Maiden speech by The Lord Bishop of Truro – Debate on Schools: Bullying (20/06/2013)

House of Lords

House of Lords
Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Lord Bishop of Truro:

My Lords, I am honoured to be here and I thank noble Lords for their welcome. I also thank Black Rod and his staff for their marvellous help and support. I regard it as a privilege to be a Member of this House and look forward to playing my part. I thank in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for initiating this debate, and for her powerful and passionate speech. I am very grateful to be able to make my maiden speech(1) in this debate.

As Bishop of Truro I am fortunate to work across the county of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Last week I was on the Isles of Scilly visiting the Five Islands school, which is an all-through age five to 16 school. I spend a lot of my time across the diocese visiting schools and always enjoy engaging with staff and students. It is helpful for a bishop in the Church of England sometimes to be in places where the majority of people are relatively young.

As I am sure that your Lordships are aware, Cornwall is a beautiful part of the country. If this were not my maiden speech, and therefore non-controversial, I might have gone further and said that it was the most beautiful part of the country, but I will refrain. I am sure that noble Lords are also aware that it is one of the poorest parts of the country, with areas of real deprivation and facing major problems of rural isolation, low wages and, sadly, among many of the young, low aspiration. Bullying and mental health concerns can be compounded by living in rural areas.

I am delighted to say that much of my work is responding to invitations from the wider community to visit and learn more about what is happening right across the county. In this regard I am always concerned to hear of areas of life where there are real pressures. I know, sadly, that many people in the county suffer from various forms of mental illness and do not always have access to the support structures and services that they need.

As well as being the Bishop of Truro—here I declare an interest—I am chairman of the trustees of the Children’s Society. Many noble Lords will know that this is a national charity, caring for the most deprived young people across the country. I will reinforce a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. One of the key features of our work is that we listen to the voice of children and young people.

In this debate I want to make the point that it is essential that we advocate for those who are often unable to advocate for themselves. Children who are either affected by mental health conditions or are being bullied are not in a good place to have their voice heard. It is important that we find ways to do just that. As is evident from the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bullying, many children who are bullied feel isolated from their peers. This can have a profoundly damaging impact on their well-being at that time and over the rest of their lives.

There are two points that I would like to make about children who are particularly vulnerable to bullying. First, children living in poverty face a number of issues with bullying. This can be due to lacking things that their peers may have, such as not being able to go to the cinema, or to a friend’s birthday party because they cannot afford a present. I underline what the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Massey, said about understanding child poverty in terms of the children’s own understanding of what it is like to live in poverty. Children can miss out on school trips, or not have the same basic material goods that other children have. This will have an impact on a child’s sense of self-worth. They are therefore more vulnerable to bullying and socialised isolation than their peers.

If not administered correctly, things such as free school meals can serve to highlight differences between children. In many schools children on free school meals are not easily identifiable, which reduces the risks of stigma. However, I am concerned that nearly half of secondary schools do not have cashless systems, meaning that those on free school meals may be singled out. My first point is to highlight the need to listen to the voice of children in poverty and note the implications on their lives of being bullied.

My second point relates to young carers. The latest census statistics reveal that there are 166,363 young carers in England, compared to around 139,000 in 2001. This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg, as many young carers remain hidden from official sight for a host of reasons, including family loyalty, stigma or indeed bullying. As well as having the potential to suffer stigma and bullying, young carers are particularly vulnerable because their caring responsibilities can have a severe impact on their school life and long-term outcomes.

We know that one in 12 young cares is caring for more than 15 hours per week. Around one in 20 misses school because of their caring responsibilities. Young carers are more likely than the national average to be not in education, employment or training—one of the NEETs—between the ages of 16 and 19. That is why I welcome the Children’s Minister’s announcement last week that the Government will be looking at how the legislation for young carers might be changed so that rights and responsibilities are clearer to young carers and practitioners alike.

It is important that the Care Bill that covers the adults’ legislation around social care, and the Children and Families Bill, work together to better identify and support young carers and their families. Schools and teachers can play a vital role in doing this. Schools also play an important role in promoting positive attitudes towards young carers and their families to help mitigate the impact of stigma, discrimination and bullying. It is important that children who struggle in school get the support and help that they need, and this includes mental health support. I fear that the provision of mental health support and the structures in place are not sufficient for the needs of young people and children.

I also want to ask if it is right that we should allow young people to be carers, which inevitably limits their childhood and opens them to a range of potential problems, not least bullying and missing out on education. These put added strain on their mental health. I dare wonder whether society is in danger of being the bully in allowing young people to be carers. What about the rights of the children and young people themselves?

In conclusion, I welcome this debate on such an important matter. I am glad to be able to speak as a bishop and as chairman of the trustees of the Children’s Society. I am especially concerned about children living in poverty who are vulnerable to bullying and to mental health concerns and who need advocates on their behalf. Equally in need of advocates are the young carers, who again are open to being bullied. I question whether we should not take more seriously the issue of whether we can do more to allow such children and young people to have their right to a childhood. I look forward to the contributions of other Members and hearing from the Minister about the work that Government are doing to support those children who are indeed being bullied at school.

20 Jun 2013

NOTE:

(1) The initial speech made by a Member of the House of Lords is known as a maiden speech and is by tradition an occasion marked with respect by the House. Until a new Member has made their maiden speech they may not table oral questions or questions for short debate, but may table questions for written answer. A maiden speech can take place at any time after a Member has been introduced, taken the oath and signed the register. They must also have signed an undertaking to abide by the House of Lords Code of Conduct


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