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A Manifesto to Strengthen Families - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:47 pm on 2nd November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Mawson Lord Mawson Crossbench 4:47 pm, 2nd November 2017

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, for initiating this important debate. If I have a concern with this manifesto, it is an over-confidence in the role of the state over time.

In my experience, it takes a family and a local community to raise children well. My colleagues and I have been building a supportive entrepreneurial culture which has been supporting children and families in the East End of London at many levels for 34 years. Today the Bromley by Bow Centre employs 270 staff, is operating on 30 sites across east London, runs four health centres with 40,000 patients and hosts 2,000 visitors a year from across the world seeking our wisdom and practical insight into how you build, in reality, integrated responses and support networks with some of our most challenged families. To help them these families need us all to take the long view. Ideally they need cross-party support over many years rather than being the subjects of party political ideology, game playing and short-term initiatives. My colleagues and I have the long view, and we know and have witnessed on countless occasions what positive outcomes can happen if you take the long view and stay around over time with these families.

If the Government are serious about this manifesto, they might like to look back over the past 30 years and learn from the programmes the state has run—because in our experience government is not a learning organisation; it has little memory and this fact has many unintended consequences for many of our most vulnerable families. Thirty years ago in our area you had a rich ecology of providers of child care and often strong relationships with parents and families. Then, government said we will encourage children to enter school two years earlier, thus destroying the business model of many small nurseries and support networks—the older ones subsidised the younger ones, who needed much higher levels of care.

They then set up Sure Start and children’s centres; indeed, the launch of these centres was at the Bromley by Bow Centre. We were told that we were the model for what should happen nationally, and now of course they are saying that we cannot afford them. Being aware of unintended consequences and learning from what we have done is the first rule of thumb. The family hubs proposal is a great idea and absolutely in the right direction of travel, bringing services together and creating an integrated environment. The danger is that they will become the next shiny new thing for the next few years, rather than be embedded in communities.

One of the major causes of family break-up is poverty—arguments about money. Go on YouTube and listen to Paul McCartney’s interview with David Frost and you begin to get under the surface of what was really going on with Lennon and McCartney. On the housing estate where McCartney lived, he describes the endless rows he listened to among poor families that were all about money. He and John decided that the way out of this was to make money; it was not just the music that drove them.

Today, our experience and ideas about building integrated entrepreneurial cultures in poor communities are going national. I am leading 10 projects in 10 towns and cities in the north of England for Public Health England, through the Well North programme, in communities and with families that successive Governments have failed. I declare my interest. Here we can see all the silos of government at play, often undermining and contradicting each other and not working together, and yet we say that doing anything about the systems of government is all too difficult. Really? If it takes not just a family but a whole community to bring up a child, we need communities to take greater ownership of their areas. This is what we are seeking to do, and there are great examples in the north of people trying to do just this, if only we will let them. This is how communities become successful.

Post Brexit there is a real opportunity to do something about this operating model. Some of us are already putting platforms in place on which to build, but I wait to see whether this Government are interested in long-term, joined-up responses, in genuinely doing things differently and becoming an institution that can learn from their rich history.