Suicide Prevention and the National Curriculum

Lee Anderson Excerpts
Monday 13th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
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It is indeed a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) for introducing the debate, and the petitioners, the 3 Dads over there in the Public Gallery—Andy, Tim and Mike—who are doing a fantastic job.

I also thank my good friend, Graham Lynk, who is sat in the Public Gallery. He lost his son, Sean, to suicide in December last year. Graham is a brave man. He is a hard man and a gentleman. Like me, he is an ex-coal miner—we have done many a shift down the pit together. He is one of the bravest men I have come across in my life, but the loss of his son has broken him.

Sean Lynk was a brilliant young man. He was 30 years old when he took his life. He was a big, strong, confident, good-looking lad. He was a handsome man; he had his mother’s looks—and his mother’s brains, I think, Graham. He was a lovely young man. When he walked into a room, he lit it up. Everyone wanted to be around him. Everybody liked Sean.

We all loved Sean. I was drinking with him in the Dog House pub just a week before he took his own life. I never saw it coming. He was such a lovely young man; his death shocked the whole community and left many of us asking why. I would sit with him at weekends with his mum and dad, swapping old stories about our mining days. Sean would be sat there laughing and giggling with us. We never knew; he must have been in pain. On the face of it, he was a happy man. He was a good footballer and loved his sports. He loved his family and friends. He always surrounded himself with great, loving people. There were no signs, but something must have been wrong.

Sean’s dad, Graham, believes that Sean was using the dark web and looking at things that he probably should not have looked at. He was tapping into this dark, horrible web, which was giving him dark thoughts. But who knows? The police still have Sean’s phone, so we are yet to get to the bottom of that. I know the internet can be a dangerous place and can target people with the algorithms and do some horrible stuff—it can target vulnerable people. I am glad that the Online Safety Bill is going some way to address that, but we need to go further.

I thank the charities and support groups that are helping young people who have dark thoughts. In my patch, we have a charity called Enlighten the Shadows, which was set up by a young man called Rory Green, who had some dark thoughts himself. He and his partner lost their baby through a miscarriage. He felt hopeless and worthless—he felt like ending it all. He was in a really bad, dark and horrible place, but he got through it and he set up a support group online through Facebook and social media, and it had a website. He was absolutely astounded by the number of young men contacting him who had dark thoughts and suicidal thoughts. He reached out and got some other people on board, and he talked to men on a regular basis. He tells me that they have probably saved about 100 lives so far just through men talking to men. I know it is a big problem with young ladies and schoolgirls too, but the vast majority of suicides I have come across have been young men. There is no rhyme or reason for it.

Keeping quiet is not an option. People have to talk about this. It is all well and good telling people that they must talk, but they have to have somebody to talk to. At the moment, it can be very difficult for people from poorer families in more deprived areas, because a lot come from broken families so they do not always have great family support and people to talk to. Make no mistake, this is an epidemic, but it is not a means-tested epidemic. It does not matter whether a person is rich or poor, whether they are successful or unsuccessful, whether they come from a council estate or a country estate. It goes for anybody; it can affect anybody in any walk of life. I give a big shout-out for Rory and his group for doing that great work.

Probably everybody in the Chamber has been affected by suicide—my family has—but we do not talk about it. I travelled down with Graham this morning, and we had a long conversation. We MPs do not see inside our friends’ heads, and what goes on in their minds. Graham goes to bed every night and thinks about his son, but he thinks about his son with a rope around his neck—that is what goes through his mind. I cannot get my head around that: for a man to watch a little boy grow up from a baby, be his pride and joy, and then take his life in that way. Graham feels broken, he probably feels guilty, and he feels hopeless. I am here today to tell Graham that he is none of those things. He is not guilty and he is not hopeless. Graham is working with the Enlighten the Shadows suicide charity, and he is going to raise thousands of pounds for it. He is going to cycle 1,000 miles in 10 days, and he is doing some running as well. He has the support of the whole community. Graham wholeheartedly supports the idea of putting suicide prevention on the school curriculum, helping people and getting people to talk to save some lives.

I ask the Minister to please look at the families in the Public Gallery. They are broken people. We need to see less of those families coming to this place. We need to intervene, we need to get this subject on the school curriculum and we need to save lives.

Reform of Children’s Social Care

Lee Anderson Excerpts
Thursday 2nd February 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Gillian Keegan Portrait Gillian Keegan
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question and for the role he plays in his family, which I am sure is greatly appreciated by everyone.

We have written to councils today to ask them to review their kinship care arrangements, and to make sure they know we will be looking to ensure that we have the right support for kinship carers. They have the most invaluable role, and we want to grow and support that role. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman on that.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
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Joanne Strickland and Maxine Wainwright are kinship carers in Ashfield. They put their lives on hold to provide stable and loving homes for their child relatives, but they have come across many barriers to getting the benefits to which they are entitled. Will this social care strategy help to stop this jobsworth mentality and red-tape nonsense, to help families get the financial support they deserve much quicker?

Gillian Keegan Portrait Gillian Keegan
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We are grateful to people like my hon. Friend’s constituents for all the work they do. Indeed, we want to make it possible for more people to take on this vital role. In our strategy, we have committed to exploring the implementation of a financial allowance for kinship carers during the next Parliament but, working with local authorities, we will make sure it is much easier to be a kinship carer and that kinship carers are better supported.

Oral Answers to Questions

Lee Anderson Excerpts
Monday 14th March 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michelle Donelan Portrait The Minister for Higher and Further Education (Michelle Donelan)
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We recently updated our international education strategy, and we are proud to be home to so many international students who enrich our culture in our universities and local towns. We have beaten our target many years ahead, which is testament to how dedicated we are to continue to grow our international pool of students.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
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T5. Government Front Benchers need not bother visiting Ashfield—I have got two new school rebuilds coming, so they can go somewhere else—but they will be aware of the problems that I have had with Kirkby College, which is a failing school. It is going to be rebuilt, which is fantastic news, but will the Minister please use all his levers to ensure that that happens as quickly as possible?

Robin Walker Portrait Mr Walker
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his non-invitation. Kirkby College was confirmed in the school rebuilding programme in July 2021, and the project will make a huge difference to the community. I am happy to commit to delivering it as quickly as possible. We are working closely with the incoming trust to scope the project before securing a construction partner, and we aim for construction to start in 2023.

Kinship Care for Babies

Lee Anderson Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd February 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) for securing this debate; I am extremely happy that she has because the subject needs debating.

Ashfield, which I represent, has the most looked-after children in Nottinghamshire. That is not a statistic I am proud of, and it is going to get worse. I work with my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) to make sure that we give our young people the very best chances in life.

I have some experience of working with young people who have been through the care system. Before I came to this place, I worked for several homelessness charities in Nottinghamshire. The children who came to us at 16 had been in the care system since they were babies—they had been pushed from pillar to post through it. I saw them first-hand; they would come in at 16 years old and we would try to get them on the right path.

For two years, we would spend tens of thousands of pounds on these young people who, as I say, had been pushed from pillar to post and had a very poor start in life. They had not had that loving relationship. To be honest, the girls who left at 18 or whatever age were pregnant, to get accommodation and to be able to sustain not a reasonable standard of living, but a standard of living. If they had a child, they would be bumped to the top of the housing list and get accommodation and all the benefits. What a waste of a young person’s life that is! They had all their life chances taken away because they had been through the care system without the support and love of their family.

The young men I used to work with in the hostels would leave, and within months a lot of them were in prison because they had not knuckled down and had not been in those stable, loving relationships. They had been through the care system since they were babies and that was all they knew. At 16, they were selling 10-bags on the corner of the street just to make a few quid. They had no idea how to look forward to a career. They had no real role models in their life; they had just been in and out of care.

Given the money spent on the care system, benefits and whatever else in later life, I have always said that it would be cheaper to put some of those children—I know this sounds a bit bonkers—into private education and give them the very best, so they could get the very best outcomes in life. That has to be much better, and it would break the poverty cycle. The young children I worked with were stuck in a poverty cycle; their parents were, and probably their grandparents before them. Hey presto—20-odd years and three generations later, the same young people are going to live the same sort of life as their parents. Unfortunately, I have seen first-hand that they have children, and a few months later those children are in care.

We are really missing a trick in this country. Our best asset is young people. We have a massive pool of young people, and we have let them down over decades. I speak from experience. I want to speak about a lady called Maxine in my constituency. Maxine is a little bit older than me—58, I think. I went to school with Maxine in Ashfield, back in the day. She is approaching 60 and looking forward to retirement but, unfortunately, her daughter is a heroin addict with all sorts of mental health problems.

Her daughter has three children, the youngest being six months old. Maxine had her daughter committed to an institution and took the children in, but the hoops she had to jump through to get the children into her house were incredible. Social services raked her out and poked into her private life from 35 years ago. Yes, she had made some mistakes in her past, but she was nothing more than a loving grandparent who did not want to see her grandchildren go into care. She wanted to provide a loving home.

Eventually, she came to me as an old friend and her Member of Parliament. I rattled a few cages and we got social services involved properly; we got some legal help for her, and I am glad to say she now has her grandchildren. I spoke to her on the phone today about this debate, she said she was very proud because the middle grandson can now read and write. He is seven. That brought a lump to my throat; I could write when I was five. She has taken it upon herself to give that young man a real start in life.

The biggest problem she had, once she got the children, was money. She said to me, “I could not cope with bringing my three grandchildren up properly without proper money.” Again, I had to get involved with the benefits system and sort her child benefit, child tax credit and everything out with the local authorities, who are under a lot of strain. I know they are because, as I said, Ashfield has the most looked-after children in the county.

Maxine is very happy now, but she is a woman, at nearly 60, who has given up her retirement after working all her life, done the decent thing and given up those final years to bring up her grandchildren. I think that is an incredible thing—and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) should be incredibly proud of what he did, because it is amazing.

Children need a loving home; they need to be with their parents or their family. We must remove some of the barriers to that, and the biggest barrier is financial. I hope that the Minister will look at this and see how we can move forward on it, because there are thousands of Maxines around the country who want to help their grandchildren but simply cannot afford to, so those children end up with a life in care instead.

The last time I saw Maxine was late last year; she was taking her grandchildren to Skegness. I think it was probably the first time they had been on a holiday. I went around to give them some ice cream money, because I thought that would be a nice treat for them. They were so happy and excited that they were going to Skegness for a week in a caravan. They would not have got that before, with their mother, because obviously she had her health problems. I thought, “You know what? She’s done really well, Maxine has.”

As politicians, if we cannot make it easier for people like Maxine, up and down the country, to look after those children, then we are failing society. I hope the Minister and the Government will look at this issue very seriously, and realise that young people are our best asset, and that it is actually cheaper, in the long run, to pay family members, such as grandparents, to give those children a loving home.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Lee Anderson Excerpts
Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
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Now then, if we control what students in universities can listen to, we are controlling what they can think and the type of person they will become. That may work in places such as North Korea and, possibly, within the Labour party, but it has no place in our society. The Bill will strengthen free speech and academic freedom at universities. It is not the job of the Labour party or anybody else to control who we listen to. The champagne socialists, the Islington elite and the trade unions may agree with the Labour party, but most of the country do not. We fought and won a war to protect our freedoms, and freedom of speech, to my mind, is the most important freedom that we have.

Let us not forget that universities are there to supply our great country with scientists, mathematicians, doctors, lawyers, school teachers, nurses and so on, not to provide us with state-sponsored political activists who have only one opinion or one goal in life. Our young people should be able to flourish at university and be open to all kinds of debate. Let them make their own mistakes, form their own opinions and ask their own questions. We should not dictate who they can and cannot listen to.

By voting against this Bill, Labour is saying that our university students are not capable of making up their own minds. It is a bit like the Brexit debate when it told my residents in Ashfield and Eastwood that they were thick, they were stupid, they were racist and they did not know what they were voting for. Well, that ended well! It ended up with my standing here tonight.

We know that free speech is being shut down in universities in this country. Professor Jo Phoenix was due to give a talk at Essex University about placing transgender women in women’s prisons. Students threatened to barricade the hall. They complained that Ms Phoenix was a transphobe who was likely to engage in hate speech. A flyer with an image of a gun and text reading “Shut the **** up” was circulated. The university told Ms Phoenix and the event was postponed.

What about the human rights lawyer Rosa Freedman, a radical feminist law professor, whose event was cancelled amid allegations of transphobia? She received a passive aggressive email from a University of Reading student who called her views on gender politics “problematic” and warned her to “choose her words carefully”. Selina Todd, an Oxford University professor, had her invitation to a conference celebrating women withdrawn owing to pressure from trans activists who had threatened to disrupt the event.

It is a real shame that we have to legislate to allow free speech, but the biggest shame is that Labour Members will vote against the Bill and subsequently vote against free speech. Perhaps they should all come off Twitter, throw their Guardian newspapers away, leave the Tea Room, and get out there and speak to the millions of voters they lost at the last election. Let us have some free speech on the doorstep and perhaps that lot on the Opposition Benches will finally realise that they have nothing in common with the very people they expect to vote for them. Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker; that is me done.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
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I was going to say that it was a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), but I am not sure that it was.

The point about this is very clear: we legislate in this place to improve people’s lives and to right wrongs, and, as was pointed out earlier, we base our decisions on facts. The problem with this Bill stems from the reasons we need it. The Secretary of State was asked on several occasions to provide his evidence and data for the Bill. We have heard all the anecdotes; we have just heard a selection tonight. Clearly, some Government Members watch too much FOX TV, or some other channel, for their information. We did ask the Secretary of State for the figures, but the figures have already been mentioned. In December 2020, 61 university student unions carried out the survey. Six events out of almost 10,000 were cancelled. The Government’s own data from the Office for Students show only a tiny percentage of cancellations. In 2017-18, of nearly 60,000 events only 53 were rejected, which is about 0.1%, and the cancellation of some of those events had nothing to do with people’s views.

I take great exception to what the hon. Member for Ashfield said. I am a true defender of freedom of speech. I believe in it. It is one of the things that we should be most proud of in terms of being British. We have an ability to disagree. Sometimes it can take a heated format, but we can disagree. He should not label me as somebody who is against free speech. It is people like him who will close it down. If this legislation were needed, I would support it, but I do not think that it is needed, because, as has already been said, the legislation is already in place. We know the reason why, because we have had it explained. We just had a great example of it from the hon. Member for Ashfield. This is actually about trying to use the so-called woke agenda in a political manner. It is amplifying the message, so we get a situation where anyone who dares to question what happens or who votes against this Bill tonight is said to be against freedom of speech.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the important points that he is making in the Chamber tonight, but the most important thing I want to thank him for is mentioning the word “Ashfield”. That is the first time ever in this Chamber that a Labour politician has mentioned the word “Ashfield”, so I thank him for that.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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I say to the hon. Gentleman that if he wants to make a contribution to this debate, he should read about it and properly represent his constituency.

Support for Left-Behind Children

Lee Anderson Excerpts
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
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First, I want to say a big thank you to all the staff and pupils in schools in Ashfield and Eastwood who have been brilliant during this pandemic: they really have gone the extra mile.

I welcome the Government’s continued commitment to increase investment in our education system, and I also welcome the £1 billion covid catch-up fund, which will help children who have lost teaching time. The national tutoring programme will allow disadvantaged children in Ashfield to access high-quality tuition, which is so important for their development and to give them a better chance of doing well in the future. The extra £1.5 billion to fund additional pension costs for teachers also means that more of the education budget can be directed to the frontline. There can be no doubt but that this Government have the best interests of our children at heart. All this is great news for the schools in my area, such as the brilliant Kingsway Primary School, which I visited recently, that has gone above and beyond to keep open.

Last December, seats such as mine in the midlands and the north turned blue for the first time in decades or for the first time ever, and with that came significant challenges. One of the challenges for me and other Conservative MPs in places such as Ashfield is that some schools have been ignored by previous MPs. They have gone under the radar, with no one to shout about them at the highest level. However, the good news is that in Ashfield we now have a Conservative MP—an MP who went to these very schools, as did his children. My family and my friends went to these schools, so it is personal for me, and I am going to do my best.

Only two thirds of young people in the Ashfield area attend a school judged to be good or outstanding, whereas the figure for Nottinghamshire is nine out of 10 young people attending a school judged to be good or outstanding. I believe that even in some of the most deprived areas schools can thrive with the right management and leadership. It is a bit like the NHS, in that it is not always about throwing endless amounts of cash around: get the right management and dedicated staff, and our schools can flourish.

There can be no better example of this than Leamington Primary School in Ashfield. This school overall serves a disadvantaged area of my community, and it was languishing in the satisfactory category, but it has been transformed since being part of the Flying High Trust. The school has now been rated good, and it is having a tremendous impact on children’s lives. This school was not the first choice for many parents, but now there is a waiting list. The credit for this goes to the headteacher, Kaye McGuire, and the Flying High Trust, which is one of the highest performing primary multi-academy trusts in the country.

With great leadership and hard work, anything is possible—Leamington Primary School is proof of this—but where there is poor management and poor leadership, with no intervention from local MPs no amount of money can make a school successful. So I welcome all the extra investment, which will undoubtedly help the young people in Ashfield get a better education. I would like to thank the Secretary of State for Education for visiting Ashfield recently, and I would also like to thank the Minister for School Standards for agreeing to meet me to discuss how we can improve educational standards in Ashfield.

Oral Answers to Questions

Lee Anderson Excerpts
Monday 22nd June 2020

(3 years, 12 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Miriam Cates Portrait Miriam Cates (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)
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What support his Department will provide to pupils to make up for time spent out of school as a result of the covid-19 lockdown.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson (Ashfield) (Con)
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What support his Department will provide to pupils to make up for time spent out of school as a result of the covid-19 lockdown.

Gavin Williamson Portrait The Secretary of State for Education (Gavin Williamson)
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Before I begin, may I take this opportunity to express my deepest condolences to the family of James Furlong and the other victims of the terrorist attack in Reading? We have heard so many young people talk about the amazing impact James had on their lives, the real appreciation they felt and the loss that they now feel. Our hearts go out to all those who have been affected by this most terrible of tragedies. It was an appalling attack, and the Home Secretary will update the House later today.

We are focused on doing whatever we can to ensure that no child falls behind as a result of coronavirus. That is why this Government have announced a package of support worth £1 billion to tackle the impact of lost teaching time due to covid-19.

--- Later in debate ---
Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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The best thing we can do for every child is to welcome them back to school at the earliest possible opportunity, when it is safe. I herald the wonderful work done by the Autism Education Trust, which the Department has decided to give extra funding and resource to this year, so that it can work with more teachers, helping them and training them to create the best environment to welcome all children back into school, where they can develop.

Lee Anderson Portrait Lee Anderson
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I have spoken to many headteachers across Ashfield who want to get back to full service as soon as possible. One way to begin to do that is to encourage all kids who can go back to school to do so, because it is safe. I deeply regret that last week, the Leader of the Opposition refused to say publicly that schools are safe to go back to. Will my right hon. Friend remind colleagues across the House that the education and welfare of our children come before any political point scoring?

Gavin Williamson Portrait Gavin Williamson
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I very much agree with my hon. Friend. He will know from his constituency the real benefits that schools are bringing to the children who are going back, and we need to expand that. Schools are a safe environment not just for children, but for those who work in them. It is a shame the Leader of the Opposition does not acknowledge that, but I hope the shadow Secretary of State will acknowledge how important it is to get all children back and what a safe environment schools are.