Debates between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck

There have been 15 exchanges between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck

1 Mon 11th January 2021 Covid-19: Vaccinations
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
3 interactions (228 words)
2 Tue 29th September 2020 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
2 interactions (122 words)
3 Mon 29th April 2019 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Education
2 interactions (180 words)
4 Mon 11th March 2019 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Education
3 interactions (225 words)
5 Thu 17th January 2019 Children’s Social Care
Department for Education
4 interactions (2,579 words)
6 Mon 12th November 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Education
3 interactions (174 words)
7 Mon 10th September 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Education
2 interactions (138 words)
8 Thu 6th September 2018 Children in Need: Adulthood
Department for Education
8 interactions (2,383 words)
9 Wed 5th September 2018 Care Crisis Review
Department for Education
6 interactions (2,270 words)
10 Thu 12th July 2018 Forced Adoption in the UK
Department for Education
6 interactions (2,374 words)
11 Wed 4th July 2018 Speech, Language and Communication Support for Children
Department for Education
9 interactions (3,464 words)
12 Mon 14th May 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Education
3 interactions (152 words)
13 Mon 19th March 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Education
3 interactions (188 words)
14 Tue 13th March 2018 Social Workers
Department for Education
10 interactions (2,170 words)
15 Mon 29th January 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Department for Education
3 interactions (156 words)

Covid-19: Vaccinations

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Monday 11th January 2021

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s concern. I give her that commitment. The team at NHS England is working and focusing on giving as much time and notice as possible to primary care and hospitals on when they get deliveries, so they can make those appointments and keep vaccinating those who are most vulnerable. That is exactly its priority at the moment.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab) [V]
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Throughout the pandemic, community pharmacies have never closed—they really have been some of our unsung heroes. The Shields Gazette, my local paper, has launched its “Shot in the Arm” campaign. We want to know why the Minister will not allow all those experienced and dedicated community pharmacies to deliver the vaccine.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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First of all, with respect, that is inaccurate. Community pharmacies are already part of the primary care networks that are delivering the vaccines. I have also made very clear in the strategy that there will be 200 community and independent pharmacies as part of the vaccination programme in phase one, where we need that volume and throughput. The community pharmacies that can do 1,000 vaccinations a week are very much part of the programme and we thank them for that. As we get to the next stage, where we have vaccines in limitless volumes, it is about convenience and ramping up the number of community pharmacies that can also join in the fight against covid.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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We have, as the hon. Member rightly mentioned, consulted on bringing forward the end to the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 to 2035, or earlier if a fast transition appears feasible, as well as including hybrids for the first time. We will announce the outcome in due course. I remind him that we are investing £2.5 billion in grants for plug-in passenger commercial vehicles and more than 18,000 publicly available charging devices, including 3,200 rapid devices: one of the largest networks in Europe. I want to see him supporting that endeavour rather than talking it down.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
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What recent discussions he has had with representatives from those business sectors most affected by the covid-19 outbreak. [906771]

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Monday 29th April 2019

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Education
Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
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T9. Last Friday, a very special man, Ian Dickson, and his dedicated team of volunteers made possible the Care Experienced Conference, which was led by and involved care experienced people. I had the honour of being there; it was emotive, powerful and uplifting. The current care system was rightly characterised as being one of repeated loss, often lacking in love, emotional warmth and hugs. The Minister knows that that heartbreaking statement is true. How much longer are these voices going to be ignored? When will he do the right thing and commit to a wholesale review of our utterly broken care system? [910588]

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Nadhim Zahawi)
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29 Apr 2019, 3:33 p.m.

I know the hon. Lady is passionate about the care system, having been a social worker. We are introducing reforms—both workforce reforms with the national assessment and accreditation system, and through the investment we are making in “Strengthening Families, Protecting Children”, for which £84 million was announced at the Budget. Of course, we will also put our best foot forward, working with the sector, to make sure that the financial challenges are highlighted at the spending review.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Monday 11th March 2019

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Education
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I agree with my hon. Friend that Wiltshire is doing a tremendous job in SEND provision. The inspection by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission has been exemplary. There is a legal challenge to the investment of £20 million and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that. I know that neighbouring colleagues take a different view as well.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
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11 Mar 2019, 2:30 p.m.

Restraint and restrictive practices in schools and healthcare settings carried out by adults on children as young as two with SEND have caused bruising, black eyes, carpet burns and post-traumatic stress disorder. Guidance promised half a decade ago has yet to materialise, and the Department does not count these complaints. Fed-up parents are preparing to take legal action against the Government. Despite today’s announcement of placements for children with complex needs, should not the Minister be focusing on the fact that, on his watch, some schools are no longer a safe place for children with SEND?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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I had hoped that the hon. Lady would commend today’s announcement and confirm that she takes a different view from her Front Bench on abolishing free schools. If we abolished these very good free special schools, we would actually put more children with SEND at risk. We are undertaking a root-and-branch review of restraint with the Department of Health and Social Care, and we will be reporting back.

Children’s Social Care

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Thursday 17th January 2019

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Education
Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
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17 Jan 2019, 3:24 p.m.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I thank the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for his persistence in securing this important debate and the Backbench Business Committee for granting it.

Rarely does this House debate children’s social care, but it is clear from the strength of the speeches today that not only do such debates warrant more frequency, but more importantly, Government action is needed now, before the growing number of children and families being failed by a system that does not need meet their needs swells to even larger proportions.

The Minister is on record as being of the view that “good leadership”, not increased resources, is the key to improving outcomes. As someone who practised as a social worker, I have to say that that is simply not true, nor does that assertion resonate with the reality that dozens of organisations, charities and trade unions and a plethora of cross-party Select Committee reports and groups across the House are repeatedly telling him about.

The scale of the neglect of our most vulnerable children is colossal: more than 400,000 children in need; the largest number of children in care since the 1980s; care proceedings up by a staggering 130% since 2008; increasingly poor outcomes for the thousands of children leaving care; falling adoption rates; social worker recruitment and retention difficulties; a falling number of foster carers; and increasingly large private sector contracts focused on profit, not care.

More than 120 national organisations wrote to the Prime Minister last year stating that this Government are ignoring children. They cited compelling evidence that the services and support that children and young people rely on are at breaking point, yet they were ignored. The Local Government Association now reports that local authorities will face a £3.1 billion funding gap in children’s services by 2025, and 60% of children’s social workers have said that austerity and cuts have affected their ability to do their jobs.

There is now a wealth of research that highlights the links between austerity and the rising number of children coming into contact with children’s services and entering care. One study, by the Nuffield Foundation, found that deprivation was the largest contributory factor in a child’s chances of being looked after. Another, by the National Children’s Bureau, found that 41% of children’s services are now unable to fulfil their statutory duties. I know that the Minister is not too concerned about local authorities fulfilling their statutory duties towards children, as he recently argued that such duties are subject to local interpretation and disseminated a very dangerous myth-busting document advising local authorities to dispense with their statutory guidance in relation to the most vulnerable children.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Nadhim Zahawi)
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17 Jan 2019, 3:24 p.m.

The hon. Lady needs to correct the record. What she said about dispensing with statutory guidance is absolutely not true, and I urge her to correct the record.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
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17 Jan 2019, 4:40 p.m.

I do not need to correct the record, because what I am saying is already correct.

Especially since the children’s rights charity Article 39 has written to the Secretary of State threatening judicial review on the matter, I again urge the Minister to withdraw that document and cease the repeated attempts to deregulate and wipe away hard-fought-for protective legislation for children. This Government tried to do so during the passage of the Children and Social Work Act 2017, and they failed in the attempt to allow private services to take over children’s services. I politely suggest to the Minister that he should instead focus on the unprecedented rate of referrals, which stand at more 1,700 children every single day. The consequence of that is a tightened threshold for intervention, meaning that, last year, 36,000 children had to be referred multiple times before they received statutory support to help them with serious issues.

Worse still, there are an estimated 140,000 further children on the fringes of social care in England who are not receiving any support at all. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith) said, there will be many more, because there are those who simply do not seek help or do not know where to go to for that help. That means that children in desperate need of help are being subjected to further harm because of a lack of resources and funding.

I have etched on my brain—and I wish I did not have—every single child and family I worked with prior to entering this place. I remember vividly the little boys and girls who had been so severely abused and neglected that they gouged their own skin, the children who had fled war zones who were stoic and motionless in playgrounds and completely unable to interact with their peers, and the adolescents who would severely self-harm after being subjected to sexual exploitation. Thankfully, I also remember being able to make a positive difference to those children’s lives.

However, ex-colleagues now tell me that, despite their absolute best efforts, the hollowing out of local government and the decimation of wider support services, mentioned so characteristically articulately by my hon. Friends the Members for West Ham (Lyn Brown) and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), have left many children waiting longer for help. Each hour these children wait, they are suffering significant and, for some, irreversible harm.

It is therefore not only misguided but dangerous that, against that backdrop, the Government have pressed ahead with slashing local authority early intervention grants, a point that was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karen Lee); closing 1,200 Sure Start centres; decreasing funding to children’s centres by nearly 50%; removing funding from the very initiatives that help to keep children out of the care system, such as the family drug and alcohol court national unit; and actively implementing policies that make it almost impossible for foster carers, kinship carers and special guardians to care for children. It is little wonder that members of the Minister’s own party are warning in the press that we are fast approaching another Baby P tragedy.

In the case of children in residential care, why has the Minister ignored my warnings that many homes are facing potential collapse overnight due to the overnight levy? Why has he not addressed the shameful situation whereby children in residential care are locked out of the “staying put” arrangements afforded to those in foster care? Why has he not listened to my concerns about the number of children being placed miles away from their families? Worse still, he has not acted sufficiently on the use of state-sanctioned restraint that is designed to cause physical harm to children in the secure estate. Why has he not responded sufficiently to the recent news that increasing numbers of vulnerable children are being placed on their own, with no support, in hostels, bed and breakfasts and, in some cases, tents and caravans? That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin).

In 2016, the National Audit Office reported that actions taken by the Minister’s Department since 2010 to improve the quality of services delivered to children had not yet resulted in improvements. Just last year, the Public Accounts Committee, after its examination of child protection, stated:

“The Department lacks a credible plan for improving the system by 2020.”

It is clear to everybody except this Government that their whole approach lacks any cohesive strategy and is consumed with piecemeal, misguided measures. Measures such as the What Works centres, Partners in Practice, the discredited national assessment and accreditation system and the innovation programme are not yielding any positive changes, but have so far have cost over £200 million, with at least £60 million going from taxpayers to private companies.

Labour would do things differently. We understand the holistic nature of children’s social care, which is why we are committed to looking at the care system in its entirety and giving equity to all forms of care. We are committed to stemming the tide of privatisation in the sector, because there is no profit to be made in good social care. We are committed to putting into domestic legislation the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. In short, we are committed to children. We will ensure that every child matters once again, because at the moment that belief could not be further from the reality.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Nadhim Zahawi)
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17 Jan 2019, 4:45 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) on securing this debate, on his expertise and on his persistence in ensuring that this debate was held—third time lucky. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) and for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), and the hon. Members for West Ham (Lyn Brown), for Lincoln (Karen Lee), for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin), for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith), and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), as well as others who intervened, including my hon. Friends the Members for Henley (John Howell) and for Dudley South (Mike Wood), and the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves). They brought valuable—indeed sometimes invaluable—insight to this vital issue.

Nothing is more important than our work to identify vulnerable children early and to give them the support they need to keep them safe. I applaud the all-party group for children for being vocal champions of that, and I give an assurance that the Education Secretary and I share that priority. As many colleagues pointed out, the importance of children’s social care too often goes unrecognised. Many colleagues said that today. It makes headlines only when things go wrong. We should value the contribution of social workers day-in, day-out in making a difference to children’s lives in sometimes very challenging circumstances.

As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar, the challenges facing children in families, communities and beyond are many and varied. As we all know from our constituencies, there can be stark differences in the demographics, economic status and social problems faced by different communities—even between one area and its neighbour. That is why children’s social care is delivered locally within a national legislative framework for safeguarding and child protection in England. That long-standing principle is enshrined in the Children Act 1989 and it places on all local authorities the same duty to take decisive action wherever a child is at risk of, or suffering significant harm.

All 50 judges in the family courts must use the same law when making decisions wherever care proceedings are under way, but local authorities remain best placed to identify, assess and respond to local priorities, setting the criteria for accessing services that reflect the needs of children in their area. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham rightly reminded us, thresholds play an important part in allowing local authorities to do that work. Whether those thresholds are set appropriately and properly understood is scrutinised by Ofsted as part of its inspections, and factored into its independent judgment about the quality of local services.

What Ofsted tells us about quality corroborates some of the APPG’s findings, which suggest that the picture across the country is far from uniform—indeed, it has been described as a postcode lottery. Although some children and families receive good and outstanding services, the majority live in areas where those services are inadequate or require improvement. Some variation is right and necessary in responding to local needs, but such inconsistency in the quality of services is not. We must recognise that Government action is needed if all children are to receive the same quality of support that every child deserves. Addressing this inconsistency is a priority for me and my Department, through our wide-ranging national social care reforms and through strong action to drive up quality where services are less than good.

We will intervene every time Ofsted judges children’s services to be inadequate. Our intervention brings results: the first children’s services trust in Doncaster moved from inadequate to good in just two years. Just last week, Ofsted published an inspection report for Bromley—the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge is not in her place, but she rightly praised the team and the leadership in Bromley—showing that its services are no longer inadequate, but are now judged as good. Today I am delighted to say that, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham reminded us, after almost a decade of deeply entrenched failure, children’s services in Birmingham are no longer inadequate. Ofsted published its inspection report for Birmingham this morning. It noted that the children’s services trust, which we worked with the local authority to establish, has:

“enabled the re-vitalisation of both practice and working culture, and, as a result, progress has been made in improving the experiences and progress of children”.

In fact, since 2010, 44 local authorities have been lifted out of intervention and not returned. The significance of that should not be underestimated. We raised the bar for Ofsted inspection in 2013 to drive up quality for children, but by May 2017 20% of authorities had not met our new standards and had been found inadequate. That has since reduced by a third, from 30 to 19 today as a result of our reforms. This is not intervention for intervention’s sake, as the Labour Front-Bench team attempted to spin it, but improving the lives of children and families.

I am not complacent about the challenges. We have seen considerable improvements in some areas, but other areas, such as Wakefield, Bradford and Blackpool, have declined this year. That is why we are investing £20 million in regional improvements to get ahead of failure. As well as supporting every local authority rated inadequate, a further 26 are receiving support from a strong Partner in Practice local authority, with work under way to broker support for many more.

The number of local authorities achieving the top judgments under the new Ofsted framework is small but growing. In December, Leeds was rated as outstanding and, just last week, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford, Essex received the same Ofsted judgment. I visited the hub she spoke about and I have to admire Councillor Dick Madden and his excellent director of children’s services for what they have been able to achieve. That example demonstrates that this is about not just funding, but real, good practice on the frontline and strong leadership. In total, five local authorities have been rated outstanding since 2018, setting the highest ambitions and showing that even within current constraints—there are financial constraints, as the hon. Member for West Ham reminded us—local authorities can deliver outstanding children’s services. My aim is that the improvements we are making continue at pace, so that by 2022 less than 10% of local authorities are rated “inadequate” by Ofsted, halving failure rates within five years and providing consistently better services for thousands of children and families across the country.

Service quality is a significant variable in what differs between local areas. Crucial to service quality is the social care workforce. The practice of staff locally, from the leadership of directors of children’s services to the decision making of social workers, makes a huge difference to ensuring that the right children get the right support at the right time. That is why we have set clear professional standards for social workers, and invested significantly in training and development to meet those standards nationally—to ensure a highly capable, highly skilled workforce that makes good decisions about what is best for children and families.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Monday 12th November 2018

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Education
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Nadhim Zahawi)
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12 Nov 2018, 3:26 p.m.

The law is clear: only children who are suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm receive child protection interventions. When it comes to support for children and families with wider needs, the statutory safeguarding guidance is also clear: local authorities should make a range of services available, including early help.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
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12 Nov 2018, 3:26 p.m.

Looked-after children in secure accommodation have been subjected to more than 30,000 hours in solitary confinement over the past five years, in some cases for up to 23 hours a day. Leading medical experts have called for the Government to cease the practice immediately. Will the new secure academy schools be adopting it, and why is the Minister allowing such a contravention of children’s human rights to continue apace?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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12 Nov 2018, 3:26 p.m.

The hon. Lady has raised an important issue, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has also sought to address, and of which there has been some media coverage. Looked-after children are our responsibility: we are, ultimately, their parents. This is wrong, and should not be happening.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Monday 10th September 2018

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Education
Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
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10 Sep 2018, 2:30 p.m.

Legislation and guidance regarding looked-after children—for example, on such children having their own social worker—is vital to safeguarding their welfare. The recent guide for local authorities published by the Department refers to this legislation and guidance as myth, and actively urges local authorities to dispense with their statutory obligations, thereby cutting vulnerable children adrift. Worse still, only this morning the Minister responded to those criticisms by advising that statutory guidance is open to interpretation. Is it now the Department’s policy that statutory guidance in relation to vulnerable children no longer needs to be followed?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Nadhim Zahawi)
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10 Sep 2018, 2:30 p.m.

I responded very clearly to the myth-busting document. We consulted directors of children’s services and with Ofsted before we published the myth-busting document, and we made it very clear this morning that no legislation has changed, or is going to change, in any way.

Children in Need: Adulthood

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Thursday 6th September 2018

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Education
Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
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6 Sep 2018, 4:14 p.m.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to go and read our manifesto again, because threaded through our manifesto were things to help children, such as investment in mental health and in school counselling. Unlike his own party’s manifesto, it was all fully costed. I would have another look if I were him.

As referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, the Children’s Society estimates that 12,000 children who approach local authorities at risk of homelessness are sent away without an assessment even taking place. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 does not address the vulnerability of 16 and 17-year-olds, who are often sent back to their families, which are the source of the issues that they face such as domestic violence or substance abuse. It is no wonder that those children in need are more likely to go missing, or that they become another statistic in the ever-burgeoning rough sleeping stats.

All those factors make it even more disappointing that the Government’s long-awaited child in need review is narrow in focus, and will look only at the educational outcomes of children in need. Of course, I acknowledge that children in need have poorer educational outcomes than their peers, and I wholeheartedly echo the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth), but focusing only on educational outcomes—there are approximately 390,000 children in need—and ignoring the other difficulties they are suffering that we have discussed is a little short-sighted.

Respectfully, the Minister should take note of his Department’s figures, because they show stable numbers of children in need, but a high rate of re-referrals. In short, people are not getting the service they need first time round, and things are reaching a crisis point. The Children’s Society found that one in three 16 and 17-year-olds who were referred to children’s services were re-referrals from within one or two years. The reasons for those re-referrals were that their needs did not previously meet the threshold but their situation had now escalated, or that their initial referral did not resolve the issues. Sadly, at that stage, there is no time available to address those now acute issues, because when they turn 18, their case will be closed.

This cohort of young people are in desperate need of a Government who care about their future. The Minister has an opportunity today to prove that they do. He could commit to exploring changes to legislation and/or guidance that would allow properly resourced transitional plans to be put in place for children in need who are approaching 18, similar to those for children who have been looked after—a suggestion that has been advocated by my hon. Friends. He could commit to letting us know what cross-departmental pressure he will put on his colleagues to address the gaping holes in mental health provision and policing, and, vitally, to properly fund children’s social care.

It will simply not be enough, nor will it be acceptable, to say that those children’s needs will be addressed by adult services, should they need them. We all know that that just will not happen. I cannot think of any other scenario where people are identified as being in desperate need of help but they are deemed no longer worthy of that support and their case is closed, purely because of their age. I sincerely hope the Minister will not let us down in his response and, more importantly, I hope he will not let these children down.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Nadhim Zahawi)
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6 Sep 2018, 3:47 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Buck.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) on securing this important debate. He takes a keen interest in the subject in his valuable role as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for looked-after children and care leavers. I echo the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) in saying that this is such an important subject that we are here on a Thursday afternoon to debate it. I thank the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth), the hon. Members for Strangford and for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) and my hon. Friends the Members for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) for their contributions, and many other hon. Members for their interventions.

The Government are committed to ensuring that all vulnerable children receive the support they need to fulfil their potential, which means getting the support right throughout childhood and as they make the transition to adulthood. I will discuss children in need and care leavers, because both groups have been mentioned today. There are important, indeed fundamental, differences between children who are looked after and other children in need, for whom their parents still retain responsibility. We know that care leavers can experience extra barriers when making the transition into adulthood, including financial hardship and the difficulty of living independently at a young age. That is why we have extended the support that we provide to the children for whom we—the state—have corporate parenting responsibilities, where the baton of parenting has been passed on to us for all sorts of harrowing reasons. However, it is of course vital that we also support children in need to make a successful transition to adulthood. That requires the identification of needs and appropriate responses by a range of agencies working in partnership. Our key statutory guidance, “Working together to safeguard children”, describes how agencies should jointly agree on and deliver joined-up support for children in need.

We know that children’s needs may change as they get older and that older children are likely to have very different needs from younger children. The recent update to the “Working together” guidance is clear that local authorities should consider new approaches, such as contextual safeguarding for older children, if current approaches are not meeting their needs; some very good work on that has been done in the London borough of Hackney. The guidance also offers links to further advice regarding child sexual exploitation.

The update to “Working together” also makes it clear that known transition points for a child should be planned for in advance, including situations where children are likely to transition between child and adult services. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme challenged his two clinical commissioning groups on this issue, although I will not comment other than to say that I will ensure that his remarks are passed on to the relevant Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care. As I say, such work includes identifying the points where children are likely to transition between child and adult services. The local authority should hold a review around the time of the child’s 18th birthday to consider whether support services are still required, and to discuss with the child and their family what might be needed, based on a reassessment of the child’s needs.

For all children, getting the best possible education is a critical part of preparing for adulthood; the right hon. Member for Knowsley focused on that point. That is why this Government are delivering on our manifesto commitment to review the educational outcomes of children in need. We have already published significant new data and analysis on the educational achievement of children in need, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar for his remarks about the work we are doing. We have received submissions in response to our call for evidence from hundreds of professionals and organisations on what works in practice to improve outcomes. The review is now considering the responses to the call for evidence and conducting further analysis to understand what works in practice to improve educational outcomes for these children.

I want that review to be tightly defined, impactful and focused on evidence. These issues are complex ones, as I think has been demonstrated in the debate today, but if we open things out too widely and try to solve everything, we are in danger of solving nothing. Having said that, our data and analysis publication looks beyond education at NEETs’ outcomes. As part of the data strand of the review, we are examining the possibility of linking with other datasets to understand more about employment outcomes.

The pupil premium was mentioned by a number of colleagues. Children in need have additional needs, which are catered for through the education system. Already the majority of children in need receive support in schools through pupil premium funding. We have provided over £13 billion of additional funding since 2011, targeted at reducing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. Since 2011, that gap has been reduced at both the age of 11 and the age of 16.

Of all children in need, 49% receive support due to a special educational need or disability. The SEND code of practice explicitly states that all children and young people, whether or not they have an education health and care plan, should be prepared for adulthood and that this preparation should start early. For the 23% of all children in need on an EHCP, there must be an explicit focus from year nine onwards on preparation for adulthood.

Data published in the “Review of Children in Need” document has shown that children in need are more likely than their peers not to be in education, employment or training. We are determined to ensure that disadvantaged students are properly supported in their post-16 education. The Government have invested significantly—£7 billion in the last academic year—to ensure that there is a place in training or education for every 16 to 19-year-old. That is for all young people, regardless of whether they have had involvement with children’s social care. Local authorities have a statutory duty to identify and support all young people who are not in education, employment or training. We are extremely proud—I am extremely proud—that young people are now participating in education, employment or training at the highest levels since consistent records began, although we rightly recognise that there is still much more to do for some young people.

Regarding the funding for 16 to 19-year-olds, we want to make sure that vulnerable children are accessing education beyond the age of 16. In 2017-18, about £520 million was allocated to providers through the national funding formula to attract and retain disadvantaged 16 to 19-year-olds and to support students with SEND. We have also provided around £130 million directly to the young people who need the most help, to cover costs such as transport, which was mentioned in one of the interventions, and course equipment, through the 16-to-19 bursary fund. This fund is available to children who have vulnerabilities such as disability, or who are living independently without the financial support of their family.

Regarding wider outcomes, mental health was mentioned. Although education is of course critical to the long-term outcomes of children in need, in some areas that affect these children disproportionately we are working as a Government to improve services—specifically mental health, child sexual exploitation and of course homelessness services. Poor mental health can have a profound impact on the entirety of a child’s life, which is why we are investing an additional £1.4 billion nationally to transform children and young people’s mental health services.

Time is short and I would like to leave a minute for the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak to respond to the debate. The only other thing I will say now is that I was very pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar mention the troubled families programme, through which we are now spending £920 million to help 400,000 families. Given that a man with his experience is saying that that is the area we should focus on, I will certainly champion that programme and ensure that our voice is heard in the imminent strategic review.

I thank the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) for his passionate articulation of what is happening in Scotland. In England, we are also supporting care leavers. We have extended the support that we provide to the children for whom we, the state, have corporate parenting responsibilities, and the offer of support from local authorities now extends to the age of 25. In addition, personal advisers can help care leavers to get support from mainstream providers as well as provide, or help to facilitate, access to practical and emotional support.

As time is short, I shall end there. Suffice it to say that a number of colleagues made some other important points, including about care leaver accommodation. Of course, my great friend and passionate advocate for family hubs, the hon. Member for Congleton, who I look forward to visiting—

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

6 Sep 2018, 4:28 p.m.

I have no time left to give way, because I think we are ending at 4.30 pm and there is only a minute to go, which I want to give to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak to respond—

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

6 Sep 2018, 4:28 p.m.

If the hon. Gentleman is happy not to speak again, I am happy to give way to the hon. Member for South Shields.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

6 Sep 2018, 4:29 p.m.

I thank the Minister for giving way. I am just a little confused about his response to the debate. Children in need are a distinct category from those requiring child protection, looked-after children and care leavers, but most of his comments in his response to the debate were about other distinct categories of children in need and not about the distinct category of children in need themselves. I am just a little baffled by his response. I appreciate that he does not have time now, but could he put in writing to me what the Department is doing about children in need—not looked-after children and not care leavers, but children in need?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

6 Sep 2018, 4:29 p.m.

I am very grateful to you, Ms Buck, for allowing that intervention, but I suspect that the hon. Lady, the shadow Minister, may not have been listening to me, because I actually talked very specifically about our document, “Review of Children in Need”, to which we committed in our manifesto, unlike the hon. Lady herself, who could not answer my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar on the funding that she is asking for in order to spend more. I am happy to give her a copy of my speech, which was all about children in need.

Care Crisis Review

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Wednesday 5th September 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Education
Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

5 Sep 2018, 5:35 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank the hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) for securing this important debate on the findings of the care crisis review, which was expertly conducted by the Family Rights Group. She made some excellent and valuable points, as did other hon. Members who have contributed.

Sir James Munby, president of the family division, said:

“We are facing a crisis and, truth be told, we have no very clear strategy for meeting the crisis… What is to be done?”

The Minister and all of us should be alarmed that although those comments were made more than two years ago, the state of children’s social care has continued on that negative downward trajectory. The review notes

“the link between poverty and care”

and that

“local authority spending in England and Wales is failing to keep pace with the steadily rising demand for children’s services, linked to rising family poverty.”

Those comments should come as no surprise to the Minister, as his Department’s figures show that children are 10 times more likely to be on a child protection plan if they live in a deprived area.

Similarly, the Minister will know that local authorities’ early intervention grants—money that can keep children from entering care—have been slashed by his Government by up to £600 million, with almost £100 million more of cuts still to come. When the Minister was previously asked about early intervention, he said:

“early intervention is important and the Government take that very seriously.”—[Official Report, 25 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 590.]

If that is the case, he should have no difficulty in committing today to the review’s request that he plug the estimated £2 billion gap in local authority budgets for children’s care by 2020. Services must be enabled to move on from an expensive crisis-led model to one of prevention, where there are enough resources for families to be supported and for children to remain with their family or return to their family’s care where it is safe to do so. In the prevention model, the focus on process and performance indicators changes to a focus on relationships and the absolute best way to meet a child’s needs.

As a practising social worker, I often saw the pain caused to children, their wider birth family and their new family when they were removed from their parents’ care, even when it was the safest thing to do. It is utterly heartbreaking. When opportunities to keep a family together have been missed, that heartbreak and enduring pain never leaves those involved. That is why it is vital to implement the recommendation to extend the problem-solving model of the family, drug and alcohol courts, which help to keep children out of the care system and save the taxpayer an average of £27,000 per family. I urge the Minister and his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to halt their plans, which will lead to the closure of the family, drug and alcohol court national unit.

The Opposition very much welcome the report’s other recommendations to strengthen support for families, and its overall thrust. If implemented, it would result in a more child and family-centred social care system across the board. The recommendations are in stark contrast with the Government’s misguided efforts so far. The What Works centre has already cost taxpayers nearly £10 million and will not be in place until 2020. Partners in practice has had questionable results, with one council’s Ofsted rating falling from outstanding to requiring improvement under the Government’s scheme. The national assessment and accreditation system proved grossly unpopular, which forced a U-turn on roll-out, while gifting £23 million to private companies. The innovation programme has similarly bestowed £12 million on private consultancies, despite being time-limited and given only to certain local authorities, which exacerbates the postcode lottery. In total, £45 million has been spent on piecemeal measures that are not yielding long-term positive changes.

Three months ago, the Minister said about the very report we are debating:

“Across government we will consider its findings and recommendations carefully.”—[Official Report, 25 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 589.]

He should be in a position today to say what he will implement from the report and detail the outcome of the discussions that have taken place so far. I look forward to hearing that in his response.

I would like to end where I began, with a recent comment from Sir James Munby’s successor, Sir Andrew McFarlane. He said:

“I, too, am clear that this is a crisis and I am extremely concerned to see that it is by no means abating.”

Coupled with recent reports in the press from members of the Minister’s own party that we are fast approaching a Baby P tragedy, it should be more than enough for him to act and put pressure where it is needed within government. I wait in anticipation and look forward to his response.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Nadhim Zahawi)
- Hansard - -

5 Sep 2018, 5:41 p.m.

It is an honour and a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) on securing this important debate. I know she is concerned about the number of children being taken into care and that she is a firm believer in early intervention and family support services as a vehicle for lowering care demand.

I acknowledge the increase in the number of care order applications and the number of children being taken into care in recent years. The Government are acutely aware of the impact that that has had and is having on local authorities and the courts. We are also very conscious of the implications for children and families. I am immensely grateful to all those who have worked in child protection and the family justice system, whether they are social workers, court staff, CAFCASS guardians, judges or those in other roles. We want every child to be in a loving, stable home that is right for them. In most cases, children are best looked after by their families. Children are only removed as a last resort, which is why my Department is continuing to deliver a comprehensive reform programme for children’s social care across England. I will say more about our reforms later.

I recognise the sector’s care crisis review and acknowledge the work that the Family Rights Group and others involved invested in it. The review is an important contribution to the work being done across the family justice system to address the pressures caused by rising public law volumes for local authorities and the family courts. I am pleased to say that tomorrow the Minister for family justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), who also has an interest in the report, and I are meeting members of the review team—Nigel Richardson, who chaired the review, and Cathy Ashley, who helped drive it—to discuss its findings.

In advance of that meeting, I can tell Members that officials in both our Departments have been carefully considering the options for change set out in the report, and we have taken action. The sector’s report sets out two specific options for change in relation to our “Working together to safeguard children” statutory guidance. First, it states that the guidance should be

“reviewed and amended so that the principles underpinning the legislation, including partnership and co-production with families, are clearly expressed and the processes for managing individual cases reflect the messages from research on the effectiveness of relationship-based practice.”

Secondly, it argued that the same guidance should be

“amended to place greater emphasis on the role to be played by key partner agencies, in addition to that played by children’s social care, in assessing and meeting the accommodation, health and educational needs of children and their families.”

I am pleased to say that we have addressed both those issues in the latest version of the statutory guidance, which we published in July. I hope Members and those who took part in the review welcome that. It is particularly important to recognise that the sector’s review stated that

“there are many overlapping factors contributing to the rise in care proceedings and the number of children in care. This complex picture means that there is no single solution.

That is in keeping with the Government’s own analysis and is why, in addition to the many reforms we are seeking to deliver, including those I will talk about shortly, we are working across Government to consider what more we can do. It includes the work that officials from my Department and the Ministry of Justice are doing with members of national and local family justice boards across England, through which we are seeking to understand the challenges in the family justice system better and consider with sector representatives what can be done to address them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Telford has an interest in early intervention. I assure her that, across Government, we are addressing the root causes of children’s needs early—be it by supporting children with alcohol-dependent parents or in families affected by domestic abuse, preventing young people from being drawn into serious violence, or investing in early years and children’s and young people’s mental health. Our “Working Together to Safeguard Children” statutory guidance is clear that local areas should have a comprehensive range of effective evidence-based services in place to address assessed needs early. The Government have also committed £920 million to the troubled families programme, which aims to achieve significant and sustained improvement for up to 400,000 families with multiple high-cost problems by 2020.

On the point that my hon. Friend made on funding for preventive support services, it is for local authorities to determine how to spend their non-ring-fenced income on the services they provide, including services for preventive support measures.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

5 Sep 2018, 5:50 p.m.

My hon. Friend is one of my excellent predecessors—hon. Members mentioned Edward Timpson, but the work that my hon. Friend did in the Department has been a high bar for me to attempt to meet. I have seen first hand the effectiveness of the troubled families programme, and when it comes to the spending review, I will be a champion in ensuring that we continue to commit. In many of the cases that were highlighted to me by social workers in Islington and other parts of the country, a whole support system is required to help those families deliver stability for the family and the child.

Since 2016, we have been working to implement the reforms set out by my predecessor, Edward Timpson, in the “Putting children first” strategy. They centre on three key areas: people and leadership, practice and systems, and governance and accountability. I fully support the strategy and am committed to implementing it. “Putting children first” set out a five-year reform programme for children’s social care in Europe, which includes developing the social work profession, supporting innovation and improvement and establishing a new What Works centre. I will say something about them and the impact that our reforms will have.

On the social work profession, our successful Step Up to Social Work and Frontline programmes have brought new people into the profession and promoted social work as a desirable graduate career. Recently, I was pleased to be able to announce a further £25 million for Step Up to Social Work to bring a further 700 talented future social workers into children’s services. Through investment in professional development at key stages throughout their career, and the new national accreditation and assessment system, which the shadow Minister effectively dissed—[Interruption.] Not at all. The very good social workers who have been through it show very high satisfaction ratings. Hon. Members will hear more of that in the future. We are really helping to ensure that the quality of practice is consistently excellent.

Innovation and improvements are at the heart of the Government’s vision for children’s social care. The £200 million Children’s Social Care Innovation programme has deepened evidence about what good social work looks like and about the potential for innovation. It has generated a portfolio of promising successful innovations, which we are rolling out more widely to understand the potential wider impact. I am also pleased to note that the sector-led report points out that many projects are doing effective and innovative work with families who are at risk of breakdown, including helping to reduce the numbers of children being taken into care. Information from the programme will form the wider bank of evidence going into the new What Works centre, which is currently in a testing and development phase, to improve outcomes for young people and learning for the sector. The What Works centre is pressing ahead with its research programme, including examining what works on reducing the need for children to enter care. We hope it will support the uptake of quality evidence in frontline practice in children’s social care.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

5 Sep 2018, 5:51 p.m.

I am conscious that the Minister is about to wrap up, and I am concerned that he has failed to mention anything about the links between deprivation and rising care numbers, which all the research says is a massive issue. I am interested to find out from him what exactly local authorities have done through innovation money that they would not have been able to do if they were funded properly. Would it not have been better if they were all funded properly so they could all innovate, instead of it being piecemeal?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

5 Sep 2018, 5:51 p.m.

Local authorities are spending a record £9.2 billion on children’s services. The hon. Lady raises an important point and I do not want to politicise this. Yes, budgets are tight, but where I have seen good children’s services being delivered, it is very much dependent on the quality of leadership and support offered to frontline social workers.

Forced Adoption in the UK

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Thursday 12th July 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Education
Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

12 Jul 2018, 3:24 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) for securing today’s debate, and the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. I also thank the Movement for an Adoption Apology for its tireless campaigning work.

The pain and suffering that the historical practice of forced adoption caused has largely been expunged from the history books and has received limited attention, yet the physical and emotional scars left behind are very real, very current and have an enduring daily impact on the women, children and families involved. Their suffering is made more painful by the fact that, as each day passes and no formal inquiries of any shape take place, the full truth may never be known. They may never be able to reunite with their children or share with them their story. Worse still, many adopted adults do not seek out their birth parents, as they and their adopters are under the false impression that they were freely, not forcibly, adopted.

At the heart of today’s debate are harrowing human stories, such as those we have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) and for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), about thousands of women and the babies that were taken from them after intensive coercion, at times force, and deceit carried out by the very institutions of the state that were supposed to help and support them. There were no choices. Ann Keen, our friend and former colleague—her story was told characteristically eloquently and passionately by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South—very clearly showed that this was not about choices.

This was a cultural attitude fostered by institutions and parts of the state that, instead of acting in the best interests of women and their babies, did the exact opposite. Culturally, the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s, when the majority of these forced adoptions took place, was a very different time. That point was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby. Today, adoption orders are largely made as a last resort to keep children safe from harm, but in the post-war years, many women who were pregnant out of wedlock were chastised and deemed unfit for motherhood. Birth control was less reliable, while the contraceptive pill was available to women only from 1967, and even then only to those who were married. Welfare benefits were not as easily accessible, and sex education was non-existent. It was also a time when people held institutions of the state—teachers, welfare and social workers, benefits advisers, NHS staff, the Church and GPs—in much higher regard than they do now. Particularly in working-class communities, anyone who held such a role was respected and listened to by the community, and their advice was acted on, even when the advice was wrong.

This debate has only been made possible by women coming forward and sharing their painful stories. It is my honour, although with a heavy heart, to share a few of them today. Diana Defries, initially out of abject fear, concealed her pregnancy. When she eventually saw her GP, she was shipped off miles away from her home in London to a strict mother and baby home in Southampton. She was made to undertake physical work until she was admitted to hospital to give birth. In the hospital, she was treated like she did not matter. She was separated from her baby, given Valium daily—she refused to take it—and injected with a drug, which is not recommended now, to stop her lactating. After 15 days with her baby, she was taken on a train to Waterloo station. When she arrived, she was taken to the Crusade of Rescue Offices in Ladbroke Grove, and her baby was forcibly taken from her.

Diana was 16 years old when she gave birth to her daughter, Stephanie. She had not long turned 17 when Stephanie was taken from her in October 1974. She received no post-natal care, and she was lied to by social services. She was told she had no other options, and that adoption was the best option. She was told she was too young to receive any help, and a week later she was sent back to school and sworn to secrecy. She has not had any more children, but, thankfully, she is reunited with her daughter. In her words, they have

“had to navigate a lot of challenges”,

and she rightly states that any apology should be for both of them. Attachment is a two-way process: children separated from their birth mothers will, to varying degrees, feel a sense of trauma and loss, no matter how young they are or how long they have spent in their mum’s care.

In 1964 Veronica Smith was 24 years old. She was sent to a private maternity hospital and isolated from everyone she knew, right at the time when she needed them more than ever. She was with her baby for one week until an advert was placed in a local paper, and her baby was fostered and then adopted by strangers. Veronica’s story, like so many others we have heard today, is a story of powerlessness, and of things being done to women, not with them, on the false assertion that they and their babies would be better off that way, and that if they really loved their babies, they would not resist adoption.

Another woman told me that she was raped behind a local pub by her then boyfriend’s brother. Her baby was placed into foster care and adopted at four months old. She described to me her treatment by officials as being characterised by submission and deep shame, but the only shame here should be firmly on the shoulders of those who harmed her and the state institutions that failed her and her baby.

Others have told me of being abused when they were sent away, or being ostracised and subjected to degrading and vicious verbal abuse from professionals. The common thread running through all those stories is one of lies, control, coercion, force, abuse and cruelty, which has led to a lifetime of mental health difficulties, physical harm and emotional distress. For someone not to know where their child is, or whether that child knows that they were forced into giving them up, is a deep and pervasive pain.

Today we are asking for a simple and straightforward act by the Government: an apology to the women, children and families for their enduring pain and undue suffering. As Diana said, such an apology would

“allow us to show the lifelong impact of unexpressed grief for unacknowledged loss.”

In his response, I would like the Minister to explain briefly his Government’s grounds for rejecting a public inquiry, and say whether he is considering other ways of shedding light on these travesties, such as conducting an initial scoping exercise in his Department, or appointing a small team to review the issues raised today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South suggested, he could set up some support groups and make documents available. The Minister does have options available, and I say politely to him that he should use them.

We now live in different times, and although the likelihood of what happened to Ann, Diana, Veronica and thousands more women happening today has diminished, their pain endures every moment of every day. The very least they deserve is an apology, and I sincerely hope that the Minister will confirm that they will get one.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Nadhim Zahawi)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

12 Jul 2018, 3:32 p.m.

I commend the hon. Members for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this important debate. No one can fail to be moved by the plight of the young mothers and their children whose lives have been blighted by the unacceptable practices of the past, and it is only right that this House acknowledges their unnecessary pain and suffering.

Many of my colleagues have spoken movingly about their constituents. The hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) spoke about Helen, and the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) spoke about Jean Robertson-Molloy, who happens to be the step-mum of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby. The hon. Member for Wirral South spoke emotionally and movingly about our former colleague, Ann Keen, and about Helen Jeffreys, and the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) outlined the excellent work done by Birthlink.

I wish to add my voice to those of my colleagues, and express my deepest sympathy to all those affected. These women were let down, in many cases by their families who would not support them, but also by professionals and organisations in the sector who allowed society’s moral attitude towards unmarried mothers at that time to influence their practice. As Members have described so eloquently in bringing to life those tragic stories, women were put under enormous pressure, and often faced the stark choice of returning home without their babies or fending for themselves. The devastating consequences for these mothers, and for their sons and daughters, are clear to see. Mothers talk of their feelings of loss, guilt and shame, of their unbearable grief for a lost relationship, and of not knowing whether their child is still alive. We know that many adopted children have suffered too, with overwhelming feelings of rejection, struggling with their identity and difficulties in bonding and forming attachments.

The hon. Member for Wirral South spoke movingly about the experiences of her constituent Sara and Sara’s mother, and the impact on their lives. It is truly shocking to hear how single mothers were treated at that time in our country. Adoptions during that period were generally handled through agencies run by the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Salvation Army—they have quite rightly apologised for their involvement in past poor practice.

It is important to recognise and accept that the legislation at the time was not robust enough to prevent what happened. I deeply regret that that was the case. Successive Governments have since taken action to strengthen the legislative framework so that it cannot happen again.

The hon. Member for Wirral South rightly said that it is important to understand what happened in the past and who was responsible. These issues were looked at closely by the Houghton committee in 1972, which covered the key issues of who arranged adoptions and the problems that brought, evidence about mothers being unable to give proper consent to relinquish their babies, and the lack of access to birth records to allow tracing later in life. It also covered the issue the hon. Lady raised about the role of the NHS and private nursing homes and reported that the British Medical Association had called for changes to how adoptions were made. I think it is unlikely that further research will bring new information. Evidence provided from birth parents suggests that record keeping during the time was poor, absent and often inaccurate.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

12 Jul 2018, 3:37 p.m.

I thank the hon. Lady for that point, and I will certainly endeavour to do so.

Let me move on to why lessons have been learned from the past. We are confident that what happened to these mothers and their children could not be repeated today. Society now takes a very different attitude to single mothers. The legislative framework has been transformed beyond recognition. Today, the key principle is that children are generally best looked after within their family, with their parents playing a full part in their lives. Single mothers are given the support they need so that they can remain as a family. That is as it should be, as I am sure we all agree.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

12 Jul 2018, 3:38 p.m.

Can the Minister clarify that the report he has referred to was produced in 1972?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

12 Jul 2018, 3:39 p.m.

Yes—I did say that when I referred to it.

Children can only be removed permanently by a court without the consent of the parents if the court is satisfied that the child is suffering significant harm or is likely to suffer significant harm if they remain with their birth family. Courts must consider all the evidence put before them, including evidence from the parents themselves, who will have legal representation. Adoption agencies and fostering services are now inspected by Ofsted, whose role is to ensure that practice is in line with the legal framework.

For the mothers who are at the heart of this debate, it is essential that they are able to trace their children and that their children can establish their parentage. The hon. Member for Wirral South called on the Government to work with organisations that support people who experienced the consequences of historical forced adoption to create a small service that will help with tracing family and support. Those affected by past adoption practices can already access intermediary services to help them to trace their birth children or birth parents and establish whether contact is possible.

Intermediary services are provided by registered adoption agencies, including local authorities, voluntary adoption agencies and registered adoption support agencies. When an intermediary agency finds a person, contact can be arranged if both parties agree. Birth relatives and adopted adults can also add their details to the adoption contact register at the General Register Office to find a birth relative or an adopted person. There is support for birth parents and adult adoptees who have suffered with mental anguish and illness. In addition to the NHS mental health services available for those with conditions such as stress and depression, a number of voluntary adoption agencies and adoption support agencies offer specialist birth family counselling, often under contract to local authorities.

I should like to thank again the hon. Members for Wirral South and for Liverpool, West Derby for today’s debate. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), asked specifically about a public inquiry. None of us disputes that these women were victims of poor adoption practice all those years ago, but I believe that it is unlikely that a public inquiry would uncover new facts. We believe that the lessons of the time have been learned and have led to significant change both to legislation and practice now. No child is removed from their birth family unless they have suffered significant harm or are at risk of such harm, and of course, parents have legal representatives.

Speech, Language and Communication Support for Children

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Wednesday 4th July 2018

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Education
Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4 Jul 2018, 10:30 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I thank the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) for securing today’s debate, 10 years on from the Bercow report, on this important topic. I pay tribute to Mr Speaker, I CAN and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists for their groundbreaking work in this area, and to all hon. Members who have spoken today.

Many of us take communication for granted, but imagine being unable to express how you feel, what you think and what you need. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) described that scenario eloquently. The effects can be debilitating and can last throughout childhood and adolescence and well into adulthood if someone is left unsupported. I know myself how frustrating that can be. Growing up with dyspraxia—being different and standing out—caused me to have chronic low self-esteem and to isolate myself from my peers. Of course, I did all right in the end —I ended up in this place—but that is because I got lucky and have had the benefit of being surrounded, then and now, by some phenomenal people. For the 1.4 million children who struggle with speech, language and communication needs, it is vital that the right support is there when they need it, but it is often lacking. Our children are being let down to the degree that, at present, six children in every classroom do not meet the expected levels of communication and language skills at age five.

Children with speech, language and communication difficulties can access speech therapy and support via a number of avenues, including their health visitor, GP or school, but the Government have presided over a decline of more than 2,000 health visitors in the past two years. Fewer GPs are in place than in 2015, and our schools are facing the first real-terms funding cuts in 20 years—more than £2 billion is being cut from their budgets. It is little wonder, then, that the “Bercow: Ten Years On” report highlighted that 73% of parents and carers found it difficult to get help with their child’s speech, language and communication needs, and 52% thought their family’s experience of speech, language and communication support was poor.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) said, the original Bercow report called for early intervention that prioritises speech, language and communication therapy in Sure Start children’s centres, 500 of which the Government have closed. The report called for the workforce to be strengthened, but senior and specialist language posts are being lost due to a restructuring of NHS speech and language therapy services. It called for the primary and secondary curriculum to emphasise speech and language communication. Instead, speaking and listening has been removed from the national curriculum, the judgment of communication has been removed from the Ofsted framework and there is no assessment of spoken language in the curriculum after the age of five. Some 49% of early years practitioners receive little or no initial training in typical speech, language and communication development.

The Communication Trust—a large consortium of speech and language and communications skills charities—saw demand for its services increase by 33% last year, but in March this year the Department for Education told us that its contract would be ending. The tender to replace it has no mention at all of speech, language and communication. The “Bercow: Ten Years On” report highlighted that only 15% of survey respondents said that speech and language therapy was available as required in their local area. It is little wonder that, last year, only 234,076 children with speech, language and communication needs actually received any support.

The pattern of Government neglect is more apparent when children have needs in addition to speech and language difficulties, or get support via education and healthcare plans. The hash the Government have made of those plans is well documented. They were supposed to encourage joined-up planning between healthcare professionals and schools, but in reality that is not happening. It is often said that health is missing from the plans. At least 65,000 children were not moved on to the new plans by the Government’s deadline of March this year. A damning report by the local government and social care ombudsman, which looked at a large sample of plans, found many flaws in their execution.

A report by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists noted that children without plans are being left completely without support. Just 40% of respondents said that they have the capacity to deliver services to children without a plan, and 43% said that speech and language therapy is not being commissioned for the crucial age group of nought to two, or for people aged 18 to 25 who are preparing for work or further education.

The Bercow report revealed that more than half of parents and carers had to wait longer than six months for their child to get the help they needed. Six months is a long time in a child’s developmental cycle. My six-year-old constituent, Penny Whyte, has a speech disorder and has been receiving blocks of speech therapy since the age of three, but she has to wait an average of nine months between blocks. She was also referred to intensive therapy, but has had to wait three years for a place. Imagine being Penny’s mam, Donna, who knows that her little girl is just as bright and capable—perhaps more so—than everyone else, but she is falling behind her peers. Her true potential is masked because the support she needs is being withheld by a fragmented system that cares more about marketisation and the profit that can be gleaned from health and education services than about their delivery.

The Government talk a good game when it comes to social mobility, but the reality is different. In areas of social disadvantage, 50% of children start school with delayed language and communication skills. Children eligible for free school meals are 2.3 times more likely than their peers to have language difficulties. Only 51% of those pupils achieve a good level of development at the end of their early years foundation stage, compared with 69% of their peers. Children with special educational needs or disability remain stubbornly over-represented in alternative provision and exclusion figures. Three quarters of pupils in pupil referral units have special educational needs. Last year alone, more than 4,000 were left without a school place. Some are subject to informal exclusions, and some are being home-schooled. The fact is that the Government have not bothered to keep track of those children, so we do not know where they are and what support, if any, they are getting.

I want to give a shout out, if you will permit me, Ms Dorries, to some of the non-verbal children I worked with in the past, who are now adults. They taught me the power of communication, which is so much more than words. It can be a smile, a sparkle in the eye, a nod of the head, a hand movement, a laugh or a cry. What they all had in common is that, once they had the right support and were able to use words, they were like different children. One boy I remember in particular transformed from being stoic and withdrawn into being a massive chatterbox—the life and soul of his classroom. That is the power of consistent and sustained speech and language therapy. That power is in the gift of the Minister and the Government.

The Prime Minister said months ago that she would respond formally to the report. She has not done so. The Minister said a few weeks ago in Education questions that he was looking closely at the recommendations. I have not asked the Minister any questions today, because I simply want him to respond to my comments, those of my hon. Friends, and the report’s findings and recommendations. The children struggling to get by, my constituent Penny Whyte and my younger self at least deserve that.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Nadhim Zahawi)
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4 Jul 2018, 10:39 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries.

The hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck) started well by asking us to imagine what it would feel like to be unable to communicate or explain one’s own feelings, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) said the same thing. I do not need to imagine that, because I was that child. I came to this country with my parents as immigrants in 1978 at the age of 11, and I could not speak English. I sat at the back of the class. Initially, my teachers thought I had learning difficulties, but within six months I had picked up the language. I guess I am the embodiment of what speech, language and communication skills can do for a young child immigrant in this country who cannot speak the language properly.

I feel, however, that the hon. Member for South Shields let herself down by politicising this debate—we have had a good debate today—and attempting to weaponise it, whereas the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell), and his colleague the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) in an intervention, spoke eloquently about the work being done by Stoke Speaks Out and in the opportunity area. I must say to both hon. Members that the opportunity areas are the best infrastructure I have seen, of any Government intervention, and have a real chance of working for those disadvantaged communities because they are bottom-up, with real, measurable targets and outcomes. My ambition is to ensure that we meet those targets over three years so that I can make the argument that we should keep supporting opportunity areas.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) on securing this important debate, and I am grateful for this opportunity to set out the Government’s position on supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, including those with speech, language and communication needs. I am determined to see children and young people with SLCN receive the support they need to achieve in school and in independent life.

I was pleased to be able to speak at the launch of “Bercow: Ten Years On”, and I am grateful for the work that the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, I CAN and, of course, Mr Speaker himself have done. It was a good coming together of all the specialists, and I put it on the record that the Government will respond formally to the report in due course. I have recently accepted an invitation from the all-party parliamentary group on speech and language difficulties to discuss how we can work together to best support children and young people with SLCN. I hope hon. Members here, and others, will join me in attending the seminar.

Our latest figures show that SLCN is the second commonest need for pupils with an educational health and care plan, with 14.3% of pupils having that need. It is also the second commonest need for those with special educational needs support, at 22%. I know that the “Bercow: Ten Years On” review reports that there is a poor understanding of SLCN and insufficient resourcing for the sector, and many colleagues have talked about that. Of course, that is neither my nor the Government’s expectation. I expect children and young people with SLCN to receive the support they need to help them fulfil their aspirations alongside their peers, and we are taking action to make that a reality.

A lot of progress has been made over the 10 years since the original Bercow review was carried out. The Government have introduced, through the Children and Families Act 2014, the biggest change to the system in a generation. The reforms are about improving the support that is available to all children and young people with SEND. We are doing that by joining up services for ages nought to 25 across education, health and social care, and by focusing on positive outcomes in education, employment, housing, health and community participation. The move to a more child-centred, multi-agency and participative education, health and care needs assessment is improving the support that is available to children and young people with SEND, including those with SLCN.

As of 31 March, over 236,000 children and young people had had their statement of SEN converted to an EHC plan, which equates to 98.4%. That is great news, but we know there is much more to do. The completion of the statutory transition period to the new system is a great achievement, but it is not the end point for the reforms. We are only part of the way to achieving our vision. The biggest issue we now have to address is changing the culture in local government, clinical commissioning groups and education settings.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
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4 Jul 2018, 10:44 a.m.

Will the Minister give way?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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4 Jul 2018, 10:45 a.m.

I am short of time and I have a lot to say about this subject, so the hon. Lady will forgive me if I do not.

Supporting schools to respond to the needs of all their pupils is crucial to achieving our ultimate goal of culture change. We know that spoken language underpins the development of reading and writing, and that the quality and variety of language that pupils hear and speak is vital for developing their vocabulary, grammar, reading and writing. The national curriculum for English, which colleagues mentioned in their comments, reflects the importance of spoken language in pupils’ development across the whole curriculum. At primary level, children should be taught to ask relevant questions, to articulate and justify answers, arguments and opinions, to participate in collaborative conversation, to use spoken language to develop understanding and to speak audibly and fluently, with an increasing command of English. Teachers should ensure the continual development of pupils’ confidence and competence in spoken language and listening skills.

Having developed those resources and many others relating to other specific impairments, we are now taking a more strategic approach to better supporting the educational workforce and equipping them to deliver high-quality teaching across all types of SEN. We have recently contracted with the Whole School SEND Consortium to enable schools to identify and meet their SEND training needs, and I am delighted that the Communication Trust is part of that consortium.

Through that work, the Whole School SEND Consortium will create regional hubs across the country to bring together local SEND practitioners. The hubs will work to encourage schools to prioritise SEND within their continuous professional development and school improvement plans. The resources provide leaders, teachers and practitioners with access to information about evidence-based practice that can be effective for SEN support, including for those with SLCN.

In terms of joint work and joint commissioning at local authority level, the duty to commission services jointly is vital to the success of the SEND reforms. We recognise that unless education, health and social care partners work together, we will not see that holistic approach to a child’s progression or the positive outcomes that the system aims to achieve. Joint working is one of the best ways of managing pressures on local authority and NHS budgets. Looking for more efficient ways to work together, to share information and to avoid duplication will work in favour of professionals and families.

Some areas are demonstrating excellent joint working. Wiltshire is an example, with positive feedback on the effectiveness of its local joint commissioning arrangements. It was reported that senior officers across education, health and care worked together effectively, adopting a well-integrated and multi-agency approach to plan and deliver services to children and young people with SEND. We want to learn from those examples. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central mentioned the evidence gathered through Stoke Speaks Out. It troubles me that that particular group of people have to keep reinventing and going back for different pots of money, rather than our looking at that evidence and beginning to scale it for the rest of the country.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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4 Jul 2018, 10:49 a.m.

I hear the hon. Lady’s point; I know she is a great champion of the project, and I pledge to her that I will look at this evidence and see what more we can do to ensure that there are consistent outcomes.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central talked about early years education. It is fundamental that we identify SLCN as early as possible, as we know that can have a profound impact later in life. Children who struggle with language at age five are six times less likely to reach the expected level in English at age 11 than children who have good language skills at age five, and 11 times less likely to achieve the expected level in maths. By age three, disadvantaged children are, on average, already almost a full year and a half behind their more affluent peers in their early language development. That is also why, from a social mobility perspective, the case for addressing SLCN in the early years is so important.

In our social mobility action plan, “Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential”, we announced our ambition to close the word gap in the early years between disadvantaged children and their peers.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
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4 Jul 2018, 10:50 a.m.

Will the Minister give way?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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4 Jul 2018, 10:51 a.m.

I will make some progress and then, as I think we might be all right on time, I will give way.

We have announced a range of measures worth more than £100 million to address word gap, including £20 million for school-led professional development for early years practitioners to support early language development, and a £5 million “what works” fund in partnership with the Education Endowment Foundation. The evidence is clear that parents have a crucial role in this area. The “Study of Early Education and Development” report showed that, aside from maternal education, the home learning environment is the single biggest influence on a child’s vocabulary at age three. We will therefore invest £5 million to trial evidence-based home learning environment programmes in the north of England.

On 1 July, we launched a £6.5 million fund and invited voluntary and community sector organisations to bid for grants to run projects that help disadvantaged families and children with additional needs, and improve children’s early language and literacy skills. Local authorities sit at the centre of a wide range of services and workforces that make a big difference to SLCN. We will work with local authorities through a peer support and challenge programme to deliver better early language outcomes for disadvantaged children, learning from the best evidence so that we can scale it. We will also publish an early years dashboard showing local authorities’ performance in early years outcomes, with a focus on disadvantaged children and early language and literacy.

We recognise the important links between a child’s early health and development and their later education outcomes. That is why we have formed a partnership with Public Health England, which my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane mentioned, and the Department of Health and Social Care to improve early language outcomes for disadvantaged children. In May, Public Health England launched a call for good local practice and pathway examples. At a workshop in London today, it will set out the key components of a model speech, language and communication needs pathway built on the best evidence and experience of implementation in practice. Those resources will provide health visitors with additional tools and training to identify and support children’s SLCN, and ensure that the right support is put in place early.

Let me turn to the mental health Green Paper. Mental health was another key feature of the “Bercow: Ten Years On” report, which highlighted the links between SLCN and mental health issues and made a number of recommendations about how the proposals in the Green Paper link with SLCN provision. The Government published the Green Paper, “Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision”, on 4 December last year. The consultation closed on 2 March and we are currently considering responses. We will issue a formal response in due course.

The Green Paper creates clear expectations about the changes every area should seek in order to improve activity on prevention, partnership working between children and young people’s mental health services and schools, and access to specialist support. As part of that, we are incentivising every school and college to train a designated senior lead for mental health to co-ordinate a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing. We expect the designated senior lead to liaise with speech and language therapists to ensure that children with SLCN receive the help they need.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
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I thank the Minister for eventually giving way. He said that I had let myself down by making this issue political. I respectfully say that he is letting me and other hon. Members down. I listed a litany of failures by this Government towards children with speech, language and communication needs, and not once—

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Monday 14th May 2018

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Education
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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14 May 2018, 3:02 p.m.

The same safeguarding duties apply for 16 and 17-year-olds as for children of any age. That would be the message that I would send to the hon. Lady’s school.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

14 May 2018, 3:02 p.m.

Sixteen and 17-year-olds are overrepresented in the secure residential estate. Instead of addressing capacity issues, last year, in the face of opposition, the Government changed legislation so that the most vulnerable children from England and Wales can now be placed in Scotland, miles away from their families, friends, schools and the health professionals who support them. Written questions that I have asked show that the Minister has made no attempt to look at the impact of this dire legislative change. Why is that?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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Placing any child or young person more than 20 miles away from their area requires the agreement of the director of children’s services. Children should always be placed where appropriate and the director of children’s services must make that decision.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Monday 19th March 2018

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Education
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

19 Mar 2018, 2:36 p.m.

Different local authorities do things differently. I visited Stafford, and Stafford and Newcastle have improved the outcomes for children in need by reaching out to those families, rather than by investing in bricks and mortar. There are different ways to deal with this, and local authorities do it best.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
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19 Mar 2018, 2:37 p.m.

Research on the Department’s figures shows that children are 10 times more likely to be on a child protection plan if they live in a deprived area. Before the end of this Parliament, it is estimated that the figure for child poverty will reach 5 million and the funding gap in statutory services will reach £2 billion. The Minister said that strong leadership rather than extra funding is the key. Will he explain how strong leadership will end this crisis?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Local government spending for all services, including children’s services, is £200 billion. We do see leadership as a driver of better outcomes for those children. That is why we are making the investment, including the £15 million that we announced for eight more partners in practice, which help local authorities that are struggling. For example, Leeds is helping Kirklees.

Social Workers

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Tuesday 13th March 2018

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Education
Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

13 Mar 2018, 5:14 p.m.

My hon. Friend is spot on: this is happening in other councils right across the country; it is not confined to his own. In fact, there is a reported funding gap of £2.5 billion by 2020, with more than 400,000 people no longer able to access social care.

Children’s services are grappling with the highest numbers of children in care since the 1980s and facing a funding gap of £2 billion by 2020, as referral rates continue to rise at a staggering pace. The fact is, social work simply cannot be separated from the wider environment. Social work is interlinked with wider societal and economic issues. If one part of the system is depleted, the other is depleted, and it is social work clients who suffer.

Social workers know that all too well, because they see it every single day. Entering their eighth year of a pay freeze, 60% of social workers have stated that they feel Government austerity has had a dramatic impact on their ability to make a difference. The Government certainly have the profession in their sights. Since 2010, there has been an aggressive focus, which, as noted by the National Audit Office and a number of cross-party groups, is yielding no positive results in the reform of social work or social work assessment and accreditation, giving a clear signal that this Government feel the problems are with social workers, not the system.

With that in mind, can the Minister can shed any light on the hash that has been made of the new accreditation for social workers? After an embarrassing climbdown, accreditation will now only be of 4% of social workers by 2020, as opposed to the planned 100%. Since there is a groundswell of opposition from the profession, does the Minister not think it is about time to scrap this nonsense altogether?

Social Work England, another Department for Education initiative born out of zero discussion with the profession, has also been subject to some backtracking, after the Government thankfully failed to secure direct regulation of social workers. Will the Minister explain when the regulations will be produced for Social Work England? Clarity is needed regarding transition from the Health and Care Professionals Council, and social workers need some assurances that they will not be hit with exorbitant fees. Both of those developments signify to the profession that the Government have little faith in them and feel they need to be regulated and subjected to state control to a much higher degree than any other profession. Will the Minister please explain why that is?

In spite of all that, the profession survives. Excellent social work happens every single day in all areas of our country. Children and adults are protected from harm and their lives are improved. If the Minister really believes that our children, adults and families need the very best, he is in a position where he can actually deliver on what our profession is crying out for. I wonder if he will commit to that today and offer more than just warm words.

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Nadhim Zahawi)
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13 Mar 2018, 5:17 p.m.

Let me begin by tackling the issue of funding, which has been raised a couple of times by colleagues here. We are keen to understand the sector’s concerns about funding and the demand on children’s services. We are currently consulting on the fair funding review. We have heard the sector’s concerns about the fairness of current funding for their local authorities and the challenges that children’s services in particular are facing in managing demand. The Department for Education and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have commissioned independent research to inform the fair funding review. We are very much cognisant of that fact.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
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13 Mar 2018, 5:17 p.m.

Will the Minister give way?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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13 Mar 2018, 5:18 p.m.

I have a lot to say about Social Work England and the accreditation and assessment, so I would like to make some headway. Maybe, if I have time, I will come back to the hon. Lady.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) on securing this important debate. Listening to him speak, the sheer depth of experience he has in this hugely important area soon becomes clear. From the world of think-tanks, the Eileen Munro review, the charity sector, the Children’s Commissioner, and more recently as a constituency Member of Parliament, his experience is considerable and wide-ranging. So too is the experience of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). I could listen to them all day and I have been taking note of everything they say.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar focused his contribution on the work of children and family social workers and I will respond accordingly, but before I do so, I should place on record the valuable work done by those in the adult social care community. When I speak of the value to society of social workers, I very much include all social workers.

Above all else, we agree on a single unarguable point: social workers have a vital job in ensuring that vulnerable adults, children and families receive the best possible support to help them to overcome the challenges they face, and to enable them to look positively towards their future. I have only been Minister for children and families for a few months, but so far, from my visits to children’s services across the country, I have seen a dedicated and passionate workforce. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham described what is needed in one word: leadership. When we see good leadership, we see good outcomes for children. Every day, social workers deal with complex and challenging situations. The one thing they say to me is that the real magic sauce—whether it is the trust in Doncaster that has turned it around, or in Hackney, which had a turnaround—is consistent leadership: people they can refer to and teams they can work with, knowing they will be there the next day.

Social workers play a unique role in supporting people, often at the most difficult times in their lives. To do that successfully, they require a distinctive set of skills, knowledge and values. To do their job well requires compassion, empathy, analytical thinking and an understanding of the positive impact they can have in people’s lives. They work with complexity, uncertainty and conflict within a complex legal framework. They are required to use sound professional judgment in balancing needs, risks and resources to achieve the right outcomes. Done well, social work can improve people’s opportunities and quality of life, enabling them to lead the lives they want to lead.

In my constituency, I often hear from people in the social care system. It is overwhelming. To work closely, day in, day out, with such difficult and sometimes devastating cases requires exceptional passion and resilience. Members across Parliament will all be familiar with that from their surgeries. It is a job that a precious and extraordinary minority undertake and we must do all we can to support, empower and elevate the profession. As a Minister, I see this as one of my key priorities, and I will do my utmost to ensure that social workers get the recognition they deserve.

The debate is timely. As colleagues have mentioned, World Social Work Day is a week today and provides a moment to pause, reflect and celebrate the difference that social workers make. We in Government will be doing our bit to promote and champion the profession, both in what we say publicly and in how we support social workers.

All children, no matter where they live, should have access to the same high-quality care and support. That is about empowering social workers to excel even further in their practice, as well as building public confidence in the social work profession. One thing is clear: the quality of social work practice is, above all, the core of what we want to achieve. This is vital work and the reason we are prioritising social work reform. Social workers are not always given the right tools for the job, and can be held back by burdensome systems, which we have heard colleagues eloquently describe, including the horrendous time it takes to fill in a form.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar spoke with authority about the Munro review, about reducing bureaucracy and about empowering professional judgement. What he said is true, and while great progress has been made, more is to be done. Those entering the social work profession must have the best training possible. Teaching partnerships bring together universities and local authorities to improve the quality of social work degrees. Good continuing professional development is also essential, particularly at key stages of a social worker’s career such as the daunting task of moving from education to employment and when stepping up from the frontline to managing and supervising teams, and for those aspiring to be social work practice leaders. I believe that these reforms will have a positive impact for all and, most importantly, vulnerable children, families and adults in need of support.

I draw attention to two specific reforms mentioned by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck). The first is the new accreditation scheme for child and family social workers. Through that innovative programme, we will introduce post-qualifying standards for child and family social work expertise, based on the current knowledge and skills statements, and offer voluntary assessment against them. The introduction of the standards will mean that employers and social workers will have a national benchmark to aim for, and learning and development can be planned in line with meeting the standard. If a social worker takes the assessment and becomes accredited, they may be offered career development opportunities, including promotion. I heard it directly from social workers who are involved in the early stage. We are doing this with social workers, rather than to them.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
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13 Mar 2018, 5:24 p.m.

Will the Minister give way on that point?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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13 Mar 2018, 5:22 p.m.

I have not got much time, but let me see how far I get because I want to talk about Social Work England as well.

We are supporting local authorities and social workers to get ready for this new system in a unique way, working with early adopters. Rather than, as in the example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar, stuff being done to them by IT people who know nothing, we are co-creating the assessment and accreditation. We will be working with more than 150 children and family social workers. I am also delighted that Essex County Council is in discussions with the Department about becoming a phase 2 national assessment and accreditation system site from 2019.

The other major reform I want to highlight is establishing Social Work England. Focused purely on social work, this bespoke professional regulator will cover both children and family social workers and those working in adult services. Social Work England will have public protection at the heart of all its work, but it is more than just that. It will support professionalism and standards across the social work profession.

Break in Debate

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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13 Mar 2018, 5:26 p.m.

I dealt with funding at the outset. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar that funding has increased since 2010.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Lewell-Buck
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13 Mar 2018, 5:26 p.m.

Does the Minister share his predecessor’s view that local authority children’s services departments do not need any more money because they are not spending what they currently have appropriately? How on earth does he think it conceivable that any difference can be made, even if money is put into the system, when ongoing Government austerity is cutting every other service that impacts on children’s social services?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

I have already put on record what we are doing in terms of reviewing the funding for this area.

As a social care-specific regulator, Social Work England will develop an in-depth understanding of the profession. It will use that to set profession-specific standards that clarify expectations about the knowledge, skills, values and behaviours required to become and remain a registered social worker. Finally, it will play a key role in promoting public confidence in the profession, championing the profession and helping to raise the status of social work.

It is fair to say that creating a new regulator is no easy task, but we are making great progress. In December, we launched the recruitment of the chair and CEO of Social Work England. In February, we launched a consultation on Social Work England’s regulatory framework. I think that the hon. Lady mistakenly alluded to there being no consultation, but there clearly was. The consultation sets out our approach to establishing the secondary legislative framework for Social Work England. Our ambition is to create a proportionate and efficient regulator. As part of this, we need Social Work England to be able to operate systems and processes that adapt to emerging opportunities, challenges and best practice. That means it can ensure professional regulation reflects the changing reality of delivering social work practice safely and effectively.

I shall end there in an attempt to be disciplined in the timekeeping that you asked of us, Mr Hollobone.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Nadhim Zahawi and Emma Lewell-Buck
Monday 29th January 2018

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Education
Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
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29 Jan 2018, 3:14 p.m.

No local authority needs to cut those services. There is actually over £9 billion being invested in children’s services because, as in the case of Hackney, for example, it is seen as a priority, so there is no reason for a local authority to do that.

Emma Lewell-Buck Portrait Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab)
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I, too, welcome the Minister to his place. The healthy pupils fund was designed to help pupils with a range of health needs. The Department promised to protect the fund in full but has cut it, leaving a £200 million gap between income from the sugar levy and its spending commitments. Can the Minister explain why he is content to see funding in this area slashed, and will he guarantee that there will be no more cuts?

Nadhim Zahawi Portrait Nadhim Zahawi
- Hansard - -

Not only is the Department spending the £275 million from the sugar levy; we are going over and above that. We are spending over £400 million on making sure that students are healthy.