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Today, I will speak about just one matter, which is absent from the Address. Will the Minister assure me that she is giving priority to raising the status of child and family social workers? What, to the best of her knowledge, is their state of morale since the death of
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This is a very difficult time for such a report. There is political and economic uncertainty. Past experience is unhappy. The welcome social care White Paper Options for Excellence appeared to sink almost without trace a few years ago. There appeared to be no appetite for investment in the whole system that would have made the White Paper's vision a reality. I welcome the implementation of newly qualified social worker status, but the whole system needs to be overhauled if improvements are to be sustained. A piecemeal approach simply will not work. Unhappy experiences teach us how easily good intentions are forgotten.
I recently visited health visitors in a borough with high levels of deprivation. Your Lordships may recall that in 1998 Her Majesty's Government hailed health visitors as the champions and leaders of their plans to reach out to excluded families. Some time between then and now, health visiting has been lost, and today, in London at least, they feel themselves to be in crisis. I was told in a recent meeting that 25 per cent of health visitors are over the age of retirement, and that 25 per cent will reach retirement age in five years. Recruitment has become increasingly difficult.
On that visit, I was taken to meet a young mother and her seven week-old daughter. They shared their kitchen and bathroom with five other families. The isolated and depressed mother was overheating her room, which was causing her child to dehydrate and to run an increased risk of cot death. They had been disowned by the father and had no contact with the family in the mother's home country. The only visitors and support that the mother had were from the local church, and there was a serious risk that the mother might fall further into depression. This was described to me as a typical case. Again and again, health visitors could not revisit families in need of their help because of the pressure of their case loads.
Back at the office, I heard from the head of health services for children in the borough. She pointed out that she had to find the money for the children's centre and the family nurse partnership interventions from the same pot as that for health visiting. The implication is that health visiting has suffered as it has played second fiddle to important and very welcome government initiatives. Surely we should be concerned that social work might also suffer the same fate, and that future Governments may prioritise visible, new and welcome programmes above bread-and-butter investment in the profession.
To conclude, I seek assurance from the Minister that the current priority that is being given to social work will not be lost. Her noble friend Lord Adonis has earned respect for his commitment to visiting schools when he was Education Minister. Equally, Mr Tim Loughton, shadow Minister for Children, has earned respect for the pains that he takes to visit services. Will there ever be a Minister for Social Work
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Clement Attlee came from an upper middle-class background. His father was a lawyer. Yet through his years at Toynbee Hall, he recognised the imperative to provide an effective welfare state. If politics is becoming a freestanding profession conducted by the middle classes, does it not become all the more important for politicians to spend a great deal of their time at the front line speaking to health visitors, social workers, youth workers, and children and families at risk of exclusion? I welcomed the Minister's question to local councillors on Friday at the stocktake. She asked how many times they had visited foster families or children and families in the past year. It made me feel uncomfortable. It was a very good question.
I hope that future Governments will choose to legislate less, and allow their Ministers and parliamentarians to spend more time at the front line learning from and giving moral support to teachers, doctors and early years' workers. I could not agree more with what my noble friend Lord Sacks said in his brilliant maiden speech. If we wish to have a culture and civilisation that survives, above all we have to invest in teachers. If we want to protect our most vulnerable children, above all we have to invest in social workers. The workforce is not one priority among many, but the most important priority.
In terms of child protection, child and family social workers are the priority. Who is the ministerial champion for child and family social workers? A social services director with great success in recruiting social workers-he reduced vacancy rates from 30 per cent to 3 per cent in three years-told me that every day he asks himself: "What have I done for my social workers today?". Will the Ministers and her colleagues be as single-minded as him or will social work have the same fate as health visiting? I am one of the Minister's many fans, so I look forward to her response, in which I am sure there will be comfort.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I remind the House that, in 1999, I was a member of the Royal Commission on Long Term Care. With my noble friend Lord Joffe, who unfortunately cannot be in his place today, I signed a minority report opposing a tax-funded policy of free personal care for all. Ever since, it has been hard pounding, but last summer I felt finally that we were getting there. The Government produced an excellent Green Paper, which came out in the summer for consultation. It was particularly excellent given the difficulties of shortage of funds under which the drafters were labouring. Perhaps I may run through one or two of its great merits.
First, for the first time we are to get a national care service, which will bring this whole area together in a more coherent way. Importantly, it will provide a single place where old people in need of care can go for advice and counsel, rather than the multiplicity of points to which they have to go at present. That will be a major plus.
Thirdly, the Green Paper set out options for ways in which people could insure themselves against the costs of long-term care. It did not resolve all the debates. I heard the excellent contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, but I do not totally agree with him. I agree that a voluntary scheme will not be enough, but I do not agree that we should move to compulsion. There is a middle way, which in the case of pensions we have adopted. Under auto-enrolment, you would be in the scheme unless you opted out. As it happens, because I do not believe that I should leave my children huge sums of money when I die, I shall opt out. But I think that the vast majority of people, in time, will opt in and compulsion can be left for another generation.
Those of us who signed the minority report were most pleased that free personal care for all to be paid out of taxation was firmly by the Government "ruled out". I will not go over the arguments that persuaded the minority of the royal commission that it should be. I will just say that, in three key regards, those arguments have been enormously strengthened by developments since.
The first such development is that it is perfectly clear that my generation, the generation now entering retirement, is the golden, favoured generation. We have the houses that went up and up and up in price, with all the wealth that that leaves us. We have the pensions. My Economist pension is to mouth-water over, I can tell you; otherwise I might not be able to afford, after the SSRB reports, to be standing here in this House. I did not mean that as a criticism of its excellent report-but we have good pensions which are now being removed from the workforce. So we are the fortunate ones and we can afford to look after ourselves by comparison with today's hard-pressed workforce, heavily taxed, who are struggling to pay their way. To make a further huge transfer of income and wealth from the working population to the retired population would be a huge mistake. That is point one.
Point two: I am afraid that we are facing-and this is, I think, common ground between the parties, though the timing is not-an eye-watering fiscal tightening in this country. The gap between taxes and spending has to be adjusted by something like 10 per cent of public expenditure; taxes have to go up, spending has to go down. Don't let us argue about which happens because both are going to have to happen-that is a fact. At this stage in our history, to take on an enormous new commitment of public expenditure through a completely new programme would make no sense at all.
The third reason-my noble friend Lord Warner referred to this-is what has happened in Scotland. For once in social policy, we have had a controlled experiment: the Scottish free personal care policy. Actually there is not free personal care in Scotland; there is an allowance to individuals to support their spending on free care. It is a set amount because the Scots thought that, that way, they would keep spending down and it would not go totally out of control.
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We saw this week the huge rise concentrated-and this is a very relevant point-on care for people in their own homes. There was this Green Paper process going on, and then came along what somebody somewhere dubbed the Exocet: the Prime Minister's conference speech in which he proposed free personal care for all at home. I am not going to set out in full the arguments against that; they are set out in a memorandum my noble friend Lord Joffe and I have submitted to the consultation. If any noble Lord would like to read them, they can. Indeed, I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, say that she did not know what our arguments were. We distributed them at the party meeting on Wednesday; perhaps she was not able to pick one up.
Leaving aside those arguments-and the arguments are important-I think that the process by which this happened should give your Lordships pause for thought. There was a consultation on the government policy, and then suddenly, at a party political conference, the Prime Minister launched his proposal for free personal care for those with the greatest care needs at home.
I immediately set out to find out what he was on about. It was four days before the Department of Health could produce a single paragraph setting out what the policy was. I rang the Minister's office. The Minister's office suggested that I speak to the special advisers; they asked the special advisers to ring me. I heard nothing. They have apologised for that mistake, and I have accepted it as a mistake, but with a well-prepared piece of government policy that has been thought through, those documents would be available to everyone on the day the policy comes out. The Government's arguments, which we are now teasing forth, would be available so that people could come to a view. On this occasion, that did not happen. I do not say that it is the case here, but the trouble is that the suspicion is born that it owed less to a careful policy consideration and more to the natural desire of all politicians to have a nice announcement to put in their conference speech. So I started with a predisposition against the policy.
I think it is fair to say that things have improved since then. With the publication of the Bill we have had much improved material from the Government explaining what the policy constitutes and their arguments for it, and an impact assessment of the Bill. I notice that it was made available in the Vote Office in the House of Commons but not in our Printed Paper Office. However, I trawled it back from the internet, and very interesting it is too. The Leader of the House is looking at me quizzically; perhaps it is available in the Printed Paper Office, but I got it off the internet, maybe wanting to show that I can do those things. However, it provides some useful information. I sense-I would not put it any stronger than that-a greater
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I want to close on this note. We are dealing with some of the most vulnerable and not always the best informed people in the whole of British society. I have had correspondence this week from people who are dead scared of what they have read and heard about the Government's policy. It is very important to them that they know what the situation will be. It is no secret that we are coming up to a general election. Some people think-I could not possibly comment-that there might conceivably be a change of government; naturally I hope that that will not be so. What is terribly important is that we do not launch one policy before a general election only for there to be a yawing around to a completely different policy afterwards. When the Green Paper came out and when the Conservatives brought forward their scheme for insurance, I thought that enough common ground was emerging between the two sides that we could have a bipartisan policy. I hope that any legislation passed by this House will make it clear that it does not take effect until after the general election. Incoming Ministers should be able to discuss the policy put forward by this Government and decide whether it is something they, too, can endorse so that it is bipartisan.
As I say, there are worried old people out there, and they deserve better. For 10 years we have failed to bring forward a policy on this issue. Earlier this year, at last we made progress towards a lasting and excellent policy. We owe it to our old people as a House, as a Parliament, as a Government and as an Opposition, to come forward with a set of proposals that command consensus support and can take us forward into the next century with a viable policy that gives people the help and support they so desperately need.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow that speech, and I think that I agree with every part of it, especially the bit saying that we have the right to spend our own money on ourselves and have fun, so our children had better learn to work for a living. As I get older I agree with that more and more, although I do not think I did 40 years ago.
I am going to devote my speech to the home education part of the education Bill-although I cannot call it that because the word "education" has been expunged from every Bill and from the title of the department. I shall refer to it as the schools Bill. Several clauses are devoted to the regulation of home education; that is, people who educate their children at home. This part of the Bill is ill thought-out and unjustified, and I hope very much that we will delete it. In its current form it is a skeleton exposing home educators and their children to the unknown because so much will depend on how the regulations are written. Nothing in it secures their rights as home educators to look after their children in the way they see best. There is an unfortunate conflation of education and welfare which makes the business of improving or looking after the education of these children much harder.
There is no recognition in the Bill of the curricula and forms of education which are commonly used in home education, particularly in autonomous education. Instead, the impact assessment refers to the exemplar curricula which will be produced by the QCDA. In other words, everyone is to be corralled into state education and not allowed to go their own way. There is no reference to the training of local authority staff, which is recognised to be one of the major deficiencies in the current arrangements. There is no proper arrangement for independent appeal when a local authority decides that a person may not home educate. There is a skeleton in the Bill, but it is a skeleton that could be filled out in almost any way.
In this country, we have long had a duty as parents to educate our children and a right to decide how they should be educated. Many of us choose to entrust the state with their education-but that is us entrusting the state with our duty and us exercising our right to choose. The Bill turns that on his head. The arrangement here is that you cannot home educate unless you get the prior permission of the local authority, which has wide grounds for refusing. It can object in any way to your plans to educate your child. It can object and refuse you permission to home educate if you do not allow someone from the local education authority four hours of unaccompanied access to your child every year. Would we contemplate allowing that for our children under any circumstances? What right have these people to do that to home-educated children when there is no real cause for concern?
We are considering a section of the Bill which will cost £20 million per annum, which is about £1,000 per home-educated child. These children receive no money to help pay the costs of examinations; no money to buy textbooks; no money to buy materials; no money and no tuition to help them over difficulties in education. Now the Government can find £1,000 for each of these children-and will spend it on auditing them. Not one penny will go to help the children; it will all go on auditing them. What have these people done to deserve that?
Four separate communities are bundled together under the title of home education. First, there are those who opt for what might properly be called "elective home education". They are people who have decided, as a matter of principle, that they will pursue an educational philosophy which is not available from the state. Most of this is autonomous education; most of it is a form of education which does not involve curricula or planning but involves going on a journey with children which results in education. This is, of its nature, foreign to many school-based systems, but it has proved immensely successful.
The second group might be called "the despairing". These are people whose children have been bullied at school to the point where they will no longer go to school; or those who have children with special educational needs which are not being properly catered for and who have therefore decided to turn their lives upside down and educate their children themselves. These people do society a great deal of good by doing so.
The third group consists of the Travellers, who are bundled in here as home educators, which many of them are. Finally, there is what one might call the
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We do not have a coherent pattern that can be used to produce a coherent set of statistics. All this has been conflated with a worry-I associate it with the NSPCC; perhaps it comes from elsewhere-that a lot of abuse is somehow going on in the home education community. Page 90 of the impact assessment quotes the NSPCC:
"We are concerned that the child's safety and welfare should be paramount and that there is nothing in the current guidance or framework that would prevent children from being abused by people who may claim to be home educators".
That sentence applies equally to all of us who are bringing up children. Local authorities are not conducting any supervision of me as a parent to make sure that I am not abusing my children. "That is a bad thing; something must be done about it"; that is what is being said about home-educating families-on the basis of what?
This is probably the first time that I have paid attention to a Bill's impact assessment, but it is an immensely useful document. It sets out the rationale of the Bill and the concerns that underlie the Government's perceived need to introduce this section. It states that local authorities estimate that,
To understand what is going wrong here, one needs to understand the process that the Government have gone through, with a rushed assessment of the situation under Graham Badman and three successive rounds of applications to local authorities for data, each of them seemingly compiled by a different team because they are none of them consistent with each other. None of them seems to be compiled by people who have an understanding of home education or of local authority practices. Different local authorities respond to the same questions on different bases, understanding them in different ways, providing different kinds of answers and following different rules. From that, the Government have derived a set of high-level statistics such as the one that I have just quoted.
Before Prorogation, I asked a couple of questions of the Minister on this matter. The department refused to answer, saying that it could not provide me with the underlying data because they were confidential. I shall ask similar questions again now. If I receive that same answer, we shall be off to see the Leader of the House, because I consider it deeply disrespectful of this House. These data are there and are available. The Minister may have a team looking at the data. On the other side are 10,000 intelligent, angry, committed home-educating parents finding out the same information. All the information is in the public domain, but how have the Government got their high-level results from it?
Let us look at the 8 per cent who are receiving no education at all. Local education authorities have a duty to make sure that children are receiving a suitable
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