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Social Exclusion

Volume 469: debated on Wednesday 12 December 2007

3. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on Government policy on families at risk of social exclusion. (173052)

Following work with eight Departments, early in the new year we will publish the second part of the families at risk review. Its starting point is that investment in families, which has seen child poverty fall by 600,000, must be backed up by better services, including those for adults. So we will work with local authorities to ensure that whether it is in relation to health, housing or criminal justice, the needs and interests of the family as a whole are better recognised.

As the Minister has mentioned, over the past 10 years we have taken 600,000 children out of poverty. However, we face major difficulties in delivering on our targets for 2010 and 2020. What more can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that we reach those targets in the time scales envisaged?

My hon. Friend rightly says that we have made important progress since 1997—taking 600,000 children out of relative poverty at a time when incomes are growing is an important achievement—but we have a lot further to go. We need to do three things. First, we need to continue to raise the incomes of people in poverty. Secondly, we must do more to encourage people in poverty to go into work—the announcements by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions are designed to do that, including for single parents. Thirdly, we need to improve services. The children’s plan, which was published yesterday, and the measures that we will take in January to help families at risk will all contribute to that. We have a strategy to carry on tackling child poverty and to build on the progress that we have made.

The lack of decent social housing for vulnerable groups and families at risk of social exclusion is a particularly poignant problem at this time of year. What will the Minister do to ensure improved co-ordination between all Departments so that we can deliver better on that problem?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the issue of substandard housing is important. I believe I am right in saying that, since 1997, 1 million children have been taken out of substandard housing through the investment that we have made. I hope that he will support our plans to build 3 million homes over the coming years. I am afraid that some councils—obviously this is not a party political point—oppose those measures. I hope that he will join us in pledging to build 3 million homes over the coming years.

Many thousands of low-income families in this country do not have cars and live in isolated communities where there is poor public transport. They have some access to financial services through post offices, but they will no longer have that access in the months to come. Will the Minister have a word with his ministerial equivalent in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, particularly in respect of tightening up the framework on closures where the post office is the only shop in the village? Such closures will plunge thousands of families into social exclusion.

The consultation on local post offices is ongoing, and I know that we subsidise those offices to the tune of some £150 million a year. The other point that my hon. Friend makes is about the quality of bus services needed to get people to where they want to go. The Local Transport Bill is so important because it will improve bus services significantly outside London.

Are not some of the families most at risk from social exclusion those who have to deal daily with the Child Support Agency and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs on tax credits? This is not a political point, but is there anything that the Minister can do to improve the bureaucratic performance, especially of HMRC, so that families that are already hard pressed financially do not also have to suffer the stress of grappling with that faceless bureaucracy week in, week out, which only adds to their many difficulties?

There is always more to be done to improve the performance of departments such as the CSA and HMRC in delivering a good service. All of us see that in our local surgeries. The CSA is being reformed, and tax credits have helped millions of families, but that is no excuse for bad administration. We need to do more to improve matters, and that is what is going to happen.