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Child Poverty

Volume 742: debated on Monday 18 December 2023

In 2023-24 we are spending around £124 billion through the welfare system on people of working age and children. Evidence shows the importance of work in reducing the risk of child poverty. With over 900,000 vacancies across the UK, our focus is on supporting parents into, and to progress within, work. Our recent autumn statement announcements, which included the back to work plan, increasing benefits and increasing the national living wage, are all part of our clear approach to ensuring that everybody gets the right support to progress and thrive.

I hear what the Minister says, but a recent report from UNICEF showed that of 39 OECD and EU countries, the UK came last in terms of improvements in child poverty between 2012 and 2021. As a result, one in five children in my constituency of Stretford and Urmston are growing up in poverty. What more can the Minister do to address this truly appalling situation?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that report. I have looked at it, and it is important that we react to it. I point to our record of action. When it comes to further support for households with low incomes, we have heard in the Chamber—indeed, the Secretary of State mentioned this—about raising local housing allowance back to the 30th percentile, which will benefit 1.6 million low-income households by, on average, £800 a year in 2024-25. When that is added to the national living wage, the uprating of benefits and the availability of work, we are determined that those families will progress.

According to End Child Poverty, 30% of children in Lewisham East were in poverty in 2021-22, while Lewisham food banks have seen a 42% increase compared to 2022. That comes after 13 years of this Conservative Government. To make matters worse, the reported cut to the national household support fund means that more than £13 million for households across Lewisham have been taken away. Is the Minister really serious about showing the leadership needed to stop families in my constituency from falling into destitution?

I am really serious about supporting our young people. In fact, in Lewisham the household support fund, which is my domain, has allocated an additional £13.3 million to support the hon. Lady’s constituents. There are local hubs for debt management and engagement with the local authority, and warm welcome hubs. I say to anybody struggling in her constituency to look at the benefits calculators, and indeed help for households, on

Figures from the Trussell Trust show that in the six months between April and September, food banks in the north-east provided a record 26,000 emergency food parcels for children, with the need having doubled over the past five years. The majority of families who turn to food banks do so because their income, whether from social security or from wages, is too low to afford the basic essentials. Will the Minister explain why the current design of universal credit is failing these families?

As we have heard from the Secretary of State, 400,000 fewer children are in absolute poverty, and we thank our food banks for the work they do in supporting our communities. We do take this seriously. We have added food security questions to the family resources survey, and we will absolutely look at that. I would point to the hon. Member’s constituency having been allocated an additional £8 million in the last household support fund for exactly those families.

On Friday, pupils at Shaftesbury Junior School in my constituency gave me the lovely Christmas earrings that I am wearing, which they made themselves using computer-aided design. I am so proud of all their achievements, especially when more than a third of Leicester’s children are growing up in poverty, with all the challenges that brings. As my hon. Friends have said, figures from UNICEF show that under this Government the UK has had the biggest increase in child poverty out of the world’s 40 wealthiest countries. My question is simple: what is the Minister going to do about it?

The hon. Lady will have heard about our work on the LHA. I am extremely proud of the difference that it will make to families in her constituency and mine. With almost 1 million job vacancies across the UK, our firm believe is that supporting all families to progress and do well is the right thing to do. That comes with the full uprating that we have done this year on working-age benefits and supporting the LHA. The hon. Lady made the point that it has been a difficult time, and the household support fund and the cost of living payments, which start again on 6 February, will assist.

The Minister is completely out of touch with the reality facing families in Britain today: 3.8 million people face severe hardship this year, including 1 million children. Quite frankly, that is a shameful figure that has almost trebled since this Government abolished Labour’s Child Poverty Act 2010. Millions of parents are now worried about how they will feed, clothe or keep their children warm this Christmas, let along how they will buy them presents. When will the Minister change course, follow Labour’s lead and deliver a cross-Government child poverty strategy that gives every child the start in life that they deserve?

We will absolutely not follow Labour’s lead—let us look at their record. People might be worried ahead of Christmas. Cost of living payments, the household support fund, the benefits calculator and help for households are all out there. I want the people watching now to know that support is there. Progression will vary depending on circumstances; we have a tailored approach. We have 37 district progression leads to help exactly those families that the hon. Lady talks about.

The actions that we take to lift children out of poverty say an awful lot about our values. In Scotland, we have lifted 90,000 children out of poverty, with measures such as the game-changing Scottish child payment. Here in London, we have a Westminster Government, supported by the Labour party, wedded to a two-child policy that pushes 250,000 children into poverty. What does the Minister think it says about Westminster’s values on child poverty that they are wedded to a two-child policy with a rape clause?

Adults in workless households are seven times more likely to be in poverty than those in working households. That is why our focus is on work. The Scotland Act 2016 gave the Scottish Parliament the powers that have been invoked, including on the child payment, and that is very pleasing for us. The Act transferred those powers for carers and disability benefits, worth £3.3 billion. The hon. Gentleman and his Government can make the decisions that suit their communities. That is the right approach.