Dave Evans: We need a Department for Social Care to give the issue the focus it needs

13 Aug

Cllr Dave Evans is the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People and Lead Member for Children’s Services on Stoke-on-Trent Council.

Social care in England must sit as one of the longest running soars of any issue for any government. Governments of every colour have proclaimed that fixing social care is their top priority, only to find that other more politically sensitive areas such as education and health care have usurped this laudable statement. Although understandable, given their importance, it is this inherent failure to understand the impact the social care system, be it for adults or children, can have on these wider issues.

It is a sad fact, replicated across every city in the country, that when adult social care runs into difficulty; when practice is not robust; or when capacity in the system is unable to meet demand, pressure inevitably builds. Hospitals back up and are unable to discharge patients back to their home in a safe, sustainable way or into another safe setting. General practitioners are pulled from pillar to post dealing with minor ailments which should be done by other professionals.

Similarly, we know that poor social care for children impacts on other areas. Children with a poor home life are unable to utilise the education provided, irrespective of the quality of the school, its OFSTED rating or indeed the teaching. Nationally, 52 per cent of young people who are care leavers are not in education, employment or training. This must speak volumes about the essential role social care departments across the nation have on the economic success of our country.

Further, we know that poor quality social care and early intervention services completely change the life chances of many young people. The over prevalence of young people in care within the criminal justice system and the increased likelihood they will receive a custodial sentence – all indicators of the need to drive change in social care both for adults and children.

We have seen challenges in Stoke-on-Trent, both in terms of adults and children services. Both have received damning judgements by their regulators in recent years after decades of poor performance. Both judgements have stirred action. In the case of adult social care, previously we had one of the highest rates of delayed transfer of care (people unable to leave hospital after they were declared medically fit). After intensive work, this has been turned around making us one of the best performing areas. In the same vein, we received a challenging OFSTED rating for our children social care in 2019, pushing us onto an improvement journey which will not only improve our services, but reshape the way we prioritise them across our council and our city.

It is this experience that has led me to the view that for us to really pursue the levelling up agenda which the Prime Minister rightly speaks of, we need to give that equality of opportunity to all our residents regardless of background or circumstance. Social care needs more than just words, it needs to leapfrog up the political agenda and be truly recognised as the enabler of better public services and life chances. I believe that by creating a separate department within government, bringing together both children and adult services, would be the way to deliver this change. It needs to have its own budget; its own team working with local government to drive change in social care practice.

A separate department with its own machinery of state can bring this much needed focus, it will put social care where it needs to be, as an equal partner to health and education. By bringing the focus to adult care, working with providers, commissioners and local authorities, we can create better care arrangements, really get to grips with the home-first models adopted in places like Stoke-on-Trent and create a fit for purpose service which is both financial sustainable and able to provide the care we would want and need for our own loved ones, of which they deserve.

For young people the change can be even more significant. Giving the focus to a sector which has the potential to radically change the lives and prospects of young people by giving them a future, and in places like Stoke-on-Trent the economic and talent potential that can really drive forward our left behind communities. It is a reality that being a child in care becomes a life-defining event. In many cases, these young people are not given the support they need and aren’t prioritised in the way they need to be. Anna Longfield, the previous Children’s Commissioner said that the government ‘seemingly doesn’t know what to do with children in care’. A dedicated department would put a firm line in the sand to say we want more for our young people, they matter to us and we will be relentless in securing the best for them. We would truly be the one nation government I believe in.

Our party, the Conservative party, has always been, and will always be the party of opportunity. That opportunity must extend to everyone. We need to act now, and I’d urge the government to look at this seriously to make a significant change for those in our society that need it most.

 

Kristy Adams: Without Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services getting more funding, we are storing up trouble

23 Jul

Kristy Adams is a company director. She is leading the Health & Happiness lessons for six to 16 year olds for the online catchup school @InvictaAcademy.

The Government invested an extra £1.4 billion in children’s mental health services from 2015-2020 after the recommendations of the Future in Mind report of 2015. CAMHS currently accounts for 0.7 per cent of NHS spending and around 6.4 per cent of mental health spending.

CAMHS is the child and adolescent mental health services. If your child is having serious mental health problems and is self-harming or suicidal, their school or GP will contact the CAMHS team for an assessment and help for your child.

In the UK we have 14 million children of a total population of just over 68 million, so children make up around 20 per cent of the population – yet CAMHS only receives 6.4 per cent of mental health spending. The numbers don’t add up. The UK is not alone in this fact.

Katie Gibbons wrote in The Times this week about research published in the Evidence-Based Mental Health journal. “The researchers accused high-income nations of failing vulnerable children and said that they could ‘afford to do better’.

“The authors analysed data from 14 studies in 11 countries – the US, Australia, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Britain, Israel, Lithuania, Norway, South Korea and Taiwan – published between 2003 and 2020.”

The studies involved 61,545 children. The authors from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver said, “Only 44.2 per cent of children with mental disorders received any services.” The findings showed “robust services are in place for child physical health problems such as cancer, diabetes and infectious diseases in most of these countries.” The research showed “an invisible crisis in children’s mental health.”

Two families I know well have teenagers who have sought help from the UK CAMHS teams in their area. The service in both cases was superb; highly-skilled experts treated both students, who have gone on not only to survive but thrive. For those that qualify for help the service is first class, but what of the children who don’t meet the threshold for treatment?

Christmas tree twinkling, December 2020, mulled wine on the hob and after such a long time in face masks, lockdowns and fear of losing jobs – the peace seemed a chink of light in my friend Josie’s house. Only for it to be shattered hours later when her 15-year-old daughter found her sister trying to kill herself.

No warning, no run up, ambulance called. The elder daughter is 18. Maisy (not her real name) was admitted to hospital. Neither of her parents was allowed to accompany her and she was released next morning at 7am. One phone call to follow up and that was the end of the mental health support. Gareth Southgate did a better job of supporting his footballers than the mental health team did with a suicidal teenager. The suicidal teenager had undiagnosed autism.

Another friend, Katie, has a 14-year-old daughter Bella, who went into a meltdown over the Government’s communication of how she would gain her GCSEs. Was she taking them? If her teachers were assessing, would she gain the grades needed to gain a college place?

Poor communication from the Government meant teachers and schools hadn’t got a clue what was happening. Bella’s anxiety and fear became more serious as she considered the move from school to a new sixth form. Bella was self harming, wasn’t sleeping and she refused to leave her room. Katie listened to her daughter and contacted school to ask for help. Bella was refused help by CAMHS; she didn’t qualify as she wasn’t trying to take her own life.

Katie took her daughter’s concerns seriously and found a private counsellor and clinician. Bella was diagnosed with autism and, through the help of professionals and her family, she is now doing well. Katie says she was able to get Bella help because they used the money that would have been spent on a holiday, but what about the families in identical circumstances who can’t afford to pay?

Prior to the pandemic I visited a primary school where I led an assembly on democracy. I met the super-efficient head teacher before my talk. Having completed hundreds of school visits over the years – as a director of a learning board trust – I can spot a well-run school at 20 paces.

This one was all singing, all dancing with a buzz of learning and a joy to be in. I asked the Head my killer question. ‘What would you like the Government to do differently to most improve the lives of your students?’ Her reply was instant: fund CAMHS properly.

The previous week one of her students had been self harming with a compass. Because the girl hadn’t broken the skin, she didn’t qualify for CAMHS help. The issue stemmed from the girl’s struggle with undiagnosed dyslexia. Her parents had to pay privately for a professional counsellor.

This began a research project for me. I found three charities that could help schools with trained children’s counsellors and funding. The charities have partnered with churches and faith groups to provide money and resources. I communicated this information to schools and political leaders at a local council.

I believe in personal responsibility, I’m a Conservative and I believe in resourcing all organisations/charities to solve problems. But here’s the crux of the matter – currently CAMHS doesn’t have enough resources to help children in crisis who are not suicidal (and it doesn’t have the money for preventative work) and that’s just not good enough.

It makes sense to invest in mental health for young people because they are valuable, our country’s future and the problems won’t go away. Indeed, the things they are struggling with will be carried into their adult life. One in three adult mental health conditions relate directly to adverse childhood experiences and the NHS will continue to need to give individuals care in adulthood, which involves cost.

If we want to save money, let’s treat the patients while they are children. It makes so much sense to invest in CAMHS so it can offer a broader service including preventative care. Part of the children’s mental health service should include identifying autism in under 18s (and as girls are often failed to be helped, targeting identifying girls.). 50 per cent of the clinical commissioning groups couldn’t give an account of the additional money the Government gave them from 2015-2020 and how it was spent. Greater accountability is required.

The Simon Fraser University in Vancouver researchers concluded governments would “need to substantially increase the spending on children’s mental health budgets.” This is particularly urgent given documented increases in children’s mental health needs since Covid-19.”

Here’s my call to action: identify dyslexia and autism more accurately and earlier to produce better outcomes, and increase the budget for CAHMS – so that services are proportional to the percentage of children in the total population. Both of these will provide a better service to our children and cost the country less money in the long term.

(Names have been changed to protect identities).

Leading Conservative councils are withdrawing their support for Stonewall

12 Jul

In recent weeks I have been undertaking extensive investigations into the funding for Stonewall from local authorities. This has been done via Freedom of Information requests and via contact with council leaders and other councillors. Last week I reported that Surrey County Council had decided to continue with funding. I suggested that the decision was a serious mistake for various reasons. One is “value for money” – sending Council Taxpayers money to political lobbying groups is unjustified, regardless of the particular causes they espouse. Also freedom of conscience. Council staff should not be sent on “training” sessions to be told what to think. Provided they carry out their work to a high professional standard, their personal views on political and social issues are their own affair. Finally, Stonewall has become a highly controversial outfit. From its beginnings in championing equal rights for gay people, it has adopted an extremist agenda that is hostile to free speech, damages the mental health of children, and undermines women’s rights. Stonewall declares that ‘trans women are women’ despite the phrase’s potential to ride roughshod over elementary science, established language, and women’s rights to single sex spaces and services.

The good news is that Surrey County Council is very much the exception. The great majority of councils have not given money to Stonewall in recent years. Of those that have, many indicated that they would not be doing so again. Conservative councils withdrawing backing include Conwy, Derbyshire, Hampshire, Nottinghamshire, Northumberland, and Wiltshire.

Some Labour councils (or Labour-led councils) have also ceased their funding. These include Blackpool, Cheshire East, Hounslow, Islington, Merton, Redbridge, Southend and Warrington.

The following councils are currently still funding Stonewall and have not given any clear indication they will stop doing so:

  • Anglesey
  • Argyll and Bute
  • Barking and Dagenham
  • Brent Council
  • Bridgend
  • Brighton and Hove
  • Calderdale
  • Camden Council
  • Cardiff
  • Ceredigion
  • Dorset
  • East Ayrshire
  • Fife
  • Glasgow
  • Gloucestershire
  • Greenwich
  • Greater London Authority
  • Gwynedd
  • Hackney
  • Haringey
  • Kirklees
  • Lambeth
  • Leeds
  • Leicester
  • Leicestershire
  • Midlothian
  • North Lincolnshire
  • Nottingham
  • Oxfordshire
  • Portsmouth
  • Rhondda-Cynon-Taf
  • Slough
  • Southwark
  • Stirling
  • Stockport
  • Sandwell
  • Sunderland
  • Surrey
  • Telford and Wrekin
  • Torfaen
  • Waltham Forest
  • Westminster.

Typically the sum involved is £3,000 a year for membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme. Some have paid for extra, for example, additional training sessions on top of this.

Though I have included Slough Borough Council, there must be some doubt about that particular revenue stream. The Council has issued a Section 114 notice which restricts its spending to essential services.

Among those Conservative councils on the list, some have indicated that the issue is under review. The message from Gloucestershire is:

“We are taking the opportunity to raise questions with them”.  

Westminister Council states:

“We are reviewing all of our memberships to ensure value for money”.

Cllr Rob Waltham, the leader of North Lincolnshire Council, tells me:

“We have over the past few years sought to improve the councils standing and position on LGBT+ issues. It was well established back then that Stonewall were the  leading body for accreditation on such matters.  Clearly recent events and our progressive approach as an organisation has provided us an opportunity to review and think if this relationship is best suited to deliver our aims. I have triggered that review and will happily report back once it is completed.”

Dorset Council has also put the matter “under review”. But what was especially weak in this case was that elected councillors responded that it was not a matter for them and was for their officials to decide.

I have also made enquiries about police constabularies. Most have not provided recent funding. Greater Manchester Police has, but has stopped doing so. Police forces still providing funding are:

  • Derbyshire
  • Durham
  • Dyfed-Powys
  • Gwent
  • Hertfordshire
  • Humberside.

Again the spending is usually £3,000 a year each.

Jonathan Evison, the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Humberside, arranged for his assistant to write to me to say that it was an “operational” matter for the Chief Constable. This seems to me to stretch the definition of operational policing to an absurd degree. The PCC is supposed to be responsible for setting the policies, priorities, and the budget. If they are abdicating responsibility on a decision about handing over money from the police budget to Stonewall, it is hard to see what the point is of electing a PCC is.

When it comes to the NHS Trusts there is not even the potential of democratic accountability – though some local councillors may sit on the board of governors as appointees. Some of these Trusts give funds to Stonewall, most do not. It really seems to depend on the ideological whims of the senior officials. Those that have withdrawn funding include the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, the Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, the Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust, the Bristol, North Somerset & South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group and the Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group. The following are presently due to continue making payments –  though the Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust did add it was “under review”:

  • Aneurin Bevan University Health Board
  • Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust
  • Cardiff and Vale University Local Health Board
  • Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust
  • Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust
  • Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
  • Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust
  • Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust
  • Hywel Dda University Health Board
  • Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group
  • Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust
  • Midlands Partnership Foundation Trust
  • Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust
  • North East London NHS Foundation Trust
  • North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust
  • Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust
  • Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust
  • Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust
  • The Royal Orthopaedic NHS Foundation Trust
  • Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Solent NHS Trust
  • South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust
  • Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust
  • Swansea Bay University Health Board
  • University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospitals Birmingham
  • West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust
  • Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust

While I am encouraged that the overall trend is for payments to be ended or reviewed, it does seem extraordinary that any payment of public funds to Stonewall should remain legal. Public sector bodies should not make payments from taxpayer funds to lobbying organisations, who in turn use that funding to lobby public sector bodies.  The rules on this should be tightened.

Jackie Doyle-Price and Miriam Cates: The trans debate. Women are standing up for their rights, not declaring a culture war

10 Jul

Jackie Doyle-Price is a former Health Minister, and is MP for Thurrock. Miriam Cates is MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge.

This week, Frank Luntz, the U.S pollster, said that “The problem with woke and with cancel culture is that it is never done. The conflict and divisions never end,” warning that “this is not what the people of the UK want – but it’s coming anyway.” In a report for the Centre for Policy Studies, Dr Luntz states that woke culture is now the biggest dividing line amongst voters.

His research into UK voter attitudes found that ‘wokeism’ is now a top three priority for the British public, and that the divisions between the ‘woke’ and the ‘non-woke’ are greater than those between north and south, urban and rural, women and men, and even young versus old.

Into this new battleground has ridden the Prime Minister’s special envoy for LGBT Rights, Lord Herbert . The former MP for Arundel said last weekend: “I wouldn’t like to see the government in any way take a side on what some are seeing as a culture war on these issues”.

But he then did exactly that by praising the work of Stonewall, and suggesting that “it would really help to change the debate in this country if we had more trans people in leading positions in our national life here” – in particular a “transgender Member of Parliament”.

The more than 800 comments below a subsequent Times article leave little doubt that the general public have very definite views on the desirable qualities of parliamentary candidates. And that women in particular are increasingly concerned about the erosion of rights and language in this particular arena.

As the judge in last week’s High Court judicial review over the inclusion of transwomen in the women’s prison estate made clear, we are now at a point where there is a direct collision of rights: those hard-won sex based rights and protections for women and girls, and the rights of a small group of people who feel that their gender identity differs from their sex.

Implying that this is a “culture war” is to debase what is a valid fightback by women against the erosion of our rights, our descriptive language and our spaces. An aggressive agenda is currently being pursued by a number of organisations – including Stonewall – resulting in legitimate concerns amongst parents, doctors, psychologists, athletes, teachers and women’s groups as well as the wider public.

Talk of culture wars does not help to encourage moderate and sensible debate, nor the search for solutions that respect and protect the rights of both groups.

We have all seen the rifts that formed across our four nations following the EU Referendum in 2016, and the vast majority of people despair of this increasing polarisation, and wish to live in a society where we are united by our common goals and aspirations, not divided by identity politics. A Cassandra, in the form of Dr Luntz, has predicted the US-style trajectory on which we are currently plotted, and from which we need to start to steer a new course.

Tolerance, a virtue for which the British have enormous capacity, is becoming the exception rather than the rule. People are bewildered as to where the new diktats are coming from. NHS leaflets talk of ‘cervix havers’ and ‘chest feeders’, Government policy documents on menstrual products in schools’ reference ‘learners’ instead of ‘girls’, and the House of Lords had, only recently, to fight for the inclusion of the word ‘mother’ in the Ministerial & other Maternity Allowances Bill. Our own amendments to this Bill in the Commons’ stages, to ensure the word ‘woman’ was included, were not accepted.

Perfectly legitimate and temperate comments on social media by celebrities can result in outcry and calls for ‘cancellation’; ‘misgendering’ and stating biological facts can lead to the law courts; academics and people in other ‘woke-heavy’ industries feel silenced and afraid to speak out.

How can it be right when ordinary people find themselves accused of ‘bigotry’ for expressing mainstream opinion? This is not a healthy development: all ideas must be open to robust debate and scrutiny, otherwise one must doubt the very democracy on which our society is based.

And let us not forget that our Parliament is still far from representative of our population – 51 per cent of the UK are female while women make up a mere 34 per cent of members in the House of Commons (an all-time high), and 28 per cent of the Upper Chamber.

Within the Conservative Party, women make up only 24 per cent of our MPs. It is barely 100 years since women were even allowed to vote or stand for election – and less than 65 years since women were allowed to sit in the House of Lords.

But, as Pink News proclaimed in December 2019, the UK Parliament is “the gayest in the world” – with no less than 57 openly LGBTQ members, and 8.8 per cent of members in the Commons, including 11 women and 25 Conservatives. It could be said that LGBTQ representation is positively thriving.

We would like to invite Lord Herbert to engage with those whose views differ from his own; to meet some of the women’s groups who are concerned about the rights of women prisoners or victims of domestic violence; to listen to the voices of parents who are increasingly concerned about the push to ‘affirm’ questioning children and steer them down a pathway of lifelong medical interventions; to hear from those in the gay and, particularly, lesbian community whose same-sex attractions are being called into question; and to consider the views of sportswomen who have concerns over safety and fairness.

He will find that there is no battle against LGBTQ individuals, nobody wishes to deprive anyone of their rights, but that, as can be seen by the huge exodus of women from other political parties that have not stood up for the protection of the sex-based rights of women and girls, the time has come for us in the Conservative Party to stop with the entreaties to #BeKind – and start to be sensible in finding a solution that does not mean expecting women to keep quiet, move over and make space.

Why is Surrey County Council still funding Stonewall?

5 Jul

I have been investigating which councils have been funding the controversial campaign group Stonewall and, if so, whether they intend to continue doing so. I will present a full account in due course. It is taking some time to obtain definitive responses – some councils have been, er, stonewalling.

Liz Truss, who, as well as being the International Trade Secretary is also the Women and Equalities Minister, has made her view clear that Government Departments should not be providing funding.

From the Freedom of Information responses I have been sent so far, the evidence is that the majority of local authorities have sent no money to Stonewall in recent years. Of those that have, several have decided to end the arrangement or have it under review. Those that have indicated they will continue funding tend to be Labour councils. But there has been a notable exception. Surrey County Council, which has a solid Conservative majority, informs me that it will be paying £3,000 to Stonewall in the current financial year.

Cllr Tim Oliver, the council leader, says:

“Earlier this year, Surrey County Council joined the Stonewall Champion programme, and the money identified in the FOI response paid for membership of the programme and the benefits associated with that membership. The Council’s decision to engage with the programme was based on the value of the tools and the access to advice and expertise that this membership provides. This decision was taken in the context of the work the authority is now doing to create a step change in its approach to being a fairer, more inclusive organisation as set out in the Council’s EDI strategy, which was approved in November 2020.”  

I believe the decision is misguided for various reasons.

First of all, it is an improper use of Council Taxpayers’ money to be sent to political campaigning bodies, regardless of whether one might happen to agree or disagree with the views of such a body. That is not only poor value for money but a distortion of the democratic process. The rules for local authority already state:

“Local authorities should not incur any expenditure in retaining the services of lobbyists for the purpose of the publication of any material designed to influence public officials, Members of Parliament, political parties or the Government to take a particular view on any issue”

It would be welcome if these rules were tightened and applied more stringently.

Secondly, the staff of a council should be entitled to their own opinions. Certainly, there should be a general professional requirement to treat each other and members of the public with courtesy and without discrimination. But it should be irrelevant which party they vote for, or which church they attend, or their views on sexual morality. They just need to be good at filling potholes, or emptying dustbins, or cutting grass, or managing libraries, or caring for the elderly, or whatever their job happens to be. Of course, they need to accept the policies decided by the elected councillors. This is quite different to sending staff off to a Conference to be told what to think – or, still worse, punishing them for uttering dissent. Imagine if a Conservative council, at great expense, packed its staff off to a Legatum Institute conference extolling the merits of free enterprise, or a Migration Watch seminar on the strain immigration was imposing on public services, or Right To Life UK on how abortion constituted the murder of unborn children. There would be great indignation and rightly so.

Thirdly, in the particular case of Stonewall, such funding is especially ill-judged. Founded in 1989 – by Matthew Parris among others – it had the worthy aim of a society where homosexuals had equal rights with heterosexuals. Yet it has mutated into becoming an extreme and pernicious outfit that threatens freedom of speech, undermines protections for women, and is a danger to the mental health of children.

A recent leader in The Times stated:

“Stonewall’s thinly-disguised threats of ostracism have nothing to do with the ethos of serving the public, treating employees well, or promoting the welfare of gays, bisexuals and transgender people. It is odious to suppose that merely by querying the organisation’s objectives, critics are somehow guilty of “transphobic” prejudice. Those who have fallen foul of Stonewall’s edicts are insisting that a culture of open dissent is healthy and that one of enforced contrition is a hallmark of totalitarianism. Stonewall has long since lost its way as a campaigning organisation. Public and private sectors employers should withhold all cooperation with its demands for orthodoxy and have nothing to do with it.”

The zealotry on transgenderism is such to include demands that “trans-exclusionary” practices should be prohibited. Stonewall wants the law changed to end protection for single sex spaces. So biological men who “identify” as women could use women’s lavatories, demand to be sent to women’s prisons and women’s refuges, and compete in women’s sports. Especially damaging is Stonewall’s work in schools – primary and secondary – providing “toolkits” for teachers that introduce children as young as four to the concept of being ‘trans’, and say they should encourage pupils to question the gender identity that has been “assigned” to them at birth.

Those who challenge any of this face being labelled “transphobic” and may even face losing their jobs. In a way, to say free speech is threatened is to understate the matter. There is forced speech. There is a requirement for people to state things they believe to false. For example, if at a girls’ school, one of the pupils decides to identify as a boy, then a teacher can get into trouble for refusing to use the “correct pronouns”.

I would urge any local authority sending money to Stonewall to desist. But I am especially dismayed that any Conservative council should regard this as a right and proper way to dispense with the money of their Council Taxpayers.

Roger Gough: The number of asylum seeking children in Kent has forced us to threaten the Government with legal action

21 Jun

Cllr Roger Gough is the Leader of Kent County Council

Asylum seekers arriving on Kent’s shores. A council unable to meet its statutory duties. The same, Conservative council reportedly considering legal action against the government.

What is going on?

It starts with geography. As the closest and most direct link to the continent, Kent has consistently experienced large-scale arrivals of asylum seekers since around the turn of the millennium. In the last eighteen months, truck and train routes – which often meant asylum seekers making their claims elsewhere in the country – have been closed off or much reduced. It is small boat crossings through the short straits between France and the Kent coast, much more rarely seen before 2020, which have become the predominant route into the UK.

Most of those who arrive on Kent’s shores are dispersed across the country, but unaccompanied under 18s – Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) – come into the care of Kent County Council (KCC) under the Children Act.

In 2015, 2020, and now again in 2021, UASC have arrived in especially large numbers. The Government’s National Transfer Scheme (NTS – of which more later) Protocol stipulates that no council should have more UASC in its care than 0.07 per cent of its child population. For Kent, that equates to 231 UASC. The current number in KCC’s care is 429. So far this year, over 300 have arrived and come into our care, up substantially on the same time last year.

Whatever the arguments about immigration in its various forms, KCC has no role in decision-making about it. Our role is to discharge our duties to those who come into our care, something that we have sought to do humanely and efficiently over many years, and we take pride in that record.

What starts as an immigration issue, rapidly becomes caught up in children’s services legislation. In 2018, for example, councils’ obligations to Care Leavers (young people over the age of 18 who have been in council care) were extended from the age of 21 to 25. This was a policy clearly not designed with UASC in mind but in Kent we have almost 1,100 Care Leavers of UASC background – a majority of those who use that service.

Last year’s increase in Government funding rates addressed the immediate burden on the Kent Council Taxpayer; however, this is not now an argument about money.

What this is about is the delivery of safe and effective services, not only to those of asylum-seeking backgrounds, but to all the young people in our care. With large-scale UASC arrivals, social worker caseloads rise to critical levels and placements have increasingly to be made outside the county, with safeguarding and supervision inevitably more challenging as social workers try to cover an ever more geographically disparate group of young people.

To put it another way, forget for a moment that the 115 young people who came into KCC’s care in May were asylum seekers. What council could take over 100 adolescents into its care each month for months on end without its services being affected?

And to what degree should any council, even one of the biggest in the country, shoulder the effects of what is a national and international issue?

That principle was recognised after the first of our recent crises in 2015. The Immigration Act 2016 established the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) with the aim of ensuring that councils across the country shared in responsibility for UASC. After the experience of Kent in 2015, the mood among policymakers, both national and local, was: never again.

Except that, by 2020, here we were again. Despite the Immigration Act giving the Home Secretary power to require, if necessary, local authorities to take UASC (‘mandation’), the Government disregarded Kent’s objections for a voluntary scheme. Within two years, placements under the voluntary NTS had first slowed and then stopped altogether.

Then, in a few short months in the spring and summer of 2020, hundreds of UASC arrived in Kent. By mid-August, its services overwhelmed, KCC reluctantly had to suspend its statutory duties and cease taking UASC into our care. This continued until, with numbers reduced, it was possible to resume in early December.

After this, the Home Office, working with us and with other local authorities, successfully placed hundreds of UASC across the country. Around half of the children’s services authorities in the country have accepted at least some UASC from Kent. However, half have not and by the early months of this year, the numbers being placed were once more slowing – and were rapidly overtaken by the big upswing in arrivals from the spring. And so, last Monday, for the second time in just under a year, Kent County Council once more suspended taking UASC into its care. Here we are again. Again.

The Government conducted a review and consultation on the NTS last autumn and revealed its proposals earlier this month. It proposes a regional rota system and has added to financial support to encourage local authorities to take part. But it is – still – a voluntary scheme.

The issue of these dangerous cross-channel journeys must itself be addressed, and that is rightly a government priority. But in any case I believe that we will only break this cycle of crises when there is a robust NTS sustainable over the long term. There is nothing in the experience of the last five years that suggests that a voluntary scheme can deliver this. KCC has twice had to suspend delivery of its legal responsibilities because its service was overwhelmed.

In our view, this could have been prevented by the use of provisions already on the statute book that have not been put into effect, and are still not set to do so. That is the basis of our differences with government, and of the Letter Before Claim that we presented to the Home Office earlier this month.

We have worked closely with the Government over the last year, and in some areas we have made progress. I appreciate the serious engagement of Ministers – especially Chris Philp, the Immigration Compliance Minister – in this. But in Kent, as in other areas with ports of entry, we need a resolution that will stick and that will last. We don’t yet have it.

Rehman Chisti: A staggering 180,000 people go missing each year, and the recovery must help them

25 May

Rehman Chishti MP is the Member of Parliament for Gillingham and Rainham and Chair of the APPG on Missing Children and Adults, as well as a former Member of the Home Affairs Select Committee (2017-2019).

As we look to build back better following Covid-19, our focus must shift and widen to cover issues that have until now not been properly addressed.

Before the pandemic, a staggering 180,000 people went missing from their families and friends every year – many of them repeatedly.

With the pandemic increasing the number of people dealing with issues around mental health, facing serious financial challenges, or suffering from domestic abuse, the scale of the issue is likely to increase still further in the coming months and years.

I was personally absolutely astounded by this figure when I was preparing to ask the Secretary of State for Health a Question on the Government’s missing people and mental health strategy following the case of one of my constituents going missing in August 2020.

The national definition of a missing person is “anyone whose whereabouts cannot be established and where the circumstances are out of character or the context suggests the person may be subject of crime or risk of harm to themselves or another”. As the Chair of the APPG on Missing People I welcomed the Government’s announcements in the Queen’s Speech to bring forward measures on mental health, the commitment to ensure children have the best possible start in life, and the promise to do more to address sexual exploitation and violence against women and girls.

However, I believe these measures must only be the first step on the road to a joined-up strategy to tackle the issue of missing people, which affects all 650 constituencies from around the United Kingdom.

Challenge 1: Many people go missing more than once

For too many people, going missing is not a one-time occurrence: the 180,000 people who are reported missing every year actually make up more than 350,000 separate missing incidents. This means that thousands of children and adults are going missing more than once, some many more times.

People going missing repeatedly means that we are not effectively safeguarding them. Going missing is a warning sign that something is wrong in a person’s life. They may be being exploited, escaping harm, experiencing mental health crisis, or facing other significant risks. Some will be seriously harmed while away.

Every time someone goes missing there is an opportunity for intervention. We should be providing help to address underlying issues and opportunities for escalated support when necessary.

Challenge 2: Looked after children are more at risk

One group is at risk of going missing more than almost any other. One in ten children looked after in the care system will go missing, compared to one in 200 generally. In 2019-20 over 12,000 looked after children were reported missing. They are also more likely to go missing repeatedly, on average each child will go missing more than six times.

Evidence suggests that looked after children can be at increased risk of many of the harms known to be linked with going missing.

We must do better for these young people. Providing safe and supportive homes, with appropriate care in place to meet the needs of their individual circumstances. All agencies involved – carers, residential homes, social workers, police officers, schools and many others – should be focussed on building positive relationships and preventing harm.

Challenge 3: Adults with mental health issues are disproportionately likely to go missing

Amongst adults, too, there are certain factors that make it far more likely that someone will go missing: up to 80 per cent of missing adults will be experiencing severe mental health issues when they go missing. Yet the issue is often overlooked in national and local policies and action plans regarding mental health.

With the Covid-19 pandemic having a further severe negative impact on the nation’s mental health, with increased isolation and decreased access to support, this is likely to become a still more urgent problem in the coming months and years.

Challenge 4: Missing children are at risk of sexual and criminal exploitation

Children going missing can be a serious warning sign that they are being groomed, or exploited, including by criminal groups. With thousands of children across the UK being victimised in this way, this is a problem that needs to be recognised and faced urgently.

We now know that a shocking number of children are being exploited criminally by criminal groups to deliver drugs across the country in ‘County Lines’. With many children less visible to services dedicated to identifying and helping them during the Covid-19 pandemic, these problems have not diminished.

Instead, exploitation has often only temporarily shifted from travel (county lines) to taking place locally or over the internet.

Challenge 5: Long-term missing people

The last challenge comes from perhaps the most heart-rending fact of all: not all missing people come back. The data shows that over 5,000 people are currently considered to be ‘long-term missing’ in the UK, meaning they have been missing for over a year. Over 5,000 families are left in limbo, waiting to hear what may have happened to their missing loved one.

This is an unimaginable situation that no one would wish to be left in. Every missing episode should be a priority for all of us, from day one and for as long as it takes until they are found.

What can be done to tackle these challenges? There are three distinct opportunities for change that the Government, I believe, should look into at the earliest possible opportunity.

Recommendation 1: New Missing Children and Adults Strategy

First and foremost, what is needed is an overarching plan across Government, spanning across departments, to address the issue of missing children and adults.

The reasons why people go missing are complex, the harm that they may experience while away is varied and the support that people will need is unique to their individual circumstances. Missing people truly is an intersecting issue and requires a multi-agency response.

There are excellent examples of multi-agency working across the country, but the Government must take a strong national lead. In 2011 the Home Office published the ‘Missing Children and Adults Strategy’. Ten years later this needs to be reviewed, updated and strengthened with Cross-Government commitments to prioritising the response to missing within all the relevant agencies.

Recommendation 2: Out of area placements/care review

The second issue that must be looked at is children’s care, particularly with regards to out of area placements. With the Independent Review on Children’s Social Care having just been launched, we must not let this opportunity pass to seriously address the issue of provision and sufficiency of placements where children need them, as well as to review how decisions are made about children being placed out of area.

With 12,000 looked after children currently going missing every year, tackling this issue would go a long way towards reducing the number of children going missing and all the harm that follows from that.

Recommendation 3: The issue of missing people being built into mental health priorities

The renewed focus on mental health announced in the Queen’s Speech is very welcome, especially as I have previously strongly campaigned on this issue, including by introducing two private members’ bills to Parliament in the past. I believe that this focus must include detailed consideration of the issue of missing people.

Currently there is almost no guidance or legislation that outlines the support that should be in place for people who go missing in mental health crisis, or for those who go missing directly from mental health care settings.

By building consideration of missing people into mental health policies and practice we would be supporting early intervention in cases where going missing is an early sign of worsening mental health; right through to preventing deaths, amongst those missing people who have gone missing with the intention of taking their own life.

The issue of children and adults going missing deeply affects hundreds of thousands of people a year, across every constituency, every local authority, every city and town in the country: it devastates families, confounds communities, and causes serious harm to those who go missing themselves. The Government must do everything it can to stem this tragic phenomenon.

Elliot Colburn MP: Disabled children and families have been hit hard by Covid. Now they must get the support they need.

13 May

Elliot Colburn is MP for Carshalton and Wallington.

Disabled children and their families have disproportionately felt the sting of the pandemic and its inevitable restrictions. The strain of the crisis on the NHS and care systems, and the closure of schools multiple times, has meant that many families have seen reductions in support services and health appointments.

I want to thank the Government for the work they have done to try and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the lives of disabled children, particularly the laser-like focus of Vicky Ford, whose dedication to helping the most vulnerable children get through and recover from this pandemic I have seen first-hand.

Nevertheless, as a member of the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee, our inquiry into Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services had some very stark findings, and the Disabled Children’s Partnership (DCP) – a coalition of over 80 charities that I have been working closely with – has been surveying a demographically representative pool of over 1,200 parents of disabled children. The results have been startling.

From a report earlier in the year, the DCP estimates that over 75 per cent of parents reported delays to routine health appointments during the pandemic. These vital check-ups – such as MRI scans and Orthopaedic assessments – can help identify where important medical interventions are needed, such as physiotherapy or surgery. These interventions are often vital to help manage a child’s condition. Sadly, as these appointments have been delayed due to the strains of the pandemic, over half of parents say their child’s condition has got worse.

This is deeply concerning. Many families have been working hard for years to help their child live and manage their conditions, but much of this progress has been lost.

In my own borough, for example, I have been working with organisations like the Sutton EHCP Crisis Group, founded by parent champion Hayley Harding, to fight the severely unfair system we had in our area, with a Liberal Democrat-run Council exposed in a BBC Panorama special on special educational needs provision for their disastrous and shameful treatment of local families. This is something I have had to raise in the House a number of times, including during Prime Minister’s Questions.

Not a week goes by that a parent doesn’t come to my surgery looking for help with getting an EHCP for their child, and the pandemic has only exacerbated their struggles.

Unfortunately, this damage has not been limited to physical health. Additional research from the DCP also found that disabled children and their families are more socially isolated than the rest of the population. As has been highlighted in The Sun and Metro, many disabled children have been unable to use technologies like Zoom to speak to friends and family – meaning they have missed out on vital social connections that many of us have taken for granted.

As face-to-face support has had to be reduced due to the pandemic, parents have had to become full-time specialist teachers and carers during the pandemic, leaving little time for socialising. The DCP’s research found that 60 per cent of parents are socially isolated with 80 per cent of them qualifying for NHS psychological support in normal times, due to the levels of anxiety and possible depression they’re experiencing.

Undoubtedly, children across the country – disabled or not – have missed many opportunities for educational and social development over the past year. The Government’s response to this unprecedented situation has been admirable, with the education recovery package for children and young people totalling at £700 million. It is good to see that this package will help target disadvantaged children specifically, including the expansion of one-to-one and small group tutoring programmes.

However, I note that this package is ring-fenced for disabled children and their families. Faced with a flurry of competing demands, we need guarantees that this money will be allocated to disabled children when school leadership teams are making budgetary decisions. In addition, a large number of the services that disabled children need – e.g. speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, educational psychology and physiotherapy – are not the sole responsibility of schools, and will often be provided and funded by the local authority or health service, and are therefore out of the scope of the premium funding. The concern here is about the spending priorities of local government, which as can be seen in the case of Sutton, does not always reflect the needs of disabled children.

Likewise – on mental health – it is brilliant to see the Government taking a proactive approach in providing £79 million for millions of children and young people. But again, it is not clear that any of this funding has been specifically allocated to meet the complex needs of disabled children and families.

As we come out of lockdown and catch-up policies are implemented, the Government must ensure that those that have been hit hardest by the pandemic the support they require. We need specific, ring-fenced funding for disabled children and families – as we on the Women and Equalities committee have been calling for.

This should be a part of a holistic Covid-19 recovery plan for disabled children and families that addresses the disproportionate impact they have experienced – as disability campaigners have been pushing for through the DCP. An additional therapies plan could help children with cerebral palsy fight muscle degeneration. Extra respite care could help combat a mental health crisis in parent carers. Activities to combat social isolation could help disabled children recover vital life skills that they have fallen back on, like communicating with others.

The Conservative Party has a proud track record of supporting children. We can’t let disabled children fall out of the conversation when they need it most.

Ryan Bourne: How Government is making childcare more expensive

11 May

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Childcare is a hot topic again. Boris Johnson allegedly sought donations to finance a nanny to care for his son. In the U.S., Joe Biden plans to cap how much low and middle income families spend on childcare as a percentage of income, with the federal government covering the rest and funding pre-school for three and four year olds. All this, we are told out here Stateside, will reduce costs for parents, help child development, and facilitate mothers returning to work.

Which is funny, because we heard similar claims in the UK, where there is already up to 30 hours of government-funded care for three and four year olds, as well as subsidised care for disadvantanged two year olds. That’s in addition to Sure Start centres in places, “tax-free childcare”, support for school-based after-school care, and childcare cost relief through Universal Credit.

And yet Johnson’s worries about childcare costs sparked much hand-wringing anyway, with high prices variously described as a “devastating tax on motherhood” or evidence of long-neglected “social infrastructure.” The consensus takeaway, as ever, is that high prices necessitate yet more government support.

Come on, guys. Is anyone actually thinking in a joined-up way about the impacts of this snowballing state takeover of childcare? Subsidies don’t make something inherently cheaper. At best, they change who pays for it, while driving up prices for those ineligible for the programmes through pumping up demand. Far from the lack of state intervention being the problem, it’s obvious that government policies are driving up costs and eliminating options for parents.

A free society should produce a wide array of childcare options, with everything from parental and grandparent-provided informal care, right the way through to round-the-clock pre-school, if that is what parents want.

Yet governments have sought to professionalise and formalise the sector through heavy regulation, constraining supply, while then subsidising demand. This has brought a whole host of dissatisfaction, as well as rising market prices.

Yes, childcare is a labor-intensive, personalised service entailing the care of something parents value highly. As we become richer, we tend to spend more on higher quality services. Wealthier families, in particular, like the idea of care not just being about minding children, but as a form of early education. That sort of “quality” costs money. But present government policies push towards entrenching these preferences for everyone, stamping out cheaper options and raising out-of-pocket prices.

Looking after children need not be particularly expensive, given the reserve army of stay-at-home parents who could scale up to care for another kid. But if money is exchanged and the child is cared for in the friend’s home, the government dictates that person must apply to be a registered childminder, going through childminder registration, extensive training, Ofsted inspections and more.

These expanding supply-sapping constraints, coupled with subsidies for nurseries that crowd out childminder demand, have seen registered numbers plunge from 103,000 in the mid-1990s to less than 40,000 by the pandemic’s onset.

Restrictions on childcare supply don’t stop there, of course. Brexit has undermined the au pair childcare option, whereby a young foreigner, usually from the EU, lived in your house, obtaining free lodgings in exchange for a modest payment of £5,000 per year to learn English while providing regular childcare. Now applicants must go through the new visa route for a skilled occupation, which requires a salary of at least £20,480. This raises the cost to something comparable with a British nanny, an alternative which itself brings all the responsibilities and paperwork associated with hiring an employee.

Then there are the regulatory restrictions in the form of staff:child ratios across settings, something which the Conservatives wanted to relax early last decade, though their coalition Lib Dem partners blocked them. When such regulations bind, they have the perverse impacts of either making childcare more expensive or reducing wages for childcare workers, by reducing staff members’ revenue-earning potential. From the childcare-specific to the general, “low-skilled immigration” restrictions, minimum wage increases, and tight planning laws all raise the costs of childcare provision too.

Ofsted and governments claim childcare regulations are needed to ensure “quality” – so that carers aren’t overburdened with kids and have the right training to improve child development. But why are governments, rather than parents, the best judges of “quality” here? It seems upper class professionals are imposing their preferences for formal settings on everyone else, with this attempt to “raise quality” bringing the inevitable trade-off of higher prices and fewer affordable providers.

The demand for subsidies and government commitments to deliver “free care” is, in large part, a reaction to this. But subsidies don’t solve the underlying problem of inflated costs making provision uneconomic. Just the opposite, in fact. When governments provide “free” care, they have to cap the rates they are willing to pay, lest providers ramp up prices. Yet these effective price controls are often lower than would-be market prices, putting a big squeeze on even nurseries.

This has perverse consequences. Providers tend to cross-subsidise government-financed rates by charging more for unsubsidised families with older or younger kids. As “free” care has broadened to 30 hours per week for three and four year olds, the opportunities to price discriminate like this have fallen, further straining the viability of many nurseries.

A full 39 per cent of child-care settings said their profits fell as the 15 hours of care for three and four year olds was extended to 30 hours. The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years warned back then that providers were losing some of their best staff because they were simply unable to increase wages given the level of government payments. Others began to strip back services offered for vulnerable two-year-olds, because these children were relatively less profitable given the tighter regulations on staff-to-children ratios for that age group.

The result: more dissatisfaction. The steady descent into a highly regulated, highly subsidized model has raised market prices for those still paying out-of-pocket, seen some providers go out of business, and brought ever-rising demands for governments to step in with yet higher subsidies or even direct provision. Covid-19, of course, has plunged the sector into more disarray, with discussion of as many as a quarter of providers going under.

It’s time we unwound this costly experiment, rather than doubling down with yet more subsidies. High prices and the restricted availability of childcare is in large part a result of bad policy. Politicians must recognise that, as with housing, they have constrained the supply of childcare and then bid up demand. In doing so, they have not just made out-of-pocket childcare less affordable, but suffocated the sort of pluralism a market would provide.

Robert Buckland: More prison places, a domestic abuse bill, tougher sentences. How we’re acting on the people’s priorities.

4 May

Robert Buckland is Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Chancellor, and MP for South Swindon.

As I pound the pavements of Swindon, Birmingham and Hartlepool with fellow Conservatives, one of the key messages I hear from people is the burning need for politicians to act on their priorities.  Having been through the worst peacetime crisis in living memory, communities and families up and down our country want to share in the recovery from Covid, get those jabs as part of our world-beating vaccination programme – and get on with their lives.

The people’s priorities are our priorities, which is why, from the day that Boris Johnson became Prime Minister and asked me to be his Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, we have relentlessly focused on delivering on our justice commitments, as we roll out our pledge to put 20,000 more police officers in place. After over 20 years of direct working experience in the system as a lawyer and part-time judge, I know what has to be done in order to help rebuild public confidence.

Immediately after taking office, we took swift action to ramp up investment in prison building, with over £2.5 billion committed to build an additional 10,000 places, now increased to over £4 billion in the latest Spending Review.

We have installed dozens of new scanners in our prisons, to help combat smuggling and crime. I took decisive steps to end automatic half-way release from prison for serious violent and sexual offenders serving sentences of more than seven years, and increased the range of offences that can be referred to the Court of Appeal for being unacceptably low.

Covid brought unprecedented challenges to the justice system, but with hard work and swift decision-making, we controlled the disease in our prisons, supported our dedicated prison staff and ensured that there was no disorder or dysfunction on the estate. We kept the courts running throughout each lockdown, and were the first in the western world to resume jury trials.

We have used remote technology to run tens of thousands of hearings every week, and have created sixty new Nightingale courtrooms to help deal with the caseload. We have made our courts safer, with investment in perspex and other measures. We have recruited over 1600 extra staff to ensure that the courts run as smoothly as possible.

This is yielding results: the caseload in the Magistrates Courts is being steadily reduced, and in the Crown Court we are now seeing more cases dealt with per week than being received. In the coming year, there will be no limit as to the days the Crown Court can sit, making it clear that our priority is to get cases done so that victims and witnesses aren’t kept waiting. The court recovery plans that I approved last year are bearing fruit, and now we plan to make permanent some of the changes brought about Covid, as we build back stronger.

We did not let the Covid crisis get in the way of the work we are doing to reform justice and to carry out our manifesto pledges. We are reforming probation, with a new national probation service being launched in June, 1000 extra probation officers and a new electronic sobriety tagging programme that is being rolled out across the country.

We have plans to revitalise unpaid work schemes, with an emphasis on visibility and real benefit to local communities. Investment in mental health treatment is being increased, so that alternatives to custody are robust and more likely to work.

During the past year, we passed vital pieces of legislation that mark the beginning of our reforms. The new Sentencing Code makes the law clearer and easier to use, reducing the number of errors and appeals. Helen’s Law is part of our reform of the Parole Board, making it mandatory for the Board to take into account when considering an application for release the applicant’s failure to tell the authorities the whereabouts of their murder victim or the identities of sexually abused victims.

We passed emergency anti-terrorism legislation in the wake of the Fishmongers Hall and Streatham atrocities in order to end automatic early release for a range of terror offences and in the new Counter Terrorism Act, we have lengthened maximum sentences for serious terror offences, created longer licence supervision periods for these offenders and reformed the TPIM (Terrorist Prevention and Investigation Measures) regime to ensure that we are doing all we can to prevent these appalling crimes from happening in the first place.

After I introduced the Domestic Abuse Bill into the Commons just after the general election jointly with the Home Secretary, it has now become law. Yet again, it is the Conservatives who are leading on the protection of the victims of abuse in the home. Those who perpetrate this abuse will no longer be able to cross-examine their victims in person in our civil and family courts, and new Domestic Abuse Prevention Orders will be available to help safeguard more families from this harm.

We have also moved to clarify the law on non-fatal strangulation, so-called “rough sex” defences, revenge pornography and coercive control offences. Conservatives have never hesitated to take decisive action on crime, and our action on domestic abuse is another reflection of this determination.

The new Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill, which Labour are opposing at every step, is the next stage in our reforms. We will end automatic halfway release for even more serious violent and sexual offenders, increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from fourteen years to life imprisonment, toughen minimum sentences for house burglary, drug trafficking and knife crime and impose whole life orders for those who commit the premeditated murder of a child. We will increase the maximum that can be imposed by way of curfew hours to further strengthen community sentences too.

Victims of crime deserve a voice, which is why I have introduced a new, clearer and simpler Victims Code which enshrines the need for proper communication and support from the police, prosecution and other agencies. We are going to consult this year on a new Victims Law to further strengthen these important rights.

As we go to the polls to elect 43 Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales, the message is clear: elect a Conservative PCC who will work with a Conservative Government that is investing in criminal justice and creating a new framework that will deliver on the people’s priorities.