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Young Adults: Public Service Funding

Volume 799: debated on Thursday 18 July 2019

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That this House takes note of the impact of, and response to, the funding levels of public services that interact with young adults.

My Lords, there is an error on the speakers’ list. The Back-Bench speaking time is 12 minutes, not 13, and the accommodation of noble Lords to this change will be much appreciated.

My Lords, I have pleasure in moving this Motion. In doing so, I thank noble Lords for their stamina and persistence in staying so late on Thursday afternoon. I look forward to their contributions. We are small in number, but the array of talent around the Chamber predicts a high-quality debate, which I look forward to. This debate is timely, given the many concerns about child poverty and the levels of support going to local authorities for services for children and young people. I salute the voluntary sector for its work in frequently picking up the problems left by funding shortfalls and for doing amazing work with groups of vulnerable adults and children. For clarification, I accept the usual definition of “children”, which is people up to the age of 18.

The subject of the debate is funding levels of public services that interact with young adults, but we also have to look at earlier conditions for children and young people. Before he or she reaches adolescence and adulthood, a young adult will have had many experiences in her or his family, in education, in childcare, in communities and so on. Children are from a variety of backgrounds. They do not come as one piece. They are influenced by many things: their peer groups, ethnicity, education, faith and culture, health, ability and disability, contact with agencies such as childcare and youth centres and, possibly, the police. Interactions with those agencies are likely to have a lasting effect on what children become as adults. We must ensure that those interactions are healthy and supportive. It is a Government’s duty to ensure that children have the best possible start in life and every Government in recent years have pledged to do that, with varying success.

The best possible start in life includes positive parenting, a place to call home which offers security and a healthy lifestyle, affordable and high-quality childcare, a high standard of education and good healthcare wherever a family lives. These are the basics. This is early prevention of later problems and a good start in life. Some families run into difficulty and need interventions to support them. However, the overall spending power of local authorities has fallen significantly since 2010, while the demand for children’s services is increasing, according to a recent inquiry by the House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. In 2018, the Children’s Commissioner and the Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report looking at public spending on children in England between 2000 and 2020. It focused on benefits, education, children’s services and health. It was found that spending was the same in 2018 as it had been in 2000-01, despite more pressure on services.

In a recent report, Choose Childhood, the charity Action for Children reflects that, according to children, parents and grandparents, childhood has changed. There have been advances in health, domestic legislation and social housing. Despite this, many children and young people today still face life-changing disadvantages and there are,

“worrying signs … that some of the progress made is at risk of being reversed”.

Mental health needs have increased; child poverty has grown and is projected to rise to 5 million by 2022. Children at risk of abuse and neglect are not getting the support they need and remain on the edges of social care. Children are concerned about safer streets and the risk of crime.

I refer first to funding for families and communities and child poverty—a devastating and counterproductive thing for a child and his or her family. Some problems arise, not through policies set at local levels but because of national funding policies on, for example, benefits. One example is the two-child limit, which came into effect in 2017. New research by the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England estimates that 160,000 families and 600,000 children have been affected by this policy and that more than 800,000 families will eventually be affected. They will be £4,000 worse off on average as a result. As I said earlier, child poverty as a whole is increasing.

Between 2010 and 2019, 585 Sure Start children’s centres closed. These centres provided community support systems for parents and children within pram-pushing distance—but, I am afraid, no longer. Between 2012 and 2019, 763 youth centres closed. The Government have stated that money has been put into the connections service and youth activities such as the UK Youth Parliament. This is all to the good but it is not the same as having a fixture, such as a youth centre, where young people can go for recreation, structured activity, support and advice.

Spending on local libraries has decreased and some have closed. In 2015, a BBC News survey found that more than £42 million has been axed from council sports and leisure centres since 2010. Local authority spending overall has decreased year on year since 2013-14 from just over £90 million to almost £88 million.

Others will speak about schools but we know from head teachers of dramatic shortfalls in funding affecting schools in terms of the upkeep of buildings and spending on equipment for young people. The most vulnerable are suffering. The National Education Union has reported that special needs provision in England has lost out on £1.2 billion because of shortfalls in funding from central government since 2015, while the number of those who have legal entitlement to funding for support has risen by almost 100,000 in the corresponding period.

With such a diminution of community structures, an increase in family difficulties, increasing homelessness and a lack of affordable housing, we should not be surprised at the increase in gang culture and its attendant crimes such as knife crime, particularly in inner cities. It is true that the number of people entering the youth justice system has decreased dramatically. The number of first-time entrants has gone down by 86% since March 2008 but knife and weapon offences have increased, as have the number of young people in custody. Almost 41% of children and young people reoffend. The number of arrests of children and young people has decreased but at different rates: 82% for white children and only 56% for black children. This uneven figure calls for dramatic efforts to investigate the reasons and provide resources to tackle the difference.

Two-thirds of local councils have cut funding for sexual and reproductive health services, according to a freedom of information request carried out by the Advisory Group on Contraception. Funding constraints are increasing health inequality, with 60% of councils in areas of high deprivation planning further cuts. Public Health England has estimated that each £1 spent on publicly funded contraception alone will save over £9 in the next 10 years in local authority and NHS budgets. Brook advisory centres, which provide free and confidential sexual health information, including on contraception, are concerned that specialist services for young people are at risk. This is not only about contraception; it is about protection from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. All this is costly and distressing for those affected. Money needs to be spent earlier but sometimes the money is not there. However, I am glad that the Government have agreed to make sexuality and relationships education mandatory in schools from next year. Young people have the right to information and emotional support to develop healthy sexual relationships, and schools need to be backed up by support services in the community.

Substance misuse—alcohol or drugs, and sometimes self-medication—is a form of risky behaviour and often a cry for help. Services for young people are commissioned by local authorities. A Children’s Society review, which took into account the views of young people, found concern that the resourcing of wider children’s and young people’s services has suffered in some local authority areas from reductions in the public health grant since 2013. This represents an enormous challenge for such services. There was evidence that expenditure on drug and alcohol services for young people had been reduced. Again, early intervention to prevent the use of alcohol and drugs is important and saves money in the long term.

Child criminal exploitation is the grooming of children into criminality. It is an area where there is a huge absence of data from the police and local authorities, yet the Children’s Commissioner has warned that between 30,000 and 50,000 children could be affected. A report by the Children’s Society found that only half of local authorities said they had collected data. This has led to a lack of knowledge about the criminalisation of children being forced to sell drugs, and gangs are exploiting the situation. This is one case where the Government must address the shortfall in funding for children’s social care and provide sufficient funding to bring in early help for vulnerable children.

A recent research report on vulnerable children from the Children’s Commissioner states that,

“for too long we have focused only on managing demand for services instead of asking what helps these children lead happy, successful lives”.

This has resulted in increased spending on late, short-term, expensive and ineffective intervention. It seems that planning for services has been affected by a lack of certainty about funding in the long term. The report estimates that about £10 billion will be required by 2025 to make a meaningful difference. The expansion should include an expansion of community-level services to help children and families.

I praised the voluntary sector earlier. I am impressed by the announcement this year by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, that there will be new money from City Hall’s Young Londoners Fund for youth projects and programmes. In the last round of funding, more than 450 applications seeking an investment of over £120 million were received from projects that support children and young people aged between 10 and 21.

I repeat and stress the importance of early and consistent intervention to help children, families and young adults. Too often, we seem to work in piecemeal ways; this can be disorganised and disruptive for local councils and the people who inhabit communities. What is the Government’s policy on funding local authorities? Is it on the basis of need? How it is calculated? What are the challenges? What increases in funding are foreseen? I ask the Government to develop, with stakeholders, a strategy for children and young people to pull the strands together. We cannot afford to put at risk the health, welfare and lives of this crucial population, the citizens of now and of the future. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for bringing this debate and giving us the opportunity to put on the public record things that are indeed of national concern and very close to all our hearts. It is a massive area and one full of nuance and complexity. So, for my contribution, I want to keep mainly to the realm of local government drawing on my experience both as the former elected Mayor of Watford for 16 years and currently as a vice-president of the LGA.

For the local government family, there has been an avalanche of change over the last decade in how we deal with young people and, in particular, how services have changed, been adapted or simply been cut altogether. To us it feels like uncertainty piled upon uncertainty, which is demoralising for those working with young people and certainly makes recruitment and retention more difficult. Of course, it also has very real consequences for individuals, their families and, ultimately, society as a whole.

Children and young people should be supported to get the best, not just get by. It has been increasingly challenging to turn this ambition into a reality when cumulative financial pressures are forcing councils to make unpalatable decisions about the allocation of scarcer resources. Many of the services that impact on young adults are delivered by local government. The challenges facing those youngsters can span a range of areas and are multifaceted; they include poverty, housing, skills and employment, access to training and careers advice, access to mental and physical health services, and exposure to violence, crime, grooming and exploitation. In all of those areas, local government, quite rightly, has a positive role to play and is often the lead agency.

Some facts: local Government has lost 60 pence out of every pound of funding for services and faces a £3.5 billion pay gap by 2025, just standing still; this year, 88% of councils have overspent on their children’s services budget and, for the first time, it overtook adult social care as the number one issue that councils were most worried about funding. Why? Perhaps because social workers are starting new cases for more than 1,000 children every day on average—I rechecked that fact because I did not believe it—and some 500 cases a day presenting with mental health problems. The total number of looked-after children has reached a new high of over 75,000, representing the biggest annual rise of children in care for eight years. Child protection inquiries are up by 158% in 10 years, and the number of children on protection plans has increased by 84% over the same period.

A study by Action for Children, Barnardo’s and the NSPCC says:

“Funding available per child … for all children’s services”,

in England has fallen from,

“£813 in 2010-11 to £553 in 2017-18”.

The facts speak for themselves.

Councils in London have suffered the worst cuts, with northern cities not far behind. All services have now been pared down. There has been an inevitable and necessary shift to focus on statutory services, at the expense of preventative services, to deal with young people in crisis, rather than young people who are perhaps in a bit of trouble, or who are struggling, or who are in need of the right kind of services to stop them from getting to that point at all.

It is, however, becoming increasingly hard to look at the facts and not see some cause and effect. Has this reduction in spend on young people, for instance, meant that knife crime has increased? Who can say for sure? However, one thing any sensible person can say with certainty is that services to support the transition to adulthood of many tens of thousands of our youngsters have reduced or are non-existent. This is well evidenced, and it is not fantasy to hypothesise that, taken all together across an area—whether that area is a village, a small town or a large city—young people’s lives are being impoverished and lack of support for them must be affecting their lives.

Councils should be given the resources they need to work with young people and prevent their involvement in crime rather than picking up the pieces after the offences have been committed. Even then, at the sharp end, there has been a significant reduction in the youth offending teams. These were working well in co-ordinating a response in partnership with the police and probation, social and education services, and others, with significant results in cutting local crime and supporting vulnerable young people. The government grant to YOTs has been cut from £145 million in 2010-11 to £72 million in 2017-18.

The recent report from the Children’s Commissioner for England revealed that there,

“are some worrying trends. Mainstream and acute services such as age 4-16 education and provision for children in care have been protected at the expense of targeted preventative services, removing vital safety nets for some very vulnerable children. The 60% cut in Sure Start and youth services will see an increasing number of vulnerable children fall through the gaps”.

I believe that this is already happening. The cuts that have happened gradually, over nearly a decade, are now showing their cumulative impact. Councils are overspending, have raised council tax to the limit that they are allowed to by Government, increased fees and charges, and have used their reserves to prop up essential services.

Youngsters do not arrive in crisis overnight, and many could be prevented from getting to that point if we helped them sooner and in a more effective way. There is much research to be done. We are in effect trying to manage and contain crisis in children’s lives after allowing it to escalate.

If we continue to see greater numbers of youngsters marginalised, the cost to the state will be greater. But it is the lifetime cost to these young people that we should be most troubled by; they have only one childhood and one chance to grow up into healthy and productive citizens. We see the cost of this lack of preventive work in increasing current pressures on children in care, family courts, special schools and special educational needs and disability provision in general, and in spiralling numbers of school exclusions and the consequent increase in younger children linked to violent street gangs.

Could the Minister point to ways in which the Government are looking to work out of government silos to build cross-cutting departmental services, built around a clear evidence base of the unmet needs of children? Do we know what really works? Do we have the right kind of data? I am particularly interested to know what will happen to the recently discredited Troubled Families programme, and its funding, when it ceases in 2020. For local government, the new fairer funding formula and the decision to omit deprivation from it has caused serious concerns. Could the Minister reassure us that funding will be matched to the likely level of need when the new regime finally comes in?

It is vital that the Government heed the consistent and increasing warning that children’s services are now at tipping point. Will the Government commit to using the upcoming spending review to deliver a long-term strategy that enables councils to meet the growing need for support for some of the most vulnerable in society—our young people?

My Lords, I join others in thanking and congratulating my noble friend Lady Massey on introducing this debate. Her commitment to this area of policy is well known and long standing. I am grateful for the opportunity it gives us to discuss what one might, without being accused of exaggeration, call a crisis. I also acknowledge the speech that the noble Baroness has just made about the impact on local authorities. They carry the burden of this and often unjustifiably get the blame; it is good to see that recognised.

I would not imagine that there is any difference of opinion, or any argument to be made, about the funding cuts in this most crucial of services. I will not rehearse the figures and statistics; I do not think there is any need to persuade Members that there is a problem with funding. However, it is interesting to note that there have been cuts to funding for universal services. I am not sure that they are exactly the same as preventive services—I think they go a bit wider than that—but they are for every child and are part of a good and strong childhood. Funding is down for schools, further education, youth work and, as my noble friend Lady Massey said, youth centres. There are then also cuts to funding for targeted services, which are aimed at those children and young people who are more vulnerable than others. Look at the high-needs block in special education needs funding. In the case of the youth offending teams, the money seems to have been halved over 10 years. It is not just in some areas; it is wherever you look. Whether they are universal, for every child and every young adult, or whether they are targeted at children with special needs and requirements —not in terms of education—there is a problem.

I was thinking about the 10 years in which we have had this policy of austerity. For children of primary age, it has been there all their life; for children of secondary age, it has been there for all their teen years. I do not agree with austerity, but those of us who can look back and remember a time when public services were well funded at least have hope that it can be better than this. We have a vision; a picture of what better-funded public services can be. I worry that a generation of children will reach adulthood having never lived in a society where public services are adequately funded. As adults, we need to question ourselves on that. Although primarily it is families who bring up children, families need the support of the wider community and the state. Some activities fall to the state to ensure that young people are protected, allowed to grow up strong and stable, and able to contribute to society as they can.

Without wanting to guess the Minister’s response, I suspect he might say that there has been protection for some services. That argument is made by his ministerial colleagues regarding schools: the school budget has been protected, while there is an acceptance that other areas of funding have been cut. I want to make the argument that there are two reasons why that is not effective. The first and very simple reason is that even the priorities, which are usually the statutory services, have been underfunded; no recognition has been made of the extra demand that has been put on those services. The irony is that, in a time of austerity, the demand for those services increases. Even if budgets are kept the same or increased for inflation, they end up being underfunded because the increased need is not taken into account.

The second reason is slightly different, and here I want to make some further points. Having been a teacher for a number of years and a politician for a number of years, my experience is that services have got to work together; that is what makes the difference. That is never more true than for those services aimed at children and young adults. Forget the point about extra demand; even if one accepts the Government’s argument that they are safeguarding the priority services, or statutory services, there are implications if that is done in an otherwise underfunded system. It is those implications, as well as the drop in funding, that are causing the problem. For instance, the figures provided by the Library show it is true that there seems to be an increase in funding for safeguarding children, in young people’s services and for looked-after children. Ministers have made the decision that, in these tough times, they will do their best to safeguard those budgets. However, if one looks at the same set of figures, one sees that there is a decrease in Sure Start, a decrease in services for children under five and a decrease in the amount of money going into youth justice. One feeds into the other: it is no good protecting services that safeguard children and young people if you then cut those things that enable professionals to do a better job with these vulnerable young people.

I see the same in schools. I suspect that a fair amount of money has been put into maths and literacy teaching in schools. The maths hubs and the maths mastery programme are really good, and they are costed. I go around schools and see good work there, but because money has gone into some things and not others, there are no art, music or citizenship classes; there are no opportunities to go away overnight or go outside for play. The overall effect is that children’s learning is not as effective as it could be. You cannot pump money into teaching children maths and English and, at the same time, deny them the rest of the curriculum and think that there will not be a consequence.

In a strange way, the notion of priorities does not work, because a consequence of those priorities is an even greater underfunding of the services that would help deliver them better. If services are not funded, often it is not that they do not get delivered but that those in the workforce, at the cutting edge, have to find a way of taking on the extra burden. This is certainly the case in schools.

It can be argued that school budgets have been protected, and I would grant that that is probably the case in primary schools. Yet when I go to primary schools, teachers are not telling me that they are ever so glad that the Government have protected their budget—no one has ever said that to me. It is not that they are bashing the Tories; it is what they feel in their everyday lives. The children who come their way are suffering from money being cut in other areas. If there is less money in family support, it is the teachers who take on the job. Mums and dads who would have gone to an advice centre for help now come to the head teacher and the child’s teacher. If children suffer mental health through difficulties at home, and money is being cut from that service, they come to schools and expect them to deal with it. If children have poor housing but the neighbourhood housing advice centre has been cut, parents end up at school saying that they have not enough money to feed the children or for school uniforms.

One of the biggest backward steps is that, because of this cut in funding, we have a situation in which teachers have had to go back to being social workers, advice workers and carers. Under the Labour Government, they were free to teach, and that is why standards increased. It is no good protecting the schools budget if teachers are telling us that they are picking up the consequences of underfunded services. There is no capacity in the system. There is no joy. There are no spare minutes in which you can make some decisions about what to do differently and what to do next. It is a pressurised system. Even areas that the Government claim to have funded end up being not as effective as they might be; the Government certainly get no credit for this.

Further—and this is the greatest evidence that this is an argument worth making—I cannot see what policy the Government have to deliver integrated services. They have given up on delivering integrated services, because they are putting money into only a few of those services. They do not claim to be delivering integrated services. The Labour Government did that through Every Child Matters and children’s centres. I do not mind if you do not want to do it that way —I am not saying that it was perfect—but it was an acknowledgement and recognition that there has to be a structure to try to deliver integrated services to children and young adults. If you do not like that one, invent another. If the Minister accepts that integrated services are key to effective service delivery, can he explain how his Government are doing that?

I will finish where we started. One of our biggest obligations—as adults, politicians and policymakers—is to do what we can to make sure that the next generation has the best possible start in life. We cannot do it by ourselves, but I tell you what: politicians are pretty demanding of other agencies and individuals about discharging their responsibilities to children and young adults. If you look at what has happened to public services for young adults, you will see that the political policies are found wanting.

My Lords, I welcome this timely debate, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, on the funding of public services for young adults. It is now apparent that funding for this work has reduced substantially over the last few years. Local authorities are responsible for the delivery of services to this sector, and the reduction in their grants from central government is the main problem. Local authorities are trying very hard to continue the services they have to deliver.

Let us not forget that we are talking about the future generations of this country: our children and grandchildren. Lack of sufficient funding is leading to all kinds of problems: increasing drug-taking, early pregnancy, delinquency at schools and many other ills. Disadvantaged, poor and single-parent families suffer disproportionately. BAME communities also have increasing pressures. Schools, both primary and secondary, are constantly short of funds. I have heard about children coming to school in the morning hungry and in some cases with dirty clothes. For the first time, the number of BAME young people in prisons has increased in comparison with white people. Facilities such as sports grounds, Sure Start centres and clubs for the young are being reduced or closed.

The root cause of all these serious problems is surely connected not only to a lack of funding but to poverty. An increasing number of poor families in some parts of the UK are dependent on food banks.

I have been involved for many years in early childhood education. I would like to share my experiences with your Lordships today. In 1967, while I was in Tanzania, I was the administrator of many schools, including a number of nursery schools. My colleagues felt that there was a great need to improve the standards of nursery school teachers. We undertook research and found that the Montessori system was one of the best at that time.

I remember meeting the grandson of Maria Montessori, Mr Mario Montessori, in Amsterdam. I was able to persuade him to send a teacher training expert to train the teachers in Tanzania. A lady, Miss Muriel Dwyer from England, was sent to Dar es Salaam for a period of one or two years. Her work was excellent and she managed to train some 40 teachers in the method of the Montessori system. Equipment for the new set-up was ordered from Holland and the Montessori system spread to the rest of the east African countries. It improved the standard of education for the young at a very early age. Science has shown us that a child leams quickly and properly between the ages of three and five.

Many years later, in 1972, when I migrated to the UK, I was invited to join the board of trustees of another NGO called the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, in Ypsilanti in Michigan. I was able to witness the enormous change that made in the lives of the children. HighScope had carried out a 25-year longitudinal study of two groups; namely, those who were trained under the HighScope system and those who were not.

The study proved that for every $1 that the Government of the USA spent on early childhood education, they saved $7 over the coming years. Delinquency and early pregnancy rates were reduced and children were more likely to be highly educated and with higher earning power, and they were better able to ensure a good education from early childhood to university for their own children. I was able to persuade the director of HighScope to establish a similar system in the UK. We must have intervention in our education system for resources for early childhood education in the UK. It will save money in the long term.

My own instinct is that many successful people over the years have sent their children to private nursery schools to prepare them for their education in the long term. But those who are poor are unable to send their young children to a private nursery school.

Science tells us that a child between the ages of three and five learns quickly when given the opportunity to learn from good teachers. The state does not provide early childhood education for all young children as a statutory right. The time has come for the state to introduce early childhood education for all as a policy. Will the Minister tell the House what level of funding is being provided for early childhood education and whether all children aged three to five receive the benefit of early childhood education as a right? If that is not the case, will the Minister please bring in legislation that makes early childhood education compulsory for all?

My Lords, the greatest Liberal Prime Minister in the history of our country—a Welshman, naturally—David Lloyd George, speaking more than 100 years ago after the passage in the other place of the Education Act said that, with the powers it has created,

“the State can watch over the welfare of its children through infancy and adolescence”.

Those inspirational words are in my mind today as we debate this issue, and we should keep them in mind. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Massey for securing this debate.

After decades of progress in tackling poor education of the young, combating poverty and disease, and providing a sound base for our children to grow and build on, it is worth taking stock of where we are now. In today’s Britain, our all-embracing education system has been skewed and distorted for a narrow political ideology, child poverty is again on the rise, and poor diet and lack of parental financial means have resulted in children becoming obese, with far too many depending on pre- and after-school clubs for a decent meal. The closure of the Sure Start schemes, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Massey, which offered hope and made a real contribution to the quality of family life, has hit areas such as mine because they no longer exist there. The charity Action for Children says that funding for young people’s services has fallen by £3 billion. More over, spending by local councils on young people’s services has seen a 16% reduction—down by £1.7 billion. The charity says that there are serious regional differences in spending—a point I think the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, made. That cannot be right, and I will be interested to hear whether the Minister has something to say about this when he replies to the debate.

At the end of the day, cutting public spending to this degree will have an adverse impact, and this can be life-changing for our children and young people. In 2017, an old friend of mine, the former MP and Minister—and now the South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner—Alun Michael, spoke about the positive results that early intervention can have for young people. He wrote that early intervention in support of children who had endured adverse childhood experiences saw a 60% cut in violence, a 65% cut in incarceration, a 24% cut in smoking, and a 66% cut in the use of heroin and crack cocaine. The early intervention he spoke about involved parents, teachers, social and health workers and the police. We need a cross-government commitment to develop strategies like the one Alun Michael was speaking about, and these will need to be adequately financed. Failure to do so will consign a generation and more of children and young people to a quality of life that none of us in this House would ever tolerate for ourselves.

There is one further area I would like to speak about: support for people with autism and their families. Colleagues in the Council of Europe, on which both my noble friend Lady Massey and I serve, are working on a report on this very matter. Britain is a world leader in legalisation specifically supporting people with autism, thanks to the hard work of Dame Cheryl Gillan in the other place. She, with the help of the National Autistic Society, of which I am a vice-president, piloted the passage of the Autism Act, and this year marks its 10th anniversary. Yet, despite some progress, we know that in many areas councils are not meeting their obligations, and a postcode lottery has emerged. Recent research from the Disabled Children’s Partnership has found that there is a £434 million funding gap in children’s social care. This has concerned the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, which is holding an inquiry into the Act’s implementation, ahead of the Government’s strategy review. The all-party group will report this autumn, but in evidence sessions it has held so far it has discovered some issues of concern.

The inquiry has so far discovered a lack of aspiration for young autistic people, who are not being supported to think about and achieve their goals. I and others across this House have seen so many cases where, with the right support, people with autism can gain a quality of life that could never have been imagined in the past. The inquiry has shown a lack of the right services in local areas, meaning that young autistic people who have had their needs identified cannot then get the support for themselves. Will the Minister therefore commit to ensuring that the new national autism strategy tackles the gap in services for young people on the autistic spectrum?

Another area of concern is the funding for special educational needs and disability—SEND—support. Parents across England are making the case that the Government are failing to allocate enough money to local authorities to enable them to fulfil their legal obligations to children with SEND, especially those on the autistic spectrum. Again, will the Minister comment on whether the Government believe that the funding that councils and schools receive to support children and young people with SEND is sufficient? More than that, if it is not, will he make a case to the Treasury for more money?

The National Autistic Society is a member of the Care & Support Alliance—an alliance of 80 organisations campaigning together on adult social care. The alliance has major concerns about the chronic underfunding of social care. More and more people need social care, but fewer people seem to be receiving it. If you are on the autistic spectrum, this means not getting the help you need to live independently. It means not getting help to find work—85% of people on the autistic spectrum never work. It means that if you are an autistic person in these circumstances you face a lonely life of social and workless isolation. In the short term, it is crucial that the Government address the £3.5 billion gap it is estimated there will be in social care by 2025, but we also need the Government to provide a long-term funding solution that shares the cost of social care fairly across society and delivers an improved system. I hope that that will be done through the forthcoming Green Paper, which was meant to be published in 2017, I think. Can the Minister update the House on when the Government will bring forward the Green Paper?

I do not doubt that the Minister and the Government want only the best for our children and young people, but the best comes at a price and the issues that have been raised in this debate need to be addressed and, above all, properly funded. There is no shortcut—there is no cheap way of ensuring the best quality of life for our young people in Britain. We have to provide the money as well as the words.

My Lords, this is a fascinating debate. It is interesting that very few of us have concentrated on young adults—I am sure the Minister is a little frustrated by that—but that is because we know that problems for young adults come because services at a much earlier age have been diminished. One or two speakers here were involved in the last Labour Government, which specifically made difficult choices to come together across departments, in the way my noble friend Lady Morris talked about, to combine efforts to develop, for example, the Sure Start programme.

Sure Start involved a range of departments across government. It was for anyone, but we always wanted to make sure that the general approach did not miss out the most disadvantaged. One thing I did when I was at the Cabinet Office, and had a more wide-ranging portfolio, was to insist that education could not say that it was okay if there was no nurse or health worker in a Sure Start centre; by then I was determined to make sure that there was a comprehensive approach. In government, there are always pressures on money. We were trying to make sure that we invested in early invention to ensure that we prevented problems down the line. We did early intervention not because it was trendy and fancy and all the rest, but because we knew that the scale of problems as children grew older was such that we needed to make sure that families and communities got that very early support. My noble friend Lady Massey is back in her place; I pay tribute to her because she has worked on this for as long as I have known her, and that is a fair amount of time.

Yes, early intervention is more difficult. I remember some extremely difficult discussions with the Treasury. It asked how I could show that it would work, so we scoured the world for good, evidence-based early intervention programmes. I used to drive colleagues mad by ranting about the importance of evidence-based programmes, and I will come back to them.

I thank the organisations that have given us briefings, including Action for Children, which is the organisation I mentioned. I have had a lifelong relationship with it. I am currently an ambassador—I think that is what it calls it. I also pay tribute to the Children’s Commissioner. The way she has given us data and brought it together is really important, because it had not been done before. She has now brought together all the 90-odd different datasets across government—more than central government. It is very powerful information. I really recommend that those who did not see her report last week have a look at it.

Other people, including my noble friend Lady Massey, have given some of the figures, so I will not repeat them, but they are really stark. As Action for Children says in its recent report Choose Childhood, published only last week, for hundreds of thousands of children in the UK, childhood hurts because they are not getting proper support and intervention. Action for Children asks the Government to develop a cross-government national childhood strategy, led by the Prime Minister, to address the scale and nature of the challenges that children face. It also asks that spending decisions start to prioritise children and childhood, including closing the £3.35 billion funding gap identified in local government and by the Children’s Commissioner, but also to rebalance public policy to promote early help for families, supporting children and parents by intervening before problems reach crisis point.

That brings me to the first real point I want the Minister to think about. Cutbacks in spending have meant that instead of trying to intervene early and prevent problems arising later, money has gone to late intervention when there is an emergency or crisis. This is tragic. We do not know yet exactly what the longer-term effect of this will be, but we have a fair idea from some of the problems we see around: rising youth crime, rising mental ill-health and all those other things that are consequences of late, rather than early, intervention.

Lots of the early intervention programmes I started talking about, such as Sure Start, the Nurse-Family Partnership and other evidence-based programmes, have been undermined. Some have virtually disappeared. Even when the party opposite was first elected in 2010 it was a very enthusiastic expander of things such as the Nurse-Family Partnership. However, it is not good enough that we have resorted to the most expensive form of intervention—when it is a crisis and we have to intervene because otherwise there will be a proper tragedy. The Children’s Commissioner shows in charts how much we have to spend on the most expensive areas where we fail most with children and how much cheaper it is, in some senses, to intervene at an earlier stage and avoid that. Of course, local government has to spend on crisis, but the irony is that the loss of mainstream services, which my noble friend Lady Morris talked about, and the loss of early intervention all lead to us spending more on crisis than we should have to.

Central government will have to set its new priorities in the next few months. I am sure the Minister is looking forward to unravelling some of them. But my second point is that these cutbacks, in mainstream services and early intervention, have not been even across the country. The differential impact is highly significant.

As Members here will know, I have talked for a long time about the north-east but it is true that northern authorities and Midlands authorities, particularly those in urban areas where the highest proportion of people needs support, are also those that have had the highest cutbacks in local government. Just to make sure that I do not keep any interests quiet, I am on the board of the Lloyds Bank Foundation, which has produced a really interesting piece of work, A Quiet Crisis: Local Government Spending on Disadvantage in England. This shows that almost all the reduction in spending—97%—has occurred in the most deprived fifth of local areas. It therefore re-emphasises the tragedy of what we are living through, and the real challenge that government will have to get us out of this mess and begin to give people opportunities.

We are spending on the high end because we have no option; we are also spending less on the children who need it most in areas of high deprivation. This is almost a perfect storm and I am almost sick of standing up here and talking about these sorts of crises. However, there are ways forward. As my noble friend Lady Morris said, we had to take decisions, but we did so by making sure that public spending actually improved opportunities rather than denying them. That is the real challenge to the Government: how will they turn things around so that they open up opportunities, rather than just reacting to the latest crisis?

My Lords, like many of your Lordships I have spoken in many debates involving the young, children and youth services. These have been at various times of the day and I always notice, and am always disappointed by, how very few people attend those debates. If you come to a debate on foreign affairs, defence or Brexit, the Chamber is packed but when you talk about young people, who are our future, there are empty Benches. I regret that.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for securing this debate on the funding of public services for young adults. Like her, I want to pay tribute to all those voluntary organisations which do so much for them. She said that we have to give our young people the best start in life, which I thought was a very important line.

As I have said, we have often debated the impacts of government policy on children: the impact of benefit changes on families; the effect of the two-child rule, which will further disadvantage the poorest families; the provision of 30 hours of childcare—that is not available to the most vulnerable children; and the closure of Sure Start centres. The list seems endless. We heard about the importance of nurseries from the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong. I agree that the most important thing for our children and young people is to get it right at an early age. As I have said on many occasions, I regret that we closed Sure Start centres; they were perhaps the first casualty of that recession, but it is young people whom we must get right at an early age.

On the one hand, we have the rhetoric about the importance of early intervention, which I support, yet on the other we have the reality of more families with children shopping not at the supermarket but at the food bank. Today’s young people, whom I will define as those aged between 13 and 19, have grown up in a world shaped by the unrelenting austerity programme that was rolled out. I will not dwell on whether “Austerity, austerity, austerity” was a sensible policy in how it was delivered, but its impact was certainly most severe on the most vulnerable families in our society. It is austerity that has shaped the world-view of today’s young adults.

Until recently, if a family had one member in full-time work, the parents were able to pay the rent, heat the home and put enough food on the table. This is no longer the case. A report was published last month that did not attract much media attention. The Institute for Fiscal Studies published Living standards, poverty and inequality in the UK: 2019, based on research funded by the Rowntree Foundation and the Economic and Social Research Council. It focused on,

“those people who are poorest in society”.

One of the three chapters looked at income poverty and concluded that:

“Absolute poverty remained virtually unchanged at 19% in 2017-18”.


“Absolute child poverty rose by 1 percentage point in the latest year as working-age benefits and tax credits were reduced in generosity”.

This is the world in which today’s young people have grown up. In June 2012, the Government issued Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on Services and Activities to Improve Young Peoples Well-being. It says:

“With the right supportive relationships, strong ambitions and good opportunities all young people can realise their potential and be positive and active members of society. Most get these from and through their families and friends, their school or college and their wider community enabling them to do well and to prepare for adult life. All young people benefit from additional opportunities and support, but some young people and their families, particularly the most disadvantaged and vulnerable, need specific additional and early help to address their challenges and realise their potential … It is therefore local authorities’ duty to secure, so far as is reasonably practicable, equality of access for all young people to the positive, preventative and early help they need to improve their well-being. This includes youth work and other services”.

The guidance goes on to list a comprehensive range of activities that should be on offer to young people. Anyone reading this three-page document might imagine that young people have got it made. There is a whole section on involving young people:

“Local authorities must take steps to ascertain the views of young people and to take them into account in making decisions about services and activities for them, in line with Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child”.

The key phrase in the detail of this guidance is,

“so far as is reasonably practicable”.

However, as the excellent briefing by the Library tells us, children’s services are at breaking point. As we have heard from the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Armstrong, and from my noble friend Lady Thornhill—who has experience of this on the ground as Mayor of Watford—local authorities have to concentrate on the services they are bound to provide, which do not include youth services and other provision for young people. I am delighted that the statutory guidance says that local authorities “must take steps” to involve young people in making decisions about services. However, as services are being cut year on year, there is scant evidence that local authorities are taking these steps—and what is the point anyway, if there are no services available? For example, what value do young adults see in deciding which of their youth centres should be closed? Things are so bad that I know of one local authority that has had to cut its local youth parliament, and others are likely to do the same. I am sure this decision was not taken lightly but, as well as the loss of young people’s adult voice, it is hardly likely to encourage young adults to vote in future elections.

As we have already heard, the Local Government Association, of which I am a vice-president, has predicted a £3 billion overspend by local authorities on children’s services. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, the statutory duty to ensure the safety of children consumes most of their resources. The local authority cupboard is bare; there will be next to nothing for young adults.

I am not sure whether the withdrawal of the education maintenance allowance is within the scope of this debate, but it is yet another example of public money being withdrawn from those young adults who need it most. This same group of young adults will be members of families for whom the discretionary social fund was a lifeline. In 2013, responsibility for this fund was devolved to local authorities to deliver via the local welfare assistance fund. Given what I have already said, it can be no surprise to noble Lords that there has been a 75% drop in the number receiving any assistance, with one in seven local authorities no longer having such a fund.

So far, I have dwelt, necessarily, on financial poverty. What about financial poverty that inevitably leads to poverty of hope? Barnardo’s report is aptly entitled Overcoming Poverty of Hope. Last month in this Chamber, we had a debate about knife crime. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and my noble friend Lady Thornhill mentioned this, but what do we intend to do about this modern plague in our cities? Putting more police on the streets is one very necessary response, but we are dealing with a situation created in part by the lack of financial support for young people, the loss of the positive activities that used to be available to young adults free of charge and the disappearance of detached youth workers. If you ask a young adult what a detached youth worker is, the most likely answer is a youth with a zero-hours contract. The Barnardo’s report identified the top four authorities for cutting youth services. In every one of them there was a steep rise in knife crime. It is not possible to prove a direct causal link between spending on services for young adults and knife crime, but the correlation seems to indicate the impact of one on the other.

In the dark days of the recession, we were told that we had to cut our financial coat according to our economic cloth. Cuts had to be made to stabilise and protect our economy—although I saw this morning that the pound has reached a new low against the dollar and the euro. The NHS budget was protected and per-pupil school funding was not cut. That was good news. However, the price had to be paid, and it was paid by cutting children and young people’s services to the bone. The children and families affected were, of course, the most vulnerable, including young adults. They suffered a double whammy. In addition to benefits disappearing, including the education maintenance allowance, local authority budgets were cut, as we have heard. The budget of my city of Liverpool was cut by 47%—yes, 47%. Having to manage on virtually half the budget, there was no alternative but to concentrate resources on statutory services.

We are, as we are told, the fifth-largest economy in the world and it should shame us that the Trussell Trust believes that, this summer, it will be doling out even more than the 87,496 summer holiday emergency food parcels handed out in 2018, a figure 20% higher than in 2017. While high-street banks are closing branches every week, the number of food banks continues to increase. The Trussell Trust supports 1,200 food banks across the UK but is still unable to meet the demand. For many children and young adults, the free lunch at school or college is their only main meal, and the summer holidays are not something they look forward to. It beggars belief that, in England, more and more working families are having to rely on free food donated by others. What will Her Majesty’s Government do to restore hope among young adults who feel their future is hopeless? Even in the darkest days, our winter fuel allowances and our bus passes kept coming and, for some noble Lords, free TV licences were renewed. Young people have had a diet of nothing but cuts.

I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, mention Gladstone. Of course, we are shortly to have a new Prime Minister. I hope things for young adults will improve under the new kipper—sorry, skipper.

My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Massey for securing this important debate. I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that we have an entitlement to expect that more noble Lords should have made the effort to be here to contribute to the debate. None the less, that does not detract from the quality of the debate we have had.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide services and activities in their area for those aged 13 to 19, or up to 24 in the case of young adults with a learning difficulty or disability. However, evidence from the Local Government Association has highlighted reduced funding for youth services, youth offending teams and children’s care services over recent years due to budget cuts from central government. Local authorities really do try their best to meet their statutory responsibilities, but the Local Government Association reports that many councils have had to divert funding away from traditional youth services to children at risk of harm. Despite these measures, they increasingly overspend on children’s services. As a result, they face a huge challenge in providing youth services.

Councils were forced to overspend on their children services budgets by more than £600 million across England in 2015-16 and it is projected that there will be a massive funding gap of more than £3 billion by 2025. That gap was also highlighted in a recent report on children and young people’s services, published jointly by five prominent children’s charities, and referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill. That report found that funding for local authority children and young people’s services had fallen by £3 billion between 2010 and 2018—a reduction of 29%. At the same time, local authorities’ spending on those services fell by £1.7 billion—a reduction of 16%—so we should pay tribute to our councils that have used various means of maintaining the best possible level of children and young people’s services, despite central government’s best efforts to force them to make even deeper cuts. That is the result of austerity policies and political choices by Tory and coalition Governments since 2010.

Adding to the negative impact of these cuts is the fact that funding and spending has decreased by a larger proportion in the most deprived areas, so although local authorities have a statutory duty to provide access to educational and recreational leisure-time activities for young people in their area, the Government are denying them the resources to do so in a meaningful or sustainable way. Statutory guidance on this duty emphasises the importance of access to services for all young people, particularly the disadvantaged or vulnerable. Would that this were possible. That guidance was published more than seven years ago, since when the financial constraints on councils have increased considerably. Apparently, a review of the guidance is imminent, and it is certainly overdue.

On children and young people’s issues, the most pressing problem is the rise in youth crime, largely the result of the lack of facilities for young people—as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Massey—allied to severe reductions in the number of police officers on the streets and in communities. This year, a report by the local government services union UNISON revealed that since 2012-13, across England, more than 4,500 youth work jobs had been lost with almost 800 youth centres closed. Just think of the number of opportunities to engage young people lost as a result. These teenagers are left with little to divert them in terms of creative or sporting activities and, all too often, that excess energy finds an outlet in criminal activity. That is not in any way to suggest that closed facilities are a justification for turning to crime, but they might at least point to part of the reason why it can happen.

As referred to again by my noble friend Lady Massey, a report published by the Children’s Society this month found that only 50 of 141 local authorities had a strategy in place to tackle child criminal exploitation. One of the society’s key recommendations for improving the response of statutory services to children being criminally exploited is for the Government to address the shortfall in children’s social care funding and allocate sufficient funding to allow the reinstatement of early help and early intervention services across local authorities.

It is instructive that around 85% of young people’s waking hours are spent outside formal education, yet it has been estimated that local authorities spend 55 times more on formal education than on providing services for young people outwith the school day. This is not the debate to highlight budget cuts to school funding, or the fact that 16 to 19 education has been hardest hit by cuts since 2010, but they both play into the pressures on children and young people being considered today. Youth work can play an invaluable role in supporting young people as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood, but the Government surely need to be more aware than they appear to be of the impact of reducing funding for youth work. They must provide local authorities with the resources for greater investment in youth work, recognising that it plays a key role in promoting a multiagency response to tackling serious violence by providing diversionary activities and mentoring support.

Youth work can be most effective in helping young people who are from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds and do not have the same family or other structures to support them, because this can make it an essential element in tackling the problem of serious youth violence. In its recent report, to which noble Lords have referred, Barnardo’s found, having spoken to young people across the country, that reduced opportunities for them just to hang out contribute to rising crime and anti-social behaviour. What a sad indictment of the Government that is. They give local government the statutory responsibility for providing youth services but do not give them sufficient resources to enable them to do so. That desperately needs to change.

Local authorities also run youth offending teams, as other noble Lords have mentioned, working with young adults in trouble with the law and providing additional services including running local crime prevention programmes. A Written Answer given last month by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Edward Argar, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, revealed that there had been a reduction of almost 50% in funding for youth justice grants between 2010 and 2017. Because these grants are used to fund local authorities’ youth offending teams, such a cut is a terrible indictment of the Government’s claim to have a commitment to young people. I could barely believe that, when asked to justify the cuts, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson could do no better than to utter that they were made in the context of wider savings across the department. That is no justification at all. I invite the Minister to say what plans the Government have to restore funding for youth justice grants.

School exclusions play a significant part in young people offending. The recent Timpson review was a step in the right direction, emphasising the need for early interventions by schools to act on disruptive behaviour. It is welcome that, in future, schools will be forced to be accountable for the exam results of pupils they exclude, often through the nefarious practice of so-called off-rolling. The relationship between exclusion and the likelihood of a child being a victim or perpetrator of crime is not seriously in doubt. In March, the Education Select Committee heard evidence that excluded children are more likely to be involved in knife crime, a recent study of 4,000 students by the University of Edinburgh having found a clear correlation. Exclusion leads to increased risk, because schools are a relatively safe environment; if a child is excluded then they have more contact with individuals who can lure them into a gang culture.

The Scottish violence reduction unit has been much credited with reducing knife crime in Glasgow, a city I know well from previous political experience. That unit has also had success with campus police officers in schools, the main aim being to engage with young people rather than police them. This has created positive role models and it is encouraging to learn that the Metropolitan Police is now investing in this approach, with an initial 400 officers employed across London. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has come forward with the Young Londoners Fund, referred to by my noble friend Lady Massey. That major initiative plans to support 50,000 young Londoners aged from 10 to 21 through a raft of community projects. Last year, Sadiq Khan and Cat Smith MP, the shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, announced Labour’s plans for a statutory youth service. To deliver on this ambition, the next Labour Government will mandate a national body with dedicated, ring-fenced funding to oversee youth service provision across England. This body will work with local youth partnerships in every area to support service delivery across the country. I also commend the work of the London-based charity Khulisa, which offers a behaviour change programme designed for pupils in schools and pupil referral units. It is specifically designed for young people at risk of offending, exploitation and exclusion. The programme works on the basis that early intervention breaks the school-to-prison pipeline, exacerbated by exclusion, enabling young people to choose a safe and crime-free future.

I turn finally to a subject not mentioned thus far in today’s debate, that of young parents. Action for Children recently published an excellent, though concerning, report entitled The Next Chapter: Young People and Parenthood. From it we learn that there are nearly 450,000 parents in England aged 25 and under. With the growing expectation that parenthood comes later in life, young parents can come up against both negative attitudes and government policy that does not take account of their needs. The focus over the past 20 years has been on reducing teenage pregnancy and improving support specifically for teenage mothers, young fathers and their children. This new research shows that the poor outcomes and challenges faced by some teenage parents are also experienced by young people who become parents between the ages of 20 and 25. The report highlights the difficulties faced by young parents, particularly in education and training. The difficulties they face in gaining qualifications then naturally impact on their experiences of work and, consequently, their finances. Young parents are less likely to be employed than their peers, and only one-third are in skilled work compared with 53% of young people overall. The report found that nearly half of single young parents live in workless households compared with 18% of young people who are not parents.

To break down the barriers that prevent young parents accessing education, employment and other services, much needs to be done by government, but there is a legacy there. Young mothers value the opportunity to attend young parent support groups. These often operate out of children’s centres, offering the chance to meet other young parents and to engage with support workers who can provide advice and signpost other services. Almost every noble Lord who has contributed to this debate has mentioned Sure Start, but it has to be repeated that more than 1,000 of the 3,000-plus Sure Start centres created by Labour in government have closed since 2010. Young parents have been among the hardest hit in terms of the denial of previously available vital support services.

It is important that Care to Learn is extended to all young parents to enable them to maximise their chances of getting an education that enables them to work while raising their family. I look forward to hearing what the noble Viscount the Minister has to say about the recommendations of that Action for Children report. I do not expect him to do so today but I would be obliged if he would write to me about that, because there are several meaty recommendations in it.

In conclusion, I know that the Minister is about to say to noble Lords that, although he would be delighted to tell us what resources and support the Government intend to provide for children and young people’s services, it must await the spending review. Therefore, I will phrase my question to him in a different way. What arguments has he made, or will he make, to Treasury Ministers to secure funding to replace at least some of the cuts to young people’s services? Of course, it may be that by this time next week he will no longer be the Minister. On a personal level, I hope that he is, but can he please set out for noble Lords what he regards as the priorities for the funding of public services that impact on the life chances of young adults? They and their families deserve no less.

My Lords, I admire the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, has raised a number of hypothetical questions and we will just have to see what happens over the next week or two.

Much more importantly, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for calling this debate on this very important subject. Throughout her career in education and public service, she has put the well-being of young people at the centre of her concerns, and we should all acknowledge that this afternoon. There are few more pressing issues facing this country than the health and well-being of the young generation.

I start by picking up on a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong. I recognise in what she said that this subject is not just focused on young adults, despite the subject of the debate, and I acknowledge that there has to be a seamless link from the early years to the adolescent years. That is very much a theme of what we are trying to do in government and it will be a theme in what I am about to say.

I want to start on a positive note, as I believe we start from a high base. I am not complacent but I was struck by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, which included no positive aspects at all. I really do not think that is the right balance for this subject. Let us look more globally and put some perspective on this. The vast majority of young people in Britain can look forward to a happy, healthy and fulfilling start in life. In a world where 25 million young people are displaced by conflict, natural disaster or social collapse, it is worth reflecting on how fortunate our children are to grow up here in the UK. I listened with some care to the salutary tales from the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, based on his experiences outside the UK.

Turning to the UK, this Government want every young person to fulfil their potential. To illustrate that, I shall cite three examples from different stages of a young person’s journey through life. Regarding the early years, low-income families in this country are eligible for 30 hours’ free childcare for three and four year-olds, and 80% of recipients said that the quality of their family life has improved as a result.

In school, the IFS’s own figures show that per pupil funding for five to 16 year-olds will be 50% higher in 2020 than it was in 2000. Significantly, on leaving school, youth unemployment continues to fall and has halved since 2010. OECD figures show that it is 25% lower than the EU average. It is worth reflecting on the fact that, while in the UK youth unemployment is 11.7%, in the EU it is 15.2%. Sweden is on 16.7%, France on 20.8%, and—listen to this—Spain is on 34.4%. However, I am the first to say that there are challenges to confront and I recognise the points raised in the House today.

I want to address an important point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about integrated services. For so many of our strands and themes to work, there has to be a cross-departmental link. The learning from our What Works centres and the public health approach to youth justice are examples of our approach to integrating services in communities. The role of local government in knowing its communities should not be underestimated. I shall say more on this theme in a moment.

The most sacred duty of any Government is, of course, to keep its citizens safe. I turn now to one of the themes raised today: the dangers posed by crime and serious violence. These dangers were brought into focus by the recent report of the Children’s Commissioner, Keeping Kids Safe. The House will be aware of this report, as I certainly am. It highlighted the multiple contributory causes of gang activity and the disturbing numbers of our children being trafficked to sell drugs. A key conclusion of that report was to realise a truly multiagency approach to child criminal exploitation.

We published our Serious Violence Strategy to address in particular the increases in knife crime, gun crime and homicide. Knife crime was highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey. This is an ambitious programme involving 61 commitments and actions. Further measures include an independent review of drug misuse and a new £200 million Youth Endowment Fund, which will deliver long-term, sustainable change, providing a 10-year programme of grants that will enable interventions targeted at children and young people at most risk.

The same theme was raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornhill and Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson. I would like to focus on funding for the Youth Justice Board, another issue raised in this debate. It is partly about money—I acknowledge that—but the total YJB funding this year for front-line services including youth offending teams is £72.2 million. The youth offending teams grant for 2018-19 remained at the same level as the year before, and we have increased total funding to front-line services for this year. Some £1.5 million of funding this year will go to developing and promoting good practice to address priority issues in areas of particular need. This includes reducing serious youth violence and disproportionality.

To give an example of current good practice between YOTs to address specific issues, in north London, a group of seven boroughs are working in partnership to address black, Asian and minority ethnic disproportionality in the justice system, and are looking at the experiences and outcomes of BAME children in the youth justice system. This is being led by Islington and Camden and originated from the collaborative work begun through a youth court user group. The group has developed and now offers national advice on the issue; that is just one example.

Continuing on the theme of prevention, I turn to our investment in families and the care system. Building on the learning so far, we have recently announced a new programme, Supporting Families: Investing in Practice, which will provide up to £15 million to enable around 40 local authorities to test a number of promising innovation projects to help keep families safely together. Included in this is our £200 million innovation programme, which has a focus on children at the edge of services and on reducing the number of children entering care. To answer the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, although we have managed to take 100,000 families out of crisis, the Government have committed £920 million to the second phase of the troubled families programme, a challenging programme that aims to achieve significant and sustained improvement for up to 400,000 families by 2020.

We have made considerable progress in addressing long-held concerns surrounding the care system in this country. It is worth mentioning that 44 local authorities have been lifted out of intervention and have not returned. This is a step in the right direction. We have launched the care leaver covenant and are spending up to £5 million on three social impact bonds to help care leavers into education, employment or training. Our children’s social care reform programme is working to deliver highly capable and skilled social workers and high-quality services everywhere.

I turn to another theme, the big subject of education. It is not acceptable that 28% of children finish their reception year still without the early communication and reading skills that they need to thrive, as I have said in the Chamber before. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, raised the subject of those on the autistic spectrum. I listened carefully to his remarks and I remember that it is a subject he has raised in the Chamber before. We have funded a range of specialist autism services—for example, the Education Trust—to deliver autism awareness. So far, more than 185 people have trained—not just teachers and teaching assistants—in a whole-school approach to autism. The Government are extending the scope of the 2019 review of our autism strategy to autistic children and young people for the first time: I hope that that gives the noble Lord an element of reassurance on this important subject.

It is also why this Government have increased the high needs funding block for children and young people with the most complex special educational needs from a base of £5 billion in 2013 to £6.3 billion this year. In addition—I said it is partly about money—we are investing £26 million to set up a network of English hubs; £20 million to provide professional development for early years practitioners; £8.5 million in our local government programme; and more than £9 million to understand what works. We are also investing £6.5 million in voluntary and charity sector grants supporting the home-learning environment.

Since its introduction in 2013, more than 850,000 two- year-olds have benefited from the means-tested entitlement to up to 15 hours of free early education. This goes back to my point that there has to be a seamless approach: this subject is not just about adults but about the early years as well. Our ambition is for every child, no matter what challenges they face, to have access to a world-class education that sets them up for life. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said that they must have the best possible start in life: she is right. World-class education is not only about having the highest standards in academic and technical education, it means ensuring that education builds character and resilience. We want all children and young people to have opportunities to develop the key character traits of believing that they can achieve, being able to stick with the task in hand, seeing a link between effort today and payback in the future, and the ability to bounce back from the knocks that life inevitably brings to all of us.

Character must also be grounded in virtues such as kindness, generosity, fairness, tolerance and integrity. Perhaps we should all be reminded of the virtues that are illustrated in the murals very close to here, in the Queen’s Robing Room: I am sure that we all show guests that Room and point these out. This Government have proposed five foundations for building character and resilience in young people: sport, creativity, performing, volunteering and membership, and preparation for the world of work. Not all of this ambitious agenda can be covered in school. Indeed, children spend more than 80% of their waking hours outside the classroom. I took note of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, on the role of parents: he is absolutely right, it is very important, and if I had more time I could say more about it.

Talking about integration, I want to speak about the early years family support ministerial group. This has been considering how the Government can improve the co-ordination and cost-effectiveness of early years family support from conception to age two and identify gaps in available provision. The group has made recommendations to the Secretary of State, which he is now considering. The early years family support ministerial group was established in summer 2018 and was chaired by the then Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom. I shall not list all the members of the group, but they include a number of senior Ministers.

That brings me on to youth and children’s services. As has been mentioned, they are funded primarily by local authorities. We are aware that they are operating in a challenging financial environment. This matter was raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Thornhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and, I am sure, other noble Lords. We recognise this challenge and we are responding. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, comes from an LGA background. I welcome the LGA’s efforts to understand the challenges and opportunities for it to manage this matter in the near future.

The Government draw on the data and research published by other organisations to ensure that we have a full understanding of the evidence base. For example, the Local Government Minister recently met the County Councils Network to understand the research that it has undertaken ahead of the 2019 spending review. Councils, not central government, are responsible for managing their own resources and performance, and we have an effective process for identifying risks and taking action to prevent the need for interventions. Our aim is always to work with the sector to secure improvement so that intervention is not necessary. The Local Government Association provides sector-led support, such as peer challenges and the sharing of good practice, and helps improve the performance of local authorities through targeted support as necessary.

At last year’s Autumn Budget, we announced almost £1 billion of extra funding for local authorities to help deliver services for communities but, as I said earlier, I recognise that challenges remain. Next year will see a cash-terms increase of 2.8% and a real-terms increase of 1% in England, rising from £45.1 billion in 2018-19 to £46.4 billion in 2019-20. Much has been made of closures of Sure Start or children’s centres, yet it is a fact that there are still more than 3,000 sites open for children and families across the country, more than at any time before 2008, fully nine years into the previous Labour Government. Those are statistics that my noble friend Lord Agnew and I have given in this Chamber in the past and they remain sound. Moreover, the quality of these sites has improved. In 2010 68% were good or outstanding, and today 98% of them are. However, councils have legal duties to ensure that there are sufficient centres to meet local need. The number of Sure Start and children’s centres is primarily a matter for local authorities.

Quality is also a hallmark of our approach to the more open-access youth work. Properly qualified, community-based youth workers have a huge part to play in the well-being and safety of young people. This is why we have guaranteed to review and renew entry-level qualifications for youth work this year, as well as to revise the youth work curriculum. These latter services are covered by a statutory duty on local authorities, and last week government announced a review of the related guidance. The review aims to focus attention on the positive role local authorities can play in the provision of youth services and to ensure the guidance is useful and accessible for those who need it most. These announcements come on top of a direct investment by government of £667 million in youth-based projects over the past four years, which is an investment that central government has never traditionally made. This includes supporting more than 90 front-line youth projects in deprived areas across England, providing hundreds of thousands of social action opportunities through the #iwill Fund and engaging more than 400,000 young people, from all social backgrounds, in the National Citizen Service. Together, NCS participants have given more than 12 million hours of volunteer time.

I want to talk a little about the voices we should be listening to most of all: those of young people themselves. The voice of youth is really important to this Government, which is why we recently launched three new youth voice projects to enable young people to participate in making national policy. Through these projects, young people are having a say on a wide range of issues, including on serious violence and climate change. We also support the UK Youth Parliament, and it was great to see more than 1.1 million young people voting in last year’s Make Your Mark youth ballot, in which young people voted for ending knife crime as the most important issue—I raised that earlier in my remarks.

This brings me back to my original theme: keeping our youngest citizens safe and thriving. With that in mind, in April this year the Government announced that they will develop a youth charter. It will bring together policies from across government and take in the views of young people, as well as those who work with and care for young people. It is a commitment from this generation to the next—an important point to make. It will outline a vision for the next 10 years, which I believe will be a decade of huge promise for our young people. I believe that we should be positive.

I conclude with questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. I thank her again for raising this subject and allowing us to have a debate on this matter. I have a little more to say about racial disparity in the youth justice system. On 12 July 2019, the Ministry of Justice published our most recent youth custody statistics, which showed that, of 830 children in custody in May 2019, 415 were black or minority ethnic. While disproportionality remains important, the overall number of BAME children in custody has decreased since 2010, falling from 648 children in May 2010.

I thank all those who have spoken in this debate. It has been very interesting and has once again raised the importance of supporting young people.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response and all noble Lords for their attendance today and their most elegant and passionate speeches. I predicted an excellent debate and we have had one, with a wealth of passion and knowledge about children and young people and such a variety of knowledge and concern from all around the House. The record in Hansard tomorrow will be a veritable encyclopaedia of policy and practice on child welfare and young people. The Minister has added to that.

Four or five points are very clear. One is that demand for services for young people is going up and funding is remaining static or going down. There have been cuts in funding wherever we look, in both overall and specialist services. Noble Lords have quoted significant examples of that. I was intrigued to hear my noble friend Lady Armstrong talk about evidence-based action; I have always thought that initiatives should be based only on evidence. We do not do enough looking for that evidence.

Early intervention came up over and over again. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, said we must act sooner and more effectively to get at young people before they descend into a pit of despair or deprivation. We can do that; we have dealt with that in the past and been successful.

The other intriguing thing is the integration of services, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Morris and the Minister. Services working together is more easily said than done. There has to be a real will there, and personal and professional relationships, so that people do not work in silos.

The Minister also helpfully gave some examples of initiatives successfully being applied to children. I think all this should go into the same pot and be dealt with. I go back to my thoughts about having a national strategy for children and young people. There is such a lot to take into account. A national strategy would pull together the different kinds of services that the Minister was talking about: the initiatives in various communities, some of which are absolutely excellent, and the statutory services, where we know people tend to work in silos, and try to split them up so that they work across those silos, for example through education and health together.

I do not ask the Minister for an immediate response, but can he say who we can talk to about the possibility of developing a national strategy for children and young people? I am convinced that if government, opposition, stakeholders and the voluntary sector worked together on this, we would come up with something really useful. I will leave the Minister with that question. Again, I thank all noble Lords for staying late and for producing such a cracking debate.

Motion agreed.