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Child Poverty

Volume 511: debated on Tuesday 8 June 2010

8. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the future of Government targets to eradicate child poverty; and if he will make a statement. (925)

The coalition Government have announced that they want to see an end to child poverty in the UK by 2020. We now have 1.9 million children living in workless households in the UK. The OECD says that we have the highest proportion of children living in workless households of any OECD country—nearly 18%. That is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions have been discussing that matter. One of the early outcomes of those discussions, as I am sure Members will be aware, is the announcement of the review by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) of child poverty and life chances. We think that that will be an informative way of engaging people in the debate, and of coming up with some policy options, which we can then feed into our consideration of child poverty.

The hon. Lady will be aware that disabled children are much more likely to live in poverty and have much reduced life chances. Given that, and given her Government’s decision to abolish the child trust fund, can she tell me how many disability organisations they consulted prior to that decision, and what assessment they have made of the impact that that decision will have on thousands of disabled children throughout the country?

We are providing support for disabled children and their families. In fact, regarding the child trust fund, part of the package was the funding of 8,000 extra week-long breaks for the parents of disabled children—breaks that we know are well valued.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the main reason for the scale of child poverty in this country is that we have inherited a benefit system that punishes thrift, work and traditional families? If the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) does indeed think the unthinkable, will we, unlike the previous Government, support him?

Unlike the previous Government, we all recognise that child poverty is about much more than just money. If we are to be successful in improving children’s life chances, wherever they start their lives in this country, we need to look at a little bit more than the child tax credit; we need to look far more broadly. We need to look at issues around health and education. That is one of the matters that we will consider over the coming months. It is vital to realise that if we do not tackle the root causes of child poverty, we are very unlikely to tackle the symptoms. Of course, the ultimate way of tackling child poverty is sorting out our economy and getting people back into jobs, so that children are not in workless households in the first place.

Under the previous Conservative Government, child poverty doubled; thanks to the efforts of the Labour Government, with the minimum wage, working families tax credit and child benefit rises, 500,000 children were taken out of poverty. Today, will the Minister, whom I welcome to her new position, not just commit to tackling the targets that the Labour Government set, but support the means—the minimum wage, working families tax credit, and child benefit?

The previous Government managed to raise a number of children who were just below the poverty line just above it, without tackling the fundamental causes of why they were in that position in the first place. What is particularly depressing is that it is as if nothing has been learned from the experiment of the past 13 years. Clearly, we need to look more broadly, rather than just at giving households in poverty money. We need to help them to get back into work. It has to be wrong that in this country, the marginal tax rates for those in low-income families who are going back to work can be in the 90th percentile range. We would never dream of taxing people who are rich that much, but we tax people who are poor at those rates.