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Children in Poverty

Volume 473: debated on Monday 17 March 2008

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the proportion of (a) disabled and (b) non-disabled children living in poverty. (194068)

I have had several discussions recently with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on a number of aspects related to child poverty, including poverty rates for disabled children. The Government are committed to our child poverty targets and improving the life chances of all children. In addition, over the next three years, a total of £340 million has been set aside by my Department specifically to improve the lives of disabled children and their families.

The Minister will know that the Opposition share the Government’s aspiration to eliminate child poverty by 2020, although I note that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions conceded only recently that the Government were unlikely to hit their target of halving it by 2010. Some 55 per cent. of families in the UK with disabled children are living in poverty. To return to part of the announcement that the Minister has just made, will she update the House on what progress has been made in improving access to child care for families with disabled children, so that they are more able to access work?

There are many reasons why the Government want to support families with disabled children. It is true that in some of those families the children are in poverty, but if the hon. Gentleman had read the excellent document that we produced last week, “Ending child poverty: everybody’s business”, he would have seen that it is not actually the presence of a disabled child that increases a family’s risk of poverty; it is the presence of a disabled adult that significantly increases that risk.

The Government want to halve child poverty by 2010 and eradicate it by 2020, and we remain absolutely committed to that. We have already reduced absolute poverty by half and we will continue to move children out of poverty through the Budget—unlike the previous Government, who were responsible for more than doubling the rates of child poverty. They made Britain the worst place for child poverty and reversed the upward trend in social mobility. We are reversing that legacy.

The right hon. Lady’s boss, the Secretary of State, has made a considerable personal investment in the plight of disabled children, but last year the number of children living in poverty after housing costs were taken into account rose by 200,000. We now have a higher proportion of children being brought up in workless households than any European country, and they stay in poverty for longer. Given the disproportionate effect on disabled children, who are twice as likely to live in poverty and twice as likely to leave school with no qualifications compared with their peers, thus reinforcing the cycle of generational underachievement, is not the Minister embarrassed by the Government’s lack of a truly joined-up approach to disabled children and poverty involving employment, education, transport, health and housing—or is this just another case of so what?

The hon. Gentleman cannot have read the document that we produced last week or have considered the measures in the Budget. Those measures—increasing the rate of child benefit, changes to the child tax credit, and disregarding child benefit—will lift a further 300,000 children out of poverty, and taken with last year’s Budget that is another 500,000. We are committed to reversing the disastrous and atrocious legacy that the Conservatives left children in this country. They said that unemployment was a price worth paying, and they cannot be trusted on the family. They say one thing, but when they have the chance they do—