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Child Poverty

Volume 472: debated on Monday 18 February 2008

5. Whether his Department plans to simplify the welfare system with a view to reducing child poverty as recommended by the Scottish Affairs Committee in its report, “Child Poverty in Scotland”. (186546)

The reduction in poverty has been greater in Scotland than elsewhere, but there is undoubtedly more to do. I welcome the Scottish Affairs Committee report and we will respond to it fully in due course. We need a simpler benefits system to make it easier for people to make claims and understand their responsibilities.

The Minister will be aware that one of the ideas canvassed by the Scottish Affairs Committee, for which some enthusiasm was expressed by those giving evidence, was the equalisation of child benefit rates. What consideration is the Department giving to that idea, and when can we expect it to share its thinking with us?

All I can say at this stage is that we will respond in full to the proposals in the report, which I welcome, as I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s contribution to it. We are taking a number of steps to simplify the benefits system, including the introduction of the employment and support allowance, to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred earlier. We want a system that makes it clearer to people what they are entitled to and how they can access it. As I say, we will respond to the detailed proposals in the report in due course.

As a member of the Committee, may I say that one of the most concerning aspects that we came across was that disabled children are four times as likely to be in poverty as non-disabled children? Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that of the £34 million allocated by the Government and specifically targeted on that disadvantaged group, not one penny has reached a health board, a local authority or a social work department? Will he join me in condemning the Scottish Government for their behaviour?

I am very happy to condemn the Scottish Government. My hon. Friend raises an important point. He knows that the children and young people’s review, conducted as part of the comprehensive spending review, has a major focus on the needs of disabled children and improving their life chances. I welcome his contribution.

Will the Minister answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) but ducked by the Secretary of State on what year the Government intend to reach their target of halving child poverty in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom?

I understand that the target has been reached in Scotland. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we remain committed to making further progress and to the abolition of child poverty entirely by 2020. We have made good progress. The number of children growing up in poverty has fallen by 600,000 since 1997, it having doubled under the policies of the Conservatives.