2 Lord Davies of Brixton debates involving the Department for International Trade

Covid-19: Children

Lord Davies of Brixton Excerpts
Thursday 17th June 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I give many thanks to my noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley for providing the opportunity to debate this crucial issue, which is so important for the future of our society. What a fantastic speech it was: so clear, so heartfelt and so powerful. We simply have no choice but to address the closely linked issues of health, inequality and child poverty and their impact on the future of our children.

In my remarks, I want to focus specifically on children’s mental health as we emerge from the Covid pandemic. There was already cause for concern about child and adolescent mental health prior to the pandemic. A national NHS Digital study in 2017 showed that one in nine children and young people had a probable mental health problem. A follow-up study in July 2020 indicated that this figure had increased to one in six. While it is not clear whether this increase was necessarily a result of the pandemic or a continuing upward trajectory, there is evidence that the pandemic has had an overall negative effect on children and young peoples’ mental health.

It is important to note that the pandemic has not brought negative consequences for all young people. For example, 25% to 40% of the children and young people surveyed by the Oxford University OxWell study reported that the first lockdown had led them to feel happier. A second large study, by ImpactEd, found that average well-being scores reported by school-age children and adolescents were higher during the first national lockdown, when most children were not at school, than later in the year when they returned to school. But this must not make us complacent, because these results highlight the need better to understand what accounts for the variability in children’s mental health experiences during the pandemic. Why has it affected some children so much worse than others?

Some evidence on this has come from the Oxford University Co-Space study, which has been tracking children and young people’s mental health monthly since March 2020. It found that particular groups have had elevated mental health symptoms throughout the pandemic. The symptoms were worse for those who live in families with low household incomes, those with special educational needs and those whose parents reported high psychological distress, which is closely associated with poverty. Evidence from food banks shows that unexpected poverty arising from the pandemic can be particularly stressful for families.

It is of particular concern that, while the Co-Space study saw an overall improvement in mental health in March 2021 as the restrictions eased, children in special educational needs and in low-income families continued to have high levels of symptoms, suggesting that, while many children and young people will bounce back well after the pandemic, it is much less likely where families face particular challenges such as poverty. A paper published recently in the Journal of Mental Health and supported by Chris Whitty tells us that 75% of mental health problems in adulthood start in childhood or adolescence. It goes on to describe the end goals for mental health research, the first being to break this link by halving the number of children and young people experiencing persistent mental health problems. During the pandemic, these problems have clearly grown. As Professor Cathy Creswell from the University of Oxford said following the Co-Space study, if we are to prevent these problems persisting into adulthood, we need to stop them early.

Getting on top of this makes sense for the children and their families, it makes sense for the NHS by reducing later costs, and it makes sense for the economy, as sufferers could contribute more fully to society.

Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill

Lord Davies of Brixton Excerpts
Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Lister on her introduction and taking on the task of guiding this Bill through your Lordships’ House. There is not a lot more to be said, and I can shorten it by saying that I totally agree with the views set out by the Child Poverty Action Group and the Children’s Society and that I am unpersuaded, having read it carefully, by the submission by the Schoolwear Association. However, I want to add my support to the Bill. It is an issue that I have followed closely for many years as a parent and as a past leader of the largest local education authority in the country.

There is one word in the Bill that made me pause. We see that proposed new subsection (6)(a) in Clause 1 refers to the “proprietor” of schools. I must admit that my heart runs cold when I see that, as it is a token of the way in which education has taken a wrong turn. However, leaving that on one side, the uniforms under the code should be simple and generic. They should be available from a range of retailers, be it Tesco or Asda— other retailers are available. It is important that the code adopts that approach rather than the ideas of trying to replicate the onerous cost of uniforms that we see in far too many schools. Of course, school identity is important, as some previous speakers have emphasised, but these should be added at only a minimal cost.

I strongly support the Bill, look forward to seeing the code and hope that it provides the relief that parents need in terms of cost and accessibility.