Sharon speaking in the Brain Tumour Research Westminster Hall debate 18.04.16
Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016
Following the decision by the House of Common's Petitions Committee to debate the Brain Tumour Research petition, which 132 of Sharon's constituents had signed, and a number of on-going cases with constituents regarding treatment of brain tumours, Sharon took part in the debate in Westminster Hall to highlight two of these cases along with the need for better funding of research to ensure patients receive the best treatment and care possible.
Read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP in Brain Tumour Research Westminster Hall Debate
Text pasted here:
Sharon speaking in the Brain Tumour Research Westminster Hall debate 18.04.16 Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 Following the decision by the House of Common's Petitions Committee to debate the...
Sharon Hodgson speaking at the launch of the Honeypot Campaign For Children Who Care - 22nd March 2016
Image copyright Honeypot Campaign
As Shadow Minister for Children, Sharon was invited to speak at the launch of Honeypot Campaign's 'For Children Who Care' which is campaigning to provide respite services to young carers, especially those between the ages of 5 and 12 who Honeypot work with, so that they can have the childhood that they deserve along with addressing many of the health and educational disadvantages they may face.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Thank you for having me here today.
As the Shadow Minister for Children, I am all too aware of the challenges faced by young carers - both when I was in this role in the previous Parliament and even before that when I raised many concerns from the backbenches.
For me, the underlying philosophy I have as Labour’s spokesperson for children is that: all children, no matter what their background or circumstances, should have a childhood that is nurturing and full of opportunities so they become well-rounded adults in later life.
Everyone in this room knows that being the main care giver for a loved one at any stage of their life is tough, but for a child it can be even more so when it impacts on their ability to enjoy the same kind of childhood as their peers, and also, in far too many cases, define how the rest of their life will pan out.
Evidence has shown that young carers have significantly lower educational attainment at GCSE, which is equivalent to nine grades overall lower than their peers at the same age, and these children also see a toll on their health, wellbeing and personal development.
With over 160,000 young carers in the UK - with many more estimated by the University of Nottingham which believe the number stands closer to 700,000 young carers – there is still a lot more we can do for this significant group of children and young people to support them in their childhood.
That is why I welcome the work of Honeypot which provides young carers the chance of a break from being a carer and gives those children a safe and nurturing environment so they can take part in being a child alongside their peers.
Last time I was in this job, I worked closely on the passing of the Children and Families Act which helped address some of the difficulties a young carer faces by placing a duty on local authorities to assess the needs of young carers. This was a welcome step forward in recognising that children who are primary care givers need that extra support in their lives from local agencies.
Yet, we can do more. That is why I hope Honeypot’s campaign to give children an entitlement to respite care will be received by the Government. This is a belief that I share with all of you here in the room today and through my role as Shadow Children’s Minister, I will use every available opportunity to raise this issue with the Government.
However, this is something I can’t do alone and I hope everyone here today will go away and write to their local Member of Parliament, or even speak to them if they are here today and lobby them about the need to raise awareness of respite care for young carers.
It is our duty to make sure we do all we can to help these children who do such an incredible loving act for their family and allow them that chance of a childhood filled with fun, joy and laughter.
Thank you and I hope you all have a lovely afternoon here in Parliament.
Sharon Hodgson speaking at the launch of the Honeypot Campaign For Children Who Care - 22nd March 2016 Image copyright Honeypot Campaign As Shadow Minister for Children, Sharon was invited to speak...
Sharon Hodgson speaking in the second day of the Budget Debates - 21st February 2016
Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016
Following the Chancellor's Budget on 16th March 2016, Sharon spoke in the second day of the Budget debates and raised concerns about the complete and forced academisation of schools in England and the impact this could have on children with special educational needs and disabilities, along with the failure of the Chancellor to significantly recognise the North East in his Budget which was driven by his desire to push further on his pet project, the Northern Powerhouse.
Read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP in the Budget Debate 2016
Test pasted here:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): In the time allotted, I cannot cover all the items that make up this ultra-shambles of a Budget, but I will set out a few.
The Government believe that the complete academisation of our schools by 2020 will help to address the widening gap in educational outcomes for the most disadvantaged in our schools. Yet there are many concerns about what that will mean in reality, especially for children with special educational needs and disability.
Since the publication of the Department for Education White Paper, many parents and organisations have contacted me regarding their concerns about what the proposals will mean for children with autism, dyslexia or other special educational needs or disabilities. Evidence has shown that academies have higher rates of exclusion of children with SEND, who are then pushed into local authority maintained schools. Once all schools are academies, who will take the excluded children with SEND? Those children are as worthy as any others of receiving a high-quality education, and I hope the Government will ensure that we continue to have an inclusive education system and that children with SEND are not sidelined or excluded in the fully academised school system they are creating.
Other announcements by the Chancellor failed to recognise the need for further investment in the north-east. That was seen clearly when he announced £80 million for Crossrail 2 in London and the next phase of high-speed rail—High Speed 3—which will go only as far as Leeds. Some of us live more than 100 miles further north, in the north-east, and I wait with bated breath for the day when HS4 or HS5—or will it be HS 67?—reaches us in the north-east.
The Chancellor obviously sees himself as the King in the North, with his northern powerhouse project, but he needs to realise that there is a lot more of the north before he gets to the wall—that is Hadrian’s wall, not the one in “Game of Thrones”. If he truly wants to be the King in the North, and we all know he has—or should I now say had?—ambitions for higher office, he needs to realise that there is a large section of the north between Yorkshire and Scotland called the north-east and to ensure that investment is directed to our region too.
However, there is still something the Chancellor can do now—invest in the future of the Tyne and Wear Metro. The rolling stock has not been updated in its 36-year history. However, for an estimated £400 million, a much-needed completely new fleet could be built, which would future-proof the network into the 21st century, with options for dual voltage giving it the ability to procure vehicles suitable to support future route extensions, such as the expansion into Washington via the Leamside line, which I have campaigned for more than 10 years. That would help not only to drive economic growth, with improved connectivity to other parts of the region, but provide the vital jobs we need through the building of the new fleet.
Sharon Hodgson speaking in the second day of the Budget Debates - 21st February 2016 Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 Following the Chancellor's Budget on 16th March 2016, Sharon...
Sharon Hodgson with Unipres Staff, Gatsby Project team; George Ritchie, Chair of the North East Apprenticeship Ambassador Network and Associate Director PX group and pupils and staff from Link School and Biddick Academy - 14th March 2016
Image Copyright: Unipres 2016.
For National Apprenticeship Week 2016, Sharon was invited to Unipres in Sunderland to welcome the beginning of the week, meet with apprentices and have a tour of the Unipres factory. In her speech, Sharon spoke about the importance of apprenticeships to helping young people reach their potential in life and recognised the work done by Unipres in Sunderland over their 27 years based in the City to support the local economy and workforce.
You can read Sharon's speech here below:
Thank you for inviting me to join you for today’s launch of National Apprenticeships Week celebrations here at Unipres.
It is wonderful that National Apprenticeship Week, which started in 2008, is now in its ninth year where we continue to showcase the positive impact apprentices have on our economy, whilst celebrating the tens of thousands who are currently developing their skills, expertise and knowledge through an apprenticeship, may it be in nuclear technology, fashion design, or of course, car manufacturing.
After the success of last year’s celebrations which saw 600 events held right across the country and businesses pledging to increase apprenticeship numbers by 23,000, I hope this year’s events will build on those achievements ensuring we reaffirm our commitment to apprenticeships as a vehicle to achieve great success in life.
This year’s theme for National Apprenticeships Week is all about rising to the top and recognising the importance an apprenticeship can have on an individual achieving their potential, by learning and earning at the same time.
This is something which is at the very heart of the business ethos of Unipres, who for the last 26 years, have been an important employer here on Wearside, whilst developing a close relationship with Nissan to whom they supply parts for the cars manufactured just up the road.
Unipres’ clear commitment to Sunderland’s local workforce is shown through their continued investment into training local people, providing sustainable and high-quality job opportunities and nurturing a sense of pride in the work that goes on here in Sunderland.
In recent years Unipres has invested heavily into their factory here on Wearside with capital investment of over £40 million between 2012 and 2013 in preparation for the increased production at Nissan, and more recently Renault.
This led to an additional investment of nearly £13 million to install two new presses – which went live just before Christmas and I hope we will get to see them in action later this morning – this created 22 additional new jobs at the factory to work on the production of supplies for both Nissan and Honda’s assembly plant in Swindon, along with exporting to international markets including mainland Europe and Russia.
Parallel to all of this investment into the future of the business, there has been just as much investment into the future of the workforce where over the last year there has been a doubling in the number of apprentices based at the factory.
In total, Unipres now has over 60 apprentices who are studying for their qualifications in engineering, electrical engineering and die and tool-making whilst training hands-on here in order to reinforce what they learn in the classroom.
For any of those young men or women here today, I wish you all the very best with your studies and future career success here at Unipres.
But as the leadership here know the work to inspire the next generation coming into the workforce starts way before they join the business as an apprentice. That is why Unipres has supported an excellent initiative, called Industrial Cadets, which aims to spark the imagination and minds of young people about the career possibilities within engineering and the sometimes unknown career success that can come with starting a high-quality apprenticeship.
That is why it is wonderful that this year’s National Apprenticeship Week celebrations in the North-East have been launched today here at Unipres – showing appreciation of the leadership of Plant Director, John Cruddace, and the hard-work and dedication of everyone who works here.
This week is all about celebration and marking the importance of apprenticeships, and I wish all the success in the world to this year’s National Apprenticeship Week and hope that events like this inspire the young people attending to start an apprenticeship so they too can achieve their full potential and reach the top of their chosen career.
Sharon Hodgson with Unipres Staff, Gatsby Project team; George Ritchie, Chair of the North East Apprenticeship Ambassador Network and Associate Director PX group and pupils and staff from Link School and...
Sharon Hodgson speaking in the Opposition Day Debate on transitional state pensions arrangements for women - 24th February 2016
Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016
Over the last year, Sharon has had local women who were born in the 1950s raise their concerns with the equalisation of the State Pension Age, which has negatively impacted many thousands of women across the country. During one of Labour's allotted Opposition Day Debates, Sharon raised her concerns with these changes and one of the cases of her constituent who has been impacted by these changes.
Read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP in WASPI Debate 2016
Text pasted here:
24 Feb 2016 : Column 351
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): Today, we again debate the need for transitional arrangements following the equalisation of the state pension age. Contrary to what the Minister said, everyone—including the women affected—accepts the equalisation of the state pension age for men and women in principle. However, in practice it is clear that these changes have had such a detrimental effect on the lives of a particular group of women born in the 1950s—many thousands of them up and down the country—that we must look at transitional arrangements. We can ignore this no longer.
Like many others in the Chamber today, I have had many women from WASPI contact me at my surgeries, or via email or social media, to raise their concerns about the impact that the lack of transitional arrangements will have on their lives. In recent weeks and months, we have had many debates on this important matter, yet time and again the Government have failed to move an inch in their position and have continued to ignore the concerns of these women.
The common theme of all the many letters I have received from constituents has been that the escalation in the equalisation of the state pension age has ruined these women’s plans, savings and, in some cases, lives. One constituent’s case stands out in particular. She was born in 1957. I will not name her, but she explained to me that she saw these changes mentioned on the news a few times but as she never received a letter, she assumed they must not affect her, as she would surely have been told if they did. She eventually received a letter in 2014. She thought it was a routine pension calculation, but it showed her state pension age as taking effect in 2023. She thought it must be an error and was horrified later to discover that it was not. What that meant for her was that instead of retiring next year, as expected and as she planned for, she has to work a further six years. She is in very bad health and could just about envisage coping until next year, when she thought her state pension age applied. However, upon the realisation of the enormity of this information and what it meant to her and her life; her health rapidly deteriorated. She became severely depressed and required medication, and I would hazard that she may never be the same again.
No one here has a magic wand, not even the Minister, and none of us can turn back time, but just for a second, can the Minister put himself in that lady’s
24 Feb 2016 : Column 352
position? Imagine being that lady and finding out that news in that way—imagine how that would feel and imagine the shock! We—this institution, this Parliament—did that. Lots of us were not MPs in 1995, but some of us were in 2011, and the laws of the land that we make here affect people out there. Was it not our duty to ensure that these women, to whom we were about to deliver this great life-altering shock, at least knew about it? Should we not have ensured that they knew when they heard it on the news that it did indeed affect them, not because they had researched the small print themselves, but because the Department for Work and Pensions wrote to them and personally told them in good time, not as late as 2014? Surely that was the least the DWP should have done and we, Parliament, should have insisted upon it.
As I have said, we cannot turn back time and we cannot wave the magic wand that a lot of people think we have, because we do not have one—it does not exist. But we can do something today: we can insist that the Government do something. The Minister must go away and draft, with haste, transitional arrangements for this group of WASPI women who have been failed by the system and failed by these changes. We cannot fail them today. Parliament is at its best when using its powers for the good of its people. Parliament is speaking very clearly today to the Government. It is saying, “Go away, sort this out and bring forward transitional arrangements so that these women are not left destitute in what should have been their well-earned retirement.”
Sharon Hodgson speaking in the Opposition Day Debate on transitional state pensions arrangements for women - 24th February 2016 Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 Over the last year, Sharon...
Sharon Hodgson speaking at the launch of the Sense Inquiry into disabled children's access to play settings and schemes - 24th February 2016
Image copyright Office of Sharon Hodgson MP
As Shadow Minister for Children, Sharon was invited to speak at the launch of Sense's inquiry report into the access opportunities to play settings and schemes for disabled children, where she welcomed the findings of the report and the need for policy-makers, charities, play providers and families of disabled children to work together to call on the Government to do more to address this disparity.
You can read Sharon's speech below:
Thank you for having me along today.
It is such an honour to be here and support the launch of such an important report.
Already we have heard some wonderful speeches, including Lord Blunkett’s eloquent run through of the report’s recommendations and Leslie Rogers talking about her experiences of Play and highlighting just how important it is to children lives, especially those with SEND.
I, of course, am not going to differ greatly (if at all) from what has already been said by our two previous speakers.
For me, it is important that all children have the opportunity to explore and experience the world around them through play. Yet, sometimes, this can be harder for SEND children.
As many of us here in this room will know, there are multiple and complex needs of a child with SEND and early childhood can be a stressful time in that child’s life.
From medical appointments, health interventions and medical therapies, it can be one thing after another for a child who only wants to enjoy their childhood and live a care-free life.
That is why it is important that children with SEND, and their families, are enabled to access play schemes so that that child can experience as normal a childhood as possible – just like all of their peers, allowing a child to access play settings allows them that escape and respite to just be a child and relax in that moment where all that matters is how much fun they are going to have.
For parents, it is a beautiful moment that they can see their child doing exactly what they always wanted them to do as a child – have fun.
In the report, there is one quote which sticks out for me on this.
“Play is so important; it helped him realise he existed. Before that he was not doing anything – just lying down.”
This is such a powerful quote which hits home about exactly why play, and the access to play is so vital to disabled children’s lives.
It allows them to be a child.
Yet, the reality does not always seem to be the case.
As this inquiry found:
- 51% of children had been intentionally excluded from play opportunities by providers …
- 40% of families said they faced additional financial costs when seeking access to play settings …
- And, families felt there was a lack of specialist support on offer locally and had to travel further afield to access the right kind of play setting.
These findings are damning in highlighting the reality that many of those here in this room have experienced with their own children.
And it is up to us Parliamentarians from across the House to work to ensure that the right kind of policy is implemented that benefits these children.
No matter what their circumstances, children deserve the best start in life and for many this can come through play opportunities where they can expand their minds, enjoy their childhood and be amongst their peers.
That is why it is so important that Sense’s inquiry has been published today and makes a strong case to Government and policy-makers to improve the access to play opportunities for disabled children with multiple needs.
Labour has a proud record of campaigning for better services for disabled children, which most recently was seen in our efforts to review childcare for disabled children during the passing of the Childcare Bill to make sure those children did not miss out on high-quality provisions.
That is why I can assure you that the disparity seen by families with disabled children accessing play is something I am fully aware of and I cannot stress how much I support calls for better provision and will press Government to take action on this by working closely with Sense, providers of play settings and those who access these settings to ensure that parity is achieved for all children.
This fantastic report will aide my work as Labour’s Shadow Children’s Minister and the development of our future policy proposals around play settings and the access for disabled children.
Again, thank you for inviting me along to talk to you all today.
I hope you have all had a wonderful day and I look forwarded to meeting many of you after the other speeches.
You can find out more about the inquiry and Sharon's reaction post-reception by following this link here.
Sharon Hodgson speaking at the launch of the Sense Inquiry into disabled children's access to play settings and schemes - 24th February 2016 Image copyright Office of Sharon Hodgson MP...
Sharon Hodgson speaking in the Backbench Business Debate on the Government's upcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy - 21st January 2016
Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for School Food, Sharon spoke about the need for school food to be seen as an integral part of the Government's upcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy by looking at the evidence already out there of the benefits of a healthy school meal, especially one that is free, along with addressing child holiday hunger - which has become a growing problem in the UK in recent years.
Read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson Childhood Obesity Strategy Debate 2016
Text pasted below:
I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on proposing and securing this important debate, and she will be pleased to hear that I agreed with almost everything she said. Many here in the Chamber will be aware of my strongly held passion to provide all children with a hot and healthy school meal, especially one that is free. The debate around the Government’s impending childhood obesity strategy, both here in Parliament and in the outside world, has focused on the reformulation of foods that are high in sugar and salt and the introduction of a sugar tax. Although I support those measures, I want quickly to discuss how school food can play a significant role in addressing the obesity crisis facing our children today.
I want to say at the outset—I am sure people are thinking this, if not here then definitely on social media—that I am rather overweight myself and that some may say I should practise what I preach. I do try. But that is why I am so passionate about this agenda: I know how much harder this becomes as you get older. I was allowed to adopt bad habits that are hard to break, and that shows why we need to educate the next generation to do much better.
School food has played a role in public policy for more than 100 years. It was first discussed in this place in 1906 when Fred Jowett, former Member of Parliament for Bradford West, used his maiden speech in the Chamber to launch his campaign to introduce free school meals when compulsory education was being rolled out. That led to the passing of the Education (Provision of Meals) Act 1906, which was originally Jowett’s private Member’s Bill.
Jowett’s campaign was driven by his experience as a member of the Bradford school board, where he witnessed the malnourishment of children who then fell behind their more affluent peers. Here we are, more than 100 years later, and those arguments are still being made today.
I was just thinking the same as my hon. Friend about how far we have come in some respects but not in others. She will be aware of the private Member’s Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field). Does she support it?
Yes, that private Member’s Bill is an excellent initiative, and should be adopted by the Government and local authorities. It is very simple to share the data that we already have on families who are entitled to benefits, to ensure that the entitlement of their children to the pupil premium is not lost when universal free school meals are rolled out. That is a very important point.
Although we do not always think about obesity in this way, it is a form of malnourishment. What we are seeing today is very similar to what we saw more than 100 years ago, with children lacking the right nutrients to see them living a healthy childhood and growing into healthy adults. That is especially concerning given that today more than one third of children are leaving school overweight or obese.
The school setting is one of the most important interventions in a child’s life; it is where we nurture and educate future generations. Why should we not feed these children so that they are fuelled to receive the best education and life chances possible? That notion was strongly supported by the previous Labour Government, who introduced a raft of measures that addressed the food eaten by children in our schools. They included nutrition-based school food standards that provide children with the proper nutrition to learn, fully-costed plans to extend our universal free school meal pilots, and the introduction of healthy, practical cooking on the national curriculum.
Although much, or all, of those measures were scrapped when the coalition Government were formed in 2010, it was very welcome when, in 2013, the school food plan was published, calling for the reinstatement of lots of those measures as well as new and improved measures in our schools to address the health of our children. Those included introducing food-based standards for all schools, training head teachers in the benefits of food and nutrition, improving Ofsted inspections on school food, and the roll-out of universal free school meals for primary school children, when funding was found.
As we know, that funding was found, thanks to David Laws and the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg). Fortunately, universal infant free school meals were secured by the Chancellor in the comprehensive spending review. All those measures came out of concerns for the health of our children and the growing obesity crisis, especially given that 57% of children were not eating school lunches. Some were opting to take in packed lunches, only 1% of which met the nutritional standards of a hot lunch, while others were opting to go off site to eat junk food at local takeaways.
As research has found, health problems associated with being overweight or obese cost the NHS more than £5 billion a year, and, with obesity rates continuing to rise for 11 to 15-year-olds, especially in deprived areas, it is now clearer than ever that we need seriously to address childhood obesity.
Giving children a healthy and balanced diet during the school day can only be a positive intervention in helping to address obesity. I cannot stress how strongly I believe that one of the most important interventions to help address health issues in childhood is universal free school meals.
The hon. Lady mentioned that children are consuming junk food from outlets near schools. Does she believe that councils should have powers, as part of planning guidance, to take action on junk food outlets being so close to schools?
Yes, I do. I really welcome that intervention, because it not only makes the point, but stresses it very strongly. Some councils are very good and introduce byelaws to ensure that burger vans cannot pull up outside a school, and that, if there is already a number of takeaway shops nearby, no more can open. Matters such as that need to be addressed by councils.
The pilots introduced by the previous Labour Government in Durham and Newham to look into the benefits of universal free school meals found many benefits to a child’s health, and research continues now that we have universal infant school meals. The pilots in Durham and Newham found a 23% uptake in vegetable consumption at lunchtime and a steep decline in the typical unhealthy packed lunch foods. For example, there was a 16% decline in soft drinks and an 18% decline in crisps. Those are all-important figures that the Government should remember, and both the Department of Health and Department for Education should look further into how best they can use the vehicle of universal free school meals to help improve children’s health.
Although universal free school meals are protected in the Government’s comprehensive spending review—this followed a concerted campaign by school food campaigners, myself and others in the House—there is another area that the Government must consider when looking to improve the health of our children: holiday hunger. Children are in school for just 190 days of the year, and the rest—a total of 170 days—is totally down to their parents. Some may say that that is how it should be and that when we lock the school gates for the holidays it is none of our business what children eat, whether they eat or what they get up to. None the less, with the growing use of food banks in school holidays and the reports that children return from the longer school holidays noticeably thinner and unhealthier, the issue is one that we can no longer ignore.
If there is a push for better food provision in our schools, then we need to be doing much more during the holidays so as not to undo the hard work that goes into improving the life chances of children during term time. That is why the school food all-party group, which I chair, has established a holiday hunger task group, which last year launched its “Filling the Holiday Gap” guidelines to provide organisations and local authorities wishing to provide food during holidays with the resources to offer healthy and nutritious food. Late last year, it published its update report, which called for action to be taken by the Government.
When the Government’s childhood obesity strategy is published, I hope that there will be significant mention of the benefits that school food, especially universal free school meals, can have on a child’s health, and of how it can be used to address the growing childhood obesity crisis. There is evidence out there to support using universal free school meal provision to its fullest, instead of squandering its potential, to improve the health of our children.
This is a moment when the Government can really make a difference to children’s lives and I hope that all options and avenues will be pursued so that children are given the healthy food that they need to fuel their education and to make them as healthy a version of themselves as possible so that they grow into fit and healthy adults.
Sharon Hodgson speaking in the Backbench Business Debate on the Government's upcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy - 21st January 2016 Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 As Chair of the All-Party...
Sharon Hodgson speaking in the Backbench Business Debate on Children in Care - 7th January 2016
Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016
As Shadow Children's Minister, Sharon spoke on behalf of the frontbench on how best we can help prevent children entering the care system and keep families together through better early intervention and prevention programmes and more support on offer to kinship carers, extended family members who look after children.
Read Sharon's speech in Hansard here: Sharon Hodgson MP Children in Care Debate 2016
Text pasted here:
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) for securing this debate. It has been a short, but very thoughtful one. Our attention has rightly been focused on how we can best help and support struggling families and prevent children from entering the care system.
This debate is timely, given the research published at the end of last year by the University of Lancaster. The research found that one in four women return to the family court after previously having a child removed by court order, and that the number of new-born babies subject to care proceedings has doubled during the past five years. Those findings are backed by the Department for Education’s own figures, which show that the number of children in care has reached its highest since 1985. The total population of children now in the care system is 69,450.
The significant increase in the number of children entering the care system is seen by many, including the Education Committee’s report on child protection in 2012, as a reaction to the tragic death of Baby P in 2008. That is supported by figures showing that the majority of children enter care due to neglect or abuse. This tells us that more must be done to support parents at the earliest opportunity to avoid situations such as those of Daniel Pelka, Baby P and the many other high-profile cases about which we have heard in recent years.
We must have a serious rethink about the current strategy to support families and about how the huge social, personal and economic costs of children going into care can be avoided. Although it cannot be denied that there are circumstances in which the best-case scenario for a child may be to be taken into care, based on the risks of remaining in the family home, that does not mean that we as a society should not feel ashamed of this failure to support all families.
There are two areas that the Government must consider when it comes to reducing the number of children entering the care system—a more comprehensive early intervention and prevention strategy, and improving the support on offer to kinship carers.
There is an old African proverb with which I am sure all hon. Members are familiar: it takes a whole village to raise a child. That reminds us of our collective duty to offer support and help to those families who need it the most. When abuse and neglect are cited as the main reasons for a child being taken into care, it is clear that comprehensive early intervention and prevention programmes are needed to reduce the threat of a child’s abuse or neglect in the family home and to avoid the eventuality of a child being taken into care.
Addressing issues about nurture and early family life is championed in “The 1001 Critical Days” manifesto. The all-party group of much the same name is steered passionately by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). He was in the Chamber earlier, but he is not in his place at the moment. The manifesto calls for more support to be given to families to help nurture and support a healthy family environment for children to grow up in. I hope that the Minister has had the chance to read this excellent manifesto. If not, I am sure his hon. Friend will send him a copy of it forthwith.
A National Audit Office report in 2014 cites one of the previous Labour Government’s greatest achievements, Sure Start children’s centres, as a key measure to help to reduce the number of children entering care. The family-focused vision of Sure Start centres brings together specialists, professionals and practitioners to provide parents with vital information on how to overcome the struggles of being new parents and how to cope with challenging family circumstances in order that they do not fall apart and descend into situations in which a child may be removed from the family home. However, according to an investigation last year by the Children’s Society and the National Children’s Bureau, cuts to Whitehall budgets have meant that overall spending on early intervention programmes has fallen by 55%, or £1.8 billion, since 2010.
The short-sightedness of cutting early intervention budgets is detrimental to the vision all hon. Members share, but which was laid out full well in “Early Intervention: The Next Steps”, the seminal report from 2011 by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen). He highlighted the top 19 intervention programmes as a blueprint for government. The top of the list was the excellent family nurse partnership programme, which was piloted and which has since been rolled out a little—it needs to go much further to become universal.
Since 2010, almost 800 Sure Start children’s centres have closed. Many more are mere shells of their former selves—the “caretaker and bottle of bleach” model, as I like to call it, means that they are classed as open but not quite as we know it. The Government are sifting through the responses to their consultation into the future of Sure Start centres. In the light of the lack of progress since the my hon. Friend’s report, it is concerning that the hollowing out of Sure Start centres and the devastating cuts to intervention programmes that families rely on, such as parenting classes, drug and alcohol abuse support, and domestic violence services, have not been cited as causes when trying to understand the increase in children entering the care system.
Although a push for greater early intervention schemes is vital to addressing the increase in children entering the care system, there will still be situations when children must, sadly, be removed from the family home for their own safety. When a child is placed into care, all efforts must be made to ensure that they are safely placed with extended family members in a kinship care arrangement where possible, instead of within the care system.
It is estimated that 200,000 children are being raised by kinship carers across the UK. A significant number of children are being looked after by their grandparents or other relatives, but there has been little development in Government support for kinship carers that mirrors, for instance, recent announcements on adoption. Allowing a family member to care for a child instead of that child going into residential or foster care is important for the development of the child, but it can also help to reduce the strain on local children’s services, the budgets of which have been devastated by cuts. That does not mean that kinship carers should be seen as a cheaper option for providing care to children but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) made clear in his speech, kinship carers save the country millions upon millions of pounds by providing care to their kin.
Many kinship carers become so due to emergency circumstances, which means that the costs for raising that child, such as the immediate cost of providing a bed for the child to sleep in, clothes to wear and uniform for school, are not factored in to their household budgets. That is exacerbated when kinship carers must give up their jobs to look after their kin. The largest survey of kinship carers last year found that 49% of respondents had to give up work permanently. An analysis of the 2011 census found that 76% of children living in kinship care were living in deprived households.
The lack of joined-up thinking is laid bare when the same kinship carers who were told to give up their jobs are chased by the Department for Work and Pensions or ATOS and sanctioned for not looking for work, as my right hon. Friend said. I am gravely concerned about how both kinship and foster carers will fare when the Government’s proposed two-child policy comes into force. I echo what he said and plead with the Minister for exemptions for both kinship and foster carers if that policy goes ahead. That is why it is so important that the Government explore how the financial costs of being a kinship carer can be alleviated by allowing better access to funds and entitlements that are already available to adopted or foster children, who share similar adversities to children in kinship care, so that their development is not hindered or regressed.
The Government must also look at the process of placing a child with a kinship carer. Although new guidance for local authorities published last year is helpful in calling for more identification of potential family carers, there is still no statutory duty on local authorities to explore those options. That means that many local authorities look into kinship care only after a child is placed in the care system, causing avoidable upheaval for the child and the extended family.
There is a duty on all of us to ensure that every child, no matter what their circumstances, has a safe and nurturing home in which to spend their childhood. However, that is clearly not the case for tens of thousands of children who are currently in care, but who could have avoided entering the system in the first place. Continuing to fail those children is not an option. We cannot fail them; we are their village and we need to help raise them. I hope that the Minister realises that this is his moment to really make a difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in our society. I hope that he makes it count.
Sharon Hodgson speaking in the Backbench Business Debate on Children in Care - 7th January 2016 Image copyright Parliamentary Recording Unit 2016 As Shadow Children's Minister, Sharon spoke on behalf...
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