Monday, 8 February 2010.
Child Poverty Bill
Committee (5th 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 resume after 10 minutes.
Clause 8 : UK strategies
37: Clause 8, page 4, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) When considering taking any measures under subsection (5)(b), the Secretary of State must take account of the likelihood of disproportionate spending by a member of the recipient household on drugs, alcohol or any other addiction.”
My Lords, I have tabled this amendment in order to highlight the futility of seeking to eradicate child poverty solely through the means of financial transfers. Your Lordships have heard me speak on this before, but I felt that the example of addiction within a household below the poverty margin needed to be raised in particular.
During the evidence session in another place, it became apparent that there was a clear philosophical divide between these Benches and the Government on this matter. I entirely agree with what Charlotte Pickles of the Centre for Social Justice said in talking about a parent who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. She said that,
“by skewing a policy response towards increasing benefits to pull that”,
“over the poverty threshold, you are not improving that child’s life in any way, shape or form … I … refute the fact that at the moment we have sufficient, or even nearly adequate, services for tackling addiction. Our polling of addicts who say that they want to come off drugs and not be maintained in their addiction shows that we need a different approach to addiction … It is not just about income”.—[Official Report, Commons, Child Poverty Bill Committee, 22/10/09; col. 86.]
This view was entirely rejected by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who seemed to find it almost personally offensive that one might see better uses for taxpayers’ money than pouring it through the hands of an addict straight into the pockets of their supplier or the local off-licence. Surely the Minister would agree with me that raising benefit levels to a family when all disposable income, and much that many of us would probably not consider disposable at all, is already going on the maintenance of an addiction, is not going to benefit the child and might actively harm them by ensuring that their parent can afford more time under the influence.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary made the astonishing statement that the services provided by local authorities and the NHS to deal with addictions have no relevance to this Bill. I could not disagree more. It is crucial to the fight against child poverty that “joined-up government” becomes more than just a Labour buzzword. Rightly, the Bill identifies local authorities as critical in the delivery of the UK strategy.
My amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State properly considered that resources might best be diverted to supporting local authorities’ and healthcare providers’ programmes to tackle addiction. I am thinking in particular of the remarkably successful programme in Ipswich, where the number of young females resorting to prostitution to feed their drug habit has been virtually eradicated—and I use the word “eradicated” in its conventional sense.
Clearly, where a child has one or more parent with an addiction, we must look at providing financial funding and support through a safe pair of hands. Surely the Minister would agree that the UK strategy must tie in with the work of other departments to ensure that, rather than just throwing cash at the problem, we offer suitable support instead. I beg to move.
My Lords, I oppose the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, would readily acknowledge that it is important for legislation to be compatible with previous legislation and not to have unintended consequences. He knows as well as we all do that the Welfare Reform Act 2009 provides a framework for dealing with claimants who are dependent on drugs by requiring them to attend assessments in order to continue to be entitled to benefits. This was recommended by clinicians as the best approach for people dependent on drugs in order to ensure that they get into treatment at the earliest possible moment, thus also getting people back into employment, reducing the cost to the taxpayer and reducing the cost of crime.
The amendment could be used to provide a completely different method of reducing benefits to those families among whom there is a person dependent on drugs. That would be entirely unacceptable and would cut across the Welfare Reform Act. Any such reductions have profound unintended consequences, such as exacerbating the criminal activities of the individual concerned.
However, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, makes an important point about the person who is to receive the benefits to which the household is entitled. I think that the Committee will agree that children of parents who are dependent on drugs are at risk of being deprived of the money that they need to pay for food and everything else. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, will be interested in that aspect of the amendment.
In this context, I give credit to the enormous amount of work that the Government have done on dealing with drug addiction. I was at a seminar about drugs this morning. I had not been fully aware of the extraordinary success of the drug addiction policies. I heard about someone who had been committing more than 1,000 crimes a year but wrote to a Minister saying, “Your people need to be recognised for the amazing work that they do. I now commit no crimes”. That sort of work has gone on under the Government and needs to be recognised, but I think that the business of the allocation of benefits is also very important.
My Lords, these Benches, too, oppose the amendment. I shall be as brief as possible in the hope that we can finish the Committee stage of the Bill today. I will leave it to the Minister to refute the claim that this Bill is just about income transfer, which I am sure that he will want to do.
I agree that the Government have done a great deal to tackle addiction, but I still have questions about whether the money is being well spent on the right sort of treatment at the right time. I share the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about reducing benefits to a family just because one or other of the parents spends some of their income on drugs. In the end, the children will suffer. An addict will spend the money first on the addiction and the children will not get the money. I accept what the noble Baroness said: you need to look at where the benefits go. If the money goes to the father, perhaps it should go to the mother. If it goes to the mother, perhaps it should go to the father. Unfortunately, in some cases, a bullying husband will get the money out of the mother, but that is another issue.
I am concerned about the idea that the children in a family where one of the parents is an addict should not have the same rights to support from the state as any other child. When an addict is identified, the authorities do not always ask, “Are there children in this household who need protection from neglect or abuse or from being in contact with criminal activity and people?”. That does not always happen, but it should. It is the sort of joined-up service that we want to see. I am sure that the Government do, too, but it does not always happen on the ground.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his amendment and the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Meacher, for their contributions. As has been identified, the amendment would, in effect, require the Secretary of State to carry out an analysis of the likelihood of any particular member of the household spending a disproportionate amount of money on an addiction. This would be an onerous and impractical task. It is unclear legally what is meant by “disproportionate” or “likelihood”; furthermore, it is unclear what the overarching intention behind the amendment is.
To be fair to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, the issue of directing benefit to the member of the household who is less likely to divert it to alcohol or drugs is now clearer. However, as drafted, the amendment is unclear and cannot be accepted. All it requires is that the likelihood is assessed; it does not state what happens if a likelihood of disproportionate spending on an addiction is discovered. Both the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Walmsley, have indicated that if it resulted in financial provision being withheld from the household, it would increase the risk of poverty for children in that household and, clearly, I cannot support that.
It is right that we should be concerned about households with high expenditure on drugs, alcohol or other addictive substances. At this point, as anticipated, I reiterate that this is not only about income transfers; it is about much more than that. I hope that the noble Lord will acknowledge that. We know that a parent’s drug and alcohol use can cause harm to children at all stages of their development. Again I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Walmsley, for acknowledging what the Government have done, with some reservations about what more might be done. This is why the Government are investing almost £80 million in 2009-10 to support families at risk through the Think Family programme. We have given parents with drug problems priority access to treatment and we have supported a network of family self-help groups to develop across the country.
The child poverty family intervention pilots are also testing the effectiveness of the family intervention pilots model with a wider range of families experiencing barriers to training and employment, including drug and alcohol misuse. While it is too early to fully evaluate the effects of these pilots, evidence from the first 699 families to complete the intervention suggests that substance misuse problems have decreased from 32 per cent to 17 per cent and alcohol problems have decreased from 28 per cent to 12 per cent.
I hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendment. It is imprecise and could lead to adverse consequences, which is not what he is seeking. I ask him to acknowledge that a good deal of work has gone on in relation to drugs, alcohol and other addictive substances and that that is part and parcel of tackling child poverty in addition to ensuring that income levels are supported.
My Lords, the Minister talked about what the Government are doing in terms of interventions for families where substance misuse is an issue. Is he aware of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court at the Inner London Family Proceedings Court developed by District Judge Crichton? Will he consider the funding of that court and perhaps write to me with reassurance that all that can be done is being done to ensure the continued success of that initiative?
I thank the Minister for that response and the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Walmsley, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for their contributions. I am slightly baffled by all the responses because nowhere does the amendment even imply that the Secretary of State would use the power as a carte blanche not to provide funds for children or households. It is precisely placed in the strategy clause of the Bill, which requires the Secretary of State to be concerned about the drug issue when looking at the financial transfers and how they are done.
I know that no one would imply that this was a cheap way of reducing the income transfers. If anyone has any thought that it is, I can categorically state that that is not the issue here. The issue is that we have roughly 1.5 million children in families where there is drug or alcohol addiction or misuse. Conventional financial support mechanisms will simply not work. That is not a small number of children. We are talking about trying to eliminate from the target number that are in poverty more or less that number from next year over the decade.
We are looking at a group of children who will get potentially no benefit at all from the poverty structures that we are talking about if we do not have a specific concern to tackle this issue. It is not a small, marginal issue; it is very important. That is why I raised it in this context. I accept that the Government have had a concern with this issue. I am grateful for what the Minister said in explaining the family intervention strategies, but it is important to have a clause that reinforces the importance of this issue. Clearly, if what has been drafted is acceptable in spirit, it can be rewritten. I think that noble Lords have missed the point about the importance of this issue.
I thank the noble Lord for the question. I do not have the answer to this problem. It would be very nice if we did because it is a big problem. The point of the amendment is to require the Secretary of State to worry about and have strategies to deal with the problem as he goes about setting a strategy for the next decade. It would do no more than that and is not intended to.
I do not want to prolong this; I think that we are probably almost there. There is no disagreement that issues around addiction impact on families and children. We simply argue that ensuring that the Secretary of State focuses on that is encompassed by the building blocks that are already there. It is not necessary to add this issue more specifically.
Amendment 37 withdrawn.
38: Clause 8, page 4, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) In preparing a UK strategy, the Secretary of State must consider the appropriate relationship within the benefits and tax credits system between the levels of benefit, the earnings break-even point and the rate at which benefits are withdrawn.”
My Lords, this amendment deals with the poverty trap, as it used to be called, and the iron triangle of benefit reform, as it has more recently been dubbed. Noble Lords will not be surprised that, as the shadow Minister for Welfare Reform, I take a great interest in this topic. If your Lordships will indulge me, I will go back more than 30 years to the centre-page feature in the Financial Times on 19 June 1979, I think, which warned about the looming problem of the poverty trap. I remember the piece not just because I was the journalist who wrote it, but mostly for the help that I got from Frank Field, a new Labour MP who was still then closely associated with the Child Poverty Action Group. I quoted him then:
“It has become impossible for individuals to break back into the mainstream of the country’s life”.
Little has changed in the past 30 years, except that the problem seems to have become much worse.
Twenty years later, and somewhat bloodied by his experience of trying to reform the system, Frank Field wrote:
“Welfare is a most powerful agent for shaping behaviour—for good or ill—and politicians ignore this elementary fact at enormous cost to society at large”.
I am quoting from a piece called “What Then Was Unthinkable”. There is no secret about the enmity that the current Prime Minister held towards Field’s activities. I would only state, from our Benches, that it is a tragedy for this country that Field’s approach has been abandoned by his party and that we have lost a decade of reforming time.
The issue was summed up by Milton Friedman in 1980:
“All radical welfare schemes have three basic parts that are politically sensitive to a high degree. The first is the basic benefit level … The second is the degree to which the programme affects the incentive of a person on welfare to find work or to earn more. The third is the additional cost to taxpayers … To become political reality the plan must provide a decent level of support for those on welfare, it must contain strong incentives to work and it must have a reasonable cost. And it must do all three at the same time”.
I suspect that not many Lords in this Room are devotees of Milton Friedman. Nevertheless, he captures the point, while this Bill does not. The Bill concentrates on a level of support for people and is decidedly thin on work incentives and costs to the taxpayer. In other words, it does not,
“do all three at the same time”.
At Second Reading, I pointed out the large sums that had been transferred to the poorest in our community and the disappointing outcomes in terms of poverty reduction, particularly in the 2004-08 period. The question that is naturally raised is whether this Government, in providing extra help for the poor, have done it in a way that has blunted incentives to work. To the extent that this is the case, the Government are like a mouse on a treadmill: they pump in extra money but they disincentivise more people from working and establishing independent incomes than they support directly. When the Government set their rates, they never examine the dynamic effects of such policy but purely look at them on a static basis. This is, of course, why I fear that the £19 billion cost, estimated by the IFS to eradicate child poverty through income transfers alone by 2020, is hopelessly optimistic. It does not take into account the dynamic effects of such transfers.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for making that point. The fact is that, until this year, there was no model that could do the dynamic analysis. The Treasury model has relied on a static analysis. The lead in this area has been taken by a working team chaired by Dr Stephen Brien, supported by the Centre for Social Justice, and Oliver Wyman. As I said, the team has built a dynamic model of how the benefit system works in practice. In particular, its document Dynamic Benefits points out that there is a mathematical relationship between three factors: the level of benefit, the earnings break-even point and the rate at which benefits are withdrawn.
The iron triangle imposes mathematical limits on what we can do. The example offered by Dynamic Benefits is this:
“If break-even earnings are £16,000 per annum and out-of-work benefits are £12,000, then the average withdrawal rate is necessarily 75%”.
The higgledy-piggledy system that we have at the moment is a lot less efficient than this and there are many examples of people suffering withdrawal rates in the region of 90 per cent or even higher.
According to Robert Moffitt, the higher the out-of-work benefits, the more costly it is to reduce withdrawal rates, because not only does the level of in-work benefits need to be higher, but it is also likely to stretch up to the point of the population where there is much higher earnings density, making many more people net recipients of benefits. He says that in “Welfare Work Requirements with Paternalistic Government Preferences”, which was published in the Economic Journal of November 2006. This leads directly to the grim conclusion in Dynamic Benefits that,
“there are mathematical constraints on the design of the benefits system. These mean that simply pouring money in will make little difference—and indeed is massively inefficient—and that we must take a normative choice based on a societal vision: a society mostly on benefits or off benefits. This choice will determine the trade-offs that we make within the constraints of the iron triangle”.
I hope that this sets into context for noble Lords why our policy on child poverty concentrates on the causes of poverty and on helping people to get out of poverty through their own endeavours rather than through income transfers. I am dismayed at some of the discussion in this Committee, where the Government seem unable to understand the importance of the distinction. The question that I ask the Minister is: did the Government undertake this kind of analysis when they set the financial targets? Have they any estimate of how much extra dependency they will create by aiming to solve child poverty purely through income transfers? The purpose of this amendment is to make sure that the Government complete this kind of proper analysis when they set up strategies to reduce child poverty on a genuinely sustainable basis. I beg to move.
This is an interesting amendment, but it is frankly irrelevant to the Bill because it is part of all government strategy. We understand perfectly well that there is inevitably a tension between decent enough benefits for those out of work, decent enough wages for those in work and appropriate taper and withdrawal so that there are incentives to increase working hours. It is not a triangle, it is a square, but I will forgive the noble Lord for that. The fourth point of the square is that it should be affordable for the taxpayer. That is not some mathematical law; it is called politics. All Ministers and civil servants working on this issue within the DWP and the Treasury spend their time juggling precisely those four points: decent enough benefits, decent enough wages, a decent enough taper and appropriate costs. That is what politics is all about.
In that sense, what the noble Lord is saying is superficially true; it is simple and we all take it for granted. However, there is a more profound point, which is why I really object to this analysis. The notion that economic rationality is a model of human behaviour has, to my certain knowledge, been exploded. My late husband, a professor of philosophy, wrote on the subject of economically rational man with a professor of economics, Ed Nell, suggesting that this is an inappropriate model of human behaviour.
Why is that? What are those fallacies that the Dynamic Benefits model overlooks, as does some of the LSE lecture? First, it assumes that people respond directly and only to financial incentives. If work does not pay enough, people will not work and vice versa. However, that pulls labour out of its cultural context. DWP research shows that many men will work for below the rate that they could get on benefit because of the dignity, sociability, worth, status and hope of promotion that work affords. It is also seen as setting a good model for their children. Equally, the research shows that, when the previous Tory Administration reduced the family credit line from 24 hours to 16 hours, at which you could claim tax credits—a policy that I supported—lone parents did not work longer hours because it was worth more but reduced their hours, because they had a target income and were balancing other considerations such as childcare, health, leisure and so on. In other words, they were not motivated by the assumptions of strict economic rationality on which the noble Lord has focused.
My second objection to the model is that it assumes that there is only a supply-side problem of incentives—that 600,000 more people would move into work if only it paid enough. But where is the work? It may be available in the service industries, where work generates a flurry of other work, but not in manufacturing. It is a demand-side as much as a supply-side problem if we sectoralise our economy, as I think most economists would surely agree.
Thirdly, the model ignores the alternative approaches. It is not just about tweaking MDRs and tapers; it is not just about holding all those balls in balance, which is what politics is about. It is about thinking outside the box and exploring such things as risk-sharing with the employer, which is what tax credits do. It is about thinking about the minimum wage, which could make a huge difference. It is about looking at regional economic premiums. They are all possible ways to address further a problem that in its simplest form has existed since 1948.
I hope that this rudimentary, module-101-economics model of male behaviour—that you work only for more money and that, if the money is not there, you do not work—will not go on to infuse the noble Lord’s thinking about responses to child poverty, because it has been exposed as a dead end for more than 25 years. I am very happy to send him the book.
My Lords, I, too, think that this is an interesting amendment, but I agree that it is out of place. If we are going to pick and choose what to put in the Bill for consideration by the commission being set up to advise the Secretary of State, I do not want it to be all Milton Friedman. That is not because I do not like Mr Milton Friedman’s work very much—although I do not—but because it would not be fair. If we are inviting the commission to consider a comprehensive set of proposals, I do not mind if this is one of them, because I concede that it is an issue that you cannot avoid in benefits systems—the iron triangle, the wooden square or whatever it is we are dealing with is inevitable. However, none of it is new; it has been around since 1979. Even before that, it was a problem for everyone.
I was pleased to see the IFS work that led to the £19 billion estimate, but no one to whom I have spoken recently is thinking about income transfer as an exclusive means to deal with the problem—I would not advise any of our people to do that. It is nevertheless important work, because it demonstrates the length of the journey that has to be undertaken.
There are some important spatial dimensions to all this. Let us take a labour market in a place such as Merthyr Tydfil—everyone chooses the example of Merthyr Tydfil, and the people there hate them for choosing it, because it stigmatises them, and I am not anti-Welsh at all. Downtown Glasgow will do—the noble Lord, Lord Martin, is not here, so I will not provoke him into another of his powerful speeches. If we compare the labour market in Reading to a very different situation where jobs are very hard to come by, there are dynamic changes. I have not read the 800 pages of Dynamic Benefits—I have got to page 24—but it is interesting and I encourage people to read it, slowly and over a period, because I am sure that it will pay dividends.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, has offered some genuinely interesting thoughts to the Committee. The benefits system has always been family-based. He seems to come from a more taxation-based approach. That is perfectly understandable, because that is his professional knowledge and experience, but you cannot escape the fact that more than one person is often involved in a family and second earners must be considered, so the disincentive effect is not as straightforward as some of his mathematical calculations and formulae would suggest. I encourage him to continue to argue the case and I am cast-iron certain that, if the commission does its job, it will be required to consider such issues in the way that he suggests. However, if the Government concede this amendment, a lot of other amendments will flow very quickly from my pen and the pens of others to change the balance. Obviously, it is a probing amendment and I am being a little facetious, but I do not think that we want to put this into the Bill. It is a fascinating discussion and we will need to tackle the issue in various different ways in the next Parliament, but it should not be in the Bill. I thank the noble Lord for his amendment, which is interesting, but we do not support it.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for his interesting amendment and the interesting but short debate that has followed it. I was thinking of resting my case on the basis of the contributions of the previous two speakers, but I feel that I should put something more specific on the record from the Government’s point of view.
Amendment 38 would require the Secretary of State to consider the appropriate interrelationship in the benefits and tax credits system between the levels of benefit, the earnings break-even point and the rate at which benefits are withdrawn—as we know, now dubbed the iron triangle of benefit reform. In recent days and weeks, we have learnt a lot about the iron triangle, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said, it has been around for a considerable time. Doubtless, we will continue to debate it—it is entirely appropriate that we should. Whether it is an appropriate addition to Clause 8 is a completely different matter.
The issues of ensuring appropriate work incentives and making work pay are of course very important and I contend that this Government have done a lot in recent times to address both issues. Clearly, these issues will also be a priority for the child poverty strategy. Tackling in-work poverty and promoting parental employment is crucial both as a means of reducing poverty and because work has positive impacts on families and children over and above the effect of increased household income. Therefore, I am confident that the strategies produced under the Bill will carefully consider ways of supporting more parents into work that pays and of enabling parents to progress in work. Indeed, Clause 8(5)(a) specifies that the strategy must consider measures relating to,
“the promotion and facilitation of the employment of parents or of the development of skills of parents”.
The interrelationship between the levels of benefit, the earnings break-even point and the rate at which benefits are withdrawn does not relate to the approach to tackling child poverty alone. It is about the wider structure of the tax and benefits system and the balance between levels of support and work incentives—an issue that goes much wider than the strategies to be produced under the Bill. There already exist processes for such considerations to be made through annual Pre-Budget Reports and Budgets—they are, I am bound to say, generally within the financial privilege of the other place—and specifying a requirement such as this in Clause 8 of the Bill is not at all appropriate.
The iron triangle argument referred to by the noble Lord—my noble friend Lady Hollis made this point—uses a simplified economic model of the tax and benefits system to derive the common assumption that the generosity of the benefits system and the rate at which benefits are withdrawn determine the point at which benefit entitlement ceases. While it is undoubtedly true in a highly specified model of the benefits system, in practice there are many ways in which we can avoid the trade-off that this implies—that is, that you have to reduce benefits to increase work incentives. If that is the noble Lord’s proposition, we need to be clear about it.
For example, in our benefits and tax credits system, out-of-work benefits are withdrawn when a customer works more than 16 hours a week; for parents, the in-work benefits guarantee a minimum income, which is usually substantially higher than out-of-work benefits income; and the way in which in-work support is withdrawn varies with income, with a mixed system of universal and targeted benefits and tax credits. This allows us to maximise work incentives while focusing support on those least able to manage on their own, including providing help to all families with children.
We are all aware that any Government have to make trade-offs between the levels of support provided to families and the cost of the support system. The Government believe that support for children living in poverty should be a government priority; that is why we have made a commitment to ending child poverty. The iron triangle does not show, as the noble Lord implied at Second Reading and today, that spending additional money on the benefits system is ineffective; rather, it shows that, if we want to maintain work incentives and provide sufficient support for the poorer people in our society, this will be more expensive in the short to medium term than maintaining work incentives in a system that provides minimal or no support for those who are not in work. We do not want to accept a system that provides no support for those who are not in work and therefore cannot sufficiently protect children from the negative effects of poverty.
The noble Lord referred to marginal deduction rates and what those would imply. It is important to note that issues around marginal deduction rates apply only to the group for whom the target is set. Our child poverty target applies to children and their families. This is a group for whom we believe sufficient financial support is crucial, both in terms of social justice and for the good of society as those children become adults. For this group it is right that families relatively far up the income scale can benefit from the system, which is why we designed a tax credits system that benefits those on middle incomes as well as the very poor. In addition, these consequences apply only if tax and benefits rates are the same for everyone. In reality, different people have different needs and the system can be designed to respond to this. Indeed, our system recognises that the balance of work incentives and support needs to be different in different circumstances. For example, there are some groups, such as the longer-term unemployed, for whom good work incentives are a crucial element of any support system. There are some people, such as those with severe disabilities, whom we do not expect to move into work. Also, there are some groups, such as families with children, whom we think it is particularly important to protect from the negative effects of poverty.
Therefore, while it is important that any system is designed with marginal deduction rates in mind, it is also important to realise that the empirical evidence shows that people do not always respond to financial incentives to work in a way that economic models would predict, as my noble friend Lady Hollis said. This is particularly unsurprising for parents given the range of factors, apart from money, that affect their decisions about work. A recent DWP study revealed that some parents chose to live on lower incomes because they wanted one parent to remain as a full-time carer for their children.
The noble Lord asserted that our current approach does not take into account the dynamic analysis. Again, as my noble friend stressed, this is not the case. The system already takes into account the dynamics. It is for this reason that we have tapers to withdrawal rates for benefits such as housing benefit. I am sure that we could have a substantial debate around this and it would be good if we found time to do that. However, I do not believe that it is appropriate to put this in the Bill in the terms proposed by the noble Lord and, on that basis, I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for their responses. The interesting thing about this area is that the assumption has been exactly the one that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, made: people at these income levels are not particularly responsive to financial and economic stimuli. It is rather recently that economists have started to find and argue that the Laffer curve works just as much at the lower-income levels as it has proved to work at the higher levels.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. Of course, I was not implying that the only thing that influences people is economics, but it is a pretty significant influence in many cases. The Laffer curve has been found to have a significant influence at lower levels, as we see with people not wanting to go into work if the gain is marginal, perhaps not surprisingly. There is a point to raising this issue in this context. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, says, getting these things right is what politics is all about. The whole point of this Bill is to set in stone a statutory target. It is to freeze politics; it is to take away the politics over a decade because you have frozen one side of the triangle as a target. That is the reason for bringing in the other two sides. If you are going to freeze one in political terms, why not freeze the other two, or look at their context? That is the point.
At the moment, the system tries to fix little aspects of withdrawal rates. The curve of the marginal rate of withdrawal goes up and down depending on who you are or what group the Minister thinks needs encouraging in a particular way at any one time. The result is that we have ended up with an absurdly complicated welfare system. It is now so complicated that the main element that drives people, apart from financial matters, is sheer fear. There is a fear of taking the risk of leaving the benefits system because it is so fiendishly complicated to re-establish yourself in it if the risk, or attempt to take a job, does not work. People cannot work out what the results of changes may be, so we have created a very conservative, risk-averse population at the low-income levels. That is the real cost of the complexity and of not having a clean and simple basis for benefits.
I argue that the reason why one does not need to distinguish between a more general support system, which this represents, and child poverty, which the Bill is about, is that, in practice, we are looking at a large number of households, not just the children. We have discussed this in the past. To the extent that we are looking at a large number of households, if you skew the system for them and not for everyone else, you will end up with a system that is not optimised. That is why I have tabled this amendment.
I thank the Minister for the question. As he knows, the actual figures are subject to—what is the word?—huge variation, depending on various assumptions about equivalisation, measurement and so on. Personally, I would not stick on any one particular and absolute figure, although I accept the argument that we need a figure. We have accepted 60 per cent, as we have discussed in earlier amendments, but if we need to move it around in order to protect particular groups of children, it need not be totally sacrosanct. That is my view. With that response, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 38 withdrawn.
39: Clause 8, page 4, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) In preparing a UK strategy, the Secretary of State must consider, in particular, the needs of—
(a) children in families with one or more members in prison,(b) children in families with one or more disabled members,(c) looked-after children,(d) black and minority ethnic children, and(e) homeless children.”
My Lords, I am conscious that in this amendment I am moving well away from the area of financial targets and deep into what the Minister would no doubt classify as socio-economic disadvantage. These are children who technically may not fall within the definition of poverty but who are disadvantaged. In fact, if we reach the target in 2020, many of these children would still be at severe risk even if they were not poor, according to the rather narrow definition used for the targets. I have expressed my concern more than once that, by setting targets to achieve one set of objectives, we will undermine other objectives that are equally important; indeed, they may be more important.
I particularly want to use this group of amendments to discuss the issues surrounding children in care. As noble Lords will know, the outcomes for such children are relatively poor and in this country we are hesitant about putting children into care, possibly as a direct result. We have half the number of children in care as countries such as France and Denmark. I am indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for pointing me towards a research paper by Professor Donald Forrester of the University of Bedfordshire entitled “Is the Care System Failing Children?”. Published in the Political Quarterly, April to June 2008, it addresses the central issue about the performance of our system. It concludes that, on balance, the reason why the system has poor results is that many children are deeply damaged by the time they enter it rather than that the system inflicts the damage. If that conclusion is true, it raises big question marks about our intervention strategy. Professor Forrester concludes:
“More important is a commitment to provide quality services for families with the most serious problems in society, including public care when that is what children need. It is only when there is the political will to make such a profound change that we are likely to begin to make lasting differences to the lives of these most vulnerable children and their families. It is the failure to appreciate both the nature and the scale of the task that is the true tragedy of the current government proposals”.
Professor Forrester is referring to the Care Matters: Time for Change White Paper, which was then current, but I suspect that he would feel rather the same about this Bill with its broad-brush approach to intransigent problems. My amendment would ensure that the Government’s focus remained on the most vulnerable children in our society. I beg to move.
My Lords, I, too, have an amendment at this point of the Bill, which I shall move shortly, and it is more flexible than this one. Although all the groups listed here should be considered, the amendment tabled by the noble Lord does not cover all children and families who are most at risk of poverty, according to the households below average income statistics. Current HBAI data tell us that the at-risk groups include large families, families with a disabled child or adult, lone-parent households, families with young children and some BME groups. Not all these at-risk groups are covered in this amendment, but there is a strong case for having better data on children in families where one or more members are in prison, as there is a strong association between parental imprisonment and adverse outcomes for children. A recent Barnardo’s report found that prisoners’ families are vulnerable to financial instability, poverty, debt and potential housing problems. However, any data would have to be collected at the earliest possible opportunity so that the needs of children could be addressed.
My Lords, Amendments 39 and 58 seek to ensure that both the UK strategy and the annual progress reports give particular consideration to some specified groups of children considered to be particularly vulnerable to suffering from poverty.
I understand the contention made by the noble Lord that, without particular safeguards written into the Bill, some of the most vulnerable children in society might be left behind. It is not the Government’s intention to prioritise action on those children who are easier to lift out of poverty in order to meet the targets. That would be a self-defeating approach, as it would not be possible to meet the four poverty targets in the Bill while failing to tackle poverty for the most disadvantaged children. Furthermore, as the noble Lord anticipated, we would be failing to comply with the duty in Clause 8(2)(b) to ensure as far as possible that children in the UK do not experience socio-economic disadvantage. I make it clear that our goal is to eradicate poverty for all children. The framework established in the Bill supports that.
Identifying and defining every group of children that experiences a high risk of poverty is extremely difficult and in some cases may not be possible with current data. Including in the Bill a list of disadvantaged groups would therefore risk capturing some groups while leaving out others. The duties to meet the targets and on tackling socio-economic disadvantage will drive action to tackle child poverty among all children. This very much includes the most vulnerable. With the assurance that I have just provided, I hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendment.
Amendment 79 would include looked-after children and homeless children in Clause 24(3), which sets out certain circumstances in which children are to be considered as living in poverty. Clause 24(3) is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all children to be covered by local actions; indeed, it is specifically stated that Clause 24(3) does not limit the broader definitions in Clause 24(2). Consequently, there is no need to add looked-after children and homeless children in this subsection. It is true that some looked-after children and homeless children are not captured by the definitions of poverty that are used to define the child poverty targets in Part 1 of the Bill.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, I was referring to the fact that some looked-after children and homeless children are not captured by the definitions of poverty that we use to define child poverty targets in Part 1, for the reasons that we have discussed. However, only a very small minority of vulnerable children are not covered by the definition; 84 per cent of children in care or looked-after children are placed with foster carers, adopted or placed with their parents and so reside in private households that are covered by the measure. Moreover, the amendment is relevant not to Part 1 but to the child poverty strategy in Part 2, which will cover any child who lives in socio-economic disadvantage. As living in care or being homeless are both causes and consequences of deprivation and poverty, local authorities would unquestionably consider these children when fulfilling their duties under the Bill.
This Government and our local partners remain committed to ensuring that these vulnerable groups are looked after. Perhaps I can use this opportunity to alert noble Lords to the fact that we are considering moving a government amendment on Report, which will be relevant to both this amendment and the amendment that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, is due to move shortly. The amendment would require the Secretary of State, when preparing the UK child poverty strategy, to focus on groups of children who appear to be disproportionately affected by socio-economic disadvantage and on the impact of proposed measures on those groups of children. That is not a precise wording and I stress that we do not envisage it being a list, illustrative or otherwise, but I hope that that will provide some reassurance on what has been a bit of a theme in our discussion today. Given that, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for saying towards the close of his remarks that the Government will look at how to help the most disadvantaged children. Clearly, that lies behind the amendment and, I suspect, the amendment from the Liberal Democrats, which is due to follow. As the Minister said at the beginning, it is not the intention in the Bill to prioritise the children who are easier to help. The amendment has been tabled because there are disturbing signs that, in the past five or six years, that is precisely what has happened. With some of the hardest children to help, we have seen the levels of severe poverty apparently growing, according to Save the Children and the IFS. An amendment on those lines would be most helpful. I am extremely pleased that the Government are going to draw up something that captures the spirit of our amendment and, on that basis, I am on this occasion very pleased to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 39 withdrawn.
40: Clause 8, page 4, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) In preparing a UK strategy, the Secretary of State must consider and report upon the potential impact on the eradication of child poverty and socio-economic disadvantage of a requirement on all registrars of birth, deaths and marriages to provide information to parents registering the birth of their child on—
(a) the parenting needs of children;(b) marriage and the benefits to a child of strong and supportive family relationships; and(c) child welcoming and naming ceremonies, and other forms of commitment ceremonies.”
This is clearly a probing amendment. It raises a rather specific issue on which I seek the opinion of the Minister and Members of the Committee. I shall not need to speak to it at great length, but I hope that I shall get some responses.
For those who want to make a formal commitment to one another or to their child, there is today really only one option, which is marriage. My purpose this afternoon is to draw attention to the case for one or more alternative kinds of formal commitment that parents could make. Many couples are scared of marriage—sadly, sometimes because of their experience of the family in which they grew up. Is there not a case for a formula of commitment that would be less scary than marriage but which would none the less help to encourage parents to think carefully about their obligations to the child whom they brought into the world and, in that context, to think about their obligations to one another?
In 2004, the right honourable Frank Field, who has already been mentioned today in another context, introduced a Private Member’s Bill in another place proposing that a welcoming and naming ceremony be made available to all parents. In that ceremony would be an option for one or both parents to make a commitment to their child. It might be an absolute commitment or even, by choice, a “promise to do my best” kind of commitment. Amendment 40 suggests that, at the time of registration of the birth of a child, the registrar be required to hand to each parent information as to their responsibilities as parents and to draw to their attention the possibility of holding a welcoming and naming ceremony. Might this alternative to making no commitment at all find favour with some of those parents who are not yet ready for the much greater commitment of marriage? Having just celebrated the 50th anniversary of my wedding, I am conscious both of the obligation and of the joy and privilege of having a marriage. In so far as what I suggest was successful in causing the parents to stop and think, it would surely make a substantial contribution to reducing the risk both of child poverty and of economic disadvantage for the child. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have enormous sympathy with the intentions and objectives of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to his attempt to include parent consultation in the Bill. However, on this amendment, although I support the noble Lord’s objectives to a great extent, I am not quite sure that a public official such as the registrar of births, deaths and marriages is the most appropriate person to provide this information. His proposed paragraph (a) is on the parenting needs of children. We should start teaching people about that as teenagers in PSHE lessons at school. Moreover, a local authority’s children’s information service—in better local authorities, I think that it is called a “family information service”—can provide quite a lot of information for parents about the support services available to them and groups and classes that will help them with their parental responsibilities and bringing up their children well.
On the noble Lord’s new paragraph (b), it is not for the state to promote marriage or to brief against it. However, I certainly agree with his suggestion that strong and supportive family relationships are good for children. That, too, can be taught to young people before they ever become parents, which is highly desirable.
Proposed new paragraph (c) relates to child welcoming and naming ceremonies. Again, I am not sure that the registrar is the person to provide that information. People are already doing it: I have been to a number of such ceremonies for the children of people who are not religious and who therefore do not want a baptism. I absolutely support the noble Lord’s objective in that he believes that such ceremonies would help to secure the commitment of the father to a continuing relationship with the child even where the parents are not married or are cohabiting. That is highly desirable. However, I just wonder whether women’s magazines or the bounty box that new mothers receive are perhaps a more appropriate place for ideas about different kinds of naming and commitment ceremonies. Perhaps they could be floated and discussed. They can be much more personalised than most baptisms that I have been to. They can be a happy event and certainly one at which the father can show his support and commitment to the child, even though he may not even live with them—although the ones that I have been to involved fathers who did live with the child.
We are therefore generally supportive of what the noble Lord is trying to achieve but not quite sure that the amendment is the most appropriate way of doing it.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, makes some important points with his amendment. I am pleased to see that, unlike many in the Government, he agrees with us in identifying a strong and stable partnership between the parents as a fundamental pillar in bringing up a child in a happy household. He is absolutely right to identify the ongoing problem of delivering support and resources to those who need it most. I am sure that many of us are aware of good intentions gone largely to waste in many areas because of low take-up by the target population.
As any parent in this Room will know, any baby brings with it sleepless nights, added expense and enormous responsibilities. These invariably put a strain on the healthiest, happiest and richest of relationships. Providing useful information and putting hesitant parents into contact with bodies, whether governmental or not, that can provide ongoing advice and support could make all the difference to whether a relationship survives the appearance of a child.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on his 50th wedding anniversary—no mean achievement. The noble Lord’s amendment would require the Secretary of State to consider and report on the potential impact on child poverty of placing a requirement on registrars to give parents a range of information when they register the birth. In particular, registrars would need to provide information on the parenting needs of children, marriage and the benefits to a child of strong family relationships, and commitment ceremonies, such as child welcoming and naming ceremonies.
I support the noble Lord’s aims in tabling this amendment. We know that early parental acknowledgement of a child can set the scene for an ongoing positive relationship. That is why, for example, we are introducing new provisions that will make joint birth registration the norm for unmarried couples. I do not disagree with the noble Lord that the areas that he has highlighted are important. However, I do not agree that it is appropriate or necessary for registrars to be required to provide advice to parents on such complex matters.
Registrars have a very specific role, which is to record information given to them for entry in official registers. They do not have the capacity to take on responsibility for advising on policy issues. In any case, parents’ needs are extremely diverse; the advice that they need—and the timing of that advice—will vary depending on the circumstances of the individual. The families and relationships Green Paper sets out the ambition to support families of all shapes and sizes and to give them the right type of support at different points in life.
Each local authority in England is under a statutory duty to offer an information service to parents. These local family information services offer expert information, advice and assistance to parents on a range of issues, such as childcare, availability of local parenting support and other services, facilities and publications that would be of help to them. These services should ensure that information for parents is made available through a wide range of outlets that parents are likely to visit. These include Sure Start children’s centres, GP surgeries, libraries, community centres, post offices and schools—and maybe women’s magazines as well. There are currently over 3,000 children’s centres for the families of children aged nought to five providing information and services for parents. Therefore, we suggest, it is not appropriate for registrars to take on additional responsibility for doing so.
Perhaps at this juncture I might alert noble Lords, while reminding them that Christmas was some time back, that the Government are intending to move another amendment to add to the list of policy areas to be considered under the child poverty strategy a fifth building block in Clause 8, which would cover the provision of information, advice and assistance to parents. This chimes with the noble Lord’s amendment and other debates and discussions that we have had. I hope that that will ease the pain of his withdrawing the amendment, if he is able to do so.
We recognise the importance of naming ceremonies, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to, whether a religious event, a means to welcome the child into the wider circle of family or friends or an opportunity to reaffirm the responsibilities of parents. The vast majority of councils already offer this service, so we do not believe that it would be helpful to increase or mandate this provision. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I would like to deal first with the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I have two points in connection with what she said. I should explain that my concern is really for what are called the hard-to-reach families. It is all very well to say that they are going to get this education at school but, as like as not, they have never been to school or they have not been listening to what was going on there. Many people would agree that prenatal and postnatal services can make a major contribution to the dissemination of information about parenting, which is what I had in mind.
With regard to the registrar, my impression is that all the wonderful things that the Government are doing and making accessible are accessed by intelligent middle-class parents, while perhaps less intelligent middle-class parents—perhaps not only middle-class parents, but the hard-to-reach parents, too—are not necessarily getting these messages.
Since the Government have introduced joint registration—they seem to have in mind an increased emphasis on its importance, with which I wholly agree—perhaps one could build on that with great caution as a point of contact, maybe one of the few points of contact, that the state will have with those parents. I was not really thinking of the registrar giving a lecture to the parents, but I thought that they might hand out something like a pamphlet about joint registration, as well as one on the availability of naming ceremonies. I was glad to hear from the Minister that such ceremonies exist in many local authority areas, but I wonder to what extent they are being used and made available to the hard-to-reach parents. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 40 withdrawn.
41: Clause 8, page 4, line 25, at end insert—
“(5A) In preparing a UK strategy, the Secretary of State must consider the likely impact of measures in subsection (5) on household types as specified in regulations.
(5B) Regulations which specify household types for the purposes of subsection (5A) shall define household type in terms of—
(a) economic status and family type;(b) number of children in the household;(c) disability and receipt of disability benefits;(d) ethnic group;(e) age of youngest child in the family;(f) other household types as determined by the Secretary of State to be at risk of poverty; and(g) any other definitions as the Secretary of State may determine.”
My Lords, the Minister has probably just shot my fox. However, in view of the fact that we will enter an uncertain period in the next few weeks, I am going to move my amendment, albeit as briefly as I can. I will not expect the Minister to provide a very full answer if he is going to come back on Report with something that will cover these points. I just want to ensure that we will get to Report stage. Who knows what will happen? Maybe if we can finish today, we might.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that measures in the child poverty strategies will be assessed against the impact that they will have on children and parents by household type. All the categories in the amendment are within the HBAI. The analysis will allow decisions to be made on the basis of whether they would help those most at risk of poverty in the long term and drive real progress in lifting these groups out of poverty. It will also ensure that resources and efforts across different policy areas impact those in greatest need, in addition to those who will fall just under the target income levels. We have discussed this at some length in Committee.
The amendment was suggested by the End Child Poverty campaign, which rightly, in our view, believes that the Secretary of State must consider how measures taken in each of the building blocks impact on different household types. I was interested that the Minister said that he was going to introduce a new building block and I look forward to seeing the amendment.
My amendment would ensure that the analysis of winners and losers under each measure was considered and would pinpoint where help was most needed. This is particularly important following the recent report from the National Equality Panel which shows that the inequality gap has widened even further from the 1980s to the present day. The week before last, during our debates on Clause 6, I spoke about families with either a disabled child or a disabled adult. The figures show that, after housing costs, 44 per cent of children in households where there is disability are in poverty compared with only 28 per cent where no one in the family has a disability.
It costs three times as much to bring up a disabled child as it does to bring up a non-disabled child, and current levels of disability benefits do not reflect the full costs of raising a disabled child. I believe that there is a lot of misunderstanding about this. The non-disabled world thinks that a lot more money and organised help is available than there really is. Many parents of disabled children simply do not complain about a lack of money or help because they are too busy or too tired to do so. Disability living allowances—I declare an interest—are terrific benefits, but with a severely disabled child they only go so far. A severely disabled child might go to a special school, but what happens in the holidays? It is very difficult indeed to get appropriate childcare for an older disabled child, so the parent has to be available in the holidays. It is little wonder that many parents work only intermittently or, at best, have low-paid jobs.
As I have said before, only 16 per cent of mothers with disabled children work compared with over 60 per cent of those with non-disabled children. I take the point the Minister made in his response the week before last to my amendment about the local needs assessment picking up information about the need for childcare for older disabled children. I doubt, however, that there are enough carers with this specialised skill throughout the country and I just hope that more are being trained.
The next category in the amendment refers to ethnic groups. In 2007-08, children from certain black and minority ethnic groups, such as children in Pakistani or Bangladeshi households, were more than twice as likely to be living in poverty as the average child. Some groups also underachieve educationally and the employment rate among some ethnic minorities is 60 per cent compared with 75 per cent for all working age adults.
Listing household types, as the amendment does, provides flexibility in, for example, assessing the impact of measures by,
“economic status and family type”,
would require the impact to be shown for lone parents who work part time, full time and not at all, as well as couple households ranging from both parents in full-time work to neither in full-time work. I believe this is what the Minister said the fifth building block might show. Existing evidence from the HBAI datasets demonstrates which groups have the highest risk of child poverty, including, as I have said, over half of children in certain ethnic minorities who are in this category and one in three children living in large families. However, some of these groups make up only a small proportion of the total population of children living in poverty and, therefore, meeting the targets will require action to tackle child poverty targeted both at those most at risk and those who make up a larger proportion living in poverty.
The amendment allows both aspects to be considered in developing the strategy. Over time, those most at risk of poverty may well change and current measures for HBAI do not capture all children. We do not want to exclude groups who might be more at risk in the future and it is important for datasets to be developed to include as many children as possible. As the British Household Panel Survey is being expanded to include more households, this is a good opportunity for the Government to build a much more rigorous evidence base on those families and children most at risk of poverty. I beg to move.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, has indicated, she suspects that her fox may have been shot. We are in sympathy with the direction of the amendment. It tries to isolate particular groups of children who are at risk of deprivation as a way of balancing out the financial targets, which, as noble Lords are aware, is our concern with the Bill. I hope that the amendment mentioned by the Minister can satisfy this concern and I will be looking closely at it when it comes.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for the amendment. As she anticipated, I will truncate what I have to say because I covered the issue in responding to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Freud.
The amendment would require the Secretary of State to consider the likely impact of the measures in the strategy on certain household types as defined in regulations. The household types listed in the amendment are considered to be particularly vulnerable or particularly likely to suffer from poverty. The noble Baroness speaks with great authority on these issues and highlights the challenges that we still face. In the interests of expediency, I shall not repeat everything I said earlier. I appreciate that in tabling the amendment the noble Baroness has included a list that would be set out in regulations rather than in the Bill. However, just as it is technically difficult to definitively state in the Bill which groups should be specific, the same practical problems would arise in drafting regulations; the issue would simply be deferred to a later date.
While we acknowledge that regulations would introduce slightly more flexibility than the prescribed list in Amendment 39, we also consider that having regulations identify specific groups for consideration is not appropriate for a strategy which is non-legislative and is intended to be flexible in its approach. Underpinning a strategy with formal requirements set out in secondary legislation would reduce the flexibility that is essential for an effective strategy to tackle child poverty. Additionally, I am sure noble Lords will appreciate the need to limit the number of delegated powers in the Bill and to have as much as possible in primary legislation—and it is not often that you hear a Minister say that.
We have listened to this debate and to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, with interest. We appreciate the concern of noble Lords that the needs of the most vulnerable groups should be addressed more explicitly in the Bill. As I indicated earlier, I am prepared to consider a government amendment that would require the Secretary of State when developing the strategy to consider—I stress this is not another of the building blocks—which groups of children appear to be disproportionately affected by socio-economic disadvantage and the likely impact of each measure on children within each of those groups. With that reassurance, I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 41 withdrawn.
Amendments 41A to 43 not moved.
Clause 8 agreed.
Clause 9: Provision of advice by Commission and consultation with others
Amendment 44 not moved.
45: Clause 9, page 5, line 14, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State is to give the Commission guidance as to—
(a) the matters on which the Commission is to give advice, and(b) any matters to which the Commission must have regard when giving advice.( ) The Commission must have regard to any guidance given to it by the Secretary of State.”
My Lords, the amendment follows on from the interesting debates we had on 21 January on the appointment of the chair of the commission, and on the question that we discussed on 25 January about the circumstances under which the chair could be removed. I would be grateful if the Minister could expand a little more on some points that were raised then as to the focus and parameters of the research that the commission is expected to undertake and the advice it is expected to give.
The Minister stated categorically that,
“if the Secretary of State feels that the advice that he or she is given is not advice that they can work with or does not move the policy forward, ultimately it will be very much within the power of the Secretary of State to take decisions on what the advice and strategy should contain”.—[Official Report, 25/1/10; col. GC 240.]
This is very interesting and would suggest that my amendment is knocking at an open door. The Minister already intends the commission to have regard to a basic matrix provided by the Secretary of State on the areas and approach that he or she intends the UK strategy to follow. My amendment would put that initial guidance on a slightly more formal and transparent footing, giving the opportunity for the commission to be provided with a framework setting out where its advice would be appreciated.
Following on from that point, could we hear a little more about the day-to-day relationship between the commission and the department? Are they to have occasional arm’s-length contact where the draft strategy is published; then, a little while later, the commission’s advice is published in response; and then, a little while after that, the final strategy is published and implemented? Or is there to be a more fluid and ongoing conversation between the two, giving the commission an integral role in the development of the strategy?
Can the Minister answer a question that stumped him on 21 January? Has he been able to establish in the interim which Secretary of State is to have ultimate responsibility for the appointment of the chair and the work of the commission as a whole? Who, under this Government, would be the person in the driving seat? I beg to move.
Perhaps I may just interpose a couple of questions. I understand the reason for the amendment. I listened carefully to the way that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, deployed his argument and I can see the case that he is making. Contrary to his view of things, I am nervous about the tone of the amendment; it may diminish the independence of the commission. As it stands, the clause means that the Secretary of State has to stand up and take what he gets. The amendment seems to turn that around and to say that he can give the commission guidance, and the commission must have regard to it. I do not want the commission to be that at all; I want it to be free-wheeling, to think laterally and to be the grit in the oyster. I want it occasionally—although not deliberately or for the sake of it—to embarrass the Government, if it feels that that is necessary.
The territory that the amendment takes us towards suggests that there is a line of communication that indicates clearly that this is top-down, not bottom-up. I may be wrong about that, and perhaps there is a difference in perception about what the commission might do. It may be that if I were the noble Lord I would take the view that he is taking, as he might have to work with the commission in circumstances that we may face in future, but we need to make this clear.
I want the commission to be able to think for itself. I want it to be brave and to say things that might be quite difficult for a Government. If the noble Lord’s amendment seeks to put a cap on that ability, I would be nervous about supporting it.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, in what he has said. I also support the noble Lord, Lord Freud, not in his amendment but in his desire to know which Secretary of State will be involved. Am I right about this? It sounds daft, but is it not between the Secretary of State for Children and Families on the one hand and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the other? Obviously, the outcomes will be totally different. It is frightfully important that the Secretary of State who is dealing with this knows something about the problems of children and families.
My Lords, it is important to reiterate our policy intention in setting up a Child Poverty Commission. We believe that the Secretary of State—I shall come on to which one in a minute—can be greatly helped in meeting the targets set out in the Bill, and doing so in a sustainable way, if he has ready access to expert advice on the strategies to adopt and the targets set out in the Bill. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to provide guidance to the commission on matters on which it must provide advice and to which it must have regard when giving advice. The commission would have to have regard to guidance that was provided.
The amendment is neither necessary nor desirable, a point that the noble Lords, Lord Kirkwood and Lord Northbourne, made. The commission will be an expert body comprised of members knowledgeable in this field. It is unlikely that with such a skills and knowledge base it would require guidance from the Secretary of State of the type proposed by the amendment.
Furthermore, in practice, the Secretary of State would alert the commission to a range of factors that he might expressly wish it to consider. Clause 15 already requires the commission to provide sensible advice that takes account of economic and fiscal circumstances. The Bill already contains the necessary safeguards that will ensure that the commission provides robust and high-quality advice.
There is a fear that the real intention of the amendment is to stifle the independence of the commission to make it absolutely beholden to government. I wholeheartedly disagree with this approach, as it would result in the Government simply receiving advice that they wished to hear, rather than that which will be of most benefit in preparing the strategy to tackle child poverty and deliver the 2020 goal. I assure your Lordships that we are not afraid of receiving robust, independent advice on what works in tackling child poverty.
The noble Lord asked how the relationship would operate in practice and whether there would be day-to-day contact. These things will doubtless be developed over time. There may well be occasions when research is being worked on and there is more regular contact than on other occasions. It is not a matter specifically for the Bill; it has to be worked out in the terms of reference and operation of the commission.
It is not unusual practice for a Bill not to identify which Secretary of State would be involved. This is a joined-up approach across government. The Child Poverty Unit, in particular, will drive much of it. It does not matter too much which individual Secretary of State might be engaged. It is a cross-government strategy and a unit has been set up to drive it.
Conventionally, when one refers to “Secretary of State”, it may be any Secretary of State, because boundaries of responsibility change over time. That is precisely why one does not delineate it in this way. They speak on behalf of the entire Government.
Then I speak, for the moment, against the whole Government, because what is important is not the person of the Secretary of State but the back-up team that they have. Surely one Secretary of State’s back-up team has different training, points of view and experience from the back-up team of another Secretary of State.
I do not want to prolong this. I am grateful to my noble friend for coming to my assistance on that point. However, the key point is the one that I have just made: this is a cross-government strategy. There will need to be engagement with it right across departments if it is going to work.
I thank the Minister for that response, which seems to pull back a little from what he said last month. The point of the amendment is that there are differences of approach to tackling the problem of child poverty—we have discussed some of them in the past few weeks. A Secretary of State will want to hear advice which promotes his or her strategy in tackling it. It would be counterproductive if one had a commission which was driving down one road and a Government driving down the other. That is how I read the Minister’s response to the same point when it came up last month.
On the matter of which Secretary of State is relevant, I join the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in his slight incredulity about the seamlessness of Governments. We have all read enough history of recent British Governments to know that many Secretaries of State end up unable to talk to each other after a few years in office. This question is important. I am not asking which Secretary of State is locked into the Bill, because the convention is not to lock a Secretary of State into the Bill. My question is: which Secretary of State do this Government intend to take responsibility for child poverty and the commission? I will give way to allow a response from the Minister on that.
I have answered that as best as I am able. To clarify the whole issue, I think that I should write to noble Lords so that it is clearly on the record. While I am on my feet, I say that I found slightly troubling the noble Lord’s earlier comments that the commission might be heading down one route, when the Government want to head down another. It would be fascinating to determine the circumstances in which that might arise—in which the Government want to hear the advice that they want to hear and press ahead regardless of the expert advice that the commission is meant to provide. Perhaps that is a debate for another day, but I will write to try to clarify the confusion about Secretaries of State.
Amendment 45 withdrawn.
45A: Clause 9, page 5, line 21, at end insert—
“( ) must consult the Four Nations Forum on Child Poverty,”
This amendment was suggested by the Law Society of Scotland. Simply, it pointed out that existing work on child poverty is ongoing between the devolved Administrations in the Four Nations Forum on Child Poverty. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that, rather than our reinventing the wheel, the forum’s work will play an important role in the co-ordination of all the different strategies to be produced under the Bill. I beg to move.
As an appendix to that, I obviously agree with the thrust of the amendment. There is a feeling in Scotland that different best practices are being tried in different fields in different ways and there is obviously a variation in scale. The situation in a nation of 5 million people is a very different kettle of fish from administering a benefits system for the whole of the United Kingdom and translating and reading across the projects. If the amendment were to be inserted into the Bill, or at least taken on board by the Government, we would benefit from a lot of the creative thinking that is going on in other parts of the United Kingdom. It must not be an unequal partnership; it must be a four nations forum. The emphasis should be on mutual respect and learning from different circumstances in different parts of the United Kingdom. If that is done in a positive and constructive way, it will add greatly to the promotion of the policies that we all want, so I absolutely support the thrust of the amendment.
My Lords, I hope that I can give both noble Lords the reassurances that they seek. The amendment would require the Secretary of State, in preparing the child poverty strategy, to consult the Four Nations Forum on Child Poverty. Perhaps it would help if I explained a little about the four nations forum. It is essentially a group of key officials working on child poverty from the Child Poverty Unit and each of the devolved Administrations. The group meets quarterly to share information, analysis and good practice on action to address child poverty. It may discuss, for example, what makes effective child poverty strategy and how best to support local authorities and their partners to tackle child poverty locally.
The forum is an informal working group. It does not currently have established terms of reference and no Ministers are directly engaged in its deliberations. Of course, that does not mean that it is not a worthwhile forum—it ensures good partnership working between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. This was particularly helpful as we were developing the provisions in the Bill and I am sure that it will continue to be valuable as we develop the child poverty strategies required by the Bill on the basis of mutual respect, as the noble Lord asserted that it should. However, I think that noble Lords would accept that it is not appropriate to specify a formal role for this body in legislation.
The Bill already provides a framework and a legal basis for joint working between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. Clause 8(3) of the Bill states:
“A UK strategy may also refer to proposals of the Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers and the relevant Northern Irish department”.
Subsection (7)(a) of the same clause states that any strategy, after the first, must describe,
“the measures taken in accordance with a Scottish strategy, a Welsh strategy or a Northern Ireland strategy”.
These measures will ensure that the Secretary of State prepares a strategy reflecting the needs of children and families across the UK.
As noble Lords will be aware, the Welsh Assembly has already introduced the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2009, which places a duty on Welsh Ministers to prepare a child poverty strategy for Wales and report on progress every three years. This puts in place measures broadly equivalent to those that are set out in Clauses 10 and 11 of the Child Poverty Bill on the Scottish and Northern Ireland strategies respectively. Therefore, in order not to duplicate the existing Measure, the Child Poverty Bill does not require Welsh Ministers to publish a child poverty strategy.
Noble Lords will also be aware that the Bill requires each of the devolved Administrations to appoint a member to the Child Poverty Commission and for the commission to provide advice not only on the UK strategy but also on the Scottish and Northern Irish strategies. These provisions should also encourage joined-up thinking about the best way of addressing child poverty across the whole of the UK. I hope that that is the reassurance that noble Lords are seeking.
I thank the Minister for that response. This was very much a probing amendment to discover how these arrangements will work in practice. The point is pretty obvious, at an administrative level, that one does not want to learn something in one of the four nations and not apply it more generally when it is established as best practice. With that explanation from the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 45A withdrawn.
Amendment 46 not moved.
47: Clause 9, page 5, line 22, leave out first “or” and insert “and”
Amendment 47 agreed.
48: Clause 9, page 5, line 23, at end insert—
“( ) must consult such parents, or organisations working with or representing parents, as the Secretary of State thinks fits,”
My Lords, by agreement with the Minister, and I have checked it with the Clerk, I am entitled to move the amendment and to speak to it—not that I wish to be a bore or to do so for long. I need to apologise to the Committee for making a mistake when the amendment was called earlier in the Committee and I spoke briefly to it when I should not have done so.
This amendment balances and complements Clause 9(4)(c) as printed in the Bill, which requires the Secretary of State to consult children or—that has been amended to be “and”—organisations working with and representing children before he publishes his first UK strategy. The whole of Clause 9 gives the Secretary of State instructions designed to ensure, so far as possible, that he makes a well informed and balanced strategy under Clause 8(1). Clause 9(4) ensures that he does not omit to consult certain relevant groups, including local authorities, Scottish and Welsh Ministers and,
“children, or organisations working with or representing children”.
There is no mention of parents. The noble Lord has indicated that the Government may be softening in their attitude to that omission, but I will finish what I was going to say.
The noble Lord made the point earlier that, under Clause 9(4)(d), the Secretary of State can choose to consult parents. That is perfectly true but it does not address the point that I wanted to make this afternoon. To include children and their representatives as designated consultees in the Bill is a policy that I fully support. However, to do so without mentioning parents is, frankly, a slap in the face for parents. It is an insult to that majority of parents who struggle and scrape, work long hours and make sacrifices on behalf of their children, trying to protect them from the effects of poverty. Parents are, I admit, unlikely to read the Bill, but the press will and parents will find out. The effect that this will have on parents is important but it is not the only reason why it is foolish to ignore their knowledge and concerns.
I have four points. First, in this country parents have the primary responsibility for the care and nurture of their child. Secondly, parental decisions can influence both the amount of household income and what part of it is spent on the children. Thirdly, parental experience of poverty at first hand must be valuable in drawing up the strategy. Fourthly, parents who are struggling to keep their child out of poverty can often contribute to an understanding of what will help them most.
Finally, in case I have not adequately made my point about the effect on parents of the decision to include children but not parents among the mandatory consultees in the Bill, I ask noble Lords to imagine for a moment that they are a struggling lone mother, whose 12 year-old daughter has just arrived home from school one afternoon. “How was school today?” said the mother. “Well, Mum, this lady from the Child Poverty Unit came to ask us a lot of questions”. “What sort of questions, darling?”. “Things like, ‘What would you like the Government to give your parents to make you less poor?’ and ‘What do you need that your parents can’t afford?’”. “And”, the mother would say, “Is this lady going to come and ask me what I think we need?”. “No, Mum, she said it was too difficult to ask parents and, by law, she doesn’t have to”. We need to engage parents with us in this fight against child poverty. To say to them in the Bill, by implication, that we are not really interested in their opinion is neither wise nor clever. Amendment 48 would avoid that mistake. I beg to move.
My Lords, these amendments were briefly alluded to on 21 January. As then, I agree with them entirely. When it comes to listing consultees, the Minister has been more than a little inconsistent on what it is important to put in the Bill and when it is not important to put something in the Bill. On 21 January, the Minister said that he would accept the noble Baroness’s amendments that explicitly related to the consultation of children because it was important to put that requirement explicitly into the Bill. A little later, following this reassuring drive for clear drafting in the Bill, the Minister stated that although, in practice, the commission was,
“likely to consult the children’s parents or wider families … I do not see that an explicit reference to either families or parents is necessary”.—[Official Report, 21/1/10; col. GC 218.]
Can he explain why consulting children directly, rather than through their representative groups, is any more important than consulting their parents?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for speaking again to the amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for his questions. Perhaps I may truncate my reply. Having taken into consideration the views of noble Lords—and particularly the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne—and recognising the general strength of the argument, I am prepared to take the amendment away to consider whether we can ensure that the need for consultation with parents is made more explicit in the Bill. We would look to do this in relation to Clauses 9, 12 and 22.
Amendment 48 withdrawn.
49: Clause 9, page 5, line 24, at end insert—
“( ) must collect statistics on the number of—(i) households with parents who are married, in a civil partnership or in a long term relationship,(ii) workless households,(iii) households where one or more parents are addicted to drugs, alcohol or gambling, and(iv) households where a parent lacks level 2 key skills,”
My Lords, I briefly touched on this issue last month but we were pushed for time and the Minister did not have an opportunity to deal with it as fully as I would have liked. I therefore take this opportunity to return to the aspect of married relationships.
As noble Lords will be aware, on our Benches we are most concerned about reinforcing stable and committed relationships between parents. We have been particularly influenced by the data reported by the Centre for Social Justice which shows that married couple relationships are significantly more stable than co-habiting relationships. It states that,
“regardless of socio-economic status and education, cohabiting couples are between two and 2.5 times more likely to break-up than equivalent married couples. Indeed, just one in 11 married couples split up before their child’s fifth birthday compared to one in three unmarried couples”.
If the much higher rate of breakdown of cohabiting couples is strongly correlated with poor outcomes and poverty for children, it is clear that we should encourage the more committed relationships associated with the institution of marriage.
However, the Government have stopped collecting proper data on the different types of household in terms of whether couples are married or cohabiting. The term “marital status” was deleted from government forms in, I believe, 2005 by Jacqui Smith. This act has sent out the message that marriage is not distinct from other forms of couple relationships. This is not in line with the evidence we have. The amendment seeks to ensure that marital status returns to the central position it should enjoy. I beg to move.
Flowing from that, I suggest to the Minister that if they are going to supply this information the Government should consider also supplying information about any man living as a member of the household—whether as a lodger or a stepfather—who is not a relative of the child. The statistics show that that can be a dangerous situation for the children.
My Lords, when the noble Lord moved the amendment on non-financial targets he took up three and a half columns of Hansard. Although he spoke for only two minutes at the end, we had a full debate. This amendment should have been debated with the other one and I do not propose to repeat what I said then. This is an arbitrary list calling for statistics that would be difficult to collect.
My Lords, I thought I provided a full response to this amendment in the first session last week and the noble Lord will forgive me if I reiterate what I said previously on this matter.
First, I must emphasise that the Bill is about tackling income poverty, material deprivation and socio-economic disadvantage. All of these are important and are treated as such in the Bill. As I have explained many times, our aim is that children should not live in poverty in the UK or suffer the effects of wider socio-economic disadvantage. Ensuring a focus on income and material deprivation is central to that aim, as is taking action beyond financial poverty. I hope the noble Lord will accept this and that that matter, at least, is resolved.
Amendment 49 proposes that to inform its child poverty strategy the Government should collect data on households with parents who are married, in a civil partnership or long-term relationship, and households where one or more parent is addicted to drugs, alcohol or gambling. I understand that the Office for National Statistics collects information on marital status. However, the causal link between this information and child poverty statistics is not clear cut. I imagine that information on levels of drugs, alcohol and gambling addiction would be rather harder to obtain. It is not clear, for example, at what point a habit becomes an addiction or, indeed, the extent to which this impacts on household income or on children’s well-being. I question, therefore, whether the information listed here is necessarily the most useful data to draw on in preparing a child poverty strategy and, indeed, whether it is appropriate to specify in legislation that these data are collected rather than any other data relating to the drivers of poverty.
In previous debates we have made clear the importance we see in stable and committed relationships and the impact that that can have on children and their well-being. That should be clearly on the record. I am not quite sure what else the noble Lord seeks from the amendment. However, if I have misunderstood him, I shall happily have another go.
I thank noble Lords for their indulgence in allowing me to pull up this one issue. If the Minister had had more time, he would have been more expansive when we discussed it last month.
The amendment seeks to concentrate on the collection of statistics on marriage. As I say, the reference to “marital status” was abandoned on government forms in 2005. It is not a difficult statistic to collect—we have collected it, I suspect, for hundreds of years—and it has only recently been stopped. The amendment is designed to allow the statistics to be collected again.
The noble Lord has been clear on that. I shall have to revert to him because we do not have to hand the history of the noble Lord’s suggested removal of the statistics. I accept what he says about that and I shall happily revert to him and to other Members of the Committee.
Amendment 49 withdrawn.
Clause 9, as amended, agreed.
Clause 10 : Scottish strategies
Amendments 50 to 52 not moved.
Clause 10 agreed.
Clause 11 : Northern Ireland strategies
Amendments 53 to 55 not moved.
Clause 11 agreed.
Clause 12 : Advice and consultation: Scotland and Northern Ireland
56: Clause 12, page 8, line 17, leave out first “or” and insert “and”
Amendment 56 agreed.
Clause 12, as amended, agreed.
Clause 13 : Reports by Secretary of State
Amendments 57 and 58 not moved.
59: Clause 13, page 9, line 8, at end insert—
“(7) The Secretary of State shall take account of—
(a) any resolution of either House of Parliament, or(b) any report by a select committee of either House of Parliament,in response to the report laid under this section.
(8) In subsection (7) “take account of” means proposing a revision of the strategy to meet the targets established in section 1.”
My Lords, when I used to work in my party’s Whips Office I used to despair that some Peers working on Bills would be thrilled to have a concession from the Government of the day for an annual report to Parliament to be published. Was that really what being a parliamentarian was all about, I thought, just getting a concession of an annual report to Parliament? The Committee may therefore not be surprised that I am suspicious that in this Bill the Government have put in that requirement all by themselves.
There is nothing in the Bill to ensure that the report will effectively see the light of day unless it is particularly hard-hitting, however, which would seriously compromise the accountability factor and, therefore, any subsequent action. Imagine this report being published on an exciting news day rather than a slow one. Unless it contained something truly startling, would it really make the “Today” programme?
Under this amendment the Secretary of State would be obliged to take account of,
“any resolution of either House of Parliament, or … any report by a select committee of either House of Parliament, in response to the report laid under this section”.
That way, the Government would have to respond to the report, and it would give all parliamentarians a chance to debate it. It would give as much accountability as possible, and would ensure that the report was not likely just to gather dust in a ministerial in-tray. I beg to move.
My Lords, throughout the debates on the Bill it is clear that we are not all on the same page about when and how the Secretary of State should ultimately be held accountable for the success, or not, of his strategy. As far as I can see, the sole instance of genuine accountability falls in 2020 when the financial targets are met or not met; that is the only point at which the Secretary of State will have to explain why he was unable to lower child poverty levels to among the best in Europe. Our views on the inadequacy of those four targets are well known. The lack of accountability for the strategy, the inability of Parliament to suggest that more could be done via a different approach and the lack of any interim targets all reinforce my concerns.
I am not entirely comfortable with the amendment’s new subsection (8), though. First, “taking account of” does not, in any piece of legislation that I have ever seen, necessarily result in the need for change. Secondly, as we have discussed at length, the success and failure of the strategy should not be seen solely through the prism of the four financial targets, and I would oppose any suggestion that it should be.
My Lords, Clause 13 requires the Secretary of State to lay an annual report before Parliament on progress towards meeting the targets set out in Clauses 2 to 5, so it is not just a question of waiting until 2020. Clause 13(5) ensures that if the UK strategy has not been fully met, the report must describe the respects in which it has not been implemented and the reasons for that. I suggest that these provisions put in place a clear mechanism for holding the Government to account in tackling child poverty, and I would have thought that it was pretty certain that a child poverty lobby would ensure that a lively public and media debate was held after each annual report was laid.
I am also certain that the Government would wish to be aware of and consider any resolutions or proposals made by parliamentarians in response to annual reports, but I suggest that the amendment seeks to do too much. It is my understanding that, following an annual report, it would allow Parliament to shape future child poverty strategies, and that just cannot be right; it is the elected Government of the day who must have the authority to design and implement policy.
The amendment would also pose some practical problems. How would the power work in practice? Why should one parliamentarian’s view carry particular weight merely because he or she has been chosen to speak in a debate? Or will the views of all who have spoken be given equal weight? Hopefully, the Committee will see some of the practical difficulties. In addition to being unnecessary, then, the amendment would not work in practice and it would set a damaging precedent by blurring the powers of the Executive and legislative functions of the Government, and by muddling the authority and accountability of action to tackle child poverty.
My Lords, I am sorry that my little amendment has not found more favour with the Grand Committee. It was not suggesting that Parliament should decide the strategy, only that the Secretary of State should take account of it. That form of words has been used before in legislation, which is where I found it. I think that the question of accountability is important, but, having raised the matter, I will think about whether I can do anything more on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 59 withdrawn.
Clause 13 agreed.
Clause 14: Statement required in relation to target year
Amendments 60 and 61 not moved.
62: Clause 14, page 9, line 28, at end insert—
“( ) For the purposes of subsection (1)(a), (b) and (d), the statement must include the percentage of children living in qualifying households that fell below 60%, 50% and 40% of median equivalised net household income for the financial year.”
My Lords, the motivation behind the amendment is to ensure that we do not lose focus on the most poor in our society. I have already referred to the fact that, according to Save the Children and the IFS, the number of children in severe poverty was growing even before the 2004 turning point, as policy concentrated—or seemed to concentrate—on pushing those just under the 60 per cent line to just over it. I am sure that most voters would want the exact opposite to happen. They would want the very poorest children pushed up first, and the somewhat less poor pushed up once the first group had been looked after. By ensuring that the figures were published for each of the points below the median—40 per cent and 50 per cent as well the 60 per cent targeted—we could see how the Government were doing across the range.
I am of course conscious that researchers have found the figures for those below 40 per cent highly unreliable. As we discussed on a previous amendment, a lot of confusion may be thrown up by the workings of the informal economy in this context. However, I argue that it is the job of the Government, if they are to take child poverty seriously, to come up with an approach that successfully identifies and prioritises the very poorest children. I beg to move.
Very briefly, I support the amendment. I do so simply on the basis that I believe—although I stand to be corrected—that the data are available. They may need some cross-tabulation and processing to put them into a form that would enable them to be included in the annual target report, and I accept that some of the low, 40 per cent, level figures are statistically a little suspect because of sampling and other errors, but if they became an established part of the reports produced, that would inform the debate enormously. If the data are available already, I see no reason why they should not be part and parcel of the published reports.
My Lords, long-term poverty and the material deprivations that can result can reinforce the negative impact of low income on childhood well-being and life chances. The four targets in the Bill ensure that policy will have to tackle poor living standards and persistent poverty, as well as raising incomes at a given point in time. Together, the targets reflect the reality that income, the length of time experiencing low income and the lived experience of poverty all matter.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, in particular is concerned that the Government will be focusing just on moving families closest to the poverty threshold over it, but we are ensuring that that is clearly not the case by having the full range of targets. Moving families from 58 per cent to 61 per cent of median income would not be sufficient to meet the combined low income and material deprivation target, nor the persistent poverty target.
The noble Lord hinted at, and it is worth outlining, the issues with data corresponding to those with the very lowest incomes, such as those below the 40 per cent of median income line. They are acknowledged to have a higher degree of uncertainty and error. Some types of household with very low income recorded on the survey include the following issues. First, there is underrecording of very fragmented incomes. Secondly, some households will have transitional periods of low income, being between—possibly well paid—jobs at the precise time of survey interview or being self-employed, where incomes can vary greatly from year to year, as the noble Lord acknowledged. Thirdly, there will also be some households that are drawing on savings to cope with, perhaps, a longer period of minimal incomes. Lastly, there will be some households that genuinely have to cope on very low incomes, and perhaps get into debt to maintain levels of expenditure.
Unusual households where incomes are not a good measure of material living standards make up a much lower proportion of households below 50 per cent or 60 per cent of median than households below 40 per cent of median income. This is therefore particularly unreliable as a measure of poverty. Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, no less, has confirmed this, pointing to the fact that many of those with incomes below 40 per cent of median are not those with the highest levels of deprivation. It is for this reason that households with incomes below 50 per cent and 60 per cent of median are used in measures of poverty, including in households of below average income. This is in line with international best practice.
In summary, the targets already present a range of different measures of poverty and, as such, ensure that we do not focus on just getting families over the line. There are problems associated with the measurement of the very lowest incomes. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will not press this amendment.
I thank the Minister for that response, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for his thoughtful views. This amendment touches on some of the concerns that we have already discussed about the data, particularly at the lower levels. I accept this. I know we will have an informal discussion about the right way to capture the genuinely poor. The data, as the IFS has pointed out, indicate that, in particular, the self-employed at the lowest levels of income do not suffer material deprivation, even though they have low income year after year. This goes back to our discussions about the informal economy and other issues.
Nevertheless, this amendment is driven by the concern, which was widely reported by Save the Children two weeks ago and has already been referred to by the IFS, that over the past six or seven years the very poorest seem to be doing less well, with more in severe poverty. Whatever the absolute level that we start from, whether it is accurate or not, the fact that that figure is increasing is a worrying sign. It is a sign that, even with targets, which we have had over the past decade—I think they have been aspirations for targets for part of that—we do not have a process to ensure that the very poorest both are identified and have the majority of resources devoted to them.
That is the purpose of this amendment. I am not entirely satisfied. We have had quite a slew of amendments, which I confess to authoring, around this set of issues. I am not comfortable that we have the right answer yet. I look forward to discussing it further with the Minister. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 62 withdrawn.
Amendments 63 to 65 not moved.
Clause 14 agreed.
Clause 15 : Economic and fiscal circumstances
66: Clause 15, page 10, line 9, at end insert—
“( ) Nothing in this section must impact on the Secretary of State’s duty to ensure that the targets as set out in section 1 are met.”
My Lords, I had intended to make an exhaustive examination of the textual content of Clause 15, but I suspect that we are all past that by now. However, the amendment seeks to make it clear in my head, if in no one else’s, what the clause actually means because I think that it is very badly drafted. The Minister has said, and I believe him, that the clause is designed to make the work of the commission more cost-effective in developing policy.
I want to take a few moments to guide the Committee through the wording. It suggests clearly to me that this is about the Government being able to plead Clause 15 and the fact that the money has run out in order to walk away from the targets. The clause heading is “Economic and fiscal circumstances”, which is a broad strategic backdrop into which the clauses following this one fall, but there are no qualifications for it. The clause tackles big-picture stuff. Subsection (1) states:
“The matters mentioned in subsection (2) must be taken into account … by the Secretary of State in preparing a UK strategy”.
If you turn immediately to page 10, subsection (2)(a) refers to “economic circumstances” while paragraph (b) refers to “fiscal circumstances”.
I concede that I have less of a problem with subsection (1)(b) than subsection (3)(a) and (b) because there is no context to show that it is actually a provision of a much lower order. However, the clause as it stands can be read as if the Government are able to plead lack of money to elide the targets. That is the way I read it. If I am reading it that way—and reading it any other way does violence to the English language—then while I do not object to the import of the clause, which the Minister has tried to explain to me once before, the way it is written does not achieve that. Potentially, it could give rise to doubt. In any case, it would be useful yet again for the Minister to put on the record the reassurance I think he gave earlier that there is no intention of any kind to plead poverty in the future as a way of eliding the child poverty targets. I beg to move.
My Lords, this is the million-dollar amendment: do statutory targets work? Let us take a hypothetical circumstance in which we suffer a disastrous depression over the next decade. All the work in tackling the causes of poverty has failed and the Government must spend £19 billion on income transfers. There is simply no more money, or no more money unless something of great value to the electorate is chopped. Do the Government have to do it? This issue was explored—
Forgive me, but that is not my point. The point is that if incomes all fell, the median figure would have fewer people below it as incomes at the top reduced—it is the Ireland phenomenon. The whole point about median earnings and a 60 per cent relative target is that it depends on the stretch of incomes, and the best way to reach your 60 per cent target, alas, is actually to have the severe recession that the noble Lord is forecasting. I wonder to what extent he has taken that into account.
I thank the noble Baroness. I do not really care about how it happens; all I want the Committee to hypothesise is that something bad has happened and there is no money. Allow me my argument for a little while. I know it is inconceivable, but there we are. Let us just assume that the situation is bad and there is no money to remedy it unless something gets chopped; allow me my little indulgence.
The issue was explored in Committee in another place, particularly by my honourable friend Graham Stuart. He cited the experience under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, when a judicial review was brought against the Government by Friends of the Earth and Help the Aged for failing to keep their legal duty. The Government argued that the resources were not available to pay for all the measures required to eradicate fuel poverty at the time, given the money available. The court agreed and the judgment said that the Government,
“did not assume a statutory duty to achieve the desired results, whatever the cost”.
It went on:
“It is open to government to have regard to its overall budget and the other calls upon its resources in deciding what steps to take in implementation of the Strategy, including its requirement that efforts should be made to achieve the 2010 and 2016 targets as far as reasonably practicable”.
Stephen Timms, for the Government, went on to assure the Committee that Clause 15 does not have an impact on the binding character of the target, but my point is slightly different. Given the case law that has now developed in this area and the judgments that have been made, is it not the case that the Government can use the “resources not available” defence in relation to Clause 1 anyway? My specific question is: does case law mean that a “resources not available” defence applies to statutory targets of the kind included in the Bill?
My Lords, I shall start by answering the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, to see whether, at least on this occasion, I can persuade him of the relevance of this provision and, I hope, reassure him that it is not a get-out clause. I understand why he is probing this issue.
Clause 15 has no impact on the binding nature of the child poverty targets. The duty to meet the targets is absolute, and the only way of getting out of the duty is by returning to Parliament to repeal the legislation. Clause 15 simply requires the strategy to meet the 2020 target to take into account the broader fiscal and economic context. It ensures that, in preparing the strategy, the Government propose measures that are consistent with the economic circumstances of the time. It also ensures that the advice of the commission, which the Government must take into account in preparing the strategy, is realistic about the costs and benefits of measures to tackle child poverty. Clause 15 does not impact on whether the Government have to meet the targets or not; it simply requires the Government to do so in a sustainable way that delivers value for money. I am sure that the Committee will agree that this is necessary for a sustainable strategy towards eradicating child poverty. Clause 15 is about how we propose to meet the targets, not whether we need them; the duty to meet the targets is absolute.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, posed a different question, asking whether case law means that the Government could pray in aid lack of resources for not having met their targets. One would need to see how case law develops. I hang on to the point that the targets are absolute and not fettered by Clause 15.
I shall try to answer that. The duty in the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act was different. In that Act, the duty was to publish a strategy to ensure that, as far as reasonably practicable, persons do not live in fuel poverty. Here, the duties to meet the targets are absolute. The accountability framework established by the Bill will ensure that government are regularly held to account on progress towards the 2020 target. The provisions have been included to drive action to tackle child poverty in a sustainable way and to avoid any situation where it is necessary to pump in billions of pounds in financial transfers in 2018 and 2019. I think that the thrust of my noble friend’s point was that if we were facing economic calamity—I guess the proposition is that we have a Conservative Government at that time—and incomes fell, the relative duties required to be met would fall as well. My understanding is that there was a different duty in the warm homes and energy Act. Therefore, the read-across in the way that the noble Lord suggested is not established by case law.
My Lords, I do not want to prolong the agony here. I think that the targets in Part 1 are judicially reviewable. The context of the clause in the fuel poverty Act that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, appositely raised is absolutely in point, although the duty may be different. The legal remedy is still a judicial review, so the question that he raised is still appropriate; namely—and I liked the way he put it—does the “resources not available” defence then apply to Clause 1? I still have severe doubts about that. I am grateful to the Minister for trying to reassure me again. The language of the clause does not mean that to me, but we shall study closely what he has said and no doubt return to it at some later stage. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 66 withdrawn.
Clause 15 agreed.
Amendment 67 not moved.
Clause 16 : Continuing effect of targets after target year
Amendment 68 not moved.
Clause 16 agreed.
Schedule 2 : Continuing effect of targets after target year
Amendments 69 and 70 not moved.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Clause 17: Interpretation of Part 1
Amendment 71 not moved.
Debate on whether Clause 17 should stand part of the Bill.
I should have given notice that I wanted to raise one or two questions about Clause 17. They flow straight from the discussion that we have just had. Between now and Report, will the Minister investigate the subtle legal differences about the locus to raise judicial reviews north and south of the border? There is some concern from the Law Society of Scotland that the categories of parties who can raise actions are slightly different. That may be immaterial, but I would like that to be checked before the Bill receives Royal Assent.
I believe that the issue has been the subject of some draft correspondence with the Law Society of Scotland. Again, I am happy to write to the noble Lord, but I think that he is right that the nexus—I forget the precise legal term—to be able to pursue judicial review in Scotland in these circumstances is different. The point to bear in mind is that this is a UK strategy with UK targets. The Secretary of State has the obligation to deliver them. Therefore, even if judicial review were not technically available in Scotland, it is quite likely that there would be the opportunity to pursue judicial review in England. If we can get some more clarity for the noble Lord on that, I will be happy to do so.
Clause 17 agreed.
Clauses 18 and 19 agreed.
Clause 20: Co-operation to reduce child poverty in local area
72: Clause 20, page 12, line 29, leave out “each” and insert “those”
I am as relieved as everyone else that we have finally reached Part 2, which I believe that we will consider rather more rapidly than Part 1. As important as it is for central government to be committed to helping deprived children, the success of the UK strategy will rest on how local authorities perform. Indeed, the Bill stands the risk of being drafted backwards. We start with financial targets, which the Minister has admitted are only part of the story and, as he would not admit, are a crude and possibly counterproductive measure of success in some circumstances, as I would argue.
We move on to the development of the UK strategy, which at least goes beyond purely financial measures, but remains very broad based and high level. It is not until Clause 19 that we can discuss the organisations to deal with the problems on the ground. The Bill, in fact, makes very few changes here. We have another duty in being imposed on local authorities in Clause 20: that they must,
“make arrangements to promote co-operation”,
between themselves and partner authorities. Co-operation is of course important. If the relevant organisations are unclear about who is responsible for what, they are more likely to allow cases to fall between two stools. Are there not already several procedures in place to ensure that organisations working with vulnerable children talk to each other? Does the duty not duplicate existing legislation requiring consultation?
My amendments would amend Clause 20 to give local authorities the discretion to identify which of those on the list of partner authorities are particularly relevant to implementing their local strategy and to prioritise establishing effective co-operation arrangements with them. The Bill will be counterproductive if it forces local authorities to waste time box-ticking and paper-pushing to meet the duty, rather than working on cases where government intervention in a child's life is needed. My amendment would allow local authorities to prioritise where they need to improve their engagement with partner authorities to address local concerns without forcing them to waste time going over procedures that are working perfectly well.
I hope that the Minister will consider my amendments carefully. I beg to move.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for his amendments. I always consider his amendments carefully; one has to, because there is always a sting in the tail somewhere.
The amendments relate to Clause 20, which sets a duty on local authorities to make arrangements to promote co-operation between the authority, its partner authorities as set out in Clause 19, and other persons or bodies, as the local authority sees fit. As child poverty is complex and multifaceted, it is clear that a range of partners must be engaged in local action on the issue. Clause 19 sets out those partners who have a key role to play in influencing the drivers and effects of poverty.
When we consulted on the content of the Bill, there was a clear message from respondents that the measures to promote local action would be successful only if they covered action by all relevant partners in a local strategic partnership. That view was shared by witnesses in the oral evidence sessions in another place.
Indeed, at Second Reading in your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, stated:
“Clause 20 promotes collaboration among local agencies in tackling child poverty through providing local authorities with a duty to liaise with relevant bodies. I welcome this clause as it will promote greater dialogue between these groups when implementing the child poverty strategy to ensure the best outcomes for young individuals”.—[Official Report, 5/1/10; col. 85.]
That is why we have placed in Clause 20(1)(b) a duty on local authorities to make arrangements to promote co-operation with all the partner authorities named in Clause 19. Only by requiring local authorities to make arrangements to promote co-operation between the authority and each of its named partner authorities can we be confident that the full range of individuals, organisations and bodies that can make a real and lasting difference to the lives of children in the UK are fully engaged in that task. That is why the clause is worded as it is. I say to the noble Lord that if in some measure that co-operation and engagement is already taking place, that would be a component of what is required under the Bill.
Amendments 72 and 73 would weaken this duty, essentially giving local authorities a choice as to which partners they chose to cooperate with. That would raise questions about who should be involved in local action and so weaken local authorities’ ability to involve all necessary partners. Without child poverty being everyone’s business and all partners playing their role, local authorities would not be able to tackle all the complex causes of poverty.
As currently written, the Bill ensures that all local partners are fully engaged in local action. The amendment would allow local partners to remove important pieces from that jigsaw and, in doing so, to reduce the impact they could have on child poverty. Many local authorities and their partners already work together to ensure a holistic and comprehensive approach to tackling child poverty. Unfortunately, progress varies across the country and best practice is not universally shared. We now have to make it a priority for all relevant partners in all local areas. The Bill as currently worded makes that happen. The amendment would give those who are less engaged a get-out clause. I hope that the noble Lord will accept my reassurances on this point and withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response, although I confess that I disagree with it. This Government came in with a range of top-down targeting methodologies, which they found counterproductive. As a result, they have been forced to loosen that targeting structure. One of the ways that they have done so—probably the most important—is by giving a choice of targets to local areas, as well as the freedom to achieve their selection of targets. That is the kind of freedom that is much more likely to come from our Benches. We will wish to move that freedom further, I have no doubt; we do not believe that a rigid top-down targeting approach is the right way to run a country.
The point of the amendment is to give some more freedom to local authorities, within the context of an imposed target for child poverty, to structure their own strategies on how to deal with it in terms of which people they will work with. It will not make one iota of difference to the partnerships and the working relationships on the ground to give them some freedom in whom they work with and whom they emphasise; all you risk by having an absolute number of relationships inflexibly imposed from above is, as I have said, a duty then to start ticking the boxes and say, “Yes, I have talked to this other partner organisation”.
The noble Lord is making heavy weather of this point. He is absolutely right that some of the quite rigid targets imposed on local authorities have been progressively pulled back from and that local authorities have a choice of which targets they can focus on. At the same time there have been changes in the financial arrangements for local authorities where some of the ring-fenced grants have been progressively removed to encourage discretion in local authorities. The whole concept of Total Place in the pilots that are being undertaken at the moment is to seek to encourage local authorities to join up. There has been a progressive movement to build on the benefits of local knowledge and that is going to be hugely important when tackling child poverty.
However, I am struggling to see which of the named organisations or individuals that have to be consulted and engaged with one would seriously wish to delete. I draw the noble Lord’s attention to Clause 20(1)(c) under which the local authority can make arrangements to promote co-operation with bodies other than those listed as it thinks fit. There is a broad range of discretion for local authorities under the Bill. Removing or not signing up to those specific authorities that are listed does not really fit the Bill; they are just a part of what needs to be engaged with.
I am most grateful to the Minister. The point I am making is slightly different. By having an absolute list, you are unnecessarily imposing a bureaucratic process. If these are the right partner authorities, local authorities will use them. By allowing them freedom, all you stop is a recording of the fact that these relationships have been built. In a very small way, that is the direction in which we would want to put the economy and is the point of this amendment. I accept that this is not the most important amendment in the world, but it gives local authorities the sense that they are in control. The top-down enforcement of what are obviously going to be a set of relationships is entirely unnecessary and somewhat expensive. Again, I ask the Minister to consider how necessary this top-down requirement really is. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 72 withdrawn.
Amendment 73 not moved.
Clause 20 agreed.
Clause 21 : Local child poverty needs assessment
Amendment 74 not moved.
Clause 21 agreed.
Clause 22 : Joint child poverty strategy for local area
Amendment 75 not moved.
76: Clause 22, page 14, line 1, leave out first “or” and insert “and”
Amendment 76 agreed.
77: Clause 22, page 14, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) must consult such parents, or organisations working with or representing parents, as the Secretary of State thinks fit;”
If the Minister’s assurance in relation to a similar, earlier amendment to the Bill applies, I will withdraw the amendment. In consulting parents and organisations working with parents, local authorities should do the same thing as the Secretary of State. I would make exactly the same speech on this amendment as I did on the earlier one. I beg to move.
Amendment 77 withdrawn.
Clause 22, as amended, agreed.
Clause 23 agreed.
Clause 24 : Meaning of “child poverty” in Part 2
Amendments 78 and 79 not moved.
Clause 24 agreed.
80: Before Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“Free school lunches and milk
(1) In section 512ZB of the Education Act 1996 (provision of free school lunches and milk), in subsection (4)—
(a) after “A person” insert “(“C”)”,(b) in paragraph (a)—(i) for “his parent” substitute “C’s parent”,(ii) at the end of sub-paragraph (iia), insert “or”, and(iii) omit sub-paragraph (iv) (including the “or” immediately following it),(c) after paragraph (a) insert—“(aa) C meets any conditions prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph and C’s parent is, in such circumstances as may be so prescribed— (i) in receipt of any benefit or allowance not falling within paragraph (a) that is so prescribed, or(ii) entitled to any tax credit under the Tax Credits Act 2002 or element of such a tax credit, that is so prescribed, or”(d) in paragraph (b)—(i) for “he, himself, is—” substitute “C is—”,(ii) at the end of sub-paragraph (ii), insert “or”, and(iii) omit sub-paragraph (iii), and(e) at the end insert—“(c) C meets any conditions prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph and is—(i) in receipt of any benefit or allowance not falling within paragraph (b) that is so prescribed, or(ii) entitled to any tax credit under the Tax Credits Act 2002 or element of such a tax credit, that is so prescribed.”(2) Any regulations made under paragraph (a)(iv) of subsection (4) of section 512ZB of the Education Act 1996 and in force immediately before the coming into force of this section are to have effect as if made under paragraph (aa) of that subsection.
(3) Any regulations made under paragraph (b)(iii) of subsection (4) of section 512ZB of the Education Act 1996 and in force immediately before the coming into force of this section are to have effect as if made under paragraph (c) of that subsection.”
Amendment 80 agreed.
Clauses 25 to 27 agreed.
Clause 28 : Extent
81: Clause 28, page 16, line 8, leave out “extends” and insert “and section (Free school lunches and milk) extend”
Amendment 81 agreed.
Clause 28, as amended, agreed.
Clause 29 : Commencement
Amendments 81A and 82
81A: Clause 29, page 16, line 10, after “2” insert “and section (Free school lunches and milk)”
82: Clause 29, page 16, line 11, leave out “comes” and insert “and section (Free school lunches and milk) come”
Amendments 81A and 82 agreed.
Clause 29, as amended, agreed.
Clause 30 : Short title
83: Clause 30, page 16, line 14, after “the” insert “Household Income and”
My Lords, the evening is young and I will move this amendment briefly. The Minister has explained again and again in the course of this Committee that the Government think it is not a good idea to include in the Bill anything that they can avoid including which is not about household income. They would really like—and it is perfectly possible—the Bill to be simply about household income and the amounts of it that are to be guaranteed under the agreement. That being the case, the argument for not putting “household income” in the title of the Bill is weak. The argument for using the title “child poverty” has become stronger as the noble Lord and his colleagues have decided to accept one or two amendments relating to what one might call non-income-focused aspects of child poverty. The balance of the Bill is still about household income rather than child poverty.
I have said this before so I will not go into detail, but I think your Lordships would all agree that household income is very different from what filters down to the child. First, the quantum of the income depends on decisions made by the parents. Secondly, the amount that filters down to the child is also the decision of the parents. There are various other policy decisions that the parents can make, including the decision to take a large quantity of alcohol or drugs which can seriously affect the poverty and economic disadvantage of the child. Therefore, the words “household income” should be substituted for “child poverty” in the title of the Bill but, guessing that the noble Lord will not accept that, I have suggested that they should be additional to it. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is quite right to table an amendment to the Short Title and I support him entirely. We have had long discussions about the difference the Bill will make to children suffering from deprivation and at several points the Minister has stated that it is only a small part of the arsenal of legislation that relates to child poverty. He is quite right. The vast majority of powers, duties and obligations that fall on the Government in relation to the welfare of children continue unchanged.
Added to this is the undeniable fact that the first six clauses of the Bill are not directly related to child poverty. The targets measure household income as a proxy and, although there might be some correlation between the experience of a child and the level of household income, in many cases it is not a perfect proxy. The Government’s research shows that some children living in low-income households are not materially deprived and, for many reasons, that there are children who experience worrying levels of deprivation, neglect and abuse despite their parents being in receipt of much higher levels of income. The noble Lord’s amendment is therefore to be commended on the grounds of accuracy. The Bill is drafted around financial targets, but those targets do not measure child poverty, they measure household income.
I hope that the commission, the UK strategy and the new requirements on local authorities will all contribute to greater levels of co-ordination in an area of policy that should always be a very high priority, but does the Minister think that this improvement in the behaviour of government will be the result of the four targets? Does he think that Clauses 7 to 30 will be ineffective without Clauses 1 to 6? Either he believes that statutory targets significantly change government behaviour and priorities—in which case I am concerned about the distortion that solely financial targets will have on government policy—or he believes that the meat of the Bill lies in the later provisions, in which case exactly what will the four targets, all of which are already measured, achieve?
The four statutory targets measuring household income will not be what motivates a significant improvement in child poverty levels over the next 10 years, and we will be doing a great disservice to those struggling every day to find and help children suffering from deprivation if we pretend that they will.
My Lords, I thought we were going to end on a note of consensus, but seemingly not. Noble Lords may be aware that the title was discussed in the other place where honourable Members sought to change the name of the Bill to include family poverty. I do not deny that the measure of household income is key to the targets in Clauses 1 to 6, but I do not accept the assertion that they do not relate to child poverty, although we accept that the proxy is not absolute. On that point, at various stages during the course of our Committee deliberations we sought to understand the noble Lord’s position in relation to those targets. At one stage he chided me because I suggested that he was not committed to them and that that misrepresented his view. However, we have heard subsequently in a number of debates a loosening of what I thought to be at that earlier stage a commitment to the targets set out in the Bill. That is by way of an aside.
It is important at this stage to clarify this because you never know what will appear in the Guardian the next day. I always endeavour to tell the truth. We are committed to financial targets as measures but we believe that tackling child poverty needs a different approach in tackling the causes of poverty. We are additive not subtractive in our strategy.
Again, I take it that there is support for targets but some equivocation about whether the targets set down in the Bill—whatever else noble Lords might wish to add—are, in the noble Lord’s view, sacrosanct, in particular the 60 per cent of median income.
As we have just discussed, it is not yet clear to me, nor I think to the Liberal Democrat Benches, exactly what a statutory target is in this context. Indeed, the noble Lord has committed to informing us what the case law implications of the statutory target really are. If we go to the actual figures, we have spent a lot of time discussing how random some of them are. I accept of course that one has to fix on figures in the end, but to call a random figure sacrosanct, or to argue that a figure that is necessarily subject to many random elements must be sacrosanct, would seem to stretch any policy beyond the levels of commitment. I hope that I am making myself clear.
I am completely confused by the noble Lord’s position and it is getting worse as we go on. At the beginning, the noble Lord was clear that he accepted the figure of 60 per cent and so on, and we argued why people below 40 per cent or 50 per cent had a gap between declared income and apparent expenditure, but he made it clear that he was not in any sense taking on the propriety of the figures.
Does the noble Lord accept that the propriety of the figures as targets has absolutely nothing to do with whether they are justiciable under common law through case law? They are government targets. Either the noble Lord subscribes to the targets or, as he has increasingly done, particularly today, he is trying to give himself more and more wriggle room.
This leaves some of us concerned that what the noble Lord will try to do, should he be in the position to take my noble friend’s place, is to put himself in a position where he can say that what really matters are the causes of poverty—addiction, alcohol abuse, worklessness, failure to get an education, poor parenting and so on—and, therefore, essentially, as those are the causes, the target of 60 per cent as a consequence matters far less. As a result, we can only tackle the causes—that is all that matters—and, lo and behold, these are all about the lack of moral fortitude on the part of parents; therefore we will morally re-educate the parent population. As a result—bingo—we will be free from the problem of transferring income or waiting for a recession to do it for us. The noble Lord has moved three, four or five steps in the course of the Bill and where he has ended up is far less satisfactory than where he started.
I have to respond to the noble Baroness. I do not accept in any way that trying to tackle the causes of poverty suddenly becomes some kind of moral crusade, although I do not think that the noble Baroness said that. It is not a matter of morality. If the positions are reversed, as the noble Baroness suggested was a possibility and which is where we want to get to, the commission will be of great value in helping us to understand the causes of poverty. We will need a lot of help in order for us to address the funds, which will be limited under any government over the next decade, or certainly in the early part of it.
My earlier amendments, which we may come back to later, are attempts based on my understanding of the current state of research into some of the main drivers of poverty—possibly the main drivers—although I am prepared to be corrected by better research as it emerges.
These are not just targets; they are statutory targets, which are something rather different from a target. We have had a target up to now but we are now going to have a statutory target. I do not understand that and I look forward to hearing from the Minister exactly what the difference is in practice between a target and a statutory target.
The Bill is halfway through and we have had a series of amendments where we have shown our line of thinking. We want a solid emphasis on tackling the causes of poverty and the Minister would misjudge and unkindly misrepresent us if he said that we were looking to do anything other than tackle this problem at its heart.
I thank the noble Baroness, but in this case I am baffled by how she could ever accuse me of saying that there should be no transfer from rich to poor. There are already massive transfers from rich to poor, and you could argue for more. The fascinating book The Spirit Level, which I am sure the noble Baroness has studied from cover to cover, as have I, makes the argument that it does not matter how you balance incomes in the economy, whether through redistribution or through natural means. There are a lot of different approaches here but we have never said that there should be no redistribution, and it is inappropriate of the noble Baroness to suggest it.
My Lords, perhaps I can return to responding to the amendment. That exchange was illuminating; it is clearly on the record, and doubtless we will return to that from time to time.
The Committee will be aware from the debate so far that the targets relate primarily to the household below-average income data series, which presents income collected from the Family Resources Survey. Household income is equivalised according to the number of adults and number and age of children in each household. That has been the established measurement for child poverty since the Measuring Child Poverty consultation in 2003, which found that low income is central to people’s perceptions of poverty.
As we have argued a number of times in Committee, the targets set out in the Bill are a means for measuring success in tackling child poverty. However, that does not mean that our approach to addressing the barriers to child poverty will focus solely on income transfers or financial support. Clause 8 makes clear our intention to develop a sustainable approach to tackling child poverty, one that looks at the range of policy areas set out in Clause 8(5) and that seeks to ensure that we not only meet the child poverty targets by 2020 but maintain these target levels beyond that date, as required by Schedule 2. Relying exclusively on financial support measures will not ensure in the long term that children do not experience socio-economic disadvantage, nor will it address the intergenerational cycles of poverty in the way that the Bill seeks to do.
The Bill enshrines in law the Government’s commitment to end child poverty by 2020. It defines success in meeting that goal and establishes an accountability framework to drive progress towards it at both national and local levels. The Bill is clearly about tackling child poverty, as the Long Title makes clear, and I see no reason why the Short Title should not reflect that. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have not suggested in my amendment that the title of the Bill should not reflect child poverty; I have left the words “child poverty” in there. What I have done to produce a title that slightly more realistically represents the balance of the Bill is put “household income” before “child poverty”, but I would be happy to put it the other way around if the Minister preferred. Why is he not prepared to accept the fact that the Bill is about household income?
My Lords, in a phrase, this Bill is about child poverty—that is its framework, that is what it is directed towards, that is the whole thrust of the debate that we have had. It is about child poverty; that should be clearly stated and be the title of the Bill.
Amendment 83 withdrawn.
Clause 30 agreed.
Bill reported with amendments.
Committee adjourned at 6.50 pm.