Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
My Lords, I admire the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, has raised a number of hypothetical questions and we will just have to see what happens over the next week or two.
Much more importantly, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for calling this debate on this very important subject. Throughout her career in education and public service, she has put the well-being of young people at the centre of her concerns, and we should all acknowledge that this afternoon. There are few more pressing issues facing this country than the health and well-being of the young generation.
I start by picking up on a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong. I recognise in what she said that this subject is not just focused on young adults, despite the subject of the debate, and I acknowledge that there has to be a seamless link from the early years to the adolescent years. That is very much a theme of what we are trying to do in government and it will be a theme in what I am about to say.
I want to start on a positive note, as I believe we start from a high base. I am not complacent but I was struck by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Storey, which included no positive aspects at all. I really do not think that is the right balance for this subject. Let us look more globally and put some perspective on this. The vast majority of young people in Britain can look forward to a happy, healthy and fulfilling start in life. In a world where 25 million young people are displaced by conflict, natural disaster or social collapse, it is worth reflecting on how fortunate our children are to grow up here in the UK. I listened with some care to the salutary tales from the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, based on his experiences outside the UK.
Turning to the UK, this Government want every young person to fulfil their potential. To illustrate that, I shall cite three examples from different stages of a young person’s journey through life. Regarding the early years, low-income families in this country are eligible for 30 hours’ free childcare for three and four year-olds, and 80% of recipients said that the quality of their family life has improved as a result.
In school, the IFS’s own figures show that per pupil funding for five to 16 year-olds will be 50% higher in 2020 than it was in 2000. Significantly, on leaving school, youth unemployment continues to fall and has halved since 2010. OECD figures show that it is 25% lower than the EU average. It is worth reflecting on the fact that, while in the UK youth unemployment is 11.7%, in the EU it is 15.2%. Sweden is on 16.7%, France on 20.8%, and—listen to this—Spain is on 34.4%. However, I am the first to say that there are challenges to confront and I recognise the points raised in the House today.
I want to address an important point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about integrated services. For so many of our strands and themes to work, there has to be a cross-departmental link. The learning from our What Works centres and the public health approach to youth justice are examples of our approach to integrating services in communities. The role of local government in knowing its communities should not be underestimated. I shall say more on this theme in a moment.
The most sacred duty of any Government is, of course, to keep its citizens safe. I turn now to one of the themes raised today: the dangers posed by crime and serious violence. These dangers were brought into focus by the recent report of the Children’s Commissioner, Keeping Kids Safe. The House will be aware of this report, as I certainly am. It highlighted the multiple contributory causes of gang activity and the disturbing numbers of our children being trafficked to sell drugs. A key conclusion of that report was to realise a truly multiagency approach to child criminal exploitation.
We published our Serious Violence Strategy to address in particular the increases in knife crime, gun crime and homicide. Knife crime was highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey. This is an ambitious programme involving 61 commitments and actions. Further measures include an independent review of drug misuse and a new £200 million Youth Endowment Fund, which will deliver long-term, sustainable change, providing a 10-year programme of grants that will enable interventions targeted at children and young people at most risk.
The same theme was raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornhill and Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson. I would like to focus on funding for the Youth Justice Board, another issue raised in this debate. It is partly about money—I acknowledge that—but the total YJB funding this year for front-line services including youth offending teams is £72.2 million. The youth offending teams grant for 2018-19 remained at the same level as the year before, and we have increased total funding to front-line services for this year. Some £1.5 million of funding this year will go to developing and promoting good practice to address priority issues in areas of particular need. This includes reducing serious youth violence and disproportionality.
To give an example of current good practice between YOTs to address specific issues, in north London, a group of seven boroughs are working in partnership to address black, Asian and minority ethnic disproportionality in the justice system, and are looking at the experiences and outcomes of BAME children in the youth justice system. This is being led by Islington and Camden and originated from the collaborative work begun through a youth court user group. The group has developed and now offers national advice on the issue; that is just one example.
Continuing on the theme of prevention, I turn to our investment in families and the care system. Building on the learning so far, we have recently announced a new programme, Supporting Families: Investing in Practice, which will provide up to £15 million to enable around 40 local authorities to test a number of promising innovation projects to help keep families safely together. Included in this is our £200 million innovation programme, which has a focus on children at the edge of services and on reducing the number of children entering care. To answer the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, although we have managed to take 100,000 families out of crisis, the Government have committed £920 million to the second phase of the troubled families programme, a challenging programme that aims to achieve significant and sustained improvement for up to 400,000 families by 2020.
We have made considerable progress in addressing long-held concerns surrounding the care system in this country. It is worth mentioning that 44 local authorities have been lifted out of intervention and have not returned. This is a step in the right direction. We have launched the care leaver covenant and are spending up to £5 million on three social impact bonds to help care leavers into education, employment or training. Our children’s social care reform programme is working to deliver highly capable and skilled social workers and high-quality services everywhere.
I turn to another theme, the big subject of education. It is not acceptable that 28% of children finish their reception year still without the early communication and reading skills that they need to thrive, as I have said in the Chamber before. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, raised the subject of those on the autistic spectrum. I listened careful to his remarks and I remember that it is a subject he has raised in the Chamber before. We have funded a range of specialist autism services—for example, the Education Trust—to deliver autism awareness. So far, more than 185 people have trained—not just teachers and teaching assistants—in a whole-school approach to autism. The Government are extending the scope of the 2019 review of our autism strategy to autistic children and young people for the first time: I hope that that gives the noble Lord an element of reassurance on this important subject.
It is also why this Government have increased the high needs funding block for children and young people with the most complex special educational needs from a base of £5 billion in 2013 to £6.3 billion this year. In addition—I said it is partly about money—we are investing £26 million to set up a network of English hubs; £20 million to provide professional development for early years practitioners; £8.5 million in our local government programme; and more than £9 million to understand what works. We are also investing £6.5 million in voluntary and charity sector grants supporting the home-learning environment.
Since its introduction in 2013, more than 850,000 two- year-olds have benefited from the means-tested entitlement to up to 15 hours of free early education. This goes back to my point that there has to be a seamless approach: this subject is not just about adults but about the early years as well. Our ambition is for every child, no matter what challenges they face, to have access to a world-class education that sets them up for life. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said that they must have the best possible start in life: she is right. World-class education is not only about having the highest standards in academic and technical education, it means ensuring that education builds character and resilience. We want all children and young people to have opportunities to develop the key character traits of believing that they can achieve, being able to stick with the task in hand, seeing a link between effort today and payback in the future, and the ability to bounce back from the knocks that life inevitably brings to all of us.
Character must also be grounded in virtues such as kindness, generosity, fairness, tolerance and integrity. Perhaps we should all be reminded of the virtues that are illustrated in the murals very close to here, in the Queen’s Robing Room: I am sure that we all show guests that Room and point these out. This Government have proposed five foundations for building character and resilience in young people: sport, creativity, performing, volunteering and membership, and preparation for the world of work. Not all of this ambitious agenda can be covered in school. Indeed, children spend more than 80% of their waking hours outside the classroom. I took note of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, on the role of parents: he is absolutely right, it is very important, and if I had more time I could say more about it.
Talking about integration, I want to speak about the early years family support ministerial group. This has been considering how the Government can improve the co-ordination and cost-effectiveness of early years family support from conception to age two and identify gaps in available provision. The group has made recommendations to the Secretary of State, which he is now considering. The early years family support ministerial group was established in summer 2018 and was chaired by the then Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom. I shall not list all the members of the group, but they include a number of senior Ministers.
That brings me on to youth and children’s services. As has been mentioned, they are funded primarily by local authorities. We are aware that they are operating in a challenging financial environment. This matter was raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Thornhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and, I am sure, other noble Lords. We recognise this challenge and we are responding. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, comes from an LGA background. I welcome the LGA’s efforts to understand the challenges and opportunities for it to manage this matter in the near future.
The Government draw on the data and research published by other organisations to ensure that we have a full understanding of the evidence base. For example, the Local Government Minister recently met the County Councils Network to understand the research that it has undertaken ahead of the 2019 spending review. Councils, not central government, are responsible for managing their own resources and performance, and we have an effective process for identifying risks and taking action to prevent the need for interventions. Our aim is always to work with the sector to secure improvement so that intervention is not necessary. The Local Government Association provides sector-led support, such as peer challenges and the sharing of good practice, and helps improve the performance of local authorities through targeted support as necessary.
At last year’s Autumn Budget, we announced almost £1 billion of extra funding for local authorities to help deliver services for communities but, as I said earlier, I recognise that challenges remain. Next year will see a cash-terms increase of 2.8% and a real-terms increase of 1% in England, rising from £45.1 billion in 2018-19 to £46.4 billion in 2019-20. Much has been made of closures of Sure Start or children’s centres, yet it is a fact that there are still more than 3,000 sites open for children and families across the country, more than at any time before 2008, fully nine years into the previous Labour Government. Those are statistics that my noble friend Lord Agnew and I have given in this Chamber in the past and they remain sound. Moreover, the quality of these sites has improved. In 2010 68% were good or outstanding, and today 98% of them are. However, councils have legal duties to ensure that there are sufficient centres to meet local need. The number of Sure Start and children’s centres is primarily a matter for local authorities.
Quality is also a hallmark of our approach to the more open-access youth work. Properly qualified, community-based youth workers have a huge part to play in the well-being and safety of young people. This is why we have guaranteed to review and renew entry-level qualifications for youth work this year, as well as to revise the youth work curriculum. These latter services are covered by a statutory duty on local authorities, and last week government announced a review of the related guidance. The review aims to focus attention on the positive role local authorities can play in the provision of youth services and to ensure the guidance is useful and accessible for those who need it most. These announcements come on top of a direct investment by government of £667 million in youth-based projects over the past four years, which is an investment that central government has never traditionally made. This includes supporting more than 90 front-line youth projects in deprived areas across England, providing hundreds of thousands of social action opportunities through the #iwill Fund and engaging more than 400,000 young people, from all social backgrounds, in the National Citizen Service. Together, NCS participants have given more than 12 million hours of volunteer time.
I want to talk a little about the voices we should be listening to most of all: those of young people themselves. The voice of youth is really important to this Government, which is why we recently launched three new youth voice projects to enable young people to participate in making national policy. Through these projects, young people are having a say on a wide range of issues, including on serious violence and climate change. We also support the UK Youth Parliament, and it was great to see more than 1.1 million young people voting in last year’s Make Your Mark youth ballot, in which young people voted for ending knife crime as the most important issue—I raised that earlier in my remarks.
This brings me back to my original theme: keeping our youngest citizens safe and thriving. With that in mind, in April this year the Government announced that they will develop a youth charter. It will bring together policies from across government and take in the views of young people, as well as those who work with and care for young people. It is a commitment from this generation to the next—an important point to make. It will outline a vision for the next 10 years, which I believe will be a decade of huge promise for our young people. I believe that we should be positive.
I conclude with questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. I thank her again for raising this subject and allowing us to have a debate on this matter. I have a little more to say about racial disparity in the youth justice system. On 12 July 2019, the Ministry of Justice published our most recent youth custody statistics, which showed that, of 830 children in custody in May 2019, 415 were black or minority ethnic. While disproportionality remains important, the overall number of BAME children in custody has decreased since 2010, falling from 648 children in May 2010.
I thank all those who have spoken in this debate. It has been very interesting and has once again raised the importance of supporting young people.