When I chaired the Lords Select Committee on Financial Inclusion in 2017, one of the topics that I was particularly passionate about was the devastating impact that bank branch closures can have on individuals and their communities. Sadly, bank closures continue to cause challenges for elderly and disabled people in communities without access to banking – another 2900 banks closed between 2015 and 2018, leaving many people unable to access banking services.
You can read more about the impact of Bank branch closures on vulnerable consumers in my recent article published in the House Magazine.
I find it deeply ironic that the UK is considered a world leader in financial services when its banks fail to provide basic services to so many vulnerable consumers. The necessity of banking services just to be able to function in our society means that easy access to banking needs to be considered a basic right in the same way access to basic utilities is. A fair deal for consumers means the right to access physical banking services for those who wish to do so.
Recently the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility launched its latest report on closing the regional attainment gap. Currently, pupils from disadvantaged areas are lagging behind their classmates by around half a grade per subject at GCSE, affecting their social mobility for the rest of their lives. And this gap varies hugely across the country. While London is pulling ahead in raising attainment, other areas, such as Somerset and Blackpool are being left behind. Our year-long Inquiry examined the problems causing the gap and our report proposes the solutions needed to close it.
You can read more about the report in my recent article with Justin Madders MP discussing how good teaching has the power to kickstart social mobility. Ruby Nightingale from the Sutton Trust has also written a blog which provides a great summary of our findings.
“While London is pulling ahead in raising attainment, other areas, such as Somerset and Blackpool are being left behind. If we want to build a fairer society where everyone is socially mobile, we must do a lot more to close this regional attainment gap.”
Given my work on the Lords Financial Exclusion Select Committee, I was very pleased to visit Nationwide’s Victoria Street Branch and hear about the work they are doing to protect vulnerable consumers and promote financial inclusion.
You can read the full report by the select committee on financial exclusion here and the easy-read version of the report here.
On January 31st I spoke in a debate on the NHS Long Term Plan, which was published in January . While I think there is much to welcome in the plan I also express my worries over areas the plan is silent on. You can read my speech in this debate here and watch the debate here.
One area I particularly worry about is whether the NHS will be able to recruit the workforce to deliver the Long Term Plan. For example, we will need to find over 20,000 extra mental health staff in order to achieve the goal that 100% of children with mental health will be able to access treatment over the next decade. This is why I questioned the government over whether it would fund a “Mental Health” careers campaign aimed at secondary school and University Students to help plug this hole. You can watch me ask this question here and read it in Hansard here.
“However, there is also much to worry about—mainly things about which the plan is silent. The NHS does not operate in isolation, and I am concerned—like many other noble Lords—that many of the laudable aims of the plan are being directly undermined by cuts elsewhere to public health and social care budgets.”
On the 31st January 2019, I joined young people and mental health experts from leading charity, Action for Children, to support the parliamentary launch of Build Sound Minds – a campaign to help children and teenagers build good mental and emotional wellbeing.
It is clear that Children’s Mental Health support needs radically improving. According to Action for Children, a third of 15 to 18-year-olds they assessed were found to be suffering from mental health issues. Pupils in need of support have been taking part in the Blues Programme, the first ever UK-wide early help intervention for teenage depression. Given my work on Children and Young People’s Mental Health, I was
Ahead of Children’s Mental Health Week (4-10 February), I pledged support for the charity’s campaign, which aims to improve children and teenagers’ mental health by providing families with accessible information, tools and tips. To find out more about the campaign, you can visit their website here or follow them on Twitter at @actnforchildren.
On the 21st of January 2019, I spoke in a debate on a recent report by the social metrics commission, which has developed a new measure of poverty. I was very pleased that this measure of poverty takes into account the total resources of an individual instead of simply focusing on income as many previous measures have. This is why I have encouraged the Government to adopt this measure as their official measure of Poverty.
You can read my speech here and watch me speak on parliament live here.
“The measurement of poverty has for too long been a hot potato, with too much time being given to arguing about how and whether to measure poverty and not enough time devoted to taking action to reduce it … I hope that this measure is adopted by political parties and campaigners, but above all by the Government as their official measure of poverty, so that they can put in place meaningful policies to reduce poverty and address the plight of those who suffer from it.”
To mark Children’s Mental Health Week, I wanted to reflect on the work I have been doing recently to highlight the battle many young people face to access mental health support.
On the 30th of January, I led a dinner hour debate on the topic of what assessment the Government has made of the recent concerns expressed by general practitioners that children and young people with mental health problems are unable to access National Health Service treatments; and what steps they will take to address them. I arranged this debate following a recent article in the Guardian, which revealed that a staggering 99% of GPs feared that under-18s would come to harm as a direct result of delays in their mental health care. You can read my speech from this debate here or watch it on parliament live here.
I have also been blogging about the worrying delays to children’s mental health treatment in Politics Home and the Lib Dem Voice.
“Seventy years after the creation of the NHS, families should not be forced to pay for the mental health care that their children so desperately need.”
Yesterday I made a speech in the House of Lords on Social Mobility. Below is a short extract. You can find my speech in full here.
Just over 18 months ago I proposed The Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility. It published its report in April this year, entitled “Overlooked and left behind: improving the transition from school to work for the majority of young people”. I believe this title still says it all. Those young people not pursuing either higher education or apprenticeships – that is, just under half of them – face a system beset by a lack of funding, esteem, guidance and co-ordination. The current system isn’t just unfair on the individual young person, often leading to a life time of missed opportunities. It also damages the UK’s economy and limits our collective human capital. Investing in our young people today has significant long-term economic and social value tomorrow, but only if we get the system right for all.
It’s long overdue.
On Tuesday, I made a speech in the Lords lamenting the lack of progress in achieving parity of esteem between mental and physical health. I called on the Government to address the underfunding of mental health services and the underlying cultural issues that lie at the heart of the problem.
I asked the Government why in the Autumn Statement there was funding for the expansion of grammar schools but not a penny for the NHS. I await their reply with interest.
You can find my speech in full here.
The fundamental question for us is why it has been so difficult to achieve real and sustained progress. I did a quick survey of the scene, and many aspects I did not find very reassuring. As Michael Marmot so powerfully reminded us in his recent book The Health Gap: The Challenge of an Unequal World, people with mental ill health have a life expectancy between 10 and 20 years shorter than people with no mental illness. I am sure we all find that shocking.
Only a quarter of those with mental illness such as depression are receiving treatment, a figure that contrasts with 78% of those with heart disease and 91% of those with high blood pressure. A recent CQC report noted that, when facing a crisis, a shocking 32% of people do not know who to contact out of hours. Indeed, 24% of those who did know said they did not receive the care they needed.
As we have already heard, last year, across the board, 40% of NHS mental health providers had their funding reduced, despite NHS England instructing commissioners to increase it. This raises serious questions as to whether funding is reaching the areas where it is most needed, and it highlights the damaging impact of the Government’s refusal to ring-fence mental health funding. I know Jeremy Hunt said that he does not have the power to do that, but frankly, Governments, if they are so minded, can do something about it if they do not have the powers.
It is the same story with the £1 billion announced last year for mental health, much of which does not come on stream until the end of this Parliament. One could be forgiven for assuming that in last week’s Autumn Statement, the Chancellor would have offered a lifeline to mental health services, as well as other areas of health and social care. Instead, the Government found £240 million for the expansion of grammar schools, but not a penny for the NHS.
Last week, the Government announced plans to begin pilots to extend the current physical health assessments to cover mental health for children entering care. In the last few months I have been fighting for this amendment and am delighted that following discussions with Ministers at the Department of Education this important change will go ahead.
I made a speech thanking the Minister for the Government’s response and welcoming the introduction of the pilots. You can find my speech in full here.
I recently wrote an article for the Liberal Democrat Voice regarding the success of this campaign – the article is available here.
I am very encouraged by and was grateful to hear the commitment that he made today at the Dispatch Box, announcing that there will be, I think he said, between six and 10 pilots starting in April or May next year, to test out new approaches to mental health assessments for children in care. As he said, this will happen in parallel to the valuable and important work of the expert working group. I consider this to be a really important step forward, so I am very grateful to him and I look forward to making any contribution that I can to the development and implementation of these pilots. I thank him and all noble Lords who have participated in this discussion and I will say again how pleased I am by this progress. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.