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Child Poverty

Volume 587: debated on Monday 3 November 2014

3. If his Department will make an assessment of the potential effect on child poverty of a two-year freeze in benefits. (905805)

Under this Government, the number of children in relative poverty has fallen by 300,000. The Government have no plans to make any further assessment of this kind. Such an assessment would only be provided in reference to Government policy.

The End Child Poverty coalition recently found that almost half of all children in my constituency now live in poverty. Of the 2.6 million children living in poverty across the UK, two thirds rely on tax credits and in-work benefits. How does the Minister square that with the recent changes to benefits, which are going to make matters worse, and is he today redefining poverty?

I am interested in the hon. Lady’s question because in the report Alan Milburn brought out as part of his commission he recommended that we should

“supplement the existing child poverty targets with new measures to give a more rounded picture of those in poverty”,

and I agree with that. That is what we have set out to do. We took a consultation, and we are now considering that consultation and we will be bringing forward recommendations.

May I just say to the hon. Lady, however, that many of the forecasts about child poverty proved to be wrong? Child poverty has actually fallen, and, interestingly, I notice that the figures for her area show that Tower Hamlets has seen the largest fall of any local authority in England, down 7.1%, and down 9.6% since 2010 for those on tax credits and below the poverty line.

I am sure that when I voted for the welfare cap I was surrounded in the Division Lobby by large numbers of Labour Members of Parliament. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one can only have an effective welfare cap, and cap the welfare bill, if benefits do not rise faster than wages?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right and he is approaching this from the logical perspective, which is that we have a responsibility to make sure that the economy is in balance, that we get the deficit down and that we are able to afford what we want to do to support the most vulnerable. What the Opposition fail to recognise time and again is that the economy that they left in a totally wrecked position has got to be sorted out; we cannot just go spending what we do not earn.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that children are also being pushed into poverty because his Department is not pursuing errant non-resident fathers vigorously enough? As he knows, my constituent Lisa Jones, a hard-working single mother, has been totally frustrated by the lackadaisical attitude of the Child Support Agency in tracking down the father, despite knowing his mother’s address, when he owes £23,000 and she has been struggling on tax credits and housing benefits to bring up a teenage boy while the father takes exotic holidays and avoids court orders. Will the right hon. Gentleman stop his weasel-worded replies to me and sort this matter out now?

I completely agree that in the right hon. Gentleman’s individual case, which I do know about and I recognise, that money should go to the parent with care. We fully agree with that and the CSA, part of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, is bearing down to try and get the details of this individual. As he knows, this case is a little complicated because the individual moves time and again before the agencies can get hold of him, but I have to say that I have already intervened by talking to them about this, and I promise the right hon. Gentleman this, and ask him to pass this on to his constituent: I personally will take direct interest in this because it is outrageous that this individual gets away with what he is doing. I have told the CMEC that it must bear down on these cases. The reforms we are bringing in will do just that, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman can reassure his constituent that we will sort this out.

There will be a further report to the House on the matter in due course. I am quite confident of that.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, in spite of what Opposition Members say, relative child poverty has fallen by 300,000 under this Government since 2010?

Yes, and it is something the Opposition do not really want to talk about. The forecast was that it would rise. In fact, it has come down. It is also important to recognise that nearly 400,000 fewer children now live in workless households and that the proportion of children on free school meals getting five good GCSEs is up from 31% under the last Government to 38% as of a year ago.