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Well, I have been here for 22 years, and I have also seen a thing or two.
When I was a Minister at the Department for Education, we came up with the early intervention budget because it was the right thing to do on so many fronts. It alarms me that early intervention is seen as a luxury add-on rather than an essential part of everything that we should be doing for our children, and we should be planning for it over the long term. That is why, for all the reasons I have set out, I am pleased to see—I know that the Minister for Children supports this work—the inter-ministerial working party led by the Leader of the House trying to co-ordinate early-years activities across Government.
Turning to schools, the big figures that we talk about in these reports—the big percentage increases—are meaningless until we translate them into their impact on the frontline. I have spent the past couple of years getting all the heads from all the schools in my constituency and all the chairs of governors together to ask them about the impact of funding challenges on their schools. I asked not what might happen, but what is happening now. I wrote a seven-page letter to the Secretary of State for Education with the findings from all those schools, which included impacts as a result of not replacing staff or replacing them with less expensive and therefore less qualified staff, of having to remove things from the curriculum, and of doing away with out-of-school visits. Alarmingly, counselling services have also been reduced—almost to zero in some cases—at a time when we all know the effect of mental health stresses on the younger generation. The Government have recognised that, and work is ongoing, but if people are not on hand in schools to help with the stresses and strains that lead to mental health problems, that will just store up expensive problems, both financially and socially, for children in those schools.
We have been generous and have planned for the long term in the national health service, and it is essential not to neglect early long-term planning in a preventive way for our babies, toddlers, children and young people. It is a complete false economy not to be doing that. While I appreciate the additional money that the Government have been putting in, I am afraid that the estimates that we are looking at today, when they are factored down to the impact that they will have in authorities such as mine in West Sussex, which has had severe underfunding for so many years, will have a detrimental effect on the life chances of our children. Frankly, we have to do better, or we will be picking up a much more expensive and complicated bill further down the line.