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Child Poverty

Volume 565: debated on Monday 1 July 2013

The hon. Gentleman asks a really important question about absolute poverty. The threshold has been rebased this year under a new baseline. That changes the way it is reported. Those changes result from a reclassification and do not represent a real change in children’s circumstances. However, low-income and material deprivation is static or marginally improved.

The hon. Gentleman asks about what we are doing. There are a number of programmes through bringing in universal credit to help the poorest to some of the Work programme and the troubled families programme—I will go through more detail with him if he wants—as well as the pupil premium, and early intervention and education. There is a raft of work to try to change the lives of those likely to be on low incomes.

I know the Secretary of State to be thoughtful man, and quite a caring man as well, but is he not concerned that Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner, only as recently as last week said that the recent reforms of welfare benefit had put another 600,000 children into real poverty?

I like to think that on both sides of the House the objective is to reduce child poverty. That is our stated objective; I think it was the stated objective of the Labour Government.

I hear from a Labour Front Bencher, “It has gone up.” Actually, relative poverty has fallen by 300,000 since the start of this Parliament. Before Labour Front Benchers intervene again, I should say that while the hon. Gentleman’s question is thoughtful, their interjection is not. The reality is that throughout the past 10 years they talked about relative poverty as the measure, not absolute poverty, so they ought to be slightly careful. It has fallen under this Government.

The real point is that we are in a difficult time; there is no question about it. Just the other day, we saw that the Office for National Statistics has revised its figure on the scale of the collapse in 2009 down to 7%, which is a dramatic fall. We will drive all those programmes that I mentioned to the hon. Gentleman, and the change—we hope—to the measurement is about getting real help to real people.

Is it not the case that in the past, enormous sums were spent on moving people just over the relative poverty threshold without addressing any of the causes of poverty? Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that he will change that?

Yes. The important point to make is that from 2004 to 2010, the last Government spent £171 billion on tax credits alone, but relative poverty rose in that period, and absolute poverty was absolutely static, falling only at the end, when inflation crashed below zero because the economy crashed with it.

This multi-millionaire Secretary of State, with his stately home lifestyle, has never gone hungry in his life, but for some children in poverty, the free school dinner is the only square meal in the day. Ministers still refuse to set out their plans for the future of the free school dinner under universal credit, and there are rumours of a new cut-off for families earning more than £135 a week. Will he end the uncertainty for 168,000 families and tell us when he will set out his plans?

We have always said that we stand by the existence of free school meals, and I stand by that now. As we bring in universal credit, we will make it very clear how this will work—and work well. I do not need any lectures from the hon. Gentleman. He may accuse us, but it was not us who crashed the economy and forced lots—thousands—of people into poverty. That was a direct result of his Government’s incompetence. This Government are doing more to get people back to work, more to get them out of poverty, and more to help them through family breakdown than his Government ever did, so I do not need lectures from an empty barrel like him.