6 Lord Bishop of Gloucester debates involving the Department of Health and Social Care

King’s Speech

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Thursday 9th November 2023

(8 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate and I thank the Minister for his thorough introduction.

In the Old Testament there is a beautiful vison of the prophet Isaiah of the perfect future with God:

“Never again will there be an infant who lives but a few days … No longer will people build houses for others and not live in them … People will not labour in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune”.


Whether or not you are a person of faith, I believe most of us would say yes to those words in the gracious Speech about the Government seeking, in all respects, to make long-term decisions in the interests of future generations. But how will that be realised? We need interconnectedness across disparate Bills and government departments, and a commitment to the well-being of individuals, always set within the big picture of people belonging together as interdependent human beings—hence that word “community” and its importance in the gracious Speech being picked up in the themes of today’s debate.

The gracious Speech spoke not only of delivering a plan to regenerate towns and to put local people in control of their future but of the Government’s commitment to keep communities safe. All of this is possible only if there is joined-up, holistic and long-term thinking. Discussions around local communities, housing, health and public services cannot be boxed separately from that stated commitment to keep communities safe.

I will unashamedly mention prisons again today, and declare my interest as Anglican Bishop for His Majesty’s Prisons. I was delighted to hear the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. Prisons hold up a mirror to so much that is needed regarding housing, education and training, health and public services. On my most recent prison visit, a couple of weeks ago, the group of men I met shared their stories, mainly owned their failings, and named things that had contributed to their offending—mental health problems, broken relationships, constant movement through the care system, a lack of housing which could be called “home”, addiction to numb the pain of poverty, lack of education and training, learning about crime in prison, and the consequences of a criminal record when even attempting to turn their lives around on accessing work and housing on release. A focus on rehabilitation in prisons and beyond the gate is broadly lacking. Given that two-thirds of people in prison are there for non-violent offences and that over half go on to reoffend within a year of leaving custody—rising to almost two-thirds among those sentenced to less than 12 months—prison is failing everyone, not least victims, families and whole local communities, and it is not addressing serious contributory factors.

For example, we know that the instability created by lack of, or inadequate, housing puts strain on families and communities and can create a domino effect, impacting health, education, and many of those underlying causes of criminal behaviour. We also know that a high percentage of people who leave prison do so with no home to go to and, unsurprisingly, soon return through the revolving door of prisons. It is an expensive way to house people.

In Gloucester, there is a business creating modular, eco-friendly homes which, incidentally, employs prisoners. These homes could be the answer to so much homelessness but, despite the enthusiasm of police and crime commissioners and councillors, bureaucratic processes and funding stymie the possibilities. Combine lack of appropriate housing with poor education and training and a lack of adequately resourced addiction and mental health services, and the risk of offending is increased.

This is about asking not for more money but for redistribution of finance. On top of the annual cost of prison at over £50,000 per person, the social and economic cost of reoffending has been estimated at £18 billion per annum, while the cost to victims, families and communities is impossible to estimate and undoubtedly impacts on the pressure on health and public services, not least regarding the health and mental health needs of prison staff and their families. It is vital to see the big picture and refocus the finance.

The very welcome government commitment to sensible presumption against short sentences will require redirecting funding to substantially supporting probation and community alternatives, which again link with the themes of today’s debate: for example, community sentence treatment requirements aiming to reduce reoffending by improving access to mental health and substance misuse treatment in the community. There is some good early data from pilot areas.

Incidentally, as other noble Lords have said, it is disappointing that the gracious Speech did not include plans to take forward reforms to the Mental Health Act. Many women in particular are still sent to prison as a place of safety or for their own protection. This is inappropriate, expensive and does not lead to change, and prison staff are not equipped to deal with the levels of self-harm and disturbing behaviour.

In my recent engagement with the justice system in the Netherlands, I have been struck by the focus on integration and reintegration, which is so different from the vocabulary of being tough and more punitive. There, people in prison work on their reintegration from day one. This includes plans for housing, purposeful work, health and care plans, plus a focus on a prisoner’s social networks and family ties. The rate of crime continues to decline in the Netherlands.

That wording of “long term”, which was used in relation to regenerating towns in the gracious Speech, needs to be writ large across all policy and decision-making in the themes of today’s debate. There are no short-term, quick solutions here. We need courageous, data-driven and joined-up decision-making if we are to truly change this country for the better. It does not begin with tough, law-and-order rhetoric.

Mental Health: Advertising and Body Image

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Thursday 30th June 2022

(2 years ago)

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Asked by
Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of any link between advertising, body image, and mental health.

Lord Kamall Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Kamall) (Con)
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The Government acknowledge the possible link between advertising, body image and mental health, including the potential harms that such a link may cause. The Government intend to use the online advertising programme consultation, which closed on 8 June, to develop the evidence base on this issue. Our priority is to ensure that any intervention is evidence-based and makes a real and positive difference. The Government will set out the exact approach having assessed the evidence.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, with my #liedentity campaign, I have spoken to many young people about their worth not coming from how they look. In the other place, the Prime Minister assured the honourable Member for Bosworth, Dr Luke Evans, that he would look at a body image initiative as part of the mental health plan. Given that Norway has recently introduced a retouched images law, what assessment have the Government made of the potential merits of labelling digitally altered body images used for commercial purposes?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate and the campaign in which she has been involved. It is an important issue, and we are still learning a lot. As she rightly said, Norway is about to introduce such a law; France and Israel have introduced it in the past. Sadly, the evidence coming from those studies as to the effectiveness of the measures is limited. There is also a debate about whether those images should be stopped in the first place, rather than allowing altered images and then putting a warning on them. We need to see more evidence about the most effective way.

Vaccination Strategy

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Thursday 13th January 2022

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for the question. I will have to write to her with the answer.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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Can the Minister update us on global statistics on vaccination? This is not only about justice, equality and dignity; it is also about the fact that new variants will arise unless we address the issue of international vaccination. What are the Government doing to ensure that everyone across our world is offered full vaccination? What focus is being given to the international situation, beyond ourselves?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank the right reverend Prelate for raising this incredibly important issue. I know a number of noble Lords across the House feel very strongly about this. Indeed, many of us are part of diaspora communities and understand that many communities across the world are very concerned. From the start of the pandemic, the UK has worked to support access to Covid-19 vaccines. We helped to establish the international joint procurement initiative, COVAX. At the end of 2021, the Government confirmed that they had delivered more than 30 million Covid-19 vaccines to other countries, benefiting more than 30 countries. We have invested £71 million to help COVAX secure early supply deals. The UK is one of the largest donors to the COVAX advance market commitment, which supports access to Covid-19 vaccines for up to 92 low and middle-income countries. I have a list of a number of other initiatives that we have taken part in. In addition, in bilateral, G7 and G10 discussions, we have put this issue on the agenda, making sure that we are working in a multilateral way across the world to help those countries.

Vaccine Rollout

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Monday 25th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, it is indeed very good news. I pay tribute to the work of my noble friend and of the Legatum Institute in championing the need to address social inequality. She rightly draws attention to the horrific impact that this pandemic and the associated lockdowns are having on social mobility. It is a massive priority for us. The problem that we are wrestling with is not just hospitalisation but the transmission associated with schools, but I assure her that this is a number one priority for us.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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I wish to make two points and I draw attention to my interests as listed in the register. First, I am very concerned about prisons. There are reports that about 71 prisoners have died, and the number of prison staff who have tested positive continues to rise alarmingly. There is great flux within a prison, with staff coming and going, and those being released from prison and those coming into prison. Will the Government consider prioritising the vaccinating of prisoners and those who work in prisons? Secondly, I add my voice to those calling for teachers and early years staff to be prioritised. Schools are open and our dedicated teachers and early years staff must be able to continue their work safely and not be off sick, if we are to do the right thing by our children.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate is entirely right to highlight prisons, and I share her deep concern in this area. I pay tribute to the Prison Service for keeping Covid out of prisons for nearly a year. It has done an amazing job, and we should all be very pleased with the incredible protocols that have been put in place to save our prisons. However, she is entirely right that we have a problem on our hands. It is a major priority for the Prison Service, which is bringing in testing protocols and, if necessary, will look at other measures to ensure that prisoners and those who work in prisons are safe.

Queen’s Speech

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Thursday 9th January 2020

(4 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, on her excellent maiden speech.

I shall focus on children and vulnerable women; I draw noble Lords’ attention to my entry on the register of interests. My headlines are that we need policy that supports and enables early intervention and effective partnerships. Experiences that we have at an early age shape who we are. The Children’s Society has been measuring children’s well-being for more than a decade, and during much of that time children’s well-being has been in decline. This is not simply about children; it is about how we shape the sort of communities we want to see.

How is government looking at every policy and all legislation in the light of what they mean for children? This is about present well-being and its future impact. Some 690,000 children under five live in a home where a parent has experienced poor mental health, substance misuse or domestic abuse. These and other issues are listed as ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, which other noble Lords have referred to. Their consequences echo through a child’s life and across generations.

We know, for example, that the majority of women in prison report having experienced some form of abuse as a child. The Nelson Trust, of which I am president, estimates that 78% of women who access their women’s centres present with four or more ACEs. Two-thirds of the women supported by the Nelson Trust are mothers of children, so this is about the future as well as the present.

Even if we look at children with no ACEs, standard support for parents is given by HMRC, the DWP, NHS, Public Health England and possibly a children’s centre. This system is not easy to navigate, and those agencies do not share a common framework. The challenge increases for families in more complex situations, with even more agencies involved.

Children who underachieve in all early-years measures at five are three times more likely to have social care involvement at the age of nine. Thus, there is an ever-growing demand for statutory services, and the national cost of intervention that comes too late is huge. In my diocese, Gloucestershire County Council is expected to overspend on children’s services this year, yet between 2010 and 2018 spending on non-statutory children’s services, such as children’s centres and youth provision, fell by 60%.

How will the Government attend to early intervention and the strategic deployment of resources to reduce and prevent problems further down the line? Of course, improving children’s life chances will not happen overnight, nor simply through important legislation such as tax reform. It is vital that government action supports and enables the work of professionals in education, health and care as well as the vital provision by charities, including local churches and other faith organisations. There also needs to be an increased emphasis on inter-agency work.

As lead bishop for women’s prisons, I have a particular interest in how we can reduce the possibility of children growing up to be those at risk of offending. I also have an interest in what services are being provided for those who have offended or are at risk of offending. In both areas, early intervention and effective partnership should be a goal for government across public services. I shall give two examples from my diocese. First, the Nelson Trust partners with 18 agencies to provide outreach to women in sex work, resulting in very positive outcomes. Research by Lancaster University found that 95% of those outcomes could not have been achieved without access to a women’s centre—the only non-statutory service involved. Secondly, the Action on ACEs Gloucestershire initiative has attracted interest from around the UK. It is enabling a trauma-informed approach across services ranging from fire and rescue through to maternity provision and voluntary groups. The toolkit to enable conversations with children, adults and families has been piloted by more than 30 organisations.

I must close, but I hope that the Government will take time to listen to people affected by these issues—not least children and young people—learn from best practice and provide funding to replicate successful interventions which are about effective partnership and early intervention. As the Chancellor prepares for the Budget in March, I hope that he will consider how wise investment, made at an early stage and managed effectively, will pay dividends.

Queen’s Speech

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Thursday 29th June 2017

(7 years ago)

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Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, I will highlight something that I believe needs careful consideration as we think about education, health and welfare. It is the matter of vulnerable young people making the transition to adulthood. I am grateful for the aspirations I have heard to support families and give children the best start in life. As we strive for the fairness and flourishing of all, I am concerned that we have yet to see any emphasis on our most vulnerable young people as they move into adulthood. I would particularly like to draw the Government’s attention to five specific groups who need help as they transition to adult life: young people leaving care; young people who are carers themselves; young people with severe disability; young people who are refugees and asylum seekers; and young women at risk of offending and being imprisoned.

Each year around 11,000 young people aged 16 and over leave the care of their local authority. They face the challenge of living independently. The Children’s Society has highlighted how easy it is for them to get into debt as they struggle to develop financial independence. For example, it can be very frightening for these young people to find themselves in council tax debt that quickly escalates to a court summons and enforcement action. Surely we need to support these young care leavers as they take on managing their finances for the first time. As noble Lords may be aware, the Children’s Society is spearheading a campaign to ask councils to exempt care leavers from council tax. Encouragingly, 19 local authorities have now taken this step. I wholeheartedly commend this action.

Now let me mention young people who are carers themselves. In my diocese we have a wonderful organisation, Gloucestershire Young Carers, which works alongside schools and other agencies to get these young people the help they need and minimise the impact of their caring role on their adult lives. At present there are 1,000 young carers on their books. One of those is Evie, aged 16, who has struggled with her first year of A-levels alongside a part-time job and caring for her mother, who suffers both physical and mental ill health. She has written off the chance of going to university as it would leave her mother with no support. Gloucestershire Young Carers is helping Evie try to make a plan for her future where she does not put her caring role before her dreams and ambitions. We know that there are others like Evie who are unsupported. As laws are shaped regarding social care and adult carers, we must not lose sight of the needs of young carers.

We must also not lose sight of severely disabled young people who are not being housed appropriately for adulthood. In Gloucestershire we have the amazing National Star College. However, some leavers are now being housed in elderly care homes. We need to find independent living solutions or even appropriate residential care. National Star is doing well in establishing long-term residential accommodation, but so much more is required.

On migration, as mentioned in the most gracious Speech, our young refugees and asylum seekers need to receive the best start in adult life. We know that education allows these young people to integrate and develop as contributing members of society, but refugees aged 15 and above often find it difficult to find school places. These youngsters, including Syrians on the resettlement programme, often do not arrive at a time convenient for the start of the academic year and not enough is being done to ensure that they can enter formal education. In Gloucestershire there are young unaccompanied people who have been out of formal education for more than eight months.

There is one further group of young people I will mention and this time I will be gender-specific: young women who find themselves in prison. Some of these women have been challenged by some of the issues I have already outlined, such as leaving care. Only last week I was in Eastwood Park prison with a number of young women in the early years of adulthood who were about to leave prison. Some of them had nowhere to live and were concerned that they would therefore end up back among those they knew with addiction problems. They were concerned about how they would find support to enable them to make good choices for their lives going forward. More than 50% of women in prisons have been abused in childhood and more than 60% have been victims of domestic abuse.

These young women do not require us to build more prisons, but they need appropriate community support in the form of women’s centres. In Gloucester we are very fortunate to have a fabulous women’s centre run by the Nelson Trust. Its work is inspirational as it works with young women in a holistic way, addressing issues of well-being, education, housing and finance. The Nelson Trust gets just £750 a year to support a vulnerable young woman and not only keep her out of prison, but enable her to make good choices to shape her future for adulthood. It costs £45,000 a year to keep a young woman in prison. This is a ridiculous and expensive situation and something needs to change so that properly resourced work can be done with these young women in the community.

As we reflect on the gracious Speech and look with hope to the future, I implore each of us to hold in mind the needs of the most vulnerable in our society, most especially those young people transitioning to adulthood. May we ensure their voices are heard as government policies are shaped that enable the flourishing of all individuals and communities.