Section 14 of the coalition document confirms the Government’s commitment to ending child poverty in the UK. We believe that the best way to tackle this issue is to address the root causes of poverty, because it is only by doing this that we can improve outcomes for children in the most effective way. Over the next 12 months we will put in place a robust, sustainable strategy to end child poverty.
It is impossible to look at the situation of a child without looking at their family situation. To that end may I highlight the pioneering work that is being done by Save the Family in Chester and north Wales under the leadership of Edna Speed MBE? Has the Minister any plans to encourage the expansion of such pioneering family-based schemes across the country?
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the important work of Save the Family to the attention of the House. I am familiar with the project in north Wales, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has visited it. Keeping families together is important, and I will do all I can to encourage colleagues who are considering child poverty across Government to consider the work being carried out by Save the Family. Family stability is vital and I am sure it will form part of the strategy that we work on to end child poverty.
One of the root causes of child poverty is teenage pregnancy. Before he assumed office, the Secretary of State—I congratulate the team on their new positions—did important work on the links between poverty and teenage pregnancy. What talks were held last week with the Secretary of State for Education before he announced cuts to local authority education and children’s budgets, which will, among other things, undermine the future of teenage pregnancy projects?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. Teenage pregnancy is a critical part of the poverty strategy and one of the issues that will be considered in the cross-departmental Cabinet Committee on social justice which we will establish. It is important for the House to remember that, under the previous Government, not enough progress was made on that matter, but we will put that record right.
Can the Minister confirm that the decision taken in recent days not to extend entitlement to free school meals to primary school children whose parents are on working tax credit will mean 50,000 more children living in poverty than otherwise would have been? Yes or no?
We should be absolutely clear that the rules for determining eligibility for free school meals have not changed, and all pupils who currently qualify for free school meals will continue to be eligible. The issue was dear to the hon. Lady’s heart and something that she pushed forward when she was in government, and I should like to reassure her that there are pilots in place in Newham, Durham and Wolverhampton to see whether there is a robust case for extending free school meals. We feel that the extension was prematurely announced, without evidence from the pilots, so I ask her why, if she felt so strongly about the issue, she did not push it forward earlier in the 13 years of a Labour Government.