Skip to main content

Child Poverty

Volume 671: debated on Wednesday 12 February 2020

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the level of child poverty in Scotland. (900708)

The Government are committed to tackling poverty so that we can make a lasting difference to long-term outcomes. This Government have lifted 400,000 people out of absolute poverty since 2010, and income inequality has fallen. While the Scottish Government have powers to tackle poverty through the devolution of skills, education, health and employment programmes, it is important that Scotland’s two Governments work together to address this critical issue.

It is estimated that one in four children in Scotland—230,000 of them—are living in poverty, and that is substantially higher than in many other European countries. Like poor children everywhere, these children are likely to achieve less in school and more likely to suffer chronic illness and poor mental health. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that child poverty could rise to about 37% by 2021. Does the Minister not agree that this Tory Government’s welfare policies, such as the two-child benefit cap, zero-hours contracts and the dreaded universal credit, are contributing to the increasing rate of child poverty in Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I disagree with him. Since 2010, there are over 3.8 million more people in work and 730,000 fewer children growing up in workless households. Over three quarters of this employment growth has been in full-time work, which can be proven substantially to reduce the risk of poverty. But I know how passionate the hon. Gentleman is on this issue, and I would be very happy to meet him to hear his concerns.

The Minister has got to reflect on his answer. Yes, of course he is right about the growth of employment, but the majority of children in poverty in Scotland—230,000 of them—are living in families with parents in work. That is a disgrace. What are this Government going to do about it?

We do not want to see one individual family or child in poverty. The hon. Gentleman talks about in-work poverty. We are taking action, as a Government, to tackle in-work poverty. Real wages have risen for over a year—22 months in a row—and total wages rose by 3.2%. The national living wage rises to £8.72 in April, and we want to go further. That is why the Chancellor has announced that the national living wage will rise to £10.50 by 2024. We also have a focus, through a network of jobcentres, on in-work progression.

We know that children living in poverty experience poor physical and mental health, employment difficulties, stigma and chronic low self-esteem. This creates problems not just for the individual but for government further down the line, so would the Minister surprise us all and welcome the Scottish Government’s introduction of the Scottish child payment later this year?

I am looking very closely at that measure and its impact. I gently suggest to the hon. Lady that this is in fact evidence of devolution working. There is no monopoly on good ideas, and where the evidence suggests that a measure works, we should of course explore it, and I will. I stress that I am committed to working with the Scottish Government to improve the life chances of people across Scotland, as I am across our whole United Kingdom.

If this is evidence of devolution working, I would like to remind the Minister that that is why we want all the welfare powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Once rolled out, this new payment will help roughly 30,000 children out of poverty. So if it is a good measure for the Scottish Government, why are his Government not following suit?

I think I have already answered that question—I will look at it very closely. If the Scottish Government are serious about addressing child poverty more broadly, they should be making full use of the powers to reduce housing costs, improve earnings and enhance social security. As I said, the Scottish Government have powers to tackle poverty through the devolution of skills, education, health and employment programmes. In fact, the UK Government do welcome the Scottish Government’s child poverty strategy. I look forward to working very closely with my counterpart in the Scottish Government to ensure that we cover these devolved areas.

The child poverty payment is welcome, but does the Minister share my concerns that the vast number of welfare powers that the SNP Scottish Government argued for, which were transferred in the Scotland Act 2016, have not been taken forward? In fact, some of them are now delayed until 2024. Is welfare not just another victim of the Scottish Government’s obsession with the constitution, rather than focusing on the day job?

I thank my right hon. Friend and recognise his huge expertise in this area. The Scottish Government, and indeed this Government, want to address these issues, and I am committed to working with my counterparts in the Scottish Government to tackle child poverty and poverty in all its forms.