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Poverty Levels: April 2023

Volume 718: debated on Monday 11 July 2022

It is not usual to project poverty levels in terms of statistics—[Interruption.] Does someone want to join in? [Interruption.] I just cannot hear. Somebody is talking. Projecting poverty levels is not something we normally do. However, the latest official statistics show that in 2021, some 8 million people were in poverty in absolute low-income before housing costs, which was a fall on the previous year. I am very conscious of the challenge of the cost of living right now, which is why we are providing a £15 billion support package targeted at the most in need, but I am proud of the fact that we are getting more and more people into work—over half a million in just the past five months. We know that for most people, the best way to get out of poverty is to get into work.

Even using the Government’s preferred measure of absolute child poverty, the proportion of children living in absolute poverty rose in every north-east local authority area between 2014-15 and 2019-20, and continued to rise in the first year of the pandemic. In Stockton, that figure is up by 7.1 percentage points; in Hartlepool, it is up by 7.2; in Darlington, it is up by 7.9; in Redcar, it is up by 9.4; and in Middlesbrough, it is up by a colossal 13.9 percentage points. Those are not just numbers: they represent thousands of children. Can the Minister tell the House which of the Tory leadership candidates will be content to see children in places such as Stockton go hungry, and which of them will take action to ensure they do not?

I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would give me the specific source of his statistics, because I believe that statistically, child poverty has actually fallen, something of which Government Members are proud. Nevertheless, he will be pleased by the fact that people have opportunities and are getting into work. That is what we will continue to do, because we know that children in workless households are undoubtedly more likely to be in poverty. That is why we continue to focus on getting their parents into work.

One in three children in Barnsley are living in poverty. My constituent cares for his disabled eight-year-old son. He recently started a part-time job to supplement his income, but after working just two hours’ overtime, he had a whole month of carer’s allowance deducted. The Secretary of State has just said that the best route out of poverty is to get into work, so can she explain why those who receive carer’s allowance are penalised for doing just that?

I expect that the hon. Lady’s constituent is receiving the caring element of universal credit, rather than carer’s allowance specifically, which is a slightly separate approach. Universal credit is a dynamic benefit. It reflects the fact that when a person is working more, they receive less support from other taxpayers, and—just as happened at the beginning of the covid pandemic—when taxpayers are working less, they immediately started receiving more. That is the success of universal credit, and we will continue to encourage people to get into work.