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Child Poverty

Volume 664: debated on Monday 7 October 2019

This Government take child poverty extremely seriously. The evidence shows that work is the best route out of poverty and that there are 730,000 fewer children in workless households compared with 2010, but there is more to do—one child in poverty is one too many—and this is a key priority for me and the Secretary of State. I will continue to work with colleagues from across the House, other Government Departments and stakeholders to identify and tackle the root causes of poverty.

Children are not getting the nutrition that they need on the 170 days a year when they are not at school. Local authorities and devolved Governments are tackling this issue head on; why are this Government not doing so?

This is probably a question for the Department for Education, but we are supporting more than 1 million children with free school meals, investing up to £26 million in school breakfast clubs and providing approximately 2.3 million four to six-year-olds with a portion of fresh fruit or vegetables each day at school. Through the Healthy Start programme, hundreds of thousands of low-income families benefit from vouchers that can be redeemed against fruit, vegetables, milk and infant formula.

Child poverty is being driven up by the five-week delay during which people have to wait before they receive universal credit. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that what Ministers refer to as an advance is in fact a loan that has to be repaid by claimants, and will he commit to scrapping the five-week delay?

I think that this one has been answered several times already, but advance payments of up to 100% are available from day one of a universal credit claim and budgeting support is available for anyone who needs extra help. The repayment time for the advances has been extended to 12 months and will be further extended to 16 months from October 2021.

There was a discernible world-weariness in the Minister’s reference to this question having been answered several times already. I simply remind those observing our proceedings that repetition is not a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons. It never has been, and I doubt that things are going to change very much.

An article in The BMJ shows that researchers have highlighted a possible link between an increase in the number of babies who die before their first birthday and child poverty. They estimate that there were an additional 570 excess deaths between 2014 and 2017, with 172 attributable to an increase in child poverty, so will the Minister scrap the two-child limit and the benefit cap, which are driving up child poverty?

I humbly suggest that few Members in the Chamber have raised child and infant mortality more than I have. I take the issue incredibly seriously and I have read that report. No one in government wants to see poverty rising. Wages have outpaced inflation for 18 months, and there are more people in work than ever before. We know that children in households in which no one works are about five times more likely to be in poverty than those in households in which all adults work. Our welfare reforms are incentivising work and supporting working families.