Strengthening Families — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:25 pm on 8th February 2018.

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Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office 3:25 pm, 8th February 2018

I thank you for that warning, Ms Buck. I will deal with the comment in one sense and move on to the substance of the manifesto.

There is virtue in integrating services, The sort of thing that is being pioneered in Manchester, where we bring together different services—it is in fact being pioneered by a Labour Mayor, in conjunction with the former Chancellor’s measures—is, I think, a way of improving health outcomes.

I will now move on to the specific measures in the manifesto, which form part of broader Government policy. For example, there is the important matter of education. There are now 1.9 million children in good or outstanding schools, which is a record number. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford raised some important points about mental health. As was recognised, we are investing £1.4 billion in mental health services for children and young people, and we have set up a scheme in schools to raise awareness and help them to know how to deal with individuals in schools suffering from mental health issues. We have published a Green Paper to set out our plans to transform mental health services in schools. My hon. Friend made an important point about the need for a holistic, family approach to mental health, and hopefully the Green Paper will be a starting point.

As I said, a route into meaningful work is very important for improving children’s life chances. We now know that nearly three quarters of children from workless households moved out of poverty when their parents entered full-time work. That means 608,000 fewer children are living in workless households.

Before moving on to the contents of the manifesto, I would like to try to address some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton. The importance of champions for the family in Government was raised by several Members. As a starting point, I know that the Prime Minister is personally committed to this—she is the principal champion of families. We have already discussed the other Ministers with family responsibilities, but I have certainly heard the point about a specific, designated family Cabinet Minister loud and clear, and I will relay that to my colleagues in Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton raised the DAD scheme. I understand from my officials that the Department for Education has funded a range of family advice and support services since 2008, including Family Matters, which runs the website called DAD. The service is well used and is valued by its users. Ministers at DFE are considering the future requirements for the next financial year, so it is under active consideration. I am sure the representations made by my hon. Friend will have been heard loud and clear. On children’s centres, an important point was raised about family hubs. Clearly, local authorities have responsibility for children’s centres and they are free to pioneer family hubs. As my hon. Friend said, a great number are already doing so. She highlighted Westminster and the Isle of Wight. I would urge other councils to consider doing so.

My hon. Friend made an excellent representation on a transformation fund. Sadly, it is entirely beyond my remit to make public spending commitments, but I am sure the Chancellor will take note, particularly regarding the £90 million in dormant bank accounts. On the statutory duty to have the father’s name on birth certificates, it is worth noting that 94% of birth certificates already have the father’s name there, so we are making progress.

On relationships education, which came up in a number of contributions, the call for evidence is out at the moment. Some passionate pleas were made. I would urge hon. Members to respond to that call for evidence—I believe it closes on Monday. That is the route for formulating policy in that area. Again, I think a valuable point was made about the need for an annual statement on strengthening families and that is again something I will relay to my right hon. Friends in Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford talked about Home-Start, which is very important. I have looked into it very briefly, and I believe that comes under the local transformation plans that we put in place in 2014-15. There is an opportunity, as part of those plans, to provide for such schemes, but I will write to him further on that point.

Let me turn to the substance of the debate: this excellent manifesto. The Government introduced the family test in 2014 to bring a family perspective into policy making. It helps to ensure that the impact on family relationships and functioning, both positive and negative, is recognised in the process of policy development, and it informs policy decisions made by Ministers. We introduced the test to ensure that, across Government, we think carefully about the potential for new policies to support or undermine family relationships. The Implementation Unit has a role in ensuring that the family test is implemented. The test means that families are considered at the start of any new policy development.