Lord John Shipley’s maiden speech

In recent weeks, LDV has been bringing its readers copies of our new MPs’ first words in the House of Commons, so that we can read what is being said and respond. You can find all of the speeches in this category with this link. Today’s guest editor Mark Valladares feels that it was only right that the same honour should be offered to new Peers, and here we bring you the words of Lord Shipley.

Lord Shipley: My Lords, it is with a great sense of privilege, tinged with a certain degree of nervousness, that I rise to make my maiden speech in this debate, particularly after so many distinguished contributions and excellent maiden speeches have been made already. I thank all the staff, all my colleagues and my sponsors for the warmth of their welcome and for their willingness to go out of their way to explain the workings of the House to me. There is much to learn. The support that I have received has been exceptional and I am deeply grateful for it.

I am a Yorkshireman by birth, although not from the town whose name I bear. I was born and brought up on the Yorkshire coast, in Whitby, but have been an adopted Geordie for the past 40 years in Newcastle upon Tyne, where I worked for many years for the Open University and where I have been a councillor for more than 30 years. I would like to concentrate on that latter connection in this debate.

Last year, Newcastle City Council was appointed as one of three beacon councils, along with Cornwall and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, in addressing child poverty. Forty per cent of Newcastle residents are in the lowest national deprivation quintile—twice the average England figure. Men in that quintile have a 10-year lower life expectancy than men in the least deprived quintile, while women have a seven-year lower life expectancy, so reducing child poverty could have a major impact later in life in terms of life expectancy.

One in three children in Newcastle lives in poverty, according to official definitions, compared to just over one in five in England as a whole, so the need for us locally to take action to mitigate child poverty has been stark. In Newcastle, we have learnt a number of things. The first is that it is important to understand the diverse needs of local communities and to empower all of our partners to go much further than just engagement.

Although child poverty is closely related to financial deprivation, deprivation of experience and of aspiration can both have a massive impact on a child’s future opportunities. Teachers have to work hard to help children in deprived neighbourhoods to reach their age-expected levels of attainment. Imagine, for example, the hurdles that children have to get over in comprehension exercises when what is being described bears no relationship to their experience. That is why personal enrichment through education remains the key to social mobility and it is why a pupil premium proposed for children in disadvantaged areas could be so important. Educational achievement grows from raised aspiration, which in turn results from enriching the experiences of all our children.

Addressing child poverty is not just about the level of benefits or a fairer tax system. Although both of those are crucial, neither is designed as a measure to abolish child poverty on its own. For example, measures to combat fuel poverty and making our homes more energy efficient are of great importance to families on low incomes. In Newcastle, we have had great success with our Warm Zone initiative in cutting fuel costs by more than £3 million a year.

Abolishing child poverty by 2020 is a commitment. That is why employment and skills matter so much and why we in Newcastle have decided that reducing child poverty is the not just the business of children’s services but our core business across the whole of the council and the whole of the local strategic partnership. We have introduced projects to promote intensive multi-agency support to individual families. For example, there has been the Barnardo’s young dads’ project, which engages young men in developing their skills as fathers and promotes their literacy and numeracy and their skills for work. There is family learning in schools, which gives parents the chance to learn new skills and to help their own children to learn. Parents can spend up to a day a week in school with their child.

In Newcastle, Moorside Community Primary School is one example of a school that does not allow deprivation to be an excuse for low expectation. A majority of Moorside’s pupils live in areas within the 10 per cent most deprived nationally, but the school has raised attainment and aspirations of children and has increased opportunities for parents to enter employment, education and training, which has had the effect of reducing benefit claimant rates. Key to that has been the appointment of parent link workers to enhance relationships between school and home. Through family learning at Moorside, several hundred parents have obtained accreditation from courses that they have taken, with awards being presented in front of their children, which has a big influence on raising aspirations of both child and parent. Parents are then supported to progress further through link agencies such as Newcastle Futures, which we set up in partnership with the Government to find solutions to worklessness and which has helped more than 1,000 long-term jobless people into work.

However, research by Barnardo’s has shown that, although work is often seen as the best route out of poverty, low pay can still keep families in financial poverty. That is why taking low-income families out of income tax altogether, as proposed in this Budget and future Budgets, matters so much.

In conclusion, children who grow up in poverty are less likely to attend school regularly, to stay on at school, to obtain qualifications, to go on to higher education or to aspire to well paid employment. The gap in attainment between children receiving free school meals and other children is marked. The obvious follows. Reducing the number of children who grow up in poverty will increase the number of young people with chances to succeed as adults. That success will increase the life chances of their children and in turn promote a cycle of aspiration.

I thank your Lordships once again for the warmth of your welcome and for the opportunity to participate in this debate. I greatly look forward to making further contributions to the work of the House in future.

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  • David Boothroyd 22nd Jul '10 - 10:13pm

    Either ‘John Shipley’ or ‘Lord Shipley’, but not ‘Lord John Shipley’. Unless his father is a Duke or Marquess and he has a living elder brother.

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