It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I applaud Andrew Griffiths for securing this debate. Children and young people’s mental health is incredibly important. I appreciate the contributions of other Members. I have similar situations of children suffering in my constituency, but I will not repeat them.
I want to focus on three issues that are important to the mental health of our young people. First, I want to raise the issue of young people’s mental health within our judicial system, which I spoke about in this Chamber only a few months ago when I highlighted how young people with mental health issues had been forgotten in the Government’s response to the Justice Committee’s report on the disclosure of youth criminal records. I emphasise that when we look at the Government’s funding plans for young people’s mental health—they are welcome, but could stand to go further—we should not forget the vulnerable young people who have been taken out of mainstream schools and placed under the care of the UK’s judicial system. Many of those young people may not understand why they are there, and they are placed under stress and pressure that even we as adults would struggle to cope with. We must ensure that does not lead to the degradation or further degradation of their mental health, which may damage their chances of rehabilitation.
Secondly, I want to raise the issue of personal, social, health and economic education—also known as PSHE, and formally known as citizenship—for those young people still within our education system. Frankly, the provision is woefully inadequate for the issues it is trying to tackle. There is little to no guidance from central Government, and how the provision is conceived and delivered is almost completely up to the school. That has produced an almost laughable system where each school can have a completely different interpretation of the curriculum and its requirements. One school might require just 15 minutes a week during form time, yet 30 minutes down the road, another school might give an hour’s lesson once a week.
Within that time, teachers are expected to cover everything from mental health to how mortgages work, to sexuality, to how Government and this place works, all with little to no guidance. Many schools simply do not provide the time required to tackle the subjects properly. The lesson material is often put together by a teacher who happens to have the time or by a third-party company that knows little to nothing about it. Neither of them may have the necessary subject matter expertise. I call on the Government to get to grips with the issue and make PSHE a statutory subject with guidelines on the content of the subject area, so that the situation does not essentially amount to, “It’s up to you.” There should be a key focus on mental health, which is too important to have such vague guidelines.
Finally, I want to touch upon the subject of loot boxes in video games. For those who do not know, loot boxes are a mechanic in video games that require someone to pay money to get a box or a pack. Within the box, they might get a piece of very good equipment, a rare boost or a character that will give them an edge when playing online against other people, or they might get something that is rubbish. If they already have it, it is virtually useless to them. To put it in plain English, loot boxes or “surprise mechanics” are essentially gambling. The mechanics also have no impact on the age rating for a game, meaning that young people of all age ranges can be exposed to what are basically gambling mechanics.
I am not someone who believes that video games are bad for young people and rot their brains, as some would put it, but such gambling can have a negative effect on young people’s mental health and cause addiction. There is a reason why we have age restrictions for fruit machines and gambling websites. Even then, we can see the negative effect on adults. I therefore call on the Government to follow the lead of countries such as Belgium and step in to deal with gambling mechanics and their impact on the mental health of our children.