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Childhood Well-being

Volume 457: debated on Thursday 1 March 2007

4. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the UK’s macro-economic performance on childhood well-being. (124164)

Since 1997, the Government’s commitment to macro-economic stability, to providing work for those who can do it and to giving financial support to families has reduced the number of children in workless households by 440,000, and helped lift 700,000 children out of poverty.

I am surprised that the Chancellor is not wearing a daffodil to show his sense of Britishness, given that today is St. David’s day. Does the Economic Secretary share UNICEF’s assessment that economic poverty alone is not the sole indicator of childhood well-being? What does he think needs to be done to tackle the broader social problems that affect childhood well-being in Britain today?

I agree that having strong families and sound public services are part of making sure that children get the best possible start in life. However, macro-economic instability and rising poverty make it much harder to give children that. The number of children in poverty has fallen by 700,000 since 1997. That number rose by 500,000 in the 1980-81 recession, and by 1.1 million in the recession of 1990-92. With that sort of instability, it is no wonder that child poverty doubled in the period up to 1997.

Both the minimum wage and the tax credits system have made an enormous contribution to reducing poverty across the country, yet 41 per cent. of London’s children remain in poverty. Does the Minister agree that London needs specific, comprehensive and complex cross-Government issues, measures—[Hon. Members: “Action.”]—action to meet the 2020 child poverty target? [Hon. Members: “Reading.”] Oh, you are pathetic. Will he meet me to discuss the matter and how the major regeneration initiatives in the east of the capital can help to reduce the number of children in poverty? [Interruption.]

Order. I am not singling out any hon. Member—I know that it can be daunting sometimes to ask questions on the Floor of the House—but I urge hon. Members not to read questions. Just stand and speak and ask a supplementary; it is a lot easier, believe me.

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend makes a serious point. The reality is that we have seen rising employment and falling child poverty in London, as across the rest of the country, but while London has benefited substantially, unemployment and child poverty in London are higher than in the rest of the country. It is campaigning work by her and other London MPs that can help to get child poverty rates down. One important way in which we can do that is by making sure that the Olympics bring genuine regeneration and job creation to constituencies such as West Ham. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to help take forward these issues.

Does the Minister agree that good fiscal education in schools is essential for the future well-being of our children and the avoidance of personal debt? Will he undertake to discuss this with his Cabinet colleague the Secretary of State for Education and Skills?

Good physical education and good financial education are both important. [Hon. Members: “Fiscal”.] Fiscal or physical? I am happy to answer the question whether the hon. Lady is talking about physical education, fiscal education or financial education. Whichever way, we have been improving the situation since 1997 from a low base. I am happy to talk to Ministers to ensure that we redouble our efforts.

Will my hon. Friend share with the House what the likely effect on childhood well-being would be of reintroducing the married tax allowances? It would take money away from poor children.

That relates to a more general point, which is that taking us back to instability would be bad for child poverty. We heard today that the commitment to a transferable tax allowance is not a policy; it is a value. We are also told that a commitment to border police is not a policy; it is a value. Presumably, the commitment to the abolition of inheritance tax is also a value.