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Child Poverty

Volume 458: debated on Monday 12 March 2007

I have not had any discussions at the UN since the recent UNICEF report on child poverty. If I had, I would have confirmed that in the space of a decade the UK has gone from the worst position in the EU to the greatest improvement in child poverty levels.

The Minister has demonstrated breathtaking complacency in relation to the UNICEF report. We were placed 21st out of 21 for childhood well-being, which is bottom among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. After 10 years in power, to which the Minister has referred, surely that is the legacy of the Prime Minister. The Government have attempted to concentrate on education, but we are near the bottom of the tables for educational well-being, for childhood material well-being and for two-parent relationships for children.

I am mildly sceptical about the UNICEF report. I think that it was actually unfair to the Government. [Hon. Members: “Aw!”] Those are not my comments; they are the comments of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), who is a shadow Minister. Perhaps the hon. Member for Surrey Heath knows a little more about the subject than the hon. Gentleman, given that the report interviewed children who were born between 1985 and the early 1990s. While we still have many things to do to reduce and eradicate child poverty, we cannot be held accountable for the mistakes, misgivings, errors, poor policies and increases in child poverty that happened on his party’s watch.

In a recent submission to the Scottish Affairs Committee, the Rowntree Foundation said that while the tax credits system was lifting lone parents and children out of poverty, it was driving couples with children into poverty. Does the Minister recognise that as having some element of truth? If so, what steps will he take to review the tax credits system to ensure that couples are not being penalised in this way?

It is important that we support everyone who gets the opportunity to go into work to lift themselves and their entire family out of poverty. However, the same report supported the expansion of Sure Start, the national minimum wage, the introduction of tax credits, flexible working, and maternity and paternity leave, all of which have helped to lift children out of poverty and all of which were opposed in policy terms or investment terms by the hon. Gentleman and his party.

9. What recent assessment he has made of the level of child poverty in the UK; and if he will make a statement. (126369)

In 2004-05—the latest period for which data are available—2.4 million children were living in relative poverty in Great Britain. That represents a fall of 700,000 since 1997. As a result of our reforms to the tax and benefit system and the national minimum wage, by April 2007, in real terms, families with children will be an average £1,550 a year better off, while those in the poorest fifth will be an average £3,450 a year better off.

Save the Children claims that 55 per cent. of families with disabled children are living in poverty. It costs three times as much to look after disabled children as it does children who are not disabled. Will the Minister tell the House exactly how the Government are addressing that problem?

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier on in questions—I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman did not hear him—it is important to improve matters for disabled children as well as non-disabled children in poverty. Let me be clear to him. We know that disability costs extra; that is why we have a disability living allowance that supports families, including those with children, where there is a disability. Of course, we will ensure that as part of our child poverty strategy we take particular cognisance of the issues affecting disabled children.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the target of eradicating child poverty by 2020 is still a firm target, not an aspiration, showing that we are still committed to dealing with deprivation in all our communities?

I am delighted to reconfirm our commitment that by 2020 we will have an eradication of child poverty in this country. That stands in stark contrast to the position of the Conservatives, who initially thought that they were giving a commitment, and then decided that it was not so much a commitment as an aspiration.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman one target that the Conservatives met when they were in power—they increased the number of children who had to live in poverty. To be frank, that should bring shame to him and to his whole party.

Given the link between workless households and child poverty, and the fact that the mother of a disabled child is seven times less likely to be in work than other mothers, what specific policies will the Minister’s Department bring forward to attack that problem? In particular, will she talk to colleagues at the Department of Health about the problem of a lot of social services delivery happening in working hours, making it very difficult for parents with disabled children realistically to consider working?

The hon. Gentleman touches on a genuine problem for the parents of many disabled children: how to manage the support of their disabled child while working, as many want to do. Of course, working together is vital and I am sure that my colleagues in the Department of Health will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s question, as well as Ministers in other Departments who have connections with local authorities. We need a joined-up approach to supporting disabled children and their families. We held the Prime Minister’s strategic overview, “Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People”, to encourage Departments to work together to ensure that nobody falls through the gaps in our public service provision when we can, by joined-up working, improve the lot of disabled children and disabled people in general.

The Government’s recently released figures suggest that, when regional income is taken into account, relative child poverty in London could be more than one third higher than the current official figures based on national median income suggest. Is the Minister confident that she can tackle relative child poverty issues without examining regional variations in income? What will she do to ensure that the matter is properly considered during the current review of the Government’s child poverty strategy?

I can give the hon. Lady a commitment that we will review the matter that she identifies as part of our child poverty strategy. As I said earlier, it is a massive challenge to any Government because, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform noted, we inherited a position when Britain was at the bottom of the league for child poverty. We now have the best record of any Government in the EU on lifting children out of poverty. However, we are not complacent. We know that there is still a lot to do and we are committed to our target, unlike the hon. Lady and her party, which still perceives it only as an aspiration.