I notice the hon. Lady says it is “a” root cause, which is a helpful context, but we cannot get away from the power of poverty to damage family relationships. We all know that from our own lives and our surgeries, and it is important that we bear that in mind.
“A Manifesto to Strengthen Families” was published by a group of Conservative MPs and peers in September 2017. I agree with some of the recommendations of course—who would argue against the Government focusing on promoting healthy relationships as one way to tackle the country’s mental health crisis? Of course that is important, as is the proposal to create family hubs to co-locate superb early years health services and services that offer help for parents with children across various age ranges. That is exactly what the highly successful Sure Start programme, introduced by the previous Labour Government, does. Why, then, have more than 1,200 Sure Start centres been closed since 2010? That is a severe reduction in essential support for many parents. Do the Government recognise that the closure of Sure Starts was a mistake? Perhaps they are too embarrassed to say so and want to introduce them under another name. If they do, that will be fantastic. Please do.
The manifesto might have more credibility if it were not for the damage being done to families by the Government’s policies. For example, the manifesto calls on the Government to encourage every local authority to work with voluntary and private sector partners to deliver family hubs. However, local councils are being forced to cope with deep cuts to their budgets, and the cuts are having a detrimental effect on family life. Children’s services will face a £2 billion funding gap by 2020, yet in the recent draft local government finance settlement, no extra money was committed for children’s services, despite a 124% rise over the past 10 years in the number of inquiries where local authorities believe a child may be suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm. The number of children needing child protection plans has increased by more than 23,000 in the same period.
In my own area of Merseyside, local authorities in Liverpool, Wirral and Knowsley have worked with the Merseyside police service to establish early health hubs to support families with complex needs. However, the police service is concerned that the level of cuts it is coping with means that it is becoming increasingly reactive rather than proactive.
It is important that we think carefully about how we talk about families, when we consider the many types of families that exist: single parents, widows, widowers and kinship carers, for example.