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Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households: Love Matters Report

Volume 830: debated on Tuesday 13 June 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report of the Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households, ‘Love Matters’, published on 26 April; and what steps they plan to take in response to its findings.

My Lords, I thank all members of the Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households for their report, which underlines the importance of love in family life. This has particular importance for those children with a disrupted family life, hence the focus in our recent strategy for children in the social care system, Stable Homes, Built on Love. We will consider the report’s recommendations alongside the Government’s response to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner Family Review.

I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. There are five key messages in the archbishops’ commission report. The second is that relationships need to be supported all the way through life. Obviously, relationships education in school is one thing, but the thrust is how we support adults in relationships. Adults have to take responsibility for themselves, but there are ways in which support can be offered. How might the Government encourage relationship support, particularly at life transition points?

The right reverend Prelate makes an important point, and the question about when and how the state gets involved in adult relationships is obviously a very sensitive one. Underpinning our approach we have the family test, which means that all departments need to think about the impact of their policies on families, including at the key transition points which the right reverend Prelate referred to. Where the state must be involved in adult relationships, we strive to do so sensitively and effectively. Where families want to engage with the state, those services should feel accessible and non-judgmental.

My Lords, I echo the thanks given to the archbishops for their report, which is a thoughtful and compassionate approach to putting families at the heart of policy-making. One of the key recommendations of the report is to give every child the best possible start in life. Successive cuts to local government funding and other funding have decimated the provision of the Sure Start programme, started under the last Labour Government to provide comprehensive and vital support to children and their families. In the wake of Covid, such support is more important than ever. Will the Minister outline how future funding settlements will take account of the archbishops’ recommendations?

My Lords, some of the work that we are doing has already anticipated the recommendations, including the one to which the noble Baroness referred. She will be aware of our significant investment of around £300 million to enable 75 local authorities to create family hubs designed to give children the best start in life and of our childcare reforms which include £4.1 billion of investment by 2027-28 to fund 30 hours of free childcare for children over the age of nine months.

My Lords, as co-founder of the Family Hubs Network, I am pleased that the archbishops’ report, Love Matters, mentions family hubs more than 30 times and recommends that they also help separating families. The Ministry of Justice’s mediation reforms for England and Wales anticipate family hubs helping separated or separating parents to access services. However, there are not yet family hubs in Wales. While recognising that social care is a devolved matter, how might the Government encourage Wales to integrate family support in this way?

Like my noble friend, the Government are committed to championing family hubs. I will ensure that my officials engage with colleagues in the devolved Administration to share evidence and best practice about them.

My Lords, it is very clear that despite the very important report from the archbishops’ commission, and indeed other reports, the Government have still not grasped the seriousness of this issue. In the north-east, we now have more children in families living in poverty than ever before, or at least in recorded time, and more than elsewhere in the country. It is also the region where the heaviest cuts to local government spending are and where the difference between children who are achieving and those who are not has grown and remains starkly difficult. Do the Government begin to grasp the nature of the problem in areas and regions such as the north- east and what are they going to do to work with those of us from the north-east, including the right reverend Prelate, on how we tackle these urgent issues?

I am pleased to say that I was in the north-east on Friday visiting schools in Hartlepool and was very impressed. The noble Baroness rolls her eyes, but I can only tell her what I saw on the ground, which was teachers working tirelessly with children, children with aspiration striving, and opportunities in their local area which the Government are supporting. Time does not permit me to go through all the initiatives that the Government are taking, but in everything from children’s social care to levelling-up areas to the education investment areas we are very focused on exactly the areas the noble Baroness cites.

My Lords, on a slightly less serious note, the Beatles sang “All You Need Is Love”, but does the Minister agree that while love matters, we need more than that to achieve the worthy recommendations in the report? Does she agree that, specifically, we need more compassion, more political will and more hard cash? Can she tell the House which, if any, of the recommendations the Government are minded to implement and how much additional hard cash they have set aside to achieve that?

In terms of which recommendations we plan to implement, I refer the noble Baroness to my original Answer, which is that we will be responding as part of our response to the Family Review by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and will reflect at that point on the recommendations in this excellent report. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness about compassion, and I agree with her about hard cash. That is why we are making such a significant investment in the children’s social care system, in our support for early years and in children with special educational needs so every child in this country has the best start in life.

My Lords, one of the transition points in a family is divorce and, predictably, no-fault divorce has pushed the rate up. At a seminar yesterday we heard evidence not only on how acrimony over money on divorce depletes children’s assets but on how the bitterness in that process has a lasting effect on their lives. When will the Government set out a timetable for reforming financial provision on divorce and will they ensure that child maintenance is paid? It is shamefully neglected at the moment.

On the noble Baroness’s last point, I know that my colleagues in DWP are making important progress in terms of the payment of child maintenance and I think they would share the noble Baroness’s sentiments when it is not paid. In terms of financial provision on divorce, in April this year the Government asked the Law Commission to carry out a review of the law in this area. It will look at whether the current law on financial provision provides a cohesive framework in which parties can expect fair and sufficiently certain outcomes.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a patron of Dingley’s Promise and thank my noble friend the Minister for her comments on investment and funding. I particularly congratulate the Government on their investment through the safety valve fund and acknowledge that £6.9 million has just been given to Wokingham Borough Council, which is the next-but-one authority to where I live.

I am in such shock to have such appreciation for the Government’s actions, but I thank my noble friend for his comments.

My Lords, inequalities identified in the archbishops’ commission’s report ultimately blight life. Last year, a study estimated that the Government’s austerity policies caused 335,000 excess deaths between 2012 and 2019 alone. Will the Minister answer just two questions? First, what forgiveness have the Government sought from the families of individuals killed by their policies? Secondly, will the Minister ensure that all Bills from now on are accompanied by an assessment showing their capacity to cause premature death?

I am happy to look at the research to which the noble Lord refers, but my own experience of looking at linking mortality to policy is that it is an extremely complicated business and I take exception to the suggestion that any Government—and this Government—would ever intentionally do anything that they believed would harm their people.