To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the implications for children's well-being and quality of life if both parents have low-paid jobs and long working hours in order to increase their earnings and help the Government to meet their child poverty targets. [HL5675]
Child and family well-being and quality of life are at the heart of the Government's child poverty strategy. The Government have taken measures to promote parental employment as the best route out of poverty, because there is clear evidence that moving into and progressing in work offers benefits to parents and children alike, including but not restricted to, additional income from earnings—a child's risk of poverty is 61 per cent in a workless household and reduces to 15 per cent if at least one parent is working. Work is also associated with wider benefits, for example in terms of health, well-being and autonomy, aspirations and self-esteem. The introduction of the national minimum wage, as well as working tax credits, has ensured that the minimum income guarantee has increased by almost 30 per cent since April 1999 in real terms. Also Train to Gain, the Government's flagship training service for employers, has enabled employees to develop their skills, which will help them to progress in work.
The Government's position is that they aim to help parents into work, and acquire the skills and training they need for well-paid jobs that support children and families, while also ensuring that work is family-friendly so that parents can combine employment and parental responsibilities.
To support families, the Government have taken action to increase and extend maternity leave and pay, and introduce paid paternity leave. A new right to request flexible working for those with parental responsibility for children under 16 (or 18, if disabled) has been introduced to help parents combine work and family responsibilities.
The Government have also taken substantial steps to support parents in work by increasing the number of childcare places that are available—at March 2009, the stock of registered childcare places stood at over 1.5 million places (more than double the 1997 level). Over £25 billion has been invested on early years and childcare in England since 1997, and there are over 3,000 Sure Start Children's Centres now open, providing integrated early years' services (including childcare) to over 2.4 million young children under five and their families.
These and other measures put in place by the Government have lifted 500,000 children out of poverty since 1997. However, 2.9 million children remain in poverty, 1.5 million of which live in households with at least one person working. The Government are looking at ways to reduce in-work poverty by helping parents move into higher paid work, through skills and training for individuals and promoting the uptake of skills by employers, and also by promoting the availability of high-quality, affordable childcare. Increased working hours can help lift children out of poverty—either by the primary earner increasing hours from part-time to full-time hours, or with the introduction of a second earner into the household. However, the Government's approach is to support and incentivise parents into work, whilst respecting family preferences.
By promoting flexible, family-friendly work opportunities and putting in place sufficient, high-quality childcare that supports children's development, we are helping parents make an informed choice about their working arrangements.
The Government introduced the Child Poverty Bill into Parliament in June which will enshrine in law the commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020. The Bill will ensure that all levels of government, now and in the future, play a role in tackling child poverty. The Bill also requires the Government to prepare a strategy, to be refreshed every three years, which will set out the policies that will be put in place to meet the child poverty targets. The issue of tackling in-work poverty while maintaining a high quality of life for the child and the family will be addressed in the strategy.