Motion to Take Note
To move that the Grand Committee takes note of the case for building an inclusive society in the post-pandemic world; and the steps that national and local government will need to take to achieve an inclusive society in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce this debate. At a time when talk is of a gradual return to some semblance of normality, there is a danger that what is often called the “new normal” simply reverts to an old normal. In the old normal, thanks to austerity, our threadbare public services left our society, and in particular its most marginalised members, acutely vulnerable to Covid’s impact. The pandemic has caused so much suffering; we have to learn lessons from it. It is therefore time to start a national conversation about what this new normal should look like and how we build a more inclusive society.
As shown by a comprehensive evidence review conducted for the Government Office for Science by the British Academy—I declare an interest as a Fellow—the pandemic has, like a barium meal,
“exposed, exacerbated and solidified existing inequalities in society.”
That is what Sir Michael Marmot called a “slow burning injustice”, fuelled by socioeconomic inequality and intersecting structural inequalities, notably of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, class and age.
These intersecting inequalities are reflected in shocking poverty statistics, as the work of the Social Metrics Commission and others has demonstrated. The latest pre-pandemic figures, published conveniently just before Recess, reveal not just a further increase in the number of children in poverty to nearly a third but also, as CPAG points out—I declare an interest as honorary president—that two-thirds of those children are living in deep poverty. Recent analysis from Leeds University shows how children from black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities have been hit hardest as poverty has deepened in recent years.
It is surely troubling that research conducted for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that even before the pandemic, 2.4 million people were living in destitution, unable to afford the essentials needed to eat without recourse to food banks and to keep warm, dry and clean. Together with Crisis and the Trussell Trust, it has written to the Prime Minister, saying:
“The time is right for a new national and political vision for a country without poverty and homelessness”.
This speaks to a growing sense that we are at a fork in the nation’s road—a “critical juncture”, as the Public Services Committee put it. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury warned in his Easter sermon
“we have a choice … We can go on as before Covid, where the most powerful and the richest gain and so many fall behind … Or we can … choose a better future for all.”
In thinking of a better future, there is much talk of a need for a new Beveridge. It is worth remembering Beveridge’s advice:
“A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolution, not for patching”.
It felt almost like a revolutionary moment when the Financial Times editorial board, referencing Beveridge, observed:
“Radical reforms—reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades—will need to be put on the table … Policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix.”
As the latest Marmot review makes clear, this has to mean tackling the multiple inequalities and injustices exposed and exacerbated by Covid through looking upstream at their social structural determinants, together with an emphasis on the prevention of social ills, to echo the Public Services Committee. Moreover, if the Government’s flagship policy of levelling up is to contribute to building a more inclusive society—and so far, it is little more than a slogan—it has to be about levelling up people and not just a few politically significant places.
As a social policy analyst, I have been critical of how successive Governments have looked to the US for their social policy inspiration—well, now it truly is an inspiration. President Biden has reasserted the importance of government at all levels. He understands that building back better from a society riven by inequalities and insecurity is not just about building the physical infrastructure. It must also mean investing in the social infrastructure of caring services and what his Administration have called the “human infrastructure” of financial support for children and people in poverty.
For the UK this means, as a start, both short and long-term reform of our social security system, the importance of which has been demonstrated over the past year. I pay tribute to the staff who coped so well in the face of the unprecedented increase in universal credit claimants. Nevertheless, the Covid Realities project, in which academics have worked alongside low-income families and CPAG to understand the impact of the pandemic, has shown the struggle faced by those reliant on UC even after the welcome £20 uplift. Its findings support those calling for the uplift to be made permanent, for its introduction was a tacit recognition that benefits are too low for a decent life, especially after a decade of cuts and freezes. Just how low is reflected in government data showing that, even before the pandemic, more than two-fifths of UC households experienced high or very high levels of food insecurity in the previous 30 days.
Other necessary short-term reforms include the extension of the uplift to legacy and related benefits, including carer’s allowance; ending the benefit cap and two-child limit, with an increase in financial support for children; addressing the five-week wait, either through non-repayable advance payments or rethinking monthly assessment; reform of statutory sick pay; recalibration of local housing allowances; and ring-fencing funds for local welfare assistance schemes, which local authorities should be required to provide and which should no longer count as public funds for those subject to the “no recourse to public funds” rule.
In the longer term, as insecurity has marked the lives of a growing number of our fellow citizens, we need to put the security back into social security. This requires a review of benefit levels to ensure that they are sufficient to allow “life in dignity”, as recommended by the ILO, and structural reform aimed at ensuring an income that people can rely on. As the Economist noted recently, in an article on universal basic income, the experience of the pandemic has
“changed the tone of discussions about radical reforms to welfare states.”
The inability of existing schemes to provide comprehensive protection in the face of income shocks means that a basic income scheme is, for many organisations, very much “in the mix”, as the Financial Times put it. This does not necessarily entail a big bang reform that throws everything up in the air, but it could herald some kind of universal, unconditional income floor that provides a modicum of security for each individual.
Of course, this all costs money. The Government may have dropped the word austerity, but the indications are of further cuts ahead, with local government still particularly vulnerable, and there is no sign of a willingness to invest in the human infrastructure, following Biden’s lead. This serves as a reminder that taxation has an important role to play in an inclusive society. It is time that we stopped talking about taxation as a burden and instead see a progressive tax system as the price that we pay for a civilised society. Even the IMF has called for increased spending and higher taxation of the wealthy, to
“enable all individuals to reach their potential”,
and a group called Patriotic Millionaires is proposing higher taxation of the rich to fund benefits and public services, and to tackle inequality.
One group that has been ignored regarding social security support during the pandemic is children. The universal credit uplift was the same regardless of family size, and the benefit cap has meant that many families did not even benefit from the uplift, as the numbers capped have risen dramatically over the past year. Not surprisingly, the evidence suggests that families with children have found the struggle particularly difficult. We badly need the restoration of a comprehensive child poverty strategy.
Moreover, the needs of children more generally have been largely overlooked during the pandemic. Yes, there has rightly been a focus on their education and the likelihood of a widening of the educational divide, with longer-term implications for unequal life chances, but this has meant a preoccupation with children as “becomings” at the expense of them as “beings”, vulnerable to mental health difficulties and a childhood scarred by Covid. The opportunity for all children to enjoy a flourishing childhood is one test of an inclusive society; 152 organisations have called on the Government to embrace a new vision of childhood and to put children at the heart of the recovery. This is very much the message of the new Children’s Commissioner for England, who wants children to be
“right at the top of the Government agenda”.
To this end, there is growing support in civil society for a Cabinet-level Minister for children. I would be grateful if he Minister could undertake to raise this crucial demand with the Prime Minister.
Because of the continued skewed gendered division of labour, women have had to pick up most of the pieces of inadequate support for children, including, according to the Women and Equalities Committee, the buckling of a childcare system already suffering from underinvestment. As the Committee observes,
“a reliable and affordable childcare system is a prerequisite of a gender-equal economy and a gender-equal recovery from the pandemic.”
This raises wider questions as to what constitutes an inclusive economy; inclusive not just of women but also of racialised minorities—including Gypsies, Travellers and Roma—young people and disabled people. An inclusive economy, again as recognised by Biden, must provide good, secure work at decent wages, accessible to all. It must also be, as the Commission on a Gender Equal Economy argued powerfully, “a caring economy” defined as
“an economy which prioritises care of one another and the environment in which we live.”
In recognition that we all need care at times during our lives, the commission explained:
“A caring economy ensures that everyone has time to care, as well as time free from care.’
It “respects people’s multiple roles” in families and communities
“alongside their roles as paid workers.”
The notion of a caring economy asks us to think not just about the shortcomings of our care services—and we are still waiting for the Government’s social care strategy—but the value we place on care through formal carers’ wages and informal carers’ benefits and support services. It opens up debate about the gendered division of care responsibilities, parental leave policies and working time. All these must be on the agenda for building an inclusive economy. The idea of a caring economy also raises fundamental questions about means and ends because it is saying that the economy must serve social and environmental well-being ends whereas too often these ends are subordinated to narrow GDP-focused economic goals. Important in this context are calls for a green new deal and the Dasgupta Treasury review of the economics of biodiversity, which calls for transformative change in government economic thinking.
By cementing what is sometimes called an “ethic of care” into the foundations of an inclusive economy and society, we open up a number of other important dimensions, which I can only touch on. One, highlighted in the British Academy review, is the enjoyment of culture, in the broadest sense of the term, and of beauty, including in the natural environment. As well as appreciating the arts’ intrinsic value, an inquiry by the APPG on Arts, Health and Wellbeing demonstrated their value for a range of health challenges and their potential importance for marginalised groups. Typically, these groups have less access to the arts and natural beauty. Yet as observed by a low-income parent, with whom ATD Fourth World UK—a human rights anti-poverty organisation—worked, “even though I live in an area which isn’t beautiful, I can still appreciate and create beauty. The right to beauty is part of my right to dignity.” That right, I argue, must be upheld in an inclusive society.
The right to dignity speaks also to fundamental questions about how we treat each other in every dimension of an inclusive society, including politics and public services. Marginalised groups, including people in poverty, often talk about feeling disrespected and humiliated. One woman involved in the Covid Realities project mentioned earlier talked about this when describing the changes she would like to see in the social security system: “We’re asking for a fundamental change in the way we are seen and treated within the system. We want to be respected enough to not have to prove ourselves at every single turn … We want to be met with dignity and respect, as equals … Not scroungers. Not lay-abouts. Not uneducated. But as human beings, just like you, trying to do the best for our families, just like you.”
An important dimension of being treated with genuine dignity and respect is being listened to. One of the first steps the new Children’s Commissioner is taking is to launch The Big Ask, which seeks to listen to children nationwide so as to relay to government what they believe they need to live happier lives. The Public Services Committee report on lessons from Covid notes:
“The pandemic has shown that designing public services without consulting the people who use them embeds fundamental weaknesses such as inequalities of access … and involving user voice in service design increases the resilience of those services.”
Building an inclusive society post pandemic, perhaps through a new Beveridge, cannot be a top-down exercise but must involve a public conversation with those who live in that society and, in particular, its most marginalised members, who have suffered most over the past year. At this fork in the road, can the Minister tell us what steps the Government are taking to ensure that in seeking to build back better they will be listening to those who have fallen behind time and again?
To conclude, I have outlined in broad terms some of the building blocks for an inclusive society but am conscious of many gaping gaps, including the responsibilities of an inclusive global Britain to the wider world, with implications, for example, for policies on immigration and asylum, the climate emergency and the control of pandemics. I hope that colleagues from across the House will fill in some of the gaps and I look forward to hearing their contributions in the hope that this debate might mark the start of a conversation on the kind of society we want to build post pandemic. To that end, will the Minister undertake to relay key messages from the debate to his colleagues in other departments? Building an inclusive society is the responsibility of every government department and every local authority. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for introducing this debate, which promises to be important and wide-ranging. As she said, to ensure a more equal society we need to build back better and learn lessons from the pandemic. I will raise four issues where there is great potential to do just that.
First, we need to build back greener. It is clear that, in coming years, there will be a demand for large numbers of new jobs in industries contributing to reaching our goal of zero carbon by 2050. This has already begun and must only accelerate—indeed, the sooner the better, as it is cheaper to act now than later. But there are thousands of workers, many of them young, in industries such as retail and hospitality, which may never reopen. Is this not an opportunity for a massive retraining programme to help equip us to tackle climate change while offering sustainable, well-paid jobs to those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic? Do the Government have a strategy to achieve this change of direction?
Secondly, the evidence that health inequalities have contributed to Covid-19 deaths is strong, and obesity has been a major factor in susceptibility to serious disease and death. The Government have published their obesity strategy but there is much more to do. I would like to see the Government mobilising the food industry to reduce the obesogenic environment which surrounds us. During the pandemic behaviour scientists have worked on the most effective messaging, both in content and delivery, to persuade us to adjust our behaviour to protect ourselves and others from the virus. I would like to see these advisers given the task of developing the messages which will help people reach and maintain a healthy weight in order to avoid non-infectious diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, and to build resistance to future infectious diseases such as Covid-19.
There is a lot more to health inequality than obesity. Poverty is a factor as people are forced to choose cheap, high-calorie, less nutritious food when money is tight. We have seen children going hungry during the pandemic, relying on the goodness of local people and food banks. Will the Government ensure that they respond positively to the forthcoming food strategy to ensure that we are no longer a country in which children do not get enough nutritious food?
My third point is also about children. Abused or neglected children will struggle to achieve their potential in life. During the pandemic, social workers who monitor children at risk have had to do so remotely. Recently the Government laid a statutory instrument to extend this arrangement until September. This is undesirable—remote monitoring is much less effective, and we know that there has been an increase in child abuse during the stress of the pandemic—and entirely unnecessary. If you can go to a pub for a pint, why can you not meet a child at risk face to face in the open now and indoors as restrictions are lifted? Will the Government please withdraw this SI?
Finally, during the pandemic local councils were able to take homeless people off the street using empty hotels and student accommodation. Valuable lessons were learned. In tackling the many problems of homeless people, such as substance misuse, poverty and ill health, it has long been known, and it was reinforced during the pandemic, that getting them into stable housing is a very effective first step. Will the Minister say what plans the Government have to provide a sustainable solution to the problem of homelessness, learning the lessons from the pandemic?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for initiating this important debate and for her powerful opening speech. I draw attention to my housing interests on the register.
Perhaps I could preface my comments with a word of appreciation for the little-known but invaluable housing role played by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. As patron and then the very active president of the National Housing Federation throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he gave the housing association sector much needed credibility and status. He chaired our AGMs, opened innumerable housing developments and chaired our rural housing inquiry in 1976 and then the influential inquiry into British housing from 1984 to 1992. His unsung support for better housing deserves widespread recognition.
Covid has certainly exposed the housing divide. Those of us in secure homes with space for home working and home schooling, with gardens, or at least balconies, and some green space outside, can hardly imagine life during the pandemic in insecure, overcrowded, claustrophobic flats, month after month.
Covid has also identified how housing circumstances cause poverty and increased inequalities. In particular, the pandemic has magnified the problems of the much-enlarged private rented sector—its lack of security, its higher levels of unhealthy conditions and overcrowding and its rent levels that can drive families into poverty.
Unsurprisingly, with so many PRS tenants paying over 40% of their pre-pandemic income in rent, several hundred thousand have now fallen into debt and rent arrears. A national homelessness disaster created by Covid has been only temporarily averted by the Government regularly extending the ban on evictions, not least because of the huge backlog of repossession cases in the courts.
In recognition that the PRS is simply not suited to housing all those who must now turn to it, the Affordable Housing Commission has called for a rebalancing of rented housing to enable social landlords, councils and housing associations to buy the properties of private landlords now wanting to exit the market and to pursue a programme of new, truly affordable homes of around a third of the Government’s overall target of 300,000 homes a year. Sadly, the £2.5 billion per annum in direct grants for more affordable homes cannot achieve the scale needed.
This may seem the worst time ever to be seeking a major increase in government investment in affordable housing. Government has never been deeper in debt. The decarbonisation of existing properties and the rectification of cladding and other defects are both requiring billions more from housing budgets. But this may also be the best time. Long-term government borrowing has never been cheaper. Investing in the rebalancing of rented housing pays back handsomely in health and social care savings, in an end to housing benefit costs rising exponentially, in improved productivity and economic revival and, most of all, in redressing the inequalities and miseries that Covid has so starkly laid bare. This is the way literally to build a more inclusive society.
My Lords, on inclusion, I want to start with the Sewell report, which was long in preparation and deep in analysis. It concluded that, although of course there is still much we need to do, we are more tolerant and inclusive than some pretend. Yet even before the ink was dry, let alone read, the professional intolerants—the muck-spreaders—piled in to demean and diminish both the report and its excellent authors.
Everywhere that decent democratic people gather, the extremists try to infiltrate: into the Black Lives Matter movement; into Extinction Rebellion; into our schools and universities; even into our vaccination programme. The militants and wreckers—for that is what they are— are the real racists. They are the ones who try to divide, not include. They do not care about the facts. They simply insist on their truth, supported by nothing but their ignorance and opportunism. How long before our vaccination programme is accused of being institutionally racist? Forgive me: of course, it already is.
This country is changing. It is getting better. It is growing more tolerant and more inclusive. Anyone with a memory that goes back further than yesterday’s breakfast has seen the evidence with their own eyes. Is there more to do? Always, but work is in progress—and what progress since the days when ignorant racial commentary was used wholesale in our pubs, playgrounds and places of work. We were not being wicked; we simply did not know any better. Now we do.
Today, the biggest exploiters of racism are those who accuse everything in Britain of being institutionally racist—even the Royal Family, even though Her Majesty the Queen is the hugely successful head of the multiracial Commonwealth. Britain is one of the most generous nations on the planet in terms of foreign aid and charitable giving, yet apparently—allegedly—we are institutionally racist. It is a very strange way of showing it. This is a tolerant country. This is a compassionate country. During the past 15 years, 9 million immigrants have come here. They did not come here because they believed that they would be attacked, abused and tormented; that is what they were fleeing from.
The biggest threat to inclusion in this country is good men and women remaining silent and passing by on the other side. That is why I am so grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for facilitating this debate. We will not remain silent while zealots try to pull our country to pieces. We will succeed. They will fail. To lean on the words of a very great man, I look forward to the day when our children and grandchildren can look into the eyes of their neighbours and judge them not by the colour of their skin but by their character and conduct. I believe that that day is closer than we think and I welcome it.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for moving this Motion. I want briefly to touch on three areas: children and young people; churches and faith communities; and those living in the shadows.
First, I turn to children and young people. Last month, I hosted an online youth forum in the diocese of Gloucester, bringing together more than 100 people so that adults in different spheres of influence, including our MPs, had the opportunity to listen to young people. Prior to that event, I spent many hours listening to young people speak about the impact of Covid-19 on their lives and I will share a few quotes. “Lockdown’s been so isolating.” “I feel like there should be more knowledge about mental health, not just depression and anxiety, and we should be taught how to deal with them.” “There’s been no direction. We don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s hard for us to try and adapt to all these different situations.” “We haven’t had the chance to say how we feel about things.” “I really hope that sometimes we can be taken more seriously, and that our views can be put across.” “I just want people with influence to understand that there’s a wider range of issues than just the small subsection that they look at.”
There are, of course, many stories of resilience and creativity, but we cannot ignore the unseen pandemic of poor mental health and anxiety and the impact of loss of so many different sorts. My challenge would be to keep listening to children and young people and to include them in the decision-making. One way to do this is to have a dedicated Cabinet role for children and I stand with those in your Lordships’ House and the other place who are calling for that.
Secondly, there is the role of churches and other faith communities. They have certainly not been the sole distributors of hope in this crisis, but as well as chaplains in places such as hospitals and prisons, people supporting the dying and conducting funerals, there have been many worshiping communities, Christian and of other faiths, co-ordinating and accommodating community initiatives and continuing to create social capital, and indeed spiritual capital, which will be much needed as we emerge into the next season. How can central and local government help and not hinder these connections? One thing that I hope for is that there might be a vision for true partnership between the public sector and the third sector as needs and hopes are addressed.
Lastly, I turn to those living in the shadows. As a Christian, I am passionate about an inclusive society. I believe that this pandemic has heightened awareness of exclusion and inclusion—and I am not simply talking about different people’s experiences of Zoom. Perhaps this pandemic has made us more aware of the issue of many people being hidden—yes, those on their own behind locked doors, but also the abused, the unemployed, those with mental health issues, those in poverty, those in prison et cetera. Who has been seen and heard and who has been hidden and silent? We need to be asking those questions intentionally. Some of the big awakenings in our country over the past year have been around exclusion diminishing and the sort of world we want to be. Black lives matter. Violence against women and girls is to be challenged. It is for those of us with some influence to keep returning to those shadowy places to shine a light into the darkness.
There is much more that I could say, but I leave noble Lords with the three headings of children and young people, churches and faith communities and those hidden living in the shadows.
My Lords, I express many congratulations to my noble friend Lady Lister on this debate. Events test a country and this pandemic has revealed that we need to be far more resilient both as a society and as an economy. Resilience means the state and its services being capable of protecting people who are not self-made or self-sufficient, but we will not build that resilient, more equal society unless it is underpinned by a prosperous, resilient economy.
Successive UK Governments have sought to build a resilient economy by supporting high-growth, technology-led enterprise. My efforts were in 1998, with my White Paper Building the Knowledge Driven Economy, and then after I returned to the Government in 2008. Since then, the best expression of policy has been Greg Clark’s industrial strategy, with its focus on decarbonisation and clean growth, AI, the future of mobility and the benefits to health and ageing of bioscience and genomics. I regret the Government’s recent decision to jettison this strategy.
The simple point that I want to make today in my short contribution is this: technological change is not like the weather. It does not just happen around us. It can be supported and shaped through an innovation system that draws on public and private funding, major international research partnerships, helpful government regulation and the fostering by the Government of supply chains, individual entrepreneurship and business growth.
This was achieved in the recent development of the Covid vaccine, which was born out of necessity in a time of national crisis. The Government staffed up and invested in a portfolio of high-risk technology ventures through a taskforce led by a venture capitalist. It was based on substantial public funding of research, invention by Oxford University, nimble, accelerated regulation by the Government, manufacture by the private sector and then distribution by our own NHS. The successful vaccine rollout is the result.
One thing this was not was a model of pure capitalism. It demonstrated the power of public procurement and co-ordination across the board, inside government and across the public and private sectors. We should adapt this model, where government has a role, to similar market opportunities arising from the profound transitions under way, of digitalisation, AI and clean energy. Those transitions and the associated technological change will almost certainly require around 75% of the country’s workforce to be retrained and reskilled during the coming decade. Government should identify where it can act to ensure that innovation, investment and production—the whole supply chain—cohere in the United Kingdom and be willing to take some risks in doing this and to act at scale.
However, if we want the whole country to benefit, we need a clear focus on the geographical dimension. The Government talk about levelling up; they do not seem to realise that you cannot level up from the top down. Local foundations of growth and inclusiveness need local powers, people and money. I say just this: it requires coherence. My fear is that, with their short attention span, we will see instead a series of politically influenced, disjointed interventions by the Government that will fail to convince markets and investors and will not bring the deep and durable economic change the country needs. I hope that I am wrong, but where the Government have ideas, they need scaling. Where a policy is working, it needs continuity. The Government, as well as the Labour Party in its own thinking, have to approach this with vision and vigour, and to do so consistently.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for securing this vital debate and refer to my social work interests in the register.
This has been a global pandemic, so I start my remarks at a global level. The World Bank has recently said that the current health crisis has
“put the spotlight on deep rooted systemic inequalities”
within societies, particularly for some of the most marginalised groups. Crucially, the bank has argued:
“The crisis is also an opportunity to focus on … rebuilding … more inclusive systems that allow society … to be more resilient to future shocks, whether health, climate, natural disasters, or social unrest.”
Our debate focuses on the UK. In March, the British Academy produced a series of reports addressing the long-term societal impacts of Covid-19. Its evidence report listed nine interconnected areas, which included: worsened health outcomes and growing health inequalities and the greater awareness of the importance of mental health.
In responding to this new opportunity and trying to reshape the way we do things, we must recognise that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on certain groups, particularly black and minority ethnic communities and disabled people. It has exposed deep inequalities in our health and care systems. In February, the Marmot 10 Years On report was published and made for sober reading. In short, it showed that life expectancy in England has stalled for the first time in more than 100 years and even reversed among the poorest people in certain regions: the more deprived the area, the shorter the life expectancy.
Professor Marmot says that the worsening of our health cannot be written off as the fault of individuals for living unhealthy lives; rather, their straitened circumstances and poor life chances are to blame. His institute’s work has established that healthy lives depend on early child development, education, employment and working conditions, adequate income and a healthy and sustainable community in which to live and work. Surely these are all things that an inclusive Covid recovery plan should prioritise.
The Government’s commitment in their 2019 election manifesto to extend healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035 and to narrow the gap between richest and poorest is to be welcomed. However, as the Lords Public Services Committee recommended in its first major report on the impact of Covid on public services, the Government should now publish their strategy to achieve that manifesto commitment and their response to the prevention White Paper. Can the Minister say when the Government plan to do that?
As we have already heard, many children have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic, and life was already difficult for many vulnerable children. In 2017, the all-party group for children, of which I am co-chair, published two reports looking at the state of children’s social care. In brief, they found that children often have to reach crisis point before social services step in and that decisions over whether to help a child—even in acute cases—are often determined too largely by budget constraints. I join others in calling for the £1.7 billion lost from the early intervention grant since 2010 to be restored.
I turn finally to mental health. Recent Centre for Mental Health modelling predicts that up to 10 million people in England will need either new or additional mental health support as a consequence of the crisis. Some 1.5 million of those will be children and young people under 18. It is abundantly clear that the pandemic is taking a huge toll on children’s mental health and that the current system—already under great strain pre-pandemic—simply will not cope with the scale of demand coming down the track. Without the right mental health support in schools, the significant investment that the Government have rightly made in academic catch-up risks being undermined. While the extra £79 million announced in March for mental health in schools is welcome, it simply will not be sufficient to keep up with urgent need. Tackling this unprecedented mental health crisis will need more ambitious action, including every school having access to counselling services. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on this point.
My Lords, my thanks go to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for raising such an important issue and indeed provoking such important questions. Of course, we all want to have a more unified and more equal society, but where should we begin? Well, how about starting by working towards a more joined-up government and more strategic policies to build back better?
For some months now, many of us in this House, in the other place and from among a concerned public more generally have argued for a strategic plan to ensure the welfare of children. We know that children have suffered disproportionately during the last year, and there is now, given the Government’s reassessment of budget distribution and their wish to build back better, a chance to contribute to a new settlement for children and the integrity of the family.
I do not apologise for yet again going back to the issue of a Cabinet-level Minister for children to oversee, protect, direct and promote all aspects of child welfare—one of the central pillars being family life. There are at least four different departments that assume responsibility for children, ranging from free school meals though early education to eating and obesity issues and budget support for families in need. If we are at all serious about a unified and more equal society, surely it must begin with detailed and focused polices for children who are, after all, this country’s future. I feel strongly, too, that we must allow children of many different ages, who we all know hold trenchant and forward-looking ideas, to participate in decision-making that will affect their lives and livelihoods via a dedicated senior-level Minister.
To my mind, the excellent Vicky Ford does not as a junior Minister have the necessary resources to do the task before her. Indeed, the UK’s fifth periodic report on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is due in January 2022, will have to address the clear recommendation, among many others, that the UK Government appoint a high-level Minister for children and children’s affairs and
“Allocate sufficient human, technical and financial resources”
to co-ordinate and evaluate implementation of the convention at national level.
Finally, will the Minister commit to letting the House have an exact breakdown of all the additional resources now available for all aspects of children’s welfare, to which ministries these funds have been allocated, and for what programmes?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for tabling this important debate and for her excellent introduction.
The need to build an inclusive society has been exacerbated by the pandemic and by 10 years of cuts in our public services and underinvestment in our communities. Even before the pandemic, the fabric of our society was torn. Now, it feels ripped apart, ravaged by fear and insecurity. The inequalities in our society have been exposed, and this very morning we heard evidence from the Resolution Foundation that young black people have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
I hope that Covid has made us as a society re-evaluate our priorities and made us value people for what they contribute to society rather than for what they earn. The extraordinary dedication of our health and social care workers, our teachers, our police, the amazing volunteers and the new sense of community that we have also gives us hope, but hope is not enough. As Michael Marmot has said:
“There is now an urgent need to do things differently. We must build a society based on the principles of social justice; reduce inequalities of income and wealth; and build a wellbeing economy that puts achievement of health and wellbeing, rather than narrow economic goals, at the heart of government strategy.”
The government mantra of “build back better” should be replaced by “build back fairer”. I live and work in Oxford, which has one of the strongest economies in the UK and tremendous assets, including research and innovation, but it is ranked as the second most unequal city in the UK. Housing affordability is a critical long-term issue, along with poor educational attainment, health outcomes and food poverty. As in every other part of the UK, both urban and rural, and despite the fact that we have a first-rate council which responded swiftly to the needs across the city, it is the disadvantaged who have been hit hardest by Covid.
There is, however, a great determination to bring about an inclusive economy, which I would argue is fundamental to the building of an inclusive society. In 2019, as chair of the Oxford Strategic Partnership, and with the support of the city council and the LEP, I had the privilege to moderate and participate in a series of seminars which brought together key national policy thinkers, anchor institutions, including the university—I remind noble Lords of my interests in the register—and the NHS, major local employers, city and county council representatives and community groups to explore solutions to ingrained inequality.
This led to the establishment of an inclusive economy partnership to take forward action to create a more equal city. Our work was delayed by Covid, but now we are working towards turning words into actions. Our ambition is to hard-wire inclusivity into the economy so that it delivers economic and social outcomes that benefit the whole of the community. We have working groups with a timeline for action on social value and procurement—my noble friend Lord Mandelson talked about the power of public procurement—inclusive employment and enhancing access to affordable commercial property and workspace, education and skills so that there is improved educational attainment, skills-based training and access to jobs in the new economy, and place-based interventions in targeted areas.
We are striving to engage a wide and diverse spectrum of the community so that we are responding to need and so that there is ownership by the whole of us as a society. The actions of the city, county and district councils are key, both the elected representatives and officers, who are also catalysts for action in this shared endeavour. However, we also need action by national government. We need increased local powers and flexibilities to work at the local and regional level, along with devolved funding from central government to test and scale up promising programmes. New forms of finance from complementary sources, including community crowdsourcing, social impact bonds and the private sector, are vital and require innovative design, investment and leadership.
I am confident that the Inclusive Economy Partnership will make a real difference, with public, private and third sectors all working together with community-based organisations, the universities, and colleges. There is a real understanding of the need for investment in our economic and social infrastructure—in our people. There is understanding of the benefit of collaboration and coherence and that the well-being of our society is dependent on the ability of all to have access to good education, health, well-paid work and a home; to live with dignity and respect without poverty in a sustainable environment; to thrive. I hope that this sort of initiative is taking place in cities and towns all over the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I reiterate the point about timing. It is very important in a debate such as this that we stick to our times in order to allow all speakers to participate.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for initiating today’s debate.
Local government’s delivery of public services during the response to Covid-19 demonstrates the value of place-based leadership. The recovery from the pandemic will look different in different communities and areas. A locally co-ordinated response will be the most effective way of rebuilding from Covid-19. I strongly believe that a reformed approach to devolution should form a central part of the national recovery strategy. The Government need to move away from fragmented and short-term interventions that may not be sustainable and are driven by Whitehall silos, and move towards a localist settlement that gives councils the ability to drive green and inclusive growth that meets the needs of their communities.
Covid-19 has also exposed deep inequalities in our health and care systems. Long-term reform of adult social care is urgently needed. The LGA is calling on the Government to publish the proposals for reform before the parliamentary Summer Recess. Greater funding for local public health teams is also essential if we are to build back fairer from the pandemic and better protect ourselves from future outbreaks. Covid-19 has displaced from the labour market many people who will need to find work and reskill as a result. The Government should back the trialling of the LGA’s Work Local model. This should be used as a blueprint for a skills and employment devolution that works for all people and places.
Finally, councils have been instrumental in supporting all schools throughout the pandemic and will play a critical role in supporting children and young people as they catch up on lost learning. It is also crucial that mental health support is on an equitable footing with education when we look at recovery. Additional support should be made available to vulnerable children, who have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. The Government should consider investing more in the early intervention grants.
In bringing my remarks to a close, I pay tribute to the crucial work that councils have done throughout the pandemic to keep our communities safe, and the work that they will continue to do to drive recovery from Covid-19.
My Lords, advances in technology have allowed millions to work from home, and businesses to adapt to the pandemic, to a far greater extent than would have been possible 20 years ago. However, while much of the nation pivoted their work and lives online, for a large proportion this was not possible. Certain sectors and geographies suffered much more than others, the young paid a high price and the pandemic heightened disparities in well-being.
The World Bank describes inclusion as
“the process of improving the terms on which individuals and groups take part in society”.
To me, that must embrace digital inclusion and a renewed social contract. In the current industrial revolution, the digital divide exacerbated by the pandemic is life-defining. Addressing it is integral to a more equitable basis for employment and economic growth. The barriers, such as acquiring digital skills, building infrastructure, securing connectivity and accessibility to services, all need to be overcome.
The Lloyds UK Consumer Digital Index reveals that two-thirds of jobs need digital skills of some kind and 52% of the UK workforce are not yet fully digitally enabled. We have a way to go. The index exposes the regional disparities that exist. As businesses recognise that resilience includes cybersecure working from home, anecdotal evidence reveals employers considering making dedicated access to home broadband a condition of employment, and not just for higher-skilled workers. The digital divide has exposed children to unequal access to virtual schooling.
We witnessed the state deploy measures unimaginable 15 months ago and saw the compelling evidence for mutual insurance, an effective welfare system and collective economic security. To make our socioeconomic system more inclusive, resilient and sustainable, a renewed social contract is needed. The pandemic is a wake-up call for purpose in business as societal inequalities and risks have been thrown into sharp relief. To quote Blueprint for Better Business,
“business will need to refresh its credentials as a genuine contributor to society in order to underpin its licence to operate and re-establish trust”.
Prior to the pandemic, household financial resilience was declining, not just among those with the lowest incomes. Each year millions of working-age people suffered an income shock because of ill-health, job loss, the death of a partner or other life events. Employment benefits, state benefits, private insurance, savings, affordable credit and fewer pre-existing debts strengthen financial resilience, but all those factors are weakening, shifting greater responsibility on to the individual, who may be ill prepared to bear it.
One in six people was self-employed, one in 12 had contracts with reduced protection, and 73% of people in regular jobs faced significant fluctuations in monthly earnings. More were in employment, yes, but there was a long-term decline, in both coverage and value, in employer provision of occupational benefits such as sick pay, redundancy pay and death benefits. Means-tested benefits had fallen in real terms; 11.5 million adults had less than £100 in savings; and 65% had no form of life or protection insurance. On home ownership, adults in their 30s and 40s are now three times more likely to rent than 20 years ago.
Declining household financial resilience, so exposed in the last year, is an unrecognised consequence of socioeconomic and public policy changes which need to be addressed. My noble friend Lady Lister argued the case most powerfully and I hope the Government will reflect, recognising what has happened in the last year, on the need for a radical change in the social contract.
I call the next speaker: the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Are we Whittyless? You are muted, Lord Whitty—not only muted but invisible. We may return to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in due course. Let us move on to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for tabling this debate today. I draw attention to my register of interests and that I am chair of ukactive and sit on the National Academy for Social Prescribing.
The pandemic has been tough, and we must recognise the ongoing risk not just from the virus but to the mental and physical health of our population. The impact of Covid has not been equal: 60% of those who have died have been disabled. In the last year, health inequalities have grown across all age groups. Those who are vulnerable have suffered the most and will continue to do so unless we act. Our NHS has demonstrated resilience of heroic proportions in the face of unprecedented pressure.
While sports stadia fell silent and the shutters fell on pools, gyms, leisure centres and clubhouses in every community, there has been a huge amount of resilience in the sector as so many have sought to support the public to carry on being active. There have been amazing examples of online workout classes and social events, and I also hear amazing stories of gym instructors delivering food parcels.
As Professor Greg Whyte OBE—Olympian, sports scientist and chair of the ukactive scientific advisory board—says, there is a clear correlation between physical inactivity and your risk from Covid-19, meaning that those not meeting the recommended guidelines for activity are at even greater risk than those with underlying conditions. He continues:
“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the average UK working adult sat down for nine-10 hours per day”,
and in lockdown, 42% admit to sitting for at least 14 hours longer per week. He said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on health and wellbeing. If we are to avoid an ongoing public health catastrophe, we need to urgently address the legacy of lockdown inactivity.”
This is not a new phenomenon. We have known about the physical inactivity crisis for years, but perhaps the pandemic should be the wake-up call for our nation’s physical activity levels. We know that physical inactivity is one of the greatest causes of death and disease globally. The UK’s activity levels are not where they should be, which weakens us against Covid-19.
On 13 April, The Times reported that the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh said that people aged 16 to 24 could struggle with paying fees to participate and that the Government should consider support in this area. Across the UK, we must be smart about how we roll out social prescribing to enable GPs and healthcare professionals to be creative so that medication is not the first port of call.
The Government are facing difficult times and will no doubt spend a great deal of energy reflecting on this health crisis, assessing how resilient we were to combat this pandemic, and propose change and reform. The scale of that change and reform, especially around public health, must take its place centre stage in our national debate on the future of our nation.
There is an opportunity for the Government to prioritise physical activity through both greater investment and taxation and regulatory reform, and to begin to improve our national well-being following this crisis. We require a national ambition to get all communities active and healthy again as swiftly as possible and to ensure a fitter, more active and resilient population.
We now return to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.
My Lords, my apologies. I thank my noble friend Lady Lister for introducing this debate in such a comprehensive way and for pointing out that the multiple and self-reinforcing cumulative inequalities in our society have increased during this period of the pandemic. I would argue, contrary to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that they have been increasing over a longer period.
Those inequalities have been spelt out by many of my colleagues. The noble Lord, Lord Best, spelled out the housing inequalities. There are inequalities of employment and income, inequalities of geographical space, and inequalities in educational attainment and access. As others—particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler—have emphasised, there is much more evidence now of both physical and mental health inequalities.
My noble friend Lady Drake has stolen the point I was going to make most forcibly—that, on top of this, the pandemic has revealed a serious digital and technological inequality. During this pandemic, many of us have come to rely increasingly on having access to the internet for conducting our shopping, dealing with our health problems and social relationships. Those who have no, or very limited, computer skills or access have lost out. But they lost out before the pandemic and, if we are not careful, they will lose out after the pandemic as well. As my noble friend Lady Drake said, it is a significant proportion of the population.
Some two years ago I conducted a consumer assessment of the customers of energy companies, which, by and large, insist on you going to their website to get complaints dealt with, and other satisfactions. Those who were unable to do that were unable to get satisfaction as consumers. Some 25% of over-60s do not have any access to the internet and another 25%, approximately, have only limited understanding of it. Often, they cannot find other means of communication because of deafness or other reasons, and so they are excluded from major aspects of our modern society and our modern economy.
During the pandemic, this exclusion has related not only to the elderly tranches of our society but to the very youngest. Access to education for our children has largely been through the internet during this period. Even in households where there may be some equipment, it is not necessarily available to all the children; for example, if there are two or three siblings and only one computer. If one or both parents are working from home on the computer, the children will not have access to it. The legacy of that for many of them is missing out on education during the pandemic. Therefore, at both ends of the age spectrum, particularly for the poorer sections of society, one of the legacies of the pandemic will be another form of division: the digital or technological divide. Put crudely, to minimise the divide, we must provide every child with a laptop and every non-computer-literate oldster also needs help and alternatives. We will not become a more inclusive society unless we do that.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that while it may or may not be true that society in one sense has become more tolerant, tolerance does not deliver equality of esteem and equality of outcome, and frankly, in our society, tolerance of inequality is not a virtue.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for introducing this excellent debate.
I hope that once the pandemic is behind us, commissioners and funders of care services will look at the commissioning process as a way of ensuring that the financial exchange with providers is for more than hotel services—bed, board, warmth and safety—whether we are discussing the care of older people or that of people with a learning disability. Many policy decisions about social care are automatically made thinking about the needs and care of older people. Often there needs to be a reminder that soon the number of adults with a learning disability will be greater than the number of adults who have reached the age when they can no longer care for themselves.
We all want to be part of an inclusive society, even if not everyone can articulate that wish. For three years I was the chairman of a charity that supported several thousand adults with a learning disability across England. Many live in regular houses in regular streets, supported by a team of carers who work night and day to give those in their care a fulfilling life. Trips to the shops, visits to a bowling alley, an evening at a pizza restaurant and annual holidays are all part of their lives. Many keep in touch with their families, but sometimes, confident that their children are being cared for well, families are not as regular as hoped for with their contact. All who can have a job, from working in a garden centre or waiting at table in a café to working in the maternity unit at one of Yorkshire’s largest teaching hospitals. All potential employers are vetted and have nominated a member of staff responsible for the well-being of these special employees. At the end of the day, when they go home, they have earned their pay. They do what their parents do: they hold down a worthwhile job and are a small part of the inclusive society to which we all aspire.
This is not cheap, and nor should it be. An accident of birth is no reason to deny the pleasures of life to someone who has cognitive problems; nor is it a reason to deny them the opportunity to be part of society and hold down a job. For the most part, their care is carried out by care workers on the basic minimum wage, who see the humanity in their charges, not the problems, and get huge job satisfaction from little successes.
Of course, working across many local authorities poses difficulties. Different commissioners work in different ways. Some look at an individual’s needs and commission accordingly; others put an amount on a year’s care without taking into consideration the nature of the care. To complicate things even more, a home’s residents will not all have the same commissioners but will all receive the same standard and level of care.
In the much-awaited care Green Paper, the Government need to ensure that local authorities have the funds to commission meaningful lives for those in their charge. This means that commissioners should be imaginative and willing to listen to different conversations about services delivered. If this can be delivered by good working relationships between providers and commissioners, both partners will ensure that those for whom they are responsible will live in as near to an inclusive society as possible. I hope that the Minister agrees.
My Lords, poverty lies at the heart of what I want to contribute to this debate. My noble friend Lady Lister is publishing a second edition of her seminal work on this very subject, and we must be grateful to her for securing this debate at such a critical time. The second step in the road map that will see us emerge from Covid inevitably begins to focus our minds on the future. Her book is a clarion call to all policymakers to recognise the factors that lie at the heart of poverty, and to assess programmes and proposals that will deal with them adequately as we prepare ourselves for the post-pandemic future. By the way, she and I share a huge respect for and admiration of the work done on this subject in the past by Peter Townsend, whose memory we cherish.
In her book, my noble friend emphasises the need to go beyond the measurable when discussing the meaning of poverty. It cannot be a matter simply of listing a number of deprivation indicators, for example, or identifying a percentage of median income. Quantitative factors must have their place, but mere statistics will not tell the whole story on poverty. It is important to set alongside the idea of an “insecure economic condition” the experience of a “corrosive social relation”; those are my noble friend’s terms. It is necessary to assess how people in poverty exercise, or are unable to exercise, their agency as social actors. There is a psychosocial dimension to poverty. People who suffer poverty must not be dismissed with lazy stereotypes as passive, victims or welfare dependants. A radical look at the broader aspects of poverty is of the utmost importance, especially now.
It is with all this in mind that I read the report published earlier this week by the Office for National Statistics. It indicated, as the Guardian states, that
“41.6% of black people aged 16-24 were unemployed … Unemployment among white workers of the same age stood at 12.4%.”
It went on to say that in the nine months since the outbreak of the pandemic
“the unemployment rate among young black people had shot up by 64.4% compared with 17% for their white counterparts”.
We may not be systematically racist—the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, who is normally cheerful, was rather splenetic in his outburst on these points—but we have a problem to consider. These figures should ring alarm bells. The average age of noble Lords means that almost all of us remember what happened in the early 1980s when we faced a similar statistical situation.
However, we must go beyond mere statistics. Young black people are much more likely to have been in less secure employment before the pandemic, with zero-hour or fixed-term contracts or cash-in-hand employment with little or no contractual certainty. These will be people who have been less protected by schemes such as furlough; no one can tell how things will turn out for them once the present crisis is over.
On Monday, so many people in this House paid tribute to the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Those tributes will not be worth a bean if we cannot find ways to ensure that the work done by him and his son, the Prince of Wales, in creating opportunities for young people—especially young black people—continues and intensifies. If not, we are storing up trouble for ourselves if we fail on this matter. It is of the utmost importance that black lives matter to those of us who are not black as much as they do to those who are.
My Lords, far from being the leveller that someone once naively suggested, the pandemic has been a magnifier of every inequality and injustice so I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett for convening this debate when so many of us seek a 1945-style new settlement after the hardships of the last year. These many sacrifices, including the ultimate one, have not been distributed with an even hand.
It is now over two years since the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty published his damning report on the state of our nations. Professor Alston described the removal of our social safety net with “the systematic immiseration” of so many as the tragic consequences. This has only worsened as a result of Covid-19, despite the United Kingdom being one of the wealthiest places in the world. Millions of parents, including many in work, will skip at least one meal today in order to feed their children. I will use the remainder of my time to call for legally enforceable food rights in the United Kingdom, with corresponding duties and powers for national, regional and local government.
If charity alone were considered a sufficient guarantee for basic human needs in the UK, previous generations would not have legislated for universal state schooling or our National Health Service after the horrors and privations of World War II. Here are some modest initial ingredients of a right to food. Every child in compulsory education should be provided with a nutritious, free school breakfast and lunch. If we accept the universal and compulsory requirement that all children under 16 be in school, why break from that principle of care in relation to their meals during the day?
Universality avoids the bureaucracy and stigma of means-testing school-age children. If school kitchens are to be engines of better nutrition for our children during the day, why should they not be employed as community kitchens at other times for dining clubs, meals on wheels and cookery clubs so as to fight loneliness and isolation alongside food poverty and obesity?
To tackle the invidious choice that too many have to make between food—
I am going to interrupt the noble Baroness because we have a Division coming. I shall suspend proceedings for five minutes to allow voting to take place.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
The Grand Committee is back in session. I return us to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti.
My Lords, to tackle the invidious choice that too many have to make between food, fuel and other essentials, the Secretary of State should be under a duty when setting minimum and living wages and any social security benefit on which people are expected to live to state how much has been notionally apportioned for food. This transparency will aid public and parliamentary scrutiny and ultimately legal accountability. There should be a duty on the Secretary of State and the devolved Administrations to ensure food security and to take it into account when setting competition, planning, transport, local government and all other policy. There should also be powers to issue compulsory directions in the context of anticipated food emergencies or deserts in food standards or supply, and there should be independent enforcement of these rights and duties. Noble Lords are by definition privileged people. We owe it to our fellow citizens to abolish hunger in these islands for good.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for securing this debate. I agree that we need a national conversation on how to build back better and not revert to the old normal. This pandemic has not only laid bare disparities and inequalities but has highlighted complex structural inequalities and exposed deep-seated flaws in our public policy. It has had a disproportionate impact on minorities, people with disabilities and women, and has affected the mental health of many. It has also shown the disparities that have emerged differently across places, groups, communities, regions and the UK as a whole.
The British Academy, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, referred, pointed out that the pandemic will cast a long shadow into the future. The academy warns that a failure to understand the scale of the challenge and to deliver changes will result in a rapid slide towards more extreme inequality and the fragmentation of society.
Crises also present opportunities. This is an opportunity to reshape society. It will require vision, bolder action, collaboration between national, regional and local leaders and a rethink of social policies. The British Academy’s impressive review highlights seven strategic goals for policymakers, which deserve serious consideration. They suggest building multilevel partnerships, improving knowledge data, prioritising digital infrastructure, the better use of urban spaces, creating agile education and training systems, strengthening community-led social infrastructure and building trust and cohesion and promoting shared purpose—that is, learning from people who work together to build on this enhanced collective sense of social purpose. It is a comprehensive and joined-up approach which will require a different mindset and a major shift in local and central government relationships, in the way resources are allocated and in how we engage communities rather than setting them apart by negative narratives and divisive policies.
The pandemic brought out some of the best features of a co-operative and innovative society driven by a shared purpose. These need to be harnessed and turned into a strategy. The local delivery of public services during the pandemic demonstrated the value of place-based leadership and reinforced the need for policies for growth, not short-term and fragmented interventions. We need to tackle health and housing inequalities, to think creatively about the employment and skills agenda and, as the Local Government Association has said, we need to rethink local. Local councils must now be equipped and trusted to build better. The key part of the recovery from Covid will be the delivery of quality, affordable homes, as highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Best. The Local Government Association rightly argues that local councils should be provided with tools and powers to deliver social housing, which could result in a boost to the economy. Harnessing voluntary activity to build social capital, tackling the digital divide and establishing internet access as a crucial tool for delivering public services, rethinking social security systems and redirecting resources should be very high on the agenda.
Building back better will require the devolution of power, responsibility and accountability, the engagement of local civil society organisations to build trust, and, above all, adopting policies—and, if I may say so, the tone—which will not set one community against another but bring them together. This is an opportunity to build on their social fabrics. Will the Minister tell the Committee whether the Government are listening and will take a comprehensive and radical approach to building back better and building on the lessons learned during the pandemic?
My Lords, this debate has rightly covered the range of inequalities, deprivations and disparities that have contributed to the vulnerabilities that Covid-19 has shown up. We have to address them, but we also have to recognise that an inclusive society must be an inclusive democracy in which people feel a sense of involvement and ownership in the decisions which affect their lives. Despite the emergency, freedom and civil rights should not disappear or be diminished. Their absence will make our society a more exclusive one—one that is enjoyed only by those who prosper when arbitrary power and centralised authority operate; that is something they will welcome.
In the time available I can mention only a few of the issues and dangers which this analysis raises. We need to remember that emergencies can take a lot longer than we expect—that has certainly happened in this case—and that there will be plenty more of them. Climate change may bring us floods, droughts or mass migration. Any of these would call for some kind of urgent action. So we need to review how we legislate for emergencies so that we learn from the mistakes of this episode. If we want our democracy to be genuinely inclusive, there are things we will have to curb.
One is lawmaking by ministerial decree without proper parliamentary scrutiny—a totally exclusive process. Another is confusion between what is law and what is advice, with the unacceptable pressure on police officers to enforce what is not law. Then there is government purchasing and contracting excluding those who do not have privileged access or the right contacts or email addresses; and treating local democratic institutions —local government—as an afterthought rather than involving them from the beginning.
There are the dangers that would emerge from a Covid passport if it became a document on which freedom depended in many circumstances, thus excluding a lot of people. There is also the inadequate legislative framework. It is interesting that in this crisis the Government did not use our emergency legislation—the Civil Contingencies Act—or even make much use of the Coronavirus Act, reverting instead to the Public Health Act 1984.
We all know some of the weaknesses that our democracy has. We should start now to prepare a legislative structure and general approach equal to the needs of an emergency on a basis that is inclusive, not exclusive, and recognises that freedom, constrained though it is when there is a risk of harm to others on a sound John Stuart Mill principle, remains the right of all our citizens.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for the opportunity to debate this important issue. I will focus, as did my noble friend Lord Dobbs, on the report from the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. I declare my interest in that currently two-thirds of my grandchildren are of mixed race.
I was disappointed by the shrill, vituperative inaccuracies of many of the criticisms of this report. They contrast starkly with the calm, nuanced and reasoned tone of its conclusions. At the heart of the controversy are different expectations as to what will drive change and improve outcomes for the disadvantaged and excluded. As the BBC reported:
“While the Left ‘emoted’ on race, the prime minister wanted a data-driven report”
which recognised the complexities driving disadvantage, and for the commission to make practical recommendations.
The Cabinet Office’s Race Disparity Unit, set up in 2016, built a comprehensive database on race and ethnicity which the commission is the first major independent body to use to investigate how ethnicity and other factors impact on outcomes and deeper underlying causes of key disparities. Surely it would be more surprising if access to this rich new seam had not generated new insights and a more productive narrative. Ideology cannot be allowed to negate these, as Trevor Phillips explained in the Times:
“Depressingly, a minority want the debate about race to continue as a medieval contest of faith, in which the catechism—‘institutional racism’, ‘white privilege’—is mouthed unthinkingly, without understanding. Those who deviate are lashed as heretics … it is the self-proclaimed radicals who are, in fact, least keen on change. For the zealots to justify their revolutionary aims … ethnic minorities must remain in suffering.”
Specifically, this report’s data-driven conclusion was that family structure contributes more than racism to outcomes. One commissioner described the key moment in the whole process as when all 10 said, with one voice, that family was what distinguished the success stories from the failures. This was the first government-commissioned report to engage seriously with the family, and it does so respectfully but unapologetically, rejecting
“both the stigmatisation of single mothers and the turning of a blind eye to the impact of family breakdown on the life chances of children.”
Father absence is linked to criminality and imprisonment, and family breakdown to gang membership of both girls and boys. The great attraction of gangs is that they provide families, albeit highly dysfunctional ones that can be lethal.
Sadly, such insights are not new. A thematic review by Croydon’s safeguarding children board found that fathers of over two-thirds of children of concern did not live at home and a father walking out was frequently the turning point in a child’s behaviour. Three-quarters of the boys were involved with gangs and over half the girls known by police to be violent, with almost two-fifths suspected of knife crime.
To conclude, ignoring or vilifying this report will not build a more inclusive society. Getting behind its practical, evidence-based recommendations will, however, enable us to build on the hard-won progress of generations of ethnic minorities, many of whom came to our four nations seeking a better life. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that the Government will further support family hubs and give the green light to the important “support for families” review, as the commission recommends?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Lister on her brilliant introduction to this important debate.
This pandemic has revealed some unpalatable truths about the way we have been living. The first one we spotted was the positive impact on the environment of the first lockdown. Others took longer to surface. Michael Marmot drew a comparison with Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in 2017. The storm killed 64 people, but the longer-term impact on the infrastructure led to thousands of deaths. After two months, mortality had risen sharply for the poorest people, somewhat for those on middle incomes, and least for the highest group. A huge external shock had thrust the underlying inequalities in society into sharp relief.
That is what the pandemic has done to us. Covid did not strike equally. It disproportionately hit disabled people and many minority ethnic communities. It hit those living in poorer areas or in overcrowded housing. It hit those whose jobs or finances meant they could not stay home in relative safety. The aftermath will not be spread evenly either. Examples of inequality abound, but I will highlight just two. The first is employment. The Resolution Foundation report mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lady Royall showed that 16 to 24 year-olds account for nearly two-thirds of the fall in payrolled employment. Within that group, there was further inequality. Before Covid, 25% of economically active black young people were unemployed, versus 10% of their white counterparts. By the end of 2020, that had opened up, with 34% of black young people unemployed and 13% of white.
The second example is debt. A report from the Joint Public Issues Team, representing a group of churches, estimates that some six million people in the UK have been swept into debt as a result of Covid. Low-income families with children seem to have been especially badly hit, seeing their wages falling fastest while the cost of living increased. So they were pushed further into debt, while higher-income families could pay off debts and save more. Has the Minister read that team’s report, Reset the Debt, and its proposal for a jubilee fund to help address pandemic debt? If so, what does he think of it?
Like Hurricane Maria, the pandemic hit unevenly because of pre-existing inequalities. People tended to do better if they were already privileged—if they had chosen their parents with care, if they lived in the right area, and if they had a secure job they could do from a safe and comfortable home. For all the levelling-up rhetoric, unless we change course, we are heading back to the old normal but worse: to a world where poor countries suffer the worst effects of the climate damage they did not create; to a Britain where a man living in Warfield Harvest Ride in Berkshire can expect to live to 90 while one in Bloomfield in Blackpool is likely to die at 68, where poverty is rife and where racism is—yes—still widespread. While we are here, when I hear past wrongs, from discrimination to slavery, defended on the grounds that in those days we did not know any better, it brings to mind a quote I saw recently from the writer Teju Cole, who asked: “We who?”
We all agree that a good country is one which enables its citizens to flourish. We should have learned by now that a good society is one which recognises that the flourishing of each depends upon the flourishing of all, and that a society structured to enable some people to flourish at the expense of others is ultimately bad for everybody. It is not surprising that the poor do better in more equal societies; what is more interesting is that the rich do too, according to the evidence, as does society as a whole.
Surely the time has come for us explicitly to recognise our interdependence and pursue the common good, to tackle inequality and to invest in the infrastructure of our shared life—our communities and public services—and in a revitalised welfare state fulfilling its original ambition to be a companion service to the NHS, which pools risk across the population and across our lifetimes. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Razzall.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, rightly wants to build an inclusive society in the post-pandemic world. The Raoul Wallenberg Institute defines the inclusive society as
“empowering and promoting the social, economic, and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, economic, or other status.”
Noble Lords will know that this reads very like the preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution, and it touches on the principle of community politics so dear to many of us. Noble Lords have concentrated on different aspects of inclusion—or our current lack of it—from housing to poverty to children’s problems, to name a few. I have three suggestions which will change our lives, increasing inclusiveness, if the Government have the courage to implement them.
First, as the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, said, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, implied, we should take power away from Whitehall and transfer it to our communities. When I was first elected to Richmond Council in 1974, 75% of revenue was raised locally and only 25% came from central government. This is now reversed, with inevitable Treasury control over spending and much central funding to local government being ring-fenced. Do we really believe that this trend has meant better government and more inclusivity?
Secondly, if we want to provide proper inclusiveness for the elderly, who, after all, ought to benefit from what we want to achieve, surely we must now have a solution to social care. The Dilnot report was over 10 years ago. The coalition Government legislated before 2015, but those proposals were scrapped when the Tories had an overall majority. Boris Johnson said he had a plan for social care in 2019. Where is it?
Thirdly, nobody has touched on the problems faced by small and medium-sized enterprises in our economy, which are so much the lifeblood of our communities. Destroy SMEs and you destroy the inclusiveness of many of our communities, and Brexit is doing that. The Government say that there will be short-term teething problems in the trade that so many SMEs are trying to do with the European Union. Tell that to the SME selling second-hand combine harvesters, which has to pay inspectors to produce complex certificates for the machines, causing significant costs and delay. Tell that to the SME bike manufacturer struggling to cope with different VAT regimes across 27 countries. Tell that to the Scotch whisky producers; labelling requirements often require small companies to set up a distribution company in Europe, significantly reducing profit. Tell that to the Nottingham company making synthetic hairpieces for cancer patients whose essential just-in-time supply chain in Germany has now collapsed.
These examples are not indicative of teething problems; they are examples of real damage that Brexit has done to many small and medium-sized enterprises without any apparent economic advantage, and of the serious damage done to the inclusiveness of our society in so many of our communities.
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Pendry.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to raise an issue which some 12 months ago would hardly have been considered a major concern within society. I refer to the mounting problem of loneliness, which the Covid-19 pandemic has led to. I hardly need tell that to colleagues in this Committee, who have in their own way suffered from the consequences of the pandemic, either because it has inhibited our ability to carry out the work that we would like to do or because of the self-isolation imposed on us.
Loneliness is indeed exclusionary and, as such, needs to be dealt with to make society more inclusive in the aftermath of the pandemic. The reports that have come out throughout the pandemic have all come to similar conclusions: more people worry that something will happen to them and no one will take any notice; people feel lonelier since lockdown; and more people believe that loneliness will get worse. These sentiments have recently been backed up by an Office for National Statistics report expressing concern at the increased levels of loneliness in our society. It found that the number of people feeling lonely has doubled. Similarly, the British Red Cross found that loneliness was on the rise, especially among the young in urban areas.
It was Aristotle who pointed out that we are social animals. We need to be part of the community. As we come out of lockdown, a priority of both national and local government should be to rebuild our communities by alleviating the causes of loneliness. The consequence will be the building of a more inclusive society at large. Before the crisis, most people would try to overcome loneliness by traditional means, such as exercising in gyms, swimming and other recreational pursuits. At least two of those have been alleviated by the easing of lockdown, but more still needs to be done.
The Loneliness Annual Report published in January also has some strong ideas to start tackling loneliness. For instance, over £30 million of funding has been awarded to charities tackling loneliness, including 1,157 awards to small or medium-sized charities supporting those who feel lonely and £4 million coming from the National Lottery Community Fund. However, I can see some fundamental flaws in that report; for instance, the causal relationship between financial difficulties and loneliness. By contrast, the British Red Cross highlighted the impact of financial difficulties on loneliness. I feel that this has been ignored by government and by our own cross-party group. The pandemic has hit employment dramatically and drastically. Those between 16 and 24 have been hit the hardest, where the reduction has been 300,000, with a figure of 200,000 for those below 25. Surely this should be a major priority for government now. I could expand on this and go on, but I need to hear that this is a problem for national and local government to counter.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for giving us this opportunity to reflect on the past year and to offer advice for a more inclusive and resilient society.
The Covid-19 crisis has tested us all, but for some disabled people each day was a battle for survival as the common daily barriers of general inaccessibility, poverty, lack of public transport and lack of public support services became magnified. Isolating was not an option for those needing human support, either at home or in residential care. Many lived in fear that, if they caught the virus, they would be denied life-saving treatment.
Knowing that 60% of Covid-related deaths were among disabled people, we must now address the deep health inequalities exposed during the pandemic. Disabled people demonstrated huge resilience and a determination to thrive, so now is the time to draw on their lived experience and knowledge to advance towards a more inclusive society. For example, many disabled people found being able to work from home absolutely liberating. Free from inaccessible transport and inflexible hours, their productivity increased. Working from home, so long regarded as impossible, became the norm for many of us. Embracing the virtual workplace as a mainstream, inclusive option has now been proven to work and should remain in future.
As my noble friend Lord Best said, safe homes with adequate space and good design were lockdown lifesavers during the pandemic. However, this was not the experience of many, especially the disabled and older people. One of the unhappy legacies of the pandemic has been debilitating long Covid, creating significant numbers of newly disabled people. Some have been sent home to find that their living conditions no longer meet their needs. A recent survey by Habinteg revealed that disabled people were three times more likely to have their well-being compromised during lockdown because they lived in unsuitable houses or homes. To achieve an inclusive society in a post-pandemic world, inclusive design must be at its heart. Can the Minister say when the Government will publish the outcome of last year’s accessible homes consultation? Can he assure us that all new housing will be adaptable to people’s changing needs?
This week, many pubs, restaurants and cafés are reopening, making use of pavements as outdoor spaces for al fresco eating. I welcome this, but businesses and councils must consider the safe inclusion of all disabled people. Blocked walkways and narrower pavements come at a cost for disabled people, representing no-go zones for some, especially blind people. That is why I am pleased that the Centre for Accessible Environments is now offering training to local authorities in London to ensure that, as we reopen public spaces, we do so with disability access in mind. The “new normal” must not sacrifice access for all in favour of a much-needed return to business.
Finally, can the Minister assure us that the Government’s new disability strategy will include a road map out of the social exclusions that have been magnified for disabled people throughout the pandemic? Lessons learned are crucial to its success.
The next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Lister on her introduction to this debate. There can be no one better placed to make the case, as we have heard earlier today, for a society that challenges the persistence of differences—of race, gender, class, generation and geography—and ensures inclusion and equality of opportunity for all.
The focus has been on the post-pandemic world and, although we can see the ravages that the pandemic has visited on countries and communities thus far, it is surely a bit premature to talk about a post-pandemic world. Even if we can feel confident of progress in the UK, we should be mindful of what is happening elsewhere in the world.
The UK economic landscape has had not only to endure the pandemic but to face the consequences of Brexit, the effects of which are now beginning to come home to roost. Before that, we also faced, as the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, said, a period of 10 years of austerity, the effects of which have fallen disproportionately on the poor, the disabled and the disadvantaged. This has given slow growth in trade and investment and a shrinking economy as we enter 2021. Building an inclusive society requires action, not only on the economy but on a whole range of policy areas.
The British Academy’s second report identifies seven policy goals that, if pursued together, will provide a strong foundation for effective policy in the UK. The academy offers seven strategic, interconnected goals around which to form policy, including prioritising investment in digital infrastructure. It also advises the creation of a more agile and responsive education and training system. How does the Minister respond to these prescriptions?
The academy cites evidence from local volunteers, community and mutual aid groups as significant to the Covid-19 response. This brings with it local and community knowledge, including from local councils. But, unfortunately, as the academy points out, this potential has been negated in large measure by savage cuts to funding in the local authority area.
The pandemic has exacerbated the incidence of inequality and poverty in our own country and internationally. So far as the UK is concerned, it has accentuated levels of poverty, because those who can afford to self-isolate obviously will, but those for whom it is difficult lose a wage. Most of all perhaps, it has exposed the differential access to housing provision referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Best.
The British Academy focuses in part on trust in government—that is, our government institutions—and media. Low levels of trust have implications for the propensity of the public to follow guidance. Things might have improved since the relative success with vaccinations, but the behaviour of government can very directly negate the benefits of this. The record on this is not good.
My Lords, I too welcome the challenge from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. How do we build a fairer, more inclusive post-pandemic world? One prerequisite in my opinion will be how urgently we rebalance the relationship between the state and the individual. Whether you think lockdown legislation was disproportionate or totally necessary, I think we can all agree that individual freedoms and rights have been suspended. Focusing on tackling poverty should not blind us to the devastating impact of impoverishing citizens by any continuation of an assault on individual agency or on people’s moral autonomy to make choices. The new normal should not mean less freedom or fewer rights.
Yet despite lockdown restrictions slowly being rolled back, there are some worrying signs that government, both national and local, seems keen to cling on to its new powers and retain control over people’s lives. Look at the debate over domestic Covid passports and certificates that the noble Lord, Lord Beith, referenced. These proposals would mean citizens requiring permission papers to participate in society before being able to go to the cinema, concerts, football matches, gyms, nightclubs or even to get jobs. People potentially would have to obtain official clearance. This would equate to the Government declaring every person a risk to others, unless they prove that they are Covid-secure. Let alone considering the ethics of pressurising people to undergo medical procedures to participate in civic life, it could create the potential of a second-class citizenry with two sets of rules and two sets of rights.
I am delighted today to see that many in hospitality have signed a new charter named Open For All. I hope the Government will take note and think carefully before embracing this biomedical, digital-permit society as it can only be exclusionary, discriminatory and less free, and I do not want it as the new normal. I have also watched with dismay at how authorities have taken advantage of lockdown to impose contentious policy changes without the inconvenience of democratic scrutiny.
Take the example of road closures and the controversial low-traffic neighbourhoods—LTNs. While citizens were confined in their homes under lockdown, up sprang bollards, giant flowerpots and barriers to block off residential roads. These and schemes such as bike lanes and wider pavements were boasted about by politicians as examples of building back better, but better for whom? LTNs are sold as introducing green travel habits but I think opportunistically citing unprecedented levels of walking and cycling during the pandemic to push for a new normal of less car use is pretty despicable. The Department for Transport talks of LTNs as helping to
“embed altered behaviours and demonstrate the positive effects of active travel.”
This is a top-down new normal, with the state deciding what is good for people, whether they know it or like it or not and it can be tone deaf, unfair and create new victims. For example, LTNs have not eradicated pollution or congestion, just moved them to less well-off areas. The impact of these schemes on those who use the vehicles for their livelihood has been devasting. Care workers dashing from home to home, delivery van drivers, plumbers and electricians now have 20-minute drives turned into hours in endless traffic gridlocks. Even in those quieter, traffic-free streets, many elderly and disabled residents complain that they feel stranded.
Myriad rank-and-file protest groups have sprung up. Have the local politicians listened to their complaints? No—instead, I am afraid, they have demonised them as selfish car rats on rat runs and as macho gas-guzzlers, even though most of them are women and many of them use their car to help their neighbours. As one activist notes, politicians
“underestimate … cars as a community resource.”
My main point for the Minister is this: can we ensure that when politicians promise to build back better this will not be an imposed vision of what people want but they will be asked and then listened to?
My Lords, I welcome this debate, not least because although it talks specifically about the post-pandemic world, in truth the issues it raises would apply to almost any time in our lifetime. The Motion refers to “building an inclusive society” and a more inclusive society means a more equal society. We know that there are large inequalities in so many parts of our national life—referred to by many previous speakers—in housing, education and health. However, in the short time available I will focus on one area where we need to build more equality and that is in respect of our political system, in access to power, to government and to politics.
2021 marks the 300th anniversary of the office of Prime Minister. During that time, we have had 55 Prime Ministers. Of these, 20—yes, 20—went to one expensive public school: Eton. What is more, seven more went to Harrow, so just two public schools have provided 27 out of Britain’s 55 Prime Ministers. That is almost exactly half. To put it into context, there are 3,500 secondary schools in England alone. What a colossal waste of talent this represents: to recruit to the top job in politics from such a tiny, unrepresentative source. That is just one example of gross inequality in access to power.
Greater equality is needed right across the political system—in the Executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Achieving greater inclusivity in the operation of our democracy is not just right in itself—it is an essential building block towards achieving greater inclusivity in society as a whole.
In the post-war House of Commons in the second half of the 20th century, a rich variety of occupations was represented—most obviously the miners, but also steelworkers, people in manufacturing and people directly from the shop floor. Now, of course, there are no pits and no miners, but where are the 21st-century equivalents in our legislature?
In a piece of research after the 2010 election, the Smith Institute said that
“our Parliament is becoming less representative in terms of education and occupation, and continues to attract similar types of people from a rather narrow professional base.”
Political parties should do far more to remove the barriers that exist to people from lower incomes, for example, to meet the cost of running for a seat in Parliament. As for this House, in the Lords we should do more to make our membership more representative, in terms of both occupation and social class. Whether it is the law, education, the police, the Civil Service, retailing, the Church or the military, we tend to have people who have reached the top of their various professions. They make a huge and valuable contribution, but would we not be enriched and more inclusive if there were more people currently working on the front line, in our schools, police forces, public services and factories—from the coal face, if you like?
If our society is to be more inclusive, we must avoid a situation where the people who attain positions of political power are disproportionately those who are already in powerful positions. I do not intend to reopen old divisions, but if the Commons and the Lords had been more socially representative, perhaps there would not have been such a mismatch between the balance of opinion in the country and the balance of opinion in Parliament in our interminable debates on the European Union.
There are huge inequalities in access to power in our country, and a consequent huge waste of talent. If power were distributed more equitably, other inequalities —in health, education and housing—would surely be much more likely to be addressed, as more and more people with direct, current living experience would be able to speak to them. That would be for the benefit of us all.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on securing this important and timely debate.
When we think about the post-pandemic world, we must consider what this means from the perspective of children and young people. Our youngest citizens have suffered disproportionately over the last year, especially those from diverse backgrounds, including the Traveller community. It is our duty to make sure that we build a better and more inclusive society for all our children’s futures. As I always say, childhood lasts a lifetime, so the experiences that children have in those precious early years will set the course for the rest of their lives.
Will the Government appoint a Cabinet-level Minister for Children to ensure that children and young people are at the very heart of future policy? I campaigned for 20 years to create a Cabinet-level Minister for Children. This was put in place in 2003 but, over the years, that position has been shamefully downgraded. We need one now more than ever, because it is important not to underestimate the scale of the challenge facing us as we emerge from Covid.
The children’s charity Barnardo’s—I declare an interest as vice-president—led a consortium of more than 80 charities with government funding to help children facing new challenges during the pandemic. The programme See, Hear, Respond reached more than 100,000 children and young people. Sadly, that funding has now ended, so we worry where these children can now turn to for help. Many children have suffered unimaginable trauma in recent months, missing out on school, with the most disadvantaged falling further behind. More children are living in poverty with families struggling to afford the cost of food. Mental health needs have rocketed. One in six children now has a mental health disorder and, crucially, more children are at risk of harm, including online harm.
For many years I have spoken about the growing dangers that the internet creates for children and young people. During the pandemic, children were groomed and abused online at an increasing rate. One-third of children supported by Barnardo’s child sexual abuse services were first groomed over the internet and more and more often we see the pattern of perpetrators befriending children on apps or chat forums. We must also acknowledge the dangers of access to online pornography. Experts agree that, shockingly, many children now first learn about sex and relationships online. Children as young as nine often see extreme and violent pornographic content. This is what shapes young minds. If we are in any doubt of the outcome, we need only read the 15,000 harrowing testimonies of young girls, and boys as well, on the Everyone’s Invited website.
The Government have rightly taken a first step by asking Ofsted for an immediate review, but we know that while children are taking their cues from the most harmful and inappropriate websites we will struggle to drive real change. It is like trying to cure a cocaine addict while at the same time feeding them cocaine. The Government need to take other actions to build a better future for vulnerable children online. One of the first must be to bring forward the long-awaited online safety legislation that is so desperately needed to keep children safe online. While we wait for this delayed Bill, will the Government take urgent action and implement Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act now to ensure that children cannot easily access harmful, violent online pornography? After the year we have had, we must send a clear message that in the UK in 2021 we do not accept that anyone should live in fear of harm and abuse, especially our children.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Lister for this debate and for the strong speech that she gave at the beginning to get us going. I have torn up much of my speech because most of my points have been covered, but I particularly want to thank the British Academy for the work that it has been doing. My noble friend Lord McKenzie covered quite fully many of the points that it has made.
My one remaining point is worth repeating. The British Academy identifies a range of changes that we will need: a new, sharper array of public interventions than we have had in the past. It is making an important point. It also makes it in terms of internationalism, the national operation of the Government, local activities and local communities. This has been an enormous shock for us and it is good that we have people setting out how we might address it over coming decades, but I am one of those who believe that this is—I have said this before—a rehearsal for more difficult times ahead, which will come with climate change unless we are prepared to start addressing and changing the way we run our economy. If we try to grow in the way that we have done in the past instead of moving in a new direction, we will be hit much harder with climate change right across the board than we have experienced previously. This is an opportunity for us and we should be looking for ways in which we can address issues in quite different ways from the past.
I digress from the main topic to reflect, in the week when we have all been paying tribute to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, that the biggest change that took place during his lifetime was not the Second World War or other wars, or AIDS or other pandemics on a smaller scale, but the fact that the world’s population has grown from 1.8 billion when he was born in 1921 to 7.4 billion in 2021, and is projected, unless we do something about it, to rise to 10 billion. That will create enormous troubles in so many other areas, enormous inequalities and enormous numbers of deaths unless we start paying more attention to it than we have done so far.
I have been trying to engage the Government on this. There is no point me asking the Minister to respond to my questions because I am sure he will not. I have had so many written responses that have said nothing. Why is this—the world population growth and how we should start to address it—not on the agenda of COP 26 in November? Why do the Government find it so difficult to talk about this subject? Why do we find it so difficult to engage with the faiths—and I am a man of faith—about the fact that there are very big responsibilities held by the different churches to do with how our numbers continue to grow in a way that is damaging God’s planet in a way that none of us wants? I take a different angle from that taken by others so far, but this is all part of the same piece. What we need is an inclusive and joint approach to finding solutions that will benefit all in society and not just the rich, as we have seen in recent years.
The next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on securing this important debate on how government, both central and local, and the community and voluntary sector should work with the public to achieve a more inclusive society in this pandemic world. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that now is the time to go back to Beveridge and update it and create that “better place for all” as we learn the lessons from the pandemic.
The noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord McKenzie, referred to the British Academy policy document published in March, which is instructive because it provides all of us with a structural framework for how that rebuilding should take place and how the reshaping of our society should take place.
However, to be clear, prior to the pandemic we did not have an inclusive society, with a growing percentage of people with a dependency on food banks, piercing levels of austerity, poverty, marginalisation and a social security system that seems fixated with penalising those least able to pay. The Government talk about levelling up—surely this should mean the development of greater levels of equality through the location of services, and addressing unemployment and investment issues, outside London and working with the devolved Administrations to bring about better levels of social inclusion and cohesion.
It is worth noting that attendees at a United Nations summit more than 25 years ago defined an inclusive society as a “society for all”. Policy responses have been introduced in the years since, although questions remain about how progress can be measured. The Covid-19 pandemic has represented a setback towards realising that goal in many areas, but there is now a compelling need to address the further development of a more inclusive, cohesive and fairer society as we move out of the pandemic, with the implementation of the vaccination programme, intensive testing and tracing programmes, and the government’s policy objectives for the levelling-up agenda.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has noted that the Covid-19 pandemic is
“affecting every aspect of our societies”.
It is also revealing the extent of exclusion that the most marginalised members of society experience. In that March report, the British Academy looked at the long-term societal impacts of Covid. It covered several areas: increased importance of local communities; low and unstable levels of trust; widening geographical inequalities; exacerbated structural inequalities; worsened health outcomes; and growing health inequalities. More importantly, the report stated:
“The pandemic offers an opportunity to adapt and improve the resilience and responsiveness of our economic structures. A different economic structure could be more inclusive, sustainable and green.”
In view of the challenges set down today by many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, can the Minister indicate what the Government’s real policy and operational objectives are in terms of the levelling-up agenda for the location of resources and investment to bring about social inclusion and cohesion?
My Lords, it is universally stated that we are living in an interconnected world, but the sad reality is that we are not yet living in an interconnected country. While as a nation we stand tall, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Dobbs that as a country we have done a great deal, having passed more legislation on race relations and equal opportunities than most other countries, we must admit that we have struggling communities and a dangerous undercurrent of disenfranchisement and social marginalisation.
The pandemic has changed many things and many voices are emerging on what may change as we adapt to this new normality. I will not hypothesise on what may change, but instead, with your Lordships’ indulgence, I will focus on what must change if we are to live up to the ambition of creating a truly inclusive society.
The rising rate of unemployment and the significant changes to labour markets of recent months cannot be ignored. I therefore welcome the Government’s programme of economic support, including the highly praised Kickstart Scheme, which is doing sterling work across the country to create new and, hopefully, long-lasting employment for young people.
This moment in our history will be marked by how we face up to the harsh realities exposed by the pandemic. The statistics speak for themselves and require our immediate attention. In June, we witnessed a blow to gender diversity, with all-male boards returning to the FTSE 350. Gender diversity at the top is fundamental to an inclusive society and I would therefore welcome an update from my noble friend the Minister on what work the Government are doing here to rectify a problem that, if left, will see us slip back into the unsavoury habits of old, and to consider what more could be done to ensure that more women take up trusteeships and stand for election to local councils, so that more women from all backgrounds take up community leadership roles.
We know that those from ethnic minorities have suffered the most, as temporary work and zero-hour contracts ground to a halt throughout the national lockdown, and we know that white males from low-income families are the group least likely to be offered places at university. So, as businesses start to consider how they will operate differently in the future and stand up to these issues of inclusion and diversity, as legislators we must now do the same.
All too often, we try to fix problems such as unemployment retrospectively. I have sat through countless meetings and debates on how we get people back to work, when the conversation we should be having is about how we ensure that future generations have the skills needed for jobs that may not even exist yet. We must move from the band-aid approach on jobs before the wounds in our society become too deep to cover.
All us of know that the bedrock of a truly inclusive society lies in our ability to close the widening skills gap. I ask the Government for an update on what is being done to make sure that we equip our workforce with the right skills to embrace the jobs of the future. Perhaps my noble friend may give further thought to how we can mobilise local government to prioritise future skills needs when considering locally significant commercial planning applications and infrastructure projects.
When I evaluate the digital transformation that we have seen in recent months and our progression through the fourth industrial revolution, I am excited by the opportunities that are waiting on the horizon which will see the United Kingdom become a global leader in areas such as space technology, AI and the green economy. But here lies the challenge: if, for example, we are to develop world-leading space ports in Scotland then we must now turn our attention to upskilling and retraining, particularly in areas such as STEM, so that, when these jobs of the future come, it is the local workforces which stand ready to embrace them.
Finally, as we use phrases such as “build back better”, we should pause and ask ourselves who we are building back better for. We need a fundamental shift in mindset, in which government, local government and the private sector work hand in hand to enable everyone, regardless of their ethnicity or background, to have a stake in society and thus a chance to contribute to the wider good.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for this debate. As we emerge slowly from a global pandemic, it is very timely, as all noble Lords have said. Domestically and globally, lives have changed. Many people have suffered the loss of loved ones, livelihoods and opportunities. Society has shown a capacity to respond in unexpected ways, but we must learn from that. The world is more interconnected than ever; we cannot defeat a global pandemic by national measures alone. But surely now is the time for measures to make society more inclusive at home and abroad. That is why, for me, the savage cut in the UK aid budget is such an unconscionably bad decision. The UK signed up to the SDGs with their clear aim to eradicate absolute poverty and “leave no one behind”. Yet, knowingly and deliberately, the UK Government are pursuing a policy that will leave millions behind. The Government know perfectly well that the 0.7% contained its own economic corrective. The downturn in the economy reduced the measure of 0.7% and prompted cuts of almost £3 billion. So reducing the proportion from 0.7% to 0.5% is leading to a slash-and-burn retrenchment, with deeply damaging consequences at home and abroad.
At a time when the world needs vaccines and the poor need support to survive and rebuild, we should be increasing aid, not cutting it. The development and distribution of vaccines is an international effort, in which the UK has played a leading, but not isolated, role. It is welcome that the UK supports COVAX and will offer surplus vaccines to poorer nations, but that headline obscures the fact that many aid programmes are being cut or cancelled. The Government face challenges in the Commons, which is why they are avoiding a vote, and may face a judicial review of the aid decision. So it is no wonder that it is reported that the Chancellor and the Prime Minister are at odds over when and how to reverse the cuts. Announcing at the G7 that 0.7% would be restored next year would set a good example and perhaps avoid the most damaging cuts to research and ongoing programmes.
At home, Covid-19 has, of course, caused disruption and setbacks not witnessed in our lifetimes, but these have fallen unevenly. Those who can work from home can do so only because many of their fellow citizens provide essential services at a risk to themselves, not always with a fair reward. Health and social care workers in the front line have carried a heavy burden and it is reported that many will leave the profession, which we will have to rebuild in a fairer and more balanced way. While millions have benefited from furlough, millions have also been left out and struggled. All this has taken a toll on the nation’s mental health, which was already in crisis before the pandemic began.
What furlough and other measures have shown is that, when they choose, Governments can find the funds for survival. That is why I believe the time is right to roll out universal basic income. Universal credit has proved itself to be cumbersome, bureaucratic and unfair. We still need a benefit system for certain short and long-term purposes, but providing a universal basic income, even at a modest level, would give everyone a minimum below which they could not fall. It would not by itself eliminate poverty, but it would prevent destitution and provide some peace of mind. I do not accept the argument that it would deter people from working. It would not be enough for that for a long time, and people know that aspirations require prudence and work, something explicitly acknowledged by Beveridge. To be universal, everybody should get it but, just like child benefit, UBI could be taxable.
As we face the digital age, artificial intelligence, robotics and the challenges of climate change, millions could be left behind. With vision, aspiration and a spirit of altruism, we could lay the foundations for a more inclusive society.
The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, has withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Healy of Primrose Hill.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Lister for securing this debate and for her powerful introduction on how to build an inclusive society in the post-pandemic world. I want to take the opportunity to highlight a timely book, to be published on Friday: The Dignity of Labour, by Jon Cruddas MP. I must declare an interest: he is my husband.
The pandemic has taught us hard lessons: we all need each other, and rights and freedoms cannot exist without a shared state of being that involves obligations on how we live together. Without a concerted effort by government, too many will face job losses, food poverty, insecurity in housing, permanent disadvantages in education and income for the young, especially among young and ethnic minorities, and a bleak future for the vulnerable in the post-pandemic world.
The pandemic has also taught us that all types of jobs should be respected equally, as we witness the dignity portrayed by carers, health workers, bus drivers, refuse collectors, supermarket staff and all those young gig workers delivering food. But what about those worker’s rights, their future and their dignity at work? Why, in this age, do vulnerable workers have to go to court to try to get basic rights to sick pay, holiday pay and safe working conditions, as those Deliveroo couriers recently had to? The Government have a moral duty to protect their citizens, including in their employment.
Last week, US President Biden announced a jobs plan that includes massive federal investment in transport, housing, the environment and social care, paid for in part by reversing Trump’s 2017 tax cuts for companies and the wealthy. Some 18 million jobs created over the next four years would be, Biden promised,
“jobs that you can raise a family on”
“ensure free and fair choice to organize and bargain collectively.-
Jon Cruddas argues powerfully that we must recognise the centrality of work in the politics of the common good. Now, as we plan for the post-pandemic, we should make the world of dignified work the backbone of an ethical appeal for a national fair deal, crossing economic class and geographical divides. National and local government need to ensure that standards are met.
The Dignity of Labour proposes a democratic transformation of the lives of those doing low-paid, insecure but vital jobs. A new “good work covenant” would start from the assumption that all labour, not just knowledge work, should be both fulfilling and a source of self-esteem. New national colleges for skilled work could turn social care, for example, into the respected and well-rewarded vocation that it should be. Among other proposals is a special covenant for key workers, encompassing new entitlements to housing, travel and public services. To protect rights, a new statutory single definition of “worker”, decoupled from contractual status, should be instigated. This would align the rights of all employees and other categories of worker with day-one protections, including sick and holiday pay and post-pandemic full PPE and the ability not to work in unsafe environments—the right to stop the job.
Jon Cruddas argues for a new pandemic reconstruction force for jobs and growth in every region, which could oversee a new, one-year jobs guarantee with accredited training, living wage or the union-negotiated rate. This would be funded by national government but delivered at regional and local levels by councils, unions, business and Jobcentre Plus. Special emphasis would be placed on community-action programmes, especially ecological regeneration. This book sets out a practical way forward to build an inclusive society in the post-pandemic world.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has been temporarily disconnected, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Hendy.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Lister for initiating this debate and for her powerful, comprehensive speech in opening it.
I want to emphasise one essential dimension of an inclusive society: democratic participation. Democracy is not limited to general and local elections. An inclusive society requires democracy in every important sphere of human activity. In the 1970s, there was much debate about industrial democracy. Members of the House as old as I am will recall the 1977 Bullock report proposing the representation of workers on company boards. The principle received widespread support, but there was no consensus as to the best blueprint. This was at a time when the working terms and conditions of 86% of British workers were determined by collective agreement, a percentage that has been consistent since the middle of the Second World War.
Since the 1980s, legislation and government policies have led to a collapse in collective bargaining coverage to less than 25% today. Within that figure, pay has been excluded from collective bargaining in large swathes of the public sector, where collective bargaining coverage is highest. The figure of 25% is one of the lowest percentages in Europe; in fact, a recent draft EU directive for a minimum wage takes particular aim at the few countries where collective bargaining has fallen below 70% of the workforce.
Industrial democracy in this country amounts to this: three-quarters of the UK’s 32 million workers have no say whatever over the terms and conditions of their working lives. They are forced to agree whatever their employers unilaterally determine, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. The current economic crisis has exacerbated this with “fire and rehire”, where employers dismiss their workforce and offer re-engagement on significantly reduced terms and conditions. One in 10 workers has been subjected to this, even where there is nominally collective bargaining.
Research has shown that one consequence of the suppression of a collective worker voice is a rise in the levels of inequality, about which so many have spoken this afternoon. Now, we need to heed the advice of the OECD in successive annual employment outlook reports and fulfil our commitments to the ILO. We must reintroduce sector-wide collective bargaining arrangements, as we did after the First World War with the Whitley committees and again with the wage councils, which blossomed after the depression of the 1930s.
In the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the Government undertook to promote social dialogue at work, although they reject the TUC’s call for a national recovery council. They must now act on that undertaking. Without sectoral collective bargaining, there can be no industrial democracy and no inclusive society, and the crisis now upon us will become a social catastrophe with unpredictable consequences.
My Lords, as the Monitor states:
“We live in unprecedented times. The global community has been broadsided by a pandemic that has upended our lives socially, physically, psychologically, and financially … The impacts of COVID-19 are so profound that even re-emergence … won’t look like 9/11. It won’t look like the 2008-09 global economic collapse. This time it’s different, because it’s intertwined with a global public health threat that … re-centres the public good. The old paradigm that prioritized economic growth above population and community wellbeing has become a massive casualty of the pandemic. COVID-19 exposed an already fragile ecosystem COVID-19 has exposed what many of us already knew: public health is the key driver of everything, from community wellbeing to a thriving economy. If ever there was a time to embrace a Health-in-All-Policies approach to government decision-making, it is now. COVID-19 has exposed the short-sightedness of austerity budgeting, where governments prioritized tax cuts over needed investments in public services—in health and mental health, education, child care, social supports, affordable housing, public transit, long-term care, and more.”
This is not the time for political parties’ views. Maybe the time has come for a national unity Government, as in 1945, when both political parties came together and agreed to deal with the crisis.
I call the previous speaker, who has now reconnected: the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. Lady Miller? No. We will move to the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Lister, who has done so much to bring real poverty into the limelight, has indeed started an important conversation.
I shall focus on education. I declare an interest as chair of a DfE stakeholders group, patron of the Runnymede Trust and holder of several positions in Gypsy, Traveller and Roma organisations. But first I want to say that the equality which we have enshrined in law is a purpose of inclusivity, but it cannot be achieved without specific measures to overcome specific disadvantages. The old mantra that equality means treating everyone the same is one of the causes of massive inequality in the UK—the unfair society. It is inclusivity which can remedy the unfair society.
One of the most long-lasting effects of the pandemic has been the impossibility of children excluded from digital technology being able to catch up with their education, as my noble friend Lord Whitty pointed out. A post-pandemic world will still have done nothing to reduce the number of exclusions from school, driving children to worlds outside what a proper education can help them achieve—into county lines selling drugs, into gangs and into exploitation; nor will it have it done anything to increase the self-respect that comes with recognition at school of the value of different cultures and heritages.
The Government point to their general investment, but this does not yield a true account of what is happening in the unfair society. It ignores the clear disparities between outcomes for different ethnic groups, also ignored or misunderstood by the widely discredited recent report by the Government’s commission. The pattern continues in further and adult education, including apprenticeships. As former chair and current fellow of the Working Men’s College, I ask: where are the access requirements that are tailored to those so ill-served by their secondary education that they cannot meet the current standard of entry, even though they are capable of doing a good job and earning a living?
The underlying principle for change must be to target policies at those groups which are losing out. This means proper research. It means post-Covid catch-up arrangements which work for disadvantaged groups. It means liaison structures with the parents of children who are vulnerable to failure. It means school libraries and teaching with items which celebrate the different cultural heritages of their pupils. Anti-bullying policies must match the specific race hatred experienced by children. The Government must empower local authorities to get a grip on the disaster of home education carried out by parents who cannot properly educate their children.
Another way to describe this is to inform any drive to level up with compassion and understanding; otherwise, the Government will continue to exacerbate the unfair society, to the great detriment of its citizens and leading to damage to the economy, safety and security of all of us.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on securing this debate on a matter of what should be, and I hope is, vital national importance: the need for positive policies to increase social inclusion post Covid. In addition to the many excellent points which she made in her speech, the effects of the pandemic have brought into sharp relief a trend that has been growing for a number of years: the increasing divisiveness in societies in many countries, with growing populism and nationalism, which create barriers to inclusion.
One of the first debates I took part in in your Lordships’ House in 1996 was on social cohesion and wealth creation. I have long believed that a just and inclusive society is essential for social cohesion and fair wealth creation, which are the hallmarks of a civilised society. In the short time available I want to make three quick points: first, on the importance of primary education; secondly, on the danger of the widening disparity in earnings between those at the top and those at the bottom; and, thirdly, on the increasing intolerance in society being reinforced by social media.
My noble friend Lady Benjamin, in a powerful contribution, underlined the challenges facing children. Divisiveness and prejudice are learned behaviours. Young children are naturally inquisitive and inclusive. That is why I believe that investment in early years education, particularly primary schools, is so important for creating the right opportunities for their future. My son teaches in a primary school in an area with many disadvantaged children. He has often told me that his biggest difficulties stem from poor parenting inherited from previous generations. Breaking that chain and encouraging inclusivity in young children, which requires investment, would be a major contributor to increasing opportunity and lowering prejudice.
Secondly, many in this debate will know of the Gini coefficient and its relevance to inclusivity. I have expressed in previous debates my real concern about the disparity between those at the bottom of pay scales and those at the top, and it is a gap that is getting larger with the years. Further, it now appears that the gig economy is reinforcing rather than improving that trend. This area deserves our serious attention.
However, the main point I wish to make in this debate is the need for tolerance to maintain an inclusive society. The relentless drive for all things to be online certainly brings many conveniences—indeed, our proceedings today would not be possible without them—but as the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, observed, for many disadvantaged households it amplifies their challenges. It is those households where children have been unable to get online learning in lockdown and those households who cannot access online support.
All the definitions of an inclusive society include the need to build trust and the need for mutual understanding. I have always believed that tolerance is one of the most important values in all truly liberal democracies. For me, tolerance is far more of an active value than simply being bothered by what others do; it demands an understanding of what others believe in order to create an active desire to tolerate their views and beliefs, ensuring plurality of thought in the great market of ideas.
Internet media outlets feed like opinions and bar differing opinions, reinforcing held views which are translated through social media into silos of mutual intolerance. The web cannot be uninvented but its effects need to be understood and regulated. Perhaps we should be teaching that in our primary schools.
My Lords, one of the results of the pandemic is that an already very poor literacy rate in schools will have worsened further. Adults with poor literacy skills are more likely to be unemployed or in low-paid jobs and there is a link between low levels of literacy and shorter life expectancy, depression and obesity. Nine million adults in the UK are functionally illiterate.
All my younger working life was involved with the book trade, publishing and bookselling. Books were fundamental to my world, so it came as a shock when, in my 20s, I began to realise just how many adults could not read. For some time, I volunteered for what is now the excellent National Literacy Trust. As I got to know my students, it shocked me just how excluded from normal everyday life they were. Illiteracy equals exclusion.
The underinvestment in our libraries is a national disgrace. Funding for public libraries has fallen so much in a decade, from £1 billion in 2009 to under £750 million 10 years later—so it has fallen by a quarter. Before the Minister blames local government for those cuts, let us remember that central government has cut funding for local government at a lethal rate. Let us also remember that the public libraries Act 1964 requires central government to oversee and improve public library services. The cuts have meant public libraries having a quarter less books to lend, fewer professional staff and fewer libraries.
School libraries are extremely important in getting children interested in books and reading. The Sunday Times recently revealed that 2,000 pupils are set to enter secondary school unable to read properly, so I really welcome the UK Children’s Laureate’s campaign. Cressida Cowell is the Children’s Laureate at the moment, and it was previously Michael Rosen—who is also working on this campaign and, of course, has had very severe Covid—Michael Morpurgo and Jacqueline Wilson. They are all campaigning to get the Government to commit £100 million to restore and refurbish primary school libraries, because literacy is the surest way to build the foundations our children need to develop their knowledge and imagination and to grow a brighter future.
OECD research found that childhood reading ability was a more certain predictor of future success than a family’s socioeconomic status—in other words, it is the key. Children’s literacy is the key to inclusion throughout their life. Literacy is not a cost to the economy or a luxury to be considered when times are good; it is the key to inclusion and a fundamental part of personal achievement and national economic success.
I am glad that we could make that work. I now call the noble Lord, Lord Jones.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and acknowledge her steadfast work on poverty.
Newly Prime Ministerial Mrs May made a heartfelt and sincere reference to those “just getting by” from her lectern in Downing Street. That is a thoughtful phrase, but what of those not getting by? How many are not getting by? How many millions? Where is their inclusivity? When shall they get by? Who shall champion them? One recollects the late Lord Dahrendorf’s haunting phrase, “the underclass”—that is not woke but an accurate description.
More than a generation ago, Matthew Parris, the distinguished Times commentator, holed up in the north-east—classic red wall territory—and tried to live on, I think, £70 per week. It was very grim; he managed—just. Today, those at the fringes of our communities and those in hopelessness need our help. The gap between those of us “just getting by” and those of us enjoying prosperity and luxury has become huge. This is a major challenge to the statecraft of Governments.
The Palace of Westminster has lost status. We, swathed in ermine, supported by servants and surrounded by paintings, carvings, statues, silken wallpapers and gilt, talk most concernedly of social justice, poverty and its antidote: inclusivity. But what action might we engender, especially for youth and for black and Asian citizens, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, implied?
We seem to be getting a bit of feedback from the noble Lord, Lord Jones, so we will carry on to the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, and then, because we have time, we will try to come back to the noble Lord for his conclusion. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has secured this very important debate and introduced it forcefully. I shall focus on children, who have been mentioned by several noble Lords. All children must be included and given a voice in any post-pandemic action affecting them, as they should have been during the pandemic. I hope we will learn from the experience of Covid and have the confidence to explore ideas and implement changes where necessary.
I ask the Government to develop and introduce a children’s charter based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Such a charter could build on what we know and have learned. We have evidence on children to do this, from parliamentary work on children, from the efforts of the former Children’s Commissioner, from the voluntary sector—which is brilliant on children —and from teachers and other people who work with children. An inclusive dialogue on such a charter between all agencies and including children from diverse backgrounds would be a useful and inclusive exercise in itself and could clarify future needs and commitments to our children. Such a charter would be a sign of our commitment to respect and implement the best interests of the child, as set out in the UN convention. Wales has worked on this, and Scotland is doing so.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified by the UK Government in 1991, but it is not part of our domestic law. Every five years, our Government are required to report to the UN committee on the progress they have made on implementing the UNCRC. The UN committee responds and our voluntary sector responds, led by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England. It is a useful and critical dialogue. The next one will be in 2022. The last called on the UK to provide better co-ordination of all activities for children across relevant sectors of government and therefore of all structures at national, local and international level to work with children. I strongly support, as others do, the growing enthusiasm for a Cabinet-level Minister for children and for greater co-ordination of services for children at national and local level.
The UNCRC has 45 articles, and I shall highlight but a few. They are all issues we would as parliamentarians believe are important to keep under scrutiny for children. Some we would now wish to enhance as things have changed; for example, concerns about children’s involvement in the internet and other media and some of the dangers, issues of climate change, and issues of aid to children in less developed countries. Other articles of the UNCRC promote the concept of the welfare of the child—that is, all those under 18—as paramount; the right of children to protection from all forms of violence; the right of children to express views on issues relevant to them; the right to a social life; the right to education which develops all talents and abilities, the right to health and learning about health; the right to good adoption practices; the right to family life; the right to support for refugees and immigrants; the right to leisure and play; the right to protection from drugs and other illegal substances; the right to youth justice; the right to benefits through social security, and the right to accurate information from all sources, including the media.
Many of those issues were raised by my noble friend Lady Lister as post-Covid priorities: childcare, fiscal support for children, funding for local authorities, poverty and inequalities. Other noble Lords have also entered this debate on children.
This very well-respected convention, the UNCRC, could be a basis to work from. How better to create an inclusive society than to involve children, parents, local communities, politicians, the new commissioner for children in England and other commissioners and all those who work with children in developing a charter for children? I believe that this will be a vibrant, exciting and powerful initiative. I believe there is an appetite for developing such a charter and the talent and imagination to do so. How will the Government respond?
We appear to have identified the problem with the feedback affecting the noble Lord, Lord Jones, so we will try him again.
Mr Tony Blair’s foundational mantra is the place to start: education, education, education—especially north of Greater London. Surely we can fashion, in the 2020s, a skills and apprenticeship programme that properly meets the needs of youth and nation. Prince Bismarck did quite some time ago, so why not have an all-party collaboration to fashion the first national living wage? The minimum wage has been a trailblazer, not least in my own homeland, the lovely land of Wales.
I believe that sport can be a positive for inclusivity. I have met Mr Muhammad Ali and I have watched Sir Viv Richards strike an imperious ton at Old Trafford—and has not Red Devil Mr Rashford kicked open the 10 Downing Street door for the inclusivity of vacational meals for our youngsters? Those are role models indeed. Dame Ellen navigated the oceans, steely-armed Rachael won the Grand National, and a feisty young woman from Britain won and gained Olympic gold.
To conclude, surely a boost to sports provision in northern townships would engender more inclusivity, an alternative to broken glass, empty tubes and spent syringes. Northern Astroturf can rival the playing fields of Eton College.
Thank you, Lord Jones—that was well worth waiting for. I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, who will be followed by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel.
Another voice, and this time a loud one, from Wales. What I see from here is the terrible toll that the pandemic has taken on the human family. So many millions have died and so many millions are in terrible straits, but there are one or two positive things as well. I hope that we have learned to avoid some of the mistakes made this time round. If we face a similar challenge, we might be better equipped to meet it. However, there are also positive lessons that could continue. As my noble friend Lord Thurso mentioned, where would we be without virtual communication? Our Parliament would be silent, nobody could continue with their legislation, our councils would have come to a halt, and our churches would not be able to have their Zoom services. Without this new device, for many of us—without Zoom services, and so on—we would be in a world of silence.
Families who have been unable to touch or hug each other have been able to talk together and see each other. I am so grateful, and I am hopeful that being able to see each other virtually will continue, enlarge and strengthen, so that if we ever have another pandemic of this sort, we will know much better how to tackle it. I have friends from Sydney and Toronto, as well as from many places in the United Kingdom, who now do not have to travel to committee meetings but can tackle them from home. A hybrid solution in the future could well be a positive consequence of this pandemic. We will be able to see each other, to travel the world. Is it time that we thought about preparation—although I hope that it is never needed—and prepared people to use this to the utmost in any other similar situation? We must use every possible means to prepare and instruct.
The noble Lord, Lord Sikka, has withdrawn.
My Lords, my noble friend introduces a broad topic: inclusion—religious, racial, social and economic. They are all important, but I will speak about economic inclusion. To me, economic inclusion means the ability to participate, to contribute and to share in the benefits of our economy.
Central to participating in the economy are skills, education, training, retraining and, yes, attitude. We have heard many fine words, particularly about further education, plus a White Paper pledging pioneering reforms to reshape the landscape. At the centre of this agenda are the colleges of further education. Many of them were in financial difficulties before Covid, and the decision by the Treasury to claw back funding from colleges which delivered less than 90% of planned courses—largely because of Covid—makes a mockery of the Government’s fine words. This action undermines the Government’s own policies and makes inclusion after Covid less likely.
When we had an industrial strategy council, it could have held the Government to account over this, but it was disbanded. An industrial strategy gives a sense of national purpose that we can all get behind, but this has been replaced with a plan for jobs, which some have described as mainly a list of existing policies with broad ambitions and few targets. This will do nothing for inclusion after the pandemic. Indeed, it will lead to a loss of skills, a continuing unproductive economy, and a resulting loss of competitiveness.
As far as participation in the rewards is concerned, we seem to be going backwards. Work is becoming more precarious, with some one in 10 workers facing losing their job and being rehired on worse terms. “Fire and rehire” is growing and will expand when the furlough period ends. This, along with bogus self-employment and employment through agencies after you have signed your rights away all make for a less inclusive society, which seems to be on the horizon, not a more inclusive society, especially regarding young people at work, where a special effort is needed. Fortunately, a growing number of companies believe that making employees feel they belong and are included makes for a stronger and better-performing business. There has been talk of an employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech next month. Inclusion should be central to it. The IMF and others forecast an economic recovery, but one with widening and enduring inequality. Surely inclusion must be a major part of our response.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Lister on the powerful and comprehensive way in which she introduced this debate. I declare an interest as a vice-president of the National Autistic Society. I begin by paying tribute to a good friend, Dame Cheryl Gillan, who died last week. Cheryl was chair of the All-Party Group on Autism, the pioneer of legislation on autism and the person who persuaded the Council of Europe to investigate the impact of autism on families across our continent. We owe her a great debt.
What is an inclusive society? In an excellent Library paper, we are reminded that at the World Summit for Social Development it was defined as “society for all”, a point made by my noble friend Lady Ritchie, but if you are autistic the world does not seem that inclusive. Awareness of autism and understanding autism are not the same thing. Poor public understanding has profound consequences for autistic people. Polling carried out by the National Autistic Society shows that while 99% of people know about autism, just 16% of autistic people feel that the public understand what it means to be autistic. Some 80 out of every 100 autistic people have felt socially isolated because of a lack of public understanding. However, not all is despair. The Government will publish their autism strategy in May and so much hope is being invested in this. I hope that the strategy commits to creating and properly funding a long-term national autism understanding campaign, aimed at shifting the attitudes and behaviour of millions of people.
I will concentrate my remarks today on two aspects of living with autism: employment and social care. Not all autistic people will be able to work, but three-quarters of unemployed autistic people want to do so. Despite this, the Office for National Statistics report shows that 22% of autistic adults are not in employment of any kind. Sixty Members of our House signed up to take part in this debate. If we were all autistic, just 13 of us would ever have had a job in our life. The National Autistic Society’s research has uncovered some of the barriers to getting into employment. Only four in every 100 autistic adults said Jobcentre Plus staff have a good understanding of autism. It is vital that staff have the knowledge and understanding required adequately to support autistic jobseekers. Some 40% of autistic adults need employment support, but just 12% receive it. What is more, most employers have a poor understanding of autism and the support that autistic people will need. This lack of understanding was identified as one of the key barriers to closing the employment gap. Many employers lack the confidence to employ autistic people, believing that an autistic person would require too much support.
It is vital that we see clear actions in the forthcoming autism strategy and the national disability strategy on what the Government plan to do close the autism employment gap, especially following the Covid pandemic. For many autistic people, social care is the difference between being able to leave the house or not, being able to wash, dress and eat or not and being able work or not. Prior to the Covid outbreak, the provision of basic care for autistic people was already dangerously low, but the virus has reduced care provision further, leaving many parents and carers feeling abandoned. Seven out of 10 autistic adults are living without the support they need. One in five family members have reduced their work due to caring responsibilities for their youngsters. The Covid outbreak has uncovered fundamental problems with the social care system and highlighted the significance of its underfunding. Years of underfunding have left councils and providers struggling without the resources they need. The Care and Support Alliance is calling for immediate and sufficient funding to stabilise the social care system to ensure that it does not collapse in the worst affected areas. Looking to the future, we need the Government to put forward a long-term plan for social care that creates a fair, effective and sustainable care system for autistic people and their carers. That would be a real step towards creating an inclusive society for all.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and a recent former trustee of UNICEF UK.
I start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on securing this important debate and Members of your Lordships’ House on their excellent, wide-ranging contributions. The noble Baroness referred to the Beveridge report and the Sunday Times editorial. I always think that we should go back to John Stuart Mill and his liberal safety net, to which noble Lords have referred.
My noble friend Lord Beith reminded us that crises often last longer than we expect. He rightly focused on the use during the pandemic of powers that seem to be creeping into our lives afterwards, with an impact on our human rights. Freedom remains the right of all our citizens. The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, also reminded us of the importance of that. I disagree with her views about LTNs and creating new ways of travel, but LTNs should not be made in isolation. We should also increase public transport, with buses and minibuses in those communities as well as wider pavements for pedestrians and wheelchair users.
My noble friend Lady Tyler reminded us that the World Bank has put us on notice to make our society more resilient in future from whatever shocks of whatever nature. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, linked to the United Nations’ warning of the explosion of inequalities across the globe. She and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, reminded us of the difficulties facing the economy after needing to spend at such high levels to manage the crisis and that this is likely to continue. We say that austerity may look attractive to get the books back in order but, for all the reasons that most other speakers have given, balancing society is as important as balancing the economy and we may have to bear this for some time longer.
The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, rightly pointed out that we need a more joined-up government plan. Where is the big plan for children—a theme much repeated this afternoon? The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, was right to say that the pandemic is not a leveller but in fact has highlighted every weakness in our society. The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, warned us that if we do not tackle social policies now, the current inequalities will grow rapidly. Virtually every speaker has made that point on an area that they feel strongly about. However, until we have a strategic overview that is grasped by government, it will not become a shared purpose for us as a nation.
The whole-life approach is absolutely a post-pandemic tool. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, reminded us of the Marmot review, which ran in parallel with Hurricane Maria. The effects of the pandemic on our society will still be emerging for some time. Issues such as the missing of serious, life-threatening illnesses because of disruption to the NHS for more than a year, with the subsequent mortality rates, will shock us all. My noble friend Lady Tyler said that the Lords Public Services Committee’s report needed a government strategy to be published. Can the Minister tell us when that will happen?
The treatment of paid and unpaid carers over the past year, during the pandemic, has highlighted a problem with social care. Many of our unpaid carers are saving the country billions, but at what cost to them, their safety and their families?
Much has been said about food banks, the cost of renting properties and cliff edges for those living in or on the edge of poverty. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, spoke of food rights for everyone. She talked about the need to provide a free, nutritious meal to all schoolchildren and said that these facilities should also be used for other services. There are some innovative projects going on, particularly in Cornwall, where this is beginning to happen, such as with the use of meals-on-wheels services in local school dining halls.
The universal credit £20 uplift must be made permanent. But perhaps now is the time we need to pilot a universal basic income, as happened in California, where local mayor Michael Tubbs, the then mayor of Stockton, introduced it in 2019 with astonishing results.
A child poverty strategy is definitely needed, and well beyond education. Youth services need to be restored. They have been cut for far too many years. Delays to access to children’s specialist health services, especially those such as speech and language therapy and child and adolescent mental health services, where there are often extremely long waiting lists, impact severely on all our children’s lives.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester rightly set out the important role that faith communities have played in this pandemic. They are key to helping to strengthen the third sector as we come out of the pandemic. As someone who normally sits in a church pew, I have been delighted with the streaming of services online and the many steps that different faith organisations have taken to bring their services and activities into people’s homes, such as talking to elderly people who have seen virtually no one face to face for months with telephone trees to make sure that that contact is made regularly. At one church, the audio-visual team copies the services on to discs and hand delivers them to the elderly members of the congregation for whom YouTube is a step too far.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, talked about nudge theory behavioural scientists and had some excellent proposals that we should learn from for the future. Let us use those techniques to reduce obesity and diabetes, as well as infectious diseases.
The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, talked about the loneliness of many, especially the elderly, during the pandemic. We humans are social beings and we have a stark reminder that each of us needs to reach out to those we know—and to those we may not know—who may be lonely.
The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, spoke movingly about the problems of young girls and boys and of the inappropriate and harmful websites that have also been another problem in lockdown. I am afraid that is cyberbullying, and that also needs to be tackled when we see the online harms Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, reminded us of the important link between literacy and lifespan. Lack of literacy equals exclusion. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, laid out very clearly why we should implement the UN charter on the rights of the child.
On the Sewell report, I am afraid I disagree with the noble Lords, Lord Dobbs and Lord Farmer. I understand where they are coming from but until every member of our society—particularly those who have protected characteristics—can say that they are not discriminated against, we as a society have to remove those barriers and keep working on it. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, that the data does not lie. The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, spoke movingly of what needs to happen, not just to shift that data but also the culture of those who are not equal, whether through gender, race, disability or social inequality.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, set out the importance of sport and physical activity as part of the recovery as well as mentioning the volunteering roles that sports and gym staff took during the pandemic.
Homelessness has become a real problem over the last year. We must find better mechanisms to get the homeless into accommodation, especially single, young, disadvantaged people and vulnerable single, young people coming from care. We have a national problem now with rent levels and lack of security in the rented sector. The Government need to act to make changes here.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, spoke of building back greener. Sustainable housing is absolutely essential, and it is not just about insulation and energy but also building for a lifetime. All that is needed is an extra £2,000 spent on a new build now with slightly wider doorways and the underlying plumbing to make it easier to turn to a bathroom into a wet room for somebody who cannot get into a bath later in life. When will those appear in the Part 3 planning regulations?
The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, told us how disabled people have fared during the pandemic and how things for which they have fought for years are now normal for everyone, such as working from home. Let us learn those lessons and not just let them be a temporary issue during the pandemic.
The noble Baroness also spoke about long Covid, which at last is being taken seriously by the medical profession. For many of us with underlying conditions who have to live with chronic fatigue and other autoimmune disease problems, what people with long Covid are facing is not news, but a large number of new people stranded by long Covid and facing the medical and employment problems resulting from this serious condition might be helpful as it will provide the reset that we need in the way that we approach chronic illness. My noble friend Lady Jolly spoke movingly for those with learning disabilities living in supported accommodation and about the trials of being separated even further by the pandemic. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, set out the problems faced by autistic people trying to get into work. It is not just autistic people; most disabled people find it very difficult to get into work. The care Green Paper is long overdue, and the Government must find mechanisms for funding it properly and imaginatively, because it is vital that these citizens deserve the standards that we just take for granted.
There has been considerable lack of support for disabled people in the pandemic in access to basic and essential services, PPE for them and their carers, and do not get me started on the do not resuscitate orders. Those wanting a children’s Minister need to know that there is real worry in the disabled community that the Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP, is totally invisible, so I warn that a title alone is not enough and there must be funding and support for any such Ministers, whether for disabled people or children, to deliver their roles.
My noble friend Lady Walmsley made a very important point about social workers working remotely regarding children at risk. It is vital that we get services back to normal, even if it is a new normal, as soon as possible. The most vulnerable children in our society deserve that risk assessment and support.
The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, talked about the importance of devolution with the local settlement and we agree with that, but I am looking forward to the Government delivering it. On business, my noble friend Lord Razzall supports more localism. The power and funding of local government has diminished over the past four decades, and that must be remedied. Tinkering with council areas, unitary bodies and elected mayors is not going to change services after cuts in front-line funding. As the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, outlined, public health and social care reforms are urgently needed. One part of the 2012 health reforms that worked is the vital role of local directors of public health. Let us learn the lesson of how that has worked and take it forward.
I shall end on a point about international aid. My noble friend Lord Bruce outlined the problems of the cuts. It is important that we listen to UNICEF and other organisations. UNICEF delivers the largest number of vaccines in the world year on year. The work it does will support the WHO, which tells us that not one country is safe until we are all safe. That is true for Covid-19, but it is also true for our worldwide society.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA. What a tremendous debate has been brought here today by my noble friend Lady Lister, a leading expert on poverty and social policy. Her powerful opening speech demonstrated knowledge and experience in a devastatingly accurate way. It was inspirational, thought-provoking and an opening for many noble Lords to speak from their own expertise on these most important subjects. I am sure we will return to these topics time and time again as our country tries to recover from what has happened to us and we build back a better and more inclusive society—a society for all, as noted by my noble friend Lord Touhig.
This pandemic has shown us all who we truly are as countries. The sheer determination of people to help others in need has shone a light on the community spirit found in every town, village and city across our nations and regions. The kindness of not only nurses and doctors but of all key workers, such as supermarket staff, teachers and delivery drivers, has made us all aware of who really keeps our four nations running. The vaccine, from the scientists of Oxford to all the workers and volunteers involved in the rollout, has shown us the tremendous success we can find if we unite behind a common purpose.
However, the pandemic has also made it all too clear that we live in an unequal society. As my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti said, it has been a magnifier of every inequality and injustice. The IFS estimates that, during the pandemic, black Caribbean deaths are 1.8 times those of white British; Pakistani deaths are 2.7 times as high; and black African fatalities three times higher. The same study also found that Bangladeshi men are four times more likely than their white counterparts to have jobs in industries which have been closed. On top of this, research by the BMA revealed that almost double the proportion of BAME doctors have felt pressurised to work in settings with insufficient PPE, compared with their white counterparts. The comments made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, referring to Trevor Phillips were somewhat partial when talking about racism and racial inequalities. The point Trevor Phillips made was that racial inequalities are a feature of UK society, but they are being exploited in different ways by people with extreme views and those wishing to exacerbate cultural divisions in society. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, summed it up perfectly just now when she said that protected characteristics need to continue to be protected in our unequal society.
Women too have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of the pandemic, especially since they are more likely to work in sectors which have been hit hardest by lockdowns. According to the Autonomy think tank, over 77% of “high risk” roles during this crisis are occupied by women. The closure of schools and nurseries has impacted millions of parents’ ability to work. This particularly affects women, who are more likely to have unpaid caring responsibilities.
The Committee will also no doubt be aware of the impact of the pandemic on disabled people, who have made up around six in 10 of all deaths involving Covid-19, with the risk of death three times greater for more severely disabled people. In addition to this, disabled people have had significant reductions in the support they need to live independently. Last August, Mencap found that, during the first lockdown, 69% of people with a learning disability had had their social care cut or reduced.
There is also a class divide, which has been brutally exposed. The number of fatalities in the most deprived areas is proportionately far higher than in more affluent ones. On top of this, living with restrictions has been more difficult for those on lower incomes, due to digital exclusion and smaller living spaces, as powerfully expressed by my noble friends Lord Whitty and Lady Drake, who noted that adults are three times more likely to rent, rather than buy, houses than 20 years ago. Both emphasised the huge digital and technological gap, with limited skills and access to technology. We have seen problems across our school systems, with pupils being unable to access blended learning provided by their teachers. Schemes produced to adjust this imbalance have been woefully inadequate.
While it is true that, at times, the pandemic has shown the absolute best of our countries—as a kind, compassionate and determined society—we must also recognise the brutal inequalities which have been laid bare. These divisions intersect: we know, for instance, that black and disabled women are overrepresented in precarious labour. To truly understand how unequal our society can be, we must look at how inequalities connect and relate to each other, rather than considering them as stand-alone issues. Instead of accepting these inequalities as an inevitability, as this Government so often seem to, we need to use this moment to confront them.
My noble friend Lady Sherlock likened the pandemic to the effects of Hurricane Maria, with the longer-term impact of the storm causing a huge shock. Covid disproportionately affected the poorer in our society and will continue to do so. Some 6 million people have been swept into debt, seeing wages fall fastest among lower-income families. I was so struck by her comment about those children who have “chosen their parents with care”. That was a typically understated line from my wise and compassionate noble friend, who always gets to the heart of the matter when supporting those with the greatest need in our society, and she is right when she says that the flourishing of each depends on the flourishing of all.
As the United Kingdom exits from the pandemic, we have an opportunity to ask ourselves who we want to be as a country. We cannot afford to rebuild Britain on the same foundations of inequality which have left so many people vulnerable. We must instead build a more inclusive society, reflecting our values as a country. My noble friend Lord Mandelson offered good advice to the Government when he said that policies require coherence rather than disjointed ventures and that government ideas need scaling and continuity with vision and vigour. My noble friend Lady Royall spoke expertly about the need to build back better and the great determination to bring about an inclusive economy in the work done in Oxford with the Inclusive Economy Partnership, as an ambition to hardwire into the economy.
As a former council leader, I am acutely aware—as I am sure the Minister himself will be—of the power of public procurement. However, the Government need to divest themselves of some of their powers, as indeed the Welsh Government have done in their local government Act, and move them to local authorities. Provisions in that Act, particularly the introduction of a general power of competence and corporate joint committees, will enable Welsh councils to build on the innovation and joint working which have been instrumental in and successful for dealing with the pandemic in Wales.
My noble friend Lord Hendy spoke powerfully about the need to heed the advice of the OECD and fulfil the commitment to reintroduce collective bargaining and social dialogue at work, which will bring opportunities to develop an appropriate and respectful work environment. We have seen during this pandemic the utter dependence upon so many of our key and front-line workers, and they must be rewarded appropriately and dealt with fairly.
My noble friend Lady Lister noted, among her many excellent and thoughtful points, that in her work as a social policy analyst she had previously been critical of how successive Governments had looked to the USA for their social policy inspiration. However, she said that her view had now changed significantly with the new presidency of Joe Biden, who has reasserted the importance of government at all levels and who understands that building back better from a society riven by inequalities and insecurity is not just about building the physical infrastructure; it means investing in the social infrastructure of care services and what his Administration have called the “human infrastructure” of financial support for children and people in poverty. It is indeed inspirational.
When my noble friend Lord Griffiths referred to my noble friend Lady Lister’s published work on the topic of poverty, he found the most apposite idea, that mere statistics will not tell the whole story of poverty. However, one statistic that I believe is worth repeating is that of my noble friend Lord Grocott, who reminded us that 27 of the past 55 Prime Ministers of the UK have been educated at one of only two schools. That is a tiny, unrepresentative source, and indeed is a waste of talent from across many of our wonderful schools in the UK. I can assure the Committee that no former or current First Minister of Wales was educated at either of those two schools, but instead at Colwyn Bay Grammar School, Whitchurch Grammar School, Brynteg Comprehensive School and Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Carmarthen—a much wider range and balance of intake and demographic.
The nub of the challenge is: how do we change? What can we do to rebalance our society? To make a standing start we need to begin the following initiatives as a matter of urgency: a new race equality Act to end structural inequalities, as well as a proper strategy to address health and social care inequalities. We need equal pay reporting to be brought back immediately to monitor the impact of the pandemic, and we also need to tackle the violence against women and girls that has become endemic in the UK. Above all, we need a UK Government who acknowledge that the inequalities which exist in Britain today must be addressed, and if that means taking direct inspiration from the American playbook, then let us do so.
Of course, local government is also an essential part of physical, social and human infrastructure, and I am pleased that Labour candidates across the country are determined to make this happen and have demonstrated how local government leads in practice despite the savaging cuts in services over the past decade. As many noble Lords have said, the effects of the pandemic have not been felt equally. I am glad that Labour in local government is taking note of this as it works to rebuild our country. My noble friend Lord Haskel noted the precariousness of work, with some one in 10 workers facing losing their jobs and being rehired on far worse terms with this fire and rehire syndrome that will inevitably expand when the furlough ends. This is inequality in practice.
We sincerely hope that the restrictions we are currently living under will soon end and never return, but at present there is little hope that the inequalities brought to the surface by the pandemic will similarly disappear. I reiterate the call by my noble friend Lady Lister, at the conclusion of her speech, for the Minister to relay these key messages from this debate to his colleagues in other departments and ensure that they understand that it is all our responsibility in every Government and in every local authority. We are indebted to her for bringing these vital issues for debate to this House today. Let us use this moment to confront these issues, which have always existed but have now become more apparent than ever before. Let us build back a better Britain, which is confident enough to confront these inequalities, rather than accept them as inevitable.
I will conclude with a favourite line from the playwright JB Priestley, from a text that I taught to hundreds of school children over many years, and one that we must keep remembering in these uncertain times. We are a community, and
“We are responsible for each other.”
My Lords, I join in the chorus of noble Lords thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for securing this important debate. We have had a truly insightful and wide-ranging debate, and the contributions from across the Committee have been valuable and reflect our strong collective will to provide opportunity to all those who live in this great country. It has also been an opportunity to float some extremely big ideas, and I thank my noble friend Lady Eaton and the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, for calling for a magna carta for localism, the decentralisation of power and responsibility and the ability to be financially independent. I strongly support that direction of travel. I also note the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on the inequality of access to power. Unfortunately, I did not go to the school which has yielded so many Prime Ministers.
The pandemic has shone a light on our society. It has shown us where we are strong, where communities have come together and where national and local government have stepped in together to great effect. However, it has also demonstrated areas of concern. There has been an increase in loneliness and isolation among many. Some communities have been more affected than others during this pandemic, and latent inequalities have come to the fore. The Government are aware and are taking action. From this devastating virus we can see that there is an opportunity to forge an even more inclusive society. We are doing this by strengthening our public services and enriching the ties that bind each of us to the other and to our nation. I will use my time to outline a few of the ways in which we are working to do this and, in so doing, will address a number of the points that have been raised.
First, I point to the issue of racial inequality, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, and by my noble friend Lord Dobbs, whom I thank for recognising that this country is becoming more inclusive and more tolerant. As a Government, we are committed to ensuring that Britain is a fairer society. We will tackle racial and ethnic inequalities where they exist. That is why we established an independent commission on race and ethnic disparities to explore these issues. As my noble friend Lord Farmer pointed out, its evidence-based report builds on the work of the Race Disparity Unit and previous race-related reviews. It goes further to understand why disparities exist, what works and what does not and has presented 24 recommendations for action across government and other public bodies. It is now time for the Government to consider the commission’s independent recommendations in detail and assess the implications for future government policy, including the future provision of family hubs.
With regard to health inequalities, as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, new data is beginning to show the adverse impact that Covid-19 has had on life expectancy figures. It has also shone a light on the differences in health outcomes between communities. We remain committed to levelling up health outcomes so that everyone can enjoy a long, healthy life. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, raised health inequalities as they relate to disability. In June 2020, the Prime Minister and Health Secretary asked the Minister for Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, to lead cross-government work on the health disparities seen during the pandemic, and she will continue to work on ensuring that we address this. The Government have invested £4.5 million in research to underpin that work.
With regard to equalities, creating the conditions where people are given equal access to opportunity is a fundamental part of the Government’s vision for an inclusive society. We have therefore created an integrated, joined-up Equality Hub in the Cabinet Office, at the heart of government, which will report to Ministers who have other portfolios outside the Cabinet Office, led by the Minister for Women and Equalities. In response to the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Fox, I will ensure that the Government listen to the issues raised in this debate. The hub will have a key role in driving government priorities on equality and opportunity. It has a particular focus on improving the quality of evidence and data about disparities and the types of barriers that different people face.
As part of this, the equality data programme will link and analyse government datasets, identifying where individuals have multiple barriers to opportunity and informing policy work in the Equality Hub and across government. This includes statutory protected characteristics but also other aspects of inequality, including socioeconomic and geographic inequality. That gives an opportunity for the Equality Hub to consider the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, on autism and employment and wider issues about access to employment as well as the issues that my noble friend Lady Mobarik raised about widening opportunity and improving the skills agenda and the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, who spoke about the Reset the Debt report—I have not yet read that, but I am sure that the Equality Hub will look into it in great detail. This will also be an opportunity to learn the lessons from the book by the husband of the noble Baroness, Lady Healy, The Dignity of Labour, as well as potentially to invoke some of the Bismarckian solutions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jones.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and many other noble Lords raised the Government’s commitment to levelling up. This approach to inclusivity drives up our levelling-up agenda. The UK Government are committed to levelling up across the whole of the United Kingdom, between and within areas, to ensure that no community is left behind, particularly as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. We have therefore established a £4.8 billion funding pot for investments in infrastructure to improve everyday life across the UK. This includes regenerating town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport and investing in cultural and heritage assets. In addition, we are launching a community ownership fund to help ensure that communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can support, and continue benefiting from, the local facilities, community assets and amenities most important to them.
Beyond levelling up, we are also committed to integration and ensuring that people across the UK feel a connection to society and one another. We have developed innovative programmes to address the issue, working closely with local authorities and community partners. The United Kingdom is generally regarded as well integrated; 84% of people report belonging strongly to Britain, and 81% say that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together. Of course, there is always more work to be done, and we have forged a partnership approach between national and local government on our integration area programmes, testing a localised approach that supports partners in local areas across England to work together to build more united communities and places.
English language teaching is also a crucial part of promoting inclusivity and integration and, indeed, was a core manifesto commitment. We know that a lack of English presents a clear barrier to social and economic mobility. The Government are proud of their record in this space, which includes our ESOL for Integration Fund, supporting highly localised, community-based English language learning in areas of greatest need.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, also called for an increase in the welfare safety net, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, invoked the spirit of John Stuart Mill. The Government are committed to delivering a modern, fair and affordable welfare system. This is especially important as we come out of the pandemic, which is why we will spend more than £57 billion on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions in 2021-22. That represents around 2.6% of GDP. This is a significant chunk of total welfare spending in Great Britain, which will be £241 billion in 2021-22. That is 23% of total government spending and around 10.7% of GDP.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, raised and highlighted the importance of digital connectivity. The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, also highlighted the digital divide that affects marginalised communities. To tackle the digital divide and support connectivity, the Government have worked closely with providers to ensure that social tariffs that provide low-cost landline and broadband services for those on means-tested state benefits are in place. DCMS has launched a £2.5 million Digital Lifeline Fund that will provide devices, data and support to 5,000 adults with learning disabilities. On 10 March, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced 10 technology priorities to support the digital tech sector and drive digitally-enabled growth, both in the context of Covid-19 and into the future.
My noble friend Lady Eaton, the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, and the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, raised adult social care. The Government are committed to sustainable improvement of the adult social care system and will bring forward plans for reform later this year. Our objectives for adult social care reform are to enable an affordable, high-quality adult social care system that meets people’s needs while supporting health and care to join up services around people.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Tyler, and a number of other noble Lords raised the issue of children. As a Government, we are investing £84 million in the strengthening families, protecting children programme and £17 million in the investing in practice programme. Since 2014, our innovation programme has invested almost £200 million in 98 projects that are enabling local authorities to test new approaches to supporting children in the social care system. We have provided an additional £12.4 million in 2021 to support 14 innovation programme projects to continue delivery and extend their evaluations to capture further learning.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Benjamin, Lady Massey of Darwen and Lady Lister, and many others called for a Cabinet member for children. As a humble Minister, I am all for Cabinet inflation, and I will do my best to lobby for my friend—a university contemporary of mine—who is the incumbent Minister for Children and Families to see what we can do about ensuring that there is a Minister of Cabinet rank for children.
The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, raised Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act. In October 2019, the Government announced that they would deliver the objective of protecting children online through the online harms regulatory framework instead of Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017. The online safety Bill will be ready later this year and, in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, I am sure that we will address the issues of cyberbullying within that context.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, raised the issue of education. Education is a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to inclusivity and represents a significant challenge, with schooling so disrupted during the pandemic. To tackle this, the Department for Education recently announced a £700 million package for the expansion of one-to-one and small-group tutoring programmes, as well as supporting the development of disadvantaged children in early years settings and summer provision for those pupils who need it most.
We also recognise the important role of out-of-school settings such as extracurricular clubs, youth organisations and tuition centres, in providing enriching activities, giving children the opportunity to socialise with others and promoting their well-being. This remains a priority for the Government. Therefore, as of 12 April, in line with the commencement of step 2 of the Government’s roadmap, out-of-school settings can offer provision to all children, without restriction on the reasons for which they may attend.
This is all part of the Government’s recognition that levelling up and pursuing socioeconomic equality is a cross-government endeavour. The Social Mobility Commission plays a major part in this and has recently moved to a team in the Cabinet Office, to ensure that this is led from the heart of government.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and other noble Lords raised the issue of homelessness. We know that this continues to be a scourge on our society. In 2020-21, we put in place a total of over £700 million on homelessness and rough sleeping, as well as an unprecedented level of support to tackle these over 2021-22. This includes £676 million in resource funding, a 60% increase compared to the spending review in 2019. The Government will be spending over £750 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping this year, further demonstrating our commitment to end rough sleeping during this Parliament and to fully enforce the Homelessness Reduction Act.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, raised the issue of social housing. The Government are committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing and are investing over £12 billion in it over five years. That is the largest investment in affordable housing in a decade. This includes £11.5 billion in the affordable homes programme, which will provide up to 180,000 new homes across the country, should economic conditions allow. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, we are still analysing responses to the consultation on raising accessibility standards for new homes. I am sure that our response will follow imminently.
Turning to arts and culture, the Government are committed to equal rights for all, and firmly believe that everyone, regardless of their background, should have the opportunity to build a successful career in the creative industries. To this end, we have invested over £2 million in the creative careers programme in partnership with industry, leading to over 113,000 student interactions with over 1,000 creative sector employers. We also recognise the value that apprenticeships play in enabling people of all backgrounds to progress in work, earning as they learn, and the Government are committed to further levy reform.
Last year’s £1.57 billion support package for the culture sector by the Government was unprecedented. To date, £1.2 billion has been allocated from the Culture Recovery Fund, reaching over 5,000 individual organisations and sites. These range from world famous heritage sites such as Canterbury Cathedral to the great Glastonbury festival, and from West End theatres to the Wolverhampton Grand. Museums will continue to play a key community role as places that bring people of all backgrounds together for learning, enjoyment and inspiration, as well as providing a space for civic activities and reflection.
Beyond the important work being undertaken by the Government, I would like to take a few minutes to focus my final remarks on what my department is doing, and what I am doing within my portfolio, to build an inclusive society. We have discussed the many impacts of Covid—not least the disproportionate impacts felt by some groups, which has been a constant theme of the pandemic. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for asking me specifically what steps the Government have taken to listen to marginalised groups who have suffered most during the pandemic.
Through the community champions scheme, the Government are providing almost £24 million for local authorities and voluntary groups to support those who are most at risk from the virus. This includes providing people with targeted public health messaging as well as information on the vaccination programme to allay the fears of those who might be unsure about getting a jab. The communities involved in the community champions scheme are varied and include: black and minority ethnic communities; at-risk young people; Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities; groups with disabilities; the elderly; the homeless; asylum seekers; and refugees. We are rightly very proud of this scheme because it represents the best of national and local partnerships.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester on the importance of our faith communities. We cannot expect to make progress on fostering an inclusive society without them. They represent fundamental pillars of civil society engagement. Throughout the pandemic, faith communities and places of worship have provided solace to many people, not only for spiritual well-being but also by offering a multitude of support services, often in partnership with local authorities. These are collaborative efforts that I want to see continue in the post-pandemic landscape.
We are working closely with the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities; the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, highlighted some of the issues faced by Traveller communities in particular. We know that they face challenges in terms of educational, social and health outcomes, which can lead to greater societal exclusion. We have been working to improve these outcomes, but we recognise that we need to go further. We will soon publish a cross-government GRT strategy.
Unfortunately, we know that hate crime continues to undermine efforts across the United Kingdom to make our country a prosperous and inclusive place to live. The latest figures show that hate crimes are increasing. There is an upward trend in these figures, partly fuelled by people’s confidence to step forward to report these crimes. I am appalled at the attacks that Chinese and east and south-east Asian communities have endured during the pandemic. I convey my sympathies to all those who have suffered discrimination and abuse. I could not be more adamant that all forms of hatred, including that based on race, are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. We have one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world to protect communities from hostility, violence and bigotry and deal with the perpetrators of hate crime.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to put on record formally that we wholeheartedly welcome Hong Kong British nationals (overseas) into this country. We are delighted that Hong Kongers are choosing to come to this country. Facing restrictions on their freedoms, they have taken up the British Government’s generous offer of providing a pathway to live in the United Kingdom. I am delighted that Hong Kong families coming here on the basis of the Hong Kong BNO visa route will benefit from a dedicated £43-million package of support to help them settle successfully into life in this country. As my right honourable friend the Communities Secretary said recently:
“We are a champion of freedom and democracy and will live up to our responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong, so that these families will come to find the UK a place they can call home.”
I could talk for far longer on the need to build an inclusive society following the pandemic and what the Government will continue to do to ensure that we build on the work already taking place. By ensuring that communities have every opportunity to succeed, there is a clear route to an inclusive society where all citizens can achieve their aspirations, no matter their background. We do not underestimate the scale of the task. Indeed, it is one of the biggest long-term challenges that we will continue to face, but we stand ready to tackle it and we will do all we can to continue to make the United Kingdom an inclusive place to live.
I call the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, who initiated this important debate, to bring it to a conclusion.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has spoken, as well as the noble Lord the Minister. I have written a lot of notes but now I cannot read them, so my response may not be as coherent as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and my noble friend Lady Wilcox, both of whom very skilfully summed up what had been said by noble Lords. I will not try to replicate what they did because they did it so well.
I thank the Minister; I feel that he drew the short straw because this is such a difficult debate to respond to, given the breadth of issues covered. However, I could not help but feel that he painted a rather rosy picture of where the Government are at. He did, at the end, acknowledge that there is a lot to do to build an inclusive society. A lot of the time, as is only to be expected, he was there to justify the Government’s position. I will come back to that at the end of my remarks.
Overall, I felt that there was, with one or two exceptions, a shared analysis of the intersecting inequalities and injustices that, as one noble Lord put it, have been “magnified” by the pandemic. Clearly there is a difference in the positions taken on the Sewell report. A number of noble Lords quoted evidence published this week from a couple of sources showing the systemic inequalities faced in particular by black and minority ethnic youth in terms of unemployment. I wonder how that squares with the picture painted in that report and I hope that noble Lords will not dismiss what some colleagues have called the work of zealots—it is hard data.
It was, as I expected, a wide-ranging debate, but a very useful one. A number of the points that I made were enriched by the perspectives that colleagues were able to bring. I was struck by the number of people who drew on the Marmot report and the British Academy review which, together, provide the Government with a compass to help them think about an inclusive society. I do not know whether the Minister has read those reports but, if not, I hope he will and that he will recommend them to his colleagues.
In terms of colleagues strengthening my arguments, a number of people talked about children and made a very strong case for putting children at the heart of building an inclusive society. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will lobby on behalf of the idea of a Cabinet-level Minister for children. This is an idea that is gaining ground—there was once a Minister for Children, but it got relegated to sub-ministerial level. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, warned us that just having a Minister does not make any difference if they are invisible and do not have any resources, which is partly why the demand is for a Minister to be at Cabinet level. If children are to be at the heart of the recovery, there has to be someone at Cabinet level with an understanding of children’s needs across the board. I hope that the Minister will lobby hard on our behalf and perhaps report back at some point to your Lordships’ House as to what the response has been.
I am very pleased that a number of people emphasised the importance of how disabled people have fared during the pandemic and the kinds of policies that we need to make sure that an inclusive society works properly for disabled people.
One of the gaps in my speech—and I am so glad that a number of people addressed those gaps—was housing and homelessness. That relates so closely to poverty, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, pointed out. It also links with themes of sustainability raised by a number of people. We need to build sustainable as well as affordable homes.
I am also very pleased that a number of noble Lords raised digital exclusion. The importance of that has been brought home so clearly during the pandemic, and addressing it has to be part of building an inclusive society.
On international perspectives, a couple of noble Lords spoke about the drastic cuts to international aid, but there was also an international flavour to a number of other points made. We cannot be an inclusive society and shut out the rest of the world; we have to think about what we do and the implications that has for the wider world.
Going from the international to the local, again, I did not address the role of local government adequately in my opening remarks, but a number of noble Lords did so very well. Noble Lords also raised the need to devolve more power and resources to local government, and the relationship of local government and national government to the third sector, community groups and so forth. Of course, although the focus of the debate was on the role of local and national government, we must also remember the role played by such groups.
I was disappointed that the Minister did not address what I said about levelling up. I said, and others echoed, that levelling up is not just about investing in physical infrastructure. We have to level up individuals if we are going to create the more equal society that so many noble Lords talked about. That means investing in what the Biden Administration call the “human infrastructure”, as I said. I hope the Minister will take that message back, because it is a very important one.
A number of noble Lords raised questions about democratic inclusion. That is really important because it links to what I and a number of other noble Lords talked about in terms of listening to what people have to say, and particularly listening to marginalised groups. They talked about democratic inclusion in terms of both politics and industrial democracy, and that links with questions about the meaning of good and dignified work. I would argue—and I am sure that it is argued in Jon Cruddas’s book—that part of the good work agenda is listening to workers so that they have a say in what goes on in their workplace. The Minister did say that the Equality Hub and making money available through local authorities to marginalised groups was about listening. Making money available to local and marginalised groups is of course welcome, but it is not the same as listening to those groups and what they have to say about what needs to change. I am not sure that that message got through, but a number of people echoed it—when it comes to service development or whatever, we really need to listen to what those whose voices are not normally heard have to say.
Overall, I feel that a rich tapestry has been woven in today’s debate. So many important points were made, and I really appreciate my colleagues’ knowledge, experience and wisdom. I hope that the Government are listening. Again, I do not think—forgive me if I missed it—that the Minister picked up on my request that key messages from this debate be relayed to his colleagues in other departments; some other people said that as well. I hope that he will consider that because there is no point in us having this debate for the sake of it; we may be more powerful than some of the people I am speaking about, but we want to be heard as well. Noble Lords have put in a lot of work and thought a lot about what they wanted to say today.
My final plea to the Government is to listen to what has been said today. Virtually every department has some role to play in building an inclusive society. As I said in my opening remarks, I hope that this debate will mark the beginning of a conversation rather than the end.
My Lords, that completes the business before the Grand Committee this afternoon. I remind Members to wipe their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Committee adjourned at 6.52 pm.