Lansley fights another day as Cameron backs NHS reform

The PM moves to squash speculation about the Health Secretary's future as the Lords prepare to debat

The Health and Social Care Bill has had anything but an easy ride. A year on from its introduction, the bill -- more controversial than ever -- is returning to the House of Lords.

Yesterday saw intense speculation about the future of the bill, and of its creator, Andrew Lansley. Writing in the Times (£), Rachel Sylvester quoted an anonymous Downing Street source saying that the Health Secretary should be "taken out and shot". She also discussed rumours that the former Labour health secretary, Alan Milburn, could be given a peerage and parachuted into the cabinet.

Rather provocatively, the Times (£) has followed up today with a piece by Milburn, in which he issues a stinging criticism of the bill:

The Health and Social Care Bill is a patchwork quilt of complexity, compromise and confusion. It is incapable of giving the NHS the clarity and direction it needs. It is a roadblock to meaningful reform.

The article is an edited extract of an essay Milburn has written for Reform's The Next Ten Years, published at the beginning of next month, and as such makes no reference to the current speculation. While arch-moderniser Milburn reiterates his belief in the urgency of reform, he also states that he does not "believe that the current government can or will make these changes". Perhaps he will not benefit from a cabinet reshuffle after all.

Indeed, David Cameron is reportedly keen to squash rumours of the imminent demise of Lansley and his bill. Public and professional hostility remain: 90 per cent of respondents in a British Medical Journal poll said the reform should be scrapped, while 50,000 people (including celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Jamie Oliver) have signed a petition to drop it. But it appears that rather than back-tracking, Cameron will throw his weight behind the reforms to get them on the statute book sooner rather than later.

And this might just be possible, as Liberal Democrat peers have indicated that they will end their war on the reform, saying that the changes they secured -- the bill has had more than 1,000 amendments over the last 18 months of battle -- will safeguard the NHS and regulate competition.

So it looks like full steam ahead. But Cameron has some serious work to do if he wants to get the public on board and convince voters that, after his careful work detoxifying, this is not a return to business as usual for the Tories and the NHS.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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“I felt very lonely”: addressing the untold story of isolation among young mothers

With one in five young mothers lonely “all the time”, it’s time for employers and services to step up.

“Despite having my child with me all the time, I felt very lonely,” says Laura Davies. A member of an advisory panel for the Young Women’s Trust, she had her son age 20. Now, with a new report suggesting that one in five young mums “feels lonely all the time”, she’s sharing her story.

Polling commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust has highlighted the isolation that young motherhood can bring. Of course, getting out and about the same as you did before is never easy once there’s a young child in the picture. For young mothers, however, the situation can be particularly difficult.

According to the report, over a quarter of young mothers leave the house just once a week or less, with some leaving just once a month.

Aside from all the usual challenges – like wrestling a colicky infant into their jacket, or pumping milk for the trip with one hand while making sure no-one is crawling into anything dangerous with the other – young mothers are more likely to suffer from a lack of support network, or to lack the confidence to approach mother-baby groups and other organisations designed to help. In fact, some 68 per cent of young mothers said they had felt unwelcome in a parent and toddler group.

Davies paints what research suggests is a common picture.

“Motherhood had alienated me from my past. While all my friends were off forging a future for themselves, I was under a mountain of baby clothes trying to navigate my new life. Our schedules were different and it became hard to find the time.”

“No one ever tells you that when you have a child you will feel an overwhelming sense of love that you cannot describe, but also an overwhelming sense of loneliness when you realise that your life won’t be the same again.

More than half of 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed said that they felt lonelier since becoming a mother, with more than two-thirds saying they had fewer friends than before. Yet making new friends can be hard, too, especially given the judgement young mothers can face. In fact, 73 per cent of young mothers polled said they’d experienced rudeness or unpleasant behaviour when out with their children in public.

As Davies puts it, “Trying to find mum friends when your self-confidence is at rock bottom is daunting. I found it easier to reach out for support online than meet people face to face. Knowing they couldn’t judge me on my age gave me comfort.”

While online support can help, however, loneliness can still become a problem without friends to visit or a workplace to go to. Many young mothers said they would be pleased to go back to work – and would prefer to earn money rather than rely on benefits. After all, typing some invoices, or getting back on the tills, doesn’t just mean a paycheck – it’s also a change to speak to someone old enough to understand the words “type”, “invoice” and “till”.

As Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton explains, “More support is needed for young mothers who want to work. This could include mentoring to help ease women’s move back into education or employment.”

But mothers going back to work don’t only have to grapple with childcare arrangements, time management and their own self-confidence – they also have to negotiate with employers. Although the 2003 Employment Act introduced the right for parents of young children to apply to work flexibly, there is no obligation for their employer to agree. (Even though 83 per cent of women surveyed by the Young Women’s Trust said flexible hours would help them find secure work, 26 per cent said they had had a request turned down.)

Dr Easton concludes: “The report recommends access to affordable childcare, better support for young women at job centres and advertising jobs on a flexible, part-time or job share basis by default.”

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland