17: Clause 8, page 4, line 26, 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 touched on this issue in my earlier amendment covering non-financial targets, which I withdrew after it was not accepted by the Government. I make no apology for raising this particular aspect again in a different context.
This is a difficult and complicated problem. At its heart is the simple proposition that income transfers to a household in which there is an addict parent need to be carefully controlled if our purpose is to help the children. A quick glance at the numbers tells us that if we do not tackle this issue effectively, the whole Bill will become a futile exercise.
As I said in Committee, according to Breakdown Britain:
“Around 1.5 million children are growing up in substance-abusing households—over a million with parents abusing alcohol and … 350,000 where there is drug-taking”.
Now, 1.5 million children is not far short of the number that are targeted to be still living in poverty this year—1.7 million. I know the Government are unlikely to achieve this target. I could find no data on the overlap between children living in poverty and those whose parents are substance abusers, but the overlap must be very considerable. What is the point of making incredible endeavours and spending great sums to support poor children when many of them, maybe the majority of them, will see no benefit whatever from all that effort?
In Committee, I drew noble Lords’ attention to what seems to be a substantial divide between the Government and my party, on the relevance of drug addiction in particular. It is worth quoting again the key part of the evidence provided in another place by Charlotte Pickles of the Centre for Social Justice. She said that,
“by skewing a policy response towards increasing benefits to pull that … family … 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”.—[Official Report, Commons, Child Poverty Bill Committee, 22/10/09; col. 86.]
In Grand Committee, some noble Lords opposed this amendment on the grounds that it could be used to cut benefit to families where there is a person dependent on drugs. There were also claims that children would have less protection if a family member was an addict. Let me make it absolutely clear that this is completely the opposite of the purpose and indeed the wording of the amendment. It imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to take the problem of children living in such households into account, in ways that noble Lords would, and indeed did, wholeheartedly support.
The Minister argued in his response in Committee that the words “disproportionate” or “likelihood” in my amendment were unclear legally. This baffles me entirely, coming from a Minister who is happy to take the common-sense meaning of the expression “socio-economic disadvantage”. If he wants to help the children of addicted parents, I am happy to accept a redraft of the principle of the amendment in language which he would find legally acceptable.
I am not claiming to have a solution today, or to be imposing one with this amendment. That is not the point. I am seeking to make sure that the issue is front and centre in the battle against child poverty; that measures to tackle the problem take it fully into account; that we have a dynamic to find strategies to reduce the number of addicted parents; and, finally, that money and resources get to the children whom the Bill is meant to support. I beg to move.
My Lords, I listened with interest to the way the noble Lord, Lord Freud, introduced his amendment and I am much reassured. My instinct, like that of other noble Lords, was that this was some attempt to cut benefit levels. He says that that is not the purpose of the amendment. Indeed, it is not its stated purpose if you read the wording literally. However, there are still concerns about how you approach this massive problem. The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise it and I support his attempts both here and in Grand Committee to do so.
All my experience—and I have some through working with the Wise Group in Glasgow—is that if you try to take on drug-addicted members of families against their wishes and against the grain of their willingness to co-operate, you run into all sorts of difficulties. Contrariwise, there are things that can be done to encourage people to consider support in a positive way. If they get to the position mentally of agreeing to accept assistance, you can make a huge difference, as long as you have the support available right there at the same time as the penny drops in the drug-addicted mind. If you get to that position, it is no use sending them off to the National Health Service, where they will wait for a year and a half to get treatment.
I am absolutely at one with the noble Lord if he is saying that we need to get whatever package of support is needed to somebody who is in the state of mind to say, “I am now willing to give it my best shot to get into a better place”. If it is a question of people training themselves—and getting the support to train themselves—out of the difficulties that they are in with drug addiction, I am with him. However, it is very difficult for Governments to pick and choose who is in that condition and who is not. If you apply a kind of Jobcentre Plus-approach equally to everybody, you will run into all sorts of difficulties. A recalcitrant drug addict is in a place that is altogether destructive of any attempts at support. It is a very hard problem.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for tabling the amendment. I am still fearful about how it would be implemented, but the discussion should certainly continue. It is something that the Government should give further thought to during the rest of the passage of the Bill.
My Lords, I must add a word here. I know something about substance misuse because I chair the National Treatment Agency for substance misuse. I have had a very useful conversation with the noble Lord, Lord Freud, about this issue.
There are one or two misconceptions around. First, people now do not have to wait a year and a half to get treatment—it takes about three weeks, so it has gone down considerably in the last four or five years. Secondly, the number of people in treatment for addiction has doubled in the last 10 years. We are making progress. What worries me about this amendment is the identification of people who might be using drugs or alcohol. What about smoking, for example? There must be a lot of money spent on smoking, which the amendment does not cover. I understand where the noble Lord, Lord Freud, is coming from but it is difficult to identify people. We would not want to punish the children of addicts. One would want to give the parents help. There is evidence that families and parents are, in increasing numbers, coming for help through the drug treatment system.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for his amendment, and to other noble Lords who have contributed. In large measure, we are on the same page in all this. We recognise that we have a challenge and that there is a group of people who we need to support if we are going to tackle child poverty. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said that we know that we can make a difference. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Massey for her updated knowledge about the increase in people who are undertaking treatment now that it takes only three weeks to access, not the 18 months that it used to a while ago.
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. That would be an onerous and impractical task. I will mention again that it is unclear legally what “disproportionate” or “likelihood” mean in this context. Furthermore, the overarching intention behind the amendment is not clear. The noble Lord himself said that we do not necessarily have all the solutions. I acknowledge that.
All the amendment requires is that the likelihood is assessed. It does not state what happens if a likelihood of disproportionate spending on an addiction is discovered. If it resulted in financial provision being withheld from that household then I would contend that this would increase the risk of poverty. However, I accept and understand the assurances from the noble Lord that this is not the intent of his approach. Clearly it is right for us to be concerned about households with high expenditure on drugs, alcohol or other addictive substances. Indeed, we know that parents’ drug and alcohol use can harm children at all stages of development. That 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, as well as supporting 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 pilot 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 effect of these pilots, evidence from the first 699 families to complete the intervention suggests that substance misuse problems decreased from 32 per cent to 17 per cent, and alcoholism decreased from 28 per cent to 12 per cent.
This amendment could in fact result in there being direct financial incentive for households with a member suffering from addiction to spend more recklessly on drugs and alcohol in order to receive more financial support from the taxpayer, but I do not believe that that was the thrust that the noble Lord was following. He referred to the fact that there are 1.5 million children growing up in substance-abusing households, more than a million with parents abusing alcohol and 350,000 in households where there is drug-taking. I do not refute the figures that he cites, though I point out that dependency or abuse is not necessarily the same as addiction.
While the poorest local authorities tend to have the highest levels of negative health and social outcomes related to alcohol use, it is not clear that addiction to harmful substances is the main driver of poverty. Indeed, poverty and the stress it can cause are more likely to contribute to an addiction problem rather than the other way round. The root causes of poverty are more likely to be those listed in Clause 8(5). Therefore, I suggest that there is a risk here that the noble Lord is looking at the symptoms rather than the causes of poverty. I hope on reflection that he will not press the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for not malignly interpreting the motives behind the amendment. That was not the case on the first occasion that the issue was discussed. This is not intended to be a penny-pinching measure; in fact, it would probably achieve the exact opposite. The figures are very interesting. The Minister said that £80 million is being spent to support families at risk of this problem. When you consider that a large proportion of the families we are concerned about might be in this category, the £80 million that we are devoting to supporting them in this way must be compared with a potential £19 billion cost of supporting families in poverty purely by income transfers—that is the IFS estimate. As noble Lords know, Frank Field from another place estimates that the cost is higher at £30 billion.
Putting this concern in the Bill in the shape of this amendment would start to get rationality into an analysis of where we should be spending the money. On the one hand it is suggested that we can solve the problem with £19 billion of income transfers; on the other, here is an effective set of pilots with a figure of £80 million. That is nothing against £19 billion. You start to get better decisions if you look at these things in that context. We argue that addiction is an enormous problem when you see the relevant figures.
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for the fascinating information about the treatment processes in this country. She asked whether we should include smoking. I thought very hard about including smoking in the addictions. I did not do so for two reasons. First, I think that to do so would be too emotive. Secondly, alcohol and other drugs have a dual effect: a financial effect and a directly deleterious effect within a family in terms of the parents’ likely relationship with the children.
As always, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for his thoughtful and often inspired views in this area. He said that this is a very difficult issue. I acknowledge that that is true; it is very difficult. This is one of the major social problems in this country. That is why it is valuable to put a forcing mechanism in a Bill such as this so that we put effort and diligence into trying to solve it. The cost arguments only stand if the problem is a small, marginal one. If it is of central importance—that is what I am arguing—the fact that it is difficult and expensive to tackle does not really stand. We should spend that money and make those efforts if this is the central part—or one of the central parts—of the problem. This is an important issue and I am sure we will come back to it in many ways and guises in the years to come. I wanted to air it fully.
Before the noble Lord sits down—I apologise for interrupting him—I want to place on record that the Government do not accept the juxtaposition that he made of the £19 billion on the one hand and the £80 million programme on the other. This figure of £19 billion was an IFS suggestion of the cost if these issues were dealt with by income transfers. It did not recommend that as the route forward and neither do the Government. That needs to be done on a more sustainable basis, including the sorts of programmes that are tackling the challenges that the noble Lord rightly raised. He has made a forced comparison on that. I want to make that clear on the record.
I am most grateful to the Minister. I drew the analogy because if we cannot find ways to help the poor—and poor children in particular—then that is the bill we will face in 2020. That is the point. It is the context in which one starts to look at interventions. If one does not have effective interventions then that is the bill at the end of the road. That is the reason I used the juxtaposition.
As I said, this is an important issue. That is why I raised it as an amendment. In light of the response, I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.
Amendment 18 not moved.
Amendments 19 to 20 not moved.
Clause 9 : Provision of advice by Commission and consultation with others
Amendment 21 not moved.
22: Clause 9, page 5, line 25, after “fit,” insert—
“( ) must consult such parents, and organisations working with or representing parents, as the Secretary of State thinks fit,”
My Lords, I am delighted to move this amendment and to speak to government Amendments 30 and 43. In Committee, noble Lords on all sides of the House expressed concern that parents were omitted from the formal consultation requirement. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who is not in his place, in particular argued powerfully that the Bill must treat parents as partners and that their views will be vital in the development of successful and effective child poverty strategies. We listened with interest to the debate and I am happy to propose these government amendments in response.
These amendments will require consultation on the UK, devolved, and local child poverty strategies to take place directly with parents, as well as with the organisations working with or representing parents. This requirement directly mirrors the requirement to consult children and organisations representing children. By directly consulting parents, children and those organisations working with both groups, we are confident that the most informed and effective child poverty strategies will be developed.
Government Amendments 39, 40, 45 and 46 extend the definition of “parent” in the Bill from just those who have parental responsibility for the child, as defined by the Children Act 1989, to cover also those who do not have parental responsibility but are caring for children who reside with them. In Committee, noble Lords from all parties spoke about the needs of family and friends/carers, and why it is important to ensure that they are adequately provided for in the Bill. Following that debate, my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton met my noble friend Lady Massey and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, as well as representatives from the Family Rights Group and Grandparents Plus. They discussed the range of activity being undertaken better to identify how this group could be supported, linked to the Families and Relationships Green Paper. These amendments follow on from that discussion.
The previous definition of “parent” in the Bill went further than just natural or birth parents and included any individual who has parental responsibility for a child under the Children Act 1989. This includes step-parents and persons with a legal order conferring parental responsibility, such as a residence order, a special guardianship order or an adoption order. Following the meeting with the noble Baronesses, we decided to extend the definition to include those who do not have parental responsibility but who care for a child full-time. The definition used here is similar to that in Section 576 of the Education Act 1996.
The amendment will ensure that in preparing a UK child poverty strategy, the Secretary of State must consider measures aimed at family and friends/carers. This applies in respect of financial support, the promotion and facilitation of employment, the development of skills and the provision of advice, information and assistance. The intention is that these individuals should benefit from measures in the strategy in the same way as natural parents or others with parental responsibility for a child.
I hope that the House will appreciate that our intention in moving the amendment is to recognise more explicitly in the Bill the needs of family and friends/carers, and to ensure that the UK strategy takes this group into account when considering measures to alleviate child poverty.
Finally, I apologise for the short notice, but I must take the opportunity to speak also to the two minor technical amendments, Amendments 37A and 37B, which were tabled a few hours ago. They are consequential on Amendments 22 and 30 and ensure that the duty to consult parents continues after 2020 if necessary. Copies of the new amendments are available on the tables on either side of the doors of the Prince’s Chamber for the convenience of noble Lords. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my old friend the Minister for summarising so effectively the issues concerned in the amendments. I will speak to Amendments 45 and 46, which address the definition of the word “parent”. I am very pleased: this issue has run for a long time and this is a momentous occasion. I thank all those who fought for recognition of the status of family and friends carers, many of whom are in your Lordships’ House today. It has been most encouraging that the support has been cross-party. On occasion, it has been very moving. I also thank the organisations that have been determined to continue supporting the issue: the Family Rights Group, Grandparents Plus and the Kinship Care Alliance. I assure the Minister that these associations have e-mailed, telephoned and written to me to say how delighted they are that at last this has happened.
The amendments will mean that vulnerable children and carers are included in data collection and in consideration of the relevant services. I thank in particular the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, for all the hard work that they have put in to clarify the situation. I also thank the members of the ministerial team, who have had a very difficult job. The situation is now clear, which is much appreciated. I know that there is still some way to go, but Amendments 45 and 46 are an important move in a positive direction. We all owe the Minister a huge vote of thanks.
Perhaps I may add my thanks and congratulations to the Minister, first on allowing me to join in this important discussion, which has been brought to such a fruitful conclusion. There are two main points from this group of amendments. The first is to include parents in consultation, rather than just children and organisations. That is an important move forward and it is hugely to the credit of the Government and those in the Box that they recognised this and put it right. The second, which is infinitely more important, is the widening of the definition of “parents”, not only for consultation—they also play a part in that—but in every other way. People in this country sometimes completely unexpectedly find themselves caring for a child. It may be a grandmother, aunt, uncle or godmother. Godmothers in particular suddenly find that there is no one else to care for the child. They take over the care, sometimes having to lose their jobs or to take less well paid work, as well as incurring the considerable added expense of growing children.
One example to which I have referred in the past is the woman—at the age when most people would expect to be a grandparent taking children out for pleasant Sunday events—who found herself caring for a child who was not her own. At that stage the child, now aged 11, was nine. She will care for that child out of love for her goddaughter and because of the tremendous needs of the mother, who cannot cope. The grandmother is thrilled, as she could not do it herself. The godmother will not, in fact, be in this group but she is an example of people who are in the group under this Bill, who have been in real difficulties and whom I hope the strategy will pick up and help in every way.
This is a huge step forward, as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, says. The Government have done a wonderful job, putting us much further along the line of helping these children. Wonderful people take over their care and deserve to be looked after in exactly the same way as the natural parents. Thank you very much indeed.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend one or two questions. Like everyone else, I am particularly pleased to see Amendment 45, although I am not sure that it is necessary, as the terminology already covers it. In practice, however, too many bodies and organisations misunderstand the term “parent”, taking it to mean biological parent, so that other groups get excluded.
The recurring problem in dealing with this is getting the stats. We wander between figures of 200,000 and 300,000. We really do not know how many people, for how long, with what number of children and at what cost are caring for these children. Could I push my noble friend a step further, given that the commission will now have a wider concept of parenthood? This is probably too late now for the census, but it may not be too late for the Family Expenditure Survey or the General Household Survey. Could my noble friend use his best endeavours to assess the number of people who are producing kinship care, grandparent care, family care or indeed the extraordinary example of care provided by the godparent mentioned by the noble and learned Baroness? This will mean that we know where we stand in policy terms. One of the first things that we could do is to make sure that the commission, in going through its research, includes this group specifically in order to find out the numbers. Without the numbers, there is very little that we can do in policy development.
My Lords, I, too, warmly welcome these amendments. My colleagues have far more experience in this area than I have, so I will not go further along those lines. However, may I take this opportunity to ask the Minister for reassurance on the voice of professionals? I commend the Government for their efforts in recent years to ensure that the voice of the child is heard much more clearly than it has been in the past. In this Chamber particularly, one recognises the strength of experience and it has been very gratifying to hear about the need to listen more carefully to parents. However, I have been concerned that the voices of professionals should also be heard—I particularly mean social workers close to front-line practice. They should be one of the most powerful advocates for families in poverty—especially those social workers who still carry a case load and are close to that experience. Although I welcome the movement that the Government have made in the past two or three years to try to ensure that the voice of the professionals is heard better, I regret that, in the past, I have had the sense that they were not listened to closely enough.
Policy in this area will be tremendously improved if there are mechanisms and means to include front-line practitioners—especially social workers, but also head teachers and teachers, people who are still working directly with families. If we talk broadly about organisations, that may mean the people who lead those organisations, who may not have had recent experience of working directly with families. The practice that some Ministers have had of having a group of professionals as a sounding board whom they meet periodically to sound out their policies is a good approach. I would appreciate reassurance from the Minister about that.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for meeting the concerns expressed around this House, including by us, that the list of consultees would be incomplete without specific inclusion of parents and their representative organisations. This group of amendments makes good that omission and I welcome it. I also thank the noble Baroness for introducing the amendment allowing for kinship carers to be considered. A lot has been said on that point, especially eloquently by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, so I shall be extremely brief. I am extremely pleased that the Government have put in place the necessary changes to allow kinship carers to be accommodated and supported by the strategy.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their very generous comments. The heavy lifting on this, as they will know, has been done by my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton and an excellent Bill team.
My noble friend Lady Hollis makes an extremely important point. It may be of interest for her to know that the cross-departmental working group is working with stakeholders to determine what more can be done to obtain exactly the information that she talked about: the number of relative carers. We very much back the idea of the commission considering the points that she made as part of its work, but that is for a Secretary of State working with the commission to decide. We cannot micromanage the process, but the points that she made are very pertinent.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, wanted the voice of the professionals to be heard. Again, we very much agree with him. Consultation with professionals is essential; the system does not work without it. I assure him that those voices will be heard. The Bill includes provision to consult other,
“such persons as the authority thinks fit”.
We would assume that the voice of the professionals would be included as such people.
Amendment 22 agreed.
Amendment 23 not moved.
Clause 10 : Scottish strategies
Amendments 24 to 26 not moved.
Clause 11 : Northern Ireland strategies
Amendments 27 to 29 not moved.
Clause 12 : Advice and consultation: Scotland and Northern Ireland
30: Clause 12, page 8, line 21, after “fit,” insert—
“( ) must consult such parents, and organisations working with or representing parents, as the devolved administration thinks fit,”
Amendment 30 agreed.
Clause 13 : Reports by Secretary of State
Amendment 31 not moved.
Clause 14 : Statement required in relation to target year
Amendment 32 not moved.
33: Clause 14, page 9, line 31, 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 Government concessions today have done much to reassure me that the strategy produced under Clause 8 will indeed be capable of focusing on many of the causes of poverty. It is unfortunate, however, that we have not made a similar amount of headway on the first five clauses of this Bill and that four crude, largely financial, targets remain as the only mechanism of assessing the success of any Government.
The Government consider that the differences between the four targets—which should, we hope, ensure that all households are counted where a child is at risk of suffering from low income—is sufficient to give a full picture of the situation. I am afraid I do not agree. Although the targets may cover a broad enough group, they do not distinguish between the distinct types of household within that group. By ensuring that the numbers of households falling into each band are reported on, any appreciation of the Government’s success or failure can be informed by knowing where progress has been made.
I appreciate that there are significant difficulties with reporting on households falling under 40 per cent of the median, as we have discussed, given that the IFS stated that children in these families are frequently better off in material terms than in households that are nominally richer. That surely makes it a very useful statistic. If the government strategy is proving extremely effective at addressing poverty in the 50 per cent and 60 per cent bands but is having absolutely no impact on those reporting, possibly incorrectly, almost no income, such information is useful.
Whatever the Government say about the flaws of our additional non-financial measures for the vulnerable, the fact remains that these four targets are very blunt measures. I continue to think that this amendment would improve the Bill and hope that the Minister has reconsidered his earlier opposition to it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I do not feel very strongly about this amendment, but I wonder whether it is necessary. In an earlier amendment—I am not sure if it was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, or the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood—the noble Lord, Lord Freud, like me, made a distinction between information and targets. The information he seeks for those, not just below 60 per cent but below 50 per cent, is indeed already well publicised in Households Below Average Income. For example, page 40 gives the percentage below 50 per cent of the whole population; page 72 the percentage for children. On the 2007-08 figures, this is 12 per cent compared with 23 per cent below the 60 per cent line. That information, therefore, is already there and well known. We raised a similar issue when we were debating whether it was before or after housing costs. It is essentially the same issue.
We have the information there. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Freud, that the figures for below 40 per cent are entirely suspect. People may be in the black economy or the cash economy, they may be self-employed, they may be shopkeepers or living off lodgers, and that income is not necessarily always declared. We do not know. He is, however right to say that the standard of living reported does not reflect the income as reported. The numbers are in any case very small. It is very hard to pick that up unless one does some sort of focus group or qualitative survey of those you can pick out.
For the rest, however, we have the figures for those below 60 per cent median income and those below 50 per cent; we already have the information. I do not see what is added by building it into the vocabulary of targets. It is perfectly reasonable to ask the commission to see whether those below 50 per cent median income are distinctive from those below 60 per cent and whether there is any particular driver there that Government have a lever on that can help. That is perfectly reasonable. I am puzzled, however if the information is in the public domain already, why the noble Lord thinks this amendment is necessary.
My Lords, I am pleased that we have been able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Freud, at least on some aspects of the Bill during the course of our deliberations. I am sorry that I am not able to accommodate him in respect of this amendment.
The noble Lord expressed a concern in Committee that there may be a risk of the Government focusing on moving families who are closest to the poverty threshold just over it. Let me categorically assure him that this is not what we propose. This would be an entirely self-defeating approach, as it would be impossible to meet the targets this way, and we would be in breach of the duty to ensure as far as possible that children in the UK do not experience socio-economic disadvantage. It would also be morally wrong to ignore the needs of the most vulnerable children. Indeed, I have just moved a government amendment that requires specific consideration of the most vulnerable groups in the child poverty strategy. This is intended to ensure that the strategy does not focus only on children whom it is easiest to lift above the poverty line, leaving behind particularly vulnerable children who will be harder to help. I hope the noble Lord is convinced of our sincerity on that matter.
It is worth outlining once again the many issues that arise from the data on those with the very lowest incomes, such as those below 40 per cent median income. They are acknowledged to have a higher degree of uncertainty and error. Some types of households with very low income that were recorded on the survey include the following issues. First, very fragmented incomes are under-recorded. Secondly, some households will have transitional periods of low income when they are between possibly well paid jobs at the precise time of the survey interview, or they are self-employed and their incomes can vary greatly from year to year. Thirdly, some households may draw on savings to cope with a longer period of minimal income. Finally, some households genuinely have to cope on very low incomes, and may get into debt to maintain levels of expenditure.
Unusual households in which 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 income than in households below 40 per cent, and are therefore particularly unreliable as a measure of poverty. My noble friend Lady Hollis acknowledged that, and the noble Lord, Lord Freud, rightly focused on that in quite a lot of our Committee deliberations. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, to which he referred, has confirmed this, pointing to the fact that many of those with incomes below 40 per cent of median income are not those with the highest levels of deprivation. This is why households with incomes below 50 per cent and 60 per cent, including households below average income, are used in measures of poverty. This is in line with international best practice.
The HBAI publication, to which my noble friend Lady Hollis referred, contains statistics on the number, proportion and characteristics of children in households with incomes below 50, 60 and 70 per cent of median income before and after housing costs, as well as in low income and material deprivation. It is published annually, so the 50, 60 and 70 per cent information is available. To be fair to the noble Lord, his amendment would not have required the 40 per cent to be a target; it related simply to the information that would flow from Clause 9. Perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong on that point. The 40 per cent figure simply does not flow from the data at the moment because of its unreliability. Indeed, the HBAI publication produces a bit of a health warning even on the 50 per cent figure.
The noble Lord’s amendment would apply only to statements that are required under the final annual report on the target year and not to the reports that precede it. If his intention is that all annual reports that are required under the Bill contain information on these poverty thresholds, the amendment would simply not cover that.
In summary, the targets already present a range of different measures of poverty, and as such ensure that we do not focus just on getting families over the line. There are problems associated with the measurement of the very lowest incomes, and I urge the noble Lord not to press his amendment to a vote.
I thank the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, very much for their responses. Frankly, my concern has been much reduced since the passing of Amendment 15, with its requirement to worry about the most vulnerable children. Combined with that, I acknowledge entirely—indeed I made the point—that the figures below 40 per cent are very unreliable; I hardly need to be reminded of the point, and I accept it.
The amendment was driven by the sense of many commentators that there had been a lot of effort on nudging people just over a particular line. The reason I was keen to see an emphasis right the way through the poor was to ensure that neither this Government nor any future one resort to that kind of playing with figures, because what the public want to see is the very poorest children—genuinely poor children—taken out of poverty.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, it is not a target. This is information, and the trouble is that the HBAI, which is an excellent publication, has so much information that particular things are drowned out, so the value of having this in the statement which surrounds how we are progressing on poverty is that it pulls it out and pulls the significance out.
My concerns in this area have been reduced by Amendment 15, and the arguments that have been presented have been very good and persuasive arguments—though I am not implying that other arguments on other amendments were not good as well. On that basis, I withdraw this amendment with genuine thanks.
Amendment 33 withdrawn.
Amendments 34 and 35 not moved.
Clause 16 : Continuing effect of targets after target year
Amendment 36 not moved.
Schedule 2 : Continuing effect of targets after target year
Amendment 37 not moved.
Amendments 37A and 37B
37A: Page 21, line 34, leave out “(c)” and insert “(d)”
37B: Page 21, line 37, leave out “(c)” and insert “(d)”
Amendments 37A and 37B agreed.
Amendment 38 not moved.
Clause 17 : Interpretation of Part 1
Amendments 39 and 40
39: Clause 17, page 10, leave out lines 21 and 22
40: Clause 17, page 10, line 33, leave out subsection (3)
Amendments 39 and 40 agreed.
Clause 20 : Co-operation to reduce child poverty in local area
41: Clause 20, page 12, line 29, leave out “each” and insert “those”
My Lords, we are now on the last lap. I am afraid that after reflecting on the Minister’s response to this amendment in Grand Committee, I am not convinced by his arguments that requiring local authorities to set out co-operation arrangements with each and every partner authority will lead to best practice and a fully engaged focus on child poverty throughout the country. I agree with him that the partner authorities are all likely to be critical for the successful implementation of a child poverty strategy but, as the Bill makes clear, the child poverty strategy will form only one part of the local authority’s priorities, and indeed only one part of its sustainable community strategy. Given the overlap between child poverty and community issues, I feel that requiring arrangements between partner authorities on child poverty alone risks duplicating and complicating existing arrangements for co-operation where the relationship is already effective and will do no more than produce paper where authorities are not fully engaged with this strategy. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for these amendments and I hope to be able to convince him genuinely to withdraw them when I have finished. They 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. We recognise that local authorities and their partners are best placed to support their communities, to reach out to families and individuals and to tailor services to their needs. The Bill therefore requires local authorities and delivery partners to work together to tackle child poverty and set out the contributions that they will make in their local areas.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, voiced his concern that this duty will impose inflexible requirements on local authorities, and indeed he has reiterated that he wants local authorities to be given the freedom to co-operate with whomever they so wish. While I appreciate the need for flexibility to suit local needs, this amendment will raise questions as to who should be involved and will therefore weaken the local authorities’ ability to involve all the necessary partners. 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 which can make a real and lasting difference to the lives of children in the UK are fully engaged in that task. In fact, the consultation on the Bill illustrated that local partners thought that tackling child poverty must be a shared responsibility among all key partners; it should not be optional.
The noble Lord has also expressed his concern that the duty to promote co-operation will duplicate existing legislation that requires consultation between organisations working with vulnerable children. This is not the case. The consultation made it clear that the arrangements in Part 2 should be delivered through existing structures. It is not a question of new arrangements and having to duplicate existing arrangements. The Bill reflects this and the list of partners set out in Clause 19 is, in fact, based on the existing local strategic partnerships. These organisations are in place and we do not need to create them again for the purposes of this Bill. Many local authorities and their partners already work together to ensure a comprehensive approach to tackling child poverty. The requirement to promote co-operation will help embed their good work. However, progress varies across the country and best practice is not universally shared. This requirement, therefore, gives those who could do more the stimulus to do so.
Amendments 41 and 42 weaken the duty to co-operate, essentially giving local authorities a choice as to which partners they choose to co-operate with. By failing to collaborate with all those listed in Clause 19, there is a risk that the impact they can have on child poverty will be reduced. I hope the noble Lord will accept my reassurances on this point, and that he will feel able to accept the provision as it stands in the Bill and withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, in the Bill we have absolute flexibility for the Secretary of State to define socio-economic disadvantage and absolute inflexibility for local authorities when they come to make arrangements to co-operate with partner authorities. It seems odd to require co-operation from above and outside, and surely the freedom of a local authority to select its own relevant partner authorities would be likely to generate a far more enthusiastic and effective response than these precisely drawn sets of arrangements that are being imposed from above.
In terms of flexibility, in relation to co-operation, Clause 20(1)(c) talks about,
“such other persons or bodies as the authority thinks fit”.
It is prescriptive in terms of certain organisations but the authority has complete flexibility as to who else it wishes to engage with.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. Of course there is flexibility in adding on further partners, but the prescriptive nature of the partners that must be co-operated with is a top-down requirement that will just add to the costs of compliance and, I suspect, do very little to alleviate child poverty as it stands. With some regret I will withdraw this amendment, but it is on a less genuine basis than I was able to withdraw the last amendment.
Amendment 41 withdrawn.
Amendment 42 not moved.
Clause 22 : Joint child poverty strategy for local area
43: Clause 22, page 14, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) must consult such parents, and organisations working with or representing parents, as the authority thinks fit, and”
Amendment 43 agreed.
Clause 24 : Meaning of “child poverty” in Part 2
Amendment 44 not moved.
Clause 26 : General interpretation
Amendments 45 and 46
45: Clause 26, page 16, line 9, at end insert—
(a) any individual who has parental responsibility for a child, or(b) any other individual with whom a child resides and who has care of the child;”
46: Clause 26, page 16, line 12, at end insert—
“(2) In paragraph (a) of the definition of “parent” in subsection (1), the reference to “parental responsibility”—
(a) in relation to England and Wales, is to be read in accordance with the Children Act 1989,(b) in relation to Northern Ireland, is to be read in accordance with the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, and(c) in relation to Scotland, is to be read as a reference to parental responsibilities within the meaning of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.”
Amendments 45 and 46 agreed.
House adjourned at 9.37 pm.