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Grand Committee

Volume 716: debated on Wednesday 27 January 2010

Grand Committee

Wednesday, 27 January 2010.

Child Poverty Bill

Committee (4th Day)

My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and will resume after 10 minutes.

Clause 8 : UK strategies

Amendment 31

Moved by

31: Clause 8, page 4, line 21, at end insert “, including parenting skills”

My Lords, my amendment would ensure that, in the focus on further education and the training of parents, which is a very important aim, sight is not lost of a different sort of skill that would immeasurably improve the life of a child living in that household. Much of the disjunction between income and material deprivation measures relates directly to personal choices. It is a tragic but undeniable fact that many parents do not have the necessary skills to make the best choices for their children. There are, of course, terrible cases when a parent wilfully abuses or harms a child in their care. There are severe penalties for that sort of behaviour, but in many cases the harm is done through ignorance, not malice.

We have spoken a little about factors such as child obesity, which can lead to severe health problems for the rest of a child’s life as well as potentially triggering bullying and self-esteem issues. In most cases, the obesity is not caused by insufficient household income, as healthy food need not be expensive. The condition could be caused simply by a lack of understanding of what a healthy diet is or of its importance. With the high rate of teenage pregnancy, it is sadly true that many parents have barely left their childhood. It is no surprise that many young parents find themselves faced with responsibilities that they never imagined taking on and with no support system to turn to for help. I hope that the Minister will agree that any strategy must involve actively seeking out and helping these parents. I beg to move.

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord can explain the difference between “parenting skills” and “skills of parents”, as they would both appear on the same line.

Yes, I am pleased to answer that. The skills of parents are general skills; as I read it, they refer to the general level of education and skills of people who happen to be parents. Parenting skills are directly related to the relationship between the parent and child and the parent’s ability to look after the child to the highest possible level.

I spend a lot of time suggesting that words can mean something different; I did so several times in our debate on the Equality Bill on Monday. I share the view of the noble Baroness. Speaking perhaps as a lawyer rather than as a Member of the House, I do not see that there is any real difference between the two. I entirely support parenting skills for obvious reasons.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for his amendment, which suggests that parenting skills be explicitly added to subsection (5)(a) so that they are included when considering the development of the skills of parents. I welcome the amendment’s intention but, as with other amendments that we will debate today, we consider that the issue is already covered by the broad area set out in the Bill. I agree with the noble Lord that it is not encompassed specifically within subsection (5)(a), which is designed to focus on the employment and progression prospects of parents to move on and into work. Parental skills do not fall within that, but we believe that they are encompassed within the other provisions, particularly in subsection (5)(c). I say that in response in part to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. If one wants to interpret subsection (5)(a) more broadly, in a sense it does not matter, as the issue is covered.

I agree that there is a strong evidence base that demonstrates that policies aimed at increasing parenting skills could have large intergenerational effects on the well-being of children. It is for this reason that, in the past three years, thanks to government action, there has been a massive expansion of the support that families and parents can receive in their local areas.

I have two examples. The Children’s Plan Two Years On recognises that support for parents results in a direct improvement in their children’s lives. There are now more than 3,000 Sure Start children’s centres, which offer integrated services to more than 2.4 million under-fives and their families. Children’s centres offer health services, parenting advice and support, early education and childcare, as well as training and employment opportunities. Since the start of the year, Sure Start children’s centres have been established as a legally recognised part of universal services for children, mothers, fathers and grandparents. Funding for Sure Start children’s centres has been guaranteed in 2011-12 and 2012-13.

The families and relationships Green Paper, which was published last Wednesday, highlights the significant investment that has been made in parenting programmes in the past few years. In fact, more than £170 million has been provided to local authorities between 2009 and 2011 to implement Think Family reforms. These include provision for family intervention projects, the Parenting Early Intervention programme and funding for parenting experts and practitioners.

We are aware of the need to offer parents support and the opportunities to develop their parenting skills. It is for this reason that an abundance of support is currently being offered. I see no particular benefit in accepting the amendment because what it suggests is already provided for in the Bill. There is therefore no need for this requirement to be made explicit in the Bill, although it should be considered as part of a child poverty strategy. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for coming to my aid, somewhat to my surprise, in interpreting subsection (5)(a) against the most formidable two ladies—the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley—who rather effectively put me in my place on this one. I am therefore delighted that I had the Minister’s support when he said that he shared my interpretation of subsection (5)(a), although I think that I lost the point that he was making when he said that this was already included in the subsection.

I tabled the amendment because parenting skills have been provided slightly slowly. I am conscious of some fascinating new experiments and developments in Southwark, for example, where self-help parenting structures are being built. I do not think that I need to declare an interest, but my sister has been spearheading one of those efforts, so I know a little about this area and wanted to raise the issue. The amount of provision in this country may fall short in an area that is more vital than this Government have realised. I urge us, particularly when we look at child well-being, to worry more about parenting skills. I am delighted to hear that we will do so under subsection (5)(c) and that it will be up to the Secretary of State at the time, whoever he or she is, to interpret that in the widest possible way and as the Minister has encouraged us to do. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 31 withdrawn.

Amendment 32

Moved by

32: Clause 8, page 4, line 22, at end insert “and family and friends carers who take on the care of a child for more than 28 days in the following circumstances—

(i) where the child comes to live with the carer as a result of plans made within a child protection enquiry under section 47 of the Children Act 1989,(ii) where a child comes to live with the carer following an investigation under section 37 of the Children Act 1989,(iii) where a carer has secured a residence order or special guardianship order to avoid a child being looked after, and there is professional evidence of the impairment of the parents’ ability to care for the child, (iv) where the carer has a residence order or special guardianship order arising out of care proceedings, or(v) where the carer has a residence order or special guardianship order following the accommodation of a child”

My Lords, the purpose of these amendments is to highlight a pocket of child poverty that is often hidden. It happens when family or friends take on the care of children when the natural parents cannot, because of death, imprisonment, substance misuse or other reasons. There are at least 250,000 such children.

My amendments take up an issue that is not new. Much good work was done on family and friends carers in the Children and Young Persons Bill two years ago. Concern was shown on all sides of the House during the passage of the Bill, and some of those involved are here today. The Minister knows these issues well. He has been involved in many discussions, particularly about grandparents, in a very helpful way. Since those discussions, we have learnt much more about the plight of family and friends carers. We have seen more action, research and reports. I am particularly grateful to the Family Rights Group and to Grandparents Plus, which have done excellent work in this area. I was delighted to see measures on family and friends carers in the Green Paper on families and relationships that was published last week. All this is good news. The numbers of children living with family and friends carers may seem small, but it is significant. We need to know precisely how many children are involved and what the problems are.

My first amendment is about financial support for family and friends carers. The second seeks to ascertain the numbers involved and the third seeks to clarify the numbers involved. The fourth aims to ensure that child poverty needs assessment includes children who are being raised by family and friends carers. I shall say more as I go through the amendments.

I will first clarify who the carers are. This is dealt with in Amendment 71. A family or friend carer is a person who is raising a child who is not living with his or her parents, while the family or friend is related or otherwise connected to the child—for example, an aunt, a grandparent, a godparent or another friend. As I said, there are at least 250,000 children living with family and friends carers. However, there are no official statistics. My amendment would require this to be improved. Many such carers are at risk of poverty and of passing on this poverty to the children for whom they care. Some care for more than one child. One grandparent whom I have met has cared for three children, aged between one and 10, since her daughter died from a drugs overdose.

Only 6,800 children are termed looked-after children, who qualify for a right to be supported. Family and friends placements for children are more stable than unrelated care placements. The outcomes for such children, both social and academic, are better. Nevertheless, three out of four family and friends carers experience financial hardship; one-third are lone carers; three out of 10 have a chronic illness or disability; and one in three lives in overcrowded conditions. Many are older—for example, grandparents who take on the child of a son or daughter because of imprisonment, substance abuse or death. The vast majority of local authorities do not have a written or even unwritten strategy to best serve family and friends carers. How much better the outcomes could be for children if more support were in place.

The situation is confused and confusing, both for family and friends carers and for the professions who work with them. There is a range of legal options for a child living with family and friends carers: a private arrangement with no legal order; a residence or special guardianship order; or the child is looked after by the local authority. I will not go into the details and intricacies of these arrangements, as they are very complex and too confusing. We know that private arrangements and residence orders do not attract entitlement to support. The local authority has discretionary power but is not required to pay. With special guardianship, there is no support, but the carer can claim child benefit and child tax credit. Other support is entirely discretionary. If the child has been placed by the local authority with a family member or friend because of concerns about the child’s welfare, the carer should be assessed, approved and paid accordingly.

Only one in six local authority foster placements is with family and friends carers. Many of those carers are paid less than a related foster carer. Grandparent carers have told me that they would not seek local authority sanction for caring, as it is a lengthy process full of hazards and risks to the child, including the fear of the child being taken into local authority care, which is something that family and friends carers want to avoid. The cost of applying for a legal order when applying for a residence or special guardianship order can be between £3,456 and a massive £38,000. This is completely beyond the means of family and friends carers and few get any financial help. I have met such carers who have had to remortgage property or borrow money, so desperate are they to see the best done for their grandchild or young relative. The Family Rights Group freedom of information survey of local authorities found that 85 per cent lack explicit eligibility criteria stating which family and friends carers of children outside the care system are eligible for financial support and at what rate. That is something that we should look at.

Noble Lords will perceive the dilemmas and risks of poverty to family and friends carers and the children in their charge. The Fostering Network found that the cost of caring for a foster child is 50 per cent higher than the cost of caring for a birth child. The cost of raising a child in residential care has been calculated at 9.5 times that of a kinship care placement. Family and friends carers are saving the state a huge amount of money, but out of love for the child they often have to make enormous financial, emotional and physical sacrifices with little or no help and support.

The Family Rights Group, on behalf of the Kinship Care Alliance, has produced recommendations for kinship care that include the collection and publication of statistics on family and friends carers, enabling more children to be raised within family networks, including the use of family group conferences as mentioned in the Green Paper; the assessment of family and friends carers where children are listened to; systems to meet the short-term and long-term needs of children and carers regardless of legal status; financial support through an allowance; assistance with the tax and benefit systems; legal support; and an end to financial discrimination against family and friends carers who are foster carers.

My amendments seek to clarify some of the problems associated with family and friends who care for children. They look for action that will enable children to get the best possible care without the threat of poverty. I beg to move.

My Lords, it was with pleasure that I added my name to these amendments introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, who has been tireless in campaigning for these carers. Most kinship carers do a very good job for the children whom they take on. As she said, such carers are the most needy. Compared with other carers, they spend more time alone and are more overcrowded; more have a disability and more face financial hardship, which is sometimes severe. However, we know that these placements are more stable and certainly at the moment are a great deal cheaper than a child going into normal care. Even if financial help were to be given to these carers, it would still be considerably cheaper than the cost of up to £40,000 a year to place a child in another kind of foster care.

What is important from the child’s point of view is that he settles down more quickly because he already knows the person who is going to be caring for him. Often he can carry on at the same school and keep the same friends. What is crucial is that these carers provide the child with love and affection, which money cannot buy. Importantly, they also provide a link to family, identity and culture. Uncertainty about identity can cause an awful lot of problems, including mental health problems, and can affect self-confidence as well as general well-being.

Why should we help financially? Many kinship carers have to reduce their working hours to have the time to look after the child or even give up work altogether. As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said, the Fostering Network claims that it costs more to bring up a foster child than a birth child. Certainly there are initial costs that come all at once instead of being met gradually over the years, as happens with birth parents. You buy a bed and a desk for the child to do its homework; extra clothes and whatever the child needs are also bought, and it all happens gradually. But for kinship carers, the cost all comes at once. It is essential that kinship carers are given help immediately and do not have to go through the hoops of formal fostering first. As the noble Baroness said, many of them are not prepared to go through those hoops anyway, because of the fear of losing the child.

It is important that kinship carers get other support and advice, too. Just because there is a loving relative or friend willing to take care of the child, that does not mean that these children have not gone through the same range of terrible traumas that children who go into other placements have experienced. They are often just as badly damaged as any other child taken into care. The carers may need special training or mentoring. They need a shoulder to cry on or somebody to turn to for advice if the child proves to be more difficult than they had anticipated. This quite often happens and, indeed, is quite likely if a child has been very badly treated.

It is time that we sorted this out once and for all. The 1989 Act said that kinship care must be considered if it is in the child’s best interest. The 2008 Act, which the Minister and I both worked on, said that it should be considered first. I am not convinced that this is happening. Anyway, the lack of certainty about financial help is undoubtedly discouraging potential carers from coming forward, which costs the taxpayer more in the end.

It is important that we collect the data, as proposed in this group of amendments, so that we know the extent of the problem. We then need to ensure that family group conferences, which are good for every placement situation but particularly these, are available in every area, rather than the patchwork provision that currently exists. The wider family need to be given information about what help is available, so that they are more likely to volunteer to help.

The Family Rights Group found that 85 per cent of authorities lack explicit eligibility criteria for financial support for these carers, so it is a real lottery. Sixty-two per cent of the authorities in the same survey did not even mention criteria for non-financial support. We do not know if it is happening at all, least of all whether there is a postcode lottery in any individual area. Certainly, the friends and family of parents from whom children have to be taken for one reason or another just do not know what they are letting themselves in for. You can hardly blame them, willing though they might be otherwise, for saying, “I really do not think I can do it”. If we could sort this out and they could have some certainty, I am quite sure that a lot more would come forward.

My Lords, I, too, was delighted to add my name to this amendment. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Massey and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on pushing at this in such a way that all the political parties now recognise that a family need not be exclusively parents and children but may be older parents or three-generational. That wider approach to the concept of family and the need for family support is very welcome, as reflected in the Government’s latest Green Paper. I am sure that the parties opposite share this view.

When I was involved with the CSA, one was often trying to get feckless, young, sometimes chaotic single fathers to pay maintenance. They would often do so only if they had had contact and bonded with the child. As these were 22 year-olds who were mostly living at home, the only way to make that work was for the mother—the paternal grandmother—to support, nag and encourage her somewhat chaotic son into bonding with that child. Often, that was the way in which the young man grew up into adulthood.

Many of us were very aware of children rotating between the parental and the grandparental home, often when there was a breakdown of relationships through the mental ill health of the mother. One tried to boost and reconfigure, with the full support of DWP, the guardian’s allowance, which was then designated only for physical orphans—children whose parents were perhaps killed in a car crash. It seemed an appropriate, flexible benefit to extend to children who were effectively moral orphans—whether because the mother was on the game or on drugs, or the dad was in jail—and as a result were dependent on the support of other members of the family. We have modified the allowance somewhat—it now applies for two years rather than five years in prison—but we still have some way to go to allow it to fill a very necessary space.

It was also clear, when working on lone parent policy, that often the only childcare that was acceptable to a lone parent, because she trusted it, was that offered by her mother. As a result, the lone parent was willing to go into work without guilt and hung on in work in a way that she might not have done if she regarded her childcare arrangements with more suspicion, so that they broke down too easily and too frequently, pulling her back out of the labour market.

Again, we could not get support—understandably perhaps—for paying the childcare tax credits to grandparents, because of the extra cost, but I was delighted when my noble friend and the Treasury agreed that grandparent carers looking after children for more than 20 hours a week were at least able to get national insurance contributions. Although they might not get payment, they none the less were not penalised through their pension. I was delighted when that happened.

I am delighted that both parties understand—as I am sure my noble friend does above all—that for children whose own parents may be chaotic, fragile, incompetent, on the game, in jail, with poor mental health or addicted, the grandparents may be the only stable loving adults in their life. We have to do all that we can to allow willing grandparents to keep such a family afloat, particularly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, as that child may be troubled and difficult in the formal care system and find their foster parent relationships breaking down time after time, because of the baggage of disadvantage that is brought to that new relationship. Grandparents hang on in when foster parents may not feel able to do so. In the process, as the noble Baroness rightly said, they give those children continuity with their roots. Often those children may love their hopeless mothers deeply and feel simultaneously protective and resentful of the situation that they are in. Loving grandparents can help those children to negotiate a complicated, ambivalent relationship with their natural parents.

The advantage of grandparent care, as both my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, is that it is flexible, informal, reliable and swift. You do not have to go through the bureaucratic hurdles of taking your child into a looked-after relationship, nor is it so threatening, so definitive and so labelling. In all these ways, it avoids the stigmatising of the child and the stigmatising of the family and is, therefore, a much more welcome approach in many situations.

Obviously, as the amendments say, we need data and we need consultative conferences to get the best outcome for the children. However, we also—and above all—need cash. It is quite simple. What often stops many willing grandparents continuing to support grandchildren is shortage of cash, particularly if they themselves are on a pension or have had to drop out of the labour market.

What sort of cash do they need? Often they will need, as the noble Baroness said, instant cash. I would like to see a right, under Section 17 of the Children Act, as amended in 2008, for grandparents to go for a community care grant from the Social Fund for instant access to £200 or £250 to produce the bunk beds, the sheets and the spare clothes that that child, who may have come the day before, may need. That is the first port of call.

Secondly, I would like to see non-conflictual help in resolving the issue of the benefit book, because the child benefit book is the passport to all other child-related benefits, including childcare tax credit. Perfectly sensibly, normally you do not change it within eight weeks; otherwise you will often find estranged husbands having it after two weeks because they were looking after a child for the summer holidays. We are trying to avoid that situation. The problem is that many biological mothers, particularly if they are addicted and so on, are extremely reluctant to hand over an obvious source of cash, while the grandparent, equally understandably, is reluctant to take them through the court procedures to get the benefit book restored to them, because that would break down whatever fragile bonds of trust there may be.

Therefore, you need not only family conferences but an alternative route to give the financial support to grandparents. That, I think, could be a beefed-up guardian’s allowance, which at the moment is about £14 per week. There is no reason why it should not be beefed up to something like £50 a week. Alternatively, we could use as a temporary measure the care allowance that we give to carers. That would be particularly useful in those cases not where the child is long-term with the grandparents but where there is a revolving door, as may happen when the mother is in poor mental health. The mother may break down and the grandparents take over for six weeks or 16, after which the mother is well enough and the children go back home; then, six months down the road, it happens again. In that case, a flexible guardian’s allowance, without fussing about the benefit book and so on, would allow the grandparents to have a carer’s or a guardian’s allowance to help them to manage the additional financial costs that fall to them in such a revolving, fluctuating situation.

Finally, if grandparents are carers for the long term, we should give them proper financial support. Local authorities often find it very hard to find foster parents who will take on large sibling groups, mixed-race children or children with a disability, because they do not necessarily have the appropriate experience. Equally, the child may already be in his early teens, resentful and hard to handle, even for experienced foster carers, who may find him truculent and awkward for very obvious reasons.

We know how hard it is to find such foster parents; there is a national shortfall of something like 10,000. I was privileged to spend a couple of days with one of the best private foster carer organisations, which charges £800 a week for a foster child. It was doing admirable work with the children whom the local authority found hard to place, but I suspected that in some cases, had there been more efforts to find kinship care, the child could have had a more family-friendly placement at a fraction of the cost and with potentially better outcomes.

That very good organisation said that its biggest hurdle, despite recent changes in the law, was getting head teachers to accept children into schools as looked-after children ahead of other children. It told me, as have other organisations—I hope that this is not the case and that, if it is, my noble friend will resolve it—that academies are given a three-year pass on taking looked-after children in order to avoid implications for their results and the like. I very much hope that my noble friend, and perhaps other Members of your Lordships’ Committee today, can run with that and correct it if that is indeed the situation.

I appreciate that all this could have some financial repercussions, but there would be savings in the direct foster care bill and huge savings in the longer-term outcomes for children. It is the right thing to do. We should not simply rely on exploiting middle-aged women to pick up the slack in the system, although they do so with grace and generosity. Rather, we should fund them, support them and help them as they should be helped.

Before other noble Lords intervene, I would like to pick up on a point that the noble Baroness made. I did not want to stop her flow earlier and I hope that she will forgive me. She mentioned sex workers twice. Does she agree that, although many children of sex workers are not in an ideal situation in a household where the parent is a sex worker, their parents care for them very deeply? Indeed, some of them claim to do that sort of work to provide what they would like to provide for their children and do not, for many reasons, feel that they can do so another way. I am sure that many of us wish that they could do so another way, but not all children of sex workers are abused or neglected. I am sure that she would agree with that.

I absolutely agree. Clearly some women who are on the game are admirable mothers. The trouble, as we all know, is that they may be on the game because of drug abuse and drug reliance. That, or a mental health problem associated with it, may be what produces the troubled background for children.

My Lords, I support these amendments and strongly support the speeches of the previous speakers. It is quite clear that, unlike with the previous amendment, the subject of these amendments is not covered by the Bill. It should be. As has been said, research has shown that those who care in this group are significantly disadvantaged compared with those who are foster parents and that, if you were to pay them less than you pay foster parents, you would save money on foster parents, particularly with children who are difficult to place.

I will tell the Committee about one family. The godmother is a friend of mine. She took over the permanent care of a nine year-old girl, who is now 11, from the mother, who has significant difficulties with drink and drugs. She keeps in regular touch with the mother and grandmother. She has managed to keep working, but with difficulty. She was asked by the local authority to take over the care of the child. She offered to be a foster parent but was persuaded not to be. Of course, she does not get a single penny from the local authority. She has now, at my suggestion, become a special guardian, but she still gets no money from the local authority. Her situation is not exceptional.

I should have declared an interest: I am president of the Grandparents’ Association. However, it is not grandparents about whom I will speak, because they have been adequately and eloquently covered. I will speak about other carers such as godparents and other friends of the family, who take over the care of these children at very short notice. We are talking not just about people in their 40s but about people in their late 50s and 60s, who have to readjust their lives for the sake of a little girl or boy to whom they are not naturally related but for whom they feel an obligation, as this friend of mine does. She is doing a wonderful job with her goddaughter.

There is no shortage of people who do not take on the task because they cannot afford to, as has been said. What is very sad is not only that the child does not have a family or friend whom he or she knows, but that they go into care. The child is then moved from place to place. One appalling thing about the care system—it is not the fault of the system but the result of children going into care—is that children move two, three, four, even 10 times. I know of one child who moved 40 times before he ended up in an institution for severely traumatised children. Just think of it.

The grandparents or other carers of these children should be able to have some financial relief. Most of them are seeking not a foster parent allowance but some lesser support. If a little work was done by government departments to see what might be satisfactory for grandparents and other genuine related or connected carers—as Amendment 71 sensibly says—they might find that the cost would not be greatly in excess of what it would be otherwise. Short-term foster parents have to be paid, as do the long-term foster parents of a child who has been through a totally unacceptable situation. I urge the Government to look again—and very sympathetically—at these amendments.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey, Lady Hollis and Lady Walmsley, on the powerful and accurate presentations of the problem that they gave. I hope that the Minister and his department will read and reread them. Perhaps I might dare to suggest that this is a subject not only for the DWP but also for the children’s services. I wonder whether a joint consultation might be a possibility.

Given what everybody has said, there can be no iota of doubt that the need is there. The problem is money. The noble Baronesses have said that they can see ways in which a more enlightened view would save money. Surely the time has come for somebody—maybe the Government or maybe a consortium of the charitable bodies in this area—to get an independent assessment and make some estimates, perhaps two or three projections of what would happen if local authorities were either encouraged to find the funds by greater efficiency or given the funds that they need. At the moment, the problem is that local authorities are struggling not to pay these allowances. One hears stories of children being brought by social workers to their grandmother’s door at 2 am, with the grandmother being told, “Either you take the child or we will put them into care”, and the kindly grandmother cannot bear the idea of the child going into care. In the morning she realises that, because she has taken in the child, she is not entitled to any allowance. That is an absurd situation. We should look into the financial issues to see whether we can prove that some of these things would be worth doing.

My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy for these amendments and I congratulate the previous speakers, the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey, Lady Walmsley and Lady Hollis, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I confess that I regret that my name is not also on the amendment, as it is smack on the nose.

Some powerful speeches have been made. I shall not go over the same ground, as I want to come at the issue from a slightly different angle. In the pursuit of individualism, we have built up the individual at the expense of extended families. The vacuum that we have created has in many cases been filled bureaucratically. Families and friends are often disempowered from helping themselves by that bureaucracy. How much better it would be to have systems that reinforce natural family networks and kinship patterns. Our party has been making the point that we have developed a system in which bureaucratic processes take control and actively disempower the natural support networks that we relied on in the past and which other societies rely on to this day—and they are the happier for it.

I would like the amendment to be accepted. Clearly a process will go on today, but I shall be interested to see what we do with it at the next stage. It is entirely likely that, if the amendment were assessed on a real cost-return basis, it would save the state money. I am interested to hear the Minister’s views on the real costs, if any, or on the real savings, which I suspect that there would be.

I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on the amendment. I am reminded of my days as a young councillor in the 1970s on Glasgow Corporation, which had a magnificent reputation for looking after its children. The children could not always be fostered with families within the boundaries of Glasgow and so were placed with families all over Scotland. Every summer, the committee, the convenor and the shadow convenor, Labour and Conservative, would be given an allocation to visit foster homes throughout Scotland to see how the children were being looked after and to check that the social workers employed by the corporation were placing the children with good families. I was always amused by the old-fashioned language used. People would say, “Councillors are invited to visit fostered and farmed-out children”. I do not know why they used that word, which is an old Victorian term.

I remember being greatly impressed when visiting a household in Dumfries, well outside the city of Glasgow. The lady there had fostered children all her married life. She said, “You’re from Glasgow and you’ve turned up in a big limousine. The last time that happened, I wasn’t at home and the limousine went to the school, looking for the children. The headmaster said, ‘I want the Glasgow children to meet the councillors’. The following day, I marched up to that school and told the headmaster, whom I had known since he was a boy, that under no circumstances were those children ever to be described as the ‘Glasgow children’. They are children living in my home and they are my children”. That impressed me. On those visits I also met men and women looking after not only young children but sometimes young adult men and women with educational difficulties. Some of them were in their 30s but were still regarded as people being fostered and looked after in families.

Can I make a point to the Minister? One of my worries is that, while it is ideal if grandparents and aunts can look after these children, it should be remembered that in many cases the aunt or grandparents will be living in a different local authority area from where the child is being looked after in care. Sometimes that leads to disputes between authorities. While it is recognised that the aunt or grandparents should be given some financial support, arguments arise over whether it should be paid by, say, Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh or Newcastle.

I remember a case where a child in care with a local authority south of the border had an aunt in my constituency, when I was an MP. The child said that it would be lovely if they could stay with the aunt. A phone call was made to the aunt in the middle of the night asking if she would take the child. The aunt said that of course she would, but that she had financial commitments with a mortgage and children of her own and so would need some financial support. She was told that it would be all right. However, in the end, that verbal agreement made over the phone was not adhered to. The child was being very well looked after in Glasgow and no discrimination was made between that child and the others in the family, but there was a dispute. As the local MP, I went to the Minister at the time, Paul Boateng, and the matter was resolved. My worry is that we have to be careful that we do not have local authorities that are strapped for cash arguing about who should meet these commitments.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Massey for these amendments and pay tribute to her for the enormous amount of work that I know she has done, and continues to do, in this area. I also thank all other noble Lords who have spoken on this group of amendments. It has been a very powerful session, and it is therefore with some trepidation that I have to respond to the debate.

I start by saying that we are not here this afternoon to construct the strategies that will evolve from this Bill. We are seeking, from a child poverty perspective, to see that the framework which is provided for within this legislation covers all the bases effectively and gives us the opportunities to focus on the things that we need to. I readily accept the key points that have been made. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, spoke about the importance of the stability of the arrangements that kinship carers can provide. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, herself, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, spoke about the importance of data and resources in that, and they clearly have an impact on child poverty. The task is to see whether the Bill provides the framework for us to be able to address these issues.

The amendments seek to ensure that sufficient support is given to those carers through the child poverty strategy, and that we have a good understanding of the number of such children who live in poverty. We all share a commitment to improve the support available to those who care for children, including relatives and friends, and to ensure that the needs of this group are taken into account by Government and by local authorities. The evidence points to care by family and friends being the best approach for many children who cannot be looked after by their birth parents, and we want to recognise fully the additional support needs of this group, as well as the contribution family and friends carers make to the life chances of vulnerable children. To this end, we are already taking measures to help encourage children’s upbringing by their families, and help ensure that family and friends carers receive the appropriate financial and practical support they need.

We recognise in particular that grandparents are playing an ever-increasing role in family life, both in supporting parents and caring for children. They are a crucial provider of full-time kinship care for those children whose parents are unable to care for them themselves. Many grandparents also play an important role in providing flexible and affordable childcare, often in the context of wraparound care between school and more formal childcare settings. The measure announced in Budget 2009, referred to by my noble friend Lady Hollis, that grandparents and other family members with significant childcare responsibilities will be eligible for national insurance credits, firmly recognised the value that grandparents add to family life.

However, while we recognise the noble intention behind these amendments—to ensure that children raised by family and friends carers receive adequate support—I do not believe that they are necessary. Amendment 32 seeks to ensure that the child poverty strategy considers measures of financial provision for specified categories of family and friends carers, as well as for parents. Amendment 71 follows on from this by adding a definition of “family and friends carers” to Clause 19. This definition is very wide, and the term “otherwise unconnected” is not totally clear. The definition is broader than that of “relative” in the Children Act 1989, which is,

“a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (whether of the full blood or half blood or [by marriage or civil partnership)] or step-parent”.

The noble and learned Baroness looks as though she is going to—

What about the godparents though? That is why I told the godparents story and asked the Minister. The current definition would not include a godparent.

I understand that point; perhaps I can come back to it in a moment.

I was going to go on to say that the definition of “parent” in the Bill goes further than just parent, and includes any individual who has parental responsibility for a child under the Children Act 1989. This includes many of the persons described in paragraphs (i) to (v) of this amendment: they are already included as parents under the definition in the Bill. It specifically includes parents, step-parents, persons appointed as guardians, persons with residence orders and persons with special guardianship orders. Therefore, we are not convinced that it is necessary or appropriate to extend the Bill provisions to people who do not have parental responsibility within the meaning of the Children Act 1989. Using the definitions in the amendments tabled would encompass private foster carers and very distant relatives, although I acknowledge that it would also encompass godparents. However, that does not mean that their circumstances do not have to be taken into account.

Noble Lords will also wish to note that family and friends carers are already able to access a range of support under existing legislation. Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 places a general duty on local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need in their area, through the provision of a range and level of services appropriate to fulfilling those children’s needs. This includes providing services to any member of the child’s family, which includes persons with whom the child has been living even if they do not have parental responsibility. The services provided can include financial support. The Children and Young Persons Act 2008 amended Section 17 of the 1989 Act to make it easier for local authorities to provide regular and long-term financial payments to families caring for children where they assess this to be appropriate.

As with any other family, family and friends carers will be entitled to a range of financial support, such as child benefit and child tax credit, both of which are unaffected by any payments made under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. They may qualify for other benefits on broadly the same terms as parents, and if they are bringing up a child on their own and are unable to work they may claim income support on the same basis as other lone parents.

In addition to the range of support available under existing legislation for family and friends carers, we recognise also the need to ensure that adequate support is provided for all children through the child poverty strategy. The Bill sets out the main policy areas that the strategy will address in broad terms: promoting the employment and skills of parents and carers; providing financial support for households with children; improving family services; and achieving a good local environment.

I reassure noble Lords that although family and friends carers are not specifically mentioned in the building blocks, except to the extent that they are covered by the definition of “parent”, the measures in the strategy will have to address their needs in order to meet the 2020 income targets. One of the main objectives of the strategy, as stated in Clause 8(2)(b)—we had an interesting debate on this earlier in the week—is to ensure that, as far as possible, children in the UK do not experience socio-economic disadvantage.

In developing a strategy to meet this objective, the needs of vulnerable groups, and the specific measures required to meet these needs, we will be cross-cutting issues across all the main policy areas. The Bill avoids being too prescriptive about the strategy, both as regards the content of specific policy measures and the specific groups that need to be targeted, because it needs to respond to changing circumstances between now and 2020. However, we envisage that the analysis will consider the evidence on which groups are most at risk of poverty on all the measures. The strategy will then consider whether specific measures are needed to meet the needs of the most vulnerable groups of children, as well as of their parents and carers.

I turn now to Amendment 63. Our view is that this should be resisted because of practical difficulties in measuring the number of children who are cared for by family and friends, and who are experiencing the different types of poverty defined in Clauses 2 to 5. The practical difficulties arise both because the survey used to measure child poverty does not distinguish between children who are living with family or friends carers and those who are living with parents; and because the relatively small numbers of these children—although I accept that there is some disagreement about how small is small—would mean that it would not be possible to produce reliable estimates of the numbers involved. However, discussions are under way with stakeholders to consider how current data collections might provide information on the number of children living with relatives. To include reporting requirements based on households below average income surveys, which drive other targets, would not be possible because the surveys do not produce that data. Even if they did, the survey sample might produce some difficulties. However, that is not to say that there is no recognition of the need for more data. Work is under way to try to get the data, but not specifically by those means and for that purpose.

Finally, I turn to Amendment 71. We similarly appreciate the intention behind it, which is to ensure that the needs of children living with family and friends carers are properly taken into account by local authorities when conducting needs assessments in preparation for producing their local child poverty strategies. The purpose of the amendment is to require the Secretary of State to include the number and needs of children living with family and friends carers in the matters that must be considered by local authorities. There is currently nothing to prevent the Secretary of State making provision in the local child poverty needs assessment regulations on how the needs of children living with family and friends should be considered. The intention is that the regulations will set out those matters which a responsible local authority must consider in its child poverty needs assessment, while giving the authority flexibility to consider other matters that are appropriate.

The amendment therefore adds little to the Bill as local authorities can include these considerations in their local needs assessments under Clause 21 as currently drafted. Noble Lords will be aware that we have circulated draft regulations on the needs assessment, and I commit to looking at those again to see whether something more specific might be included to beef up the necessity and desirability of engaging local authorities in focusing on this. It is enabled by the Bill as it currently stands.

In addition, because the definition of family and friends carers in these amendments is very wide, it is unclear exactly which children would be included in the requirement. I say this with some trepidation but I hope that my comments illustrate the value that the Government place on the role of family and friends carers and the support that is already in place to enable them to fulfil that role. I reassure noble Lords that the Government will continue to work closely with the organisations representing family and friends carers to address their concerns about the support available to this important group.

The recent grandparents’ summit and grandparents’ reception provided a valuable opportunity for the Government to meet and hear the views of grandparents, a number of whom are caring full time for their grandchildren. In addition, Ministers recently met groups representing family and friends carers, including the Family Rights Group, the Grandparents’ Association and Grandparents Plus, to discuss their concerns, which the Government are carefully considering. In particular, concerns have been expressed about the difficulties experienced by some family and friends carers if they have to go to court to secure their care of a child and the complexity of the support available to them. We heard that graphically this afternoon. We are concerned that some grandparent families in particular are not getting the support to which they are entitled and we want to understand more about the barriers to this.

The Government will explore with stakeholders how best to identify these families and help them to access the support that they need. The views of family and friends carers have informed the Government’s families and relationships Green Paper, which was launched on 20 January. It sets out a broad cross-government strategy on supporting families and relationships, including where children are living with relatives or friends. It addresses the need for local authorities to have an effective framework for supporting family and friends carers and for fostering services to be clear about the support that they should provide where a child is cared for by a relative or friend within the care system. The Green Paper also announces a support pack for relatives who are caring for children because of a parent’s drug or alcohol misuse and to ensure that future developments in family and friends care are informed by best practice. It also announces that the Government are commissioning an updated study of the evidence on family and friends care, which will build on work undertaken by Professor Joan Hunt in 2003.

I am reminded that I did not deal specifically with godparents. Notwithstanding that godparents may not be included in the definition of parents for the purposes of this Bill, it does not preclude a focus on their work as kinship carers in the broader analysis of tackling socio-economic disadvantage. Part of that may be a focus on the monetary support that is available to them.

A lot of points have been raised on this issue and I understand the power behind them, particularly about the additional financial support that kinship carers should have. That may well be something which emerges from the strategies that the Bill will produce. They may also emerge from other work that is going on across the Government, as I have explained. However, I do not believe it is necessary to amend the Bill in the way proposed in order to achieve that outcome.

I was about to deal with one or two additional points that were raised in the debate, but if the noble and learned Baroness wants to come back on the point about godparents now, I will deal with it.

My noble friend Lady Hollis asked specifically about academies and whether they have a three-year pass on responsibilities for looked-after children. I cannot answer that question. It would be a bit grim if that were the case, but I will certainly find out and get back to my noble friend. Local academies normally do really good work, but I want to understand if that is the case. A number of noble Lords focused particularly on resources and the role of local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Martin, gave us the benefit of his experience in Glasgow and picked up on the issue of the different approaches taken by local authorities. The framework within the Bill for local authority needs assessments and the necessity to work with partners will be one route towards achieving a better focus.

The noble Lord, Lord Freud, asked about the cost benefits of this approach. I am sure he will understand that it is difficult to establish the costs and benefits of increasing financial support for particular families when a number of them enter into purely private arrangements and may not come to the attention of the local authority unless the child is in need. However, I think we would agree that in terms of investment in prevention and tackling child poverty, whatever the timeframe of the benefits, they are always a good investment.

Am I not right in thinking that private fostering arrangements have to be registered with the local authority? Surely the authority would know about the situation.

Yes, I think that is right. I have just been helped by the Box. The reference was not to private fostering arrangements but to other, purely private arrangements. I am sorry if I did not make that clear.

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. This is an important and central point. We are talking about some of the most vulnerable children with the worst outcomes of all children, and therefore this is not an issue one would want to dodge in a Child Poverty Bill. Putting jibes about Christmas trees to one side, this is a really important issue. I would like to request the Minister to ask the relevant department to make a swift, rough and ready assessment—or in the famous words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, a “quick and dirty” assessment—preferably before the Report stage, of the expenditure implications of these amendments and whether overall cost savings might be achieved. It could be done on a spreadsheet with a range of assumptions, but we need a basis on which we can look at this. I ask this because my strong instinct suggests that there are very considerable savings to be made, so I would be interested to know what the first instinct of the department is.

Let me say first that nobody is seeking to dodge this issue. The point I have been trying to make is that the extremely valid and powerful points that have been made are effectively already encompassed in the framework of the Bill. They should be addressed as part of the strategies and nothing needs to change in the wording of the Bill for that to happen. That is the import of the Government’s response on this. We are not saying that it is not important; of course it is.

I am so sorry to interrupt the Minister again, but we know that a lot of these good things can already be done. Local authorities are already enabled to support kinship carers financially and in other ways, but the fact is that they do not do it. That is why the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, feels so strongly that she has to keep bringing this up Bill by Bill, wherever there is a little niche to get it in. It is not happening. The noble Lord, Lord Martin, also made it very clear that sometimes when it does happen they fight over who is going to pay. We need clarity and certainty.

Those points are very well made. My response is that the framework of the Bill and the requirements for the need assessments and the local strategies should drive people to address that. More than that, we are going to issue guidance around all this, so it should be very clear to local authorities what their responsibilities in this matter are.

I was trying to deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Freud, about a cost-benefit analysis. He will understand that if part of the strategy that emerges is the need to make better additional provision for kinship carers, issues will arise about how much that should be and what should be the baseline. Until all the detail of that is worked through, any cost-benefit analysis would be at best very crude.

I come back to the point that the Bill is not about writing the strategies. It provides the framework within which the strategies should be developed and driven. Until those strategies are developed and refreshed every three years and evaluated on the basis of annual reports, some of the information that the noble Lord would quite reasonably like to see cannot really be provided in the terms that he asks for.

I thank the Minister for that response, but I must point out that if I were still sitting in an investment bank, which six or seven years ago I was—I am a reformed character now, I assure him—I would get a decent-looking spreadsheet on this overnight, which would give the rough order of magnitude of cost and expenses that we were talking about, and a framework in which to look at the issue. It is clearly an issue of immense importance. I cannot understand why we cannot have a rough spreadsheet with three or four basic assumptions so that we can just look at it informally. You can tell from the debate that there is a very strong group of Members who feel that the state should support this. I anticipate that this will come back in quite powerful form at later stages. Such a spreadsheet would be an immensely valuable stepping stone to allow us to take a sensible approach to this later.

My Lords, before my noble friend responds, I hope he will permit me to speak. I am sure we all very much welcome the completely consensual approach in the Committee today in seeking how best to respond to the problem. The difficulty is that the stats do not exist. Even my noble friend Lady Massey and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who have been working with colleagues in Grandparents Plus and the Grandparents’ Association, do not know whether we are talking about 200,000 or 300,000 or 100,000 or 500,000 grandparent and kinship carers of these children, and for how long, and at what cost, and at what age, and so on. The problem is that we cannot start on that building block. Most of the panel surveys do not pick this stuff up. Perhaps we have not asked the right questions. It is then very hard to get to a spreadsheet outcome, although I would dearly love to see it. That is why this amendment is asking that, if we cannot do quick and dirty because we do not have enough stats, can we at least build up appropriate stats over time? That is why I hope that my noble friend will think about an amendment to ensure that we identify this as an issue that the commission has to take on board. I think that would satisfy us.

The second point that I wanted to ask about was that my noble friend made an interesting comment in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about local authorities. He seemed to suggest, if I heard him correctly, that he was going to write to local authorities to get them to clarify their response and their relationship. Until we have the hard stats on which we can develop a well founded policy, I think I understood him to say that local authorities are going to be required to ensure that kinship placements, even of children who have not come into the formal, looked-after care system, will none the less get a degree of appropriate financial support. I understand the burden on local taxpayers and the like, but none the less they should have a degree of appropriate financial support to allow those children to remain in—I shall not call it the black care system—the informal care system that family members often represent. Can my noble friend help us on that so that we know that some of us can go back to our local authority and say, “You are going to do this, chums”? They will need to start collecting the data and thinking about strategies to provide appropriate support for children who do not need to go into the full bureaucracy and the high costs of the full, looked-after care system.

To save the Minister getting up and down, I wonder whether I might add my two cents’ worth. I wanted to ask him about two points. The first is in relation to data. It seems to me that it will be impossible for local authorities or the Government to be able to deal with informal arrangements between parents and kinship relations or other carers. Nobody could ask them to do that. However, the majority of the cases that we are talking about today have come through the local authority going to a member of the family, godparent or other friend and asking them to look after a child in need under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, on which I want to ask a second question. That will be a record in the local authority. That information is available. The authority may need to scrabble through its documents, but I do not see why that would do any harm. The government department would then have the data on every child placed with a kinship family in the past five years, say. That information is available to be obtained and I would have thought that those behind the Minister would say that that could be done. That would give some very valuable data. Local authorities, under the social workers, will have it in their records.

Secondly, I was profoundly disturbed to hear that the Minister had been fed with Section 17 of the 1989 Act, under which the local authority has responsibility for children in need. I would like to know whether the Minister has any evidence that any local authority anywhere within England and Wales has ever paid a kinship carer under Section 17 of the 1989 Act. I would like to bet £5, if that is not improper, that they have not done so.

My Lords, on the latter point, I cannot give an answer off the top of my head. However, I will ask the team to go away and see if we can lose the noble and learned Baroness’s £5, although she did make a fair point.

I will try first to unpick the issue of data. I will deal with the data on which the targets that form part of the Bill are based, namely the households below average income surveys. As I tried to explain, the surveys do not differentiate who the adults are in the family when the data are collected. Therefore, it is not possible to look at the surveys in the same way as we do for measuring targets, and identify kinship care arrangements: it does not flow from the data. There is a separate point about the general need for data: one recognises that. Work is under way, as I have said. I am happy to reflect on my noble friend's suggestion about whether we could do anything more specific in the Bill to drive that more formally. I cannot commit to that, but I take the point. However, I would separate it from relying on the households below average income survey, which produces the targets, and assuming that it will provide this source of data; because, without significant amendments to the survey, it would not. I do not know whether amendment of the survey is possible: it would certainly be costly, and there may be other implications. I hope that I have explained the issues around data.

Local authorities are enjoined to produce local strategies. They are required to undertake a needs assessment. One would expect them to be in a strong position to assess the needs of children in poverty in their area. I hope that I have said that, as part of the process, regulations and guidance will be issued to local authorities in this area. We need to see how that guidance might be used to focus on the issues that have been raised this afternoon, so that when local authorities devise their strategies and act on them, these things are at the heart of the strategies. That was the purpose of those comments: there was no suggestion of writing to local authorities in the interim on the basis that my noble friend suggested.

I am not sure about the scope of the investment banking activities of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, or about what he did with the spreadsheets that he produced on what seemed to be a fairly broad-brush basis. Perhaps it was practices like that which led us into the financial crisis that has beset us across the globe. However, the point here is one that my noble friend Lady Hollis touched on. We do not have the data for the numbers involved; and even if we did, we have no detailed work on what sort of rate per week would be appropriate as a payment to kinship carers, and on what other considerations might be taken into account. The work that is being done as a result of the Green Paper on family relationships and support, and the further studies that I referred to would be the basis on which to produce that information. Producing a few figures on a few pieces of paper in the short term would not help us very much. I hope that we share the broad principle that addressing poverty and making sure that all children are able to flourish and have decent living standards is a sound investment for government. That is at the heart of the Bill.

My Lords, I am not sure where to begin. I thank all noble Lords for their speeches in what has been a very moving debate. I also thank the Minister for his valiant responses. I know that he is not a dodger, because I have worked with him before on this issue and he has shown great interest and met many grandparents.

This Bill is about child poverty. Two things seem to be going on. One is about what local authorities know, or should know, about how many people are involved in this. I agree with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, that they must have some information, and many will have a lot of information.

They should know what the problems are if they are to address this pocket of child poverty. I know that the organisations that support family and friends carers are becoming more and more organised and determined to get something done. I should be surprised if some of them do not run out of this debate and try to do some work on the figures—maybe even before our good people behind us can get to grips with it.

The noble Lord, Lord Freud, was not on the list of movers, because I thought that he would be the noble Baroness, Lady Morris.

We have all worked so closely with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, on this that I assumed that she would be taking it forward, but we are delighted to have the noble Lord here, despite the spreadsheet ideas.

When we debate the issue of family and friends carers it sometimes gets clearer but sometimes it is more confusing. It certainly gets more passionate and we have to realise, as the noble Lord, Lord Martin, said, that in all these local authority manoeuvrings vulnerable children and families are in the middle of all this. For example, if a grandparent takes over a child who has lost his or her parents, the child and the grandparent will be grieving and there may be all kinds of behavioural difficulties. There is no money. One grandparent said to me, “When I should be reading my grandson a bedtime story I am filling in the bloody forms from the local authority”. It simply is not good enough.

Some local authorities—Nottinghamshire is one—have at least a part-time worker who will help the kinship carer to fill in the forms, tell them where to get support and generally help them to get the money. The problem is that many local authorities do not have such workers and they do not come up with support, financial or otherwise. It depends on where you live, which is not good enough either. I have met quite a lot of family and friends carers and they all say that the local authority is a point of contact and sometimes they are absolutely useless but sometimes they are really helpful. I know that there is guidance about, but the problem with guidance is that no one has to follow it. I do not think that that is stringent enough to deal with vulnerable children.

Maybe the Minister and his officials could meet a group of us to come up with one overarching amendment that is simpler than this one. I am encouraged to ask this because there has been widespread support across all parties. We have to move forward in some way on this issue. I am not entirely happy with some of my noble friend’s responses, although I know that he supports it, but I think that we could come up with something that is more solid and much shorter so that this important issue on child poverty is addressed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Would my noble friend permit me to speak in relation to the guidance? Technically I am advised it would be statutory guidance, but that only half answers the point. I am more than happy to commit to a meeting together with officials. I stress that the issue for me is whether you need anything more specifically set down in the Bill in this regard.

Nothing that has been debated and argued for this afternoon is precluded under this Bill. These things should be addressed as part of local authority and UK-wide strategies. If we are apart, it is on the necessity of adding further words to the Bill to achieve that, but I am more than happy to meet to see if we can close that gap.

Amendment 32 withdrawn.

Amendment 33

Moved by

33: Clause 8, page 4, line 23, at beginning insert “physical or mental”

My Lords, Amendment 33 is short and simple, it is not quick and dirty. I tabled it to emphasise that any measures taken in the UK strategy must take account of the range of potential health problems that might be impacting on the welfare of a child.

Mental health concerns remain, unfortunately, underdiagnosed and undertreated. Also unfortunately, but not surprisingly, they are more likely to appear in people struggling in lower income brackets. Failing to address a health concern in a child at a young age can lead needlessly to lifelong problems.

It is also not just the physical and mental health of the child that the Secretary of State must concern himself with. The Minister is well aware of the impact on employment prospects a physical or mental health problem has. Even where this is not the case, children growing up in a household with a parent with a health problem are often forced to take on the role of carer themselves. Not only are these children at risk of being brought up in a workless household, they must also struggle to fit their lives around the needs of their parents. I beg to move.

My Lords, perhaps I could support this amendment. It is very important that one recognises that mental health problems, both for themselves and for their parents or other carers, are among the problems that children in the poorest families have. To have the word “health” here rather assumes physical health. Of course, technically a description of health would include mental health, but it does tend to be overlooked. It is a wise precaution to have it in here, in order to alert those who will be dealing with strategies to have in mind the mental health both of the children, and particularly, as the noble Lord, Lord Freud said, of the families. One of the elements of poverty is the very considerable mental health problems of the carers, often induced by drugs or drink.

My Lords, may I simply observe that when we become a society that does not feel it necessary to specify that health includes mental health as well as physical health, we will have become one that gives mental health the appropriate attention and resourcing that it deserves?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for his amendment. I am going to sound a bit like a broken record in my response.

As he is aware, we have deliberately set out the main areas of policy in broad terms in Clause 8(5) to allow the strategy to respond to changing circumstances between now and 2020. Part of the task in developing the strategy will be to consider the specific measures which are needed in each area.

As many noble Lords have pointed out, there is an important link between health issues, particularly mental health issues, and the causes and consequences of child poverty. Health and employment in particular are fundamentally linked; the noble Lord made that point. Health has an impact upon an individual’s ability to enter, remain in and return to work and can affect a parent’s ability to provide for their family. Equally, work, or the lack of it, can have an impact on an individual’s health. There is good evidence that living in a workless household has a measurable adverse impact on later mental health and individual resilience.

The Black review of the health of Britain’s working-age population was published in March 2008. Dame Carol estimated that the annual economic cost of ill health in terms of working days lost and worklessness was, according to the spreadsheets, over £100 billion. The economic costs in terms of the waste of human potential are matched by the personal cost to the health and well-being of individuals and their families. The government response to the Black review, published in November 2008, launched a package of initiatives aimed at improving the health in work of Britain’s working-age population. The initiatives are designed to create new perspectives on health and work, improve workplaces and support people into work.

In relation to mental health specifically, recently we asked three experts in the field of mental health—Rachel Perkins, Paul Farmer and Paul Litchfield—to carry out a review into the ways in which we might be able to reduce the high levels of worklessness among people with a mental health condition. The findings of the review, entitled Realising Ambitions, Better Employment Support for People with a Mental Health Condition, was published in December 2009. We will consider those recommendations and respond in due course. The amendment asks for the inclusion of health in subsection (5)(c) to be broken down into physical or mental health. It is our view that the amendment is unnecessary, because as has been recognised in a powerful way by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, “health” is already wide enough to cover physical and mental health. As I have already said, the building blocks are broad areas for consideration when preparing the strategy, and we should avoid being too prescriptive in the wording.

Again, we are not apart on the need to address mental health as part of these strategies. The noble Lord suggested that not enough had been done in relation to mental health. I will not take the time of the Committee to run through a great deal of work that has been done in recent times and the investment that has been made, but I do not think that we are apart on the need to see this as part of the strategy, only the need to include it in specific terms in the Bill. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will not press the matter.

I thank the Minister for that response. I should assure him that this amendment is not trying to get employment for psychoanalysts. I am most grateful for the observations of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. The noble and learned Baroness in particular put some of the arguments better than I managed to myself.

Good work is going on. Dame Carol Black and Rachel Perkins have produced work that meshes together well. It is for that reason that I am slightly disappointed, rather than baffled, that the Minister finds it worthwhile to resist this rather minor change. The reason I think it is a valuable change, and why I think that he would consider it of value, is that mental health is not a marginal issue in the community we are talking about; it is a substantial part of the problem. In the community of people on invalidity benefit and employment support allowance, which comprises around 2.6 or 2.7 million people, it should be noted that 42 per cent entered the category for mental health reasons. There are estimates that very many of those people who go to IB without it end up with some mental problems because it is actually a rather depressing existence—depressing and worse—being on IB. We are talking about well over half of that very substantial group of people affected by mental health. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, when you use the word “health” it is not appreciated that mental health is encompassed in it. It is just not normally thought of immediately.

This is a very simple amendment which is designed to reinforce a very important point which affects a large number of people who are directly in the category that a child poverty Bill is involved with.

I do not want the noble Lord to finish without making it clear on the record that I hope nothing I said could or should be interpreted as saying that I think this is a minor issue. Mental health is a very important issue, which is why a lot of investment has gone on in it. It is one that clearly has an impact on child poverty and will need to feature prominently in the strategy. I think we just depart on whether it needs to be specifically mentioned. It is an important issue.

I thank the Minister for that intervention. I absolutely do not want to say that he was saying that it is a minor problem, because I know perfectly well he knows that it is not a minor problem; it is a major problem. This, however, is a declamatory Bill in a lot of its aspects. I do not mean to be rude—do not take that in the wrong way—it is trying to say that child poverty is important. In that sense, it is a Bill that is trying to make a point and shift perceptions generally. In that context, it would also appear to be absolutely appropriate to take “mental health” out, and make clear that it is vital in that context. So it is an incredibly small change in the sense that it is just perceptions and one can interpret health to be mental health—people do—but you are making a statement about the importance of mental health in this area and I think that is valuable in the context of an attempt to deal with child poverty.

With those observations, for the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 33 withdrawn.

Sitting suspended.

Amendment 33A

Moved by

33A: Clause 8, page 4, line 23, after “health” insert “and nutrition”

My Lords, with the leave of the Grand Committee, and at the request of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, I will move Amendment 33A in his name. He very much regrets that he cannot be here today.

As the Minister has grouped a later amendment with this one, this is the right place to have a short debate about the whole subject of free school meals and milk for children whose families receive working tax credit. We have a lot of sympathy with the first two amendments and wholeheartedly support the Government’s amendment, which increases free school meals and milk to primary school children whose families receive working tax credit.

The first amendment, Amendment 33A, would insert the words “and nutrition” after “health”, which would mean that the Secretary of State had to consider what, if any, measures ought to be taken in the area of health and nutrition, as well as other matters, in preparing a UK strategy. The second amendment, Amendment 41A, would add another paragraph:

“In preparing a UK strategy, the Secretary of State must consider the desirability of extending eligibility for free school lunches and milk to secondary school pupils in the UK whose parent or parents are in receipt of working tax credit”.

I freely admit that there are no accurate costings in any of this, although we think that they might be in the region of £1 billion as a maximum. At this stage, no one is advocating that the Secretary of State should do anything other than look at the merits of this proposal. However, the more I think about the amendment, the more taken with it I am. Not only would free school meals for this cohort of children be good for their health, but other benefits would flow. A lot more children would be eligible for free school meals and this proposal would not stigmatise those who at present are reluctant to be singled out for fear of being labelled poor. I gather that there is a real problem of take-up in many areas on that ground and I can quite understand why. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, more that 350,000 children do not claim free school meals who are entitled to do so.

School meals are now prepared according to the Government’s new healthy eating guidelines for secondary schools, which were introduced in September 2009, thanks in part to Jamie Oliver, I believe. We all heard a few weeks ago about the unhealthy lunchboxes that many children bring to school. According to research carried out in Leeds, less than 1 per cent of school lunchboxes meet the Government’s healthy eating guidelines. That is across all socio-economic groups. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, knows what I mean by that. Poor nutrition for children leaves a legacy of ill health in adulthood, such as the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Many parents are probably at their wits’ end to know what food to give their children at lunchtime. Should it be convenience food that they know will be eaten, such as crisps, or should it be healthy food, which might be left? In any case, for children to be offered a hot and nutritious meal, particularly in the middle of a freezing winter such as this, must be a good thing.

Another benefit is the increased concentration of well nourished children. In one secondary school in Norfolk, teachers reported a marked improvement in afternoon learning, behaviour and attendance at school clubs when children had eaten a school lunch. This is an important finding and must be factored into the whole debate. Here I pay tribute to the West Norfolk Women and Carers’ Pensions Network and in particular Alexandra Kemp, the chief executive, who has done a lot of interesting and important work on this issue.

Many other benefits flow from a much larger cohort of children having school lunches prepared on the school premises. The local economy would be boosted by more local sourcing of meat, vegetables and fruit, leading to an environmentally friendly reduction of food miles. There would be the potential for upskilling more kitchen staff, which could lead to many of them studying for NVQ level 2 in catering, as has happened in schools where more of them have prepared their own food. A lot more part-time and therefore family-friendly local jobs would be provided with the school holidays free.

There would be a need for people with computer skills to help to use the relevant computer software that checks nutritional standards and there would be a need for proper nutritional advice and so potential for career advancement for catering staff. It is worth noting that private companies can charge £200 a day for such advice, which, of course, most schools cannot afford. There is scope for the Future Jobs Fund to cover extra staffing costs and training—I would be interested in the Minister’s comment on that. As for the reduction in costs to the NHS because of the potential for improved health outcomes, this might be over the longer term, but it should not be overlooked.

In West Norfolk, a case study was carried out with extremely beneficial results. Children were involved in helping to create menus; local suppliers and farmers had increased business; the school had more autonomy in making nearly everything from bread rolls and pizzas to meat pies; and, most important of all, the children liked the meals.

To sum up, we believe that the way in which we nourish our children has a major bearing on child poverty. There is a great deal of merit in this amendment, which we believe should be considered. I beg to move.

My Lords, I start by declaring an interest. It is unusual when I am wearing my Work and Pensions hat that I have to declare that I am a farmer and grower, but I suppose that I have a particular interest in this subject. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for picking up the amendment, because I think that it is an interesting one on which the Committee will find itself largely united in support.

We welcome the amendments and entirely support the noble Baroness in her concern for proper nutrition at all ages. We discussed at length the enormous impact that maternal nutrition has on the health of the unborn child. I am mindful of the interesting contributions to that debate made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who is not in her place, and the noble Lord, Lord Rea; they added much to the Committee’s knowledge on the subject. I am glad that we now have the opportunity to look at similar effects later in the child’s life.

A great deal of academic and government research is available on this topic. The results are clear: eating a nutritionally healthy meal at school improves the child’s behaviour and education results. This appears to be true at all ages. The School Food Trust’s studies last year indicated that children in both primary and secondary school were more likely to concentrate and be engaged and alert in the classroom when changes were made to the food and dining room. The comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, about the West Norfolk experience reinforced this work.

Following Jamie Oliver’s campaign to make school meals healthier, the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University issued a report showing the statistically significant improvement in key stage 2 exam results. It seems clear that, where school meals are done well, they are enormously beneficial to children. This is equally if not more true for the subset of children eligible to receive free school meals, who are even less likely to receive sufficient or proper nutrition at home. I therefore welcome the Minister’s decision to allow for the extension of free school meals to a wider group of lower-income households.

I have some questions. The School Food Trust’s studies indicate that there is still a low take-up of free school meals. For example, 16 per cent of primary school pupils are eligible, but the take-up is only 13 per cent. The statistics are even worse for secondary schools, with only 9.5 per cent out of a possible 13 per cent taking up free school meals. Will the Minister comment on these statistics? Are the Government seeking to improve take-up? Has sufficient funding been made available to deal with a 100 per cent take-up of free school meals?

It is not just lunch. Research indicates that breakfast can also be enormously important in giving children, especially those from chaotic families, a good start to the day. The alternative is hungry, distracted pupils who are unable to concentrate for half their lessons. Of course free school meal provision is largely a matter for local authorities, but do the Government intend to undertake any more pilots or research in this area?

Is my noble friend the Minister proposing to speak twice, first on his amendments—Amendment 80 and so on—and then at the end of the debate? I want to speak to the earlier amendments in the light of what he has to say about the government amendments, so I invite him to double up, so to speak.

If the Committee is happy for me to do so, I propose to speak to the government amendments, give my view on the opposition amendments and then wind up my remarks.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for moving Amendment 33A in the absence of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, whose commitment to supporting children I acknowledge. As I said, I will speak to Amendments 41A and 33A and propose government Amendments 80, 81A and 82.

Although I support the thrust of what the opposition amendments propose, I cannot accept them. The Government recognise that making the transition into work can be difficult and, to help families to make this move, the Government want to extend free school meals to primary school pupils in working families with an income of up to £16,190 in England from September 2010. This was announced in the Pre-Budget Report in December 2009. The extension will be staged, with the first rollout to up to 50 per cent of eligible primary school pupils from September 2010 and the rest by September 2011.

This extension will provide valuable support to low-income families and improve incentives for parents to work. Around 500,000 children will benefit once it is fully rolled out. Although the Secretary of State proposes to make an order that will extend eligibility to children of primary school age, starting with those at key stage 1 or younger from September 2010 and rolling out to those at key stages 2 and 3 from September 2011, it will be possible to make further orders at some point in the future to extend eligibility to secondary school-age children if it is felt that this is necessary. That will not need further primary legislation; the change enables it to be done by secondary legislation.

The current legislation—the Education Act 1996—outlines entitlements to free school meals and allows us to change entitlement only on the basis of the benefit receipt of the parent, rather than the age of the child. It is therefore not possible to use an existing order-making power to extend the entitlement to the primary school-age children of parents who are entitled to working tax credits but not to any secondary school-age children in the same family. We therefore wish to amend Section 512ZB of the Education Act 1996 to extend the order-making powers to enable eligibility for a free school meal to be extended to a child if he or his parent is entitled to a tax credit and the child meets certain prescribed conditions. This will allow the Secretary of State to make an order extending eligibility to free school meals to a child if he or his parent is entitled to the working tax credit and the family has a household income of up to £16,190. It will also allow the Secretary of State to prescribe the age of the child. The Education Act 1996 extends to England and Wales, and the change will also apply to Wales. However, it will be a matter for Welsh Ministers to determine whether they wish to use this power to make an order in relation to Wales.

Noble Lords may ask why these changes are being made through the Child Poverty Bill. My response is twofold. First, the extension of the free school meal entitlement will assist in the reduction of child poverty by supporting low-income families and improving incentives to work. Once fully implemented, it will lift up to 50,000 children out of poverty. Secondly, it is essential to do this now, as otherwise we will not be able to meet the commitment set out in the PBR that 50 per cent of primary school pupils from low-income families will be eligible by September 2010.

I understand the need for urgency and I am in favour of the policy, but I cavil at the fact that the Minister is using a United Kingdom Bill, which also covers Scotland, to deal with matters that relate to England and Wales as distinct from what happens in Scotland. It is much easier to understand these bits of legislation, particularly in relation to such things as free school meals, if the education Bills north and south of the border are distinct. This is a United Kingdom Bill, but it imports English legislation in a way that does not cover Scotland.

I understand the point that the noble Lord makes. Perhaps I may come on to the position in Scotland in a moment. The mechanism for dealing with these matters in England and Wales is the Education Act as it is and that is the Act that we need to amend. This is an opportunity to do so. If we did not take this opportunity, I am not sure how we would be able to move forward quickly.

Amendments 81, 81A and 82 are consequential amendments. Amendment 81 amends Clause 28, which is the provision of the Bill dealing with extent. As the new provision on free school meals extends to England and Wales only and is being included in Part 3, we need to amend Clause 28 to give effect to this. Amendments 81A and 82 amend Clause 29, which deals with commencement. We are proposing that the provision on free school meals will come into force two months after Royal Assent, along with the other provisions in Part 2.

Amendment 41A seeks to ensure the extension of eligibility for free school meals to secondary school children whose parents are on working tax credit in the UK. As I have said, the amendment does not preclude the Government from making further changes at a later date if it is thought necessary. However, as set out in the Pre-Budget Report, the Government believe that early intervention is vital. Therefore, extending eligibility to primary age children is the right way to proceed.

While I am sympathetic to the result that this amendment ultimately wants, the cost of including secondary school children across the UK is of real substance. When fully rolled out in England alone, extending eligibility to primary school children in low-income families will cost over £200 million a year. Agreeing to this amendment would put significant additional new pressures on school budgets, which would have to be met by potentially reducing other school services that are already committed.

The Government chose to focus the available resource on primary school children rather than secondary school children to maximise efficiency. This is consistent with the strategy that early intervention has more impact. We know that the parents of young children face the greatest barriers to returning to work. Therefore, by focusing efforts here, allowing parents to return to work and not be penalised by losing their children’s free school meals eligibility, there is the potential that 50,000 children will be lifted out of poverty. Also, the focus on primary school children means that good healthy eating habits will be learnt from an early age and so be likely to be carried on independently at secondary school.

With regard to the rollout across the UK, the provision of free school meals is a matter for the devolved Administrations. We are seeking powers in this Bill to extend free school meals to primary school children in the legal jurisdiction of England and Wales. Provision beyond that is a matter for the other devolved Administrations.

Finally, Amendment 33A, which was tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is similar to Amendment 33 in that it seeks to specify a particular aspect of health that should be taken into account in developing the child poverty strategy. As with the previous amendment, it is our view that Amendment 33A is unnecessary because “health” is already wide enough to cover issues around healthy eating and nutrition. The building blocks listed here are broad areas for consideration and, if we keep subdividing the list of issues at subsection (5), we will end up with a very long list indeed.

Notwithstanding that and given our previous debate, we are minded to take away the issue of specifically adding “mental health”. However, we would not wish to make the list overly extensive by adding “nutrition” to it. We believe that it is covered. It is not that the issue is not important, but it does not need to be specified in the Bill. I do not wish to imply that we do not recognise the importance of good nutrition, particularly for developing children, and of course we recognise that living in poverty can impact on the ability of parents to provide a nutritious diet for themselves and for their children. We have taken significant steps to ensure that all families have a nutritious diet and recognise the importance of healthy eating.

Perhaps I may give some examples. We published Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives in January 2008, which set out how the Government will support everyone in society to maintain a healthy weight. That is supported by £372 million of funding over three years. School food has improved enormously. All school meals must now meet standards that help children to get the nutrition that they need to grow up fit and healthy. This is being supported by an additional investment of over £650 million between 2005 and 2011.

It is particularly important that children from our poorer families eat well in schools, as school lunch can be their most important meal of the day. The amendments that we are proposing to this Bill will increase eligibility of free school meals. We are also prioritising maternal nutrition, making a health in pregnancy grant of £190, as we referred to in our earlier debates.

I hope that I have assured the noble Baroness on behalf of the noble Earl that the Government attach great importance to ensuring that people of all ages are well nourished. We do not see it as necessary, however, to include the word “nutrition” in the Bill. We have given consideration to extending free school meals to secondary schools—

Indeed, I was going to come on to the noble Baroness’s points. However, I gather that my noble friend will wish to speak and perhaps I will deal with that and other points when I wind up.

As I said, we do not believe that “nutrition” adds anything to the Bill. We have given consideration to secondary school children but, as there is a potentially significant cost attached to that, we believe that it is right to focus the investment on primary school children. I commend the government amendment.

My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend on government Amendment 80 on primary school children, which I think is great and terrific. I accept every argument that he has made. Everything else that I want to go on to say in no way seeks to prioritise a different group of children over primary school children. The second thing that I am delighted about is that my noble friend has made it very clear today that, as resources permit and with political will, we can extend this in due course to that same cohort of children, possibly, as they go on into secondary school, where they can take this with them. That is admirable.

Let me just challenge some of the assumptions behind the arguments in favour of primary school children but ignoring secondary school children altogether. Arguments in favour of secondary children have perhaps been neglected. Let me suggest some. My noble friend said, absolutely rightly, that this is part of trying to ensure that people, especially lone parents, but also couple families, can make the transition into work without having a double hit, not only of work costs but of school dinners. That happens when they move from being on benefits with child tax credit to being on working tax credit and child tax credits, when they get cut out irrespective of their income levels simply because they are claiming WTC.

What my noble friend will also know—it was his legislation, after all—is that we are bringing lone parents who until a year or so ago did not have to enter the labour market until the youngest child was 16 into the labour market when the child is seven, with work preparation from three. I absolutely, fully and 100 per cent support all my noble friend’s endeavours in that field.

What that means, however, is that we have a cohort of lone parents who have children under 16 but above 10 or 11—it first came down to 12—who will be coming into the labour market over this year and next year and so on, and who will face the same barriers to making work pay as other people. This is a cohort of lone parents for whom, in the space of two years or thereabouts, the threshold will change from their youngest child being 16 to the youngest child being seven. Therefore, if the argument about trying to overcome barriers to work applies to lone parents with children of five, six or seven, it would equally apply to that cohort of lone parents coming on to jobseeker’s allowance for the first time.

My second argument is a different one. It comes from the IFS research and from the department’s own research, which shows that it is older children who are more costly and who keep families below the poverty line. That is also associated with a number of those who have a child over 10, and especially over 14, which is likely to add considerably to the equivalence scale costs of those parents. If you look across the poverty line, for example, you see that a lone parent with two children under 14 is likely, thanks to the improvements that the Government have made in benefit levels, to be at or even above the poverty line on benefits, which is terrific. However, if she has two children and one of them is over 14, she may not be. The same is true if there are three children: if one of them is over 14, the lone parent is not necessarily likely to reach the poverty line, which she would do if the children were younger. I fully accept that this is a point about the equivalence scales. The same is even more dramatically true for couple families: the deficit on benefits between having children under 14 and over 14 virtually doubles in terms of the poverty line.

Why is that the case? There may be a point about equivalence scales—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, was quite right on this. However, it is also the fact that in this country, unlike the rest of Europe, our support for children is based on front-end loading it for the earlier children, rather than back-end loading it. This includes child benefit, although obviously the tax credit is the same for all children. In most of Europe, partly because of natalist policies wanting to encourage larger families, tax credits support later children more generously and, on the equivalent, older children. We do not. Almost everyone agrees that we should at some point rebalance tax credits, because half of all poor children live in larger families, and larger families are more likely to have children who are over the ages of 10 or 15 and therefore come below the poverty line. It is a circle that reinforces itself.

The free school dinners scheme for those children is a very good proxy for failing to rebalance the tax credit line, which we should do if we are to ensure that, irrespective of family size and ages, families on benefit have equal relationships as of right to the poverty line, at 60 per cent. At present they do not.

I absolutely accept the financial arguments of my noble friend. It is a big-ticket item, which is why I am delighted to hear that we can do it without requiring primary legislation in future; it gives us all a lot of head space. However, before he comes back on Report with whatever he may seek to do on any of this discussion, will he take on board the fact that the financial need is greatest for older children? This is reflected in all the stats that we have on poverty lines. The need is also greatest where there are larger families—again, that tends to be families with older children. These are the children who are not going to be getting the benefit of free school dinners at the very point in time when we are requiring the lone parent in particular to enter the labour market and suffer all the disadvantages of entering into work. Will my noble friend reflect on these issues and see whether he can help us any further on Report?

My Lords, my noble friend, as ever, is challenging. I will certainly reflect on that and come back on Report. Perhaps before then we should have a discussion. I see the point that she is making, particularly about the change in the lone parent obligations that has progressively come into being. Part of my answer will be that the issue is not only barriers to work but the importance of early engagement with young people, such as helping to get them into healthy eating habits and the benefits that can flow from that—

That was only part of the Government’s response and I think that my noble friend is entitled to a more detailed response.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred to the take-up of free school meals. This is a hugely important issue. School lunch take-up is one of the indicators in the child health PSA and the national indicator set. Increasing take-up of school lunches is vital to increasing healthy eating in schools and to the financial viability of school lunch services. It is also a priority for the School Food Trust, which is supporting schools through its Million Meals and teenage campaigns. The results of its fourth annual survey of take-up of school meals for 2008-09 were announced in July last year. Overall figures for 2008-09 should not be compared directly with published national take-up figures for previous years for a number of reasons. However, comparisons can be made for a subset of local authorities. These show that the change in take-up was 0.1 per cent in primary schools and 0.5 per cent in secondary schools—not huge, but at least heading in the right direction.

Now, for the first time, we have a truly comprehensive picture of school lunch take-up across the country. The trust did a tremendous job in collecting usable data from 145 local authorities at primary level and 139 local authorities at secondary level. We are pleased to see that in those local authorities where it has been possible to make a comparison there have been increases in take-up at both primary and secondary levels.

The noble Baroness referred to removing the stigma of free school meals, which is a hugely important issue. Some children and families may feel precluded from taking advantage of their entitlement because of the way in which the scheme is administered and the stigma that is attached to it. Following a Cabinet Office study and report that called for a minimisation of the involvement of school staff in free school meal issues, the DCSF has worked closely with other government departments to develop a free school meals eligibility checking system, known as the Hub. The Hub enables local authorities to simultaneously check data from the DWP, Home Office and HMRC in order to ascertain whether a parent qualifies for free school meals. It represents a significant achievement in reducing bureaucracy and costs for local authorities and is a vital plank in our drive to improve school food by encouraging more parents to sign up their children for free school lunches. The Hub is currently being extended to allow parents to check their own eligibility and apply online for free school meals. A number of schools and local authorities have also put in place swipe cards and other systems that, as well as reducing queues in the canteen, help to ensure that children who receive free school meals are not identified. There is progress on that.

The noble Baroness raised the possibility of enhanced opportunities for free school meals under the Future Jobs Fund. That is absolutely right and it gives me the opportunity to remind noble Lords that this is a £1 billion project. I do not have the up-to-date numbers of the take-up to hand, but it has been a significant issue in helping to keep down unemployment rates among young people.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said that this is a UK Bill that focuses only on England and in part on Wales. It is not entirely fair to describe this as a UK Bill, because certain sections involving targets and strategy are UK-wide. However, Part 2 is England only. For the record, as the noble Lord will be aware, eligibility for free school meals in Scotland is similar to that in England, except that, in addition, families can claim free school lunches for their children if they receive both maximum child tax credit and maximum working tax credit and if their income is under £6,420 in 2009-10, as assessed by HMRC. Discussions are taking place in Scotland with a view to agreeing an extension to free school meals eligibility for pupils in the early years of primary school. This is part of moving Scotland towards a universal policy of healthy, balanced and nutritious free school lunches for all pupils in the first three years of primary school. Once the details of an extension have been agreed, it is expected that this will be implemented from August 2010.

I hope that I have dealt with the points that noble Lords raised. I am conscious that I owe my noble friend a more detailed and considered response to the important point that she raised. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press the amendments on behalf of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and that noble Lords will feel able to support the Government’s amendments.

My Lords, I thank both the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for their support for this amendment. I also thank the Minister for his reply. It is the right way round to make sure that primary school children have any extra free school meals that are going, so that good health and eating habits are laid down when they are young. However, what is significant is the research that has been done—the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, mentioned it—that showed a statistically significant improvement in the exam results of children who had had a nutritious meal in the middle of the day. That is extremely important. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for her new take on the problem and for her points about lone parents and the fact that families with older children are those most in poverty. That is an important point.

Will the Minister make sure that the DWP reminds local authorities that there is a possibility of using the Future Jobs Fund to train staff for important, flexible part-time local jobs? Eventually, we could kill a lot of birds with one stone. I was glad to hear that rolling this out for secondary school children would not need more primary legislation. That is important.

I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, will read the debate before Report and we will study it to see whether we should bring the matter back. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 33A withdrawn.

Amendment 34 not moved.

Amendment 35

Moved by

35: Clause 8, page 4, line 25, at end insert—

“( ) the promotion of increased engagement of parents and families to help eradicate child poverty and socio-economic disadvantage;( ) the promotion of children’s wellbeing and equality of opportunity through long-term parental commitment and strong and supportive family relationships;( ) the facilitation of a reduction in the number of under-age and unwanted pregnancies; ( ) the provision of education in schools on parenting and parent-child relationships;( ) the provision in pre- and post-natal services of guidance on parenting;( ) guidance on the role and responsibilities of parents under the Children Act 1989 and subsequent case law relating to parental responsibility”

My Lords, one of the deepest forms of poverty that a person can experience is isolation and not being loved. What I have already said will have made it clear why I believe that the engagement of parents—and, when appropriate, of other members of the family—must be an essential ingredient in any serious attempt to address child poverty. I shall quote from the Minister's colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Layard. In A Good Childhood, written recently for the Children's Society, he states:

“Children need above all to be loved. Unless they are loved they will not feel good about themselves, and will in turn find it difficult to love others”.

In the afterword to the report, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury writes that,

“we are in the territory of changing hearts. We need to develop a culture in which people are not only interested in their right to have a child but also in how they guarantee the conditions in which a child can be brought up in security and emotional confidence”.

As has been mentioned several times, the Government recently published a Green Paper, Support for All. Page 2 states that,

“the evidence is clear that stable and loving relationships between parents and with their children are vital for their progress and well-being”.

Research shows, too, that stable, loving relationships and a strong, supportive family life are key factors in the well-being of children, and strong weapons in the fight against child poverty. This fact is so important that it should be acknowledged in the Bill.

I turn to the proposed new subsections in my probing amendments, which attempt to determine how this could be done. I hope that the noble Lord caught my last point; that the importance of loving relationships is an issue that should be acknowledged in the Bill. The first proposed new subsection in Amendment 35 would be one way to do this. The second emphasises the importance of long-term parental commitment and strong, supportive family relationships. The fourth and fifth emphasise the case for education and guidance on the subject of relationships and parenting, both in schools and to prospective parents around the time of the birth of their first child. They should be delivered alongside education and information about parenting.

My third proposed new subsection draws attention to the need for effective measures to reduce unwanted teenage pregnancies. This is no new theme, and has been the policy of the Government for some time. Sadly, outcomes so far have been disappointing. There may be a case for bringing new thinking to bear on the subject.

Finally, my last suggested subsection would define more clearly, for the benefit of parents and professionals, what our society expects of parents in bringing up their children. On this point, Scottish law is quite clear, simple and reasonable. The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 says:

“Subject to section 3(1)(b) and (3) of this Act, a parent has in relation to his child the responsibility ... to safeguard and promote the child’s health, development and welfare ... to provide, in a manner appropriate to the stage of development of the child ... direction ... guidance ... to the child ... if the child is not living with the parent, to maintain personal relations and direct contact with the child on a regular basis; and ... to act as the child’s legal representative, but—

there is a qualification—

“only in so far as compliance with this section is practicable and in the interests of the child”.

That is a remarkably simple statement that is easy to understand and is probably what we all believe is the role of a parent in our society today.

The Minister is not responsible for this, but in 2008 and 2009 the Government resisted all my attempts to get this form of words into English law. At present, we have to make do with Section 1 of the Children Act 1989, which is strong on rights but vague on parental responsibilities. Its interpretation is very dependent on case law. We need some guidance that clarifies the Government’s intentions on this issue. If we want parents to play their part in reducing child poverty and socio-economic disadvantage, surely our starting point must be to tell them clearly what is expected of them. Many fathers are not at all clear about their responsibilities today. If we cannot have the definition in law that the Scots have, let us at least have clearly articulated guidance on the Bill from the Government. I beg to move.

My Lords, I suspect that the Minister will tell the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that his amendment is not necessary; these things are in this Bill, in another Bill, in a strategy or in a government initiative, and are all being dealt with. I might even put a Lady Butler-Sloss bet on it. However, it would be nice to see a reference to parents somewhere in the Bill, because there is no question that there is nothing more important to how happily, comfortably and healthily a child grows up than its parents. It is not for the Government to substitute for parents, except in extremis and to protect the child. No Government can give a child the love and care that caring parents can, and nor should they try.

However, there is an enormous difference between the abilities of one set of parents and another to bring a child up healthily and happily. In the case of two families with exactly the same income—let us say, £15,000 a year—the outcome of family A may be totally different from the outcome of family B, and the factors that affect that are many and complex. Family A may live in a very high-cost housing area and have less money to spend on the child, and family B might live in a very remote area of the country and have to spend a lot of money on transport, but the factor that probably has the most effect is the knowledge, understanding and skills of the parent as to how best to bring up the child: knowledge and understanding of child development, child nutrition, the need for a child to learn by playing, the communication skills to help them to interact well with the school—lots of things of that nature. Here, Governments can help. They can help and support parents and ensure that, in schools, teenagers, before they ever become parents, get to know a good deal about the responsibilities and the skills that are needed to become a good parent. It happens in many of the best schools, although not all.

There is a role for the Government, particularly when looking at the specific issue of the poverty in which too many children are growing up. I would like to hear from the Minister how he is going to make sure that the Bill recognises the importance of the role of parents in ensuring that children grow up happy, healthy and able to fulfil their potential.

My Lords, I support this amendment. My noble friend Lord Northbourne has made his case powerfully and there is little I want to add beyond one or two points. The fourth of the proposed new subsections,

“the provision of education in schools on parenting and parent-child relationships,

goes a long way towards achieving what is sought in the first three proposed new subsections. If children at school had any idea of the impact of a baby on their lives, and any idea of the impact on children of family break-up, the loss of the father and so forth, I think we could expect radical change. Surely we could expect to see the increased engagement of parents, long-term parental commitment and a reduction in the number of underage and unwanted pregnancies. There is a tremendous case for doing something on the education side in relation to parenting.

I have to say that I find it quite remarkable that we have been teaching geography, history, biology and so on for all these years, but we do not teach parenting. All these subjects are important, but are they actually more important than the ability to parent a child? Clearly, they are not. We now have social and emotional health education in schools, but what do those classes focus on? They concentrate on sex, tobacco and alcohol. Again, these are important issues, but none in my view is as important as parenting. I know that the Bill is not about the curriculum, but nevertheless an effort of some kind to allude to the importance of these matters in the Bill is absolutely essential.

I warmly welcome the amendment on the basis that poverty does not depend only on the amount of money coming through the door, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly said. It probably depends even more on the ability of the parents, first, to stay together so that there might be two incomes coming in, and secondly, to manage their resources in a warm, loving relationship and to run an effective household. So I strongly support the commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, to the notion that we need parenting to be included in the Bill. It is fundamental to the partnership of sufficient money and good parents. If, before the Report stage, we could sit down and think about how this amendment might be reframed to achieve the objective we seek, that would be wonderful. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, would be more than happy to have such a discussion.

My Lords, before I comment on the amendment, I want to preface my remarks with two other points. First, I thank the Minister for giving an indication in our last debate that the word “mental” in terms of health might be looked at. I am grateful for that. Secondly, I would like to observe that we began to see a little bit of causation creeping into the Bill in the last set of amendments, some of which were government amendments, in terms of nutrition, so we are now beginning to look at what causes poverty rather than just the measurement of poverty—

Certainly many of the arguments we are making turn on how poverty causes poor nutrition because the money is not available to pay for school meals that we would all like to see. I really do not accept how the noble Lord seeks to turn it the other way around.

I am sure that in practice it works both ways because a child whose nutrition is poor is likely to have a worse outcome than one whose nutrition is good. I think that we can afford to have an all-encompassing definition.

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, fits in closely with several of the amendments that we have tabled. The proposals on supporting and monitoring the relationships of parents chime closely with the non-financial targets amendment that I withdrew earlier. It ties in closely with the intention behind my amendment last week of renaming the Child Poverty Commission in a way that stressed the importance of families and parents. It also chimes with the amendment on adding parenting skills to the mix of the important things required.

It is clear that parents are and should be the central pillar to ensure child well-being. We rely on parents to do the job yet many find it difficult to fall naturally into the role and need support. That support has been pretty skimpy although some excellent services are now being developed. It is, however, far from being a universal service. It is worth stressing the central importance of stable and committed relationships. They produce the best outcomes for adults and children. As the Centre for Social Justice stated in its excellent Green Paper last week:

“Children do best when living with both biological parents”.

It continues:

“If you have experienced family breakdown as a child you are more likely to experience family breakdown as an adult”.

The shape of families is of immense import to the state. The cost of break-up of relationships is enormous at many different levels and most importantly in the damage done to children. So the state has a very material interest in supporting parents in their commitment to each other. This is of course why my party is committed to recognising marriage—the highest form of commitment—in the tax system and getting rid of the material couple penalty in the tax credits system. According to the Centre for Social Justice:

“The Government’s Working Tax Credit actually undermines stable families by disincentivising two-parent family formation. As a result of the ‘couple penalty’ approximately 1.8m low-earning couples are materially worse off than their single parent counterparts, losing an average of £1,336 a year because they live together. Just three of the 26 OECD countries have larger couple penalties than the UK”.

I remind noble Lords that family breakdown is concentrated disproportionately in deprived areas. We have heard a lot about social engineering. It is, of course, impossible to draw simple lines of causation in this area where various factors such as poverty, joblessness and family breakdown form a toxic brew. But the introduction of such a large incentive to stay apart or break up is likely to have a real impact. It is heartening to see that the Government have at last realised the central importance of families and, just before an election, have published their own Green Paper—the first for 11 years. I was amused to read Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, justifying the long silence in an article in the Sunday Times. He said:

“Because we knew it was complicated we ended up not talking about families and talking about children instead. One of the things that we lost a little bit is that actually, while supporting children is very important, adult relationships are very important, too”.

I like the “a little bit”. I would call a material couple penalty of £1,336 a year more than a little bit. I would call it a built-in snub to family relationships in the state support system and a signal of how little this Government have cared for stable, committed, two-parent families.

Does the noble Lord not agree that his remarks are completely at odds with his previous amendment on the disparities in the equivalence scales, which suggest that couples are over-provided for and single-parent families are under-provided for? That was the noble Lord’s own argument.

I do not accept that. This is a material couple penalty. It has been found that if you move apart or if you go together, that is the loss.

Let me go on and quote Frank Field, who put it so eloquently in 1999:

“Why marry a fellow—supposing an offer is there—when a benefit claim as a single parent results in more money proportionately than by marrying, particularly if the boyfriend also claims his welfare cheque, together with housing benefit, and sub-lets his flat while living with his girlfriend?”

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that we strongly support his amendments. They are central to strategies to put the role of parenting in the central place in which it belongs for the well-being of our children.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on his amendment and the sub-headings within it. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Freud, had to say. As someone who has been very happily married for 42 years, I have no argument against marriage, but I know that it is not always the case that when there is a married couple with children, those children are always happy. There are some situations, which we know through our own families, in which, because the couple stay together, the children are very unhappy indeed, because there can be family arguments and all sorts of tension within the house. Children at a very young age can pick up the tensions within the household, even if the arguments take place after the children go to bed.

So we have to watch what we say when we suggest that with married couples everything is fine, but with unmarried girls and single parents, that is not so good. I had cases when I was a Member of Parliament. Often a girl would come to me and talk about housing and what a bad time she was getting from the husband, who was a bully and a rascal. Sometimes, the bullying is not necessarily about lifting their hand to a woman. Sometimes it is verbal bullying.

I am grateful for the point that the noble Lord is making. I want to make absolutely clear what I am saying. What are valuable to children are stable, committed relationships. Unstable, uncommitted, difficult relationships are clearly not in the category to support. We are not even supporting the desirable relationships at the moment. That is the point that I was trying to drive home.

We are at one. It has got to be a happy relationship within the home to be of benefit to the children. The first paragraph in the amendment comes back to socio-economic disadvantage. I can think of a couple sitting in their house saying, “Anna, why is it that we don’t have two ha’pennies to rub together?”

I cannot imagine Anna saying, “Well, it’s because we’re in a socio-economic state of disadvantage”. At one time, the late Charles Dickens did a job in here as a Hansard writer. They serve us very well. When I think of language like that being used, the chapter about Mr Micawber explaining poverty to young David might have been different and it would not have been so interesting.

I am interested in the first paragraph of the amendment, about,

“the promotion of increased engagement of parents and families to help eradicate child poverty and socio-economic disadvantage”.

There is something that worries me greatly. There are housing estates in Glasgow that were built with very good intentions and provided excellent houses, right from the days of John Wheatley, when he was a Minister and allowed local authorities to build good council housing. Some of that council housing is still standing today, under the provisions that John Wheatley made as housing Minister. When Margaret Thatcher said that we were going to sell every council house in the land, a lot of the John Wheatley houses were the first to go up for sale and are still standing.

The difficulty with the housing estates that I know is that in the 1950s, and before that even in the 1930s, there were big factories adjoining them. That is why the housing estates were built. Therefore, you had a working population. You had a social mix. You had the foremen and the managers living in the community; you had the doctors and the teachers living in the community and in those housing estates. If you think of going into a village with 400 households, there would still be the doctors, lawyers, accountants and other people. Young children, including those in poorer households, could look at them and think, “I want to be like that lawyer or that accountant”.

In Glasgow, which I know—it will be the case throughout the country—there is a fantastic amount of kindness, goodness and willingness to help neighbours on the housing estates. I do not like to criticise public leaders, but that is why I was disappointed when that little girl from the estate got kidnapped and it then turned out that a parent was involved and it was not really a kidnap. Every night, the men and women in that estate and their children—I have never visited there, but I watched the newsreel—were out looking for that wee girl while she was reported missing. There was an unfortunate remark and an apology has been made about that housing estate. People are too quick to judge the housing estates, because they do not see the kindness that goes on in them.

I shall give an example. In one deprived housing estate that I know of, a lady who was involved in a marriage breakup stayed in another part of Glasgow. The situation was so bad that she could not afford a removal van. She got her bits and pieces on to public transport and had to make three, four or five journeys from her old house to her new one. When her new neighbours found out about it, they decided to join her on the public transport and help her to do her removal in such poor circumstances. She says, “I never forgot that and I have stayed in this community, poor as it is, with all its difficulties, for the past 15 years and my children, and now my grandchildren, are staying here”. That is the goodness that is there.

I turn to the reason I have risen to speak. One of the difficulties with so many of the housing estates where terrible poverty exists is that those who are prepared to help and to engage parents will come into the community and then go back out again. No-one is staying in the community with the people who have these hardships, with the exception of the religious clergymen and women—in my case, the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church. They often stay within their communities 24 hours a day. Even the police, good as they are, need a phone call before they come in for any difficulty that arises. We have all these serious problems, and people need help. We have to find a way of trying to get those who are seeking to help to engage in the community seven days a week and 24 hours a day. It has to be done before we can make any impact and help them.

It is not going to be easy. Take a nice suburb on the edge of a city: if a social worker is needed there, they are going into a nice area. In some of these housing estates, there are drug problems, or dogs that are trained to be the first line of defence if police officers are going to raid a house. It is very hard for a social worker to go into a home like that.

We have heard of cases where children have been terribly neglected. In almost every case there is a dog in the house, and sometimes more—two or three. Yet as a society we do nothing about it. In fact, if a local authority says, “Let’s keep dogs under control”, because they attack postmen and other people who come in to help the community, right away you will find a journalist saying, “That’s terrible, people aren’t being allowed to keep their pets”. But there are pets, and there are wild animals. This is one of the difficulties that children have in some of these communities: pit-bull terriers are there because of criminal elements, while these children and their families try to rise above it. If we are putting adverts on national television about getting social workers to help, we have give those social workers back-up and allow them to get into these estates freely. They are not always able to do that.

I am very supportive of the amendment, but to engage with people we must find ways of getting into the community, and not just staying there from 9am to 5 pm and then going away again. We have to find a way of covering these communities, particularly at weekends, when all sorts of difficulties take place.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for his amendments, my response to which has been anticipated by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley—I would have been safe to put a fiver on it.

Let me start with the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and the couple penalty. We had a debate about this last time. We do not accept the noble Lord’s analysis, and when we asked him last time about how costs featured in that analysis he was unable to answer. Also, his party has a commitment to introduce some transferable married couple’s allowance, which was costed at something like £4.9 billion. None of the benefit of that will go to people on low incomes who are not in the tax system; most of it will go to people who are on higher incomes.

The Minister will expect me to make an observation on that, and I thank him for giving way. Clearly, our policy is not to give a full transferable at any particular rate; it says we will recognise marriage in the tax system. However, we also have a commitment to get rid of the difference in the tax credits system, which is much more material.

There has been a lot of mealy-mouthed use of the word “correlation” in this Committee, rather than “causation”. The Government like the word “correlation”. I went to find what the causation effects are in terms of the effect on poverty of marital splits. This is not the worst type of split—

Is this the noble Lord’s observation on my observations, or is it another contribution to the amendment?

I am defending the point about the importance of marriage that the Minister attacked. I am willing to drop the point.

The amendment is not about marriage. If noble Lords want to talk about marriage, I have another amendment coming up—on which I shall not be supporting the noble Lord, Lord Freud.

The noble Lord is quite right. My comments were focused on proposals for a tax allowance related to marriage, which would give people who are married an extra tax benefit. My question was: how would that help the poorest and how would that help child poverty, which is what the Bill is focused on?

The amendment requires the Secretary of State, in preparing his child poverty strategy, to consider what, if any, measures ought to be taken in a range of additional areas relating to parental engagement, including guidance on the roles and responsibilities of parents and on the reduction in underage and unwanted pregnancies.

We have today debated a number of possible additions to the list of building blocks in Clause 8. As I said in response to the other amendments, it is not necessary or appropriate to specify in the Bill the types of proposal referred to in the amendment. Clause 8 already makes clear the intention of the strategy to look at a range of issues. I reassure noble Lords that the work under way to develop the first child poverty strategy is considering support for parental skills, as required by subsection (5)(c). As I said in response to Amendment 31, support for vulnerable parents and families, including education in parenting skills, is one of many factors that we will consider in preparing our child poverty strategy.

The Government are committed to strengthening parental engagement, and there is a range of help available to support parents in developing better parenting skills and stronger relationships. The Government fund a wide range of support for parents that can be accessed in different ways. For example, the significantly expanded parenting and family support offered through the relaunched Family Information Direct programme aims to deliver support to parents when and where they want it, and in a form that suits them. Parents can ring a telephone helpline, go online for personalised advice, join a social network, watch online videos or read articles in newspapers and magazines. Under Family Information Direct, 12 key third and private sector organisations are working to provide a co-ordinated programme of 14 different services, which have supported more than 2.5 million parents since April 2008. Parenting information and support is also available through print and video channels, which have reached more than 20 million adults over the same period.

At the same time, we are clear that firm and effective action must be taken to challenge poor or inadequate parenting, which has serious consequences for children and communities. The national roll out of Think Family is supported by more than £170 million in funding over 2009-11, which will enable local authorities to roll out a programme of targeted interventions that address poor parenting and improve parenting skills, including family intervention projects in every area to support the most chaotic families using whole-family intensive support.

As has been acknowledged, last week we published a Green Paper on families and relationships that focuses on enabling families to help themselves through a range of support measures. We believe that this must be pursued in ways that fit with the reality of family life today. This means, for example, that the crucial role that fathers play in their children’s lives must be recognised.

The Green Paper specifies that the bounty packs that are given to newly pregnant women will also now include materials that are specifically designed for fathers. This new scheme has been launched to approach fathers at an early stage, which is key to engaging them later on. The dad’s guide, among other issues, will cover birth registration, parental responsibility, key health issues, communicating with and keeping the baby safe, financial advice, keeping a good relationship with mum, and signposting to wider family support services.

Another example is the commitment through the 21st Century School Parent Guarantee to involve parents in their children’s learning and to ensure that they are told if something is going wrong. This includes easier access to children’s services when they are needed, such as health and social care; and access to lots of services to help parents as well as their children, including parenting advice, adult learning and training opportunities, access to childcare and help into work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lords, Lord Freud, Lord Martin and Lord Northbourne, focused on the importance of parenting. We agree that parents have the biggest influence on their children’s development. Parental involvement and aspiration shape children’s achievements.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, absolved me of responsibility when it came to his previous attempts to get a more specific definition of parental responsibility into legislation. I plead guilty because we also debated this when we considered the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill. Let me be clear that we believe it is the parents’ duty to act in the best interests of their children at all times. We know that the home environment and the parents’ influence are the most important factors in determining children’s aspirations and outcomes. The Government expect all parents to provide a stable and nurturing home environment and to be responsive to every physical, emotional and material need. We expect mothers and fathers to act as the primary role models for their children and to instil positive standards of behaviour. Should any of these responsibilities prove to be too burdensome, we reasonably expect parents to seek appropriate advice and to ensure that the problems that some parents face do not affect their children’s well-being and life chances.

Section 3 of the Children Act 1989 clearly sets out what is meant by parental responsibility. Parental responsibility means all the rights, responsibilities and authority that a parent of a child has. The concept encapsulates all the legal duties and powers that exist to enable a parent to care for a child and to act on his behalf. These include the duties and powers relating to material needs and healthcare, the manner of a child’s education, his religious upbringing and the administration of his property. Some of the specific responsibilities covered by the section are providing a home for the child, having contact with the child, protecting and maintaining the child, disciplining the child, and determining and providing for the child’s education.

We are also clear that these responsibilities apply to fathers as well as to mothers. All evidence demonstrates that their involvement in the lives of their children is vital, whether or not they live with them. We have sought to promote the responsibilities of fathers in several ways and enable them to perform those responsibilities better, from paid paternity leave to the right to request flexible working for parents of disabled children and children under six. The assumption that mothers are the primary carers needs to be updated in favour of an expectation that fathers will play an equivalent role in a parental partnership. The families and relationships Green Paper sets out what we are doing to tackle this assumption and to support fathers to fulfil their parenting responsibilities.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, asked why we cannot issue guidance to parents. We are issuing guidance on parental responsibility to local authorities, not to parents. We cannot issue it to each individual; parents have different roles and different views.

The noble Lord, Lord Freud, said that we had just woken up to the issue of parents, and that this was all some sort of pre-election gimmick. Let me take him back a few years. We published guidance in 2006 to encourage local authorities to develop a parenting strategy that should set out their intention to plan, to develop, to commission and to deliver parenting and family support that is based on the needs of parents and families locally. The work that we have done includes: the National Academy for Parenting Practitioners, which was established in November 2007 to train and support the practitioners to whom parents turn for advice, training and information on parenting skills so that they can ensure that their work is based on research evidence of what really works; and the Parenting Early Intervention Programme, which aims to support parents of eight to 13 year-olds who are at risk of negative outcomes and to ensure that they receive an earlier co-ordinated package of parenting support and increased parenting provision through the delivery of evidence-based parenting programmes.

There may have been specific measures, but the Green Paper, Support for All, admits in the first sentence of the introduction:

“It is a little over 11 years since the last Government Green Paper about families was published”.

While measures may have been taken on families in the interim, what the Government are admitting in this statement is that there has not been an overall strategic look at the issue within the process of a Green Paper, a White Paper and legislation since the beginning of their time in office. The Secretary of State, Ed Balls, admits that he feels that the Government have dropped the ball about families in the mean time.

To suggest that nothing has happened since the last Green Paper simply is not right. In the past 12 years, the Government have introduced new legislation, developed groundbreaking new policies on children and families and invested very significant public funds in improving support. I mention, for example, that leave entitlements for parents have been transformed and many more families now have access to high-quality childcare. The Every Child Matters programme has been embraced in every area across government.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, talked about the importance of education. I agree with that. The Government believe that all young people should receive a comprehensive programme of sex and relationships education. The provision of SRE should be a partnership between parents and schools, with parents leading on instilling values in their children. However, schools have a clear role to play in giving young people accurate information and helping them to develop the skills that they need to make safe and responsible choices.

Perhaps I may make a brief intervention to say that the point that we are trying to make is that an understanding of good parenting is absolutely critical to child poverty and, therefore, it is valid to make some reference to it in the Bill. We understand that there are lots of other laws and provisions, but that is the point that I hope the Minister will take into account when he concludes his remarks.

Perhaps I may pick up specifically on that. There is some suggestion that no reference is made to parents in these provisions. Clause 8(5)(a) makes two references—

I should point out to the noble Lord that the references in that paragraph relate only to parents as financial animals. It is about getting them into work and how much money should be given to them. It is not about engaging them.

The noble Lord is right on that point, but one of the other key building blocks in paragraph (c) is,

“health, education, childcare and social services”.

If those service areas do not encompass parents, I am not sure what would. As in so many of our debates, no one is saying that these issues are not important to the development of the strategy; the issue is whether the structure of the Bill requires them to be specifically stated. We would say that that is not necessary because they are otherwise encompassed.

I hope that I have shown that the Government are committed to continuing to promote increased parental engagement. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and my noble friend Lady Hollis pointed out on Monday that we need to be careful that we continue to focus on the primary aim of the Bill, which is to provide a framework for tackling child poverty. We must try in our debates in Committee not to lose focus. As I have outlined, there are other pieces of legislation, strategies and programmes of work that look at the important issues raised by this amendment. For those reasons, I urge the noble Lord not to press his amendment. I know that he would not do that in the Moses Room, but I hope that he will accept that we are in agreement with the thrust of what he is seeking to achieve.

My Lords, I am terribly sorry to disappoint the Minister but, if I may say not unkindly, his reply shows a complete failure to grasp the essential nature of the amendments that I tabled. That is undoubtedly my fault for not setting them down right. Perhaps I had better briefly explain what I was trying to do and what I shall try to do on Report. I have had a good deal of trouble getting notes about this, but I shall try to encapsulate what I am trying to say.

I recognise that the Government are doing lots of things to parents and for parents. They are supporting them and there are initiatives and so on. However, if we want this child poverty thing to work, we have to work with parents as partners. That is what is lacking in the Bill. There is a small amount about what the Government will do to parents and the Minister has made cross-references to other legislation. On that question, I am afraid that I would put Green Papers, statements of intent and so on into the waste-paper basket. We need the commitment to be in the Bill. We are here to approve or disapprove this Bill and, even if it is only in one sentence, I want the Bill to recognise the importance of engaging with parents.

The Minister referred to health education, childcare and social services. That is fine—the Government are doing wonderful things—but that is not saying to parents, “We have to work together on this child poverty business”. Neither the Government nor parents can do it alone. If we are working with someone else, we have to show them a bit of respect. To fail entirely to show respect to parents is a grave error. That is why I have moved this amendment and will move others coming up. That is all that I have to say. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to have a meeting when we can try to cobble something together that says what I mean and what might be acceptable to the Government. We are not getting anywhere on this argument.

I am always happy to meet the noble Lord, but I must stress that this is not only about doing things to parents but about doing things with parents. We understand and share that aspiration. I do not believe that it needs to be expressed in those terms in the Bill, but let us have a meeting to see who can convince whom on that.

That is where we differ. I shall see what I think as we proceed. The Minister made an interesting and important point on the question of the responsibilities of parents. He said that the Government expect all parents to do this and that—I was unable to get it down. Where is it written in simple form where parents can see it, understand it, ask questions and get advice? That is what I like about the Scottish legislation, which is clear and can be quoted.

I have taken a lot of trouble with the Children Act, as the Minister can imagine, as I have been working on this for more than two years. The Minister quoted several sentences but, when we get down to it, it depends on case law. I tabled a Question about a year ago to the relevant Minister when I asked whether the Government could give me the necessary references to the case law. The Answer was that it was far too complicated and it would be far too expensive. If that is the case, it would be unfair to argue that the position is entirely clear for the ordinary parent to understand. I want something that they can understand. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 35 withdrawn.

Amendment 36

Moved by

36: Clause 8, page 4, line 25, at end insert—

“( ) In preparing a UK strategy, the Secretary of State must consider the impact any measure taken will have on other people in poverty.”

My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to prevent the targets creating perverse effects through the economy. There are already signs of this beginning to happen. The issue is that if disproportionate resources are concentrated on families with children, it may be at the expense of other groups such as single people, childless couples and pensioners, many of whom will be equally vulnerable. However, these groups will not have the benefit of the protection of a statutory target, whereas households with children will.

It is worth pointing out that many single people and childless couples will go on to have children. There are two issues around that. We discussed one, which is that women in poverty who do not have adequate nutrition because they are too poor may pass on poor effects to their foetuses at a very early stage of their development. As we heard on Monday from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, support must go in very early in pregnancy: it is no good having it later.

The second impact of this is that if the single people and childless couples have been allowed to remain in poverty until that point, it is likely that the child will be significantly disadvantaged, because one does not eradicate years of poverty with a sudden wave of the fiscal—or indeed any other—wand. This is the weakness of conflating two concepts into one, in order to conjure up the snappy concept of child poverty: poverty in general, as it affects everyone in the economy, and child well-being, which we discussed earlier in the week. There are already worrying signs of distortion in the support system as a result of the Government’s strategies to meet the targets over the past decade. I would not be surprised to learn that recent measures will stretch the figures still more, when we have had the chance to examine their effect in the round.

In 2007-08, the minimum support for a childless couple was 32 per cent below the poverty definition used in the Bill—which, as noble Lords know, is 60 per cent of the median income. This compares with a figure of 4 per cent for households of a lone parent with one child. A single individual would stand at 22 per cent below the poverty line on the same basis, while a couple with two children would do somewhat better at only 15 per cent below the line. I am using the revised figures prepared by the House of Commons Library.

It is noteworthy that independent commentators are saying that we are coming to the end of this process of stretching. The Rowntree report entitled Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2009 asked how much further the Government can go with their policy of increasing child tax credit and child benefit well in excess of inflation. It found that the rises in child tax credit and child benefit have,

“completely altered the pattern of support provided by Social Security”.

This year, the maximum income support for two children is about £130 per week—£30 more than for a working-age couple. Ten years ago, two children would have got only 81 per cent of the couple’s figure. The report finds that,

“strictly speaking, children in workless households are now in poverty because adult benefits are too low”.

The report concludes:

“As far as we can tell, the argument for the much bigger rises in child benefits acknowledges no external point of reference other than the need to progress towards the child poverty goal as ‘cheaply’ as possible”.

Given the historically unprecedented differential between child and adult benefits that now prevails, this is no longer enough. Instead, we must look at the system of social security benefits in the round and decide how their values should stand in relation to one another. This is the issue that my amendment seeks to address. I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall speak briefly to this amendment, which requires that in preparing the UK strategy, the Secretary of State must consider the impact that any measure taken will have on “other groups” in poverty. It is assumed that by “other groups”, the amendment is intended to cover groups such as childless households and pensioners.

It cannot be the remit of the child poverty strategy itself to consider the impact of any proposed measures on other groups that may be living in poverty. However, the Secretary of State will not be able to take policy and spending decisions on measures to prevent and tackle child poverty in isolation. Such decisions will be taken in the round and through prioritisation at key fiscal events, including the Pre-Budget and Budget Reports and departmental spending reviews. In addition, Clause 15 requires the likely impact of any measure on the economy and fiscal circumstances, and the likely impact of implementing any proposed measure on taxation, public spending and public borrowing, to be taken into account by the Secretary of State when preparing a UK strategy and by the commission when considering any advice to be given to the Secretary of State or the devolved Administrations. The effect would be to require the commission and UK, Scottish and Northern Ireland Ministers to have regard to budgetary constraints and value for money in developing and advising on strategies. This will necessarily need to balance the impact of any measures on other policy areas and priority groups. I hope that the noble Lord is reassured by this.

This is the Child Poverty Bill and is about helping children out of poverty. As to distortions, I think he was almost referring to distortions within child poverty groups. Under this Bill, we have to meet all the targets, as the noble Lord is aware. If the issue is whether there will be distortion of those groups in aggregate with other groups in society, the way to settle that is through the normal budgetary discussions on the PBR and at the Budget where the implications of resources are properly analysed and debated.

I thank the Minister for giving way. I just want to make clear what I am worrying about here. I am concerned about a process that says we have got to hit our child poverty targets. That is pushed to the extent that it is done through income transfers towards child benefit and so on, and thus to households with children. That leaves singles such as NEETs, who we are very worried about and who have just been children, to come out and be plunged to 22 per cent below the poverty line, whereas if they have a single parent they would be 4 per cent below it. I am worried that we are going to create peculiar poverty effects among the poor as a whole in our efforts, as the Rowntree Foundation said, to look after child poverty as cheaply as possible.

I understand the point being made by the noble Lord, but I would say that seeking to address what might be said to be the potential distortions of an approach of tackling child poverty in the Child Poverty Bill is not appropriate. This Bill is focused on child poverty and how we tackle it within the context of Clause 15 and clearly within the context of all the decisions the Government have to make about resources and the impact of the application of those resources across society as a whole.

I thank the noble Lord for giving way again. That is not an appropriate response. I do not mean that it is inappropriate; I mean that it is not the correct response. I do not know which is the more rude. I shall stop digging; I shall find some turf and stand on it. Where there is a statutory target in the Bill, it would seem appropriate to put the defences against abuse of that statutory target or distortions created by it into the Bill, not into other legislation that may or may not exist. There ought not to be another law which says, “By the way, we must look after singles”. That is where the problem could arise and where the protections should be.

I simply disagree with that position. I do not see how you could possibly, in drawing up a strategy, have regard to, within that strategy, all the consequences that the allocation of resources to meet those targets would have elsewhere in government. It is the job of the Government to balance those calls on resources and the implications of the allocation of resources. It is also a requirement under the strategies to make sure that they are sustainable, so that any distortions—to use the noble Lord’s term—that might seem to be short-term fixes et cetera are outwith the concept and thrust of this Bill.

I thank the Minister for that response, which of course disappoints me. As I said in the last discussion, the purpose is not to allow distortions to develop, but it seems on the surface, given the figures that we have, that we already have significant distortions among the poor, probably because of the child poverty targets and the attempts to get as close to reaching them as possible. I do not understand where the protection from the continuation of that invidious process of distortion would be if it was not here. Therefore, I am disappointed that this has had such short shrift from the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 36 withdrawn.

My Lords, this may be a convenient moment for the Committee to adjourn until Monday 8 February at 3.30 pm.

Committee adjourned at 7.28 pm.