On 9th December 2015 the House of Lords considered the Government’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill in its second day of Committee.
The Bishop of Durham, Rt Revd Paul Butler, spoke in support of a group of amendments to clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill, concerned with Government reporting on the life chances of children. The amendments sought to require the Government to lay before Parliament a report setting out the measures it proposes to take to improve children’s life chances, and to rename the proposed Social Mobility Commission the ‘Life Chances Commission’. The amendments were withdrawn after the debate.
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I rise to speak first to Amendment 31. Given the serious enthusiasm that the Government have for introducing “life chances” as a title and theme, it would make complete sense for the Government to want to report on improvement in children’s life chances in the future. So I commend this as being entirely in line with the purpose of the whole Bill—it would make sense to report.
I will speak now to Amendments 36 to 40 and 42 to 45, and I would like to keep us in the north-east of England. Yesterday, it was my privilege to open the new building for Holy Trinity primary school in Seaton Carew in Hartlepool, and to then go to Prior’s Mill primary school in Billingham, both of which are Church of England schools. I add that I have visited the school in Berwick that the noble Baroness mentioned and can confirm what she said; it is a very fine school but it has not produced people for higher education in the way that it should.
The proposal to change from a “Social Mobility Commission” to a “Life Chances Commission” gives us a very rare opportunity to change the title of a government commission so that it is understood by the very children whom it seeks to serve. Most of our departments and so on do not resonate with the life, language and conversations of children themselves. However, in both the schools I visited yesterday, I found myself talking with those children about their hopes and their dreams and their fears, but they were longing to talk about the chances and hopes that they had in life. Those were not purely about money: they were about work and home and family and so forth. Not once did I hear any of them talk about social mobility possibilities.
In all seriousness, I say that it would be a much more sensible heading and title for the commission and it would fit much more accurately with the aims and purposes that the Government have stated for life chances, so I would seize this with every opportunity. It would please the children of the nation if they understood what the commission was about.