Mike Storey, Lib Dem Education Spokesperson, hosted a debate in the Lords yesterday on mental health services in schools and colleges. He opened the debate saying:
I think that this is the fourth or fifth time in almost as many days that we have talked about mental health, which perhaps shows how important the matter is to your Lordships and that there is a need for action. No doubt there has been and will be repetition in what we all say but, again, that tells me how important the issue is. I also put on record my thanks to the numerous organisations that feel passionately about the issue and have sent a whole series of briefings.
Despite having one of the most advanced health systems in the world, child health outcomes in the UK, including for mental health, are among the poorest. Just 6% of the NHS budget for mental health is spent on children and young people. I know we have heard them on a number of occasions in the various Questions and debates, but we should remind ourselves of some of the facts. One in 10 children and young people aged five to 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder, which equates to three children in every classroom. One in every 12 to 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm, and nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression. Alarmingly, all these figures are on the increase. Yet despite these figures, a freedom of information request from YoungMinds sent to every NHS clinical commissioning group and every upper-tier local authority in England found that 74 out of 96 NHS clinical commissioning groups have frozen or cut their CAMHS budgets in the last two years, while 56 out of 101 local authorities in England that supplied information to YoungMinds have cut or frozen their budgets, or increased them by less than inflation, during the same period. We ignore the situation at our peril.
The gains of free childcare for low income families will be wiped out by Government cuts to tax credits and other benefits warn the Liberal Democrats.
Changes in the Childcare Bill, which was in Committee Stage in the House of Lords yesterday, will be limited in impact by Government cuts and Liberal Democrat Peers tabled amendments to counteract this, and to expand the current system.
The Liberal Democrats amendments, tabled by Children’s Spokesperson Kath Pinnock, will expand free childcare to children between 1 and 2 years, and insist on a review of the impacts of the entirety of the Government’s changes on lower income families.
Liberal Democrats have made dramatic improvements in this area since 2010, extending free childcare for three and four-year olds to 15 hours a week and introducing it for 40% of two-year olds.
Lib Dem Voice covered Liberal Democrat Children’s Spokesperson Kath Pinnock’s speech on the Second Reading of the Childcare Bill:
My Lords, of course we welcome the basis of this Bill – the additional 15 hours a week free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds whose families are in work. However, the devil is in the detail of this particular offer and I have 4 broad areas of concern:
Funding – there must be sufficient allocated to cover costs for a high quality offer.
Flexibility – to really help working families there must be flexibility built in to the offer.
Focus – of any childcare provision must be primarily for the benefit of the child.
Fairness – this provision must be of equal benefit to low income as to higher income families.
Liberal Democrats have done a great deal in Government to provide more and better early education and childcare. From increasing the free entitlement for three and four year olds and extending it to disadvantaged two year olds to introducing the Early Years Pupil Premium and helping parents with the costs through tax relief, this government has been on the side of young children and their families.
Two things have happened relating to childcare in the last two weeks. Nick Clegg has made some commitments about what Liberal Democrats would fight for in the next Parliament and the House of Lords Select Committee on Affordable Childcare has produced its report following many months of hearing evidence. Members may be interested as to how these two things fit together.
Baroness Claire Tyler and myself, who were both responsible for the “Balanced Working Life” policy paper and conference motion which set out Lib Dem proposals in this area, were also both on the Select Committee (The only 2 Lib Dems members out of a total 13 which I think underlines the fact that we did well to get as much of our policy in as we did). We worked hard to get the committee to agree to evidence based recommendations which we knew to be compatible with Liberal Democrat policy, though, of course, it was a cross party committee. Although the resulting report was by no means a Liberal Democrat Manifesto, it had several features in common with our policies, Nick’s recent speeches and what we hope to see in our manifesto.
The Committee’s main recommendation was that, in setting priorities within the early years budget, the government should focus on providing high quality childcare for the most disadvantaged children because it is they who will benefit most from it and therefore it is good value for money.
Parliament is never short of Bills coming from the Home Office, but the Modern Slavery Bill is different. At the end of the second reading in the Lords last week, the Minister pointed to the warm reception given by every speaker who followed this with seven minutes on all the things that could be added to it. The view on the Lib Dem benches, like others, was to welcome the Bill both for what it is and for the opportunity it provides to do even more to address the abomination (and very big business – this is often highly profitable organised crime) of trafficking and forced labour.
And something else very significant has happened. Forced labour featured in a recent episode of “Scott and Bailey”. Will that do as much to raise public awareness of slavery as the body under the patio in Brookside did for domestic violence? (No-one else mentioned this in the debate though I did hear comments outside the chamber – apparently peers don’t like to admit to watching TV!)
The Bill brings the offences of holding someone in slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour together with human trafficking for exploitation, and increases the maximum penalties to life imprisonment. There is a new offence: committing any crime (for instance stealing a car) with the intention of trafficking. There are powers to require an offender to pay compensation to the victim.
According to the US State Department at a global level people trafficking ranks as the third largest source of income for organised crime, coming after only drugs and the arms trade.
So as someone who has campaigned over many years to highlight the significance of human trafficking, especially of children, it is obviously welcome that we finally have a Bill recognising the shocking reality of modern day slavery going through Parliament.
Today is the Second Reading of the Modern Slavery Bill in the House of Lords, with the Bill having already passed most of its stages in the Commons.
However, my starting point is that as it currently stands the Bill is set only to be a good Bill, not a great Bill. It has far too many loopholes within it, and it fails to set a proper standard for the rest of the world.
Today in the House of Lords, Baroness Joan Walmsley and the Lib Dems secured an agreement from the Government on the Serious Crime Bill, for a major consultation on introducing rules on mandatory reporting of child abuse.
At our recent Federal Conference in Glasgow, Liberal Democrats passed new Party policy in support of requiring those who work with children and vulnerable adults to be required by law to report to the authorities if they have any suspicion that abuse is taking place. However, despite debates on this and other amendments concerning child abuse being debates, Ukip members of the House of Lords failed again to participate in this work.
Ukip’s hypocrisy is breath-taking. They issue a photograph of a girl withthe headline‘There are 1400 reasons why you should not trust Labour again’ in Rotherham, but their record on tackling serious child abuse issue is disgraceful.
The only record of Lord Pearson of Rannoch (the former Leader of UKIP & their leader in the Lords) asking a question on child abuse is on 13 October this year, after the Police and Crime Commissioner by-election was called.(Link here.) He has been in the House of Lords since 1990. Even this question is focused entirely on the Ukip obsession with Muslims, ignoring the fact that child abuse happens in all areas of the country and is not exclusive to any culture, community, race or religion.
And, once again, when we discussed child abuse in the Lords today, no Ukip peers were present.