The child element of the child tax credit will rise by £65 in April; working tax credit and child benefit will rise by 1.5 per cent; tax thresholds will be frozen, providing a real-terms gain for taxpayers; and, from September, free primary school meals will start to be provided to children from lower income working families.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. May I pass on to the Government the thanks of many of my constituents for the working families tax credit—as it says on the tin, “working families”. He knows that one of the major problems that a family can face is unemployment. What more can he do to reduce the fear and possibility of families facing that hardship?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Tax credits have played a crucial role, not least in protecting families from unemployment during the downturn, because access to the tax credit system has made reduced hours, instead of job losses, more feasible for people. For example, from April to October last year, 400,000 families whose incomes have fallen have had extra help, averaging £37 per week. Alongside that, of course, we have provided substantial additional resources to Jobcentre Plus, which is why, contrary to many expectations, the number of people in work has remained much more buoyant.
Can the Minister confirm whether Energywatch is right to say that the number of families in fuel poverty, at 5.9 million, is greater than at any time in the past 10 years? Could he also tell the House whether the Government plan to meet the child poverty target that they set for 2010?
It is of course the case that we have provided substantial support to families over the past couple of years during the downturn. That is why, for example, there are so many fewer home repossessions than were expected, while unemployment is less and the crime rate has gone down rather than up. There is still more to be done on fuel poverty. On child poverty, independent estimates are that we will be about two thirds of the way towards the 2010 target, despite the obvious challenges that we have faced during the downturn, and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we have legislated for a 2020 target as well.
Many parents are unaware of the support available to them to help them pay the costs of child care if they want to go back into work or remain in work. Will my right hon. Friend liaise with colleagues to ensure that parents understand that there is a child care tax credit, that there will be more free child care places later this year and that there will be pilots for low-cost loans to help parents pay up-front child care costs, so that they can remain in work and their children can be lifted out of poverty?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Access to good quality affordable child care is crucial for enabling parents to return to work, and we will indeed make further progress as she said.