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Child Poverty

Volume 481: debated on Monday 20 October 2008

7. What recent assessment he has made of the likelihood of meeting the Government’s 2010 child poverty target. (227678)

11. What recent assessment he has made of the likelihood of meeting the Government’s 2010 child poverty target. (227682)

We are determined to eradicate child poverty in this country. The Prime Minister announced in September that we will enshrine in legislation our commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020. Of course, 600,000 children have already been lifted out of relative poverty compared with 1997, and a further 500,000 will be lifted out of relative poverty as a result of policies already agreed and in the process of being implemented. We will continue to do everything we can to support low-income families with children.

On 4 October, thousands of people filled Trafalgar square to urge the Government to keep their promises on child poverty. Given that more than half the children in poverty are in working families, does the Minister agree that the sanctioning regime needs to be properly monitored to ensure that it does not just move families from out-of-work poverty to in-work poverty?

The hon. Gentleman is right to mention the end child poverty campaign. I think that about 10,000 people attended the rally at the beginning of this month, and a further 50 attended the parliamentary reception only last week. I wish to pay tribute to that coalition for the effective campaign it is mounting.

The hon. Gentleman is, of course, right that part of the solution in our commitment to eradicate child poverty is to encourage parents who are able to work to enter the work market, and then to ensure that they can progress to the good jobs that are the only sustainable way of lifting children out of poverty permanently. To that end, I am sure that he will be delighted that the three children’s centres in Kettering are already reaching more than 3,000 children. The new centres that are planned at Meadowside infants school and Rothwell Victoria will respectively reach a further 714 and 917 children in his constituency.

The Government measure relative poverty, which effectively means that the only way to reduce child poverty is to increase pensioner poverty. Would it not make sense to recalibrate the system to measure actual poverty—the ability to buy food, housing, clothing and so on—rather than relative figures that are somewhat difficult to understand?

We have set ourselves the most challenging target, recognising the importance of our work in this area. I do not agree in the slightest with the hon. Gentleman that the only way to meet our child poverty target is to increase pensioner poverty. Rather, we intend that someone will be no more likely to be in poverty simply because they are a child. It is completely unfair that people in this country should be disadvantaged due to factors entirely outside their control, and that applies to no one more than it does to children.

I welcome my hon. Friend to what I believe is her first Question Time on her new brief. I appreciate the fact that she is continuing the work on child poverty. On that subject, are the Government still on track with the changes in housing benefit and council tax benefit that will come in next year and lift many more children out of poverty?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind remarks and pay tribute to her for the long-standing reputation that she has established for herself in this field. The answer to her question is simply yes.

Does the Minister consider one of the weaknesses in the Government’s approach to be the division between three Departments—the Treasury, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Work and Pensions? Given her recent Treasury experience of problems in the tripartite regime, will she consider reforming the way in which the Government deal with child poverty?

I will put to one side the hon. Gentleman’s cheeky remarks on the tripartite regime, with which I do not agree. I simply say that it was precisely the cross-governmental importance of this issue that led to the Prime Minister establishing the child poverty unit, which reports equally to all three Departments.

I, too, welcome the hon. Lady to her post. I would like to draw her back to the question, because she was asked what assessment the Government had made on whether they would hit the 2010 child poverty target and she was careful not to answer. Given that that date is only two years away, could she give us a clear answer from the Dispatch Box as to whether the Government will or will not hit that 2010 target—yes or no?

As I said, we will do everything in our power to meet our targets that have been laid out. We have made significant progress by lifting 600,000 children out of relative poverty, and a further 500,000 are due to be lifted out of it as a result of policies that have already been announced and are in the process of being implemented. We will continue to do everything that we can to eradicate child poverty. I would be interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman shares the target, because that has not been entirely clear from what we have heard so far.