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Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I very much welcome the debate and congratulate my noble friend Lady Morgan on securing it. I shall today dwell on the issue of social inclusion, children and young people. This is where it should all begin, and if we can encourage young people to have fulfilling and positive lives there is less likelihood of problems later on.
I shall draw on several reports to illustrate this: Every Child Matters, which gave rise to the Children Act 2004; the Green Paper Youth matters; the Childcare Bill, due in your Lordships' House next year; and two reports from the voluntary sector which remind us that, whilst much has been accomplished in improving matters for children, much remains to be done. These challenges will formulate my questions for the Minister.
It is self-evident that children and young people who do not feel engaged with families, schools and communities will almost certainly be unhappy and disadvantaged and may become engaged in anti-social and risky behaviour. Sadly, schools and society sometimes have to make up the deficit created by inadequate parenting or caring. It is a difficult task. Disadvantage and exclusion start earlysome children are not in schoolsand schools need to take note of what my noble friend Lady Howells said about responding to different cultures. But schools cannot make up for fundamental disadvantage.
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With the coming of children's trusts it is to be hoped that we will be able to identify early those children likely to be at risk and to do something about it. Many children suffer multiple risk factors. I have just been speaking at a drugs conference, where it was clear that substance misuse in parents and children is just one aspect of chaotic lives and excluded people.
The Green Paper Youth matters speaks of engaging more young people in positive activities and empowering them to shape the services they receive, and consulting people is certainly one way of including and empowering them. Every Child Matters, which will be familiar to many of your Lordships, sets out five outcomes felt to be important by young people themselves. These are: being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution, and economic well-being. The same document sets out what shapes outcomes for young people. These have been known for many years and include, as the noble Lord, Lord Chan, said, low income and parental unemployment, homelessness, poor parenting, poor schooling, substance misuse, post-natal depression, low birth weight, individual characteristics such as intelligence, and community factors such as living in a disadvantaged neighbourhood.
Social inclusion means tackling these factors and much work has begunfor example, in education, in nursery and primary schools, maternity pay and leave, flexible working, the child tax credit and the working tax credit.
The Government's manifesto pledged universal, affordable childcare for three to four year-olds and a Sure Start children's centre in every community by 2010. The new Childcare Bill reminds us, and reinforces the view, that children must have the best possible start in life and that integrated care, education, health and other children and family services can make a difference.
Sure Start, of course, is up and running and a good example of early intervention and of the social inclusion that it provides. One example is that of raising speech and language levels. In Sure Start Tanhouse & Digmoor, in Lancashire, speech and language therapists have developed ways of guiding parents through play sessions, books and CDs. Sure Start Nuneaton's multi-disciplinary team is helping parents and children to prepare for nursery education, basing a programme on six learning goals and a nine-week course on implementing and monitoring them.
To improve education outcomes for young children, better integration of services will be necessary. A report, From Vision to RealityTransforming Outcomes for Children and Families, has been produced by the Inter Agency Group, including the Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Social Services and several children's organisations. It considers that integration, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Henig, and embedding services are essential for effective working. Embedding change and tackling inclusion require determination, strong leadership and transparent processes.
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I have talked so far about inclusion for children and young people in a local community sense, but there is a wider dimension that government should not ignore. It is pointed out in a challenging report, Room for improvement: A manifesto for children, by five major children's charities. I recognise that the Minister is not from the Home Office or the DfES, but will she take on board the concerns expressed in the report and share those important issues with colleagues in other departments? There are five major concerns listed in the report: children in trouble with the law should be treated as children in need of protection and support; refugee children should have the same rights to protection and support as other children; children should have the same legal protection from assault as adults; priority should be given to improving the life chances of looked-after children by raising their educational attainment and providing them with an independent advocate; and there should be a minimum income for all families to ensure the health and well-being of their children.
The report's recommendations are based on the principles and provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. They call for a fundamental review of the youth justice system; an end to the policy of detaining refugee children; a national strategy for reducing child deaths; making resources available to identify, protect and support children who are sexually abused, including victims of trafficking; ensuring that the education of children in care is a prioritywe have a long way to go there; producing a co-ordinated strategy on eradicating child poverty; and rights to benefits for young people over 19 so they can complete their studies. That is a brief summary of a hard-hitting report. The young people and children discussed in the report are those often excluded. They have the right to inclusion and to the abolition of practices that make them feel inadequate, disempowered and victimised. A recent Social Exclusion Unit report emphasised that, in tackling anti-social behaviour, support and counselling need to be built in. It is simply not enough to deal out ASBOs. Young people in trouble cannot simply be dumped into criminal justice measures.
I am talking about inclusion for all children. Yes, we have come a long way and, yes, challenges are being addressed. I hope that the Minister will strive, as I will as chair of the All-Party Group on Children, to encourage policies and practices across government that go that bit further to create a better society by removing barriers to inclusion for all.
Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, like most of the speakers before her, has spoken from a depth of experience that I cannot claim to have. I shall therefore offer one or two more general reflections, which I hope may be helpful.
One of the reasons why I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, for initiating the debate is the language that she employed. It is the language that this Government have used from the beginning: that of exclusion and inclusion. I have
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no doubt that that terminology is preferable to that of equality and inequality. The terminology of equality simply describes people in terms of where they are, while the terminology of exclusion and inclusion describes people in terms of what they can do and how they participate in the life that our societies, political communities and economies have to offer. Life chances are, after all, chances of participation.
I sound one cautionary note: governments can combat exclusion, and from the beginning the present Government have definitely set out to do just that, but they cannot bring about the inclusion of everybody in all areas of participation, nor should they try. The total inclusion of every person in everything going on is an almost totalitarian notion. One can try to provide chances, but I do not believe in the attempt to make people do what the chances offer. For instance, I am a strong opponent of compulsory voting and would be quite prepared to make the case that I hinted at in those terms. What matters are chances of inclusion and of participation.
There are three major areas of participation that are particularly significant and where exclusion is particularly dramatic. The first is the political process. When I whispered to my noble friend Lord Weatherill, who is no longer in his place, what I was going to say, he said that he would leave immediately. When he was the Speaker of the other place, he initiated a process of understanding citizenship better. Not only does that process affect large parts of the education system but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, said, the crucial subject of Britishness is part of the notion of citizenship. Advancing citizenship as a value and understanding it better, including what shared values go with it, is part of the battle against exclusion, although that is very difficult at this time, when so many turn away from the political process and feel disenchanted.
My next point is without polemical intent but concerns me quite greatly. This Government have shown an extraordinary insistence on what is sometimes called and often implied to be meritocracy, on training people to actively participate in the knowledge society. Their objectives include getting 50 per cent or 55 per cent into higher education. I have long been concerned with that strong emphasis on meritocracy and on those who are led to higher education. I have never forgotten the great work that the late Lord Young of Dartington wrote 40 years ago. It was a negative utopiaa horror story of what it means if one is too obsessed with those who go furthest in education.
The world in which we live and in which we are going to liveindeed, the economic universe in which we are going to liveis not just one where people have doctorates, Masters' degrees or even Bachelors' degrees. It has a whole variety of requirements and opportunities. My own sense has for some time been
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that when one talks about inclusion in the labour market and in the economic process, it is as important to concentrate on vocational training and apprenticeships for all as it is to concentrate on expanding the university population. For me, one major issue in terms of inclusion would be a greater concentration on those areas of education which may ultimately lead to higher education, but which may not, and which are available to all and encourage all.
The third major dimension of participation is that of civil societythe associations in which we happily live our lives and in which we can do things for others and often do. I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had a major interest in this area, particularly in volunteering. I also know that he, like many others, was disappointed that when he looked at the facts, he found it was often those who were quite integrated in society who volunteered. Volunteering was an offer that was not taken up by the excluded, although it was often intended to be for them.
I do not know what the answer is. I am, as your Lordships may have gathered from my earlier comments, an opponent of compulsion by governments, but it seems to me that some voluntary national social service would not be the worst idea to discuss as one considers how participation in the associations of civil society can be encouraged.
I conclude with something I feel strongly about. So far as creating an inclusive public sphere is concerned, I believe that the United Kingdom is doing better than any other European country. There is reason to be proud of the way in which the public sphere has become inclusive. This debate and its participants could not be rivalled in any other country of Europe, I know. It is one of many examples of success in an area in which undoubtedly more can be done.
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