HC Deb 19 November 1998 vol 319 cc1099-100
7. Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

What measures his Department is taking to support parents of young children in disadvantaged areas. [59108]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Ms Margaret Hodge)

The Government's early education and child care policies are intended for all families with young children. However, support for family literacy and learning, homestart, and much of the funding for the national child care strategy, recognise social need. That, coupled with the sure start programme, provides a strategy for tackling the legacy of multiple deprivation.

Mr. Coaker

Does the Minister agree that we need to ensure that our anti-poverty strategies stretch across all our cities and communities, so that areas sometimes missed out of anti-poverty work benefit as well?

Will she join me in paying tribute to the work of the Greater Nottingham partnership and Gedling borough council on their parenting initiative in one of the poorest areas of my borough—namely, Netherfield?

Ms Hodge

I agree with my hon. Friend that we must address deprivation and poverty wherever they exist, and particularly pockets of deprivation in otherwise relatively affluent areas. Therefore, I am particularly pleased that we have embarked on the sure start programme. It will be an area-focused programme, but within pram-pushing distance of families, and therefore closer to the pockets of deprivation. Initiatives such as the working families tax credit and the child care tax credit will ensure an individual approach. I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Greater Nottingham partnership and Gedling borough council on their anti-poverty strategy and parenting initiative.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

I understand that one way in which the Government seek to support children in disadvantaged areas is through their education action zones. Is every private sector company involved in education action zones going ahead with the bids which have been accepted, or are some of those who indicated their support at the outset now saying that, because of the Government's ambivalence over the involvement of private sector and profit-making organisations in our education system, they may not go ahead with their support?

Ms Hodge

That is simply not true. Every education action zone has private sector involvement, and that is going from strength to strength in each education action zone. I was at lunch with the leader of one of those education action zones, who was applauding the involvement of the private sector. The Government are also grateful for that growing involvement.

Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North)

The consultation paper on family policy talked about the important role that health visitors play, and could play in the future, in supporting all parents with very young children. Given that many parents need advice between the birth of a child, when the health service is involved, and the time when a child starts school, when the education system takes over, will my hon. Friend have talks with her colleagues in the Department of Health with a view to enabling health visitors to play that vital role in future?

Ms Hodge

I congratulate my hon. Friend on becoming the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Employment. I share his view that it is important that we have a co-ordinated approach, across all the professions, to children in their early years. Health visitors have a critical role to play in that regard. That is why we see them playing a crucial role in the sure start project which we will establish in 250 areas across the country. I am involved in discussions with colleagues, such as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Public Health, to ensure that health visitors are incorporated—as are other professionals—in the work that we are doing with young children.