The decisive action taken by this Government has significantly reversed the trend of rising child poverty. As a result of the policies introduced since 1997, we have lifted 500,000 children out of relative poverty and halved absolute poverty. Measures announced in and since Budget 2007 are expected to lift around a further 500,000 children out of poverty.
Half the children in poverty live in a family in which someone is working, yet the Government’s reliance on means-tested benefits has created a poverty trap, in which it does not pay to work or pay to work longer. What measures do the Government propose to make work pay and ensure that more children are therefore brought out of poverty?
The introduction of tax credits and the national minimum wage have, of course, been a huge success in ensuring that those families whose parents are in work are not living in poverty. Furthermore, in his pre-Budget report, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an extension of free school meals to primary school children whose parents are on working tax credits. That, too, is a significant improvement for that group of families and in relation to work incentives.
We know that the availability of part-time work is critical to achieving our child poverty targets. Does the Minister think that child poverty might now not be rising, as it unfortunately has been over the past few years, if more Government Departments had led the way by providing more part-time jobs? Is she happy that five major Departments have fewer than 10 per cent. of their staff working part time? Are the Government going to do anything about that?
The Government have already done something about that. We have introduced flexible working and the Department for Work and Pensions has led a taskforce on part-time working, which brought together people from the public, voluntary and private sectors to look at how we might increase the amount of part-time working across the whole economy.