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Looked-after Children (Saving Schemes)

Volume 525: debated on Tuesday 22 March 2011

2. If he will bring forward proposals for a scheme to provide looked-after children with a savings account or trust fund funded by contributions from the Exchequer; and if he will make a statement. (47919)

In October, the Government announced that we will create a new tax-free children’s savings account to be known as the junior ISA. We expect the accounts to be available from this autumn, and will be setting out details of how they will work next week. As the hon. Lady and the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), who is my constituency neighbour, will know, Barnardo’s and Action for Children have proposed that these accounts be used to support saving for looked-after children. I know that these children face particular challenges, and I can tell the House that the Department for Education will work with others to make the necessary funding available to ensure that we can provide the support that they deserve. We will work with charities and interested parties to develop detailed proposals funded by the Government, so that junior ISAs can best support these children.

There were warm words on this last summer when the child trust funds were abolished, and there are warms words now, but will the Chancellor tell us when such a savings scheme, backed by the Government, will be introduced for looked-after children?

I have just announced the money for the scheme that the hon. Lady asked me about, and we will now engage with Barnardo’s and Action for Children. I have seen their report, “On Our Own Two Feet”, and we will provide the funding to make the scheme a reality for looked-after children.

As chairman of the all-party group on looked-after children and care leavers, I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement today. Is he aware that the proposal has widespread cross-party support? The fact that the Government have listened to all representations and taken steps to make provision for the most vulnerable children in our society is extremely welcome.

I thank my hon. Friend for those words of support. I know that he has personal experience, through the work his family have done with children in care, of the contribution that society can make to helping these children. Frankly, all Governments have struggled to provide a decent level of care for the children to whom we owe the greatest obligation. As I said, I will engage with interested Members of Parliament, particularly my constituency neighbour, the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East, and the two charities that produced the report to make this a reality and get it up and running as soon as possible.

May I remind the Chancellor that he broke his original election promise—a promise he made in the general election and ripped up on 3 January—to provide a trust fund for the poorest third of families? I welcome his announcement today, but we will look at the detail. We pushed on this issue in Committee on the abolition of the child trust fund Bill, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) has pushed outside that Committee. We welcome this announcement, but can the Chancellor say what that contribution will be and, given that this is a Department for Education issue, as he has said, whether the provision will extend to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as the trust fund originally did?

First, of course we will ensure that the scheme is available across the UK, although the exact design has to be determined with the charities. I have listened to the case made not so much by those on the Opposition Front Bench—if the right hon. Gentleman does not mind my saying so—but by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East and the two charities concerned. The sum of money involved will be around £5 million.

There is a bit of good neighbourliness breaking out on the eve of the Budget. I welcome the announcement that the Chancellor has made this afternoon. Three quarters of young people leaving care do so with no savings whatever, yet they are expected to be almost totally self-reliant. As ever, the devil will be in the detail, but I am certainly prepared to work with the charities and his Ministers to ensure that we get a scheme that is effective in giving support to care leavers.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support—we are one big happy coalition on this issue. I will ask Treasury officials to engage with him so that we get this right. We have to work in a way that is not bureaucratic, but gets money to those who really need it. Having looked at the issue, I think perhaps the best route is to work closely with the charities that know the sector best. Let us work together and make the scheme work.