Conception to Age 2: The First 1001 Days

17th December 2015



Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): First, I declare an interest as the founder of the Early Intervention Foundation, and take this probably unique opportunity to put on record my thanks to its chief executive, Carey Oppenheim, its director of evidence, Professor Leon Feinstein, its director of policy, Donna Molloy, and all the fantastic staff there.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) may, on this unusual occasion, acknowledge the praise being heaped on her, and rightly so, from around the House.

Mr Allen: I would gladly give way to the hon. Lady if it did not break all sorts of precedents.

I come to this issue as a constituency Member of Parliament representing the fifth most deprived constituency in the United Kingdom who is learning how to resolve some of the intergenerational problems that start with the very youngest in our communities—indeed, as “The 1001 Critical Days” implies, before birth. Trying to break some of these cycles is my own personal learning curve. I share that, surprisingly but very importantly, with the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who has been on a similar journey to mine, in very different circumstances. I hope that those two strange bedfellows, he and I, have demonstrated that we must have an all-party view on this. As with the previous debate on the sexual abuse of 16 and 17-year-olds, we will make no progress unless we agree across the House, in all parties, because getting something from one Government only for it to fall under the next is no progress at all. The problems we tackle are intergenerational and long-running. They require us to invest in individuals, whether with love or with money, and take a very long-term approach. We must all unite across the House to make sure that this moves forward.

Mr Sheerman: I absolutely agree. Throughout my time in the House, there has been cross-party support on issues affecting very small children and children before they are born. The one thing that I always stipulated when I chaired the Children, Schools and Families Committee was that we should determine policy on the basis of good evidence and what works in countries such as ours.

Mr Allen: I hope that my own journey has exemplified that approach. The two reports the Prime Minister asked me to do in 2010 and 2011 were signed off, as it were, with very nice pictures of the then leaders of all the main political parties. The reports are still valid and they are still available, albeit not at all good bookshops, but if anybody who is viewing wishes to contact me, I would be very happy to share them. I hope they have been of some help and influence to the excellent “The 1001 Critical Days” campaign.

I hope that is in line with the superb work of my hon. Friend, the influential Chair of the Children, Schools and Families Committee.

<p style="margin: 0cm 0cm 12.75pt; line-height: 12.75pt; background: white;" 0px;="" font-family:="" verdana,="" arial,="" sans-serif;="" font-size:="" 12.8px;="" margin-bottom:="" 15px;="" outline:="" vertical-align:="" baseline;="" line-height:="" 16.64px;="" background-color:="" rgb(255,="" 255,="" "="">For me, early intervention is a philosophy, not a set of programmes. It is about changing the way we do business, whether as a political party, a family, a community or an individual. That philosophy is essentially about giving the nought-to-threes the social and emotional bedrock to become great people in their own right, and to be able to grow and flourish. It is about applying what we wanted for our own children to as many children as possible, not least those throughout the United Kingdom.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Allen: I will give way, but I hope my virtual time limit will be extended by Madam Deputy Speaker.

Stephen Hammond: I will be extremely brief. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about ensuring that the nought-to-threes become great people in their own right. One of the things that can help is recognition of when in the school year they were born. Does he agree that the Summer Born campaign, which wants local education authorities to properly assess children born in July and August, and the anticipated change to the code of practice, which is welcome, will help those children?

Mr Allen: That is a classic case—we referred to this earlier—of the need to rely on the evidence and the science. Let us listen to people who know about these things, rather than do something because that is the way we have always done it or because it is a reflex reaction. That is why the Early Intervention Foundation is central. Best practice needs to be collected in and propagated from one place, so that anyone who visits the website or who makes a phone call can learn from the experience of all those who have gone before them.

I agreed with so much of what the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said about how this will save us all not only a lot of grief, but a lot of money. I remember telling the Chancellor of the Exchequer that early intervention is the biggest deficit reduction programme he could possibly have. There are various views of the total amount that could be saved, but the Early Intervention Foundation puts the cost of late intervention at £17 billion a year. People are very quick to jump up and ask, “How much is this programme going to cost?”, but they are very slow to say that what we are currently doing is incredibly costly. If someone said, “I’ve got a budget for you: it’s called the late intervention budget and it’s going to cost you £17 billion a year,” there would be an uproar. People would cry, “We can’t afford that!” Of course we cannot afford it, but that is the cost of the criminal justice system having to deal with dysfunctional young people who could have had a chance earlier in life; of mental and physical ill-health; of the court system; and of educational underachievement.

We are wasting money, which we can ill afford, rather than spending a bit of money to start us off. It is received wisdom to talk about a stitch in time, and we often say that prevention is better than cure. In religious terms, we say, “Give me the boy and I’ll give you the man”. We use such phrases in our daily lives, but somehow we cannot bring them to bear on the political choices we make.

We will continue to do all this work together and to have overlapping campaigns, including with Governments of all parties. I must say that that was very difficult when my party was in government. I have to be honest and repeat that we made more progress with a Conservative Prime Minister in a coalition Government than we did with two Labour Prime Ministers.

Does devolution have anything to do with this issue? Of course it does, because if we allow people in our constituencies, boroughs or councils sensitively to develop things that they know will work, we will spend public money better, even when the early intervention grant is being abolished and austerity is striking at every local authority. At such times, we need to spend money more accurately and with more precision.

It is essential to support this 1001 days campaign. It is very important to underline that helping a child or a mum-to-be is money in the bank in terms of both the child’s development and financial prudence for us as a community and a society. Brain development was mentioned earlier. Given the plasticity of the brain, it is now absolutely without doubt—the neuroscience is incontrovertible—that if we can influence the development of a child’s brain pathways during the nought-to-three phase, we will be helping them for the rest of their life. It is absolutely essential to do so.

This is an all-party campaign, and all parties need to use the vocabulary of early intervention. One thing that I and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) did, if I may say so, was to make such vocabulary commonplace in this House. We now talk sensibly about early intervention, rather than about “ASBOs on embryos” or “hugging a hoodie”, and all the other terms of abuse bandied about, to no effect whatever, by both parties 10 years ago.

We are growing, improving and getting more mature. With the example of hard science and the example of practice—the Early Intervention Foundation has been involved in 20 local areas to prove what works—we are on the verge of breaking the philosophy out of purely children’s policy into something that we should do in every policy area of government.

I would argue that there may be an early intervention aspect to confronting international questions. Some fascinating work has been done on trauma by Suzanne Zeedyk and Robin Grille from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. What greater trauma is there for a growing child than to be involved in a civil war or appalling acts of violence? That is the very breeding ground of religious fundamentalism and terrorism.

Early intervention is a philosophy whose time is about to come. Let us make sure that late intervention as a philosophy is consigned to the dustbin of history. One of the best ways for us to do so is to continue to support early intervention, to back initiatives such as the Early Intervention Foundation and to give this motion on the 1001 most critical days a resounding cheer of support from both sides of the House as it is, I hope, approved unanimously.