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Child Poverty

Volume 541: debated on Monday 5 March 2012

Across Government, we are investing in a range of programmes to tackle the drivers of child poverty. Universal credit alone will lift 350,000 children out of poverty. The previous Labour Government spent £150 billion on tax credits from 2004-2010, much of which was targeted at families with children, but despite that, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies noted recently, we are still a long way off hitting the targets. There is still much to be done.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, according to the IFS, the Government will not reach their statutory target by 2015? Equally importantly, is he aware that of the 35,000 children in Coventry and Warwickshire whose families are on the poverty line and will experience a reduction of £1,400 a year, many are disabled? Will he reconsider his position on that?

Interestingly, the IFS assumed that no changes to future policy would be made and did not account for fundamentals, such as behaviour change, or for education policies such as the early intervention work and some of the education reforms. The IFS did not consider several other policies—for example, the work with disadvantaged two-year-olds, the £180 million bursary fund, the early intervention grant and the fairness premium—which is fair enough, but we believe that they would affect its figures. We are desperately keen to eradicate child poverty, as we originally stated, and we stand by that. We did not enter power not to do that. The hon. Gentleman needs to acknowledge, however, that we also inherited a terrible deficit and huge debt problem. Those things tend to collide, but we are doing our level best—this is what universal credit does—to rectify the situation for the poorest in society.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in a country where one child in five is growing up in a household without work, the best way to tackle child poverty in the long run is to break the cycle of dependency now running, in some cases, into three generations? Many of the measures he has mentioned, including work experience schemes, literacy programmes, subsidy programmes and so on, are designed to do that.

I agree with my hon. Friend. We also inherited a system with far too much in-work poverty. Our aim is to move as many people as possible through universal credit and into work, and to ensure that, through universal credit, they are better off. That is the key point. I have also made the point, however, that the idea of “poverty plus a pound”, by which we just rotate money between people to move them slightly above a particular level before they collapse back, is a mistake and led to poverty rising on the previous Government’s watch.

A recent report by the Children’s Society indicates that there will be a sharp increase in the number of disabled children living in poverty when universal credit is introduced, as a result of the £1,400 a year reduction. All the statistics show that poverty disproportionately impacts on families with disabled children. Does the Secretary of State think that the current levels of support are too generous? If not, why do the Government continue with this very harsh proposal?

It is my belief that universal credit will hugely help people in those situations, and the transitional protection for them will also protect those who move on to a slightly different level. My main point to the hon. Lady, who I know takes this very seriously—

I beg her pardon. I say to the right hon. Lady—quite rightly so and well deserved—that we are in the business of trying to secure life change through all these groups so that they can take control of their lives. My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for disabled people is working to ensure that it is far easier than ever before for people to get into work and take control of their lives, and that is what most of the lobby wants us to do.