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Child Poverty

Volume 474: debated on Monday 31 March 2008

On Budget day, we published “Ending child poverty: everybody’s business”, reaffirming the Government’s target of halving child poverty by 2010 and eradicating it by 2020. The measures announced in the Budget will invest an additional £950 million and reduce child poverty by a further 250,000 children by 2010-11. Combined with announcements in last year’s Budget and pre-Budget report, that means an extra 500,000 children will be lifted out of poverty.

I particularly welcome the Government’s decision, announced in the Budget, to disregard child benefit for the purposes of council tax benefit and housing benefit claims from 2009. What steps will be taken next year to highlight that with all child benefit recipients?

My hon. Friend is right that this is a vital move towards making work pay, and I congratulate him on his campaigning on the issue. I believe that his early-day motion 1736 called for this last year, so he has clearly had a big influence on Government policy. It is a good thing that he has, because this measure, combined with others, means that 250,000 children will be lifted out of poverty. People will not have to apply for it—it will happen automatically—but we will ensure that they know that it, combined with other measures, means that work really does pay and that they can lift their family and children out of poverty.

As my right hon. Friend will be aware, it is also important that we have appropriate complementary as child care and early intervention policies. I understand that he will soon visit Scotland and very much hope that he will be able to visit Glasgow, where there are a number of very successful projects. Will he ensure that he clearly puts the message across to the Scottish National party Administration that they need urgently to consider their refusal to promise all vulnerable two-year-olds a place in nursery school, which had been promised by the previous Labour Administration, and that they need to do much more in prioritising child care support, which has received little attention?

That is absolutely right. I look forward to visiting Glasgow and seeing the innovative work of the Labour council. It is shocking to hear that the SNP is not committed to lifting children out of poverty. If it genuinely believes that this issue needs to be addressed, it must not cut child care but ensure that it matches our policy of having a contract out of poverty whereby the Government put in place the right support through the tax and benefits system but parents do their bit as well, as regards their responsibilities.

It was estimated 18 months ago that the Government would need to put in an extra £4.5 billion per annum if they were to have a 50:50 chance of meeting the 2010 target. The £950 million figure is welcome, but does it not mean that there is no chance of meeting the 2010 target?

No, the Government are committed to meeting the target, and the announcement in question was widely welcomed by the child poverty lobby. It means that we will be able to lift a further 1 million children out of poverty. That is an extraordinary achievement in itself, but we will continue to do everything we can to meet the 2010 target, and to eradicate poverty by 2020.

Children and young people with special educational needs are among those most obviously at risk of poverty. Of course, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) said a few moments ago from the Government Benches, early intervention is of the essence, but some people need help later on.

Given that the Department for Children, Schools and Families is committed to raising the education leaving age, what discussions has the right hon. Gentleman had with his colleagues in that Department about the importance of ensuring that continuing support is made available, not least through the Connexions service, so that those people have a good chance of escaping from poverty and ensuring that their children do not go on to suffer it?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and his work on the issue is widely recognised throughout the House. He will be glad to know that there is a joint unit working between my Department and the Department for Children, Schools and Families because we recognise that this is a two-way bargain: the Government put in place the right support through the tax and benefit system, and the education and nursery systems help people to lift themselves out of poverty and get the skills that they need to succeed in life.

We need to ensure that disabled children are helped, which is why we try to ensure that people claim disability living allowance. We also need to look at the needs of teenage mothers. We have announced a pilot to look at how we can provide them with more support, in combination with the Foyer system, to ensure that they can be lifted out of poverty as well.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the Government have done much to eradicate child poverty, there is much to be done? It is a difficult proposition. However, he now has the talents of David Freud in his Department, and I wonder whether he could carefully apply David Freud’s talents to consider a more joined-up approach to child poverty over many more years.

We are, of course, implementing David Freud’s recommendations, and my hon. Friend is right to say that he is advising the Department on exactly how to do that. We welcome anyone’s thoughts on how to abolish child poverty and we shall look to work with the child poverty lobby and anybody else on refreshing our strategy to meet the goal of taking children out of poverty by 2020.

We in my party also want to see child poverty ended by 2020, but believe this vital objective is being undermined by the Government failing fully to recognise and tackle some of the deep-seated causes of child poverty. So, do the Government agree that while poverty contributes to parental separation, single parenthood is also a major cause of poverty? A reduction in the couple penalty would be socially just, so that marriage was no longer increasingly the preserve of the middle classes, which last week’s figures from the Office for National Statistics show to be the case.

I have real respect for the hon. Gentleman, but, frankly, I find that question hypocritical enough to be almost unbearable. The Conservative party is not even—

Order. Please withdraw the term “hypocritical”. The right hon. Gentleman is referring to a Member of the House.

I withdraw. The party of the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) will not even sign up to the goal of abolishing child poverty. It has no policy to deliver on that, and it voted against the measures in the Budget. As he knows, those in his party are not committed to that goal, and that difference between what they try to say and their policies will be exposed between now and election day.