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.
Writing for Politics Home, Dick Taverne highlighted the benefits that foreign students bring to Britain.
Polls show that immigration is an issue of widespread concern. But public concern is not about immigrant students whom most people welcome. They know how much foreign students benefit Britain. Industry needs them. They bring in billions to the Treasury. They enrich the quality (and income) of our universities.
Nevertheless government policies often seem to ignore these benefits and make foreign students feel they are not welcome – strict visa requirements for instance and a high minimum earnings requirement for those who want to stay after graduation. Another minor example, which few know about, causes despair and injustice to a particularly vulnerable and deserving group of young immigrants. They are those who came to Britain as unaccompanied child refugees and who are denied a chance to go to university even if they do well at school…
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.
Research is helping to improve agriculture, education, medicine and technology across the developing world.
Lib Dem International Development Minister Baroness Northover has visited the University of Cambridge to hear more about their world leading research to help end extreme poverty in developing countries.
Research and evidence play an important role the UK’s international development work.
Supported by the Department for International Development, the University of Cambridge’s research is helping to understand how to improve agriculture, education, medicine and technology across the developing world in a bid to end dependency on aid. Around a third of all research projects run by DFID are won by British universities.
During her visit Lindsay Northover heard from professors and students carrying out research into:
the control of bovine tuberculosis in Ethiopia to help protect the livelihood of poor farmers
the control of zoonotic gastrointestinal disease in pigs in Burma which can pass to humans and account for around 1 million human deaths per year globally
the control of aphid-transmitted viruses which can kill beans and other major crops that provide essential sources of food in Central and Eastern Africa
the impact of Activity Based Learning as a teaching method.
Lindsay Northover said:
High quality research is the foundation of the most effective development programmes and can make an huge difference for millions of the world’s poorest people.
The University of Cambridge’s research has already had an enormous benefit on the lives of people in developing countries and will continue to do so as their DFID funded programmes come to fruition.
I took part in a five-party panel at York University the other weekend, organised by the University’s Politics Society, in front of a packed lecture hall with over 200 students. No other panellist or questioner mentioned the subject of tuition fees, believed by some Liberal Democrat activists (and right-wing journalists) to be an issue that hangs like an albatross round Nick Clegg’s neck. The overwhelming impression I came away with, reinforced by informal conversations with several students after the meeting, was not that we face an outraged student body which can never forgive us for the tuition fees ‘betrayal’, as the NUS would like to portray it; it was of a student body which is switched off from party politics, unsure of whether to vote or not, but with some intelligent questions to ask. ‘I wasn’t planning to vote until I came to this’, one student told me afterwards, ‘but maybe now I will.’
Since nobody else did, I addressed the tuition fee issue. I said that we had found it impossible to persuade our Conservative partners in the coalition to pay for this, against the background of a yawning gap between revenue and expenditure in 2010, and had therefore focused on striking a deal that was as progressive in its impact as possible; that the package had ensured that graduates only start to pay back when they are earning good money; that the rise since then in the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying to university has shown that we got that right; and that there was no no way any future government would want to take us back to free fees in the face of other competing demands for government funding. I went on to say that we had worked in government to put money into ‘the other 50%’ – the young people who never go to university; that doubling the number of apprenticeships, paying a Pupil Premium to encourage schools to put more resources into helping those who most need it, and expanding nursery education to give children a better start in life had proved to be more progressive and cost-effective than free fees for the better-off.
Around Christmas, it was reported that the Home Secretary proposed changing the immigration rules so that overseas students at UK universities who wanted to stay on to work would have to return home after graduation and apply from outside the UK.
It is widely acknowledged that the presence of overseas students is important. Their fees represent considerable income for the universities, but perhaps more significant is whether they feel welcomed by this country and how, as a consequence, their home countries regard the UK.
There are various schemes which allow new graduates to stay on: for post-graduate study, as an entrepreneur, for professional training and to take up employment in jobs requiring higher skills. For these, the graduate has to earn a minimum amount (£20,500 or more depending on the job) and the employer does not have to demonstrate the job has been advertised.
Last week I asked a question in the Lords on the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). The DSA allows those with a disability, a long term health condition, or dyslexia (like myself) an equal shot at higher education. The support people receive through this allowance can be vital in ensuring a student’s chances of academic success aren’t dictated by their disability or health, but by their effort and ability.
Like all areas of Government spending, the DSA is being examined for potential savings and to make sure money is going where it is needed most. However, my question in the Lords was inspired by the amount of confusion there is within all the groups involved in the DSA, ranging from suppliers to students, over what exactly is going to be in place once these reforms go through.
At the moment there is a great deal of fear mongering about not having sufficient resources to enable people to be able to complete their course, let alone work independently as you’re supposed to in higher education. Any change that does not embrace this principle is effectively excluding certain groups unnecessarily.