Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

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Children and Families Bill - Third Reading 11.06.13

Sharon rounded up the Third Reading debate of the Children and Families Bill, which wrapped up the range of issues covered by the Bill and the amendments and additions Labour sought to make to it.


Mrs Hodgson: I begin by thanking my Front-Bench colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for her excellent scrutiny of those sections of the Bill that she has been responsible for shadowing, including sections that do not usually come under her policy remit. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Corby (Andy Sawford) and for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) for supporting us during this process, and our colleagues on the Bill Committee, my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell), for North West Durham (Pat Glass), for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) and for Croydon North (Mr Reed).

Given how constructive and good-natured the Committee was—for the most part, at least—I also thank its Government members, many of whom made valuable contributions. I thank the Minister for children and families, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), and the Minister for employment relations, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), for their helpful and thorough responses to our many questions.

I also thank the staff in all our offices, who have ensured that we have been fully briefed and prepared for our many hours of debate on the Bill, and the representatives of all the sector bodies and lobby groups for their help.

Finally, I thank the Clerks and the Library staff for their expertise, which has supported us in our understanding and scrutiny of the Bill, and for ensuring the smooth running of the whole process.

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan rightly laid down Labour’s key test for this Bill’s reforms: will they result in better outcomes for the children they seek to help? The many areas where we agree with the Government that they will help, and the few areas where we think that they will not help enough or at all, have all been covered extensively since February’s Second Reading debate.

On special educational needs, as I said earlier, while we support the vast majority of what the Government are doing, concerns remain about the accountability of local services to families, the potential to exacerbate the postcode lottery and how some of the more ambitious reforms, such as personal budgets, will actually work in practice. Of course, the main concern is that the benefits that these reforms should bring are not denied to the children and young people with special educational needs who find themselves in the youth justice system.

On parts 1 and 2, while we do not disagree with much of what the Government are trying to do, we remain deeply concerned about what the Bill will mean in practice for children in care in the family courts. We urge Ministers to consider what the reforms will mean in practice for social workers who are overburdened and families who have lost access to legal aid.

We believe that the Government are mistaken in not ensuring that ethnicity is still considered in adoption placements—not as an overriding consideration, but as one of the many things that matter to children—or that courts consider sibling arrangements when scrutinising children’s care plans. Although we agree that we should remove needless delay from the courts, we are concerned that many of the Bill’s measures place speed above getting it right for children.

It is a great shame that the Government refused to structure this debate in a way that would have given us time to debate all the issues, and that we did not have two days to consider such a large and wide-ranging Bill that contains important measures relating to vulnerable children. Nor have we had time to do justice to our new clauses or that tabled by the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland), which seek to improve the lives of young carers.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the most important thing as the Bill progresses is to make sure—it is important that the Minister agrees with us on this—that the adult who is assessed receives sufficient support so that the young person does not experience negative outcomes? The support should not impact on their education or quality of life. That is the key point behind new clause 5 and it is a pity that we were not able to debate it today.

Mrs Hodgson: I agree with my hon. Friend and will probably repeat some of the points that she has just made. I commend her for her tireless and excellent campaigning on behalf of young carers since she promoted her private Member’s Bill. I know that she will continue that work when this Bill goes to the other place.

As I pointed out to the Minister for children and families in Committee, the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who has responsibility for care, promised my hon. Friend and those of us who were present for the Second Reading of her private Member’s Bill last September that young carers would be provided for in the Children and Families Bill, yet we are still waiting to see what those provisions will be. The Minister gave some warm assurances on that issue during his closing remarks, so we look forward to seeing it addressed in the Bill.

Mr Timpson: Just to clarify, if the hon. Lady looks back at Hansard she will see that just before the end of Report I gave some strong indications of the direction of travel I am persuaded to take with regard to young carers.

Mrs Hodgson: That is very good; I will do that.

At the very least, we need to ensure that agencies that come into contact with families know how to spot a child who might be providing care and how to refer that child and their family to the support that exists for the majority of young carers. That needs to happen in order to address the much poorer outcomes that such children have because of their responsibilities.

As the Children’s Society discovered recently in its “Hidden from View” report, about one in 20 young carers misses school because of caring responsibilities. Young carers attain the equivalent of nine grades lower than their peers at GCSE level and are consequently more likely than other young people to be classed as not in education, employment or training after school. There are also health implications. Young carers are one and a half times more likely to have a special educational need, a long-standing illness or a disability than their peers. Those who are dedicated to looking after someone else often do not take good enough care of themselves. That is particularly true of young carers.

There are 166,363 young carers in England according to the latest census data, which were released on 16 May this year. That is 166,363 young people who stand a much poorer chance of reaching their educational potential and a much greater chance of suffering poor health or being a NEET. It does not need to be that way. I know that the Minister has outlined measures, but he could make the changes to the Bill that we have suggested in the other place or bring forward his own changes to ensure that those young carers are given the support that they need.

The Minister will not be surprised that I am also keen for progress to be made on ensuring that children’s centres are better able to identify and help every family in their area who needs it by adopting the measures tabled by the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). She has not made a speech today and I hope that she has a chance to do so in a moment. Those measures would require NHS trusts to share the live births register with Sure Start outreach workers and would roll out trials of births being registered in children’s centres. That would mean that all parents would have to visit their local children’s centre, where they would be shown all the opportunities and services that are available to them and their child. That would contribute greatly to ensuring that we reach out to and help the most vulnerable families and, once again, improve the outcomes of the children within them.

I know that many hon. Members are keen to speak, so I will bring my remarks to a conclusion. We will not oppose the Bill on Third Reading and we are as keen as Ministers for it to make speedy progress to the other place. However, I hope that the House and the Government are left in no doubt that there are a number of issues that my noble colleagues and, I am sure, peers on all sides in the other place will revisit. We are expecting big things from Ministers before then and I sincerely hope that they do not disappoint.

Most notably, we want measures to ensure that support is not denied to young offenders with special educational needs and measures to increase the chance of young carers being identified and given the support that they need in order to improve their outcomes. We hope that the Government reconsider their position on PSHE and, in particular, sex and relationship education, and that they bring forward measures to make it compulsory before the Bill reaches the other place.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) for her superb leadership through the all-party parliamentary group on HIV and AIDS in pursuing education on HIV and AIDS. One in four young people leaves school without being taught about HIV. The work that she has done in that area is commendable.

If all the issues raised by Her Majesty’s Opposition and hon. Members from all parts of the House in the preceding debate are addressed, the Minister will be able to answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan on Second Reading and be confident that the Bill will improve the outcomes for millions of children, young people and families for a long time to come. In the hope that those improvements will be made, the Bill proceeds with our blessing.

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