With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement.
Two weeks ago my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out how the new Department for Children, Schools and Families would accelerate the drive to raise standards of attainment, particularly for the most disadvantaged children. Today's statement responds to the distinctive needs of young people and looks at how we can better support them through the development of positive activities and places to go.
The joint review by my Department and the Treasury of national and international research, including on the views of young people themselves, has established a number of key findings about adolescence on which we must now act. First, today's teenagers do indeed face a much more complex process of growing up, with an unprecedented range of opportunities, but with new risks and challenges, too. Secondly, social and economic trends, including globalisation, mean that academic and vocational skills alone are no longer sufficient to equip young people for our changing labour market.
Thirdly, young people also need well developed capabilities—sometimes called social and emotional or non-cognitive skills—in order to acquire the flexibility, adaptability and resilience to overcome challenge and change. Employers are increasingly demanding those capabilities too. Finally, although committed parents and good schools are always crucial, these additional capabilities are not largely acquired through formal learning; they are acquired by participating in positive, structured activities with trusted adults. It is now clear that taking part in organised activities—whether sport, music, drama or volunteering, or the Scouts, the Guides or a rap group—led by responsible adults is how young people develop confidence, tenacity and tolerance, and how they learn to lead, co-operate with others and solve problems.
Those attributes are not just nice for young people to have; they are essential if young people are to overcome the challenges of adolescence and mature into well adjusted adults. The strategy is focused on ensuring that all our youngsters can enjoy their teenage years—a formative time in their lives—while at the same time, and crucially, developing the capabilities essential for success. The strategy builds on the unprecedented investment and progressive reform that the Government have already undertaken in relation to young people through Every Child Matters and Connexions—with extra support targeted at those most in need. It complements our decision to raise the age of participation in education and training and extends the initiatives set out in the Green Paper "Youth Matters".
As a result of these measures, and the hard work of parents and the many dedicated practitioners working with young people, and contrary to the hype about youth being in crisis, the facts show that most young people are doing better than ever before. Exam results and the numbers staying on in education are both at all-time highs, with more than 59 per cent. gaining five good GCSEs and 77 per cent. of 16 and 17-year-olds continuing in learning and training. More young people are volunteering than any other age group. Compared with previous generations, young people are more accepting of other faiths and races, more liberal about gender roles and more likely to express satisfaction with their lives.
We also know, however, that a minority of young people are not sharing in that success. They are young people who are born into disadvantage, involved in high-risk behaviour, underachieving at school and, crucially, failing to develop the capabilities that they need for the future. They are held back by low self-esteem, lack of self-discipline and poor self-control. All those factors are strongly linked to serious problems such as crime, teenage pregnancy, dropping out of education and training, and the misuse of drink and drugs. Disadvantaged young people are much less likely to get the chance to take part in organised activities—organised through school or by their parents—and so they are doubly disadvantaged. The result is that the young people who most need those capabilities to meet the significant challenges that they face are the least likely to acquire them.
The backdrop to all that is an unrelentingly negative view of young people in this country, with the problems of the few eclipsing the achievements of the many. Some 71 per cent. of media stories about young people are negative. It is no wonder that 98 per cent. of young people have told us that they feel stereotyped, criticised and undervalued, with their achievements unfairly disregarded. Under the strategy, we are determined both to rebalance the public debate about young people and to transform their opportunities to take part in positive activities and to have places to go—especially for those who are disadvantaged, vulnerable or disabled.
Three principles underpin this vision: empowerment, access and quality. Our youth opportunity and capital funds are already putting real spending power in young people's hands. Some 650,000 teenagers have already taken part and benefited. It is already clear that when young people influence local decision making, opportunities and services improve, so we will invest a further £173 million over the next three years through the funds. To ensure that we are reaching the most disadvantaged and excluded young people, we are going to invest an additional £25 million in the most deprived neighbourhoods. But we want to go further. Our expectation is that by 2018 young people will have direct influence over at least 25 per cent. of local authority budgets for positive activities.
We also want a step change in what is on offer locally to all young people—again, especially the most disadvantaged. The strategy includes major new investment in places to go. Unclaimed bank assets will complement new Government spending to support our aspiration of an exciting, modern, up-to-date place for young people in every community. Local authorities will lead public, private and voluntary sector partnerships, working with young people to develop visionary facilities for teenagers while addressing problems such as poor transport that would otherwise mean that some young people missed out. We want to develop young people's capacity for leadership and entrepreneurship through a new fund, creating, in effect, a national institute of youth leadership. We will also support older teenagers to set up social enterprises in their communities and we will promote intergenerational activity by encouraging adults—especially active retired people—to volunteer and mentor young people.
Our success in engaging the most excluded young people will be the critical test of the strategy, because they have most to gain yet are the least likely to participate. We will invest in a variety of ways of reaching them. In our most deprived communities, we will test cutting-edge approaches to creating more and better youth facilities—informing how we spend the unclaimed assets in the future. We will also invest up to £82 million, in addition to the existing funding of £140 million, in established schemes such as the Positive Activities for Young People and Youth Inclusion programmes, to increase them and make them available all year round.
We will also invest up to £100 million so that third-sector providers with a proven track record in working with vulnerable young people can expand and sustain their activities into the future. We will build on the successful Do it 4 Real residential scheme, which has already demonstrated that bringing together young people from different backgrounds raises aspirations, especially among the more disadvantaged, and fosters community cohesion. A further £15 million will subsidise those who otherwise could not afford to take part.
Finally, this new investment must be matched by further reform. Despite significant progress since "Youth Matters", services for young people are too often fragmented, patchy and poor. Yet research shows that only high-quality services make the difference. We need stronger leadership, and more skilled and creative people working with our teenagers—good role models who can relate to and inspire young people from all backgrounds. The strategy sets out a 10-year work force reform programme, supported by new investment of £25 million. That includes a leadership programme to attract more graduates into the sector, building on the successful model of the Teach First scheme. We will also expect local authorities, youth offending teams and primary care trusts to start to pool their budgets—a radical change to drive a renewed focus on prevention and early intervention.
With the strategy, we are making the most ambitious commitment to all our young people for decades, supported over the period 2008 to 2011 by £124 million of new investment, reinvestment of unclaimed assets and £60 million of new Government capital for youth facilities, and £495 million of continued baseline funding. I hope that Members of Parliament on both sides of the House will join together and take the lead in promoting a better appreciation of our nation's young people—our future—and that, through the strategy, we can achieve a transformation of the opportunities young people need to succeed. I commend the statement to the House.
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May I first welcome the Minister for Children, Young People and Families to her newly re-badged but long-standing role, and thank her for giving me prior sight of the statement? There is much merit to it, and much of it sounds very good. Over many years, she has presided over a plethora of projects aimed at children and young people, but the projects will be judged on effectiveness, quality, and the quality of the outcomes for the young people concerned, not on quantity and the amount of boxes that have been ticked.
I could say that part of the announcement is perhaps a statement of the bleedin' obvious: the right hon. Lady said that whether we are talking about sport, music, drama, or volunteering, or being in the Scouts, the Guides or a rap group, it was clear that taking part in organised activities led by responsible adults is how young people develop confidence, tenacity and tolerance—words that could have been spoken by Baden-Powell 100 years ago on the occasion of the foundation of the Scouts, if it were not for the mention of rap groups. It is not rocket science, but we welcome any initiative that at last acknowledges the enormous challenge that we face from an increasingly disillusioned and disengaged younger generation who are experiencing huge and increasing gaps in opportunity and achievement.
As the right hon. Lady said, young people are quick to be fingered by a hostile media as the source of all society's ills. Some 71 per cent. of stories about them are negative, and do not praise the achievements of the vast majority of decent children and young people who face growing challenges, and who grow up in an increasingly uncertain and insecure world. The image is not helped by constant Government announcements about youth crime and antisocial behaviour. The Government treat the fact that a growing number of young people are subject to antisocial behaviour orders, and a record number of children are locked up in our prisons, as a benchmark of success rather than an admission of failure and as symptoms of our increasingly broken society. We have to tackle the underlying causes of those problems.
The Institute for Public Policy Research report, out today, confirmed everything that we said in the social justice report a couple of weeks ago: youths in Britain are more likely to drink, take drugs, have sex, join gangs and get into fights than youths almost anywhere else in Europe. It confirms, too, the findings of February's UNICEF report about— [Interruption.]
I do not know whether hon. Members want to challenge the findings of the IPPR report, but it confirmed the findings of the social justice report and the UNICEF report that was produced earlier this year. It is no good trying to deny the reality; we have to face up to it, and then tackle it. The Labour party seems to be in denial. We have a problem with obesity. One in 10 of our young people has a mental health problem, and the number is growing. There are 454,000 prescriptions for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drugs, and 212,000 prescriptions relating to depression among children who are sometimes as young as six. There has been a 300 per cent. rise in Chlamydia over the past 12 years, and 8,500 children were admitted to accident and emergency departments last year for binge-drinking and alcohol-related problems. Children are drinking younger, drinking stronger and drinking more often. All those problems were recognised in the social justice report, under the excellent authorship of my right hon. Friend Mr. Duncan Smith.
We should not shrink from the stark reality of the challenge that we face. We must form proposals on the tough decisions that we will have to make, and we must confirm that we face an increasingly broken society. The opportunity and achievement gap has widened under this Government, and some of the appalling outcomes for young people are the symptoms of that broken society. The truth is that the 10-year strategy should have started 10 years ago. The Prime Minister himself has warned often enough about the seriousness of the situation. In the pre-Budget report of 2005, he said:
"we have to do far more where in the past too little has been done, investing in youth and community facilities that are modern, relevant and welcoming for teenagers up and down the country."—[ Hansard, 5 December 2005; Vol. 440, c. 613.]
In a speech to the Fabian Society in January last year, he said:
"in 2006 a new British youth national community service can galvanise and challenge the energies and enthusiasm of a fresh generation of teenagers and young people."
The Prime Minister recognised the problem a rather long time ago. Today is an announcement of some Government money and a raid on orphan assets—we are not talking about public funds—that might otherwise have been used to address the pensions crisis.
We need to know about the devil in the detail. We would like to ask some questions about the warm words in the statement; there were a lot of buzz words relating to cutting-edge approaches that the right hon. Lady might like to define. In particular, we would like to know where exactly the money is coming from, and about the sustainability of the funding. She talked about a plan to make one-off hits on orphan assets between 2008 and 2011. Providing the services is not just about building lots of shiny new buildings so as to present photo opportunities for ribbon cutting by Ministers. There are underused halls, schools, church halls and youth centres that could be used far more before we build more. Secure revenue is essential if we are to set up new programmes that put properly trained staff and volunteers in place, and if we are to provide continuity, so can she tell us when the 10-year funding plan will be put in place? We must not return to the three-year cycle in which a new scheme is announced only for a new fashion to come along, the funding to disappear and it is back to the drawing board. Sustainability will be key to the success of the projects.
If the programme is not just about buildings, it certainly is about staff. How will the programme fully engage with the 500,000 volunteers in youth work, including the many young volunteers whom the right hon. Lady mentioned? How will it support the many excellent youth organisations in the voluntary sector that already do great work with much expertise, knowledge and dedication? She mentioned some projects in her statement. What about projects such as the Bolton lads and girls club, which I visited with my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron and others? It has been going since 1889, operates seven nights and days a week, 52 weeks a year, has 3,200 active members, and exists on very little public money. What about the Young Adult Trust, which raises aspirations by bringing together groups of people from different backgrounds? Will she assure us that she will not try to reinvent the wheel, but will work with the expertise found in examples of good practice?
Where will the extra trained staff who are needed to run the facilities come from? In my constituency, there is a waiting list to join the Scouts, which is a tremendous achievement, but one reason why we have a waiting list is the lack of volunteers who are prepared to come forward and give their time. Will she look at streamlining the Criminal Records Bureau checking and vetting systems, so that volunteers are not subject to multiple checks and are not deterred from offering their services in those important areas? Exactly what steps is she taking to invest in youth work of an appropriate quality, and how will that work be linked to the extended schools and the enhanced programme that was announced yesterday? It is not clear how she intends to work with local authorities and local youth services to manage the new investment and make sure that the activities are suitably diverse. They have to appeal to young people, so that we can engage with them constructively. Most of all, local authorities and local youth services have to make sure that they do not replicate existing services, and make sure that they are fun.
The right hon. Lady mentioned working with young people to fashion services, and we welcome that. We also welcome what she said about giving young people control over their budgets. How exactly does she plan to ensure genuine engagement with young people in planning the services? It is a common fallacy that all that young people want is a new skateboard ramp and a pat on the head from a council official, and they will be in a state of nirvana. How will she engage with youth mayors—a post that we have in my constituency—the Youth Parliament and the Youth Cabinet to make sure that the proposals have the full backing and engagement of local people?
Will the services be aimed at the people who are most in need, and who are often the most difficult to access, or will the money be spent too thinly among 11 million children? The right hon. Lady mentioned working with other agencies, which we welcome, especially health agencies, on problems such as obesity, sexually transmitted diseases and substance abuse, yet her Government raided £300 million from the sexual health strategy fund to plug deficits in other parts of the health service. How exactly does she think that the money provided in the next three years will plug the enormous gap in the sexual health strategy fund, let alone the enormous gap in funding to tackle alcohol abuse, as the money will have to apply to all sorts of other things, such as setting up social enterprises and work force reform? How will she provide the counselling services that she mentioned to tackle the underlying problems of unhappiness and mental illness? We need to make sure that the programme is a sustainable, meaningful long-term project and not another poorly planned gimmick like the Connexions card—the loyalty card scheme for 16 to 19-year-olds run by Capita, which was a costly £100 million failure, with just a 3 per cent. target take-up, and which has now been abandoned?
What will be the measures of the success or failure of these plans? That should not be based only on raw figures such as those that I have mentioned. The scheme's success should be measured by whether it results in children engaging more with their parents. The state is a poor parent, as the children in care figures alarmingly show. We cannot deal with children in isolation. It is essential that the Government do not try to displace parents, but work with them and their children, and acknowledge that in the vast majority of cases it is parents who know best how to bring up their own children.
If the Government take that on board, put their money where their mouth has been uttering warm words for too long, and work with the expertise and tremendous enthusiasm of the voluntary sector, they will have our support for the scheme.
I am disappointed that, despite a promising start for about 10 seconds, yet again the hon. Gentleman could not resist the temptation of repeating the latest Daily Mail mantra and in so doing writing off all our young people, as the newspaper does today, as the worst in Europe. He had the opportunity to give the serious response that the issue deserves. He could have accepted the invitation at the end of my statement to be positive about young people, to commit the Conservatives— [Interruption.] He started promisingly, as I said, for about 10 seconds before he lapsed easily into his default position.
The hon. Gentleman could have committed his party to challenging the negative stereotypes which young people, in the most extensive ever consultation of them, told us that they detest—but no; he thinks that it will be to the Tories' political advantage to trash teenagers. That is what he did today— [ Interruption. ] Not only is the picture that he painted untrue of the vast majority of young people, but I do not understand how he thinks it will help his party for him constantly to run down Britain and young people—the broken society that he spoke about— [ Interruption. ]
Order. These are serious matters and it does not help sensible discussion if all the time we have silly remarks from both sides of the House.
I wonder what the hon. Gentleman thinks such talk says to all the young people who are working hard and, on many indices, doing better than any previous generation. What does he think parents in Britain make of Conservatives apparently thinking that they are doing such a terrible job of bringing up their children? Yes, a minority of young people are having problems, and we are very concerned about those, as we have been for the past 10 years. However, those such as UNICEF and the Daily Mail this morning which say that there has never been a worse time to be a young person in this country are dumbing down the real progress that most children, with dedicated help from their parents, families and teachers, are making.
I do not accept the conclusions of the UNICEF report or the Daily Mail's interpretation of IPPR research . For us it is important that every young person reaches their potential, but with child poverty decreasing, when it trebled under the Tory Government; with teenage pregnancy falling, when it reached an all-time high—the highest in Europe—under his Government; and with drug use falling and educational standards rising, life for the majority of young people in Britain is getting much better.
The hon. Gentleman says that this is not rocket science, but I should let him know that we have been working on these issues for the past 10 years. He asked why we did not start 10 years ago. The answer is that we did. If he were answering questions today, I could ask him why that work did not start 28, 15 or 11 years ago. Most of the opportunities and facilities that we are discussing today, including the quality of the youth service and youth workers, all but disappeared under 18 years of Tory rule. That is the legacy that we were left with. Our response since 1997, under Every Child Matters, Connexions, the creation of youth offending teams, the intensive activity programmes that I referred to, the volunteer service, the millennium volunteers, has been progressively to rebuild the infrastructure and the services that allow us today to take the next step for the young people of this country.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned a number of issues, all of which are dealt with in the strategy. When he gets a chance to read it, he will see the proposals for work force development and reform and the importance of the voluntary sector. He mentioned Bolton lads and girls club. That is used as a case study in the document, because we want to build on what the third sector is providing. He mentioned extended schools. The £1 billion that we announced yesterday will assist.
When young people and their parents have the chance to look at the opportunity that the hon. Gentleman has blown by telling us where the Tory party stands, they will ask, like the voters in Ealing, Southall and Sedgefield, what the Conservative party is now for. Young people will know a sham when they see one. The hon. Gentleman said nothing positive at all to them today. It is more of the same and that is nothing.
This Government are serious about addressing poverty and inequality and meeting the distinctive needs of young people. That is what the strategy is about. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would support the spirit of it and forge a better appreciation of our young people. He has shown again that the Tories are not up to it.
Does my right hon. Friend realise that not only do I welcome the statement, but that people in my constituency do not think that society or their community is broken? They resent such terms. Indeed, some of them remember a former Prime Minister who said that there was no such thing as society.
I welcome the statement. I particularly like the emphasis on empowerment. We have learned from all the research and work that has been done over the years that we should listen to young people and then give them leadership. My recently failed private Member's Bill sought the guarantee of two weeks' community leadership training for 16 to 18-year-olds. What is important is not only empowering young people, but the quality of the investment. There is an amazing group of volunteers out there in every community in the country. All they want is a bit more resource and a bit more access. It does not have to be a shiny new buildings. There are too many buildings in our towns and cities that are not open after 5 pm. What we need is opportunity.
I have one piece of advice for my right hon. Friend. There is more money if she needs it—
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is £62 million languishing in landfill tax, which was supposed to have been used for educational research, that she could get her hands on? It could help the effort that she has announced.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Like him, I regret the tone of the comments from the Conservative Front Bench. Interestingly, I wonder what divisions there are between Tim Loughton and Michael Gove who I understand has distanced himself from the UNICEF report and said that it was unfair. We will see where that disagreement ends up.
My hon. Friend is right to say that empowerment and the involvement of young people is not only important as a principle. As we know, the youth opportunity and youth capital funds that we have been giving to local authorities over the past year to spend on the condition that they spend it with young people are making a demonstrable difference to the quality, relevance and attractiveness of what is on offer to young people. Indeed, my right hon. Friends and I and the Prime Minister had a meeting with young people today in the Cabinet Room. Their single message to us was, "Please tell the people to talk to us, to listen to what we have to say, and to involve us in decision making." One young man said, "If you give us money to spend, we are not going to buy a PlayStation for everybody in their bedrooms. We are going to spend it on positive things that bring us together and help us to progress." I thought that that was profound.
I will investigate the point about landfill tax, because any additional resources that I can get my hands on will be welcome.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of the statement.
I welcome the tone of the statement and some of the intentions that lie behind it. As has been said, it has appeared on the same day as the Institute for Public Policy Research report. The Daily Mail coverage is a caricature of the actual report—a Hogarth image of debauched behaviour by young people, which I do not accept and recognise as an accurate picture of young people in society today. I know that many young people participate in volunteering, raise money for charity and achieve in schools.
I hope that the statement is the welcome start of a departure from some of the language of the Tony Blair era, namely the language of marching children to cash points, the language of dealing with feral youth and the language of imposing dispersal orders on young people, such as the fatuous dispersal order imposed on skateboarders in my constituency this week. I hope that it is a fresh approach that will empower young people.
On money, the Minister's Department, unlike all other Whitehall Departments, has its comprehensive spending review settlement for 2008 to 2011. Will the Minister say how much of the various sums identified in the statement is genuinely new money, rather than recycled existing money? Specifically, how much of it is Government money as opposed to the money of local authorities, youth offending teams and primary care trusts? How much is expected to be raised on the rather flimsy financial basis of recovering unclaimed assets lying in bank accounts? If investment in youth is really important—I think that it is—is that the correct source of money for that important investment?
The statement mentions that one of the aims is "empowerment", which I welcome. However, the only example that I could find in my brief perusal of the statement was for young people to have "influence" over 25 per cent. of local authority budgets by 2018, which is not exactly immediate empowerment. I expected the statement to say much more about how we can engage young people in citizenship and how we can ensure that every school and local authority encourages young people to participate in elections to the Youth Parliament. The Select Committee Chairman has left, but the recent Select Committee report, to which I was a signatory, recommends that every school should have a school council. If that were implemented, it would teach young people through practical action the skills of working together. I also hope that at some point we will have another debate about reducing the voting age to 16.
Will the Minister work with the Minister for Schools and Learners in making sure that every school in the country teaches all aspects of the personal, social and health education curriculum and the social and emotional aspects of the learning curriculum without opt-out? Many of the problems that have been caricatured in the Daily Mail and that have been the subject of the crossfire between Government and Conservative Front Benchers could be dealt with positively in schools, if that curriculum were taught without exception.
Investment in youth workers is important. Many hon. Members know that before I became a Member of Parliament my professional career for 17 years was as a tax consultant, but the first job that I was trained to do was as a children's play leader for the YMCA and for the local authority. [ Interruption. ] It was good training for this atmosphere. I know that by working with young people, one can teach them how to trust and about teamwork. Importantly, one can teach them about risk, too, through games, which is something that has been missing in the past 10 years. Not only are those qualities good for children, but they will stand them in good stead in later life.
The statement specifically mentions £25 million for the work force to attract graduates into youth work, which is worth while, but I wonder whether we can do more to encourage community leaders and senior citizens into youth work. People who have lost their jobs in other industries could also be retrained. That point particularly applies to men, because many young, disaffected men need male role models—they may not get it at home, but they could get it through the youth service.
Can we have a statement about detached workers? Much of the language of the statement is about places to go and investment in youth centres, but it is people who will make the difference. Rather than imposing dispersal orders on skateboarders in Bristol, it would have been much better to have sent a detached youth worker to talk to the young people, to engage with them and to tackle what is perceived as their antisocial behaviour.
Finally, the statement mentions "social and emotional skills". I think that values are important, too. Youth work has a great role to play in teaching young people tolerance and respect for other people in our diverse society. In particular, I would welcome an initiative to make anti-bullying work part of the youth service. I welcome much of the content of the statement, but the approach will succeed only if we engage with young people, rather than demonising them, and if we involve them in the construction of policies, rather than imposing policies on them.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments and the tone of his contribution. If the Conservative spokesman had made a similar contribution, we would have had a much better debate and, more importantly, we would have sent a more powerful signal to young people from both sides of the House.
The tone of the statement was chosen for a particular reason. That does not mean that we can disavow the important work that we had to do to make sure that if some young people behave badly, there is the wherewithal at a local level to deal with it. Many young people suffer from such behaviour, and we need to protect them and demonstrate to them that they are part of our consideration.
The hon. Gentleman asked about money. The new money from the comprehensive spending review programme is £124 million, plus another £60 million in capital to support the unclaimed assets, when they come on stream. I have not attempted to claim that the baseline funding is new money from the CSR, but it was previously short-term funding, whereas now it has been consolidated, so in a sense it is almost new money. That is a substantial contribution to young people.
The hon. Gentleman asked me what "influence" means. On the basis of our experience with the youth opportunity fund and the youth capital fund, we are saying to local authorities that we expect them to spend those resources in conjunction with young people. Most local authorities have risen to the spirit of that challenge by setting up panels of young people to make decisions about whether bids are successful, and groups of young people, obviously with the support of adults, are submitting bids. The system is suffused with young people's participation, which is the model that we want to take forward. When the hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to read the full document, he will see that there is a lot of discussion about other forms of influence. The possibilities include young mayors—we spoke to the ex-young mayor of Lewisham today—young advisers, mystery shoppers and so on.
We have recently announced £13 million to extend social and emotional work to primary schools and secondary schools, which is important.
I do not underestimate the importance of the work force. The strategy is about not only new facilities, but the fundamental reform and remodelling of the work force. The work force will have the opportunity to develop the skills, particularly leadership skills, that they need to develop our young people's values and capabilities.
When the hon. Gentleman has read the document, I hope that he will have more questions for me, and I am happy to discuss with him how we can work together to take the matter forward.
Order. Given the number of hon. Members seeking to catch my eye, it ought to be possible—it ought to have been possible—to call everyone today, but unless questions, and perhaps answers, are much briefer, a number of hon. Members will be disappointed.
Keighley Cougars rugby league club has for a number of years promoted out-of-school activities for young men and women in various areas, and I have the great honour to be a member of the trust that oversees the organisation of that work. One of the most encouraging events that I have been to was to see boys and girls, white and Asian, training together at Lawkholme lane with a rugby football a year or two ago. Does my right hon. Friend agree that public money should not be going into any youth facility that is discriminatory but into organisations that encourage cohesion and integration between the communities?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend and commend the efforts that she has made to promote cohesion and integration. This issue has come more into our consciousness and understanding in recent years. I can assure her that, through the strategy, we will make every effort to ensure that there is integration in the youth facilities that we want to provide.
I welcome much of the Minister's statement. However, may I gently say to her that there is a big difference between being positive about children and holding this Government to account for their policy towards children, as did my hon. Friend Tim Loughton? The strategy fails to address one of the most important causes of educational failure—family breakdown, to which almost every aspect of educational failure is related. What reassurance can she give the House that she recognises that fact, and what long-term measures are in the strategy to deal with it?
Family breakdown can be a cause of compounding disadvantage for many young people. In trying to address that, we have worked to provide support, specifically for parents, through a whole range of mechanisms, including children's centres and extended schools, and through work with local authorities. However, if the hon. Gentleman thinks that the situation would be improved by transferable tax allowances for married people, which would benefit only one in 10 young people and not the most disadvantaged, the Conservatives have to think again about how they address family breakdown.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, which was positive, intelligent and thoughtful. Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suggest that the dispersion between those who are successful educationally and those who fail is wider in Britain than in almost any other developed country, so there is still much to do. However, I applaud the Government for what has happened in the past 10 years. On the evidence of my constituency, much has been achieved and achievement is much higher than it was.
My right hon. Friend will know that the former Prime Minister's speechwriter recently left Downing street to teach in a London school, and he concluded that two serious problems in primary schools lead to this dispersion—teaching methods and failure to deal with behavioural problems in the classroom. Will she look again at what we can do to get the best teaching methods and to make better provision for those with behavioural problems?
My hon. Friend will know that the Steer report accepted the importance of the issues that he mentions. Closing the gap between the most disadvantaged children and the rest, right across the board but particularly in terms of attainment, is an absolutely key priority. The investment of £1.3 billion that we are making into a much more personalised approach in the classroom to identify children who are at risk of falling behind is specifically designed to address that.
The Minister referred to the need to provide positive impressions of the contributions that young people make in our society. As she will be aware, the Respect taskforce, which has responsibility for all antisocial behaviour initiatives, has recently been transferred from the Home Office to her Department. That suggests that the Government view antisocial behaviour as a youth issue. What are they going to do to counteract that unfortunate impression?
We are still working through how the transfer of the personnel working in that unit will be achieved. I think I am correct in saying that the most recent statistic is that only 41 per cent. of antisocial behaviour orders were issued to young people under the age of 18, so the hon. Gentleman is right to say that antisocial behaviour is not, by any means, exclusively a young person's problem. However, the taskforce is dealing with family intervention issues which have been very important in trying to identify and address the multiple problems of chaotic families, and it is that work in particular that we want to bring into the Department.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, particularly the £25 million for deprived areas. However, can I caution her against being too structured in terms of how that money is spent? Some of the things in which we have invested in the past, such as Connexions, have not been attractive to young people because the approach has been too structured. Will she encourage local authorities to carry out audits of parks and open spaces to see where they can introduce facilities for young people where they might be able to participate in less structured sporting activities? There is a great deal of goodwill among parents and other people who want to do things for young people, so will she ensure that the adult population are engaged in these facilities as well as young people themselves? Can she ensure that we cover core funding for voluntary organisations that are involved in youth work, because they often find that difficult? Will she undertake to meet me so that I can discuss all the other ideas that I have?
I thank my hon. Friend, who is a tremendous champion of young people and the facilities that they need. I want local authorities to undertake an audit of everything in their community, including parks and open spaces. Those that have done so have often found that there is considerably more than they thought or that young people know about. They now have a duty to improve their offer to young people and to inform them and their parents more accurately about what is available. Sustainability of good third sector organisations is critical to this strategy, and we are putting resources behind that. I will happily meet my hon. Friend to discuss this further.
As an ex-cub scout, venture scout and assistant scout leader, I welcome the recognition of the importance of scouting in its centenary year and hope that funding follows.
The Minister will be aware that I am concerned that children are inappropriately put into care and that research demonstrates that 70 per cent. of children return to their parents when they escape from the control of the state at the age of 16. I am particularly concerned about deaths of children in care, particularly one that occurred in the Trafford local authority area earlier this year. We must ask why arbitrary bureaucratic rules prevent children in care from making toast for each other but do not allow people to prevent them from acting as youth prostitutes. Will she look into the treatment of children in care, including the activities they are allowed to be involved in?
As an ex-Akela, I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of scouting.
It is very important that children in care are firmly included in the opportunities that the strategy is making available to all young people. In our White Paper, we proposed dedicated sums of money for each child in care to be spent in conjunction with them to give them access to extended activities through schools and in the community. The attributes that I talked about are particularly important for the most disadvantaged young people, many of whom end up in the care system.
I, too, welcome the statement by my right hon. Friend, particularly the announcement of the additional £173 million over the next three years for the youth opportunity fund. In my constituency, a panel of young people has been making the awards from the YOF, and that has been very successful. However, there remain difficulties in engaging young people who are not in organised groups and who are often the most disadvantaged and the most at risk, both from themselves and others. Will she ensure that local agencies have proposals in place on how they plan to engage those young people as a condition of receiving YOF funds in future, as we need to equip all young people to face the challenges of a very difficult world?
I want to acknowledge what my hon. Friend does in her constituency to promote such issues; she talks to me about them regularly. Although the strategy is for all young people, I made it clear in my statement how important it is that those who are disadvantaged get access to such opportunities. That is why we put in an additional £25 million, alongside the money for the youth opportunity fund for deprived areas and money for third sector organisations, which are often much better at accessing young people because they are more trusted. The evaluation of the first year of the youth opportunity fund shows that there has been considerable success in accessing disadvantaged young people, but not enough for my liking. We need to go further, and that will be a key criterion against which I judge success.
Will the right hon. Lady prevent any further closures of special schools for those with moderate learning difficulties? I am delighted that she agrees that the vast majority of young people are decent, caring, honest, hard-working kids with integrity whose reputation is spoilt by a few yobs. Will she do nothing to prevent parents from properly and caringly chastising and disciplining their children to stop them turning into yobs?
The hon. Gentleman knows that the answer to his main question is that such decisions rest with local authorities, which is exactly right. I will say, though—I made a particular point of this in my statement—that it is crucial that the opportunities we are opening up are open to disabled young people and those with special educational needs. I was at a youth theatre on Sunday watching a performance that included several disabled children and children with learning difficulties. What they got from being involved in that activity was tremendous, and we want to see an increase in such activity.
While I enormously welcome the strategy, and the extra funds for youth clubs and positive activities, my right hon. Friend, and Akela, will be aware that some young people cannot be reached through clubs or organised activities, either because they are non-joiners or because the children at the clubs they go to—not the club staff themselves—are territorial and make it difficult for them. The only organisation in my area that has contact with these non-joiners is the safer neighbourhood teams. Would it be possible to spend some part of that £25 million for deprived areas on creating attached workers with safer neighbourhood teams, who could do things such as set out rules for the use of play areas, and negotiate with neighbouring parents? Those are often the biggest difficulties for children who want to take part in activities.
It may be that safer neighbourhood teams have a role to play. We certainly need to recognise the importance of detached youth workers. There are, however, some really good voluntary organisations making great progress with some of the most alienated young people I have met. I mentioned Fairbridge, and I have visited a number of its projects. It is engaging with young people who have dropped out and are afraid to go on the streets in their communities, and it works with them through a whole series of graduated activities to get them back into the mainstream. I would not want to exclude important voluntary organisations that do some great work.
I welcome warmly the thrust of the right hon. Lady's statement, but providing for the majority of young people in an area must not be allowed to dilute the responsibility to do more for those individuals, as distinct from areas, whose need is most acute. I politely put it to the Minister that the desperate struggles for funding of both the Nuffield speech and language unit and the Michael Palin centre for stammering children demonstrate conclusively the urgent need to review and bolster the commissioning arrangements and to make available central pots of funding so that parents do not have to wage an absolutely horrific and Kafkaesque battle at local level simply to get what their children need and deserve.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comment, and I genuinely value the way in which he constantly brings this issue to the attention of the House because it is very important. We have a rather terrible phrase, but it describes exactly what he is talking about: "progressive universalism". Within the context of universal services, we must take an important additional step and ensure that people have the methods and commitment to identify, reach and provide for minorities of young people, whatever their disadvantage, to make sure that they avail themselves of mainstream opportunities just as much as the majority.
I really welcome the emphasis in the statement on young people having a say. I know from consultations I have run in Slough, and in this House, how much sense and imagination they have to offer. In those consultations, however, young people whose families are most chaotic, and failing to support them because of drugs, alcohol or health issues, tend to get missed out. I am anxious that the positive programme she has advanced might not connect to that group of young people. Will she consider whether we could establish some sort of social work or emotional information network in primary schools to refer young people to activities out of school while they are still there for most of the day, before they drift into being out of school more often than they should be?
I welcome the support from most hon. Members for the importance of recognising that this strategy must identify and reach the most disadvantaged young people, because that is my starting point, too.
On my hon. Friend's point, the work going on to extend the range of activities around the school day, with various enrichment activities, is an important part of the extended school programme, as is the use of the school as a hub for the referral of young people to more specialist services and the identification of young people who might otherwise miss out. As she knows, we announced yesterday a further £1.1 billion to enable all schools to offer those extended services, including the link to specialist services. That will greatly help what is available in the locality with regard to positive activities and support for children and young people.
I welcome the Minister's statement, particularly when I contrast it to my professional experience working in child care 15 or 20 years ago, when staff were being made redundant, budgets were being cut and there were certainly no new buildings. Could I ask the Minister whether she has made any provision for rural and semi-rural communities in her plans? Deprivation is clearly a difficult issue wherever it is, but it is particularly challenging when it is compounded by isolation.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question because I know that he has great expertise in these issues. We do not want local authorities to make all the provision themselves; we want them to work with the voluntary and private sectors. I have seen some great schemes in which there has been substantial involvement from the private sector. However, it is important that local authorities take the strategic lead because it is through that route that the characteristics of local problems, whether in urban or rural areas, can be identified through the participation of young people, and solutions can be found. Obviously, transport is a particular issue for youngsters in many rural areas, and it is important that local authorities talk to passenger transport authorities and to young people in order to find solutions to access problems.