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Child Poverty

Volume 604: debated on Thursday 14 January 2016

1. What assessment she has made of the effect on equality of recent changes to the Government’s definition of child poverty.

(903004)

Before I begin, may I, on behalf of the whole House, welcome the new female First Minister in Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, to her role and wish her all the very best? I am sure the whole House will also want to offer its support to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), who made his personal statement yesterday.

The Government have not changed the definition of child poverty. As the Prime Minister set out on Monday, we are committed to attacking the root causes of poverty and improving children’s life chances. In the spring, we will publish a comprehensive life chances strategy. Our proposals in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill introduce new measures on worklessness and educational attainment.

I thank the Secretary of State for her comments. Those of us on the Scottish National party Benches agree with what she said about the right hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) and the First Minister for Northern Ireland.

If we are only talking about additional measures to tackle poverty, I agree that they would be useful. However, it is clear that the Welfare Reform and Work Bill abandons the poverty reduction targets in the Child Poverty Act 2010. Given that 64% of children living in poverty are in working families, does the Minister agree with the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, the End Child Poverty Coalition, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Child Poverty Action Group and the Resolution Foundation that income assessment must be retained? Otherwise, the new measures will remove children from poverty in statistics only and not in reality. That is a cynical manoeuvre.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s last remarks. We remain absolutely committed to tackling child poverty and making sure that as many children as possible do not grow up affected by the blight by poverty. Since 2010, the number of children growing up in workless families has fallen by 480,000 to a record low. As I said, we want to tackle the root causes of poverty, and worklessness and educational attainment, both of which we are measuring, make a critical difference to whether a child grows up in poverty and continues to live in poverty throughout their life.

Since 2010 I have seen more people destitute, homeless and dependent on food banks in my constituency. Do the Government understand that changing internationally agreed definitions of poverty will seem like a cynical attempt to mask the true condition of Britain?

I also suspect that the hon. Gentleman sees more people in work and being helped into work in his constituency. As I said, we remain absolutely committed to tackling the root causes of poverty—worklessness and low educational attainment—and to making sure that children do not grow up affected by the blight of poverty. He will probably agree that an arbitrary consideration of whether somebody is over or under a financial income line by a matter of pounds does not change lives. What changes lives is tackling the issues set out by the Prime Minister in his speech on Monday.

16. The Secretary of State insists that the Government are not changing the definition of child poverty, so will they accept the findings of several respected organisations, including, most recently, the Resolution Foundation, which has indicated that, as a direct result of the summer Budget alone, between 300,000 and 600,000 children and 3.7 million and 3.9 million people on these islands will move into poverty by 2020? What discussions has she had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about the likely impact of the changes on poor children on these islands? (903021)

I gently point out to the House that there is a difference between asking a question and leading an Adjournment debate.

Some 11.8% of children live in workless households, which is down by 4.4 percentage points since 2010. If the hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the impact of Budgets on people in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, he might like to know that 176,000 women in Scotland have been taken out of income tax since 2010 because of UK Budgets. Those sorts of measures have a direct impact on children’s life chances and families’ prospects.