for government in this area so that there can be a strategy to tackle poor quality and affordability.
A housing policy needs to focus not just on building houses but on other factors which contribute to creating flourishing communities and a healthy work/life balance for the well-being of our young people. I am aware that the Government are taking the problems facing young people seriously and have set up a committee to look at inequality, but there is urgency to draw all the findings of several studies and research together to develop a more co-ordinated, comprehensive strategy to tackle this entrenched problem. Part of the problem is that there is no holistic approach, as a number of other noble Lords have said.
Non-profit organisations and businesses are partnering to do this. Among others, Cumberland Lodge, an education charity which I chair, and the Social Mobility Business Partnership, of which I am a patron, are developing an initiative to tackle this—so watch this space. I mention the organisations I am associated with not to advertise them but to illustrate that some of these initiatives are showing the way. What we need is government support and action to implement them and scale them up. In that sense, I really support the suggestion put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, that we should have a strategy for young people like we have an industrial strategy. The time has come when we cannot work in silos; we need the structural reforms that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, talked about. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate and to follow some inspirational and knowledgeable contributions. I thank my noble friend Lady Grender for her powerful introduction and for the way she set about organising this debate—listening to young people, holding a webinar and putting together a package of proposals. It is a model for how other debates might be organised.
I am the father of a child born in the millennium—I never say “millennial”—and work from time to time with young researchers and interns in Parliament. I have been thinking quite a bit about the gap between Peers and the current generation of young people—not just in years. I am not particularly religious but I recall a verse from Matthew chapter 13, verse 12:
“For whoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance. But whoever does not have, from him shall be taken away even that which he has”.
This sounds like a pretty good account of the 21st-century reality for many young people.
Certainly, most of us in this Chamber were among those who, according to Harold Macmillan in 1957,
“never had it so good”.
We grew up in a country where the then Prime Minister was able to claim that,
“you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime—nor indeed in the history of this country”.
We remain one of the world’s wealthiest countries, and even during the great austerity, our generation has continued to benefit from free prescriptions, free TV licences, bus passes and the winter fuel allowance. Compare that with what our young people have lost in the name of austerity: education maintenance allowances, affordable bus services—if there are any at all—the decimation of youth services, the decline of services provided by the voluntary sector, and dare I mention university fees?
We have heard much—perhaps too much—about social mobility as the golden thread that is meant to underpin many of the Government’s policy initiatives. Everyone in government, from the Prime Minister down, talks about a moral responsibility to reduce inequality. Too many young people suffer many of the injustices that the Prime Minister spoke of in the speech she delivered in Downing Street just a couple of years ago. On equality of opportunity, the current Administration are word perfect when they talk the talk but trip and stumble whenever they try to walk the walk. There is perhaps no finer or more detailed analysis of how unequal opportunities are than the latest report of the Social Mobility Commission. Noble Lords will recall that the previous commission resigned en masse 15 months ago. The new commission’s message in its analysis, the State of the Nation 2018-19, can be summed up as: on social mobility we are going backwards.
I want to talk about schools and education. I listened with great interest and awe to the contributions of the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and I agree with everything they said. I will add just two other things. First, the EBacc has seen the creative and arts subjects in our schools squeezed and squeezed. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, rightly said, we see the maintained sector having fewer opportunities with regard to creative and arts subjects than the independent sector.
The second issue, which was briefly mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is our teachers, who are crucial to providing opportunities for our children and young people. I do not believe that you can train a teacher over a five-week intensive course, call it whatever you want—Teach First, or whatever. That is not the way you train a quality teacher. Teachers need to learn about child development, psychology and special educational needs to be able to motivate their children and young people. They themselves need to be highly trained, to have continuing professional development and to be respected—to be the linchpin of our education system. Sadly, we now see schools where there are shortage subjects, so supply teachers are brought in or the subject is taught by teachers who have no passionate understanding or knowledge of it. We also see a workforce strategy for teachers where we have to quickly try to recruit people in all sorts of different ways.
I am saddened by how we have allowed this situation in our schools to happen. In our primary schools, at one stage, it was a period of joy: looking forward to education. We now have a regime that develops SATs, creates league tables and puts pressure on children. That is not the way that children should develop. They should enjoy and be encouraged to enjoy the thrills of learning and discovery.
We are one of the wealthiest countries on this planet. It is surely a disgrace that while the number of banks is decreasing—admittedly, because many people use online banking and pay for everything with a credit card—the number of food banks is increasing. According to Napoleon, an army marches on its stomach. Many of our young people do not march but walk unwillingly to school or college on an empty stomach. Only yesterday, the End Child Poverty report showed that poverty is the new normal.
If we put to one side those who are really poor—as the Government seem to do without too much concern—children and young people have a very different quality of life compared with the life experiences of those of us in this Chamber. The children I taught in Liverpool at the beginning of my career lived simple but limited lives. They had a television, but no one had a telephone at home or a motorcar, as they were then called, and few went on holiday.
In the 21st century, there are still children who live similar lives, but even those without a smart device at home have access to the internet at school or in the local library—those that are still open. This has brought a whole range of opportunities to every young person. They can set up an email account, open a Facebook page, join a WhatsApp group or join Instagram.
The internet does not make judgments on the basis of your accent, what school you attended, what your parents do, whether you went to university and, if so, which one, whether you are rich, and so on. The collection of judgments about people that underpin our class system and ensure that the few maintain their superiority over the many are not made by Google, although it and other companies collect data that enable them to get to know you very well.
However, the downside of the internet is the pressure put on young people, especially the vulnerable. Social media works 24/7, and unless you switch off your smartphone, iPad or computer, there is no escape from it. Young people today are under huge pressure to meet what is promoted as the norm, particularly in terms of body image. Everyone promoting themselves—and, often, commercial products—on the internet is always a perfect shape, with high-fashion clothes and the latest gadgets. We hear about the reality of their lives only when they go into a clinic because of drink, drugs or mental health issues.
In the previous debate, we learned much about what is happening to the mental health of our young people and the need for the Government to make urgent headway to improve mental health services. We are training teachers in every school to identify mental health issues in young people, and there is now a scheme to train sports coaches to spot young people with mental health issues. These measures are welcome—early intervention is always better than a cure—but it is not enough simply to respond to crises in young people. Months after a Green Paper pledged to make Britain the safest place in the world to be online, it took—very sadly—the suicide of a young girl to speed up the Government’s response to taking seriously the contribution of social media to young suicides. Perhaps in the same way, it took a suicide to persuade ITV to take “The Jeremy Kyle Show” off the air.
In my final minute, I make a challenge to young people themselves. They have it in their own hands to change the way we think by going to vote, by using the ballot box. It is very alarming that 18 to 30 year-olds are the lowest percentage of voters, while those aged 50 to 70 are the highest. If young people went out to vote, Governments of the day of any political colour would take note and, when they took note, some of the issues that we have been raising and are concerned about would be acted on.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I express my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, for initiating and instigating this debate. I congratulate her on the number of name-checks for her Lib Dem colleagues she managed to achieve in the early part of her speech. This is not a problem I have to wrestle with.
I will enter another slightly discordant note. It should not go unremarked that many of the policies that have taken us backwards in equalities over the last nine years—as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, acknowledged in his contribution—sadly had some of their origins in the coalition years: Sure Start cuts, the bedroom tax, the scrapping of EMAs and the tripling of tuition fees, to name just a few.
But this debate is about more than that. When Mrs May became Prime Minister back in 2016, she did so with a mission to heal social divisions and act to help those just about managing. She put herself at the head of a Government with a social agenda designed to tackle inequality and unfairness in the workplace and to rebalance the housing market. That early promise is often forgotten and, in a news cycle dominated almost totally by the daily psychodrama that is Brexit, wholly overlooked. So I very much welcome this debate focusing on what equality of opportunity means for young people seeking a beneficial quality of life. This Government have strayed a long way from Mrs May’s original purpose and have long lost any sense of where their policies might lead.
As others have referenced, the Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation report concluded recently:
“Inequality is now entrenched in Britain from birth to work, and the government needs to take urgent action to help close the privilege gap”.
The same report observed that,
“social mobility has been stagnant”,
for over four years. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, observed in her contribution—a brilliant contribution, with lots of really powerful and important questions—being born privileged still usually means that you remain privileged. The report found that:
“The dominance of background factors on future outcomes is further compounded when we look at the interaction with gender, ethnicity and disability”.
This is a damning indictment of government policy by a government-sponsored body, and not one that I have heard anyone question.
Probably the most troubling aspect of the picture painted by the Social Mobility Commission and the Lords Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision is that younger generations are not seeing the increases in living standards experienced by previous generations—my generation. This has led to what the committee identified as,
“disappointed expectations … in housing and the workplace”.
This was attributed to successive government failures to anticipate and,
“prepare for social, economic and technological change”.
Inequality in all its forms has sadly become so entrenched in modern British society that the IFS has launched its own large-scale study on the topic. I very much hope your Lordships’ House will have the opportunity to discuss the Deaton review as it progresses.
None of this comes as a surprise to those of us on this side of the political divide. Since 2010 the Government have pursued policies pinned to the holy grail of austerity Budgets designed to lead to the false God of ending the deficit in public finances. In reality, we know to our cost that these policies have led to a decline in public services and a loss of trust in the power of the state to intervene and promote greater equality and opportunity in society. Since 2010 the Government have systematically undermined things that had been introduced to narrow inequality, make higher and further education more accessible and enable people to make provision for decent housing options—all things that tangibly improve the quality of life for a rising generation.
The litany of negative policies is a long one. Scrapping the EMA took away much-needed financial support for books, transport and studying costs for low-income students in post-16 education. This was coupled with the massive tripling of tuition fees in England, which has driven whole generations into debt they will never clear, making access to the housing market after graduation even harder. The fees have had a disastrous impact on part-time studying too.
Young people face the impossibility of accessing reasonably priced housing. As the Lords Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee found, the Government are,
“not taking the action needed to ensure there is a sufficient supply of affordable housing”,
which is primarily hurting the younger generation.
The Resolution Foundation has calculated that it will take a 27 to 30 year-old 18 years to save sufficient money to put down a deposit on a house; 20 years ago it would have taken just three. All of this makes the bank of mum and dad even more important—so much so that at the age of 30 those without parental property wealth are approximately 60% less likely to become homeowners.
Young people, too, are experiencing the worst impact of the private rental market. Typically, young renters are paying as much as 35% of their income to rent, whereas the immediate post-war generation spent, as we heard, only 15%. In a sector lacking security of tenure and with many private landlords demanding large deposits and access charges, and providing poor repair services, it is little wonder that young renters suffer increasingly from mental health problems and anxiety.
Housing and employment taken together have a major impact on life satisfaction. By historical standards we live in an era of relative full employment, with young people out of work at historically low levels—11.3% according to the latest figures. However, that masks considerable dissatisfaction with insecurity of employment and pay levels. Slow pay progression is a real factor for new entrants into the labour market. Young people have seen larger declines in pay over the past decade than other age groups. This of course impacts on labour market flexibility and household formation rates and has led to couples starting families much later in life.
Both the Social Mobility Commission and the Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee commented on job insecurity and low pay. The SMC found that 52% of disadvantaged young people leave school without qualifications and, as a consequence, get stuck in low-paid work. The commission argued that young people with professional parents were 80% more likely to get professional jobs themselves. It made the point that adult education was failing to address this inequality. That failing, coupled with the increasing rate of automation of jobs, is likely to lead to a further entrenchment of inequality and reduced levels of social mobility.
What sort of change do we need if we are to emerge from this malaise? The SMC was clear that we need an economic model that values concentrated investment in skills, jobs and infrastructure in areas of low pay and low social mobility. This will of course need a new approach from employers too. To this I would argue and add that if we are to answer the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, we need comprehensive policies that counter growing inequality in the workplace, in our communities and in the provision of good-quality housing.
Reintroducing the EMA, scrapping tuition fees and promoting a national education service will all go some way to creating a learning culture that says it values the development of skills for life. We need to set out to provide lifelong learning so that, as new technologies come along, the workforce of the future can adapt and retrain. Apprenticeship and graduate-based skills need an equivalence of value in the workforce so that we can get away from the rigid divides prevalent in the labour market that prevent progression and social mobility.
Exploitative zero-hours contracts, unpaid internships and poorer pay for part-time employees need outlawing. Scrapping the youth rate for the minimum wage and ensuring a real living wage of £10 per hour for all would go a long way to restoring dignity in our workplaces.
In the housing market we need decisive action. Rents and house prices are sensitive to the scale of a building programme. A national programme, with councils enabled to expand their stocks, more help for first-time buyers, with Help to Buy expanded and extended, and an end to insecurity in the private sector, with a cap on rent rises, new minimum standards and a guaranteed right to repairs are all measures that will make a difference to our younger generation.
Work and home are the things that give our lives value and can create a sense of well-being. They are the foundations to much of our personal satisfaction. Public policy over much of the past decade has done little to enrich the lives of younger people or provide them with an opportunity to progress and aspire. We live in a society which, despite the best efforts of the last Labour Government, is still overly defined by class, place and background. If we want to escape from a future defined by those things, we need to rethink, reimagine and revisit whole areas of public policy. The alternative will leave us stuck in a time-warped, two-speed economy where inequality becomes even more entrenched and young people become resentful and alienated as the issues that affect them and shape their world are ignored. We let those things fester at our peril.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this important debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to outline the Government’s work on delivering opportunities for all and improving the quality of life for young people. We have heard many excellent contributions in this debate across a range of ideas. I am also grateful to noble Lords who provided early notice of questions, but I have received 25, many just before I came into the Chamber, so I will not be able to cover all of them, but I will of course write.
Noble Lords will not be surprised to know that I believe fervently that the surest way to expand opportunity is through education. Everyone has the right to a good education regardless of their circumstances. To start with the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, improving this country’s education system starts in the early years. Since 2010, all three and four year-olds have been able to access 15 hours of early education a week. In 2013 we introduced 15 hours a week of free early education for disadvantaged two year-olds. We have a record proportion of children starting year 1 with a good level of development. We are spending £3.5 billion on free early years education entitlements this year.
We have introduced the phonics screening check. In 2018 163,000 more six year-olds were on track to become fluent readers compared to 2012, and 88% of those pupils who had met the phonics standard in year 1 went on to attain the expected standard in reading at the end of key stage 2 in 2018. England achieved its highest-ever reading score in the 2016 PIRLS rankings, moving from joint 10th to joint eighth.
This Government have focused on raising school standards because we know a decent education is the best way to boost social mobility. I think we all agree on that. We have helped to ensure that there are 1.9 million more children in good and outstanding schools compared with 2010. The proportion of children in good or outstanding schools rose 66% in 2010 to 85% by the end of December 2018, and that is in part down to our reforms. The latest Ofsted figures show that more than 70% of sponsored academies are good or outstanding despite replacing mostly underperforming local authority schools. In free schools, 84% of those with inspection reports published by the end of March are rated good or outstanding. We have narrowed the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and others by around 13% at key stage 2 and 9.5% at key stage 4 since 2011 as measured by the disadvantage gap index.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, asked about school funding. We accept that there are challenges in the system. We invested an additional £1.3 billion across the period 2018 to 2020 over and above the existing plans in the spending review. The IFS has shown that real-terms per-pupil funding for five to 16 year-olds in 2020 will be more than 50% higher than in 2000. Since 2017, we have given every local authority more money for every pupil in every school while allocating the biggest increases to the schools that have been most underfunded.
The new GCSEs and A-levels are the culmination of curriculum and qualifications reform since 2011 involving consultation with subject experts, higher education institutions and teachers. The new GCSEs are more rigorous and their demand matches that of other high-performing economies. At A-level, changes aim to improve students’ readiness for the demands of higher education. We have removed some 3,000 what I describe as useless qualifications, which has made room for quality of education, an important point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. We have put effort behind the EBacc. There has been a 76% increase in the proportion of pupils taking the core academic standard subjects including languages. This will set them up for success in later life.
I reassure the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Prashar, that we are widening access to higher education. It is a priority for the Government. In 2018, 18 year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds were proportionally 52% more likely to go to university than they were in 2009.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked about making the teaching profession more attractive. He is absolutely right. The one thing that matters most in our profession is the quality of the teachers. We are very conscious of the demands on them and the fact that they now have to deal with a range of social issues which they possibly did not have to deal with 10 or 15 years ago. We tried to address this recently in our recruitment and retention strategy, and we published the Workload Reduction Toolkit in March last year.
It seems that the noble Earl engages with teachers quite often, so I ask him to take a simple message back to them—a message that I try to get across. One of the most pernicious additions to workload is teachers having to individually plan each school lesson. It is an enormous burden on them and, frankly, quite unnecessary. Schools should provide skeleton work plans for them to draw on and then they can simply add the local context to the group of children they are teaching. The evidence I have is that lesson preparation can take four, five or six hours a week, but teachers do not have to spend their time in that way.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, talked about higher education. I agree with him in part, in that I think we have tilted the HE route too far for some students. That is why we are putting much more emphasis on apprenticeships. We are aiming to create 3 million quality apprenticeships, with 1.7 million starts from May 2015. They are longer, with more off-the-job training and a proper assessment at the end. We are introducing T-levels, which will offer a rigorous technical alternative to academic education. We are also establishing national colleges and institutes of technology to meet higher-level technical skill needs that will further support technical education.
One thread that has run through the debate is social mobility. I am pleased to be able to say that the NEET figures are declining. At the end of 2017, they were 6.3%. This is a fall of 2.9 percentage points compared with the same figure at the end of 2010. It is the lowest comparable figure since a consistent series began in 1994.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, asked about lifelong learning and adult learners, which are all part of the same issue. We are living in a very fast-evolving economy, so we have created the national retraining scheme to equip individuals with the skills they need to redirect their careers. We know that uncertainty is being caused around automation, and the retraining scheme is focusing on those most at risk from automation. The scheme acknowledges and will build on existing services. We are working closely across government and with the National Careers Service on ways to improve this, looking at the industrial strategy challenges to see where we can learn lessons and unify this journey.
Many noble Lords raised the issue of participation in higher education. Higher education providers have committed to spend £860 million in 2019-20 on measures to improve access. That is more than double the amount spent in 2009. We are seeing increasing numbers of children from state schools getting Oxbridge entries, which, for me, is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.
Many noble Lords addressed living standards and stagnation. It is important to remind the House that there are over 1 million fewer workless households than there were in 2010, with around 665,000 fewer children living in such households.
I turn to the concern raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, about providing support in career development for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We established the Careers & Enterprise Company’s investment fund to help give additional support in preparing for work, including opportunities for mentoring and guidance.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Grender and Lady Tyler, raised the question of young people’s wages. We are tackling this by trying to improve their skills. We know that earnings outcomes for young people studying level 2 and level 3 apprenticeships are materially higher than they are for those without those qualifications. The youth unemployment rate has nearly halved since 2010, compared to last year.
I want to address the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, about young entrepreneurs, and I compliment him on his tireless work as a social entrepreneur. I have had the privilege to hear of the many great things that he is doing. I take on board all the points he made about bureaucracy; having run my own businesses since I was 18 years old, I know exactly what he is talking about. I am very happy to meet any stakeholders who want to discuss how we can deal with this. BEIS itself has launched an independent review into young entrepreneurship, led by the Prince’s Trust. I do not know whether this is particularly high praise but a young person in the UK is twice as likely to be involved in setting up a business or running a new business as young people in France or Germany.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, raised a number of issues about social mobility. I certainly recognise that there are areas across the country with entrenched social mobility barriers where young people may feel left behind. This is why we are investing £72 million through our Opportunity Areas programme, which focuses on a mix of 12 coastal, urban and rural areas across the country. Through Opportunity North East we are working with leaders from education, local government and business and investing up to £24 million to address the specific challenges in that region.
We know that people from poorer backgrounds can face greater challenges. The pupil premium has provided schools with more than £15 billion in extra funding since 2011—over £2.4 billion in the year 2018-19—to tackle the symptoms of socioeconomic disadvantage and improve academic outcomes. We have introduced the pupil premium plus for looked-after and previously looked-after children, at more than double the rate of the standard pupil premium at secondary level.
The noble Baroness asked about the social mobility report on closing the regional attainment gap. I mentioned earlier the narrowing at key stages 2 and 4, which I think is a matter for celebration but certainly not one for complacency as there is a long way to go. Social mobility is one of our top priorities. We are targeting extra support in the poorest areas of the country to raise school standards. Disadvantaged pupils are catching up with their peers. We are reforming technical education and, as I said earlier, disadvantaged 18 year-olds are entering university in much higher numbers.
On the State of the Nation report, we welcome the publication of the Social Mobility Commission’s annual report and the important work that it is doing. The commission shines a light on where the Government, business and employers can continue to raise the bar for everyone living in this country. We have asked the commission to launch a £2 million research and evidence fund to identify and spread best practice on how best to boost social mobility, beyond everything that we are doing at the moment.
It is important to address universal credit, which I know has been a controversial subject over the last few years. The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, asked about the five-week wait for universal credit payments. It is important to acknowledge that the system has improved; I am sure that it is still not perfect, but only today I was talking to an official at the DWP who was a case worker two or three years ago and still has friends and colleagues who are still on the front line. She says unequivocally that case workers now feel much more empowered to help the clients they are dealing with than they did under the old regime.
No one has to wait for their money if they need it. We have made advances easier to obtain, and claimants can get up to 100% of their first month’s payment up front. From 2021, advances can be repaid over 16 months. We have already introduced a two-week run-on of housing benefit, and we will be introducing a two-week run-on for other legacy DWP benefits. All these improvements are intended to support claimants prior to their first monthly payment of universal credit.
The noble Baroness also raised the issue of homelessness. Again, I put on record that we have seen a drop of 20% in the number of under-25 year-olds sleeping rough between the years 2017 and 2018. The Government have committed over £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in the current spending review.
Our vision for those with special educational needs and disabilities is the same as it is for all children: that they achieve in their education, find employment, lead happy and fulfilled lives and experience choice and control. We have enhanced the support available for young people and their families, giving £391 million to local areas since 2014 to support the implementation of reforms. We will continue to fund parent carer forums. In December last year, we announced £250 million of additional high needs funding, bringing the total allocated to £6.1 billion in 2018-19, and £6.3 billion in the current financial year. We recognise that high needs budgets face significant pressure.
The noble Baroness was quite right to include the issue of the quality of life of our young people in this debate. The Government are focusing on mental health. My noble friend Lady Fall is concerned about mental health. To reassure her, from December 2020, we will make teaching about mental health a compulsory part of the curriculum across the whole state system. The Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health sets out proposals to improve mental health support for young people. We will incentivise and support schools and colleges to identify and train designated senior leads for mental health, funding new training to facilitate this. We are piloting new approaches to mental health assessment.
The Chief Medical Officer recently commissioned an independent review of the impact of screen time and social media on children and young people. They must take time away from screens. Participation in extra-curricular activities promotes well-being. For example, schools with cadet forces see improvements in attendance, behaviour and attainment. Through the cadet expansion programme, 268 schools have received approval to establish Combined Cadet Force units.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, asked about NHS mental health support. To reassure her, the Government have made protecting the mental health of children a priority. For people experiencing their first episode of psychosis, we have a target for early intervention to ensure that treatment begins within two weeks for more than 50% of people. Nationally, the NHS is exceeding the two-week target, with over 75% of patients starting treatment within two weeks in March this year. The NHS long-term plan has set the goal of supporting an extra 345,000 children and young people via NHS-funded health services by 2023-24.
Coming back to the broader issue of well-being, as noble Lords will be aware, we established the National Citizen Service in 2011. Nearly half a million young people have participated since then. Virtues such as kindness, generosity, fairness, tolerance and integrity can be developed through activities which stretch and challenge. My right honourable friend the Education Secretary has called the following areas the five foundations for building character: sport, creativity, performing, volunteering and membership, and the world of work. An advice group will develop materials to help teachers identify opportunities that will help pupils build character, and it will produce recommendations by September this year.
Several noble Lords raised the issue of housing, which is of course a high priority for this Government. On affordable housing, which the noble Lords, Lord Storey, Lord Bassam and Lord Shipley, mentioned, we are investing some £9 billion in the affordable homes programme, with 407,000 affordable homes delivered since 2010. To encourage home ownership for the young, we have smashed stamp duty by 95% for first-time buyers who pay it. We have also committed an extra £17 billion to the Help to Buy fund since 2017 to help up to 470,000 households into home ownership. The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, asked about the shared accommodation rate freeze. I will write to her on that, as I am running out of time. It is an important issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised a number of issues relating to justice and crime. I will write to him on the Supreme Court judgments on criminal records, regulating gambling, mobile gambling, criminal responsibility and a mandatory tax to fund treatment for addiction.
The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, asked about family mediation. The Government are committed to reducing conflict between parents, whether they are together or separated. That is why the DWP has introduced a new programme on reducing parental conflict, backed up by £39 million. It will encourage councils across England to integrate services and approaches which address parental conflict into their local services for families. This includes awards to both Mediation Now and Hall Smith Whittingham, which will help disadvantaged families at risk of involvement with the family justice system.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked about the need to do more to combat racism. I am pleased to be able to reassure him that, since 2010, ethnic minority unemployment has fallen by around 140,000. The rate is at a record low. We have also published an updated hate crime action plan and launched a national hate crime public awareness campaign.
I am being told to stop, but a couple more Peers have asked questions that I would like to put on the record. The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, asked about racial disparity. The black ethnic group has seen the greatest proportional increase in progression rates by the age of 19, from 44% in 2009 to 58.5% in 2016.
We are committed to the life chances of all children, including those in custody. The Government began a youth justice reform programme in 2017, investing in staff, education and psychology services.
To sum up, the Government are committed to providing all young people with the tools needed to reach their potential. There are few more important priorities for any Government than this.
I thank all speakers. I will study Hansard for the breadth and depth, which has made the debate such a hard thing to respond to, but therein lies a tale: this is why we need more concentration on young people as a policy discipline.
I will mention a couple of quick policy issues. The £1.3 billion referred to for schools was actually raided from existing capital expenditure. And I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, would agree that the shortage of council houses predates 2010 as a chronic shortage. It is something that we have said all political parties take responsibility for.
Most of all, I thank all the young people who have participated in the webinar, the Twitter poll, the meet outside beforehand, and those very resilient individuals who have attended and sat through this entire debate, especially the person who is currently in teacher training, who is up there in the Gallery. I particularly salute all of you. Generations Rent, Y and Z: we hear you, just about. We salute all of you for the future and the challenge you have. We hear you, but we think it is time for all of you to get louder. Above all, we think it is time for the Government to listen to you.