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Child Poverty

Volume 660: debated on Tuesday 21 May 2019

The Government take child poverty extremely seriously and are committed to ensuring that all children have the best life chances. The Government believe that moving into work and progressing in work is the best and most sustainable route out of child poverty, and we have reformed the welfare system to ensure that work pays and working families can keep more of what they earn.

I despair at that predictable answer. There are 1.7 million children in destitution. Reports of children arriving at school hungry, scouring bins and stealing food from dinner halls are commonplace. Child poverty has risen by over half a million since 2010. Yesterday the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty was joined by Human Rights Watch in making it very clear that this Government’s relentless austerity measures and cruel welfare reforms are to blame for growing levels of hunger and poverty. Does the Minister agree with those internationally respected organisations?

No, I do not. I do recognise the diverse needs across this country. When I served with the hon. Lady on the all-party parliamentary group on hunger and food poverty and visited South Shields, I acknowledged that there are significant challenges. That is why I am very pleased to see that the employment rate in her constituency is up 20% since 2010.

I wonder whether the Minister and the Chancellor have had a chance to read the west midlands local industrial strategy, drawn up by the Business Secretary and the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street. Is the Minister aware that youth unemployment has reduced by some 50% over the last few years in the west midlands? Is that not a way to take children out of poverty?

It is well known that Andy Street has done a phenomenal amount to invest in the right sort of infrastructure and transform the life chances of many people across his region, and he deserves credit across the House for what he has achieved.

While there are only 300 people registered as unemployed in my constituency, there are nearly 2,500 children living below the poverty line, which tells us that living in a workless household is not the principal or only cause of poverty; low wages are also a cause. Will the Chancellor urgently review the living wage, so that it actually becomes a living wage, rather than giving it an inaccurate label intended only to ease the consciences of the comfortable?

The national living wage has gone up to £8.21 an hour. The Government’s aspiration is to allow it to rise to 60% of median earnings. It is important to acknowledge that in 2010 take-home pay was £9,200 after national insurance and tax. For someone working full time on the national living wage, that figure is now £4,500 more, at £13,700.

Investing in education and skills is a positive, proactive means of promoting aspiration and ensuring that the families of the future are in working households, not in poverty. To that end, what discussions are being had between Ministers in the Treasury and elsewhere in Government about education funding and investment in skills and training?

Conversations are going on among Treasury Ministers. The Chief Secretary has heard that representation, and announcements will be made in the autumn Budget.

In evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee, the Child Poverty Action Group said of the two-child cap:

“You could not design a better policy to increase child poverty than this one”.

Will the Minister use the spending review to ditch that policy?

We spend £95 billion on working-age benefits, hardship payments, benefit advances and budgeting loans. Obviously all matters are under review in the context of spending decisions, which will be made clear in the autumn Budget.

That is not good enough. Analysis by Cambridge Econometrics states:

“In all of the Brexit scenarios, real wages for low-pay workers are depressed due to increases in prices and reduced levels of productivity, due to skills shortages and lower industry investment.”

Faced with this child poverty double-whammy, does the Minister agree that it is no surprise that the Tories are set for an absolute drubbing on Thursday?

I listen to the Office for Budget Responsibility, which is forecasting sustained real-wage growth for every one of the next five years. The latest statistics capture household income up to April 2018, but since then we have had a year of real-wage growth.

Child poverty has now reached such an unconscionable level that Members are right to highlight that, this week, the Government were condemned by Human Rights Watch for pursuing what it called “cruel and harmful policies”. Whether or not the Government accept that, the reality is that 4 million British children now live in poverty, that that figure has grown by 500,000 in the last five years and that the majority of those children have parents who are in work. Let me ask the Government: if they do not accept that Conservative policies are creating this crisis, what do Ministers believe is responsible for this humanitarian disaster?

What is important is that this Government continue to focus on creating jobs, and allowing families to experience the value of such a job and receiving more money in their household take-home pay, and that is what we will continue to focus on.