Amendment 1 had been retabled as Amendment 1A.
1A: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“2010 poverty target
(1) The Secretary of State must, as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of the 2010 target year and in any event not later than 30 June 2012, lay before Parliament a report on whether the 2010 target has been met.
(2) The 2010 target is that in the financial year beginning with 1 April 2010, 1.7 million children or fewer live in qualifying households in the UK that fell within the relative low income group as defined by section 2(2).
(3) The report must be based on statistics that the Statistics Board has designated under section 12 of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (assessment) as national statistics.
(4) Whether the target has been met in relation to the 2010 target year is to be determined by reference to the statistics.
(5) If the target has not been met, the report must explain why it has not been met.
(6) “The 2010 target year” is the financial year beginning with 1 April 2010.”
My Lords, this amendment reframes a proposal that we put forward in Committee. Essentially, I propose that the Government of the day report to Parliament on their success or otherwise in hitting the interim target of halving child poverty in 2010-11. That report should be prepared when figures are available. Before going into the reasons why this would be a valuable exercise, I will deal with the changes to the amendment since the Committee stage.
The Minister’s arguments against our original amendment were based, as far as I can assess, entirely on the issue of timing. According to him, the household below average income data would not have been available for the original three-month deadline. It would not capture the impact of recent measures or that of Budget measures to come for this year. The Minister argued that the electoral cycle would create practical publication problems. He argued that annual reports on progress towards targets are anyway required from the Secretary of State to Parliament. However, this is not the same as a report on the specific target of halving child poverty in 2010. I will summarise the underlying arguments for why such a report would be valuable. I will aim to move quickly over ground already covered.
Odd things have been happening in the battle against child poverty since 2004, when the improvements that we had seen ground to a halt and, on some measures, deteriorated. We debated at some length in Committee what the reasons for that might be. My overwhelming sense is that we are looking at a period in which real earnings growth was very disappointing, but we do not need to rerun those discussions in depth. However, we need a report at the appropriate time to put the various economic factors into context for this reason. The post-war periods in which child poverty has fallen have been rather rare—five or six years in the last 30, for instance. They are the exception rather than the rule. Some other major questions need answering. There was a reduction in relative poverty among children in workless households, but not in working households. How much has been caused by income transfers, rather than by tackling the causes of poverty? This is an area of particular interest to us, since our approach to the problem will be oriented towards tackling the causes of child poverty.
This amendment would also give the Government the chance to accept measurements of performance against targets during its last 13 years in power. The Government have been accused of using diversionary tactics in this Bill by encouraging voters not to look at this performance and switching attention to the far horizon of 2020. They have also been accused of creating a poisoned pill for future Governments—they can ignore their own likely failure to achieve modest targets in benign conditions while lambasting the Government of the day for failing to achieve more difficult targets in a more difficult economy. Stephen Timms in another place acknowledged both the tougher nature of the 2020 targets and the more difficult economic environment that we face. I emphasise that I am not making these accusations; I am suggesting that the Government may find it convenient to tackle them head on by accepting responsibility for their own targets. I beg to move.
My Lords, in Grand Committee I felt as though much of the time we were all dancing a bit of a quadrille round the fact that, as time goes on, a general election is looming ever closer. The unspoken question is not only the complexion of the Government who will have to pick up the baton on this Bill but whether that new Government will want to be confronted in the very near future with this amendment if it should become part of the Bill.
It is little wonder that the Minister delicately and hypothetically asked the noble Lord, Lord Freud, about this in Grand Committee. Quite understandably, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, refused to be pinned down. He has now tabled a similar amendment on Report. However, the three-month reporting period, which was in the Committee amendment, has gone and a more realistic timetable has been set out—at least I hope so; I have not examined in great detail the new amendment, which was tabled only yesterday, but I think that it has that timetable in it.
Having this amendment in the Bill would mean that a new Government, of whatever complexion, would have to consider almost straightaway what has been done in the past to try to reduce child poverty, what is being done right now and what should be done in the future given the economic circumstances of the country. The assessment of progress will be invaluable, particularly to the new Child Poverty Commission as it starts its work. There is little doubt that the 2010 target does not have a chance of being met—apart from anything else, because of the recession. We all know that unemployment is likely to rise, with the loss of many jobs in the public sector, and that, although the Government are trying to give lone parents help in getting to work when their child is ever younger, there are often not the part-time jobs or, yet, enough suitable wrap-around childcare available throughout the country.
Any report on progress towards meeting the 2010 target is not likely to be very optimistic but it should be able to point the way to how the 2020 target of “eradicating” child poverty might be met. For this reason, we support the amendment.
I, too, support this amendment because I want to see my Government or an alternative Government after the general election continuing to commit to the eradication of child poverty. That is what this amendment seeks to do. That commitment should be made whether this is the right format or whether my noble friend might suggest that there is some other way of approaching it.
We all know why it is difficult, particularly since 2004. Most of the tests of child poverty are relative; most of the children who are poor are on benefits; benefits increase by prices; and the wealth of the country increases by wages. The only way in which you can reduce that gap over time and ensure that more children are above the poverty line is to see benefits rise not only in line with earnings but faster than earnings. However, that then brings the dilemma over how attractive work is for those who are unskilled, in large families and low paid. That is part of the juggling act that any member of a Government has always to seek to respond to.
Any way of lifting children on benefits above the poverty line has implications for the effectiveness of encouraging people into the labour market if they are very poorly paid. The only way in which you can address that is to increase tax credits to make their pay worth more, whereupon you raise the standard of average median earnings and more children come below the line. It is almost like a spiral. It is very difficult to resolve, as I think we all understand. That is why I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, did not attribute it to any negligence of government but rather to a reflection—I am afraid—of the economic prosperity that we have enjoyed, in which we have seen wages soar ahead of cost/price-linked benefits.
Even if this amendment cannot address and resolve that problem—it is one of those where you are continually keeping these three considerations juggled in the air—it would at least focus the mind of any Government, any civil servant and the commission on seeking to drive forward to meet that target. In so far as the noble Lord’s amendment would help this Government, or any Government, to progress that, I hope that my noble friend will support it.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 1A, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Freud. The aim of the Bill is to drive the long-term sustainable eradication of child poverty, ensuring that tackling child poverty is a priority for everyone. We will continue to be held to account on the 2010 target, but this Bill is focused on ensuring that we do not lose sight of the long-term goal.
The Bill increases the accountability of the Government with regard to their child poverty goal. It sets out a rigorous process of reporting and accountability that will hold the Government to account. It also creates the Child Poverty Commission, which will provide valuable expertise and advice to feed into the reports and the strategies on progress. The Bill does not weaken our commitment to tackling child poverty; it strengthens it.
The amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish a report as soon as is reasonably practicable after the end of the 2010 target year and no later than 30 June 2012, setting out an assessment of progress towards the 2010 child poverty target as defined in public service agreement 9—fewer than 1.7 million children in qualifying households living below the 60 per cent median income threshold.
As I explained in Committee, Clause 8 requires the Secretary of State to publish a strategy setting out the measures that will be taken to meet the four child poverty targets in Clauses 2 to 5. To ensure that the Secretary of State reports on the progress in tackling child poverty, Clause 13 requires him to produce and lay before Parliament an annual progress report setting out the progress that has been made in tackling child poverty. Subsection (1)(a) of Clause 13 requires that the annual reports report progress against each of the targets.
The first strategy must be laid within 12 months of Royal Assent and the first report must be laid within a year of the anniversary of the strategy being published. This will report on progress against our relative poverty target, from which it will be clear what the progress is on the 2010 target. In addition to this, the HBAI data on the relative low income target are published every year, so progress can be tracked in that way.
As the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said, this is not the time to revisit all the arguments and analysis about what has happened since 2004 and the reasons why there are challenges in meeting the child poverty targets. Government action and investment over the past decade have stopped and reversed the upward trend in child poverty. Whereas the number of children in poverty more than doubled between 1979 and 1997, 500,000 children have been lifted out of child poverty since 1998-9. There were 2.9 million children living in relative poverty in 2007-08. Absolute poverty has been halved. We expect the measures introduced in and since Budget 2007 to lift around a further 550,000 children out of poverty. Although this is still some way from the 2010 target, it represents real and significant progress since 1997.
This amendment does not add any value. The Government are happy to be held to account for our record on child poverty. Indeed, we cannot possibly avoid being held to account for it. The 2010 target is tough, as it should be, and we need to bear in mind that we started from a base where child poverty had risen for some 20 years. However, as noble Lords would like to see progress against the 2010 target reported clearly—a view that I share—I do not propose to resist the amendment.
Amendment 1A agreed.
Clause 1 : Duty of Secretary of State to ensure that targets are met
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert “, and
(e) the relative low income after housing costs target in section (Relative low income after housing costs target)”.
My Lords, I make no apology for introducing this amendment again on Report. All the other amendments in the group are consequential on the first one. Amendment 2 would add the after housing costs as a fifth target in Clause 1 to the measure of child poverty. The relative low income in a household would be calculated by capturing both the before and after housing costs. This would give a much truer picture throughout the country of the disposable income of a qualifying family.
As I have said before, both these sets of figures are collected by the households below average income surveys. The amendment does not mean that extra statistics will have to be collected. Our contention is that using the before housing costs figure masks a lot of child poverty; a much more accurate picture is achieved by using the after housing costs figure. This is illustrated by the number of children recorded as living in poverty: 2.9 million in the before housing costs figure, rising to 4 million in the after housing costs figure.
We had a long debate in Committee encompassing housing itself, how poor housing can impact on child poverty, the problem of overcrowding and what is being done to provide more affordable homes. These are all important matters which affect child poverty. Although each is worthy of debate, I do not intend to go down any of those roads today. I will concentrate on why it is important that after housing costs should be added to the targets in the Bill.
In his reply to my similar amendment in Committee, the Minister said that,
“the Government recognise the importance of housing costs to families’ disposable incomes and the impact of those costs on their overall living standards”.
He went on to say that,
“measures of housing quality, specifically the number of bedrooms relative to the number of children and whether families can keep their homes in a decent state of decoration”,—[Official Report, 19/1/10; col. GC 140.]
were captured in the UK strategy in Clause 8, so would be reflected in the material deprivations score. Yet where that house happens to be is an important factor—not just its state of dilapidation or size. It is one thing if it is in an urban area, well away from the south-east, where there is quite a lot of social housing. It is a variation if it is in an outer suburb of London but with good transport links. In both cases, rents—including private sector rents—may be pretty reasonable. It is another matter if the house is in a rural area where there is little if any social housing, such as areas of rural Herefordshire where all that is available is private sector rented housing. Housing is likely to take up a far larger proportion of a family’s disposable income. If it is in London, where rents are sky-high, that is another matter altogether. It is no coincidence that London is where child poverty is worst of all. The London Evening Standard has been doing a good job of highlighting child poverty in its reports on the dispossessed. It quotes Fergus Drake of Save the Children UK, who said:
“We are outraged that one in five children in London still live in severe poverty, often going without hot meals, the clothes they need or without proper heating at home. We are losing hundreds of thousands of children to poverty, which is killing their childhoods”.
We often try not to use London as an example of where our policy should be specially considered, because we who live here sometimes bend over backwards not to sound London-centric. However, on this occasion we should not duck the issue. Because of the huge variations in the cost of housing throughout the country, both before housing costs and after housing costs must be included in the targets, otherwise we are in danger of missing those families whose poverty is not addressed in the before housing cost figures.
I repeat what I said at Second Reading: housing benefit is not discounted in the before housing cost figures, so a relatively large family may look as though it has a sizeable disposable income. Of course, it has nothing of the sort, because the housing benefit chunk of that income is its rent. The Minister countered that argument by saying that a householder uses his or her total income, not just housing benefit, to pay housing costs, and might choose to live in a nice house and a nice area. However, that is unrealistic. Most people who receive housing benefit use that sum to pay the rent because that is all they have for rent.
In Grand Committee, the Minister was keen to quote the recent report of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, entitled Poverty and Inequality in the UK: 2009. It says:
“When deciding whether or not to measure living standards on an AHC basis as well as BHC, the main issues are whether people face genuine choices over their housing and whether housing cost differentials accurately reflect differences in housing quality. It is often argued that some individuals do not have much choice over the type or cost of housing services that they consume, whereas they have considerably more choice over the purchase of other consumption goods (such as food or clothing). For these individuals, it could be argued that an AHC measure is a more suitable measure of their well-being”.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which uses the AHC measure, says:
“Lack of choice over housing costs and quality is particularly important in the social rented sector, where individuals tend to have little choice over their housing and where rents have often been set with little reference to housing quality or the prevailing market rents”.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission also endorses AHC, pointing out that using material deprivation is an indirect method of taking into account the various costs that qualifying households face. It says:
“We are not convinced that the combined low income and material deprivation target will provide a full solution to this issue. Although we strongly support the inclusion of the material deprivation target, we do not agree that it suitably addresses the issue of differing housing costs in the way that using an AHC measure would”.
Crucially, it goes on to say:
“Material deprivation is not a suitable means of attributing the cause of the deprivation (for example, whether it is due to housing costs, living in a rural area, a member of the family having a disability etc.) and it will therefore be difficult to implement the correct policy response”.
The arguments are not rocket science. Nearly all commentators recognise that the further down the income scale one looks, the more important are the after housing costs, because housing tends to make up a greater proportion of income at the bottom of the income scale. If one looks at incomes over the whole spectrum, before housing costs may be more reasonable, but the Bill is concerned solely with child poverty and therefore with families at the lower end of the income scale.
In many low-income areas, such as the most rural areas of the country, there is very little social housing and many families simply do not have a choice whether or not to live in a nice house or an expensive area. They have to live in the private rented sector, perhaps to be within reach of schools, jobs and transport.
As for the argument that many families in qualifying households live in cheaper housing but near good transport links, particularly around London, I found some comments made by Doreen Kenny from the Greater London Authority to be illuminating. Giving evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee in another place, she said:
“People are reluctant to travel for the length of time it takes to commute into where the part-time jobs are, which is mainly in inner London. Coupled with that is the low pay for most part-time jobs. Half the part-time jobs in London pay less than £7 an hour, so it is just not worth working part-time unless they are very local and it fits in with the school and childcare responsibilities, or they are very well paid and flexible.”
If the before housing targets were thought to give the truest picture of poverty throughout the country, why do all the think tanks, academic institutions and pressure groups that I have come across prefer to use the after housing costs for those at the lower end of the income scale? Why, come to that, will the Government continue to collect the after housing costs if they are not to be relevant to this Bill? To what will they be relevant? After all, we are not saying that the Government should remove the before housing costs from the Bill, just that they should add the after housing costs target too. It will not cost them a penny more because they are collected in the household surveys anyway.
I hope that the Minister and I can continue our understanding not to mention international comparisons. I still believe that there is an unanswerable case for the after housing costs target to be in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have reservations about this amendment. I understand the intent, which I think is decent, but I would like to explain my reservations, which we discussed in Committee. The first is to make a distinction between information and target. As the noble Baroness rightly said, the information is already there in the major document which will steer any commission working through the statistics. For a house with below average income, on the left-hand page are the statistics on before housing, on the right-hand page should be the statistics on after housing income. The statistics are publicly available, and will inform the considerations of the commission to the extent which is appropriate. They are there as information, and nothing that the noble Baroness has said today will take that away.
Why should the information therefore not go one step further and be a target? My problem here is, as the noble Baroness confesses, that it is London-centric. House prices and rents are much higher in London, but the offset, particularly if you are looking for a part-time job, is infinitely cheaper transport costs. For example, housing costs in East Anglia are between a half to two-thirds of those of London, but transport costs can be three times higher. People can spend £50 or £70 a week catching trains between Yarmouth and Norwich every day, even for part-time jobs. If we are going to have households’ after housing costs included, then in all fairness, you have to include transport costs because rents are high where transport costs are low and rents are low where transport costs are high. There is almost a perfect connection between the two.
If we take account, as a target, of households’ after housing costs, we should simultaneously abate that by the other real expenditure which offsets the housing costs. In rural areas which do not have the Tube—glory be, that would be wonderful—or sometimes even buses but perhaps the occasional train, people are more likely to have to rely on an old banger, with all the costs of insurance, so those transport costs would need to be taken into account. If my noble friend was willing to go down the route suggested by the noble Baroness to have this as a target as opposed to having information, I hope that, in all fairness, transport costs would be included. Once you start doing that, we are on a slippery slope to widening the reach of yet another target in this Bill.
My Lords, I have been somewhat of a bystander during the successful progress of the Bill, but it might be worth my making a technical contribution in support of this group of amendments from my familiarity with the issue when responsible for the work of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Joseph Rowntree and his son, Seebohm Rowntree, pioneered the task of measuring poverty more than 100 years ago, and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has had to grapple for years with the question of which measurement—before housing costs or after housing costs—is the most sensible. We concluded that the after housing costs measure was better. Let me explain why.
Suppose that a tenant’s income is a little below the poverty line of 60 per cent median income and their rent rises. Their housing benefit—or local housing allowance, as it is now to be—will go up to cover the extra rent. Their before housing costs total income will now include the extra housing benefit, which can take them above the poverty line. Apparently, they will have escaped poverty, but in reality, all the extra income goes on the extra rent. The tenant has seen no material change in their situation, but the before housing costs measure creates a false impression of the tenant’s relative poverty. The after housing costs measure represents the true picture.
To reinforce the case made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, it is also necessary to go for the after housing costs measure if we are to make accurate comparisons of poverty in different parts of the UK. A low-income tenant in a privately rented flat in London might receive housing benefit, or local housing allowance, of £200 a week. A low-income council tenant in, say, Hull, might receive housing benefit of £50 a week. Before housing costs, it appears that the London tenant is £150 richer than the Hull tenant, but the reality is that, after paying rent of £200 in London and £50 in Hull, the two tenants are just as poor as each other. It is the after housing costs measure which reveals the true position. The before housing costs measure understates poverty in London and other high-cost areas.
I know that there has been discussion of the value of using the before housing costs measure as the main measure because it is compatible with European practice and makes international comparisons easier. Most European social security systems contribute towards housing costs on the basis of fixed allowances that do not march directly in line with rents. The difference arises because of the UK’s extraordinary variation in rent levels between different areas—between, yes, London and, say, Hull—and between different kinds of landlords, councils, housing associations and private landlords. Those wide variations do not occur to anything like the same degree in most other European countries, and it is those variations which require us to have our special housing benefit—local housing allowance—system, which is highly sensitive to actual rent levels. That means that in the UK, we need the extra measurement of poverty that comes only with the use of the after housing costs measure. I support the amendments.
My Lords, perhaps I should declare an interest—I am a member of a housing association.
I support any amendment that considers housing and at the same time tries to tackle child poverty. In my previous constituency, there were many non-traditional houses. They were built in good faith. Some of them were multi-storey dwellings, some were maisonettes. Often, there was severe dampness, so income had to go to not only transport but heating, and there was terrible fuel poverty in some of those houses. I recall going to a constituent’s house where there was a built-in wardrobe. When the lady took out the clothing that was hung up in the wardrobe it was green with mould. In the west of Scotland they used to pray for a good summer. For a good summer in the west of Scotland you need a lot of prayers, believe me.
Talking about child poverty, there was a slogan under Prime Minister Blair’s Government, “education, education, education”. I always used to say, “housing, housing, housing”, because how can a young child who is bright at school go home and do their homework with dampness coming down the walls? Rents, not only in London or in the rural areas, but in the larger cities throughout the United Kingdom and indeed the rural areas of the highlands, can be very expensive. The poorer a person is the more they will spend on rent—or a mortgage, for that matter. It is not easy for a family to up sticks and move because often they are in a house that is difficult to live in because it is the best that the local authority can offer.
All credit must go to the housing associations throughout the country, particularly the ones I know. In houses where there was damp, such as I have described, the housing associations took over and, with the help of central Government, who must get credit as well, they were able to put central heating into houses which were non-traditional and give people decent, warm homes. It makes a significant difference for the whole family.
I know what the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, is saying—do we make this another target, another thing on the wish list? What is the point of having a child poverty Bill if we do not tackle poverty? If we are going to tackle poverty we must make sure that we look at the home that people are living in. That is why we have municipal housing. The reason local authorities started municipal housing all those years ago was because people were living in terrible slums. It had a severe effect on them. Even though they had their job in the mills or the factories, the fact that they were going back to homes that were overcrowded and were not getting decent sunlight and where the children all had to sleep in the same bed led to bad health. If we do not tackle the housing situation in terms of looking at the struggle people have to keep a roof over their heads there is no point in having a child poverty Bill.
My Lords, may I briefly raise a couple of points that have been mentioned in the course of this high quality debate? First, people might think this is a technical issue and the noble Lord, Lord Best, has demonstrated that it is indeed a very important technical issue, because when you look at the way in which the difference between before and after housing costs affects individual households, it has a dramatic effect. I am not making a claim for this amendment on the basis of technicalities.
I have studied this Bill. At the beginning, I thought that it was not very useful in terms of making any difference. After listening to the very good debates in Committee, I changed my mind. This amendment, however, is a litmus test for me for a number of reasons. As my noble friend said in introducing her amendment, it captures the levels of poverty that we are going to have to address to be successful by 2020 at the lower levels of household income. I am convinced about that.
If the Government are only going to use before housing costs that is a change; to date the pressure group community has always been very comfortable with using an informal target—both before and after housing costs. Dropping the after housing costs measurement is a significant change. Indeed, I think the researchers in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation or wherever would say that that was so. There is a real risk of the Government being accused of running away from the awkward, inconvenient truth that a million extra people will be caught by the after housing costs amendment. For my money, it is important that the Government should be brave and say, “Yes, we are prepared to take the bad news with the good news”, and take both halves of this important equation on board in their targets. I am now absolutely persuaded that these targets are right, and I now want this Bill because it is useful, but it will be worth less as a Bill if we lose the after housing costs. I genuinely feel that very strongly.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, always makes very incisive contributions to these debates, and I value her judgment. This is strange coming from me—I said this in Committee—because I come from south-east Scotland, which is even more rural than the noble Baroness’s home patch, but I think that London will be a core part of the debate over the next 10 years. You cannot get away from that. I live in a village with no public transport of any kind; the nearest public transport is seven miles away. Transport is important in its own way and has to be addressed, but it does not come into the same category as the use or disuse—the desuetude, really—of the whole after housing costs argument, which has been such an important part of the way in which this whole subject has been considered over the past 15 to 20 years, to my certain knowledge.
This is not a technical amendment. This is an important amendment that will be an earnest of the Government’s good faith in tackling these technical problems properly in the 10 years to come.
My Lords, the household below average income data show before and after housing costs across a wide range of tables, and important information is contained in each of those two series. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, made clear, the key issue is that housing is in extremely short supply in many parts of this country and can be extraordinarily expensive, particularly in the capital. For many households, housing has moved from being an item of choice to being forced expenditure. One can therefore argue that housing can be the lone factor. In other words, it does not follow that we need to look at poverty in the light of people’s costs for childcare, disability and so forth, if we accept this group of amendments.
We can obtain vital information about trends when we look at poverty levels after housing costs. It is probably the best proxy to tell us how the poor have fared as a result of housing booms and growing leverage in the economy. It is no accident that the after housing trends for the poor have been worse than the before housing trends in recent years. We have suffered an extraordinary housing boom that was built on unsustainable levels of debt, for which I blame a complacent Government. The effect is that considerably more children are living in poverty on the after housing costs measure than on the before housing costs measure: 4 million, as against 2.9 million, on the latest figures.
However, the issue changes when we move from useful information for making measurements to statutory targets, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, pointed out. The amendment is not a switch from before housing costs to after housing costs—the noble Lord, Lord Best, seemed to argue that one was preferable; it is a switch to looking at both of them. In this way, we will end up with a ratchet effect between the two measures. Whichever is the worse will become the target, which is highly likely to fluctuate in the difficult times ahead. For that reason, I do not support the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for moving the amendment. It has been a good but short debate. To a certain extent, we have gone over old ground, as the noble Baroness anticipated when she moved her amendment. I say from the start that the Government are with my noble friend Lady Hollis and the noble Lord, Lord Freud, on this issue. There is a difference between having information which is useful information that could be put into the development of the strategies and something that is an additional target.
We have already had quite a full debate around the questions of whether poverty should be measured before or after housing costs and whether an additional after housing costs target should be added to the Bill. I am afraid, therefore, that the arguments I will make in response to this amendment will not be new; I will briefly reiterate them one last time in the hope of persuading the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and her colleagues to accept the Government’s point of view.
We have measured poverty on a before housing costs basis since the 2003 Measuring Child Poverty consultation, and have retained this measure in the Bill. The reasons for this are threefold. First, we consider that the material deprivation measure captures the impact of poor housing on living standards, both because specific measures of housing quality are included in the list of items used for the combined low-income material deprivation measure; and also because, if a family has high housing costs, this will impact on their disposable income, and therefore on whether they can afford other items on the list. So it is not just the two specific housing-related items that are on that list; it is the impact on the rest of the collective items on that list.
Secondly, we consider that there are drawbacks with an after housing costs measure which can understate the relative standard of living that some individuals may have by paying more for better quality accommodation. Thirdly—and I recognise that I might risk the wrath of the noble Baroness in mentioning this—the vast majority of European countries only produce and publish poverty statistics using the before housing costs measure. It is important for our goal to be among the best in Europe in the child poverty stakes that we are able to compare ourselves against these countries. But I accept that the noble Baroness is seeking to add an additional target and not to substitute one.
We consider that the four challenging targets that we have in this Bill already enable us effectively to capture the different facets of poverty. We do not consider that adding a fifth target is beneficial. I should also comment on the 10 per cent target level proposed in the amendment. As I noted during Grand Committee, the level of relative poverty after housing costs is 31 per cent or 4 million children. Meeting this target would require a reduction to less than 1.3 million. As a number of noble Lords have recognised, meeting the existing targets in the Bill by 2020 is already extremely ambitious. Including the additional after housing cost target proposed would clearly make the goals set by the Bill even more challenging, with resulting resource implications. To the extent to which the after housing costs measure will understate the relative standards of living of some individuals, we would be using additional resources in an untargeted way.
The Government recognise the importance of ensuring that children live in suitable, good-quality, affordable housing. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Martin, that it is absolutely essential; it is a key part of our strategy. We recognise the detrimental impact of poor housing conditions on children’s health and educational development. This is reflected in Clause 8(5)(d), which requires the Secretary of State, in preparing the UK child poverty strategy, to consider what measures ought to be taken in regard to housing. Similarly, Part 2 of the Bill will require local authorities and their delivery partners to address housing issues where these arise in their local areas. For example, we expect the needs assessment process to identify the quality of housing experienced by families with children that live in poverty in the local areas.
I shall pick up on one or two of the more specific points. The noble Lord, Lord Best, ran through how local housing allowance works and its implications, but I would say that we have four targets in the Bill that the Secretary of State has a duty to meet, and relative income is only one of them. The material deprivation target is key as well, and therefore in making an overall judgment, we have to look at all four targets. The noble Lord, Lord Martin, expressed his support for the mantra of “housing, housing, housing”, and I think we all subscribe to that. The Government have already done much in terms of tackling overcrowding by investing to make sure that we address the issue of the lack of affordable housing. Over the two years 2009 to 2011 we will invest around £7.5 billion in affordable housing, and we expect to deliver 112,000 affordable homes. Whether you are for or against the amendment, embedded within the strategy and our approach to tackling child poverty is a strong determination to deal with housing issues. The noble Lord also talked about the need for people to be able to keep warm. He may wish to know that currently one of the items in the material deprivation measure is being able to keep accommodation warm enough in winter, so the issue is addressed specifically in that target.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, talked about including housing benefit as income in the before housing costs measure of poverty. It is right that housing benefit is included in the before housing costs calculation. Households in receipt of housing benefit pay housing costs using their total income, including housing benefit. Households not receiving housing benefit will need to pay housing costs through their total income. The noble Baroness smiles because she has heard it before, but that does not make it any less true. Including housing benefit enables like-for-like comparisons between the incomes that households have with which to pay housing costs and to meet their other needs. I agree with my noble friend Lady Hollis that if you are looking at after housing costs, you have to look at issues around transport as well in order to see the total picture.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said that not having the after housing cost measure represents a change. The PSA targets are based on the before housing costs measure, which has been established since the 2004 consultation on tackling child poverty, and that is why the Bill also targets the before housing costs measure.
I end by saying that the after housing costs figures are still going to be available and will help to inform the debate and the development of strategies around child poverty. However, what we do not support is making those figures an additional target in the Bill. For the reasons I have advanced, the targets set out in Clauses 2 to 5 measure on the before rather than after housing costs basis and in other ways the strategies set out in the Bill arising from them will ensure that the impact of housing costs on families’ living standards is taken into account. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment. If she does, the Government will oppose it.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Best, whose experience in this field is unparalleled. I wonder why we have not heard some of the arguments set out today from the academic institutions and lobby groups; that is, all those who know about these figures in detail. I do not think one can compare housing with transport, and I answered the point in my opening speech when I quoted Doreen Kenny from the Greater London Authority, who has talked about the difficulties people face travelling quite a long way into London and having to cope with childcare and so on. It is not as easy as it sounds. There are many different forms of transport, and a lot of people cycle these days. I mention the noble Lord, Lord Freud, who I even saw cycling on the stage of the National Theatre, although it was in fact someone who was playing him in a production that was well worth seeing. Housing and transport cannot be equated.
I was puzzled by the noble Lord’s argument about fluctuating house prices, because I do not think they make that big a difference to the figures collected. Just because house prices go up or down a bit, that does not mean the after housing costs will become unstable. I find that a very curious argument. Let us face it, the after housing costs will be worse for whichever Government are in power because more children are captured. That means more children are living in poverty, and they are the children we want this Bill to address. That is the reason I shall press this amendment. I beg to test the opinion of the House.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
“( ) The duty referred to in subsection (1) shall be actionable in the courts.
( ) The court may make such order in relation to such an action (including an award of damages) as it considers appropriate.
( ) “The court” means—
(a) the High Court or County Court,(b) in Scotland, the Court of Session or the Sheriff Court.”
My Lords, obviously, if the important duties set out and placed on the Secretary of State in Clause 1(1) are to be more than aspirations, it is important that they should be enforceable. Indeed, it has been accepted and acknowledged that the Bill and the duty under Clause 1 are legally enforceable in the courts of the United Kingdom by way of judicial review. In a letter to the Law Society of Scotland on 24 February this year, the Minister confirmed this, saying:
“The duty in section 1 is legally enforceable by anyone in the United Kingdom”.
He went on to say:
“It is true that because of differences between the two legal systems, it might be more difficult for an interest to bring a judicial review in Scotland than in England and Wales”.
The main interest in tabling this amendment is not only to ensure that the fact that the duty is enforceable is stated in the Bill, but also to address the problem that could arise with regard to efforts to enforce that duty in Scotland.
In Scotland, judicial reviews do not tend to run in the name of a special interest group, unless that group is an association involving members who have title and interest in the particular case. Also, an individual will have such title to sue only if he or she is a party to some legal relationship giving him or her a right that has been infringed or denied. Of course, while the Bill imposes a duty on the Secretary of State, it does not confer any direct benefit on an individual. Therefore, it would be for the Scottish courts to determine whether a pursuer had title and interest in the circumstances of a particular case. Importing this amendment into the Bill would make it clear that the duty referred to was justiciable in the Scottish courts.
The Minister also indicated in his letter to the Law Society of Scotland:
“Even if the organisation operates only in Scotland, a challenge could be brought against the Secretary of State in the English courts. The group would have to show standing in the same way as a UK-wide or England-only interest group would”.
As a statement of the law, I do not dispute that—I think that it is right—but it does beg some important questions, which I know that the Minister has had flagged up to him by the Law Society of Scotland. For example, would an organisation that operates only in Scotland have a title and interest to sue in the English courts? Would such an organisation operating only in Scotland qualify for legal aid from the Legal Services Commission? Would the cost of raising an action in the English courts not create a barrier to a Scottish organisation if it were not funded by legal aid? The kinds of organisation that would have an interest in raising an action to enforce the duty of the Secretary of State would be, almost by their very nature, less likely to have access to substantial funds.
If the duty is to be enforceable in all parts of the United Kingdom, it is important that people should have access to the courts where they live and should not have to travel to find somewhere where they could raise an action. It was to the credit of the Government back in 1998 when, with the Human Rights Act, they brought rights home and made rights that had previously been enforceable only in the court in Strasbourg enforceable in our own domestic courts. It would be regrettable if, at the end of their period of office, they were to bring about a situation whereby a duty could not be enforced in the domestic courts in Scotland, so that interest groups from Scotland would have to go south of the border in order to enforce the duty on the Secretary of State.
That said, one would hope that this would all be academic; we hope that the duty will be fulfilled and the targets will be met. Just in case they are not, though, some reassurances from the Minister would be welcome. I beg to move.
My Lords, I take this opportunity to return to a topic that we discussed in Committee and to delve further into what happens if the target is missed. I am grateful for the letter that the Minister sent me—unfortunately, I got it just a couple of hours ago, so I was able only to scan briefly his discussion of the case law. What is the likely result of a successful judicial review against a Secretary of State who failed to meet one or more of these targets and was found to be in breach of his duties? What punishment or penalty does the Minister anticipate that a judge would impose on the Secretary of State?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for this amendment. It gives us the chance to put something clearly on the record. As the noble Lord has outlined, the amendment has been prompted by correspondence from the Law Society of Scotland and concerns that it has expressed regarding the extent to which the duties in the Bill could be enforceable in Scotland, given the different legal system there. Some noble Lords present may have seen my response to that correspondence, but for the benefit of others I shall set out the arguments again today.
I assume that the intention behind the amendment is to explore whether a judicial review of failure to comply with the duty in Clause 1 to meet the targets is available. It may also be to make it clear that judicial review can be brought in relation to breaches of the Clause 1 duties in the courts in Scotland as well as in England and Wales—indeed, I think that that was the thrust of the amendment.
It is not clear that the amendment as drafted would achieve its purpose. The amendment uses a number of terms that are more generally used in private law and are therefore unclear in this context. In addition, as I understand it, the sheriff court does not hear judicial reviews in Scotland; that is for the Court of Session. Furthermore, in other contexts where the word “actionable” is used, it is explained who may bring an action, but the amendment is silent on this point.
As I have previously explained, the Bill is not intended to create duties in private law. It is also not intended to create any individual rights or any rights to damages for financial loss. The Bill is about placing a duty on the Secretary of State to meet targets, and using the Bill to grant individual rights would detract from that. The amendment therefore adds very little, if anything, to the Bill, because the duties in the Bill can be enforced through judicial review in the courts in Scotland and in England and Wales. The duties in Clause 1 are legally enforceable by anyone in the UK and the court may grant such remedy as it considers appropriate. I shall come back to that in more detail in response to the probing of the noble Lord, Lord Freud.
If an individual wishes to bring an action against the Secretary of State, that individual must pursue the action through the administrative courts by way of judicial review, which will involve showing title and interest in Scotland—the noble Lord acknowledged that—or standing in England. The amendment would not change the rules on title, interest and standing, and any person bringing a challenge would still need to show that they met these criteria. The rules on standing are in place so that purely academic claims are not brought and to ensure that a claimant or petitioner has a real interest in the case.
It is true that—and this is a quote from the correspondence—
“because of the differences between the two legal systems, it may be more difficult for an interest group to bring a judicial review in Scotland than in England and Wales”.
However, it remains a matter for the Scottish courts to decide whether a pursuer has title and interest, just as it would be for the courts in England and Wales to consider in each case whether an interest group has standing. What I am trying to say is that the amendment would not create that standing or that interest, which would have to be assessed by the court in all the circumstances of the case.
The noble Lord asked how legal aid might operate. I understand that there are no restrictions on residents on getting legal aid from the Legal Services Commission. Therefore, if a claimant meets the normal means and merits tests for legal aid, there would be nothing to prevent a Scottish claimant from getting legal aid to pursue a claim in the English courts. However, it should be noted that legal aid is available only to individuals, not to businesses or companies. In the case of a judicial review, if a group of individuals brings a judicial review in the name of an interest group, it is possible for the group to get legal aid or, more usually, a contribution towards its legal costs even if the case is brought in the name of the charity or group.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, asked about the consequences of an adverse judicial review. I apologise to him if he has only just received the correspondence, which picked up on the discussion that we had in Committee on enforceability. All judicial review remedies are at the discretion of the court. The court might grant a declaration that the Government had acted in breach of their statutory duties. Therefore, if the targets are not met in 2020, the court might declare that the Secretary of State had acted in breach of the requirement in the Bill to meet them, which could result in political embarrassment.
The court could also grant an order quashing a particular policy decision or making a mandatory order requiring the Secretary of State to take a particular course of action. As to what power the courts would have to order that necessary resources should be made available, it is difficult to predict what remedies the court would prescribe and it is not appropriate for the Government to attempt to do so. The full range of judicial review remedies would be available to the court.
I hope that, on that basis, the noble Lord will not press his amendment. We believe that the form of it is more focused on issues of private law, whereas we are dealing here with judicial review. We believe that the existing rules around judicial review are sufficient to enable enforcement in Scotland as well as in England and Wales. I hope that I have dealt with the particular issues about costs and legal aid.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and, indeed, to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for his contribution, to which I will return in a moment.
We should note that the Minister repeated what he said in his letter to the Law Society of Scotland—namely, that it could be more difficult for an interest group to bring a judicial review in Scotland than in England and Wales. It is regrettable, when we are establishing law in this House, that we should merely acknowledge that that will be the case, when in fact, at this stage, we have an opportunity to do something about it. If the Minister feels that the terms of the amendment are not sufficient to ensure that there is equality of access to remedy and to take action in all parts of the United Kingdom, perhaps it would have been better if he had been able to indicate that the Government would come forward with their own amendment to ensure that that was the case.
The Minister makes the point that judicial reviews are not normally available in the sheriff court in Scotland. Of course, the amendment does not refer to judicial reviews, but we are talking to a novel kind of statutory duty and it may well be that novel procedures are required if these duties are going to be more than just aspirations, albeit important and noble aspirations. That is why the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Freud, was important, because he asked what would happen in 2020 if these duties had not been fulfilled.
I was not overwhelmed or persuaded by the Minister’s reply that a declaration might be politically embarrassing. We probably need a court to give us that declaration. There will be plenty of political debate about it anyway. He said that the court might be able to order a course of action by a Minister, but how in the world would the resources ever be ordered to will the means to the end? It is therefore unfortunate that what was a worthy aspiration may not have judicial backing. I think that this is widely accepted. However, I welcome the comments about legal aid, which were helpful if it ever comes to that. I do not intend to press the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendment 4 not moved.
5: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
The Secretary of State will, following consultation with the Commission, establish non-financial targets relating to the number of children brought up in—
(a) households with parents who are married, in a civil partnership or in a long term relationship,(b) workless households,(c) households where one or more parent is addicted to drugs, alcohol or gambling, and(d) households where a parent lacks level 2 key skills.”
My Lords, this is our central amendment to the Bill. It reflects what seems to be a genuine difference in approach between the Government and us over the Bill—that is, how best to tackle the problem of child poverty. Simply put, there are two approaches. We can transfer income until nobody is below the relative target line, or we can take measures which will help many people to move above the relative target under their own steam. I labour the distinction because until recently the Government have been essentially wedded to the first approach, as reflected by the Treasury being the department responsible for the child poverty agenda. I repeat the words of Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the Treasury Permanent Secretary, to the Treasury Select Committee, quite recently, in 2007:
“The primary reason that the Treasury has led on Child Poverty is that we control the levers which are critical for meeting the 2010 target, as we set the levels of financial support for families. Employment will have an important impact on achieving our goal of halving child poverty, but financial support is the most important lever”.
As I acknowledged in Grand Committee, this position has modified recently. The impact assessment on the Bill talked about combining,
“action on income with other social policies”,
“to reduce the disadvantages of growing up in poor families and deprived neighbourhoods”.
However, the Bill has not been rebalanced in this way. The “other social policies” referred to in the impact assessment are dealt with in Clause 8, which places the Secretary of State under instruction to take various issues into account, including the employment and skills of parents. They are absolutely not targets in the sense that the financial measures are targets. This leads to the conclusion that, in practice, the Bill is a reinforcement of the Treasury’s approach, and that the talk of balance between the two approaches in the impact statement is so much hot air. The concern is further amplified by the fact that under this Government—I am informed by the Minister—the Treasury will retain a key interest in the work of the Child Poverty Commission, alongside the DWP and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The risk we are running is that policy develops exclusively on track 1—that is, on financial transfers.
The purpose of introducing formal non-financial targets is to make sure that the obligations are balanced; that these goals receive an equivalent weighting to the financial measures and are not tucked away in Clause 8; and that there are targets that provide a powerful base for the DWP and the DCSF in the debate about how to tackle child poverty. After all, there is strong evidence that a pound earned is worth more to the recipient than a pound transferred. I cite the DWP’s own research report 219, The Dynamics of Deprivation.
I turn to the specific non-financial targets in the amendment. I make absolutely clear that these represent a best attempt to isolate what appear to be major sources of, or at least correlations with, poverty and poor child well-being. Much of the debate surrounding this proposition in Committee focused on the precise nature of these financial targets. Therefore, should the Government be tempted to adopt this approach, I would be absolutely open to fine-tuning the specific targets. Indeed, if a clause along these lines were acceptable, I would be happy to establish these specific items following consultation with the proposed Child Poverty Commission.
Let me lay out why the Government should consider this proposition. This is a Bill about the next 10 years, in which it is important that there is bipartisan support. The Government should therefore be interested in ensuring that this Bill is useful for whichever party is in power. I also point out that the Minister, as a representative of the DWP, should welcome an amendment that reinforces the position of that department in tackling child poverty. I am particularly conscious that he has just piloted the Welfare Reform Bill through the House, with its emphasis on individualised intervention to help the economically inactive. Therefore, he has an intimate understanding of the importance of such interventions. He will be as conscious as I am of the internal government battles to establish strategies in this area—battles that would be exacerbated by the three-way structure of management this Government propose.
I turn to the specific drivers of poverty that I have specified in this amendment. Since we have discussed these in Committee I will not dwell on them at length. The first and last, covering work and training, are essentially uncontentious and are reflected in Clause 8 as key areas for the Secretary of State or the three Secretaries of State to take action in. The other two are not so straightforward. The importance of stable relationships does not seem to be accepted by this Government. The Minister stated that,
“although child poverty is associated with family breakdown, there is no clear causal link”.—[Official Report, 19/01/10; cols. GC 171-72.]
I think that is a wilful misinterpretation of the evidence, although I admit that there does not seem to be a lot of it around.
However, I was able to uncover one important piece of research that focuses on this question that suggests exactly the opposite. I refer to Stephen Jenkins’s work on Marital Splits and Income Changes over the Longer Term, published by the Institute for Social and Economic Research in February 2008. This found that, after a marital split, all women in the study who did not move into paid work remained below the poverty line for each of the next five years after experiencing the largest initial fall of the group in income. You can take out all those weasel words about correlation and bury them. This is straight cause and effect. The study did not cover splits by cohabitees. It is likely that the impact is amplified for this group because they are less well protected. We await specific research on this.
Interestingly, there is some good news in this survey. The secular rise in women’s labour force participation rates, combined with in-work benefit, means that those women who move into work come close to recovering their pre-split incomes after five years. This finding underpins the importance of two of the factors in this amendment: work and reducing relationship breakdowns. It also underpins the equally sophisticated work undertaken by the Child Poverty Action Group, which I quoted in Committee. This research is ground-breaking in the sense that it aims to capture the relative importance of the factors surrounding poverty by using a new statistical technique called structural equation modelling, which was developed in around 2000. The Child Poverty Action Group found that,
“the effect of separation on a couple (whether married or cohabiting) in terms of increasing the risk of poverty was much greater than for any other triggers, including job loss”.
Parts of this Government still seem to be in denial about the importance of stable family relationships—certainly, the part of the Government in the Chamber today. Does the Minister agree with Ed Balls, when, at the turn of the year, he said that adult relationships are,
“important for the progress of the children”?
Was that a statement about cause and effect or just another correlation? I would be most interested in the Minister’s response to this pivotal question. I was pleased to provide the references to the Minister’s team for the two important pieces of research to which I have referred, so I look forward to a most informed assessment of them from him.
The purpose of paragraph (a) in the amendment is to ensure that we monitor, and have strategies to encourage, family stability whether the parents are married or cohabiting. The evidence that I spelt out in Committee suggests that the greatest concern should lie with the latter.
I shall deal with paragraph (c) in the amendment briefly as I have a later amendment that deals with the issue so far as it concerns financial transfers. The aspect I shall deal with now is that of relying on targets which ignore the impact of parental addiction. This is quite different in kind from the other targets and is disgracefully ignored in the Bill. As far as I can see, it does not contain a single reference to addiction. What is the use of a financial target when it ignores the fact that resources will be diverted from the children to feed a parent’s habit? If we ignore this issue, we will make great efforts and spend considerable resources to reduce poverty but many children will simply not see any benefit whatever. The main beneficiaries will be the local drug dealers and off-licences.
The target must incorporate an assessment of the impact of addiction. If we had one—as I am proposing—the state would be forced to find a way to deal with this issue and channel resources towards children more effectively. This issue is entirely different in kind from the others, as addictive parents undermine the whole concept of tackling child poverty by measures focused solely on relative household incomes. That is why we need to supplement the financial targets with targets on addiction. Otherwise, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne—I do not see him in his place—will be calling for the Bill to be renamed the child poverty and delight of drug dealers Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and I have a lot in common on this amendment. I, too, would like to see children brought up in families that are stable, steady, long lasting and loving. We could discuss whether that is called marriage or cohabitation. I, too, want to see families where the parents—or at least one of the parents, perhaps even both—are in work, are free of addiction and sufficiently educated to be able to help their children have roots and then take wing. I also want to see—I am puzzled that the noble Lord did not mention this—children brought up in households where they and their parents enjoy good physical and mental health and where there is no domestic violence or emotional abuse. I could go on. We could all treble that list of what we know helps improve the well-being of children in their family life.
We do not disagree with any of that but with what should be in the Bill. That is the disagreement between us: not whether these things matter to children—they clearly do—but whether it is reasonable to talk about non-financial targets when in so many of these areas we are trespassing on a private life where the Government have no levers to pull. The noble Lord is quite right to say that two of those four targets, worklessness and education, are part of the Government’s strategy. There would not be any dispute between us that they are being pursued in other avenues and ways—we hope with increasing success.
On keeping records of children who are brought up in relationships that are marriage, civil partnership or long-lasting cohabitation, is that “long-lasting” for three years, or five, or 10? What counts as a target? On addiction to gambling, drugs and alcohol, is that one bottle a week or 10? What about smoking? We know that half of all lone parents smoke and that because they smoke they are poor. Why is smoking not included? Those who saw that programme about MPs going to live temporarily for a week or so in flats saw that smoking could take up quite a lot of the disposable budget. Many of us might argue, “If only it was spent on fruit or yoghurt,” but one is dealing with something beyond the reach of Government. How will the noble Lord define this?
I really worry when the Front Bench spokesman on this tries to put in the Bill non-financial targets which the Government could monitor only with the most impertinent entry into family life. Even if they did that, they would still find it difficult to turn these into targets, which by definition have to be numerical. They have to assess something and have to put a figure to it. How much booze or gambling, how many cigarettes and drugs, and for how many years? If you are not careful, the Bill will not be about child poverty but about remoralising the parents of those children who happen to be poor. The state is then going into the territory that child poverty is about the fecklessness of adults and using legislation to “send a message”—that is the usual vocabulary—that this sort of thing is undesirable, as though people who may exhibit these traits read the legislation. This is completely inappropriate for legislation.
Nobody doubts the decency of the intent. Nobody is on the other side of the noble Lord, saying these things do not matter. Yet he gave it away himself. He quoted absolutely rightly—I would have produced this evidence if he had not—that those lone parents that go into poverty following, for example, a break-up of marriage or cohabitation regain their status when they go into work. He also knows, as I have sent details of the research to him, that lone parenthood is often fairly highly correlated with young male unemployment. Get the young men into work and they become that much more marriageable or they go into long-term partnerships. Then the families may be stable. It is right that government go down those avenues of creating work, encouraging people back into the labour market and making benefits conditional on them doing so. That is a proper route for the Government, as is education.
If we get into counting the number of years in a relationship, does that include the period before the male partner lived in the house or only when he is living there? What about if he lives in the next-door house or is semi-cohabiting? For heaven’s sake, surely no politician can believe it appropriate for these sorts of non-financial targets, however well-meaning, to be turned into something that can be counted and tracked in a Bill. That turns it into a war on the fecklessness of parents and imposes an ideology which is quite inappropriate and, frankly, rather impertinent.
My Lords, I do not want to try to follow that. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has got a lot off her chest there, and I agree with most of it. I cling to where we can find common ground with the noble Lord—we discussed this at some length in Committee. He is not alone in understanding the importance of allowing people to trade their own way out of poverty, whether child poverty or any other kind. No one any more is saying that this is all about financial transfers. The noble Lord is on to something here. He is trying to harness the power of government to get people into a better place. That is the way the debate is moving. I was at a breakfast this morning staged by Tomorrow's People. The organisation is working with families and households in a welfare-to-work context. The project will pay dividends and repay careful study.
The development of policies, alongside the Bill as well as within it, is going in that direction. The noble Lord is not alone in pursuing what he is trying to achieve in the amendment. However, the list is the problem, because it is incomplete. The noble Lord said that he was willing to talk about what is not in the amendment that should be. I would certainly be willing to talk to him about that. I agree that worklessness and lacking level 2 key skills are both no-brainers. We want to work on that.
However, there are worries. If the noble Lord thinks that paragraphs (a) and (c) of the proposed new clause are uncontentious, he is wrong. That is not to say that we are not willing to discuss with him how he gets to where he wants to go. But how do we do this? How do Her Majesty’s Government create stability in marriage? What lever does the Secretary of State pull in order to achieve that? In Committee, we discussed domestic violence and a raft of other things that you would want in any such list if it were to be comprehensive. Therefore, this is not the place for the amendment.
I encourage the noble Lord to continue to think through what can be done. There is scope for reaching agreement on some of these issues in order, as he says, to shift the focus to embrace a more holistic and biopsychosocial model of assisting low-income households to get into a better position to deal with poverty over the next 20 years, and thereby indirectly to bear down on child poverty. This territory is worth revisiting, but I do not support the amendment.
My Lords, I support the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, has made a helpful adjustment to the Bill. I hear what has been said and understand the concerns. I am reminded of the UNICEF report, published I think in 2006, which looked at the 26 developed countries, and in which the UK came last. It was a rich report that looked at many dimensions of child poverty. For instance, it looked at how often children had time to spend with their parents over a meal. It commented in particular that Italy was the country where children spent most time with their parents. It looked at the relationships of children with their parents, and at a range of other issues.
One striking thing about the report is that the dimension in which the UK did best was health and safety. There is irony in that. It seems to me—again, the amendment speaks to this—that one problem in our culture is that we are very good at measuring what is concrete but not very good at being more imaginative and thinking more widely about the emotional needs of children. There is a DH Lawrence story about a young boy who has the ability of forecasting who will win horse races. He rocks on his rocking horse for some time, at the end of which he knows who will win a horse race. He tells his mother which horse will win, and the mother goes off and makes money on the races. He gets quite sick doing this, but carries on: everything is going well because they are making lots of money. This is a caricature of what the Government are seeking to achieve: that in our country anything that is measurable is worthwhile, while that which is not easily measurable is not. It does credit to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, that he is trying to reach things that are not easily measurable but which are very important to children.
In the recently produced Green Paper on family relationships, the Government have recognised the importance of stable parental relationships in terms of child welfare and child outcomes. This arises from American research which demonstrates that parenting interventions can be very effective, not when they are directed at the parent and child but when they are directed at the two parents together. This is perhaps obvious to your Lordships, but the stronger the parental relationship, the better the children fare.
There is a lot to be said for this amendment. If one is looking for a lever for government to improve parental relationships, the current proposals in the Children, Schools and Families Bill to introduce personal, social, health and economic education as a statutory part of the curriculum would be one way to encourage more children to avoid teenage pregnancies and to make better decisions about life partners. Their children would therefore have the benefit of growing up in a two-parent family.
I know your Lordships will have your own experiences and familiarity with working-class white and black boys, but I can remember working with a young black man several years ago who grew up in a lone parent family. He bewailed the fact that his mother had to work so hard for him and his younger brother because she was bringing them up on her own. Another young white boy at a local primary school would give me all these presents when I was assisting in the classroom and spending time with him. Eventually I met him with his mother and realised he was without a father. It brought home to me the plight of those young boys who really want to have a father but are growing up without one, so they will embrace any young man who is around to fill that vacuum. I support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and I hope the Minister can give him some comfort.
My Lords, it is my role in life to try to comfort the noble Lord, Lord Freud. I thank him for his amendment and noble Lords who have joined in this debate. As he recognised, the themes raised by the amendment were debated at great length in Grand Committee.
I do not agree with the noble Lord’s repeated assertion that the Bill is only or primarily concerned with income poverty and financial transfers. This Bill is actually focused on tackling income poverty, material deprivation and socio-economic disadvantage. He made several references, citing the role of the Treasury in all this in support of his proposition. He quoted Nick Macpherson speaking before the Select Committee about the PSA targets sitting with HMT because it has responsibility for financial support but, as the noble Lord acknowledged, that comment was made in relation to the 2010 PSA target. The situation is different in regard to the 2020 goal and the targets in the Bill. The levers to address this are no longer just about income transfers; they are more far-reaching, which is why we list a range of levers on building blocks in Clause 8 on the strategy. They can hardly be described as buried in the back of the Bill.
Our aims are that children in the UK should not live in poverty and suffer the effects of wider socio-economic disadvantage. Ensuring a focus on income and material deprivation is central to that, but so is taking action beyond financial poverty. Having a set of income targets to measure progress and define success does not mean that we are not aware of the drivers of poverty that need to be addressed to meet the goals in this Bill. They will be addressed through the child poverty strategy.
Our strategy needs to be multifaceted if we are to break intergenerational cycles of poverty and so truly end child poverty. The UK strategy will need to meet both the purposes set out in Clause 8(2), and Clause 8(5) requires the strategy to consider what measures, if any, ought to be taken across a range of key policy areas. Those building blocks have been determined through analysis of evidence that shows that they have the potential to make the biggest impact in tackling the causes and consequences of growing up in socio-economic disadvantage.
Turning to the four elements listed in the amendment, the Government agree, as did the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, that education and employment are crucial aspects in any effort to tackle child poverty, which is why they are included in the building blocks in Clause 8(5). We also recognise that support for parents and better parenting skills are important. Indeed, shortly, we will be moving a government amendment to add a new building block to Clause 8(5) to address the matter of supporting parents—in response to the tenor of the debate that we had in Committee.
We take issues of addiction very seriously. However, we consider that that is already covered by the existing building blocks, such as health, education and social services. I hope that I have made it clear that there is no need for the amendment, as the Bill already covers most of those matters. I agree again, and as usual, with my noble friend Lady Hollis: if we go down the route of having a list of all the things that we think ought to be covered, it will be never-ending. However, I contend that there is no firm evidence that family breakdown or addiction constitute the main drivers of poverty. Indeed, there was much debate about the difference between correlation and causation, which I do not want to reopen now; we had a good go at that in Committee.
In Committee, noble Lords queried what the policy responses to targets on addiction and family breakdown might be; we heard that again this afternoon. The question posed by my noble friend was absolutely right: how are you going to go about measuring the things that you want to? We wonder how the noble Lord would go about ensuring that adults lived only in couples and whether re-establishing the married couple's allowance may be linked to that. It would do little to help the poorest, but it would certainly line the pockets of the richer. On addiction, the noble Lord seems to be proposing withholding financial provision to households where one or more parents have an addiction. That would increase the risk of poverty for children in that household, so I would not support it.
The noble Lord has repeatedly challenged the accuracy of the data underpinning the income targets in the Bill. I question the accuracy of any data on addiction or family breakdown. Both issues would be difficult to address using a survey methodology, so it would be difficult to produce robust national estimates to inform statutory targets. Such data are also unlikely to be as rigorous as the ONS-approved HBAI data that the Government use for the targets in the Bill. I am surprised that the noble Lord would want the Government to collect, store and use such sensitive personal data on individual parents.
I think that the noble Lord acknowledged that our approach is to have the Treasury, DCSF and DWP heavily engaged. I know, as does the noble Lord from his previous experience, the strength of the DWP and its commitment to helping people to get closer to and into the labour market. Helping people into sustainable work in which they can flourish will be key to tackling child poverty.
The noble Lord pressed me on issues about stable relationships. As I said, we will move an amendment to add a building block about support for parents generally. We agree that stable family relationships are important in helping to nurture young people. Indeed, the noble Lord attended our small seminar giving an early preview of the strategic directions paper. That featured in our discussion there.
My noble friend Lady Hollis pointed out the risks of moralising on these issues by seeking to pursue targets in that way. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, made reference to the UNICEF report placing the UK at the bottom of the league. I think this was a 2006 report. The data used at the time were very out of date; none was later than 2003. Much of it related to 1999 and 2001. The noble Earl gave an interesting illustration of the young black lad concerned about his mother, who was working to try and sustain the family. The importance of role models in work so that you break the cycle of intergenerational poverty is absolutely right.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said that this is not just about financial transfers. We have common cause across the House on this issue. It is now thoroughly accepted that financial transfers are just part of it. We are not just looking at this to have a short-term fix on a target; we are looking at something sustainable. Financial transfers certainly have a contribution to make and it would be quite wrong to suggest otherwise. We need to do more, however, to make sure that the strategy is sustainable.
I hope I have demonstrated why I think this amendment is unnecessary. The Bill will already require action to be taken on both income and non-income factors to address poverty and socio-economic disadvantage. I have also revealed the problems with the direction in which this amendment would take us with regard to particular targets on family breakdown and addiction. On this basis, I hope the noble Lord will not press his amendment.
My Lords, I take issue with the idea which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, put forward that this was essentially an impertinent and intrusive set of requirements from the state on individual parents and others. One can collect such survey data in exactly the same way as one can collect survey data on income. This is not focusing on individual parents and keeping those data; it is carrying out a survey. We already have a lot of the information, for instance, on the type of family formation so it is not a huge extra burden. I think it is even in the HBAI as it stands, which goes through the types of family that there are. The data will not be an extra intrusion to collect. This amendment does not aim to send a moral message to anyone; it does something quite different. It requires the state to develop strategies which underpin the things we know help to reduce poverty.
As I said when I introduced the amendment, it may not be exactly the right grouping but there are probably no more than one or two more than the four types of household that we put forward in this amendment which are critical in allowing families to pull themselves out of poverty rather than relying on the state to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, asked about the levers for stability—what can one do? The Minister referred to incentives for married people in the tax system. There is a much simpler lever—the effective couple penalty in the benefits and tax credits system, which runs at about £1,300 a year for couples. That is why the data show that there seem to be 200,000 more single parents than there really are. According to the IFS, people need to misrepresent their circumstances because of the perverse nature of the support system at that level.
The noble Lord has made this point before. I understand perfectly well that, when two people share a household in that way, some benefits relate to the household and some benefits may be individual. The noble Lord says that there is a penalty when two people come together, because the total benefit is reduced compared with the two single benefits. How, then, would he assess housing benefit? If that couple subsequently broke up, would they really receive half of what they had been receiving, even though they had to go on to form two separate households instead of one?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. This is clearly an immensely complicated issue. The figures that I am using are from the Centre for Social Justice. They are average figures, which take account of all the benefits and credits. As I say, I think that the figure is roughly £1,300. The point is that the benefit to the couple is material; it is based on the difference between the actual costs of living as a couple and the actual costs of living separately. It certainly seems to be the most reliable calculation that I have seen in the research that I have read. It is the real penalty of the system.
Thank you. I will try to rattle through my remarks.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his contribution. I accept his support and I agree that we have levers, such as a family formation of the right type. There are lots of things that the state can and should be encouraged to do.
I make it absolutely clear to the Minister that the item on addiction has nothing to do with withholding funding from particular families. I made it clear at the beginning that it is no good having a system that just puts the money into the pocket of someone who is addicted and who will spend the money on their addiction. We must find a way, in those circumstances, of making sure that the money that we spend for the benefit of the children is indeed spent for the benefit of the children. That is a quite different proposition from the one that the Minister implied that I seek. I am glad that, since Grand Committee, the Minister seems to be a convert to the importance of a stable relationship between parents. He seems to have moved quite some way from what he said previously about correlations in this area.
I accept that many of the things that I seek are in Clause 8. The amendment is important because it seeks to balance the purely financial targets in the Bill, which are the main driver, with the causes of poverty. That is why I seek to give many of those elements the same weight as the financial targets. I am sure that the debate on this will continue, albeit in another form.
I thank the Minister for that question. At this stage, I do not have a specific strategy in the hypothetical situation of this amendment going through. I said earlier that the Child Poverty Commission could help enormously to work out the most effective ways of ensuring that the money gets to where it should go. I am sure that there is room for a great deal of thought and research into that question. As I said, this debate will continue in different ways and different forums but, on that basis and at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Clause 6 : Interpretation of terms used in relation to targets
Amendments 6 and 7 not moved.
8: Clause 6, page 3, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) In making regulations under subsection (1)(c), (d) and (e), the Secretary of State must have regard to the desirability of ensuring that the calculation of the net income of a household is carried out in a way which gives an accurate indication of the material deprivation of a child in that household.”
My Lords, this amendment is designed to do two things. First, it aims to lay a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that major lacunae in the data are not simply accepted but are taken into account; indeed, it should reinforce the considerable efforts that the Government are now making to get a handle on the informal economy. Secondly, it aims to ensure that non-financial support for families is not actively discouraged.
I accept that great efforts are made to ensure that the survey data are as accurate as possible. Nevertheless, there are still major discrepancies. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, in its report to the DWP The Living Standards of Families with Children Reporting Low Incomes, laid out some of the issues, particularly those surrounding the much higher standard of living of the self-employed than the survey data would suggest. Its observation, which I quoted in Grand Committee, is worth referring to again:
“A substantial number of families manage to remain out of hardship even during prolonged periods of poverty. Indeed the length of poverty is not strongly related to the likelihood of hardship, which is contrary to the view that households can generally maintain their living standards for a short period of time after entering poverty”.
Work on the informal economy is a somewhat arcane field. One of the leaders in it is Professor Friedrich Schneider, at the Johannes Kepler University. He estimates that the informal economy’s share of gross domestic product is likely to be 10.9 per cent in the UK in this year alone. That is a massive amount of undeclared activity—in the region of £140 billion. Clearly it covers a multitude of activity, from underdeclared earnings, or tax evasion, to illegal activity such as drug dealing, to welfare fraud. Nevertheless, some of it will inevitably be distorting the data on which the child poverty strategy are based. The risk is that we worry about children who are living in families that are actually comfortably off but are careful to disguise the sources of their wealth. Strategies to help those children would, therefore, effectively be steering resources away from children who were living in households in genuine need.
This amendment is designed to reinforce the importance of the work of the Office for National Statistics in this area. To judge by its 2005 report Identifying Sources on Entrepreneurship and the Informal Economy, it is already getting to grips with the issue in assessing the relevant data sets. In the years to come, this amendment should encourage significantly further advances.
The second aspect that this amendment is designed to encourage is the valuation of support that may be in kind rather than in cash. I am indebted to a briefing from the Minister’s team for informing me how the survey data already put a value on many passported and in-kind benefits, such as free school meals. My concern arises from a series of recommendations in the 2009 OECD report Doing Better for Children, which concluded that support for some of the hardest-to-help families can be better delivered in kind than in cash. I pick out the key issue in a quotation from the report:
“Children at greater risk may benefit more from in-kind services because their parents may not be capable of functioning as agents acting in the best interests of their children with income transfers”.
If this is true, we need a child poverty measurement basis that does not discriminate against in-kind services and where such services would do a better job because they would not count in the battle against child poverty. The amendment would make sure that valuable interventions such as these were not ruled out purely for reasons of measurement. I beg to move.
I support the amendment. I am thinking of families where there is substance misuse. An agency called, I think, the substance misuse advisory group identified a large number of children growing up in such families. I am not suggesting that those families should be particularly targeted, but if at the birth of the child one were to offer the parents either a generous package of clothing, footwear and general requisites for an infant during the first 12 months of life or a sum of money worth a lot less than the package, perhaps some of the families would choose the package. One might find that the infants were better clothed, with the right footwear and sufficient changes of nappy, which they might not have had if the measure being proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Freud, was not in place because we had inadvertently prejudiced ourselves against in-kind benefits.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for the amendment. We read the wording of the amendment to try to determine what it meant because it is not entirely clear. However, the noble Lord has explained it. We had assumed that its purpose was to ensure that any measure of income within this context should focus only on those items that have a clear and direct impact on the child, and indeed there is some merit in that argument.
As I have explained before, the four targets in the Bill have been chosen on the basis of extensive consultation, including the consultation on measuring child poverty in 2003. In establishing four targets, we have recognised the need for a comprehensive definition of success which captures the many facets of poverty. Long-term poverty and the material deprivation that results can reinforce the negative impact of low income on childhood well-being and life chances, so the targets ensure that policy will have to tackle poor living standards and persistent poverty as well as raising incomes at a given point in time. We strongly believe that together, these targets reflect the reality that income, the length of time experienced on low income, and the lived experience of poverty matter. So while I welcome the contribution of the noble Lord and acknowledge, as I have done previously, that a range of difficulties are involved in accurately measuring income, it remains difficult to determine what additional benefits would arise from the suggested addition to Clause 6.
I would ask the noble Lord to consider the practical implications of the approach that seems to be implicit in his amendment, that it would seek to specify in regulations particular items or sources of income which are or seem to be child-focused. We know that income sources are distributed in different ways in different households, and that people living in poverty often sacrifice their own well-being to reduce the impact that low income has on their children. Furthermore, accurately following income from source to expenditure would be difficult, and perhaps impossible. However, I am not sure if that proposition flows from what the noble Lord is seeking.
The noble Lord referred to the major lacuna in the data, and indeed we discussed that at some length in Committee, largely as a result of his probing. He referred again today to the informal economy. It is absolutely right that we need to make sure that the data are as robust and secure as possible. Dealing with the informal economy is not easy. It has to be tackled in a number of ways. The noble Lord will acknowledge that the Government were seeking to tackle fraud over declaration of income and tax evasion. I am tempted to say that I am not sure how a non-dom would fill in the questionnaire for these purposes, but perhaps one should not be unkind enough to stray in that direction.
The noble Lord made reference to income or resources being made available in kind rather than cash if that were beneficial—we are thinking here about free school meals and those sorts of issues—and was suggesting that somehow the measurements would run counter to that. The noble Lord will recall a discussion we had after Committee; we said that if these things did develop, we would expect the surveys to be built with such provisions in mind so that they would be counted as income. In Committee we ran through the principle and the basis on which so-called benefits in kind could and should be included in the statistics.
In terms of the robustness of the data, the noble Lord referred to the IFS judgment. We have heard some criticisms from the IFS on the data, but it nevertheless considers the data robust enough to use as the basis for much of the evidence that it produces—for example, in the following recent studies. The IFS tax benefits model, TAXBEN, was based on the FRS and used for Analysis of Tax and Benefit Changes affecting Families with Children. In More Unequal—but Why? the IFS analysed the change in inequality, commenting that the FRS offers a substantially larger sample than the previous survey used. This work has contributed to the large study undertaken by the National Equality Panel. The annual IFS report, Poverty and Inequality in the UK, presents the most recent HBAI data it helped to validate. The data have also been used by a variety of other respected research organisations, including the London School of Economics, the National Policy Institute, the University of Cambridge, the Fawcett Society and the University of Oxford. We have common cause with the noble Lord in wanting the data to be as robust as possible and we believe that significant efforts have been undertaken. We shared with the noble Lord some of the background—questionnaires and the approaches taken to the survey—which led to the production of the data. There is, of course, a constant desire to make sure that we keep that as up to date as possible.
The income statistics we will use to measure progress against the targets in the Bill provide the best available proxy for child poverty. The statistics used in the Households Below Average Income publication comply with best practice on measuring household income. The survey underpinning HBAI exploits the best available methodologies to capture household income. A huge amount of time and effort is invested in ensuring that our estimates are robust and the Family Resources Survey is widely recognised as a world-class instrument for poverty measurement. In addition, HBAI is produced to national statistics standards. Among other things, this means it meets agreed standards for integrity and quality.
More generally, the range of targets included in the Bill means that we will make a robust assessment of the levels of child poverty. The combined low income and material deprivation measure will ensure that we capture the essence of what this amendment is seeking to address. If income is not being spent to the benefit of the child, then this will be seen by the fact that the child is more likely to be materially deprived. Indeed, even those basic items associated with the adult or adults in the household are likely to be negatively affected if income is not being appropriately or effectively used.
I consider this amendment to be unnecessary. We have in place appropriate measures to capture material deprivation, and any additional flexibility in measuring income that may have been intended from this amendment will not add value. The noble Lord may wish to note that HBAI is already subject to reviews which ensure that the statistics will benefit from any developments in income measurement—for example, along the lines suggested by the noble Lord—so that we make sure that best practice is always applied. I hope, on that basis, that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Maybe I should apologise for it not being completely clear what this amendment was driving at. Interestingly—it may have caught him little by surprise—he seemed to agree with the main thrust of this amendment on both of the aspects that we have discussed. This amendment is clearly aiming to put a forcing mechanism behind both of those aspects.
First, there should be a forcing mechanism to get better data on what the informal economy really represents in this area. Although I agree that the HBAI statistics are highly respected and widely used, one can make the argument that if they are the main instrument, of course they will be used. The IFS made it clear that the figures below the 40 per cent median are utterly unreliable. I think that is a reasonable interpretation of what it said. That is exactly the point. It shows that the informal economy is having a real impact at that level, as one would suspect.
Secondly, on in-kind versus cash, I am grateful for the little briefing that the Minister’s team provided me with a couple of weeks ago. Clearly, the HBAI survey includes much of the in-kind provision. However, I refer to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel—and I thank him for his valuable contribution. If this research comes out as saying that for many families in-kind is a far superior form of support than cash, instead of the Minister’s response that we will be able to take in-kind payments into account in the survey, what is so difficult about taking them into account at this stage of a Bill which is meant to deal with these issues? Rather than an assurance, albeit on the Floor of this House, that the survey will take in-kind payments into account, why not have it in the Bill as an obligation?
I thank the Minister for his response. I do not think there is a huge difference between us. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Amendment 9 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Schedule 1 : The Child Poverty Commission
10: Schedule 1, page 18, line 18, leave out from beginning to “appoint” and insert “The Commission may”
Amendment 10 is in my name and, I am pleased to say, in the name of the Minister as well. For that reason I think I can promise your Lordships a very short debate. Schedule 1 sets up the arrangements for the appointment, payment, functions, governance, and so on, of the Child Poverty Commission. It was my intention when I raised these matters in Committee to try to ensure that the commission is as independent as possible of Government, but your Lordships will see from page 18 of the Bill that the Secretary of State appoints all its members apart from those who are appointed by the devolved Administrations.
I am slightly reassured by what I was told in Grand Committee about the public appointments arrangements—that the best person for the job will emerge from the process for appointment to the chair—and by paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 1 which states that the Secretary of State must consult the chair and the devolved Ministers when appointing the rest of the members. However, I feel that we could give the commission a little more independence if we allowed it to select its own deputy chair, and that is what my amendment seeks to do. I am pleased to say that the Minister agrees with the idea. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have no objection to the amendment but I should like to take this opportunity to talk about the commission and its make-up. I hope this legislation will encourage recruitment from communities where there is deprivation and where there are men and women who have experienced the terrible poverty that exists throughout our country. In the poorer areas of the city of Glasgow a person is lucky if they become a justice of the peace; it is in the west end of Glasgow that you will see appointments to commissions. I do not mean to be disrespectful, but that is where the academics live. They also live in certain parts of Edinburgh, and noble Lords will know of other areas where good, clever people live.
However, the commission will need not only good, clever people but men and women of good will who have experienced the terrible poverty of deprived communities. I am sick and tired of the media talking about areas of multiple deprivation as though everyone in such communities is helpless—they are not. If you were to visit Glasgow, I could take you to see men and women who have set up disablement groups. There would be a lot of lonely disabled people if it was not for one woman, in particular, who created an organisation which now delivers meals to disabled and housebound people; it has a meeting place where people can come together and talk about their problems, enjoy themselves and arrange holidays. These are the achievements of people who live in these so-called areas of multiple deprivation.
However, when appointments are made to what we used to call quangos—I do not know whether they are still called that—people from areas where the problems are being experienced are passed by. The Bill will be a failure unless we appoint people to the commission who can say, “That problem will not be resolved if you handle it in that way”. To give a comparison, it was written into the legislation on the Electoral Commission—about which I have some experience—that no one who was involved politically could be a member of the Electoral Commission. This meant that former Labour, Liberal and Conservative Party agents could not be on the commission and lend the years of experience they had gained from hands-on work in the communities such as delivering leaflets and arranging to get people to the polls. We wrote into the legislation that we could not use these people, who had a lifetime of experience, and so what did we get? We got former returning officers from local government who did not know what it was to go into a housing estate to deliver a leaflet and meet a Doberman standing in the garden which would not let you do so; and if you got past the Doberman you had to look out for the Rottweiler on the other side of the door.
The point I make about this commission, which I wish to put on record, is that if we do not appoint to it people who live in these communities and who have a proven record of helping themselves, their communities and their neighbours—and there are many of them—we will have failed.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for tabling the amendment, which of course we support. Members will recall that in Committee, where a similar amendment was tabled, we listened carefully to the points made by noble Lords and undertook to consider further whether the independence of the commission could be strengthened by permitting it to choose a deputy chair from among its members. In both this House and the other place we have repeatedly made it clear that the value of the commission lies in the quality and independence of its advice. Provisions in the Bill and commitments we have made with regard to the approved appointments process of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments will establish a commission that has the capacity to provide advice which is of high quality and independent. The noble Baroness referred to that process in her opening remarks.
We are persuaded that allowing the commission to select a deputy chair from its appointed membership will boost the capacity for independence and give it scope to regulate its affairs in the most efficient and effective manner. On that basis we are happy to support the amendment.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Martin, for his valuable contribution and for his collection of undesirable dogs that one might come across. I should say to him that, as was said in Committee, paragraph 1(4) of Schedule 1 requires the Secretary of State to appoint commission members who have a broad range of experience in working in the field of poverty, including working with children and families experiencing poverty. I hope that meets the important point that he has made.
The Minister referred to “working” with poverty. I mean no disrespect, but a social worker goes into an area of poverty and does a job of work; I am talking about people who live in that poverty and do excellent work. There is no point in saying, “Let us pick someone who is poor”, put them on the commission and leave it at that. People who live in such areas seven days a week have proven that they are good at helping their communities.
Amendment 10 agreed.
11: Schedule 1, page 19, line 27, at end insert—
“Reports on malnutritionThe Commission must, for each calendar year, produce a report which includes—
(a) the number of malnourished children in the United Kingdom; and(b) an assessment of how the level of child poverty has influenced the number of malnourished children.”
I shall speak also to Amendment 23, which has the valuable support of colleagues on all sides of the House.
The provenance of the amendment stems from the important discussions we had in Grand Committee. We are talking about the important subject of child poverty, and the general public appreciate clearly the direct connection between child poverty and malnutrition.
Malnutrition is a subject that I have come to quite recently. It was the noble Lord, Lord Rea, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and reflecting upon their very powerful speeches in Committee that made me go away and look again at its significance and the direct relationship between malnutrition and child poverty. It is that that promoted the idea that it worth spending a moment or two on Report on the issue.
I do not want to make a long speech, but I now believe, with all the passion I can muster, that babies that are underweight at birth are, by definition, disadvantaged. All the statistics show that they are immediately part of a group that is, almost inevitably, heading for disadvantage in later life. That is an essential part of the intergenerational poverty that the Bill seeks to address. If we do not think carefully about what can be done in the Bill, against that background, we will be missing an opportunity.
I am struck by the recent improvements in nutritional science, which is getting very much better at diagnosing and suggesting remedies and methods of dealing with malnutrition, and the developments that are now available. There is a very clear relationship and link—even as a layperson, I can see it—between diet and underdevelopment; underdevelopment not just in terms of health, but in terms of socio-economic background, well-being in the broadest sense, education and a whole range of other factors. Children learn to be poor by the time they are three or four years of age and therefore, if that is true and if we can determine—as we can very easily—that children who are born underweight are subject and susceptible to being in that position, we are derelict in our duty if we do not do something about that.
My Amendment 11 is easier for the Government to accept than Amendment 23, which also stands in my name. Since the Minister was very generous in accepting a Conservative amendment earlier, I think it is only fair that, in the course of an eight-hour debate, he is equal handed. This may be his moment.
Turning briefly to Amendment 23—although I am dealing with these amendments briefly, I mean them most sincerely—minimum income standards are something I am much more familiar with and have been arguing for over many years and in earlier incarnations. Minimum income standards are not targets—we had a very good discussion about this in Committee—nobody is suggesting that. Minimum income standards are used by many sister European countries to great effect as a tool, in real time, to calculate and demonstrate to ordinary men and women in the street the differences between what people have to live on and what they should be living on. All this technical stuff that we are fond of discussing here is very important and the Bill is important—I have already conceded that I now accept that—but minimum income standards characterise and demonstrate to people, in a much clearer way, exactly how the level of disadvantage is actually biting on low-income families in the United Kingdom.
Frankly, I think it is a disgrace that 1.7 million children are in this situation in 2010. Minimum income standards are a valuable and useful tool to demonstrate the extent of the disadvantage and they are much more accessible in the course of the public debate that we need to engage in to persuade people that this work is essential if we are not to deprive people of life choices and circumstances in the future.
It is against that background that I am moving Amendment 11. I think that the amendment is worth testing the opinion of the House on. I would be very interested to know who would be opposed—against the background of the Bill and the explanation that I have given—to the idea that people would be better able to understand the force of the argument if it is conducted with the information about malnutrition that would be available if we had an annual report, as Amendment 11 proposes.
I have a dual purpose here: obviously, I will listen to what colleagues have to say about this, and I hope that the amendment finds favour, but I would like to find out, just as a matter of interest, whether this is something that colleagues in the House think is important. The only way of doing that is to test the opinion of the House, but I look forward to what colleagues and the Minister have to say. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with these amendments. At their heart, they demand the answer to a simple question: are the poverty targets set in the Bill the right ones? Do they do the job? In particular, do families above the poverty line, as measured by the Bill, have adequate resources for nutrition and warmth, among other necessities?
The problem is that the 60 per cent target has not been derived from any process at all, as far as I can gather, other than consensus among academics that it is about the right figure. It has certainly not been based on minimum income standards and, as we discussed in Committee, the poverty line is very considerably below the minimum income standard set by the Rowntree study—more than 15 per cent, as best I could judge.
We may find ourselves brought face to face with this conflict before too long, to judge by developments in Germany on this issue. Germany’s Supreme Court has given the German Government until the end of the year to come up with benefit figures that ensure a “dignified minimum”—I am not sure what that is in German. Hans-Jürgen Papier, the president of Germany's Constitutional Court—I think that he is retired now—said that benefits must be based on “reliable figures” and ”comprehensible calculations”. Rough estimates, he said, are unconstitutional. Given the way that these trends develop within the EU, I would not be surprised to see academic consensus on poverty move away from relative poverty lines towards “dignified minimums” across Europe.
However, to switch horses from relative poverty to minimum income standards at this stage, would, I think, destroy the Bill in its tracks. It is an entirely different approach, so while I am sympathetic to Amendment 23 of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, we could not accept it as it stands, for that reason. However, the debate on child and maternal nutrition can, I think, be extracted from the general position and made a specific requirement of the Bill.
The evidence from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, in Committee was compelling in its focus on the importance of early maternal, and even pre-maternal, nutrition. The importance is amplified by recent reports that young girls have the worst diet of any group in society. So this is an issue about targeted measures and information, as well as incomes. The income element is, I anticipate, trivial against the long-term gains of healthy babies and children, and while it might be a stretch to use DEL-AME switches in a formal way in this context, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, suggested in Committee, the gains from getting this right are indeed substantial.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Kirkwood raised this matter in Committee and said how important nutrition was, particularly for children at a formative age, when he moved his amendment about minimum income standards. The Minister said that minimum income standards were ruled out because different research methods tended to make different assumptions, and it was difficult to get one answer to the question of how much income was enough. I am not particularly persuaded that this was a very robust response, but that is the later amendment.
Amendment 11 concentrates on the malnutrition of children, something that just should not occur in a wealthy country at the beginning of the 21st century, yet there is clearly child malnutrition in this country. We need to find out as much about it as we can because it can lead to bad health outcomes later in life, as well as a multitude of other problems. I support my noble friend’s amendment.
Amendment 18, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who does not appear to be here today, has been grouped with this amendment. As I moved a similar amendment in Committee, I thought I should say a word about this one, although I shall not be moving it in her place. I hope this is in order. Under Amendment 18, the Secretary of State would have to consider the desirability of extending eligibility for free school lunches and milk to secondary school pupils whose parents were in receipt of working families tax credit. Although there is much to commend the amendment, as I said in Committee, I was persuaded by the Minister in his reply that primary legislation was not necessary for this to be brought about as it would be done by secondary legislation.
My Lords, my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, spoke at Second Reading out of the Good Childhood report, which was co-written by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, for the Children’s Society. It described the current fiscal policy that increases the gulf between rich and poor, and the Government that have genuinely sought to bring people out of poverty, as absurd. It urged that by 2015 the proportion of children in relative poverty should be reduced from the 2006-07 figure of 22 per cent to the Scandinavian level of 10 per cent. While we talk in terms of vague figures, aims, targets and so on, it is better to have vague targets than no targets at all—although obviously I would prefer accurate ones.
I shall speak particularly on Amendment 23, and I shall refer to some of the research being asked for in that amendment. Such research is already being carried out in Bradford, and some of the findings of the Born in Bradford project are due to be published in June. Born in Bradford is seeking to monitor the development of every child born in the district over a three-year period, beginning as near conception as possible and going through birth and infancy into childhood, and indeed beyond into adulthood. It is an enormous task; from memory, the number of children being studied approaches 14,000. There is something like an 80 per cent response from mothers and, in spite of what might be regarded as intrusive questions in the light of previous comments, even DNA samples of the babies are being collected—willingly.
Born in Bradford is seeking to tie together medical, social and cultural factors that affect health and well-being. The premise behind it, which came up in all the applications for funding from the project, is that what happens to us in the womb and in the first couple of years of life influences our health when we are 40, 60 and way beyond. Trying to measure social deprivation is much harder, however, in minority ethnic groups. Assuming that the amendment goes through, the Secretary of State will need to take account of that. Ninety-five per cent of white mothers know their partner’s income but only 65 per cent of south Asian mothers do, and this skews the information. Born in Bradford is exploring other ways of measuring poverty, including looking at perceived poverty, but better measurements are needed.
At the heart of our concern is the fact that poor maternal nutrition, pre-conception and post-conception, substantially increases the risk of poor cognitive abilities and serious brain disorders in the lives of many children. The unemployment benefit for women aged 18 to 25 is £50.95, and if she eats according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation minimum standards, which the noble Lord, Lord Freud, has already mentioned, she will spend £43 of this on food, leaving less than £8 for fuel, clothing and other necessities. That is the reality today. The value of this unemployment benefit has not increased in real terms since 1980. There has almost certainly been an increase in the proportion of ill people since then, and it has been costing the taxpayer billions through the National Health Service, through our schools and through the administration of justice.
A few weeks ago, fortuitously, Sir Michael Marmot produced his report on health inequalities. He recommended that we give priority to prenatal and postnatal intervention that reduces adverse outcomes from pregnancy and infancy, that we establish a minimum income for the health of all people and that we reduce the social gradient in the standards of living through changes in fiscal policy. The report included a rather scary graph that showed that bright ladies who were rich and did well intellectually would continue to do well intellectually as they grew older; those who were less bright and poor were undeveloped mentally throughout their lives; those who were less bright but rich did better and better as they grew older, as their nutrition and other social conditions helped them to develop; and those who were bright as babies but poor gradually failed to develop in ways that they would have done if they had been rich.
I mentioned this in my maiden speech so I hope that noble Lords will bear with me, but about three years ago I visited a school that has since become an academy, thanks to the funding that is available. I was there for prize-giving. The school served a particularly socially deprived, predominantly white area of Bradford. The then head teacher said to me, “Just look at the size of these children. They are all smaller than average. They are also underdeveloped intellectually, emotionally, socially and spiritually”. I could see in those people—in the girls particularly, obviously—that the future cycle of deprivation and underachievement was simply going to continue in the lives of the people of a city that has among the highest levels of social deprivation. That is why I support Amendment 23.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the right reverend Prelate because my remarks are going to cover some of the field as his. Amendment 23 asks the Government to commission research into minimum household income. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, and my noble friend are aware that considerable research on this has already been published, mainly from three sources—we are awaiting the Bradford study. Those sources are the Family Budget Unit of the University of York, the Loughborough University Centre for Research in Social Policy and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where this work was initiated by the late Professor Jerry Morris. Because they all use slightly different methods of calculating minimum income standards, the recommendations from the three units are somewhat different. However, in one respect they all agree, which is that the incomes that they recommend are well above current benefit levels, some of which are extremely low and only just above subsistence level.
It is not sufficient, as other noble Lords have said, in the 21st century, simply to use scales which cover subsistence living costs. Certain additional items are necessary for people, especially families with children, to engage in society and live healthy social lives as well as physically healthy lives. They may need items such as refrigerators, which are actually owned by 80 per cent of the population now. Of course, 50 years ago it was not an item which would be thought of to be included in minimum income. In addition there are other domestic hardware items, possibly a television, some components of travel costs, and other social necessities to help people engage in life, or lead a “dignified” life, as the noble Lord has put it, as was said in Germany.
All these matters must be taken into account, and I think the Government do that to some extent, but not in a systematic way, when setting the level of benefits. The Government should work with the existing research units to achieve a consensus level of what is required, perhaps setting up a co-ordinating unit within the Child Poverty Commission to assess what should be minimum income standards. As the right reverend Prelate has said, this would be particularly relevant today in the month after the publication of the Marmot report, which gives a detailed account of the persistence of inequalities in health in the UK. The important finding in all of Professor Marmot’s work is that there is a continuous gradient throughout the social spectrum. A basic first step must be to ensure that support levels are more than just adequate; they must be sufficient to enable the poorest to engage in society so as to move up the poverty inequality scale.
My Lords, I was particularly asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, to give her apologies for being unable to be here; she had a previous commitment to a public lecture which existed before she knew the date of Report. She hopes the House will accept her apologies.
I have just a couple of points. First, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, that my understanding is that if he moves a vote on the first amendment, Amendment 11, that also brigades with it the other two amendments; and were he to be successful and the other two amendments were to be passed as well, that would be very interesting because together they would be very high-cost. Normally where amendments are grouped, the first one is regarded as trailing to the other two, and therefore carrying the other two. I merely put that to him. He would have to make that very clear; otherwise there may be some difficulties.
The second point is to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, who quoted, very interestingly, the German supreme court or high court about a “dignified” existence.
It was the German constitutional court. The noble Lord will know that both benefits and taxes within the EU are ring-fenced and are therefore not available because, clearly, there would be huge implications for eastern Europe and everywhere else where benefit levels and so on are extremely low. What Germany is doing may be appropriate for Germany; I suspect it would have no implications at all for the rest of the EU unless individual member states choose to follow the same path, because benefits, as with taxes, are excluded from EU purview for obvious reasons.
I want to ask my noble friend a couple of questions, first, on Amendment 11. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, is correct to say that the diet of many young girls may be inadequate; they may only discover that they are pregnant quite late; and this may affect low birth weight. Traditionally, very low birth weight, below five pounds, has been associated with feeding and respiratory difficulties, vulnerability to summer diarrhoea, and so on.
In Committee, I suggested to my noble friend, and I had some support for this, that it would be useful to look at the possibility of breaking the Sure Start maternity grant, which I believe is about £600 now, into stages to assist with prenatal care to ensure that, with help and guidance, it was diverted into good nutrition. Has my noble friend been able to do any further work on that? It seems to me that it is a nil cost budget item that could have useful implications for the dietary standards of those young women who realise, perhaps partway through their pregnancy, that they are indeed pregnant and that their diet so far has not helped ensure that they will have a normal weight child.
The second point is on the school dinners amendment, which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, would have spoken to had she been here. Again, I perfectly understand that this is a high budget item as far as my noble friend is concerned, and that the Government have made it clear that they will not go down the path of that amendment. However, in Committee, we sought to press my noble friend on the point that there are some lone parents who, as a result of the Government’s own changes in the Welfare Reform Bill, will now find themselves entering the labour market not when their youngest child is 16, but when their youngest child is seven, and they may be doing work preparation even before that, from when their youngest child is three.
Particularly when their youngest child is seven, that lone parent may have two of her three children, say, above the age of primary school and in secondary school. My experience when working with lone parents in the past was that the single biggest tipping factor for lone parents trying to calculate the best-buy package of going into work or not was when they had two or probably three or more children, and some of those children were of secondary school age. The cost of school dinners, which at £10 per child, could be £30 a week or £40 a week for four children, was the tipping factor. Even though my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in the other place that anybody going in to the labour market would be at least £40 a week better off in work, that can be completely wiped out by the cost of school dinners. Therefore there need be no actual gain, particularly for a large family.
My noble friend and the department ought to be congratulated on the strides that they are making regarding children in primary school. It is right to focus there because that is where most child development will occur. It is also the place where younger children can be encouraged strenuously into taking nourishing school dinners rather than relying on the chip shop’s chips and fizz for their lunches in a way that older secondary school children may not be. None the less, there will be a cohort of lone parents coming into the labour market for the first time who will be exposing their children to this situation where they have not had the advantage and will not get the advantage of free school dinners for their older children. I wonder if my noble friend can help me on that cohort for at least the first year or two, so that we can ensure that the transition into the labour market is not at the cost of the financial well-being of some of the older children because that parent is having to pay a school dinner bill that she has never before had to address; and going into work will make her worse off.
I would be grateful if my noble friend could help me on those two points—the Sure Start maternity grant, and the situation of lone parents coming in to the labour market for the first time because of our changes, the Government’s changes, this House’s changes, which we all support but which nonetheless may prove a tipping point to the lone parent’s calculation of her financial advantage or otherwise of going back into the labour market, a move that we all otherwise want to support her on.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate drew attention to postnatal and antenatal services and the Marmot report. The amendments discuss the malnourishment of children. Today I attended the Westminster Health Forum, which looked at maternity services. Speaking to midwives with a great deal of experience, I was very concerned to hear from them about high levels of turnover among midwives; the lack of support for midwives; the lack of management of their case loads; and the difficulty that poses for continuity of care for parents. We know that the people who benefit most from continuity of care are those parents who are most vulnerable and in poverty.
I believe this is of relevance to what we are discussing. If there is a good relationship with the midwife, she can advise the parents on good nutrition so that the foetus can be well nourished in the womb. She can also advise them on how to continue once the baby is born. Your Lordships will want to know that there is great concern about turnover among midwives. There is a need for more consistent support for midwives and to make sure that they do not get case loads that are too large for them to manage. It is so important to support parents well around the births of their children, particularly the parents we are talking about, who are living in poverty.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments. Perhaps I can clarify what I understand to be the position should the noble Lord wish to press one of his amendments but not all those in the group. I understand that as long as he makes that clear when he does it, it will be in order. I am bound to say that I would discourage him from doing so, but—to be fair to the noble Lord—he should know what the rules are.
I start with Amendment 23. We had an interesting and wide-ranging debate in Committee on minimum income standards. As I said then, the Government welcome the research that has already been carried out on minimum income standards, such as that completed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the other research that my noble friend Lord Rea referred to. We continue to follow this research with interest. The Government consulted extensively on the most appropriate long-term measures of child poverty. Minimum income standards were ruled out because different research methods tend to make different assumptions and it is difficult to get one answer to the question, “How much is enough?”. To be clear, the researchers themselves explicitly say that minimum income standards should not be treated as a poverty threshold.
The latest research by the JRF, published in 2008 and updated in July 2009, is robust and I understand that it is also planning on updating this analysis. Requiring the Government to replicate this research, as this amendment does, is not a good use of government resources, particularly at this time. However, if in the future the JRF chose not to continue with this research, I am sure the Government would consider whether they could take it on. However, I agree with the noble Lord that minimum income standards are relevant to the discussion on poverty and standards of living. Consideration of minimum income standards must be balanced against other equally valid and important considerations—for example, labour market incentives and long-term sustainability. Therefore, I hope the noble Lord will not press Amendment 23, at least.
Amendment 11 would require the commission to produce a report in respect of each calendar year, stating the number of malnourished children in the United Kingdom and an assessment of how the level of child poverty has influenced the number of malnourished children. The terms “malnourished” and “level of child poverty” are not defined in the amendment or the Bill, so it is not clear how the commission would go about assessing these levels. It is also not clear what the commission is to do with the report once it is drafted. Leaving these matters aside, like other noble Lords I have sympathy with the noble Lord’s intention. The Government are clear that everyone should be able to choose and have reliable access to affordable, healthy and safe food. The barriers to accessing a healthy, sustainable diet are complex, but through initiatives like Healthy Start we are making sure that those on the lowest incomes can access healthy, nutritious food. As I said in Committee, there are other government programmes aimed at improving maternal nutrition, such as the health in pregnancy grant and the Sure Start maternity grant.
I think we dropped my noble friend Lady Hollis a line in response to her inquiry. The answer is that it is not possible to split the grant for the reasons that were set out in that letter, which I cannot immediately bring to mind. I will follow up and write to my noble friend.
My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend at least received the letter. Perhaps I will have another go.
The Marmot review, to which several noble Lords referred, considered these matters in some detail and the Government are now considering their response. Until that is set out, it is not appropriate to set out legislative duties in the Bill on issues of nutrition or minimum incomes. However, we support the necessity to consider diet and healthy eating in any effort to tackle child poverty. Health is a key building block that the Secretary of State is required to consider when developing the strategy, under Clause 8(5). Officials in the child poverty unit are working with colleagues across Whitehall, including those from the Department of Health, to explore the links between health inequalities and poverty as part of the work underpinning the child poverty strategy.
In considering Amendment 11 it is also important to note that inadequate income is one likely contributing factor to poor diets, but it is not the only one, since parents’ spending decisions, knowledge about nutrition and access to affordable healthy food are also important. There is good research evidence to show that many poor parents go without an adequate diet themselves to ensure that their children have an adequate diet. This is a complex problem that requires well thought-out solutions that go beyond the scope of the Bill.
Returning to the amendment, I am not aware of a dataset that explicitly links child poverty to child nutrition. I do not know if the noble Lord, Lord Freud, with his great knowledge of these things, is aware of one; the Government certainly are not. It is likely that substantial further survey work would be needed to fulfil this amendment. This would be expensive and time-consuming for the commission to formulate and carry out, particularly on an annual basis. This would also significantly impinge on its independence. It might also divert the commission’s limited time and financial resources away from other matters that it may wish to investigate and provide advice to the Secretary of State on. I am also not persuaded that elevating one issue over another is the right approach. If the amendment were made, there is a strong risk that the commission would have neither the time nor the resources available to look into matters other than child malnutrition. I do not think we want the commission to be tied down in this way.
Furthermore, if child poverty is seen as the major cause of malnutrition, as the amendment presumes, then the solution is surely to tackle child poverty and monitor and report on poverty levels annually, which is what the Bill sets out to do. This is not to say that the commission will not wish to consider these matters. Indeed, the Bill allows the commission to pursue an independent research agenda, but it should be for the commission to decide where to focus its research and analytical efforts. I hope I have demonstrated that overprescribing what the commission should do is not the best way forward and that the noble Lord will not press that amendment.
Finally, I turn to Amendment 18. I recognise that several noble Lords have spoken to it, even though the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is unable to move it formally herself. The Government announced in the Pre-Budget Report in December that they would extend free school meals to primary school pupils in working families with an income of up to £16,190 in England from September 2010. Clause 25 was added to the Bill during Grand Committee. Although the Secretary of State proposes to make an order extending eligibility to children of primary school age, starting with those at key stage 1 or younger from September 2010 and rolling out to those at key stages 2 and 3 from September 2011, it would be possible to make further orders at some point in the future to extend eligibility to secondary school-age children, if it was felt appropriate. As my noble friend has acknowledged, this would not require further primary legislation.
As set out in the Pre-Budget Report, the Government chose to focus the available resources on primary school children rather than secondary school children. This is consistent with the strategy of early intervention having more impact on encouraging healthy eating habits, which are more likely to be carried on independently at secondary school. While I am sympathetic to the result that this amendment is seeking, the cost of including secondary school children across the UK is of real substance. When fully rolled out in England alone, extending eligibility to primary school children in low-income working families will cost over £200 million a year. Any additional rollout would put significant additional new pressures on school budgets, which would have to be met from reducing other school services that are already committed.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said that he was going to speak with all the passion he could muster and indeed he did; we know that he can muster considerable passion. He referred to Marmot, whose first recommendation was to give every child the best start in life. What happens during the early years, starting in the womb, has lifelong effects on many aspects of health and well-being from obesity, heart disease and mental health to educational achievement and economic status. A number of noble Lords, particularly the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford, covered that in their contributions, and we agree.
The right reverend Prelate spoke about the Born in Bradford work and research and, in a sense, endorsed the thrust of the Marmot recommendations. I make it clear to him that we want to challenge child poverty through a range of routes and specific targets, which the Secretary of State has a duty to meet over four areas, including material deprivation, which I will come back to. There is also the obligation to produce strategies, making sure that—so far as is practical—people do not suffer socio-economic disadvantage. I am sure that we are going to define that at a later stage.
A range of 21 issues in all, which academics have tried to identify as the dividing line between poor and non-poor families, determine how to look at material deprivation. This includes holidays away from home for at least one week, having family or friends around for a drink or meal at least once a month, two pairs of all-weather shoes for each adult, enough money to keep your home in a decent state of decoration, household contents insurance and a whole range of other things. If we are looking to make sure that we channel and tackle material deprivation then we are not just looking at subsistence levels of income for people; we are very clear about that.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about midwives. The Government have been involved in a very substantial programme of training midwives. I am happy to write to him about that. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, pressed on the extension of eligibility for free school meals in the first years of secondary school. As I said a moment ago, the primary legislation will allow orders to be made to cover secondary school children. Also, given the lone-parent obligations—we are down to the youngest child being seven by October of this year—and the first tranche of the additional free-school meals support for primary schools kicking in in September, there is an alignment at least for those younger children in primary school. I understand the point that my noble friend makes.
A number of noble Lords touched upon the Marmot review. We are working through that at the moment and considering how best to take forward its recommendations. My noble friend Lord Rea talked about the breadth of the research. I hope that I have been able to address each of the points that noble Lords have made. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, is keen to press his amendment. I have tried to point out—not just by relying on the technicalities—that it is quite difficult to accept it in its current form. He might not wish to press it tonight. I am very happy without commitment to have a discussion with him away from the sitting this evening. The matter is up to him. On the basis that it is defective, I hope he will not press the amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to colleagues and everyone who has taken part. It has been a high-quality debate. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. I tabled Amendment 11 at the close of business on Friday. There was some confusion about how it relates to Amendment 23. Amendment 23 is not consequential on Amendment 11; I should have made that clear at the beginning and maybe tabled the amendment earlier.
I understand that Amendment 23 is a bridge too far for the Government; Amendment 11 is not a bridge too far for anybody. It is a serious mistake. Over the next 10 years, Marmot and all that will indicate that malnutrition and low-weight intergenerational transmission of poverty will become a much bigger factor than it is today. I am confidant about that. People outside this place often wonder, if you make speeches with passion, what the devil it means merely to withdraw the amendment on the basis of the debate. We have won the argument this afternoon. I am prepared to take my chances in the Lobbies. I beg to move.
Clause 8 : UK strategies
12: Clause 8, page 4, line 12, at end insert—
“( ) For the purposes of this Part, the definition of “socio-economic disadvantage” is not limited to financial considerations and must, in particular, have regard to international definitions of child well-being.”
My Lords, we are now venturing into a Dadaesque land of the absurd. There are two Bills before the House using the expression “socio-economic disadvantage”. Unfortunately, neither defines the term and the responsible Ministers in both Houses have made a virtue of this fact. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said:
“We want socio-economic disadvantage to be considered in a common-sense manner in a way that is relevant to each public body's functions”.—[Official Report, 11/1/10; col. 328.]
The Minister told us that in the context of this Bill it relates to,
“a child's access to material and social resources, and their ability to participate in society”.—[Official Report, 21/1/10; col. GC 182.]
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, told us:
“It is partly about basic inequality—that is straight poverty—but it is also about the lack of aspirations and expectations and about the complex interplay of factors such as health, housing, education and family background that so often combine to keep people in poverty and limit their chances of upward … mobility”.—[Official Report, 11/1/10; col. 328.]
I thought that we were writing law here and I am baffled as to how such a portmanteau definition as this can really be pinned down.
Let us say that I am a local official on whom the duty of ensuring that children do not suffer socio-economic disadvantage is imposed. What do I do? I know that I will be reading guidance notes until the end of time because the guide warns me to expect that, but how do I defend myself against the accusation of dereliction? Can I say that I thought that I had reduced socio-economic disadvantage enough—but what is enough? How do I set the duty of reduction against other priorities that might be pressing on me, such as getting a piece of infrastructure built to time and budget? How many forms will I have to fill in to make sure that the buck does not stop with me? How many boxes should I tick? How much case law will I have to study to see how the courts interpret “socio-economic” in the common-sense manner that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, is so confident that they will? I have noticed that one man’s common sense is often another’s madness.
Therefore, in this amendment I am seeking to pin down what we mean by “socio-economic disadvantage”. It seems to me that we are developing a body of indicators about child well-being that may serve the function very well. These are the UNICEF measures of well-being. If we use these as a base, we can assess whether child well-being in the widest possible sense is improving. We can measure our performance and we can target specific actions to improve that performance.
If we combine poverty and child well-being measures, as this amendment suggests, we will really start to get a handle on the problem. This is particularly important because, according to Professor Jonathan Bradshaw of the University of York, we are simply not getting the outcomes in terms of child well-being that our relatively high expenditure on children should obtain. In simple words, we seem to be wasting a lot of the money devoted to our children. The combination approach is vital. I quote Professor Bradshaw again, as I did in Committee. He finds that,
“the child poverty rate explains only about 30 per cent of the variation in overall wellbeing”.
He concludes that,
“the relative child poverty rate which has been adopted by the EU as the only child related primary or secondary indicator of social inclusion is not adequate to represent variations in child well-being across the EU25”,
and that a multidimensional index is likely to be the best approach.
The sad truth is that we do not seem to be doing well on these measures of well-being. The Government may be reluctant to accept the UNICEF-style well-being assessment because they have done so badly on this measure—as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, reminded us earlier this evening. Though the Minister defended the Government’s record by arguing that the data were old, the 2007 UNICEF table of 21 rich countries makes sorry reading. We are not half way down these tables; we seem to come out bottom on virtually every measure, including family and peer relationships, behaviours and risk, and subjective well-being. That means our kids feel more miserable than anyone else’s. We are only just off the bottom—18th—in education and material well-being.
If we want specific goals to tackle socio-economic disadvantage, let us start here. That is my common-sense definition of the term. Perhaps the Minister will tell me I am mad. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to add a word to what the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said. I too am somewhat concerned about the meaning of “socio-economic disadvantage”, particularly because it does not appear in the interpretation in Clause 17—that is, page 10 of the Bill—where a lot of phrases are interpreted.
“Socio-economic” comes through both parts of the Bill, not only the first part. There is the UK strategy in Clause 8(2)(b), that children,
“do not experience socio-economic disadvantage”.
The UK strategy in Clause 8(5) deals with matters such as financial support and the,
“development of the skills of parents … health, education, childcare and social services, and … housing, the built or natural environment and the promotion of social inclusion”.
It worries me that it is not at all clear what “socio-economic disadvantage” means. It seems it means something to do with the deprivation of those matters under Clause 8(5). I respectfully recommend that the Minister at least considers putting in the phrase “socio-economic disadvantage” as part of the interpretation of Part 1 and possibly in Part 2. Then at least those who work with this Bill when it becomes law know what it is they have to target.
My Lords, we intend to reach the poorest in our society yet we use language they will not understand. What does “socio-economic disadvantage” mean? If someone said to me that children in the United Kingdom should not experience poverty and disadvantage then I would understand what the legislation meant. The people in my previous constituency would understand that.
We have a tendency in this House and the other place of using jargon. For example, when the financial crisis came up, everybody spoke about “sub-prime lending”. If they had just said “bad debt”, everybody would have known. The dogs in the street would have known but we do not say that. It seems we have in-words so that we can understand. We know what we are talking about but no one else does. If we are trying to reach the poorest of the poor in our communities then we had best use language that is understood, or how can they know that they are the ones we are trying to help?
My Lords, to start with, I would never suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, was mad—far from it. On the point of the noble Lord, Lord Martin, and the need to talk to people in language that they understand, he is absolutely right about engaging with people in their terms. We are dealing here with a specific term in a piece of legislation. Not many people are going to go back to the source of the primary legislation. The fact that one wants to and should engage with people in their terms is not of itself inconsistent with having legalese or particular provisions in a piece of legislation.
This is again about seeking to define “socio-economic disadvantage”. The noble Lord’s suggestion is that we should add to that term, so that it,
“is not limited to financial considerations and must, in particular, have regard to international definitions of child well-being”.
We debated at length in Committee the use of “socio-economic disadvantage” as it appears in Clause 8(2)(b). Frankly, I thought I made a good attempt then to clarify what we understood the term to mean and why putting more specific wording in the Bill was not helpful. Clearly I have not been wholly successful in doing that so will try again this afternoon.
In doing this, I refer noble Lords to the discussion on the Equality Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Freud, referred. In Committee on that Bill, a similar amendment was tabled that sought to compel a definition of socio-economic disadvantage to be placed in the Bill. My noble friend Lady Royall explained in Committee what the Government meant by the term. My script says I should repeat her words. Given that the noble Lord has pre-empted me on that I do not propose to do so but what my noble friend said on that Bill holds true for this one. Although noble Lords will appreciate the slight difference in context, the concept is clear.
On the point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, including a formal definition could lead to an inflexible interpretation which may hinder the Secretary of State as she prepares her strategy. As I previously said, in preparing her strategy the Secretary of State will be obliged to consider the measures necessary in each of the areas set down in Clause 8(5) for the dual purposes of complying with the duties in Clause 1, ensuring as far as possible that children in the UK do not experience socio-economic disadvantage.
Clearly this term is not limited to financial considerations, as the amendment seems to imply. It is more complex than that. I have given repeated assurances, including in Grand Committee, that the Government’s approach to tackling child poverty is not solely about income transfers, and I have sought to demonstrate that the Bill makes that clear, particularly in Clause 8. While it is true that the targets focus on income poverty—although I contend that the combined low-income and material deprivation target is broader than that—we have always been clear that the Bill is concerned not only with tackling low incomes but with improving child well-being and ensuring a sustainable end to child poverty.
As required by Clause 8, the UK child poverty strategy will drive further action to tackle child poverty across the building blocks. The action will include measures to enhance child well-being; to support parents to undertake their role as well as possible, enabling children to stay safe and supported; to improve the quality of services and space in neighbourhoods so that children can thrive in safe and cohesive communities; to ensure that all children live in decent housing; and to narrow the educational attainment gap for disadvantaged children. Those of you who attended the mini-seminar that we organised a few weeks ago will know that officials in the child poverty unit are already doing a huge amount of work to consider how action in each of these areas can help to tackle child poverty. We expect to set out more details of our analysis in a strategic direction paper that we hope to publish shortly.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that our approach in Clause 8(5) of naming specific policy areas that must be considered in a UK child poverty strategy is a more effective way of illustrating the broad approach that we expect this strategy to take than that proposed by the amendment. Adding a formal definition to the Bill in the way that this amendment proposes could have a detrimental effect and lead to an inflexible interpretation of socio-economic disadvantage, which could hinder the Secretary of State in preparing strategy.
This is particularly the case with the amendment, which refers to,
“international definitions of child well-being”,
without being clear what is meant by this. There is no universally agreed, unique definition of child well-being, as reports from the Children’s Society and the OECD acknowledge. International reports, such as the ones from UNICEF and the OECD, use a multidimensional approach to measure well-being, which varies between reports. As there is no agreed definition of measuring well-being, either internationally or domestically, it would not be possible to incorporate such definitions in a meaningful way. The absence of an agreed international definition would cause great ambiguity in defining the purposes of a child poverty strategy.
The noble Lord referred to UNICEF's index of well-being. As I mentioned, it uses data that are very out of date. The report fails to register significant progress in key areas, such as improved provision of universal childcare, reductions in the rate of teenage conceptions, improved educational attainment, reduced risk of accidental injury and a falling infant mortality rate. Therefore, for the reasons that I have set out, it is not necessary to define socio-economic disadvantage in legislation. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am particularly grateful for the support of such a formidable legal brain as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. As she said, this term should be included in the interpretation. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Martin, is equally powerful. Here we have a declaratory Bill that uses words that most of the people whom it aims to help will not understand. That would seem to defeat the purpose.
There is a fundamental issue. The Minister said that defining the term could hinder the Secretary of State. The other way of looking at that is that the Secretary of State can interpret it in any way she wants. If she does, it becomes an irrelevant requirement because the term is undefined. It reads well to some people—although not to the people whom the noble Lord, Lord Martin, is concerned about—but most will say that it does not impose any duty on anyone because it is an uninterpreted term.
When the Minister leans on the crutch of his defence for our poor showing in the UNICEF tables, I remind him that a leading authority in the area, Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, observed that the data were out of date, but that we had a very long way to go and he was waiting to see whether we would improve. One can read a tone of some doubt in what he wrote.
I am not prepared to press this amendment. However, I urge the Minister to think hard about whether putting in a term like this without an interpretation adds anything to the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
13: Clause 8, page 4, line 23, at end insert—
“( ) the provision of information, advice and assistance to parents and the promotion of parenting skills,”
My Lords, I have pleasure in speaking also to Amendment 15 in this group. Amendment 13 adds to the policy areas or building blocks in Clause 8(5) that must be considered by the Secretary of State when preparing a child poverty strategy.
I listened with interest to arguments put forward in Committee, particularly by the noble Lords, Lord Freud and Lord Northbourne—the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is unable to be with us today—on the impact that improving parenting skills and promoting parental support can make in tackling child poverty and disadvantage. Noble Lords were concerned that the Bill concentrated too much on the provision of financial support and improving job skills for parents, and not enough on the wider role that parents must play in their children’s lives, and on the wider support that government can offer to parents. The Government recognise the important role of parents, and are committed to strengthening parental engagement. There is a range of help available to parents to support them in developing better parenting skills and stronger relationships. I will describe some of these programmes in a moment.
Family support had been included as a distinct building block in the consultation document Ending Child Poverty: Making it Happen. It stated that the Government are committed to,
“supporting parents to undertake their role as well as possible, whether they are living together or apart, by reducing the pressure on families and strengthening their capabilities, and ensuring children can stay safe and supported within their families”.
However, family support was not included in the Bill as we considered that it was implicitly covered by health, education, childcare and social services; and by the promotion of social inclusion. Nevertheless, I am now persuaded that support for parents should be explicitly stated in the Bill, and I am delighted to move the amendment. I also reassure noble Lords that the work under way to develop the first child poverty strategy is already considering support for parental skills and engagement with families.
I turn first to the provision of information, advice and assistance to parents. The Government are committed to increasing the capabilities of parents and to reducing the pressures on their relationships and parenting capacities. It is crucial that parents are able to provide a caring and nurturing environment for children, to ensure their healthy physical, social and emotional development and to promote good behaviour. Current programmes, such as the Family Information Direct programme and the 21st Century School Parent Guarantee, aim to deliver readily available information and support to parents, to help them to improve their capabilities and to become more involved in their children’s learning and development. We also make it clear that firm and effective action must be taken to challenge poor or inadequate parenting, which has serious consequences for children and communities. The Families and Relationships Green Paper also focuses on enabling families to help themselves through a range of support.
The second part of the amendment concerns the promotion of parenting skills. As I said in Committee, there is strong evidence to show that policies aimed at developing parenting skills can improve children’s lives. We know that the home environment and the influence of parents are crucial factors in determining children’s aspirations and outcomes. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who said in Committee that we must treat parents as partners if we are to achieve the goals of the Bill.
Government amendment 15, which also relates to the strategy, requires the Secretary of State to identify groups of children that appear to be at greater risk of living in socio-economic disadvantage and to consider the likely impact of any proposed measure in the policy areas listed in Clause 8 (5) on children within these groups.
In Grand Committee, Peers from all parties argued that the provisions on the child poverty strategy should be amended so that the needs of the most vulnerable groups should be addressed more explicitly. Without such a measure, Peers considered, there may be a risk that the strategy would focus on those children easiest to lift out of poverty and socio-economic disadvantage, leaving the most vulnerable groups behind.
I reiterate that it is not the Government’s intention to prioritise action on those children who are easier to lift out of poverty and ignore the needs of the most vulnerable. Our goal is to eradicate poverty for all children, and the framework established in the Bill supports that. Nevertheless, I was persuaded that an amendment which explicitly addressed the needs of vulnerable children would strengthen that framework.
The amendment would work because it requires the Secretary of State to consider which groups of children in the UK appear to be disproportionately affected by socio-economic disadvantage. I expect that these children will be identified through the analysis of Households Below Average Income data. Peers will recall that I explained in Committee that it is technically very difficult to state definitively in the Bill, or in regulations, which groups should be specifically considered. Indeed, a list would inevitably leave out some at-risk groups, and over time those most at risk of poverty may change and we do not want to exclude groups. The amendment avoids stating a list, thus providing greater flexibility over time to identify those groups of children as being vulnerable to poverty. It requires that policy measures across the different building blocks listed in subsection (5) are analysed in terms of their likely impact on the identified vulnerable groups.
The Bill requires that the strategy is revised and republished every three years until 2020. Each successive strategy will examine and evaluate the evidence of the impact previous measures have had on child poverty as this will have implications for what future action is needed. I look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Freud, on Amendment 14 which we shall of course support. I beg to move.
My Lords, we are very pleased that the Government have brought forward Amendments 13 and 15 in response to the debates we had in Grand Committee. On Amendment 15, we know that the group most at risk of socio-economic disadvantage are large families, families with a disabled child or adult, lone parent households, families with young children and some black and minority ethnic groups. This amendment should provide a mechanism to target the at-risk groups in each of the UK strategies and allow decisions to be made on the basis of whether they will help children within those groups in the long term.
The End Child Poverty campaign is also pleased that these amendments have been tabled, but makes the point that particular children who should be considered as disproportionately affected by socio-economic disadvantage, according to the most up-to-date evidence, should be clearly outlined in the child poverty strategies. It also wonders how the amendment will work in practice and whether the process will be set out in the strategies. I think the Minister has already answered some of the campaign’s questions. Presumably the strategies will include an assessment of whether certain measures have had the predicted impact on children in the at-risk groups and what the implications are for future measures to tackle child poverty. It will be a real step forward to be able to identify which levers work best, and why.
Amendment 14 is more problematical. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said in Grand Committee that the addition of the words “and mental” to define “health” so that it clearly included mental health was a wise precaution, but the amendment means that it would never again be safe to use the word “health” in legislation without defining it as including both physical and mental health. My noble friend Lady Walmsley commented in broadly the same way in Grand Committee. We on these Benches have highlighted mental health on all possible occasions, so we thoroughly agree with the sentiment behind the amendment. However do we really want to say that from now on “health” cannot be taken at face value to include both physical and mental health?
On the same theme, on the fourth day in Committee, 27 January, the Minister spoke about the review of ways in which it might be possible to reduce the high levels of worklessness among people with a mental health condition which was published in December 2009. Is he able to say when we can expect the Government’s response to be published? I think I may have jumped the gun a bit because the noble Lord has not yet spoken to his amendment but it is difficult when one amendment is sandwiched between two others.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for moving the amendment and in particular for indicating that he would accept my Amendment 14. There has been some useful meeting of minds in this area and I am glad we have found some points of consensus, at least across these two sets of Benches.
Amendment 14 might seem a very small point, but this is a declaratory Bill and I feel that it is important to get the message out that the Secretary of State is taking support for mental health as seriously as for physical health. Similarly, I am appreciative of Government amendment 13. Since Grand Committee I have had the opportunity to learn more about the thinking of the Government’s Child Poverty Unit, and I am not now surprised that we have consensus on this issue. Labour and the Conservatives might continue to disagree on the importance of stable, two-parent households to a child’s well-being, but at least we share the same concern for the relationship between the parents and the child. Explicitly allowing for attention to be given to parenting skills will be a useful addition to the Bill.
We support Amendment 15, too, as a useful reminder for the Government to keep their focus on those children who most need support. Despite my continuing reservations about the imprecision of the term “socio-economic disadvantage”—which we have perhaps discussed enough—I appreciate the Minister’s attempts to meet our concerns about the need to ensure that those groups of children particularly at risk of poverty and material deprivation are given proper attention.
By identifying and focusing on the types of household which are most at risk of suffering material deprivation, the Government will, we hope, be led to consider and address the causes, not the symptoms, of poverty. As I have repeatedly said during these debates, it is not enough to stick a plaster over the difficulties experienced by many living in vulnerable households by means of direct financial transfers. The Government must concentrate on removing the circumstances that lead people into that vulnerability.
The Minister has gone to some effort to improve this clause, with some success. I thank him for his constructive efforts in making the drafting clearer and more precise.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on the two amendments which he has laid. Subject to the little point about socio-economic disadvantage, from which I do not resile, the concept of both amendments seems entirely appropriate and adds enormously to this clause. It is very comforting to see the support around the House for these government amendments. The strategies are well set out. The only issue is the implementation, which we shall all watch with great interest.
I totally understand the point the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, is making that if you have the word “health” you always have to have “mental and physical”. I would have said of course you do not but, as the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said, the Bill is setting out policy. The mental health of children, especially children in socio-economically disadvantaged households, as we in this House would understand it, requires careful attention. If mental health issues are not met at an early stage, identified and dealt with, those children will have a less good life—not only because they are in poor households but with the added disadvantage of unmet mental health issues. That includes problems with education, exclusion and, perhaps more importantly for the community at large, the greater likelihood of not being able to get a job and of a proportion of them—I am not saying by any means all of them—ending up in the criminal sector.
If their problems could be met at an early stage, if their families could be helped by the provision of information, advice and assistance—which is admirable—those children would have a chance to lead a normal, sensible life with greater opportunity to be good citizens. There are children with huge mental disadvantages who need help as much as children with physical disabilities. I am delighted that that provision is to be included, because mental health is a serious issue and one that we must emphasise in this sort of Bill—but not throughout every government Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their support for the government amendments. In brief response to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, provision will be dealt with through the strategy. The Secretary of State is required to identify measures to support those people. Of course, there is not only the strategy but the annual report that will flow from it.
On timing and our response to the mental health and employment issues, I fear that I must write to the noble Baroness; I do not have specifics to hand on that. As I said, I am happy to accept the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Freud. I share some of the reservations about specifically identifying mental health. Our starting position was that health should cover mental as well as physical health, but the consensus seems to be that specifying it in the Bill might be more helpful. Notwithstanding that, we recognise the big challenge that we have to help people with mental health conditions better to access the labour market and enjoy all the other benefits of society.
Amendment 13 agreed.
14: Clause 8, page 4, line 24, at beginning insert “physical and mental”
Amendment 14 agreed.
15: Clause 8, page 4, line 26, at end insert—
“( ) When considering for the purpose of a UK strategy what measures ought to be taken in relation to each of those areas, the Secretary of State—
(a) must consider which groups of children in the United Kingdom appear to be disproportionately affected by socio-economic disadvantage, and(b) must consider the likely impact of each measure on children within each of those groups.”
Amendment 15 agreed.
16: Clause 8, page 4, line 26, at end insert—
“( ) In preparing a UK strategy, the Secretary of State must consider the impact any measure taken will have on other people in poverty.”
My Lords, in Grand Committee, the debate on this amendment narrowed to the specific issue of whether the Bill was the appropriate place to put in protections to other poor people. The Minister argued that he could not see,
“how you could possibly, in drawing up a strategy, have regard to, within that strategy, all the consequences that the allocation of resources to meet those targets would have elsewhere in government”.”—[Official Report, 27/1/10; col. GC 388.]
That, in a nutshell, is the difference between the Government and us on the amendment. A Bill aiming to achieve a particular end should ensure that it does not create obvious damage elsewhere. Furthermore, the protections should be contained in the Bill that could do the damage.
Although it is not an exact precedent, I think it is instructive to look at a similar situation in the Equality Bill. Clause 148 mentions treating some persons more favourably than others—an analogous situation to the Bill in its objective to help households with children. It then includes a protection against conduct otherwise prohibited in this Act—effectively a protection for unfavoured groups. That is exactly what I am aiming to do here and why the Bill is the appropriate place for the protection.
Let me summarise why this is an important issue. A statutory target will create pressure to divert resources in a particular direction: households with children. Indeed, that is the specific intention. Clearly the Government can hardly be concerned if those resources are raised out of the economy as a whole. They should, however, be concerned if those resources are derived by reducing resources available to other poor people.
The figures suggest that that is exactly what has been happening as a result of the child poverty target. I remind noble Lords of the figures from the House of Commons Library that I cited in Grand Committee. In 2007-08, the minimum support for a childless couple was 32 per cent below the poverty definition used in the Bill—60 per cent of the median income line. That compares with a figure of only 4 per cent for households of a lone parent with one child.
That has happened because, over the years, income support for children has risen much more rapidly than benefit levels for adults. That is a particularly dangerous trend because single adults and childless couples become parents, and the effects of previous poverty will tend to have pernicious, long-run effects on their children. Indeed, there is an immediate issue, which we have debated, of the deleterious effect of poor maternal nutrition on newly pregnant females who will be subsisting on income 22 per cent below the poverty line if they are reliant on benefit and it will be their first child.
I remind noble Lords of the conclusion drawn about the problem by the Rowntree report, in its publication, Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2009. It stated:
“The argument for the much bigger rises in child benefits acknowledges no external point of reference other than the need to progress towards the child poverty goal as ‘cheaply’ as possible. Given the historically unprecedented differential between child and adult benefits that now prevails, this is just no longer enough. Instead, we have to look at the system of social security benefits in the round and decide how their values should stand in relation to one another”.
I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, has raised a very interesting question, which goes back to a much earlier debate in Committee about what weight we put on individual members of the family in calculating overall benefit. He is absolutely right to say that younger single people—single people of working age—have, relatively speaking, a poorer level of benefit than almost anyone else.
Why is that? It is because the Government, from the beginning in 1997, has been concentrating on three strategies. The first was to help to lift pensioners out of poverty; and pensioners are no longer poorer than anyone else in society. The second was to tackle child poverty, especially through tax credits, which can compensate in a way that wages cannot for family size. The Government have been able to support children in poverty. The third was people with disabilities. Although that may not have gone as far as many of us would wish, none the less, the disability living allowance, introduced by a previous Government but built on by this one, together with additional disability benefits, has helped most disabled people out of poverty.
Across society, I think that that leaves only single people of working age who have not had a similar uplift. Why is that? It is because, if they are not disabled, there is every assumption that the best strategy to help them out of poverty is to help them into the labour market. The Government’s whole strategy, from Jobcentre Plus onwards through the New Deals, and so on, has been to help those people into the labour market. The noble Lord himself said earlier that a pound earned for yourself is of far more value than a pound received from benefit. That is what the government strategy has been and I am sure it is the right one. Those who are dependent, rightly so, on the state—whether they are children, or pensioners or have disabilities—have had the upliftings of benefit. Those most able to help themselves, quite rightly, have had the support of the Government to help them to re-enter the labour market. That surely is the right strategy for the Government to employ.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his amendment; I will be brief in responding to it. The amendment requires that, in preparing the UK strategy, the Secretary of State must consider the impact that any measure taken will have on “other people” in poverty.
We debated this amendment at Committee, as the noble Lord acknowledged. As I said then, it cannot be the remit of the child poverty strategy to consider the impact of every proposed measure on other groups that may be living in poverty. However, the Secretary of State will not be able to take policy and spending decisions on measures to prevent and tackle child poverty in isolation. Indeed, such decisions will be taken in the round and through prioritisation at key fiscal events, including the Pre-Budget and Budget Reports, and Departmental Spending Reviews. This addresses the issues and strategies that my noble friend Lady Hollis referred to.
In addition, the Bill already includes a better safeguard than the noble Lord proposed in his amendment. Clause 15 requires the likely impact of any measure on the economy and on taxation, public spending and public borrowing to be taken into account by the Secretary of State when preparing a UK strategy and by the commission when considering any advice to be given to the Secretary of State or the devolved Administrations. The effect is to require the commission and UK, Scottish and Northern Ireland Ministers to have regard to budgetary constraints and value for money in developing and advising on strategies. This will necessarily need to balance the impact of any measures on other policy areas and priority groups. I hope the noble Lord is reassured by this.
However, I make no apologies that this Bill aims to tackle child poverty and focuses firmly on measures aimed directly at the child, putting their needs first. Requiring in law that the child poverty strategy must consider every impact on every “other group” would be the wrong approach and would not help us to reach our goal of ending child poverty. I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, this has been short debate. It deserves more thought than we have given it here. It goes to the heart of some very difficult issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, drove at those when she discussed the implications of the working of the poverty trap. She said that if people have low levels of benefit they have more incentive to go to work. We discussed that in the context of the iron triangle, the poverty trap and those issues—
I thank the noble Baroness for that. I am not quite sure I understand the distinction. For all groups, that argument basically works: if you have no money, you are incentivised to go into the labour market. That might be true—it is a question of degree and where you draw the line. We spent a lot time discussing that.
The issue that I am most concerned about in this area involves young people who are least supported, and particularly young girls. We go straight back to the maternal nutrition argument and the argument that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, made earlier that nutrition at the point of conception and even pre-conception matters so much for the development of the child. If we get a badly imbalanced benefits system, which is what the Rowntree Foundation is telling us we have now got, we are building problems in that area for the future.
I cannot accept the Minister’s assurance that the protection for this is in Clause 15. That talks about the impact on the economy as a whole, not on any poor groups within it. I do not think we have a defence for this. If we do not have a defence here we will not have a defence and the likelihood is that the trend we are already seeing, which is to get a more and more unbalanced benefits system, is likely to be locked in. With that warning, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.