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On the point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, including a formal definition could lead to an inflexible interpretation which may hinder the Secretary of State as she prepares her strategy. As I previously said, in preparing her strategy the Secretary of State will be obliged to consider the measures necessary in each of the areas set down in Clause 8(5) for the dual purposes of complying with the duties in Clause 1, ensuring as far as possible that children in the UK do not experience socio-economic disadvantage.
Clearly this term is not limited to financial considerations, as the amendment seems to imply. It is more complex than that. I have given repeated assurances, including in Grand Committee, that the Government's
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As required by Clause 8, the UK child poverty strategy will drive further action to tackle child poverty across the building blocks. The action will include measures to enhance child well-being; to support parents to undertake their role as well as possible, enabling children to stay safe and supported; to improve the quality of services and space in neighbourhoods so that children can thrive in safe and cohesive communities; to ensure that all children live in decent housing; and to narrow the educational attainment gap for disadvantaged children. Those of you who attended the mini-seminar that we organised a few weeks ago will know that officials in the child poverty unit are already doing a huge amount of work to consider how action in each of these areas can help to tackle child poverty. We expect to set out more details of our analysis in a strategic direction paper that we hope to publish shortly.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that our approach in Clause 8(5) of naming specific policy areas that must be considered in a UK child poverty strategy is a more effective way of illustrating the broad approach that we expect this strategy to take than that proposed by the amendment. Adding a formal definition to the Bill in the way that this amendment proposes could have a detrimental effect and lead to an inflexible interpretation of socio-economic disadvantage, which could hinder the Secretary of State in preparing strategy.
without being clear what is meant by this. There is no universally agreed, unique definition of child well-being, as reports from the Children's Society and the OECD acknowledge. International reports, such as the ones from UNICEF and the OECD, use a multidimensional approach to measure well-being, which varies between reports. As there is no agreed definition of measuring well-being, either internationally or domestically, it would not be possible to incorporate such definitions in a meaningful way. The absence of an agreed international definition would cause great ambiguity in defining the purposes of a child poverty strategy.
The noble Lord referred to UNICEF's index of well-being. As I mentioned, it uses data that are very out of date. The report fails to register significant progress in key areas, such as improved provision of universal childcare, reductions in the rate of teenage conceptions, improved educational attainment, reduced risk of accidental injury and a falling infant mortality rate. Therefore, for the reasons that I have set out, it is not necessary to define socio-economic disadvantage in legislation. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Freud: My Lords, I am particularly grateful for the support of such a formidable legal brain as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. As she said, this term should be included in the interpretation. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Martin, is equally powerful. Here we have a declaratory Bill that uses words that most of the people whom it aims to help will not understand. That would seem to defeat the purpose.
There is a fundamental issue. The Minister said that defining the term could hinder the Secretary of State. The other way of looking at that is that the Secretary of State can interpret it in any way she wants. If she does, it becomes an irrelevant requirement because the term is undefined. It reads well to some people-although not to the people whom the noble Lord, Lord Martin, is concerned about-but most will say that it does not impose any duty on anyone because it is an uninterpreted term.
When the Minister leans on the crutch of his defence for our poor showing in the UNICEF tables, I remind him that a leading authority in the area, Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, observed that the data were out of date, but that we had a very long way to go and he was waiting to see whether we would improve. One can read a tone of some doubt in what he wrote.
I am not prepared to press this amendment. However, I urge the Minister to think hard about whether putting in a term like this without an interpretation adds anything to the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) the provision of information, advice and assistance to parents and the promotion of parenting skills,"
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I have pleasure in speaking also to Amendment 15 in this group. Amendment 13 adds to the policy areas or building blocks in Clause 8(5) that must be considered by the Secretary of State when preparing a child poverty strategy.
I listened with interest to arguments put forward in Committee, particularly by the noble Lords, Lord Freud and Lord Northbourne-the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is unable to be with us today-on the impact that improving parenting skills and promoting parental support can make in tackling child poverty and disadvantage. Noble Lords were concerned that the Bill concentrated too much on the provision of financial support and improving job skills for parents, and not enough on the wider role that parents must play in their children's lives, and on the wider support that government can offer to parents. The Government recognise the important role of parents, and are committed to strengthening parental engagement. There is a range of help available to parents to support them in developing better parenting skills and stronger relationships. I will describe some of these programmes in a moment.
However, family support was not included in the Bill as we considered that it was implicitly covered by health, education, childcare and social services; and by the promotion of social inclusion. Nevertheless, I am now persuaded that support for parents should be explicitly stated in the Bill, and I am delighted to move the amendment. I also reassure noble Lords that the work under way to develop the first child poverty strategy is already considering support for parental skills and engagement with families.
I turn first to the provision of information, advice and assistance to parents. The Government are committed to increasing the capabilities of parents and to reducing the pressures on their relationships and parenting capacities. It is crucial that parents are able to provide a caring and nurturing environment for children, to ensure their healthy physical, social and emotional development and to promote good behaviour. Current programmes, such as the Family Information Direct programme and the 21st Century School Parent Guarantee, aim to deliver readily available information and support to parents, to help them to improve their capabilities and to become more involved in their children's learning and development. We also make it clear that firm and effective action must be taken to challenge poor or inadequate parenting, which has serious consequences for children and communities. The Families and Relationships Green Paper also focuses on enabling families to help themselves through a range of support.
The second part of the amendment concerns the promotion of parenting skills. As I said in Committee, there is strong evidence to show that policies aimed at developing parenting skills can improve children's lives. We know that the home environment and the influence of parents are crucial factors in determining children's aspirations and outcomes. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who said in Committee that we must treat parents as partners if we are to achieve the goals of the Bill.
Government amendment 15, which also relates to the strategy, requires the Secretary of State to identify groups of children that appear to be at greater risk of living in socio-economic disadvantage and to consider the likely impact of any proposed measure in the policy areas listed in Clause 8 (5) on children within these groups.
In Grand Committee, Peers from all parties argued that the provisions on the child poverty strategy should be amended so that the needs of the most vulnerable groups should be addressed more explicitly. Without such a measure, Peers considered, there may be a risk that the strategy would focus on those children easiest to lift out of poverty and socio-economic disadvantage, leaving the most vulnerable groups behind.
I reiterate that it is not the Government's intention to prioritise action on those children who are easier to lift out of poverty and ignore the needs of the most vulnerable. Our goal is to eradicate poverty for all children, and the framework established in the Bill supports that. Nevertheless, I was persuaded that an amendment which explicitly addressed the needs of vulnerable children would strengthen that framework.
The amendment would work because it requires the Secretary of State to consider which groups of children in the UK appear to be disproportionately affected by socio-economic disadvantage. I expect that these children will be identified through the analysis of Households Below Average Income data. Peers will recall that I explained in Committee that it is technically very difficult to state definitively in the Bill, or in regulations, which groups should be specifically considered. Indeed, a list would inevitably leave out some at-risk groups, and over time those most at risk of poverty may change and we do not want to exclude groups. The amendment avoids stating a list, thus providing greater flexibility over time to identify those groups of children as being vulnerable to poverty. It requires that policy measures across the different building blocks listed in subsection (5) are analysed in terms of their likely impact on the identified vulnerable groups.
The Bill requires that the strategy is revised and republished every three years until 2020. Each successive strategy will examine and evaluate the evidence of the impact previous measures have had on child poverty as this will have implications for what future action is needed. I look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Freud, on Amendment 14 which we shall of course support. I beg to move.
Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, we are very pleased that the Government have brought forward Amendments 13 and 15 in response to the debates we had in Grand Committee. On Amendment 15, we know that the group most at risk of socio-economic disadvantage are large families, families with a disabled child or adult, lone parent households, families with young children and some black and minority ethnic groups. This amendment should provide a mechanism to target the at-risk groups in each of the UK strategies and allow decisions to be made on the basis of whether they will help children within those groups in the long term.
The End Child Poverty campaign is also pleased that these amendments have been tabled, but makes the point that particular children who should be considered as disproportionately affected by socio-economic disadvantage, according to the most up-to-date evidence, should be clearly outlined in the child poverty strategies. It also wonders how the amendment will work in practice and whether the process will be set out in the strategies. I think the Minister has already answered some of the campaign's questions. Presumably the strategies will include an assessment of whether certain measures have had the predicted impact on children in the at-risk groups and what the implications are for future measures to tackle child poverty. It will be a real step forward to be able to identify which levers work best, and why.
Amendment 14 is more problematical. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said in Grand Committee that the addition of the words "and mental" to define "health" so that it clearly included mental health was a wise precaution, but the amendment means that it would never again be safe to use the word "health" in legislation without defining it as including both physical and mental health. My noble friend Lady Walmsley commented in broadly the same way in Grand Committee. We on these Benches have highlighted mental health on all possible occasions, so we thoroughly agree with the sentiment behind the amendment. However do we really want to say that from now on "health" cannot be taken at face value to include both physical and mental health?
On the same theme, on the fourth day in Committee, 27 January, the Minister spoke about the review of ways in which it might be possible to reduce the high levels of worklessness among people with a mental health condition which was published in December 2009. Is he able to say when we can expect the Government's response to be published? I think I may have jumped the gun a bit because the noble Lord has not yet spoken to his amendment but it is difficult when one amendment is sandwiched between two others.
Lord Freud: My Lords, I thank the Minister for moving the amendment and in particular for indicating that he would accept my Amendment 14. There has been some useful meeting of minds in this area and I am glad we have found some points of consensus, at least across these two sets of Benches.
Amendment 14 might seem a very small point, but this is a declaratory Bill and I feel that it is important to get the message out that the Secretary of State is taking support for mental health as seriously as for physical health. Similarly, I am appreciative of Government amendment 13. Since Grand Committee I have had the opportunity to learn more about the thinking of the Government's Child Poverty Unit, and I am not now surprised that we have consensus on this issue. Labour and the Conservatives might continue to disagree on the importance of stable, two-parent households to a child's well-being, but at least we share the same concern for the relationship between the parents and the child. Explicitly allowing for attention to be given to parenting skills will be a useful addition to the Bill.
We support Amendment 15, too, as a useful reminder for the Government to keep their focus on those children who most need support. Despite my continuing reservations about the imprecision of the term "socio-economic disadvantage"-which we have perhaps discussed enough-I appreciate the Minister's attempts to meet our concerns about the need to ensure that those groups of children particularly at risk of poverty and material deprivation are given proper attention.
By identifying and focusing on the types of household which are most at risk of suffering material deprivation, the Government will, we hope, be led to consider and address the causes, not the symptoms, of poverty. As I have repeatedly said during these debates, it is not enough to stick a plaster over the difficulties experienced
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Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on the two amendments which he has laid. Subject to the little point about socio-economic disadvantage, from which I do not resile, the concept of both amendments seems entirely appropriate and adds enormously to this clause. It is very comforting to see the support around the House for these government amendments. The strategies are well set out. The only issue is the implementation, which we shall all watch with great interest.
I totally understand the point the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, is making that if you have the word "health" you always have to have "mental and physical". I would have said of course you do not but, as the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said, the Bill is setting out policy. The mental health of children, especially children in socio-economically disadvantaged households, as we in this House would understand it, requires careful attention. If mental health issues are not met at an early stage, identified and dealt with, those children will have a less good life-not only because they are in poor households but with the added disadvantage of unmet mental health issues. That includes problems with education, exclusion and, perhaps more importantly for the community at large, the greater likelihood of not being able to get a job and of a proportion of them-I am not saying by any means all of them-ending up in the criminal sector.
If their problems could be met at an early stage, if their families could be helped by the provision of information, advice and assistance-which is admirable-those children would have a chance to lead a normal, sensible life with greater opportunity to be good citizens. There are children with huge mental disadvantages who need help as much as children with physical disabilities. I am delighted that that provision is to be included, because mental health is a serious issue and one that we must emphasise in this sort of Bill-but not throughout every government Bill.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their support for the government amendments. In brief response to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, provision will be dealt with through the strategy. The Secretary of State is required to identify measures to support those people. Of course, there is not only the strategy but the annual report that will flow from it.
On timing and our response to the mental health and employment issues, I fear that I must write to the noble Baroness; I do not have specifics to hand on that. As I said, I am happy to accept the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Freud. I share some of the reservations about specifically identifying mental health. Our starting position was that health should cover mental as well as physical health, but the consensus
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(a) must consider which groups of children in the United Kingdom appear to be disproportionately affected by socio-economic disadvantage, and
(b) must consider the likely impact of each measure on children within each of those groups."
Lord Freud: My Lords, in Grand Committee, the debate on this amendment narrowed to the specific issue of whether the Bill was the appropriate place to put in protections to other poor people. The Minister argued that he could not see,
That, in a nutshell, is the difference between the Government and us on the amendment. A Bill aiming to achieve a particular end should ensure that it does not create obvious damage elsewhere. Furthermore, the protections should be contained in the Bill that could do the damage.
Although it is not an exact precedent, I think it is instructive to look at a similar situation in the Equality Bill. Clause 148 mentions treating some persons more favourably than others-an analogous situation to the Bill in its objective to help households with children. It then includes a protection against conduct otherwise prohibited in this Act-effectively a protection for unfavoured groups. That is exactly what I am aiming to do here and why the Bill is the appropriate place for the protection.
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