Skip to main content

Poverty In The United Kingdom

Volume 620: debated on Thursday 21 December 2000

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

11.14 a.m.

Whether they will make public their latest assessment of poverty in the United Kingdom in the light of the study by the New Policy Institute published on 11 th December by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security
(Baroness Hollis of Heigham)

My Lords, we have already done so in our reportOpportunity for all.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply, especially because I believe that it has affected her personal arrangements for starting the Recess. I would have accepted and understood if another member of the Government had taken her place todady.

Has the noble Baroness noticed that this study records that the very poor have increased by 0.5 million since 1997; its definition being households living on less than 40 per cent of the average income in the country? Since the study records that there has been no reduction in the numbers of poor children during those three years, how do the Government expect to reach their target for eliminating child poverty?

My Lords, that is a very pertinent question. Government measures will have lifted 1 million children out of poverty by 2001. Turning to the first part of the noble Lord's question, we know that of those below 40 per cent mean or 50 per cent median income about one-fifth are pensioners, two-fifths are families not in work, and two-fifths of those are lone parents. The answer to the issue is to bring those not in work into work, but I remind the noble Lord that the income statistics on which this report is based were drawn up from late 1998, before the minimum income guarantee which helps pensioners over the 40 per cent line was introduced; before the minimum wage was introduced, and before working families' tax credit was introduced. Those are measures to help people into work where appropriate or to support them with higher levels of benefit.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness is aware, fuel poverty, which affects some 4.5 million households in Britain, is an important and unfortunate aspect of poverty in this country. Can she confirm that it is the Government's objective to eliminate fuel poverty within the next 10 years?

My Lords, so far as we possibly can we intend so to do. The noble Lord is right, we have seen winter death figures for the elderly going back up after a temporary drop, which is unacceptable. That is why I am sure he, like us, welcomes the £200 winter fuel allowance and the increased money being spent by my colleagues in the DETR on warm home insulation projects both here and in Scotland.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the report mentioned on the Order Paper there is a finding that at any time during 1999,

"around 150,000 young adults aged 16 to 18 were not in education, in training or in work"?
Can the Minister say what material support was open to those people and on which forms of support they actually relied?

My Lords, I believe I can help the noble Earl. Of those young people aged 16 to 18 who were not in work, in education or training and not claiming benefit, 50 per cent were living with their families; 27 per cent were living with their families and claiming benefit; 15 per cent were living independently and claiming benefit; and 8 per cent were living independently and not claiming benefit. It is the 8 per cent figure of that 150,000 that the noble Earl and I would both be concerned about. We are seeking to work with them.

My Lords, will the Minister agree that the Rowntree Foundation should be congratulated on the major contribution it has made in this area since the original study in York at the beginning of the last century? The Prime Minister has said that the Government's aim is to eliminate child poverty within 20 years. According to the report there has so far been no improvement. Does this precisely mean absolute poverty or relative poverty? Against what criteria do the Government propose to measure their performance? The Minister mentioned that the figures are somewhat out of date. The report stresses that reporting of those figures needs to be speeded up. What are the Government doing to eliminate or reduce the gap between the period when the figures are collected and when they are published?

My Lords, there were about six questions there. We would all welcome having more up-to-date statistics. These income figures are based on figures in the autumn of 1998. Therefore, the below average incomes for households are already two years out of date. The Government also have to rely on similar statistics for their report.

Since April 1997 our budget measures have taken 1 million children out of poverty. We are on target to take one quarter of all children in poverty out of poverty in the next five years; half, we hope, in 10 years; and all in 20 years. As the noble Lord knows, the ways in which we are so doing are not only raising benefit levels but encouraging their parents—they are predominantly the children of lone parents—into the labour market. If we can do that, both the lone child and the parent will benefit. Those are our tests.

The noble Lord asked what was our definition of poverty. Poverty is multi-faceted. It is not just about poverty of income but also poverty of poor life chances. On the poverty definition of income, we are looking at either 50 per cent mean or 60 per cent median, as the mean is tweaked by high average incomes. Otherwise one could get a situation whereby, if the national wealth increases by 20 per cent but the wealth of low income families increases by only 10 per cent, they become poorer, and if the country's wealth falls by 20 per cent but the wealth of poorer families falls by only 10 per cent, they become richer. That is the problem of relative definition. It is about equality as much as it is about poverty. But our hope—and our expectation and strategy—is to lift those children out of poverty in the next 20 years. We are already on target to do so.