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Child Poverty

Volume 734: debated on Tuesday 24 January 2012


Asked By

My Lords, the Government are committed to eradicating child poverty but recognise that income measures and targets do not tell the full story about the causes and consequences of childhood disadvantage. We will measure the success of our approach to tackling child poverty through a new set of indicators including, but not limited to, the income targets set out in the Child Poverty Act. They include measures of family circumstances and drivers of children’s life chances.

I thank the Minister for that response. Does he accept that children are in poverty through no fault of their own and that, in neglecting early years, social costs may be very significant later? Will he also say whether proposed legislation such as the Welfare Reform Bill and the legal aid Bill will have a negative or positive impact on child poverty?

My Lords, we certainly agree on the importance of early intervention. We have put in a number of measures to reinforce that, including: the fairness premium, on which £7.2 billion is being spent; the expansion of free early education for three and four year-olds and for 40 per cent of two year-olds; and the introduction of the pupil premium. As for the Bills mentioned, in the long run the universal credit is predicted to take 350,000 children out of poverty, but rather more important than that is reducing the number of workless households by 300,000. That is a behavioural response. On legal aid, we have retained legal aid for child parties in virtually all family cases.

The Minister has said that the best way to get children out of poverty is to ensure that their families are in employment. How do the Government intend to bring the number of jobs available into line with the unemployment figures in the short term rather than the long term, because it is short-term measures that will have an effect on children? In addition to the issues he has outlined, what other financial help will he give to families in the short term while jobs are becoming available?

My Lords, we have a large number of measures to deal with unemployment in the short, medium and long terms, but the really important area here is to look at the long-term unemployed who have been excluded from economic activity. That is one of the most important areas of effort that we are undertaking to try and get those families back into the economic activity of the country.

My Lords, the work programme is one of the cornerstones of the Government’s action to alleviate child poverty. Today’s NAO report on the work programme reports that harder-to-help people are not being referred to the programme in the numbers expected. Surely, as the Minister has said, this is the most important group to help to get back into work. What response does my noble friend have to the NAO report in that respect?

My Lords, we are concerned about the slow way that people on ESA are moving into the work programme and we are looking closely at how to accelerate that process. Clearly, one of the ambitions of the programme is to get the hardest-to-help people back into the workforce, and there has been a rather slow start in that area.

My Lords, can the Minister explain why the Government dismissed the projected 100,000 increase in child poverty due to tax credit cuts as a “statistical quirk” arising from the relative nature of that poverty when, in opposition, the Prime Minister promised,

“loud and clear … the Conservative Party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty”?

My Lords, one of the recent decisions we have taken was to up-rate benefits by the CPI at 5.2 per cent, when average earnings in the period have increased by 2.8 per cent. Interestingly, that is the core reason why the IFS projections for this year and next show a decline on last year. Looking further ahead, we clearly have a lot of work to do in maintaining any reduction in child poverty and the IFS warns us that we need to have government policies to do that. However, I should point out that what we are driving towards is behavioural change, whereas the IFS measures concrete changes of income transfer.

My Lords, further to the previous question, the Institute for Fiscal Studies report suggests that within three years, by 2015, the number of children in poverty will have increased by 400,000. What will the Government’s response be?

My Lords, I was trying to answer that question just now. The IFS projections are valuable and important, but they do not absorb changes in future policy and they do not make any assumptions as to behavioural change; many of the policies that we are driving are trying to get people back into work and reduce worklessness in that way. In particular, as regards universal credit, the report does not take into account the reduction in workless families that we are expecting.

My Lords, if the reforms going through the House at the moment are carried, many families lose their homes and children are put into care, the cost will be £2,900 a week for each child who is in care. Have the Government taken that into consideration?

As noble Lords will know, we are not expecting that kind of change as a result of our policies. We have in that sense taken that into account.