I beg to move,
That this House
has considered family hubs.
It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham, given your support for family life.
What exactly are family hubs? They are beginning to spring up across the country, and are being developed by innovative individuals and local authorities as a result of a fundamental rethink of how families can be better supported. The term is used in two main ways. First, it can mean a physical building in the heart of a local community, such as a former children’s centre, a sports centre or a school, where a range of providers of adult and children’s services from the public, private and voluntary sectors are based or co-ordinated. Crucially, it is a place where families can go for help and support, and where someone will have the answers. The Isle of Wight’s locality hubs, to which I will refer shortly, are examples.
Alternatively, the term can be used to refer to a virtual community service hub. For example, in Newcastle, networks of services are co-ordinated in an integrated way, perhaps in a single building that is not itself a hub.
The examples I will refer to today are physical hubs. The advantage of physical hubs is that families know that there is somewhere local to go, where joined-up services are clear for all to see and access without stigma. No family is without its challenges from time to time.
Why are some local authorities developing family hubs? According to Dr Samantha Callan,
“the lack of readily accessible family supports, along a spectrum of need, throughout the time children are dependent on their parents (0-19) means that life chances are often severely impaired and social care services are faced with unremittingly high numbers of children who are in need, on child protection plans and coming into care.”
“1.6 million children living in families with substantial complex needs have no established recognised form of additional support.”
She is increasingly frustrated that vulnerable children are
“let down by a system that doesn’t recognise or support them;
a system that leaves these children and their families to fend for themselves until things have got out of hand and crisis hits”.
My experience of children’s centres is that they were not targeted, and the services they provided were completely wasted. How will my hon. Friend ensure that the hubs are targeted at the people who really need them, rather than at middle-class mothers who want to sit there or who take their children because they have other things to do?
One of the ways—I shall elaborate on this—is to ensure that the centres are grassroots-built, that they engage with the local community and that they involve not just the statutory services but voluntary community groups. Each family hub will therefore be different and tailored to the needs of the local community, much more than Sure Start services were.
Anne Longfield says that
“in expanding the range of support we offer to vulnerable children and their families, we can support many more children in a more efficient and effective way. This is about an approach that works with children and their families, to develop resilience, confidence and independence”.
She says that it is imperative that Government initiatives
“focus on expanding the provision of lower-level services which support children and families, making them routine to access”.
She says that some may simply need a “helping hand” but that
“for others it will be specialist support for them and their families.”
Family hubs can offer that range.
The broader need that Anne Longfield highlights explains why exclusively focusing on the Sure Start children’s centre nought-to-five model is no longer tenable. It is vital, if we are to give children the best start in life, that services are broader. However, we also need to address the massive challenges our country faces due to family instability. That is why family hubs are needed. Such challenges include children’s mental health issues and educational and employment under-attainment, as well as a range of other challenges that can be lifelong, including addiction, housing pressures, pressure on GP surgeries, loneliness in old age and many others.
Although family hubs are as yet few in number, they are already beginning to have a real impact. I understand that the early intervention provision on the Isle of Wight means that fewer children are being put on child protection plans. At Middlewich High School in my constituency, when students have special educational needs or disability or mental health challenges, the whole family is supported. After just a few years, the evidence shows the positive impact of family hubs on the emotional health and wellbeing of students. There has even been an improvement in GCSE results.
I will describe one family hub in detail to evidence the range of support that hubs can provide, but before I do so, I will set out my key asks of the Government. National Government, from the Prime Minister down and across ministerial briefs, must really get behind this initiative. They must champion family hubs in policy, promote best practice and provide a transformation fund to help to accelerate the development of family hubs across the country.
I will describe just one example from a number of family hubs, represented at a recent roundtable to showcase good practice that was held at 10 Downing Street. Family hubs are all different because they are created by and tailored to the local communities in which they sit. Chelmsford family hub opened in March and is located in Chelmsford library. The refurbishment was paid for by a £145,000 grant from the Arts Council and £171,000 from Chelmsford’s infrastructure levy fund. In its first two days of opening, more than 80 families received support from the Essex Child and Adult Wellbeing Service and library staff.
The Essex Child and Adult Wellbeing Service focuses on ensuring every child has the best possible start in life and on providing community services that are accessible and high quality, and that meet the identified needs of children, young people and families.
I am very interested in what the hon. Lady is saying. In my constituency, some church community organisations have a wrap-around service, like a family hub, that provides not only education, but clothing, food and breakfast in the morning, and deals with young people who have issues. Is that the sort of thing she is talking about?
Absolutely. A family hub could well be placed in a church environment. Indeed, a wonderful church community in my constituency—New Life church—provides a host of services for all ages, including a very effective job club.
Family hubs are at the heart of the services in Essex. The majority of services are delivered and co-ordinated from hubs. There is one in each district and, like the one at Chelmsford library, they are open for 50 hours a week. The hubs’ approach to family care is to look at a family’s strengths and then to work with the family, across all its services, aligning resources and focusing on prevention, early intervention and evidence-based practice. Working with families is so important.
At Chelmsford library, library staff, health and family support workers, and volunteers from other support agencies have come together to create a one-stop shop for free family services, including antenatal contact, parenting support, school readiness, school nursing, family health, substance misuse support, contraception advice, nutrition support, mental health support, smoking cessation, dental care, and SEN and disability support for young people up to 25. They work with an array of family support services, such as Citizens Advice, safer spaces, adult community learning and home start. Volunteers are proactively encouraged to play a role through peer support and by developing grassroots community groups to help to strengthen and build resilience in local communities.
Key features of that successful approach include a true integration of joined-up services and community engagement, the whole-family approach I mentioned and a flexible service that meets individual needs—the right type of support by the right person at the right time. Myriad outcomes are aspired to, including children and young people feeling safer; families being helped to improve parenting and children’s behaviour; better emotional wellbeing of mothers and children in the perinatal period and beyond; good lifestyle choices; more resilient families who can respond well to crises and cope with shocks; young people having strong attachment to at least one adult; and people being connected to and involved in their local community.
So many families are increasingly without the support structures we took for granted only a generation ago, and often live far away from relatives. The impact of family hubs cannot be overestimated. As Javed Khan, chief executive officer of Barnardo’s, said at our No. 10 roundtable, they should be
“at the heart of the domestic policy agenda”.
Family hubs could play a crucial role in fighting the “burning injustices” highlighted by the Prime Minister. Mr Khan also said:
“Our frontline experience strongly supports the proposition that early help for families is absolutely essential to build resilience and prevent more serious problems occurring later on. That’s why, in our 10 year strategy, our first of three aims is to create Stronger Families, alongside Safer Childhoods and Positive Futures. Amongst our 1000+ services, we have some great examples of Family Hubs. We all know that rising demand on safeguarding services and the care system, combined with tightened budgets, leave many local authorities without the means to invest in early support. Yet help for families is vital if we are going to break the cycle and step in when children are at serious risk of harm.”
Other family hubs, such as Woodland Academy Trust’s, help with job and career opportunities. That hub has introduced a character toolkit for children and young people and has established a number of local projects in conjunction with local faith groups. As David Simpson mentioned, they can provide very strong community support. Westminster City Council plans to develop three hubs in collaboration with partner organisations, such as child and adolescent mental health services. I look forward to the launch of the family hub partnership in Westminster this November. We hope that there will be a ministerial presence there—ideally, the Secretary of State for Education.
The key aims of the Westminster hubs are just too many to mention, but they include identifying families with complex needs as early as possible, no matter which service they come into contact with; preventing family breakdown; preventing children from going into care and from entering the criminal justice system; helping parents to gain employment; providing access to first-line mental health support to reduce referrals to higher level, more costly interventions; and improving outcomes for children and young people across a range of health and wellbeing indicators. I hope that those descriptions bring home the tremendous potential that family hubs could have if they were sited in local communities right across our country.
The aspiration to support the creation of family hubs nationwide is one of the policy asks in the Manifesto to Strengthen Families, launched last September, which has the support of some 60 Conservative Back-Bench MPs, many other MPs and a large number of peers. I pay tribute to Dr Samantha Callan, whom I mentioned earlier, who has done so much work on how practical policies could be developed by Government to help to strengthen families. She is part of the team that worked on this manifesto, together with Lord Farmer—our representative in the Lords—and our executive director, David Burrowes and myself.
Key policy 6 of the manifesto states that the Government should
“encourage every local authority to work with voluntary and private sector partners to deliver Family Hubs…
local ‘one stop shops’
offering families with children and young people, aged 0-19, early help to overcome difficulties and build stronger relationships…the Government should put in place a transformation fund and national task force to encourage Local Authorities to move towards this Family Hub model…that will particularly help children in need.”
The manifesto also states:
“Alongside physical Family Hubs, the Government should work with the Family Hub Movement to develop a virtual Family Hub offering online support and guidance that mirrors the depth and quality of NHS.gov and links families to local provision.”
I want to emphasise, however, that vocal and practical leadership is required from central Government significantly to accelerate the creation of family hubs and their roll-out across the country. We need Ministers and the Prime Minister to champion family hubs. We need this to be a key component of our domestic policy going forward. Backing that up with a transformation fund of £100 million over four years could provide a rocket boost by highlighting good practice and helping senior local authority staff across the country to reconfigure existing services to make them more holistic and co-ordinated. Focus should be on early intervention and prevention, as well as community self-help and developing missing services such as relationship support, which is too rarely available in the community.
Leadership from national Government to strengthen family life in our country is absolutely critical. The fiscal cost of addressing family breakdown, quite apart from the often lifelong pain and suffering of millions, has been estimated and oft-quoted in the House at around £50 billion, but that is a vast underestimate. The cost in terms of lost life potential and lost productivity is much more.
So much of that cost is borne, and so many of the related challenges are addressed, by a wide range of Departments: Education, Health, Justice, Work and Pensions, the Cabinet Office, Housing, Communities and Local Government, and even Defence. That is why our manifesto policy 1 asks for a Cabinet Minister to be appointed with responsibility for families. In the same way that one Cabinet Minister holds the equalities brief, another Secretary of State with a cross-Government brief, or one of the larger Departments such as DWP or Housing, Communities and Local Government, could bear named responsibility for families.
That Secretary of State would require an equivalent body to the Government Equalities Office—a dedicated budget and civil service team to prioritise and co-ordinate family policies across Government. That would also help to avoid the duplication of work that is becoming apparent across Departments and pots of money being allocated to address such challenges. There is serious risk that much good work across Government will not meet its objectives as effectively as it could because of the lack of integration and co-ordination across Departments, as well as the risk of duplication of manpower and money. That could be avoided if a Cabinet-level Minister responsible for families co-ordinated all that good work and more.
I mentioned that good work is being done across Government to strengthen families. Over the past year, our team that has worked on the Manifesto to Strengthen Families has been encouraged by the positive response to the manifesto not only from many Back-Bench colleagues, but from Ministers. We are delighted that the Ministry of Justice has fully adopted and is implementing Lord Farmer’s review on strengthening prisoners’ family ties, which reflects policy 18 of the manifesto.
We were also delighted by the announcement by Health Ministers of £6 million to help the children of alcoholics—a need referred to in policy 4 of the manifesto. Similarly, the budget of more than £90 million allocated to addressing the mental health crisis faced by young people was welcome, which we also referred to in our manifesto. However, our team has told the Schools Minister that if that funding is to be effectively used, it is critical that young people’s families are involved wherever possible to help to address their mental health needs. Engaging families and early intervention are absolutely essential to avoid the continued mental health challenges among young people in this and future generations.
Only last week, we welcomed the announcement by the Secretary of State for Education of greater emphasis on relationships education in the newly proposed relationships and sex education curriculum guidance. It includes that pupils learn about the characteristics of healthy relationships and the
“nature and importance of marriage for family life and bringing up children”— an emphasis reflected in policy 3 and elsewhere in our manifesto.
We also welcome the statements by Ministers in both Houses on the manifesto policy suggestions, including family hubs. My hon. Friend Mr Jones, when he was Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said:
“I welcome the development of family hubs and we know that many areas are already moving towards this model of support for children and families.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 630, c. 564.]
Earlier this month, the Under-Secretary of State for the School System, Lord Agnew, affirmed family hubs, saying of them and other strategies that the Government want
“to ensure that these innovations are recognised and shared, and we want to spread these successful approaches.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 792, c. 959.]
Spreading the successful approach of the family hubs that are already up and running is important—indeed, it is urgent—hence the need for national Government support.
I have some short practical requests, which are examples of how the Government could support and help to promote family hubs. I understand capital clawback would need to be waived if the change of use of a former children’s centre were part of a local authority’s service redesign. Will the Government look at that? There should be a requirement for parents who are not in work but benefit from free childcare to spend at least one of those childcare sessions with their children in the hub to boost their own parenting confidence. Ofsted’s single inspection framework could specify that early help for families must show regard to the need for support for couples as well as parenting support, and DFE could signal its support for a major gear shift in the development of family hubs by adopting “hub language” and encouraging local authorities to redesign family support along the co-ordinated lines of family hubs.
The good news is that positive outcomes can be achieved quickly, as I outlined. The health and wellbeing work and engagement with families in Middlewich, where such outcomes are already being seen, has been led by an inspiring headteacher, Keith Simpson, who was appointed just six years ago. I read in this week’s edition of the local newspaper that he will be moving on. He has become deeply appreciated and respected in the Middlewich community, and has shown through his local leadership what a positive difference engaging with the whole family can make. I am sure I speak on behalf of the whole town when I say we wish him well with his move to Neston. Middlewich’s loss will be very much Neston’s gain, and he will leave a long-lasting legacy in many lives, particularly young ones.
Imagine the huge difference—the transformative impact —that could be made nationwide in just a few years by having a family hub in every community. Their positive, perhaps lifelong, impacts on individuals would ripple out into the community. Even the Chancellor has signalled his support for the concept, recognising the increased national productivity that may result.
The Under-Secretary of State for Education, who will respond to the debate, said recently that the Government have committed £8.5 million for councils to peer review one another to see what actually works in terms of outcomes for children. Will he confirm that that will include reviewing the effectiveness of family hubs? I know from a private meeting between him and our Manifesto for Strengthening Families team that he understands so much of what I have spoken about, so will he become a vocal champion for family hubs, press his Secretary of State to be so too, and in turn press the Prime Minister to take up the policy asks I outlined? It is not an exaggeration to say that this could be transformative for our nation.
Order. Two Members are seeking to catch my eye, and we have a shade over 20 minutes before we need to commence the winding-up speeches, which I want to happen no later than quarter-past 5. I call Jim Shannon.
Thank you, Sir Graham. It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. It is always an intense pleasure to follow Fiona Bruce. There is probably not a debate she leads that I am not at, and I suspect there is not a debate I lead that she does not attend. We have kindred interests, and this is one of them, so I informed her that I would put my name down to speak in support of what she does. I commend her on her hard work on families and relationships, and on the alcohol strategy and how we address that issue. She takes on nitty-gritty issues that are commonplace but very important, and I thank her for that.
I, too, am from a very close community where everyone knows everyone else. It is common for me to walk down the street and be able to name all the people I meet. That is probably because I am of a certain age, so I know lots of people. I know the parents, I know the children, and now I know the grandchildren—that is how life is. That is what my constituency is like, and I suspect it is what other Members’ constituencies are like. If we live long enough in an area, we get to know the area and its people, and we can name most of the people we meet on the street.
However, it is clear that we do not know all the troubles in people’s hearts, minds and lives, or the struggles they face daily. I recently read in one of my local papers, “Be kind to people—you do not know the struggle that lies behind that smile.” When I first opened my advice centre as a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, a lady gave me that quote, which I kept on the wall for a great many years until I redecorated the place. That is the thrust of what I have always said: “You’re never quite sure what troubles that person has. That smile just may hide the cataclysmic problems they face.” The problems I see in my office are the tip of the iceberg of what people face.
I will talk about family hubs from the perspective of the church groups in my constituency, because that is where family hubs come from. The hon. Lady knows that, as does my hon. Friend David Simpson, and I hope at the end of the debate other Members will know it, too.
From illness to losing a job, from grief to unexplained depression—I have found that the number of people who look like they have no problems but in fact have depression has greatly increased over the years, and how to help them and get them beyond where they find themselves is probably one of the greatest issues I face in my constituency office—and from a life of plenty to a life of poverty, I am amazed by the difficulties that so many people face. We face them every week in my office. I am sure others do, too. I am thankful that so many people volunteer to help others face those difficulties.
I work closely with the local food bank and Christians Against Poverty group, which work out of the specially designated compassion centre at Thriving Life Church in Newtownards. I have had a very good relationship with that centre over the years. I helped it with its planning application when it moved to where it is now. It took over a car sales place and totally renovated it to make it a really good compassion centre—the name was chosen specially. The centre supports people who need short-term and long-term help, of whom there are many in my area. That food bank was one of the first to be established in Northern Ireland, and its impact has been great. There is also a clothing bank, groups for elderly and young people, a coffee shop and a breakfast club. The Church is very community-orientated. Clearly, its work is based on its beliefs and its faith, but it works with lots of single parents, and it is involved in charitable fundraising, too.
My area is second only to County Antrim, which contains Belfast, in terms of people’s need for three-day emergency food packages from food banks. The biggest cause for food bank referral in the Province is recorded as
“low income—benefits, not earning”.
I fill in forms with those categories when people come to see me, and I always ask whether they have no benefits, their benefits have been delayed, they have low income or they have been through relationship break-up, so I get a fair idea of what people experience. Low income accounts for 45% of referrals in Northern Ireland, and benefit delays and benefit changes, which each account for 12%, are also significant reasons for referral.
People need help, and that Church in particular helps to put food on the table and provides people with life-changing support to deal with debt and learn better money management, which is really important. The debt charity Christians Against Poverty reported that its clients had run up average debts of £4,500 on rent or utility bills, forcing them on to what the charity described as a “relentless financial tightrope” on which they juggle repayments and basic living costs, which leaves many acutely stressed and in deteriorating health. Lots of problems follow from the debts. What is important is helping people to learn to manage their money, stepping in and maybe even sorting out the repayments as well. In our office we have been personally involved with that and I know that the Church group has too.
The pressure of coping with low income and debt frequently triggers mental illness or exacerbates existing conditions, with more than one third of clients reporting that they had considered suicide and three quarters visiting a GP for debt-related problems. More than half were subsequently prescribed medication or therapy. We may see the physical outcome of the problems they present to us, but what we maybe do not see is the emotional and mental issues that are just underneath.
Families are under immense pressure and Churches are stepping into the breach. The local Elim Church in Newtownards runs a cancer care club that provides support, encouragement and a listening ear for those suffering from cancer or their families. I have been to those groups a couple of times to meet some of the people; it gives me a focus on the problems that people have. The Church also runs an addictions night, which brings in some of the local addicts, feeds them and tries to offer help. I have met those people over the years. They are good people who just need someone to guide, support and help them at a time when they are at their very lowest.
Scrabo Hall runs a women’s ministry to help vulnerable ladies and offer support, as well as youth work to give children an alternative place to safely hang out. There are kids’ Bible clubs galore right through the summer in the major town of Newtownards and across the whole Strangford constituency. We have a lot of Bible clubs where young people come in, and it perhaps gives parents a chance to get a wee break or respite.
It is not possible for me to highlight all of the services that are offered in our Church, all voluntary and all out of a love for families, and I want to thank all those who so sacrificially give of their time, energy and resources to help struggling families. It would also be remiss of me to forgo mentioning the tremendous work that is carried out in our community groups, which connect older people through craft clubs or tea dances and provide homework clubs as well as youth clubs. There are so many people—I ask each right hon. and hon. Member here to think for a second about the volunteers who do so much in our constituencies and provide those in need with a listening ear. Sometimes people just need someone to talk to, and it is important that they can always call in and know someone is there for them.
I will finish, because I am conscious of time and I want to give Ben Bradley a chance to make an equal contribution. Life is tough, and tougher still for struggling families; Churches and community groups are doing a good job, but they want to and could do more if they were better funded and had a larger support base. It is on us as individuals to do that. The family unit and family hubs are an essential component of a functioning community. Offering tax breaks is great, but not enough. We need support for working families, and that can only be done through targeted funding. I implore the Minister, who I know will be responsive to our comments and requests, to address that need and to help the sterling work that is already being done.
It is a pleasure as ever to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce on securing this debate on a very important issue. I commend the work she has done and the passion she shows for strengthening families. I approach this debate from the point of view of my own passion for early years, primary schools and early intervention, particularly in vulnerable families and deprived communities, such as the many I see in my constituency.
In Mansfield, there is a high level of family breakdown, deprivation, domestic violence and other very concerning problems that particularly affect families. I am keen to ensure that we have the support services available to help those families, and I have been working with a number of local organisations in support of that. Family hubs are an excellent initiative to help the most vulnerable families by providing accessible early intervention and lifelong support. Often only a low level of support is required to keep families and individuals on the right path and to make them feel secure, but that preventive approach is the right one. Sometimes that is the aspect we miss across so many of our local services. We deal with crises when they happen, but often we do not deal with the early signs, and that prevention is arguably more important for a lot of people.
My hon. Friend mentioned duplication and lack of co-ordination. I seem to say this a lot about many different areas, but it seems that, across almost all our public services, whether health, social care, housing or regeneration—even bin collection—we are consistently battling with an increasingly complex array of different organisations with competing priorities, different budget pots and different agendas, with barriers being drawn between those services. I feel that is the result of decades of short-term fixes; over a long time, we have created new bodies and new organisations to deal with particular short-term issues, instead of looking at wholesale reform and change in services or local government, which probably needs to happen.
The challenge across all our services, particularly social services, youth services and similar preventive work, is collaboration. How do we bring those organisations together, overcome the barriers that have been built over decades and pool the resources? How do we get them to work toward shared goals? That is something that family hubs in particular can help to achieve.
Many vulnerable families have a wide range of needs across several different areas, such as mental health, addiction, parenting support programmes or low-level help, such as somebody to go and socialise with. There are a whole variety of challenges, and it is simpler for parents to have a range of services under one roof and to have different departments work as one team so that they communicate better, respond to local needs, catch the warning signs of problems earlier and deal with individuals in a more co-ordinated way.
That also builds trust between organisations and service users in a better way than if people are passed from pillar to post across different departments. Dealing with so many vulnerable individuals in my constituency, I find that trust is often the biggest challenge. People do not get themselves into a situation where their family is on the verge of homelessness if they have not been let down by people along the way, which breaks down trust.
As a councillor in Ashfield in a previous life, I saw at first hand the great benefits of the great work going on there, with cross-organisational collaboration targeting the most troubled families. The results have been amazing for the families and for the taxpayer. The New Cross teams, as they are known—their area, which is one of the most deprived in Ashfield, is called New Cross—target those families who might not always get picked out. Those families have been dealing with one department because there is rubbish on their lawn, with another department because their children are absent from school and with another department for something else, and the police are aware of them because of antisocial behaviour, but nobody looks at the whole picture. If we do that, it is clear that they are not able to support themselves and have a range of challenges.
When we bring services together under one roof in what is effectively a family hub, although without the premises, they work across different departments. The family has one point of contact, who can deal with all those services for them and take a holistic approach to supporting the whole family with a range of issues, instead of dealing with little bits in isolation.
Mansfield has some great examples of schools—such as Forest Town primary—with what is known as nurture provision, supporting the most vulnerable children at primary school. It is almost a school within a school, providing holistic care for those kids to help them engage with primary education early, so that when they are 15 or 16, they do not become the kids who are expelled and who have a whole range of different problems in their adolescence. The earlier we can get families access to that kind of support, the better.
We also have Sure Start centres, which provide useful services for expectant parents and young children. I am keen to protect all those programmes, as we need to, but bringing services together is helpful and helps to direct families locally. If they have one point of contact that they are made aware of early on, they always know where to go to get help.
The creation of family hubs would offer a greater level of service. There are opportunities to bring different services together under one roof and potentially to expand them, while saving money in many cases if authorities can work together, which, as I have said before, is often a big challenge. A number of organisations have called for the Government to review these services, and I wonder whether the Minister might touch on that, and particularly on youth services, Sure Start and so on, where local government finances are sometimes challenging for some of these non-statutory services.
Action for Children has called for a new vision for the future of early years services, starting with a review of early years support to understand the level of provision and the best practice that exists around the country. I support such a review as it would help local authorities to deliver the best care. As with anything, there are some councils, local authorities and services that have dealt with funding pressures in a much better way than others. For every bad example of services being lost, there is a great example of a council that has adapted and innovated, and to share that best practice and send it out from this place would be really positive.
Using funding effectively, catching problems early and preventing people from spiralling into a crisis that requires far more expensive and intensive intervention later on is really important for children and families across communities. Children need care and support, and vulnerable families often need assistance in providing that care, so I fully support my hon. Friend’s work on family hubs. I hope the Minister’s response will be positive as well.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate Fiona Bruce on securing the debate. It is a great pleasure to speak for the Opposition in what has been an interesting and wide-ranging discussion. I welcome the passion that the hon. Lady has shown in her commitment to families who are struggling against the odds, as well as her celebration of the innovation and determination of councils across the country to keep families at the centre of all they do.
I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Upper Bann (David Simpson), who both focused on how faith groups can bring communities together. Our Muslim community in Batley and Spen certainly works incredibly hard in supporting families. I also pay tribute to Ben Bradley for his focus on the preventive approach to early intervention and the impact that it can have. I slightly take issue with John Howell—he is no longer in his place—who said that middle-class mums do not deserve the same attention and protection. They can have the same struggles as others, such as with breastfeeding or with their postpartum mental health.
I could not agree more. A struggling parent will struggle whatever their income.
As we have heard, the proposals for family hubs have come from Members from across the political spectrum. The mission statement from the hon. Member for Congleton is certainly commendable. It is to
“co-locate superb early years health and other services with help for parents with children across the age ranges”.
Many wish to see the hubs encompass other services, such as jobcentres and relationship advisers, along with more conventional children’s centres.
The potential merits and points of discussion about family hubs are more substantial than one could hope to fit into a single short speech, so I will look at the impact of Government policies on services that would be incorporated into them. First, it is important to acknowledge that we already have a highly successful model of support for families. It is robust, has been tested and is highly popular with families from all communities. It is called Sure Start.
Unfortunately, the number of Sure Start units and children’s centres have been in rapid decline in recent years. In the late ’90s and the noughties, Sure Start grew to become a staple of communities across our country, providing immeasurable educational, health and social support to millions. However, the respected and independent Sutton Trust tells us that 1,000 Sure Start centres have closed since 2010. Furthermore, Action for Children states that local authority spending on early years services has fallen by more than half since 2010.
We should therefore not look at family hubs in insolation. We must make sure that they retain a clear early years focus and a strong offer to families. It is in the early years that we see the fastest development of our brains and neurological pathways, so the right early years support can give children the best start in life and help to close the developmental gap between poorer children and their peers.
That is not to mention the serious health problems facing children, which are a growing concern. One in three primary school children in year 6 are either overweight or obese, and if the childhood obesity crisis is not tackled, half of all UK children will be obese or overweight by 2020. That problem is much worse in the most deprived areas. A quarter of five-year-olds in England suffer from tooth decay, making it the leading cause of hospital admissions for five to nine-year-olds. Around three children and young people in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health condition. No matter what the services are in local areas, it is clear that they certainly have their work cut out for them.
We believe that early years services have been cut to a shameful extent, and that the growing postcode lottery is completely unacceptable. All family hubs must keep the early years and children’s centres ethos very much at their heart.
One pressure on local authorities is that of the increasing acute needs, which is what we seek to tackle. As the Children’s Commissioner highlighted, the funding disparity is great. It costs £204,000 a year to house a child in a secure children’s home and £100,000 a year to house a teenager in a young offenders institution. However, behavioural problem support can be delivered in a group setting at an early stage for around £1,000 per child. We must do that early intervention. The pressures on local authorities are so huge—look at the kind of figures I quoted—that they inevitably impact on what they can do by way of earlier intervention.
I really do appreciate that intervention. I also read that report and found those numbers incredibly startling. It is common sense, is it not? Getting it right in the early years will be cost-effective. If a child is admitted to hospital to have their teeth out due to decay, that is costly for the NHS. Bringing dental health and similar schemes into early years provision might mean less of an impact on NHS budgets.
On early years, will the Minister provide a progress update on the consultation into children’s centres, and confirm whether work on that is ongoing and whether we should expect to see a published consultation? The consultation has been more than three years in the making and is on an incredibly important policy area. Will he please take this opportunity to give some transparency on the issue?
Lastly, Sir Graham, all that is left is for me to wish you, the Minister and all Members a peaceful and rewarding recess.
It is truly an honour and a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce on securing this important debate, and I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and for Henley (John Howell) and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Upper Bann (David Simpson) for contributing.
I am grateful for this opportunity to set out the Government’s position on supporting families so that no community is left behind. Social mobility is a priority for our Department, as it is across Government, and we welcome local initiatives that support families—particularly those who are disadvantaged. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton called for a Cabinet-level Minister with the responsibility to ensure that family policy is prioritised and co-ordinated. I say to her that the Government are already committed to supporting families. That is why, as she knows, we introduced the family test in 2014 and continue to support its application to policy across government.
Let me just make some headway. I will come back to my hon. Friend if time permits, because I have a lot to say about this subject
We share a common view about the importance of effective local support for families. That is why the Government’s legislation and funding is designed to give local authorities the freedom to decide the best way to deliver their services, based on their understanding of their local needs and the character of their areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield mentioned that, for every council that is not doing well, there is a very good example of one that has done well for its families. We welcome the development of family hubs as a way to meet local need. We encourage local authorities to adopt the family hub approach, which aims to build stronger relationships and co-locate services, if they believe it would deliver improved outcomes for their areas.
We already know that many councils are moving toward that model of support, working with local statutory, voluntary—as the hon. Member for Strangford mentioned —community and private sector partners. When I was promoted to Minister, one of the first meetings I had was with Lord Farmer and the team that put together the manifesto. I have already promised my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton that I would visit a family hub in Essex and I still plan to do so.
What we are discussing today is how we can ensure that strong, effective local services provide effective support for families and children. I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the work that the Government are doing to deliver that. The strengthening families manifesto argues that Government should be working to put in place a nought-to-19 model across the country. We know others advocate for a sharper focus on younger children, proposing that children’s centres focus on a nought-to-two age range. The shadow Minister talked about that early intervention.
My view is that both of those models, depending on local circumstances, could work and provide much needed support to families, just as I am sure that there are others models that can work, too. Let me be clear, it is for local authorities to determine the model that they believe will work best for them, based on their area’s specific needs and on the history of local provision, local community circumstances and priorities.
The difficulty for some councils—in Kirklees, for example—is that 50% of their budget has been cut since 2010, so they are having to slice the pie into even smaller slices. Should the pie not be bigger?
We have provided £200 billion in this five-year review—this current spending round—to local government. Local government has increased spending on children services. Last year it spent £9.2 billion.
I recently visited Greater Manchester, where I met the Mayor, Andy Burnham. Greater Manchester, which includes 10 local authorities—as you, rightly, know, Sir Graham—is an excellent example of an area where powers and responsibilities have become more devolved, and the Mayor can take decisions in areas such as health. The Government’s role is to engage actively with the sector to find out what works and to support local areas to make the right decisions for their communities, which might include implementing family hubs.
That is why as part of the Department for Education’s social mobility action plan, “Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential”, we announced an early years social mobility peer review programme, which my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton mentioned. We are partnering with the Local Government Association to deliver this initiative. Peer reviews will be led by multidisciplinary teams, and will support councils to identify actions and reforms to improve local outcomes in the early years. The programme will also look at what works, including the effective models for service provision, such as family hubs and children’s centres. That was something my hon. Friend called for in her speech. I think she is nodding away. I hope that she appreciates that that is an important part of this work.
I have asked my officials to ensure that the local government programme understands fully how the family hub model works and where the most effective practice is taking place. My officials would be happy to work with my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton to do that.
An example of how we are strengthening local delivery to support families is the reducing parental conflict programme, introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions. Good quality relationships between parents are critical for setting children up for life. Recent evidence has shown that children who are exposed to frequent, intense and poorly resolved conflict can experience a decline in their mental health and suffer poorer long-term outcomes. The reducing parental conflict programme, again, puts local areas at the heart of its delivery, helping them to embed parental conflict support into wider services for children and ensure evidence-based interventions are more widely available to improve children’s outcomes.
The troubled families programme is an excellent example of how central Government can work with local authorities to strengthen local services, drawing on evidence of what works, but allowing for the development of local solutions. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield mentioned a similar programme that he witnessed. I was in Islington and witnessed some of the cases there, where the troubled families programme was exactly the sort of programme needed. It aims to achieve significant and sustained improvement for up to 400,000 families—it started with 100,000—with multiple high-cost problems. The programme, delivered through local authorities and their partners, advocates a whole-family integrated approach across multiple services.
The programme’s focus on preventive services is already starting to show a positive impact in reducing demand on children’s social care. The emerging evaluation results show that, in families on the programme, six to 12 months after intervention, the proportion of children designated as children in need decreased by 14%, compared with the period just before the start of intervention. We know that many local areas have used programme funding to establish a family hub model, similar to that recommended by the strengthening families manifesto. Those hubs are being used to deliver their local programmes for complex families. Almost £1 billion has been committed to the programme from 2015 to 2020.
The hon. Member for Strangford talked about mental health. The Government’s Green Paper, “Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision”, announced ambitious proposals to provide earlier support for children and young people’s mental health. It recognises that secure attachment with a parent or carer is a protective factor for children and young people’s mental health, and commits to commissioning further research in that area. This includes supporting healthcare professionals to understand the importance of healthy, low-stress pregnancies and healthy childhoods, and increasing the capability of midwives to support women with perinatal mental health issues. We are also partnering with Public Health England, so that health visitors can do some work on speech and language therapy at the very early stage of intervention.
We are committed to incentivising every school and college to identify a designated senior lead for mental health, fund new mental health support teams, and trial a four-week waiting time for access to specialist NHS children and young people’s mental health services. The Green Paper consultation response, which we aim to publish imminently, will set out the next steps in implementing the Green Paper.
The shadow Minister asked about children’s centres. I have to say that rather than doing another consultation or review, let us look at where things are really working well. Take Newcastle or Staffordshire, for example, where the local authority has taken an active role to close some of the children’s centres but focus on outreach and keeping those children’s services where the most disadvantaged families need that help. We have looked at the six local authorities where the most children’s centres have closed. Out of the six, four are doing better in closing the development gap, one is about flat and the other is oscillating. I suggest to the shadow Minister that it is not about bricks and mortar. I do not want to make this into a party political debate.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton for securing the debate. The Government are clear about the importance of improving outcomes for children, particularly the most disadvantaged in our communities. I entirely agree that strong local services are essential, and it is important that we continue to encourage and learn from innovations such as family hubs, and ensure that leaders have the information they require to design and deliver the services that will best address local need.
We have the ability to look strategically at the whole country—the whole of England, certainly—and to disseminate best practice. That is one of the things I passionately believe in. The Government have a key role to play in ensuring we deliver for those families. Finally, I would like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton that I do not need to be in the Cabinet to champion families and the wellbeing of all of our families in our communities.
I thank the Minister for his response. I supplied him with a copy of my speech earlier, so I am pleased he has responded to some of the calls in it. Perhaps he can write to me on other calls to which he has not responded.
I take issue with the Minister about the family test. It has barely been applied in practice. I ask that he looks at the written questions that I have sent to every Department in the past few months, which evidence this. On the funding for children’s mental health, I note his comment about support teams being in every school, but unless they are properly trained to work with the families of the children they are helping, they will not be as effective as they need to be. I do not agree with the Minister that there is adequate co-ordination across Government on family support: it needs to be stronger. I am grateful that he is willing to be a champion of this and I look forward to him doing so in the future.
Finally, it is right that local authorities deliver these services, but national Government have the authority to rocket-boost action. That is what we are seeking, because that is not what has happened to date.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (