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The Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, today (Wednesday 3rd June) spoke in the House of Lords in the ‘Gracious Speech’ Debate in which he praised the work of small, local adoption agencies (such as DFW Adoption in Durham) saying that they were often most effective at placing and maintaining adoptions of the most hard to place children. He also talked about the importance of child-care in early years, of parents and of families saying that nothing replaces the love of parents in the healthy development of a child. He also welcomed the the inclusion in the ‘Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill’ of the Troubled Families Programme with its success in helping families and children in difficult circumstances. He urged HM Government to adopt a similar joined-up, personalised approach to helping individuals with multiple and complex needs saying: “Some of the preparatory work has already been done.  ‘Simple Change for Troubled Lives’ – a recent publication by Framework Housing Association, is the blueprint for a Troubled Lives strategy.” He commended it as a document that can be quickly read and summarised in five key action points [see full transcript – below for details]. He went on to talk about concerns over any freezing of Child Benefits and Child Tax Credits and He supported the recommendations from the Children’s Society and others that Child Benefit should be excluded from the benefits cap as it is intended to support the cost of raising the child not simple as income to the parents. He concluded by saying: “We really all do want the best start in life for every child in our nation. There is much to scrutinise in the proposals in the Gracious Speech that effect the life of children. We need to be assured by the Government that their proposals will truly give the best start when it appears on first reading that some may well do so, whilst others might actually harm them.” ADDITIONAL NOTES: Bishop Paul also asked a supplementary question on Housing in the North during the Oral questions session: Encouraging the use of Brownfield sites in the North of England for housing developments – Lord Greaves; in which he asked if there would be the much needed creation of apprenticeships for associated trades such as plumbing etc.

The full transcript of the speech.

My Lords, the stated intention of the Education and Adoption Bill is ‘To give all children the best possible start in life’. Of course we all want this. So we must scrutinise carefully whether or not the proposals around adoption will produce this for children, for whom adoption is the best route. Given that some of the most successful adoption agencies are small localised ones, care will need to be taken in any move to regional agencies, which certainly has its strengths, that the special skills and experience of these smaller agencies is not lost. Particularly as they are often the most effective at placing and maintaining adoptions of the most hard to place children. Durham Family Welfare in my own area is a fine example here. Childcare, we all recognise, is vitally important to ensure the best start in life. For most children the very best child care in the early years is given by the child’s own parents. The bonding and trust that is built is vital to long term wellbeing. Nothing replaces the love of parents in the healthy development of a child. The extension of childcare offered to 30 hours a week, must not create the impression that both parents, or the single parent, must go out to work. There is no harder, nor more socially valuable, nor more important work given to those able to have a child than raising that child well. For many though work will be wanted, or necessary, so an increased provision in childcare is welcome provided that the quality of what is offered is high. This can only happen with properly trained staff paid at a decent rate; the living wage for childcare workers needs to come in soon. It will be important too that wide range of provision available is not reduced by the 30 hour allowance. Much childcare is provided in premisses like church halls where an extension of hours by this much  may not actually be possible. We need to take care that some of the highest quality provision does not get lost in the extension of the hours. I also want to ask whether or not it is appropriate for extended provision to be free for those on higher wages who are well able to afford the childcare. I welcome the inclusion in the ‘Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill’ of the Troubled Families Programme.  Its success in helping families and children in difficult circumstances has been impressive.  Since the programme also appears to deliver savings to the public purse, the case for its continuation is strong.  Indeed I urge HM Government to adopt a similar joined-up, personalised approach to helping individuals with multiple and complex needs. Some of the preparatory work has already been done.  ‘Simple Change for Troubled Lives’ rather than troubled families is a recent publication by Framework Housing Association, and offers a blueprint for a Troubled Lives strategy.  I commend it to your Lordships as a document that can be read quite quickly and summarised in five key actions:

  1. The first is an extension of the Troubled Families programme to at least 60,000 individuals with most complex needs who need intensive long-term assistance.
  2. The second is to ensure that others with multiple and complex needs have full assessments under the Care Act.
  3. The third is to ensure that people with multiple and complex needs have suitable housing.
  4. The fourth is to engage them in structured activity leading wherever possible to paid work.
  5. The fifth is to align the various activities of government in this area so they complement rather than conflict with each other.

The Coalition Government made firm commitments to improve the help offered to people with multiple and complex needs, as recently as the 2014 Autumn Statement and the 2015 Budget.  I hope and pray for a strategy to deliver. Finally my Lords I have to express concern that the best start in life for every child will not be best served by freezing Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit for the poorest families, particularly those in low income work. So I would support the proposal from The Children’s Society and others that Child Benefit should be excluded from the benefit cap as this  is intended to support the costs of raising the child, it is not simply income to the parents. I also fear the long term impact on more children being moved into poverty through the benefits freeze. Child poverty is not remedied by child benefit of course but it is one important brick in the wall, alongside preventing family breakdown, good education, helping people into good meaningful work and tackling debt and addiction issues which are recognised as critical to eradicate poverty and the children who are are caught up in that poverty. We really all do want the best start in life for every child in our nation. There is much to scrutinise in the proposals in the Gracious Speech that effect the life of children. We need to be assured by the Government that their proposals will truly give the best start when it appears on first reading that some may well do so, whilst others might actually harm them.

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