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(Maiden Speech) My Lords, it is a great honour to stand here as a Member of this House and to speak for the first time. I begin by expressing my thanks to noble Lords on all sides of the House for the warmth of the welcome I have received. The huge amount of support available to newcomers such as myself from your Lordships, the doorkeepers, the clerks, the Library, the IT support staff, the Pass Office, the dining rooms and all the members of staff have greatly eased the rites of passage, and I thank your Lordships and them warmly.
I should also like to thank my supporters for their advice and encouragement: the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, whom I first met three years ago when I joined the board of trustees of the British Museum—an arrival she immediately celebrated by announcing her departure—and my noble friend Lord Rose of Monewden, who has been a business friend for many years. I could have no finer supporters, spanning, as they do, my interests in business, the arts and the not-for-profit sector.
Finally, I give thanks to my noble friend Lord Borwick, who has approached his duties as mentor with exemplary zeal. Two weeks ago, I made the mistake of mentioning to my noble friend that I was about to spend an early Friday evening with my pass and a map familiarising myself with this building. Within minutes, I received an email from him listing six obscure rooms that I had to find—a very upmarket sort of treasure hunt.
I am glad to make my maiden speech on a subject so vital as the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. I support the Minister’s aims for the Bill, and in particular I want to highlight the work of the troubled families programme, which the Bill seeks to enhance. Based on my family’s active interest in the welfare of those children right at the bottom of the social pile in the UK, I feel that the troubled families programme is on the right track but still has a lot to do. I suggest that more focus be brought to the needs of the most troubled children in our society.
I should like to put my speech in context. My two brothers and I grew up in a beautiful part of north Lancashire, where my father ran our long-established textile engineering business from a dark, satanic mill in Accrington, until the de-industrialisation of our UK cotton industry put it, and its many employees, out of business some years after my father’s retirement. We were brought up in an environment where love and mutual respect were strong; where hard work was expected; where ambition and, yes, competition were encouraged; where knowledge was held precious; and where the concept of community service was regarded as the expected norm. We lacked for nothing but we were taught not to want everything. It was a perfect childhood, and it gave me the foundation and all the tools to make the best of my life. Would that every child in Britain should be so lucky.
That brings me back to the Bill. It is right to highlight that income may be important in measuring poverty, but it is not the only measure. The Centre for Social Justice report, Reforming the Child Poverty Act, highlights the five measures of worklessness, family breakdown, educational failure, addiction and serious personal debt as elements of an interconnected problem that income-only based definitions of poverty fail to cover. To end poverty in this country, we cannot afford to just play with statistics; we have to strike at its underlying causes.
That is what makes the work of the troubled families programme indispensable. This programme aims to identify families in difficulty who have complex needs at a local level, and to intervene to help them directly. Three years ago, the Prime Minister set local councils the challenge of joining up services to help 120,000 such families. By now, 116,000 such families have been helped, but we simply cannot stop here. In its 2012 report, the riots panel estimated that there are around 500,000 “forgotten families” experiencing multiple disadvantages that require intensive intervention. This is a major problem of our age and of our society.
I want to go further: I have a concern that there is a whole class of young—sometimes very young—damaged children effectively growing up alone, in that they are not even part of what we think of as a family. They are not in families at all. I have met teenagers with six siblings, each from a different father. I have met children who have been physically and emotionally abused by their mother’s boyfriends. I have met children who have been excluded from school aged 13 because they have never been given a concept of boundaries and acceptable behaviour, and children who have turned to committing sexual acts on the street at that young age to fund their mother’s heroin addiction.
Why would children as young as 12 or 13 be on the street alone? Because they may have been excluded from school for their almost feral misbehaviour, caused by their lack of any upbringing. The school will have complied with DfE guidance by notifying a parent of their exclusion, whether or not any mother, father or guardian was capable of picking them up, due to their own inadequacies. Surely, that is a case where the law is failing in practice in its primary duty of care to the child rather than the school.
One might consider such a child to be beyond hope. However, it is remarkable how the human spirit can overcome impossible obstacles in the desire to survive and thrive—given help. I saw this last Friday afternoon, when my wife and I visited the Mulberry Bush School near Oxford. I declare an interest, as our family charitable foundation has recently made a small initial grant to the school. We saw first-hand the inspirational help that that school gives to some of the most damaged children in the UK, from the ages of five to 13. These are children who, in the school’s own words, have,
“been so constantly deprived and frustrated that they are full of helpless rage, which one day will manifest as panic, violence and destruction, and we must find ways to intervene early to break this destructive cycle”.
I ended our visit to the school having a conversation about shifting continental tectonic plates with a lively 12 year-old boy who only two years ago could not read or write a word; nor could he express himself intelligibly.
A good upbringing is not available to all children because, as the CSJ says in its report:
“Many of these parents received poor parenting themselves when they were children so the cycle continues unless the right intervention is given”.
We have a moral, social and economic need to intervene.
The children I describe seem, through no fault of their own, to fall between the lack of statutory duties of the DfE after they are excluded from school and the DWP, because of their young age. That is why the troubled families programme is so vital. It specialises in a whole-family approach, it cuts through jurisdictions and statistics, and it helps people who need it most. It uses many different models to fill the gap that I describe.
My point is that the new reporting requirements for the troubled families programme as set out in the Bill are a useful step in the right direction. But there is so much more to develop, not least whether there are more relevant ways to measure success so that the payment-by-results approach can be applied to greater effect and children who somehow survive in what is anything but a family unit are scooped up into the care net.
We owe it to the legion of “lost families” and “lost children” to intervene. I applaud the direction of travel of the troubled families programme, especially the renewed investment of a further £200 million to add to the £448 million already invested in this programme. I finish by quoting what Confucius is credited with saying some 2,500 years ago:
“The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home”.
Some things, my Lords, do not change.