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Child Poverty: Family Indicators

Volume 638: debated on Monday 26 March 2018

4. What progress she is making on developing family indicators to measure the Government’s progress in tackling child poverty. (904550)

Good morning, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] The Government are committed to action that improves children’s long-term outcomes by tackling the root causes of poverty and disadvantage. In April 2017, we published nine indicators that track progress in tackling the disadvantages that can affect families and children, and we aim to update them annually. The next publication is due shortly.

Order. Members should not chortle; the Minister is a courteous fellow and should be respected.

Given the huge costs financially and socially of family breakdown to people both in and out of work, what is the Minister doing to improve the family indices across society and to reduce family instability?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his constant and vigorous campaigning on the issue, and particularly on the importance he attaches to fatherhood and family stability. The Government agree with him about that, and a number of programmes are designed to move the dial on the nine indicators that we have published. For example, alongside the fight against worklessness and the troubled families programme, we are specifically investing £39 million in a programme to reduce parental conflict and increase family stability.

The Minister may be in a bit of a time warp this morning, but is the Secretary of State on a different planet from the Children’s Commissioner for England? Will she talk to the Children’s Commissioner about child poverty in our country and look at this morning’s report, which links child poverty and low educational expectations? Get on with it, man!

As the hon. Gentleman will know, all hon. Members should be engaged in the battle against poverty. We in particular have chosen to take a different approach. Pleasingly, the Children’s Commissioner has identified that low educational attainment is critical to the future employment and economic prospects of all children. That is why we are focused on it as one of the two planks of Government policy on the matter, why we have concentrated so hard and why we are so pleased that so many more children are going to good and excellent schools.

22. The latest figures for the east midlands show that just over 106,000 of children in poverty are in workless households. That is down 23,000 since 2010. Although there is much more to do, does my hon. Friend agree that jobs created under this Government are transforming the lives of the most vulnerable in our society? (904568)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and is a renowned champion of those in poverty in his constituency. It is interesting to note that nearly three quarters of children in poverty move out of poverty when their parents move into full-time work. We must capture and use that in our constant fight against poverty.

17. Two thirds of children in poverty live in a household where at least one parent works. New analysis shows that child poverty will increase dramatically by 2030, with the main reason cited as UK Government cuts. Will the Secretary of State come to my constituency to see for herself the devastating effects of her Government’s cuts, which already have an impact on too many children in North Ayrshire and Arran? (904563)

I have seen reports of the new analysis this morning and, obviously, we are more than willing to have a look. However, such reports—there have been several in the past few weeks—tend to accept in the small print that forecasting poverty in the future is a very inexact science and often leads to odd results, not least because they often do not take behavioural change into account. The whole thrust of the Government’s welfare reforms has been not just to ensure that we get assistance and money to people efficaciously, but to effect behavioural change because we know that accessing work is by far and away our most potent tool in the fight against poverty.

School breakfast clubs play a key role in tackling child poverty, including helping parents get to work. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the announcement last week of £26 million investment in school breakfast clubs and commit the Department to supporting them across the country?

Absolutely. My hon. Friend is a doughty champion of school breakfast clubs and has established one in his constituency. He is on the right lines and we support him in his efforts.

16. Last week, figures from the Equality and Human Rights Commission showed that child poverty among single-parent families is predicted to rise from the current figure of 37% to 62%. In the same week, the new all-party parliamentary group on single parent families followed Ronald Reagan’s lead in 1984 and held a UK Single Parents’ Day for the first time. Will the Minister please unfreeze the benefits cap so that the figures I cited are not realised? Will he or his boss—either would be welcome—address our APPG at the first opportunity? (904562)

There is no question of unfreezing the benefit cap because it is encapsulated in primary legislation. It might be interesting for the hon. Lady to know that, in the year after the benefit cap was imposed, 100,000 children moved out of poverty altogether. I am surprised that she has not welcomed the news that was announced last week that, as the Secretary of State said, more than 1 million people have moved out of absolute poverty. That shows the greater usefulness of the absolute poverty indicator compared with those for relative poverty, which the EHRC used in its report.

Today, we have learned from independent analysis from the Scottish Government the full impact of the UK Government’s cuts on levels of child poverty. Later this week, the Scottish Government will be publishing their plans to do what they can, using the limited powers of the Parliament up the road, to address this looming crisis, but what are this Government doing to address child poverty?

As I outlined in my earlier answers, this Government believe that the two routes out of poverty are education and work. We have seen, in essence, a jobs miracle in this country over the past few years, with millions of people moving into work since 2010. It is absolutely the case that children in workless households achieve less, have less good welfare and have more mental health problems, so moving people into work is critical. I have seen reports in the media of the evidence the Scottish Government have brought forward this morning, and we will look at it carefully. I am always aware that one foundation of nationalism is to blame everyone else for problems, and I look forward to seeing the Scottish National party’s proposals in Scotland and whether they will actually work.

Of course we know that 68% of children living in poverty do so in working households, so the Minister’s rhetoric simply does not match the reality. We also know from the research today that the root cause of child poverty and its predicted rise comes directly from the cuts to the reserved benefits in respect of the benefit freeze and the two-child limit. So when will his Government face up to reality and act to stop children being hungry, because everyone knows that it is this Government’s responsibility?

This Government have moved heaven and earth to help those on lower incomes: with the introduction of the national living wage, they have had the fastest pay rise in 20 years; we have taken millions out of paying tax altogether with the rise in the personal allowance; and we have given parents up to £5,000 of assistance by increasing their access to free childcare up to 30 hours a week. There is an enormous amount done, but an awful lot still to do. As I say, we have yet to see any concrete proposals from the SNP on its much-vaunted plans to deal with poverty in its own patch, and we look forward to seeing them.