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Child Poverty

Volume 567: debated on Tuesday 10 September 2013

The Government have protected vulnerable groups as far as possible while urgently taking action to tackle the record deficit we inherited. Work remains the best and the most immediate way out of poverty, and the Budget took action to support families and make the tax and welfare system simpler, including further increases in the income tax allowance to take 2.7 million people on low incomes out of tax altogether.

The chief executive of Citizens Advice, commenting on the huge rise in inquiries about food banks, said:

“The combined impact of welfare upheaval, cuts to public spending, low wages and the high cost of living are putting unbearable pressure on many households, forcing them to seek emergency help putting food on the table.”

Is the Minister concerned by this evidence, which is backed up by the recent statistic showing that 300,000 children have been pushed into absolute poverty since this Government took office?

The hon. Lady did a lot of good work with Citizens Advice before she came to this House, so I think she shares with me a genuine interest in child poverty. If that is the case, she will recognise that the existing measure for child poverty is flawed. It is based on relative incomes and it produces perverse results. For example, according to that measure, during the previous recession—Labour’s recession, the deepest in our post-war history—child poverty fell by 300,000. The hon. Lady knows that that cannot be right, so if she wants to work with me to help develop a measure that actually works, I would welcome that.

Despite the Minister’s divisive rhetoric about benefits, two thirds of all children living in poverty have one or more parents in work, not out of work. Does he not accept that his inaction on prices and wages is not just hammering those young people but hammering the rest of us as well?

Work remains the best and the most immediate way out of poverty. The hon. Gentleman will be concerned that his constituency saw a 72% rise in unemployment during Labour’s last term in office. It has now fallen under this Government. He is rightly concerned about workless households, so he should welcome the fact that the number of children living in workless households is at an all-time low—the lowest since records began in 1996.

Thirty-two per cent. of Nottingham children live in poverty compared with a national average of 20%, and we have the worst affected local authority in the east midlands. For all the Government’s warm words on early intervention, the city’s early intervention grant has been cut by £2.8 million. Is it not the case that across the country this Government’s policies are making child poverty worse?

I have taken five questions from Opposition Members so far, and not one of them has mentioned plan B; I wonder why. It is not very nice for Mr B. The best way to deal with poverty is by tackling the causes of poverty, and work remains the best way out of poverty. The hon. Lady should welcome the fact that jobs are growing at a record rate in our country, with 1.3 million jobs generated in the private sector in three years and more people employed than at any other time in our history.

By any modern measure, my childhood was one of poverty, and strictly speaking I was homeless. The route out of poverty was provided by the creation of a sound economic environment and a belief in economic optimism. Does the Minister agree that that is as pertinent today as it was 30 years ago?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. One of the many things we share in common, apart from both being west midlands MPs, is that by the official measure I was also homeless as a child. I agree with his assessment that the best way out of poverty is through work and a growing economy.

Another excellent way out of poverty is giving children from disadvantaged backgrounds the best education possible. How many children are benefiting from the £2.5 billion that has been put into the pupil premium, which will, in the long term, boost their educational chances and their chances of obtaining work?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise education as another way of tackling the causes of poverty. Thousands of children up and down the country are benefiting from the pupil premium and the further educational reforms that are taking place, not least the focus we put on apprenticeships.

Is not the real truth about child poverty the fact that median hourly pay rose by only 0.3% a year between 2003 and 2008? The only real answer for the United Kingdom economy is for it to be a high-skill, high-value-added economy. Our school reforms, and in particular our poverty-busting university technical colleges, are the answer to the problem.

The question is about fiscal policy, so a very brief reply will suffice. We are grateful to the Minister.

Despite taking action to ensure the country starts living within its means again, the Government have found money in their budget, because of their fiscal policy, to spend on schools and education, and ensure we increase skills. That includes building more university technology colleges and pledging more funding to do so.

21. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, by 2020 an additional 1.1 million children will be living in poverty, which will completely wipe out the reduction in the number of children living in poverty made under Labour. Why do the Government’s choices give tax breaks to millionaires and send more children into poverty? (900239)

I am sure the hon. Lady knows that the best way out of poverty is through increased pay and employment. I therefore do not understand why she does not welcome the fact that jobs are being created at a record rate throughout the economy, including in her constituency where I note that during Labour’s last term, youth unemployment rocketed by 120%. It is down by 14% under this Government.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the way out of poverty is to work. Does he agree that by reskilling people we can ensure that British people fill highly skilled jobs, and not rely on mass immigration to fill the skills gap?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The best way to get more British people into British jobs is to ensure they have the skills to do those jobs. That is exactly what the Government are focused on.

Families up and down the UK who are struggling with the cost of living simply will not recognise the rosy picture that the Minister is painting. Is the reality not shown in a recent report from the Child Poverty Action Group and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which states that changes brought in by this Government mean that families on low wages now have less than they need for a minimum acceptable living standard? That failure is on this Minister’s watch. Is it a record he is proud of?

It is not clear what the hon. Lady is proposing. Is she saying that she is against some of the changes we have made on welfare? Is she pledging more spending, more borrowing, and more debt? The Labour party need a policy on those issues. Our policies are clear: to deal with poverty we are focused on trying to generate even more growth. The economy has turned a corner; there is more to do but jobs are being generated in Britain at a record rate.