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Child Poverty

Volume 662: debated on Monday 1 July 2019

Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this Government, and I take these numbers extremely seriously. In the latest low income statistics, child poverty increased in three of the four measures. The evidence shows that work is the best route out of poverty, and there are 667,000 fewer children in workless households compared with 2010.

Summer holidays are fast approaching, and far too many families will be struggling to feed their children. The Childhood Trust states that two thirds of London children living in poverty—that will be 2,000 in Kensington—could go hungry without access to charitable donations. While the Mayor’s Fund for London supports hungry children across the capital, what is the Minister doing, long term, to tackle the causes of child poverty, including in-work poverty?

As I have said, the latest statistics show that full-time work substantially reduces the chance of poverty. The absolute poverty rate of a child where both parents work full-time is only 4% compared with 44% where one or more parents are in part-time work. We are supporting people into full-time work where possible—for example, by offering 30 hours of free childcare to parents of three and four-year-olds. Over three quarters of the growth in employment since 2010 has been in full-time work.

Without knowing the exact figure, it is too many. My role within the Department, and the role of the Department itself, is to address that. My hon. Friend will know too well that the best route out of poverty is work. That is why our focus is on universal credit. Universal credit is working in terms of getting more people into work, and more people are staying in work.

The best way out of poverty is probably properly paid work. The real problem for many of my constituents and their children is the fact that they have very low levels of savings, so when somebody loses their job, perhaps because a company closes, the real danger is that when they go on to universal credit they have to wait for five weeks for a payment and have nothing to fall back on. I really do beg the Government to reconsider the issue of the five weeks. The worst possible thing of all is saying, “You can borrow some money”, because suddenly a family ends up in debt, and that is when the children end up not having food unless it comes from a food bank.

I recognise the passion with which the hon. Gentleman raises his point, but, in terms of the five-week wait, nobody has to wait for their first payment of universal credit, as 100% of their indicative advance is available on day one. It is interest-free, repayable over 12 months—and, as the Secretary of State has said, that will in future be moving to 16 months. That is available and about 60% of people are currently taking it up.

Given that the majority of families affected by the two-child limit are working, why did the Department for Work and Pensions make the following statement in response to the recent report by the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England:

“This policy helps to ensure fairness by asking parents receiving benefits to face the same financial choices as those in work”?

Could the Minister clear up this confusion for the House?

The policy to provide support for a maximum of two children helps to ensure fairness by asking parents receiving benefits to face the same financial choices as those in work. Safeguards are in place and we have made changes this year to make the policy fairer. Tackling poverty remains a priority. We are spending over £95 billion a year on welfare and providing free school meals to more than 1 million children.