24 July 2018
Family Hubs

Nadhim Zahawi responds on behalf of the Government to a debate on family hubs.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Nadhim Zahawi)

It is truly an honour and a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) on securing this important debate, and I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and for Henley (John Howell) and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Upper Bann (David Simpson) for contributing.

I am grateful for this opportunity to set out the Government’s position on supporting families so that no community is left behind. Social mobility is a priority for our Department, as it is across Government, and we welcome local initiatives that support families—particularly those who are disadvantaged. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton called for a Cabinet-level Minister with the responsibility to ensure that family policy is prioritised and co-ordinated. I say to her that the Government are already committed to supporting families. That is why, as she knows, we introduced the family test in 2014 and continue to support its application to policy across government.

Fiona Bruce

Will the Minister give way?

Nadhim Zahawi

Let me just make some headway. I will come back to my hon. Friend if time permits, because I have a lot to say about this subject

We share a common view about the importance of effective local support for families. That is why the Government’s legislation and funding is designed to give local authorities the freedom to decide the best way to deliver their services, based on their understanding of their local needs and the character of their areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield mentioned that, for every council that is not doing well, there is a very good example of one that has done well for its families. We welcome the development of family hubs as a way to meet local need. We encourage local authorities to adopt the family hub approach, which aims to build stronger relationships and co-locate services, if they believe it would deliver improved outcomes for their areas.

We already know that many councils are moving toward that model of support, working with local statutory, voluntary—as the hon. Member for Strangford mentioned —community and private sector partners. When I was promoted to Minister, one of the first meetings I had was with Lord Farmer and the team that put together the manifesto. I have already promised my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton that I would visit a family hub in Essex and I still plan to do so.

What we are discussing today is how we can ensure that strong, effective local services provide effective support for families and children. I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the work that the Government are doing to deliver that. The strengthening families manifesto argues that Government should be working to put in place a nought-to-19 model across the country. We know others advocate for a sharper focus on younger children, proposing that children’s centres focus on a nought-to-two age range. The shadow Minister talked about that early intervention.

My view is that both of those models, depending on local circumstances, could work and provide much needed support to families, just as I am sure that there are others models that can work, too. Let me be clear, it is for local authorities to determine the model that they believe will work best for them, based on their area’s specific needs and on the history of local provision, local community circumstances and priorities.

Tracy Brabin

The difficulty for some councils—in Kirklees, for example—is that 50% of their budget has been cut since 2010, so they are having to slice the pie into even smaller slices. Should the pie not be bigger?

Nadhim Zahawi

We have provided £200 billion in this five-year review—this current spending round—to local government. Local government has increased spending on children services. Last year it spent £9.2 billion.

I recently visited Greater Manchester, where I met the Mayor, Andy Burnham. Greater Manchester, which includes 10 local authorities—as you, rightly, know, Sir Graham—is an excellent example of an area where powers and responsibilities have become more devolved, and the Mayor can take decisions in areas such as health. The Government’s role is to engage actively with the sector to find out what works and to support local areas to make the right decisions for their communities, which might include implementing family hubs.

That is why as part of the Department for Education’s social mobility action plan, “Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential”, we announced an early years social mobility peer review programme, which my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton mentioned. We are partnering with the Local Government Association to deliver this initiative. Peer reviews will be led by multidisciplinary teams, and will support councils to identify actions and reforms to improve local outcomes in the early years. The programme will also look at what works, including the effective models for service provision, such as family hubs and children’s centres. That was something my hon. Friend called for in her speech. I think she is nodding away. I hope that she appreciates that that is an important part of this work.

I have asked my officials to ensure that the local government programme understands fully how the family hub model works and where the most effective practice is taking place. My officials would be happy to work with my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton to do that.

An example of how we are strengthening local delivery to support families is the reducing parental conflict programme, introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions. Good quality relationships between parents are critical for setting children up for life. Recent evidence has shown that children who are exposed to frequent, intense and poorly resolved conflict can experience a decline in their mental health and suffer poorer long-term outcomes. The reducing parental conflict programme, again, puts local areas at the heart of its delivery, helping them to embed parental conflict support into wider services for children and ensure evidence-based interventions are more widely available to improve children’s outcomes.

The troubled families programme is an excellent example of how central Government can work with local authorities to strengthen local services, drawing on evidence of what works, but allowing for the development of local solutions. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield mentioned a similar programme that he witnessed. I was in Islington and witnessed some of the cases there, where the troubled families programme was exactly the sort of programme needed. It aims to achieve significant and sustained improvement for up to 400,000 families—it started with 100,000—with multiple high-cost problems. The programme, delivered through local authorities and their partners, advocates a whole-family integrated approach across multiple services.

The programme’s focus on preventive services is already starting to show a positive impact in reducing demand on children’s social care. The emerging evaluation results show that, in families on the programme, six to 12 months after intervention, the proportion of children designated as children in need decreased by 14%, compared with the period just before the start of intervention. We know that many local areas have used programme funding to establish a family hub model, similar to that recommended by the strengthening families manifesto. Those hubs are being used to deliver their local programmes for complex families. Almost £1 billion has been committed to the programme from 2015 to 2020.

The hon. Member for Strangford talked about mental health. The Government’s Green Paper, “Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision”, announced ambitious proposals to provide earlier support for children and young people’s mental health. It recognises that secure attachment with a parent or carer is a protective factor for children and young people’s mental health, and commits to commissioning further research in that area. This includes supporting healthcare professionals to understand the importance of healthy, low-stress pregnancies and healthy childhoods, and increasing the capability of midwives to support women with perinatal mental health issues. We are also partnering with Public Health England, so that health visitors can do some work on speech and language therapy at the very early stage of intervention.

We are committed to incentivising every school and college to identify a designated senior lead for mental health, fund new mental health support teams, and trial a four-week waiting time for access to specialist NHS children and young people’s mental health services. The Green Paper consultation response, which we aim to publish imminently, will set out the next steps in implementing the Green Paper.

The shadow Minister asked about children’s centres. I have to say that rather than doing another consultation or review, let us look at where things are really working well. Take Newcastle or Staffordshire, for example, where the local authority has taken an active role to close some of the children’s centres but focus on outreach and keeping those children’s services where the most disadvantaged families need that help. We have looked at the six local authorities where the most children’s centres have closed. Out of the six, four are doing better in closing the development gap, one is about flat and the other is oscillating. I suggest to the shadow Minister that it is not about bricks and mortar. I do not want to make this into a party political debate.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton for securing the debate. The Government are clear about the importance of improving outcomes for children, particularly the most disadvantaged in our communities. I entirely agree that strong local services are essential, and it is important that we continue to encourage and learn from innovations such as family hubs, and ensure that leaders have the information they require to design and deliver the services that will best address local need.

We have the ability to look strategically at the whole country—the whole of England, certainly—and to disseminate best practice. That is one of the things I passionately believe in. The Government have a key role to play in ensuring we deliver for those families. Finally, I would like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton that I do not need to be in the Cabinet to champion families and the wellbeing of all of our families in our communities.