On 11th May 2016 Lord Farmer led a debate in the House of Lords on the motion “to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to deliver the Life Chances Strategy to transform the lives of the most disadvantaged people in Britain, as outlined by the Prime Minister on 11 January.” The Bishop of Truro, Rt Revd Tim Thornton, spoke during the debate. The full text of his speech and extracts from the Minister’s reply are below.
The Lord Bishop of Truro: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on securing this important debate. He kindly mentioned me in his introduction, and I probably ought to note that I once used to work in a college where, much later, he was on the governing body. He was also very sweet to mention that I might say something interesting. I find that most people look forward to what I have to say rather than look back on it.
I welcome much that is in the life chances strategy. It is good in particular to see the emphasis on the family. Of course, families come in all shapes and sizes and are very important. I had the privilege to be the Anglican Communion’s representative at the Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops on the family last year in Rome. If your Lordships have not yet read it, I commend you to read Amoris Laetitia, the joy of love, Pope Francis’s profound and fascinating document written in response to that synod, where he makes the comment that families do not land from heaven in a perfect state. Families need our support, and I welcome that this is mentioned so well and powerfully in the strategy. I am also especially grateful that the Government have put money into the Church of England LifeSavers scheme, delivering education in primary schools on money and debt. I also want to underline what the Prime Minister said in his speech introducing his strategy on 11 January, that,
“each person is an asset to be realised, human potential is to be nurtured”.
I would say amen to that, would not I?
I declare an interest. As the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, mentioned, I am the chair of the Children’s Society and very proud so to be. In that role, I also welcome much of what is in the strategy. I am keen to see, as the noble Lord said in his introduction, how this strategy is delivered and implemented—and on that, of course, there will be some questions. I remind noble Lords that the Children’s Society, in a recent report called The Debt Trap, showed that 10% of families had previously taken out credit to pay for food for their children. I bring to the attention of this House the recently published United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report, Voices of the Hungry, which, using a food insecurity experience scale developed by the United Nations FAO, shows that, in 2014, 4.7 million people in this country were severely food insecure, while 8.4 million were in some way food insecure. I ask the Government to bring in regular measurement of food insecurity to assist in the life chances strategy and in the very important delivery of it. If you are poor and are food insecure, your chances will inevitably be less.
I accept the good focus in the strategy on early years, but we must not forget older children and that people do not have only one chance. Indeed, the strategy is called life chances, with an “s” on the end. We need to make sure that we are giving chances to people all through their lives. The Seriously Awkward campaign, again run by the Children’s Society, demonstrates that older teenagers, in particular 16 and 17 year-olds, are often forgotten and in many ways fall into a no man’s land; they are neither children nor adults. In this area, as has been mentioned by previous speakers, I underline the importance of mental health. It is a key issue, and I urge the Government to ensure that it is properly resourced—in particular, for older teenagers. I would ask that in looking at this whole matter the Government might consider using some of the additional CAMHS investment to provide programmes to promote positive well-being, particularly targeting groups of children such as those affected by bullying and living outside the family, for whom well-being is known to be lower.
As I say, I welcome much of what the strategy contains, but I would also like to underline: how will it be delivered and implemented? When the Children’s Society published the Good Childhood Report some years ago, it showed—shock, horror—that children themselves value family, friendships and love. Of course, we must not pretend that poverty is not a key factor, hindering many life chances. I urge the Government to put in place mechanisms to assess levels of food insecurity and consider carefully the recommendations in the report that I had the privilege of co-chairing, the Feeding Britain report, which have still not been addressed.
There is not a level playing field, so some people’s life chances are less good than others. It is very good to see a focus in this strategy on opportunity. How do we ensure, at best, that we can encourage everyone and ensure that everyone has the opportunity that they deserve to achieve their human potential? I, too, would like to know what steps the Government are going to take to deliver the strategy and make sure that it is part of a comprehensive package of proposals and not, as it were, an add-on in some way. I underline the need to notice the reasons why people are disadvantaged and so ask for regular means to assess what is happening, most obviously in the area of food poverty. I underline especially the need to work with older teenagers who have mental health issues, and ask Her Majesty’s Government to look at the CAMHS programme and what is on offer for such people, who I fear have limited chances. I urge the Government, in delivering this strategy, to ensure that they are listening in particular to the voices of those for whom the strategy is shaped—those who have few life chances.
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Altmann) (Con) [extract]:
..I certainly agree with the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro on food poverty. We have invested £1 billion over two years in universal infant free school meals, for example. Our measures on education will drive real action and will make a big difference to disadvantaged children both now and in the future.
I echo the sentiments expressed by many noble Lords about the importance of the family and improving life chances via that most important element of any society. I certainly agree with, and support, the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro in that regard. We must continue to affirm and reaffirm the importance of families in helping to give their children the best start in life. I am personally passionate about the role that all members of the family, including grandparents—an often overlooked and underplayed element of many families—can play in improving the well-being of children…
..As my noble friend Lord Holmes, the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro rightly stated, mental health issues must also be tackled. We are making a £290 million investment into mental health by 2020, which will mean, for example, that at least 30,000 more women each year will have access to specialist mental health care during or after pregnancy. We are committed to improving access to better services and promoting early intervention to address children’s and young people’s mental ill health issues before they worsen and we are investing an additional £1.4 billion over the next five years. We have also invested £120 million to introduce waiting time standards for mental health services for the first time.