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House of Commons Hansard
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Children in Relative Poverty
09 January 2017
Volume 619
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7. What recent estimate his Department has made of the number of children living in relative poverty in the UK. [908061]

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There are 100,000 fewer children in relative poverty than in 2010 and 557,000 fewer children living in workless households. The forthcoming Green Paper on social justice will identify and address the root causes of poverty, building on the two statutory indicators set out in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016—namely, worklessness and educational attainment.

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I note that the Minister uses the figures for relative poverty, and I am a little surprised. We know that absolute poverty in this country has been in decline for the past 10 years, except among children. We know that 500,000 more children in this country are living in absolute poverty than was the case in 2010. What responsibility does he think this Government and the previous Government have for that?

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The Government have a responsibility to make sure that as many households as possible have work, particularly households with children. Working-age adults in non-working families are almost four times more likely to be living on a low income. The “Child Poverty Transitions” report of June 2015 found that 74% of poor children in workless families who moved into full employment exited poverty. That is what we can do, and are doing, for children who have been in poverty.

The hon. Lady neglected to say it, but there are now 500,000 fewer people living in absolute poverty than in 2010. The key point is about getting people into work. As a reasonable Opposition Member, I hope she would acknowledge that achieving historically low levels of unemployment is actually the best thing we can do for children—it is the best way to get children and the households they live in out of poverty. I am happy to tell her that, in her constituency, the claimant count is down by 47% since 2010 and the youth claimant count has fallen by 2% in the past year.

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All of us in the Chamber can learn about the merits of brevity from the right hon. Member for New Forest West, who will not disappoint me.

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However the problem presents in my surgeries, scratch the surface and, nine times out of 10, the swiftest cause of poverty is family breakdown, which will be a much harder nut to crack.

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Absolutely. That is precisely why this Government, and previously the coalition Government, have decided that having a simple income-based measure and target is not the right way. We need to look at the root causes of child poverty, and having a range of indicators and targets—one of which is on family breakdown—is the best way to make sure that we have as few children as possible living in poverty and that more and more children are able to emerge from it.

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A good new year to you, Mr Speaker.

The Secretary of State has focused so far on the value of work in tackling child poverty, but the reality is that the average working family in receipt of universal credit will be more than £1,000 a year worse off by 2020. According to the Resolution Foundation, some working parents will be more than £2,500 a year worse off. With child poverty projected to rise dramatically over the next three years, why do the Government continue to downplay the role of income poverty in determining children’s future health, job prospects and even life expectancy, in spite of all the evidence?

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I am not downplaying the role. I am talking about the underlying causes and about making sure that we take a range of measures across the board that help to eradicate child poverty. That is the only sensible way to do it. Simply focusing on individual incomes or, indeed, individual benefits does not represent the whole realistic picture. We need to be much more wide-ranging in our approach.

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The Prime Minister has been talking over the weekend about the pressures faced by people who are just getting by on low and average incomes and about our shared responsibilities to them. Those are fine sentiments, but does the Secretary of State not accept that they sound utterly hollow when the Government’s planned cuts to work allowances will slash the incomes of exactly those families who are just getting by? Does he accept that the Government have a responsibility to support parents who are working hard in average and low-paid jobs, rather than cutting their already stretched, precarious incomes?

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No. Indeed, I would point out to the hon. Lady that this Government’s introduction of the national living wage last year gave the lowest earners their biggest pay rise in 20 years—an increase of 6%. That is an example of a Government measure introduced by employers. I cannot think of a better early example of the shared society.

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What assessment have the Government made of how many more children will be pushed into poverty given the cuts to the work allowance under universal credit?

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As I have said to a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, the solution lies in a wider range of issues, and that is what we are introducing. We have the social justice Green Paper, about which I am sure we will have many discussions in this House and elsewhere. The root is making sure that as many people as possible can earn a salary and work. I am sure that the hon. Lady, like me, will welcome the fact that unemployment has come down by 53% in her constituency since 2010. That means thousands of families who are able to work and control their own lives, possibly working their way out of poverty. She ought to welcome that.

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It is a poor Government who fail to understand the value of the nation’s children. In addition to the universal credit work allowance cuts, this Government have abolished the child poverty unit and frozen social security payments, and are removing tax credits from third and subsequent children. Does the Minister think child poverty will go up or down as a result of those measures?

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I have already given the hon. Lady a number of figures relating both to adult poverty and child poverty—

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Up or down?

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Well, the fact is that since 2010 there are 100,000 fewer children in relative poverty. I would hope that the hon. Lady would welcome that and the fact that the child poverty unit is now covering a much wider range of policies and is based inside the Department for Work and Pensions.