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Reducing Parental Conflict

Volume 831: debated on Thursday 20 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made with the Reducing Parental Conflict programme, and what plans they have for the future of that programme.

My Lords, since its announcement, we have allocated £77 million to the reducing parental conflict programme, 151 local authorities have been directly supported, and the programme has developed evidence and approaches to relationship support that benefit families. We are committed to a cross-government approach to provide a strong, early help offer to families, and we continue integration into local services and alignment with other key government programmes, including family hubs and Supporting Families.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. I am very encouraged about the encouragement of cross-government department working. If I have understood it correctly, Supporting Families is being more aligned to DfE work and family hubs. Does my noble friend agree that there is much to be gained by aligning the reducing parental conflict programme in this way?

I believe the work achieved and continuing to be done within the RPC is invaluable. The programme has had three interim reports published that give strong evidence for that. As announced yesterday, three reports to be published in due course further demonstrate the impact of the programme with more granular detail. We are working to integrate RPC outcomes into other key government programmes, including family hubs and the Supporting Families programme, but for the moment the RPC programme remains firmly within DWP.

My Lords, for this programme, the DWP developed a national offer of parental relationship support. In 2015 it piloted a local family offer in local areas, in 2019 it invited top-tier authorities to apply for strategic leadership support funding and developed a practitioner training offer, in 2021 the DWP offered workforce development grants, and last month it announced £2.8 million funding for eight projects to reduce parental conflict. The Government have just now committed £33 million to be spent on this programme between 2022 and 2025. Will the Minister tell the House where the £33 million is going and the outcome of all these activities?

It certainly remains work in progress. As the noble Baroness said, the reducing parental conflict programme was initiated in 2017 in response to two key pieces of evidence, one of which was the number of children who live in coupled families reporting conflict, which in 2020 was as much as 12%. We have three further evaluation reports coming out. They are enormous—I have seen them. This granular detail will be coming out shortly. It shows, for example, that 90% of those parents who have gone through it have a satisfaction rate, meaning that there is already some valuable information about its success.

My Lords, I am not reassured by what the Minister said about how this is being rolled out. Is there adequate support for people without easy access to digital services? We seem to have an academic exercise. The Minister said it is being rolled out through local authorities. He will know that most local authorities have straitened financial circumstances at the moment. Does the Minister have evidence that they are actually doing something to give face-to-face support to families with these problems?

Very much so. The noble Lord may know that we had a first challenge fund, and we now have a second challenge fund with eight interesting initiatives as part of RPC. For example, one of the challenge funds is looking at the digital side. This has a particular focus on ensuring that those who are not particularly digitally aware can be. The results of that will come out in due course, but I hope that answers directly the noble Lord’s question.

My Lords, I am delighted to hear about all the work that my noble friend and the department are doing and that they have recognised how important the role of stability and the family unit is in creating family cohesion. Does my noble friend agree that it is also important to include the role of grandparents and intergenerational aspects? What are the Government doing in this respect on policy and actions?

My noble friend makes an excellent point about the role of grandparents because I think, and I am sure that the Government think, that for stability within families—which now come in all shapes and sizes, and we must recognise that—the role of grandparents is incredibly important to feed down to their grandchildren certain lessons in life. The family test, which the House will know about, was introduced by the Government in 2014. It aims to bring a family perspective into policy-making, and various tests are used. This is something for which we are responsible in my department, particularly looking at the guidance and the raising of awareness about this initiative.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that his civil servants are briefing Opposition spokesmen on this and other DWP programmes to ensure that there is a smooth transition to the next Labour Government?

I am not going to be tempted into giving an answer to that. I have to tell the noble Lord, as he will expect me to say, that we are fully focused on a major programme of change, including in my particular area. Our aim is to focus on children, and that is the most important thing that we are doing.

My Lords, it is heartening to hear that there is integration going on between departments of government, which has always been a bugbear for us to contend with. I just mention family courts, which post-separation conflict clogs up very expensively, leaving families in destructive limbo. Is my noble friend the Minister taking this area into account to integrate into the policy?

Yes, and my noble friend makes an important point about the link with the MoJ, particularly its work in the family courts. We are watching with interest the progress of work on mediation between parents who are separating. I also endorse my noble friend’s point on wider integration. I would like to reassure the House that the Government are working closely with a focus on relationship dynamics. That is what it is all about. Evidence shows that conflict, which can be intense, frequent and poorly resolved, as we know, can really damage children’s mental health and their longer-term outcomes, including attainment and employment.

My Lords, as a former family judge, I saw a great deal of this. To what extent are the Government able to help with the traumatic effect on so many of these children?

I think I have already alluded to a number of points of help because, first of all, the reducing parental conflict programme sits within my department. We have the Supporting Families programme, which is moving into the DfE quite shortly, and we have the family hubs. On the noble and learned Baroness’s question, we are working across government on family-focused policies, and it is very important that we continue to do that to provide cohesive answers to these very challenging matters.

My Lords, will my noble friend pay tribute to the work of volunteers who man child contact centres, which permit access to warring parents often in a very tense situation? They do a fantastic job. Will he ensure, through the MoJ, that they are properly funded, whether they are in the public or the private sector?

Yes. My noble friend makes a very good point about those who are outside the main programmes but set aside their own time to help, often with some extremely challenging matters. That is often within families themselves. The role of grandparents was mentioned. If there are some issues regarding the parents, the grandparents often have a most important role to step in and help in linking in with those who are skilled and trained in these matters.

My Lords, has the Minister seen the report by Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs, The Family Court and Domestic Abuse: Achieving Cultural Change, produced this week? I refer the Minister to it in this discussion. It is a very simple but important report that I hope he will take account of.

I have not seen that report. I want to provide clarification for my noble friend that reducing parental conflict and domestic abuse are not exactly linked. It is easy to make a link, but the RPC programme seeks to address conflict, not domestic abuse. Having said all that, as my noble friend will know, domestic abuse is incredibly important and this Government are very much committed to preventing it and to ensuring that victims get the support they need.