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Child Poverty

Volume 476: debated on Monday 2 June 2008

In many cases, the break-up of families can lead to lower incomes and a greater risk of children living in poverty. So, we have a strong focus on supporting lone parents into work. The number of children in poverty in lone parent families has reduced by around 200,000 children. The risk of a child in such a household being in poverty has fallen from 46 per cent. to 35 per cent.

Improvements to the Child Support Agency mean that a record £1 billion of maintenance is now flowing to children. Our new reforms of the child maintenance system will lift a further 100,000 children out of poverty.

The Department’s website continues to suggest that it sees family breakdown more as a symptom of child poverty than as a cause. If the Minister is changing that impression, that would be welcomed. Does he agree that the Department is somewhat hamstrung by playing down the impact of family breakdown? If so, can he find a way out of that trap so as to respond positively to the comments of people such as Mr. Justice Coleridge who has 37 years of experience in the family court and who said last month:

“High sounding declarations about taking children out of poverty are all well and good but where are the necessary investments in research and support for family life?”

The hon. Gentleman will know that there are many reasons why families end up in breakdown. The obligation on us is to ensure that when families encounter that, support is available. That is why, for example, one of the most important things that we can ensure when a family splits up is that the parent who continues to care for the children gets a decent income coming into the household. That is why programmes that support lone parents as they go back to work are so important. As the hon. Gentleman will know from his history of involvement with the subject, when couples separate it is crucial that maintenance flows to support the children. That is why we are making a big investment in the CSA, which is now collecting a record £1 billion of maintenance, as I have said.

Another thing that is coming in, which I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome, is the child maintenance options service whereby for the first time couples moving towards separation will have information and support provided objectively and independently, for free, to help them to deal with that. Independent support and advice, on subjects from across the range of areas for which this Department is responsible, are available to assist couples.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most insidious causes of family breakdown is mass unemployment? Will he therefore pay little regard to any Government who ever consider mass unemployment a price worth paying?

Certainly, the experience of mass unemployment and the break-up of communities led to the break-up of families. I do not think that there is any doubt about that. My hon. Friend is quite right to point out that a pro-employment policy is a pro-family policy and helps couples to stay together. He is right to point out that the policies that have seen unemployment fall dramatically, that have virtually eliminated long-term unemployment and that have restored employment in broken communities have contributed to supporting families. That is the result of policies that this Government have implemented.

Does the Minister agree that, with the odd rare exception, such as the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), to hear people on the Conservative Benches talk about the alleviation of poverty and their ideas in that regard is similar to hearing that King Herod has been appointed to a post in charge of child protection?

My hon. Friend always has his own way of putting such things. The important point, I think, is to ensure that we continue to pursue policies that support families as they face the variety of strains of modern life and try to achieve the right balance between work and family life. Through a range of policies pursued by this Department and others, we have put in place measures that back families, that support them and that help them to deal with the tensions of modern life.