Skip to main content

Child Poverty

Volume 745: debated on Monday 5 February 2024

In the latest statistics, there were 400,000 fewer children in absolute poverty after housing costs than there were in 2009-10. In this financial year, we will spend about £124 billion on welfare supporting working-age families. We are also providing £104 billion between 2022 and 2025 to help families with cost of living pressures. However, the Government’s focus is firmly on reducing the risk of child poverty by supporting parents into work in every way we can.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently found that 42% of children in Bolton live below the poverty line. After 14 years of Tory cuts and general incompetence, Britain now has the worst rise in child poverty among the major countries. What would the Minister say to a young family in Bolton who told me, “One day we eat and one day we don’t”?

Nobody on either side of the House wants to see families struggling. However, I repeat that children living in workless households are about five times more likely to be in absolute poverty after housing costs than those in households where all adults work. The Government are supporting the whole family through our childcare support, which we have increased by almost 50% to £951 a month for one child or £1,630 for two; the increase in the national living wage to £11.44 from April; our cost of living offers; and so on.

The recent Joseph Rowntree Foundation report highlighted Scotland’s much lower child poverty rate compared with England and Wales, and said that that was partly due to the Scottish Government’s child payment. Further progress is constrained by the UK’s inadequate social security system. The Trussell Trust’s “guarantee our essentials” campaign shows that 90% of low-income households on universal credit in the UK cannot afford everyday essentials. Does the Minister accept that raising the universal credit basic rate is critical to tackling child poverty?

The welfare system is there to be a strong safety net. It is not about a singular issue, because no households are the same. It is about wraparound care and dealing with people on an individual basis. It is about making sure that where children need support—for example, with free school meals—we provide it.

Further to the Minister’s response, the Prime Minister has been asked similar questions about child poverty in recent Prime Minister’s questions. He usually responds that since 2010, the Conservatives have lifted 1.7 million people out of absolute poverty, which, as you know Mr Speaker, tracks living standards from a fixed point in time. Can the Minister tell me how many more people, on average, Labour lifted out of absolute poverty annually, compared with the 1.7 million since 2010 that the Prime Minister regularly claims?

Rather than trade numbers, I would say that this is about giving people the dignity of a job. Since 2009-10, 1.7 million fewer people are in absolute poverty after housing costs, including 400,000 fewer children and 1 million fewer working-age adults. I know the hon. Lady said that work was not the Labour party’s priority, but it is very much our priority.

If the Minister can point to an occasion when I have said that work was not the Labour party’s priority, she ought to say when that was, or she should withdraw that remark.

The answer to my question is that, on average, more than 350,000 more people left poverty in each year of the Labour Government. The Prime Minister’s claim is pathetic. Which of the following does the Minister think had the biggest impact on those poverty numbers? Was it when the Conservatives repealed the Child Poverty Act 2010, was it when they shut down the child poverty unit, was it the collapse in the value of child benefit, or was it the financial chaos caused by a Conservative Prime Minister in September 2022, which put all families’ finances at risk?

No, it is the fact that over 1 million more people are in work and youth employment is up by around 40%. Ensuring that people have the dignity of work and that, when they are not in work, there is a strong welfare system around them, is what this country needs.