I thank my noble friend Baroness Armstrong and her colleagues for this excellent report. It is a true road map for the Government to follow, coming out of Covid and taking us forward—not building back but building forward. We must look forward and ensure that we go forward and put the correct finance behind this.
I was very disturbed on reading the two pieces in the report about education and inequality. We know that for a child, from the time it is born, equality, food and care are important, as is education. We have seen throughout this pandemic that money for young children and mothers has been cut. There have been no Sure Start start-ups, and no real efforts to provide free nursery education. There is the whole question of food banks and benefits for food. We know that children cannot concentrate without food, and their lungs and the rest of their body are affected too. We are talking about the future generations of this country. Promises have been made but not kept by the Education Minister, and it is a disgrace. We were so lucky that teachers stayed and continued to try to work.
I must ask this Government to think seriously about education. It is not an issue I am known to speak about often, but I find it impossible not to address the way the Government have dealt with it. This report really makes the case, and the road map is here. We must look not only at education from the point at which a child is born, but at the way mothers are treated in hospital and the care they need. We have seen, through this report, how vulnerable mothers from certain sectors are. They need more care, and their babies need care. We also know that a child’s brain, if it is not helped, is not going to grow well; and again, I mention the lungs.
I ask the Minister to undertake that she will ask the Government and the Department for Education to look yet again at children’s education from the very start. We need to have Sure Starts. We cannot rely, as we do, on the voluntary organisations and others that help to make this happen. Sure Starts in all primary schools also have to be brought back. They help not only the children but mothers who are working from home; they need this social contact with each other. Further, we have to give a better undertaking in respect of food banks and how the associated cards operate—when you pay for food, the money is not on them. Why are we using agencies and consultants that cannot deliver? As many noble Lords have said, we pay lots of money to consultants, but nothing is given back. Also, we must look again at the benefits system as we come through Covid. If people cannot look for work, they need benefits to keep themselves and their families going. That is absolutely vital; otherwise, this is going to cost the health service much more, as the report says.
I support all my colleagues in what they have said today. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.