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Queen’s Speech - Debate (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:36 pm on 22nd October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 4:36 pm, 22nd October 2019

My Lords, children and health have been mentioned in some very eloquent speeches already. I want to talk about young people’s health, particularly early inequalities in health due to many of the factors expressed so eloquently by my noble friend Lady Sherlock.

The gracious Speech did not refer to the needs of children directly, but it referred to domestic abuse, which affects children and who may be victims in their own right. This will no doubt be considered as we go through the Bill. I am reminded that over the past three years or so we have not considered issues such as children and the elderly; we have been talking about Brexit considerations. I regret this and we should now emphasise issues such as the health and well-being of children and the elderly. We must re-address our priorities and examine what, as a nation, we should urgently consider important, such as children and the elderly.

This is a crisis for young people’s health. Decreasing funding for children’s services and a rising demand and legal requirements to provide statutory services has meant that there is a gap between what local authorities need to spend and the resources available. This is calculated to be £3.1 billion by 2024-25. Between 2010-11 and 2017-18, central government funding for children’s services fell by 29%. The most deprived areas suffered a fall of 37%, compared to 21% in less deprived areas. This makes no sense at all, as pointed out by many in the children’s voluntary sector. It affects social mobility, so emphasised by the Government in recent years, and is an economic nonsense. Early intervention in child health and well-being has been shown to save millions of pounds in the long term.

The Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on the welfare of future generations is a welcome intervention, which calls for long-term sustainable thinking. Will the Government look at the success of Wales when we consider this Bill?

I shall now refer to an excellent report from the Association for Young People’s Health, of which I am a patron. The report gives key data for young people aged between 10 and 24 in the UK. Sadly, the message is that inequalities are disturbing and on the increase. The gap in health between rich and poor is already apparent in young people aged between 10 and 24. In some cases, health inequalities are widening. Of course, the 10-to-24 age group covers a time of huge change, when many influences coincide. For example, there are the transitions from childhood to adolescence, from adolescence to adulthood, from education to employment, and from reliance on family to—we hope—being independent and peer group interaction becoming more significant. For some young people, without sustained support, life is difficult and leads to vulnerability, including the dangers of poor mental health and anti-social behaviour. I am aware that the Government have promised a greater focus on mental health.

Let me give some examples of the impacts of deprivation. Severe obesity rates for 10 to 11 year-olds in the most deprived areas of England are four times greater than those in the least deprived. That gap rose from 8.5% in 2006-07 to 13.5% in 2017-18. Young people living in the poorest areas are twice as likely to be admitted to hospital with asthma and have much worse diabetic control. There are also inequalities in smoking rates, under-18 conception rates, mental ill-health prevalence and rates of road traffic injuries.

Information on health has consistently pointed out inequalities in health related to income, education and where people live. The problem is that the situation is becoming worse. We need to examine the social determinants of health, such as those pointed out by my noble friend Lady Sherlock. I support Action for Children’s call for a national childhood strategy. I called for a young people’s strategy in another debate and will follow this up with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, as recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Agnew. Will the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care also examine the urgent need for such a strategy? Will they call for a cross-government approach to this? Only by combining forces will we serve our children and young people well.