Committee (1st Day)
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 11: Changes to child tax credit
1: Clause 11, page 13, line 11, after “person,” insert—
“( ) the child is in the household as a result of a kinship care or private fostering arrangement,”
My Lords, my concerns about this measure, along with those of other faith groups and organisations, are set out in the briefing note that my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham circulated to all Members of the House prior to the Second Reading debate. In that note we expressed our belief that children are a blessing and that anything that sends an implicit or explicit message that a child is unwanted or burdensome should be strongly resisted.
The stated rationale for the policy outlined in this measure is to ensure that people on benefits and tax credits face the same financial choices around the number of children they can afford as do those supporting themselves through work. I understand, and support, the Government’s desire to encourage responsibility through the welfare system. However, it is important that personal responsibility is not defined too narrowly or in purely financial terms, and that it encompasses our responsibilities to our families and neighbours, and to the communities to which we belong.
I turn to the amendments in this group. Kinship carers, for example grandparents, older siblings and other relatives and friends who step in to care for children, many of whom would otherwise be in the care system, are affected by these proposals. We have a responsibility towards these people and the Bill does not adequately reflect the share we all properly have in caring for and supporting them. These children are unable to live safely at home because of domestic abuse, their parents’ mental health problems, alcohol or drug misuse or the death of a parent.
In purely financial terms, becoming a kinship carer is an unwise decision. Kinship carers face significant additional costs and often a loss of income as the majority are forced to give up work temporarily or permanently to look after these children. Yet many people take on this responsibility sacrificially out of a commitment to love and care for their extended family, often at great personal expense to their own emotional and physical health. Thanks to their dedication, children in kinship care do significantly better than children in unrelated care, despite having suffered similar adverse experiences. In personal financial terms, it is an unwise decision: in social and community terms, it is a generous and good decision.
For example, Jane is a paternal grandmother and kinship carer. She and her husband are raising four grandchildren who are all under six years old. The children cannot live with their parents due to severe physical abuse. Although Jane and her husband get some special guardianship allowance support from the local authority, they are reliant on tax credits.
Jane tried to continue at first working full time when she and her husband took on the children, but it was too much. The children were suffering with their health and their well-being. They were upset, too. And she did not get any help with child care. Eventually her husband gave up his business to care for them so that Jane could work three days a week. If their tax credits are reduced, she would obviously have to go back to work full time in order for them to manage financially, at the expense of the needs of those very vulnerable children.
It has been estimated by the Family Rights Group that there are around 200,000 children being raised by kinship carers across the nation. More than one in five kinship-care families contains three or more children, and nearly two-thirds of these receive tax credits—around 18,000 families in total. The changes proposed in the Bill with the consequent reduced financial support for these families could well stop potential kinship carers from being able to take on the care of a sibling group of children, or lead to the splitting of a group of three or more siblings, or discourage carers from taking on an additional child if they already have dependent children of their own.
This is clearly not in the children’s best interests, nor in society’s—and nor is it in the Chancellor’s best interests. Exempting this group from Clauses 11 and 12, as I and others are proposing, would reduce the savings to the Exchequer by an estimated £30 million in 2020-21. That is down from £1,365 million in savings to £1,335 million. It would require only 200 kinship carers to be financially prohibited from taking on a sibling group of three or more for the extra care and court costs to outweigh any public savings. In care, the cost per year of a child is about £40,000: the one-off court costs are about £25,000.
The Government’s long-standing commitment to ensuring that families are stable is welcome. Will the Minister be able to agree with us that creating the best possible environment for children to flourish would be best enabled by reviewing this proposal? The moral case for supporting this group of amendments is sufficient, in my view, but the economic case is strong, too.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 16 and 17 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton and to support the other amendments in this group. I fully support the case on kinship care set out so carefully by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. There are some common arguments that apply to adoption and kinship care, the two subjects in this group, and reasons that the Government should think very carefully before deciding not to provide tax credits and universal credit to third and subsequent children in those settings.
First and most obviously, we should not be putting financial barriers in the way of families willing to take on what are often very vulnerable children. As the right reverend Prelate has pointed out, if such families are deterred, the state is likely to find that the costs go up, albeit not to the Department of Work and Pensions, but I hope the Minister would not be so parochial as to allow that in any way to influence him.
The average child tax credit claimed for a family of three or more children is £3,670, but, as the right reverend Prelate has pointed out, the NAO found in 2014 that it cost £40,000 a year to foster a child, aside from the one-off costs. How can that make sense? In many cases, had those children been able to stay with their birth families, tax credits would have been payable for them anyway, so it is not as though the cost is increasing. As we have heard, there is clear evidence that children in kinship care settings do better than those in unrelated care, despite having similar adverse circumstances.
As we have also heard, kinship carers will be affected in a range of other ways, which we may come on to later in the Bill, but I, too, have had some examples given to me which were very moving. As well as grandparent care of the kind described by the right reverend Prelate, there are cases of sibling care. In a case brought to my attention of a lone parent who died of cancer leaving three children, the eldest of those children was over 18. So, supported by a charity and planned jointly with the mother, it was arranged for her to become the responsible carer of the two younger siblings when the mother died.
As an example of relative care, when another lone parent died leaving three children—all under 12—they were taken in by the lone parent’s sister and husband, who already had two children of their own. Both parents were in low-paid work but felt that offering a permanent home to these three children was the right thing to do. Without child tax credits, kinship care simply would not be an option for such families. They could not afford to maintain the children. Even with the support that they were getting, the reason that I came to know about them was that they applied to the charity Family Action for a grant to provide school uniforms and bunk beds for the three extra children who they were taking on, because they simply could not afford to pay for them otherwise.
There are also a number of other private fostering arrangements where friends or other relatives provide what may be shorter-term care—for example, when somebody may be hospitalised for a mental health issue or for cancer treatment. Private fostering arrangements can be registered where that is felt by the social workers or carers to be in the interests of the child. A social worker may sometimes seek an interim placement to avoid taking a child into care temporarily. If the Minister is willing to indicate at the end that he will look further at kinship care, will he look at the small group of private fostering arrangements along with that?
Amendments 16 and 17, which are in my name, would exempt children who enter a household as a result of adoption. It is government policy to increase the number of children who are adopted. Ministers have spoken much about this—they have already devoted £150 million to the adoption reform grant—but this policy will directly undermine that policy objective. Adoption provides huge savings to the public purse because the family takes on responsibility for the children as though they were their own biological children. It also has demonstrably better outcomes for children. There are very small numbers of children affected in these cases, and any savings for the DWP will be dwarfed by costs elsewhere in the system.
I have been trying to get a sense of the scale. In March 2015, there were 69,540 looked-after children—virtually 70,000. Only 5,330 of those children were adopted from care during that year and 1,930 of those, which is 36%, were part of a sibling group. I do not know how many of those sibling groups consisted of at least three children but it means that, in this relatively small group, this is potentially a significant issue. Adoptive parents often have children of their own, in addition to the children whom they adopt, and there will be a clear financial disincentive if adopting would take them over the two-child limit. I am also very concerned that there will be a disincentive to adopt sibling groups if the two-child limit applies. Adopters are often specifically asked to take on sibling groups together, but if there are three or more siblings or children already in the household, that will be too much to ask of them. One of the consequences is that children will stay in foster care for longer, waiting for an adoption placement at £40,000 per annum but also making it harder for them to be adopted.
I have one brief case study. I spoke last week to a delightful woman called Ruth, who gave me permission to tell her story. She and her husband adopted three children who were siblings. She spoke movingly about the wonderful family that she had but said that it had not been easy, either emotionally or financially. She gave up work when the children were placed with her for quite a time because, overnight, she and her husband suddenly had three children under four who had significant attachment issues and needed her undivided attention. Part of the decision to place the children with her was the fact that she would give up work in the early years to look after them. Her husband is a vicar, however, so money was tight. She told me that tax credits made all the difference to her ability to take on those children and care for them. As she put it, “Tax credits helped us hugely. It is not like growing into a family of three kids. Expenses increase immediately”. Of course they do, when there is no handing down of clothes or toys, or buggies or beds, and no time to save up as the family grows. Suddenly, overnight, you are a family. She also described some of the hidden costs of adopting because of the extra pressure on families where there are children who have significant attachment issues. Families end up spending quite a bit of money on extra tuition and other external support.
There is already a shortage of parents willing to adopt sibling groups. Social workers struggle to find placements for three—and, occasionally, four or five—siblings so they stay in the care system for longer. Of course, the longer they stay in care, the harder it gets to place them because, unfortunately, it is harder to place older children. This costs vastly more than adoption but also damages the children, and the only alternative is to break up sibling groups, which is also very damaging to the children. Ruth spoke very movingly of how the sibling bond can often be the only stabilising factor in a group of children who have otherwise lost everything.
Kinship care and private fostering and adoption provide huge savings to the public purse and better outcomes for children. Relatively small numbers are affected and any money saved here will be offset by higher costs elsewhere in the system. Can the Minister tell the Committee what attempts the department has made to assess whether the effect of this Bill will be to deter families with children from adopting more children? What assessment has the department made of whether it is likely that sibling groups will be less likely to be adopted as a result? Has the Minister discussed the impact of this change with his DfE colleagues? Finally, what assessment has he made of whether costs will increase elsewhere in government? I hope the Minister has some information for us because, if he was simply to say that no attempt has been made to consider those impacts, that would obviously be irresponsible. I know he is not an irresponsible Minister, so I look forward to hearing his reply.
My Lords, we on these Benches also agree with kinship care as an adoption exemption. According to the Children’s Society, kinship carers support an estimated 200,000 children across the UK. These, as we have already heard, are families who have taken in children, often in difficult circumstances, out of love and kindness. They could find it all the harder to do so if they are unable to access any additional support through the tax credits system. Although the Government and David Cameron personally have said that they want to dramatically improve the adoption process, stopping child tax credits and universal credit for those who adopt or take in family members or friends runs counter to what they have said in the past. Can the Minister say what has changed?
My Lords, my name is attached to Amendments 1 and 16 in this group. First, can I make an apology to the Minister and the Committee? On Second Reading, I feel I was rather too soft on the Government. I commend the Government for their achievements in terms of employment, but there are several areas in this Bill that cause me real concern the more I contemplate them, and I should have said more about them at Second Reading.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate—if I may agree with him—that it would be unwise for the Government not to pay full attention to these amendments. I was speaking to a kinship carer earlier today. She was a godmother to a child. About six years ago, the child’s mother came into difficulties so she became a kinship carer. It was very challenging for her because local authorities do not offer much support at all for such carers. The child must have been about 11 when she came into the godmother’s care. Over the last six years, the girl has done well and done well at school. About a year ago, the carer adopted the girl. Currently, the girl is making applications to university and it is very good to see how well she has thrived, first under the kinship care arrangement and now under the adoption arrangement.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, said, people in care often lack stable relationships and the only one they may have is with their siblings, yet it can be difficult to find a foster carer or an adoptive parent who will take on a sibling group. We should be very careful to avoid any disincentive to potential adopters to do that. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of Delma Hughes, a care leaver herself, who never got to know her five siblings. As an adult with care experience, she set up a charity called Siblings Together, which she has now been running for about 10 years. It provides holiday gatherings for siblings in care and opportunities for them, for example, to go to the Young Vic and perform in plays together or to go off to write poetry together, which bring together separated siblings and are immensely important for them.
I am sure the Minister will give a very sympathetic response to these concerns, which I look forward to. I also thank the Family Rights Group, which provided a very helpful briefing for this amendment on kinship care and has been working in this area for many years. I very much value its work, as I am sure all those in this area do.
My Lords, I, too, support these amendments, although as I have a debate tomorrow in the dinner break on kinship care, I will not detain the Committee at great length. As my noble friend on the Front Bench said, both the outcomes for kinship carers and the financial issues point to the Government needing to think again.
Kinship care is, by any measure, the most successful means of looking after vulnerable children who cannot live with their parent or parents. All the evidence points that way. However, the evidence also shows that more than 70% of kinship carers are technically in poverty. I know that there will be arguments about what that means, but the reality is that these families struggle. They do this because they want the children to have the very best opportunities, but when people become a kinship carer, as my noble friend and the right reverend Prelate said, they take the family on immediately. Very often, the children whom they are now taking care of will be traumatised and have real challenges. That also means that many of them are unable to work—certainly until they have got the children settled and the children are strong and resilient enough to be able to manage with their carer at work.
The costs of care are enormous, both in terms of the outcomes for children and financially. Have the Government considered, across government, the financial burden that they will be putting on to families that may then break down because kinship carers will not be able to maintain the care of more than two children? Have they considered the emotional and other burdens that they will also be inflicting on those kinship carers who end up having more than two children to care for? They have not sought this or set out to have two children: they do it because arrangements with the parents, for whatever reason, have broken down. I hope that the Government have thought about this and realised that this is an area that they really do have to exempt.
My Lords, I support the amendments in this group, because Clause 11 removes eligibility for the child element of child tax credits for the third and subsequent children and Clause 12 introduces the two-child limit for receipt of the child element of universal credit for families making a new claim. Families with three or more children could lose up to £2,780 per year for each additional child, and may also face the loss of the family element of tax credits—currently £540 per year per family.
Like other noble Lords, I am deeply concerned about the impact of these changes on the families of friends and kinship carers. Some 22% have three or more children in their household—about 29,000 families. That is why these amendments seek to exempt kinship carers from the two-child limit. Otherwise, future carers voluntarily taking on vulnerable children will hit a financial barrier to support, even where the third child is disabled. Yet these carers will still incur significant costs and may face financial distress from taking on these children. Kinship carers provide vital support for some 200,000 children when parents are unable to care for them, often because of urgent circumstances. The children frequently have emotional difficulties, often because they have been living with parents who are drug-dependent or who have abused or neglected them.
The Family Rights Group estimates that exempting carers from the two-child limit would cost £30 million. Yet these carers already save taxpayers the cost of placing the children in care. To restate the figures referred to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, the cost of keeping a child in care for a year is £40,000. The cost of care proceedings is £25,000. The savings that the 132,000 kinship families deliver by voluntarily caring for these 200,000 children run into billions. The disincentive effect of the two-child limit needs to deter only 200 kinship carers from caring in the future for three or more children, and the £30 million saving would be wiped out. That is without counting the human cost to the children.
This disincentive effect on kinship carers is compounded by the benefit cap, which will be set at an increasingly lower level. Kinship carers are not entitled to paid leave while children are settled; they care for the children at their own cost. Some 49% have to give up work when the children move in, or reduce their earnings, because they need to take time to settle a distressed child—often a requirement imposed by the social worker, for good reason. Children can arrive with no notice, after a late evening call from the social worker asking the carer to take the children. The impact of the two-child limit on the kinship carer is deeply unfair, and could act as a disincentive to care for the children. It will impact on future carers, whether working with modest incomes or not working. It will impact harshly on carers who already have their own children, or who are young themselves and want to have their own children—such as the family that Grandparents Plus is in touch with, a sibling carer and his partner who are raising four brothers and sisters since their father’s death as well as their own baby.
Let us look at the reasoning for withdrawing support for any child beyond the first two. The impact assessment advises that the Government expect the limiting of the child element of child tax credit and universal credit to the first two children to,
“encourage parents to reflect carefully on their readiness to support an additional child”.
Of course, such a statement is a nonsense—in fact, contrary to common sense—in the context of kinship carers. The need is not to get such carers to reflect carefully on their readiness to care for the vulnerable child. To the contrary, public policy needs to support such carers in their readiness to care for an additional vulnerable child. That is better for the children and secures savings for the state by not placing them in the care system. Kinship carers are not the birth parents of the children, but voluntarily embrace their care. The Government stress that the limits on benefits beyond the first two children is a behaviour-related measure, because,
“encouraging parents to reflect carefully on their readiness to support an additional child could have a positive effect on overall family stability”.
However, such reasoning is incoherent when applied to kinship carers. Encouraging carers to pause and reflect on the disincentives in the Bill on taking responsibility for a vulnerable child could, perversely, have a negative effect on the family stability available to the child. Kinship carers should not be disincentivised; they should be supported.
During the passage of the Children and Families Bill, I listened to a BBC radio programme examining the experiences of kinship carers and interviewing a lady who recounted the night—she remembered the date, having celebrated her birthday with her own two children—when her doorbell rang around midnight. She opened the door to see a police officer, a social worker and two distressed children, her sister’s children, at risk of domestic violence. She told movingly of how she had raised those children along with her own two, and had struggled, with little support from the local authority services, and of how proud she was of the recent graduation of the little girl on her doorstep that night. That alone was a powerful story but she went on to recall how, a few years after that night, the doorbell rang, again late at night. This time, the policeman and the social worker were holding her sister’s baby. The interviewer asked if she was tempted to decline to take the baby in view of the lack of support that she had received previously. I remember the incredulity in the woman’s voice at the question, and the power of her answer to the effect of: “How could I abandon a little baby just because I had been poorly treated?”. She brought up five children, two that she gave birth two and three that she embraced. I ask the Minister: if someone like that lady were faced with a similar scenario in future, under this Bill, what behavioural response would the Government be seeking to achieve from them with the two-child limit on benefits?
If the Government disincentivise kinship carers, the people they will hurt are vulnerable children. I doubt that that would pass the public litmus test. The Minister has previously demonstrated his understanding of the importance of kinship carers to vulnerable children, so I ask him to commit to considering that kinship carers be exempted from the two-child limit on benefits. It does not make sense, either for the interests of the child or in terms of public expenditure.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Drake. The House owes her a debt because of the exemplary work that she has done over many months and years on the subject of kinship caring. Her speech will repay careful study, and I shall look forward to doing that when the Official Report is printed.
This is going to be a harder Committee stage in social security terms than some that we have had in the past. This is basically a Bill that reduces money but does little else of interest. However, it is a very important one. I noticed that the very mild-mannered noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, characterised it as the most wretched Bill that he had ever seen in his life. That is a considered view from a moderate man, so we need to be careful about how we take our proceedings forward.
The Bill dramatically changes the money and resources available to the social security system. I am sure that everyone understands that there is a case in periods of austerity for making special arrangements to deal with immediate and urgent circumstances. However, we need to be careful that we are not making changes that, as if by magic, get woven into the social security fabric in perpetuity. What I am most worried about—this is really a discussion for clause stand part on Clauses 11 and 12—is that the two-child limit is going into universal credit. That is a matter of great concern to me. I say in passing that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was contrite earlier about having been too nice to the Government. Indeed he was, but I am pleased that he has put the record straight.
The department has certainly done a very good job, because the universal credit situation could have been a whole lot worse, which would have overshadowed all these proceedings in Committee. The way we contrive to support people is important, particularly those with larger families; it is mainly ethnic minority communities which have that culture, which we know predisposes them to risk of poverty, and we need to take that into account along with everything else as we go forward.
The Minister needs to listen carefully to the case for exemptions. The Committee will be faced, certainly at the later stages of proceedings on the Bill, with deciding to what extent what the Government are trying to do is reasonable in the long term as well as in the short term. As far as I am concerned—I put it bluntly on the record and cannot make it any clearer than this—I am willing to work with the Government to mitigate some of the sharp edges of the Bill as regards the savings that they hope to make. If the Government are willing to make concessions and think carefully, which the Minister in the past has demonstrated he can successfully do, and if he is willing to go away and look at some of these exemptions we are talking about today, I would be much more disposed to decline to support attempts on the Marshalled List to vote against Clauses 11 and 12 standing part. I will approach the Bill in that way. I will not be unreasonable; I perfectly well understand the financial exigencies that we must face and the continuous battle the department has with the Treasury—it would be unrealistic not to accept that. However, the onus is on the department to look at ways of mitigating some of the changes in the Bill, because it needs to be changed.
I said at Second Reading that I wanted to pursue preventive spending. After the cases that have been made, by the right reverend Prelate and others, I find it hard to believe that a saving of £30 million would not risk a much greater public cost in other silos within Treasury spend across central government as a whole. Therefore the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, on whether the Government have done any work about what it would cost if we reduced the support to kinship carers in this way is important.
The situation we face as a Committee will be difficult to reconcile unless the Government are able to answer some of these questions, certainly about spending money and investing to save in future. I certainly hope that the Government will think very carefully about some of the powerful speeches that have been made, in particular on kinship carers.
My Lords, I will say a few words about kinship care. I remember the Minister speaking twice on this topic at previous Committee stages. I think that he knows the issues and is sympathetic to them—he certainly was the last time we met to discuss the issue of kinship carers. My noble friend Lady Armstrong has tabled a debate on this topic tomorrow, when I shall say much more, but this issue of adding complexity to the lives of kinship carers is important. Kinship carers deserve all the help they can get not to be landed with some other complex issue of how many children they can care for.
I recall being chair of the National Treatment Agency some years ago, where I came across quite a few grandparents who were carers—I think grandparents make up some 40% of kinship carers. The grandparents called themselves the midnight grannies, because they were often landed with children. But I am talking about complexity because they do not have the support they need. I met people who were getting no support—neither advice nor financial support from the local authority; it seemed to me to be hit or miss as to how local authorities behaved. Some grandparents had court battles about the children they were caring for. These are people in distress, as are the children. The grandparents have lost a daughter or son—they may be in prison, be dead or be using drugs and alcohol—and the children have lost their parents. So there is a lot of distress in the family, and yet these kinship carers are coping with that. One of them said to me, “I’m tired of filling in these forms when I should be reading to my grandson”. That is how it works: they have to fill in forms and go to court, rather than being able to spend time caring for the children as they would want to.
It is a complex issue and I think that we ought to be aware of that—I am sure the Minister is aware of that. Therefore, we do not want to heap complexity on these people who, after all, save the state a huge amount of money a year for each child they care for.
My Lords, if I were the Minister, I would grasp with alacrity the olive branch—or is it fig leaf?—that was offered by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope. Personally, I oppose the principle of these clauses, but I will talk about that later. I will speak only very briefly now in support of all the amendments in the group. We have heard some very powerful speeches that show the unintended and undesirable social policy consequences of these clauses, which I cannot believe the Government wish to happen. I hope that the Minister will reflect very carefully on these speeches.
At Second Reading, the Minister gave a little hint that, at least on kinship carers, he might be willing to consider an exemption, although I understand that nothing has been taken forward on that. He also said that the Government,
“will look at the important issues around exemption through secondary legislation and will provide more detail in due course”.—[Official Report, 17/11/15; col. 125.]
As well as adding my support to these amendments, I simply want to ask the Minister what he means by “due course”. We really have to have these details before Report. We should not go to Report until we have these details about exemptions.
I remind the Minister that on the previous Welfare Reform Bill the Joint Committee on Human Rights made very clear how important it is that, even if we cannot have the regulations themselves—I can quite understand why that is not possible—from a human rights perspective we should have full details of what will be in the regulations. I hope that, at the very least, the Minister can give us that assurance today and that he will think hard about the arguments that have been made already.
My Lords, I want to speak extremely briefly because the speech I might have made has already been made by other noble Lords in terms of detail.
Having listened to the Minister talk in various venues about wanting to ensure that there are no unintended consequences from this legislation, I want him to think carefully on the speeches that have been made and about what basis of philosophy or principle the Government have underlying this legislation. I know the basic tenet is that they want to make sure that parents can work and that all children are able to achieve the best educational outcomes—those are the Government’s own words. But some of these measures will undermine that and take families into greater financial hardship. I am particularly interested in the children, because taking those families into greater financial hardship will reduce the life chances of those children. Those of us who have worked with children down the years have seen the consequences of that, not only the emotional consequences but the financial consequences.
All the arguments around larger families, kinship care, adoption and the very many informal arrangements that families make to ensure that their children are emotionally cared for have been made. Again, I hope that the Minister will reflect on that in the context of his own Government’s policy and objectives.
We are a nation that should care. Indeed, the Minister’s party described itself as a “caring party”. I also admire the Government’s objective of ensuring that children make their own way and are not left in poverty because of parental behaviour. However, we know that you can affect that behaviour, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and others have said, by the kind of care that they receive themselves and are able to reflect with their children. Therefore, will the Minister tell us how he intends to ensure that the Government’s philosophy and principles are reflected in the way that they deal with large families, particularly those from disadvantaged groups?
I thank noble Lords for some very good speeches. To pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, I have listened to those speeches very carefully, although I am not in a position today to provide much satisfaction as I stand here. Let me begin by setting the context for the policy.
Does that mean that the Minister will give satisfaction to us before Report?
No, it means that I am not in a position to provide any satisfaction and, by definition, that position does not change.
Let me begin by setting the context for the policy, which will remain relevant for the other amendments on these clauses. At the 2015 summer Budget, the Government announced their plans to move from a low-wage, high-tax and high-welfare economy to a higher-wage, lower-tax and lower-welfare society. This is part of the Government’s plan to deliver a new deal for working families, which also includes incentives to ensure that those who are in work are rewarded fairly. As part of this, we announced reforms to child tax credit and universal credit to help put welfare spending back on to a sustainable footing.
The tax credits system has become too generous. As introduced by the last Labour Government, it was originally forecast to cost £11 billion in its first year. In fact, tax credit expenditure more than trebled in real terms between 1999 and 2010; and increased by £9.6 billion in real terms between 2004-05 and 2014-15. Currently, the benefit system adjusts automatically to family size, while many families supporting themselves solely through work do not see their budgets rise in the same way when they have more children. The average number of dependent children in families in the UK in 2012 was 1.7, so the Government feel that it is fair and proportionate to limit additional support provided by the taxpayer through child tax credit and the child element of universal credit to two children.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but may I ask him about the difference between those families who choose to have more children—which I understand, in relation to the policy—and those who find themselves with more children, which saves the state money because of circumstances that have been described today?
That is the point of these amendments, which I am in the process of dealing with, so I will provide the government response to those exemptions.
Turning to the amendments themselves, these are intended to specify circumstances in which the policy to limit child tax credit and the child element in universal credit would not apply. Amendments 1, 9 and 17 are intended to allow exemptions where the child is a member of the household through kinship care or a private fostering arrangement, and Amendment 16 where the child is a member of the household through being adopted. Amendment 10 is an enabling amendment to allow for exemptions to be made in relation to Clause 12.
Amendments 1 and 9 are intended to provide an exemption for particular children who are,
“in the household as a result of a kinship care or private fostering arrangement”.
Amendments 16 and 17 would not apply to particular children or young persons but would exempt households from the limit of two children in child tax credit and universal credit where the specified circumstances applied to,
“a third (or subsequent) child”.
Thus a household with three children, limited to two children, who adopted a fourth child would then receive the child element for the four children. By limiting support to two children in child tax credit and in universal credit, the Government are ensuring that the system is fair to those taxpayers who fund it, as well as those who benefit from it.
The Government do recognise the vital role that kinship carers play. For example, in universal credit, kinship carers will have to attend periodic interviews only for the first year after a child joins their household, which enables the carer to focus on helping the child through this difficult period. To pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, about the Government’s attitude to adoption, the Government take the importance of adoption very seriously. In the summer Budget, the Government provided £30 million to support the creation of regional adoption agencies to help speed the adoption process.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned the exemptions outlined at Second Reading. The Government have been consistent since the summer Budget in saying that we will exempt a third or subsequent child or young person who is one of a multiple birth where the multiple birth takes the number of children or young persons in a household above two, and that we will exempt a third or subsequent child born as the result of rape. Those are the exemptions that we have spelled out. We have also been clear that the exemptions will be dealt with in secondary legislation and we will provide more detailed information on those exemptions to noble Lords ahead of the next stage of the Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked about the assessment that we have done in terms of the policy deterring adoption and the taking on of sibling groups. That was contained in the impact assessment of 20 July. We have considered the impacts, which in effect meet our obligations set out in the public sector equality duty.
Amendment 10 is unnecessary as regards recognising the need for exemptions to apply in certain circumstances. We have the power in Clause 12(4) to specify exemptions to the limit. As I said, as was set in the summer Budget, we will make those particular exemptions.
Amendments 16 and 17 propose to establish an appeals process. Comprehensive appeals arrangements already exist in relation to social security and tax credits, and these arrangements will apply to any decisions made under the provisions in the Bill, as well as to exemptions set out in regulations. There is therefore no need to establish a new appeals process. For the reasons I have set out, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.
At Second Reading, when the Minister talked about the exemptions that the Government have made clear will be included, he said:
“The situation with kinship carers is similar”.—[Official Report, 17/11/15; col. 125.]
Why is he today saying that he is now not prepared even to consider the situation of kinship carers? What has changed?
If I misspoke at Second Reading, I apologise to the Committee. I was saying that they were a similarly important group; I was not trying to say that there would be an exemption. I did not make that statement.
My Lords, the Minister made much of the financial probity argument and said that tax credit expenditure had raced away out of control, with a threefold increase between its first year and today, at £30 billion. Will he confirm that, at the same time, the bill for income support has fallen from nearly £16 billion in 1996-97, when we inherited it from the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, to £2.9 billion now, because tax credits have helped people who depended on out-of-work benefits to come into work, as we all wanted? Will he also confirm what the OBR has told us: that welfare expenditure, including pensions, was 12% of GDP in 1983-84, was 12% of GDP in 1993-94 and today is 12% of GDP? So the untrue cliché that expenditure is racing away and out of control is not supported by the facts.
I think the facts that the noble Baroness is comparing are somewhat spurious. Working age IS was £15.8 billion in 1996-97 in real terms, but when you apply that to lone parents—which the noble Baroness was, I think—the figure was only £6.4 billion. The best way to do this comparison is to take all the figures for tax credits and their predecessors—family credit, disability working allowance, child allowance, IS and JSA—and see where they have gone. Those figures have gone up from £7.1 billion in 1997-98 to £30.8 billion in 2010-11. It is really important, when we get into the figures in this area, that we look at like for like.
Would the Minister like also to give us the figures for the number of self-employed people who have been able to move into the labour market, alongside those for lone parents, whose median income is £10,000 a year, who are also dependent on tax credits and who, 10 or 15 years ago, were among the unemployed?
Of course, one of the most interesting things about the way tax credit has moved is that people who might have gone into the benefits system may well have gone into the self-employed tax credit system, but the figures I have just provided are the best comparison and include the self-employed on tax credits. They show an enormous increase in the overall figure. Because this is clearly a complex set of figures, I am very happy to write formally to the noble Baroness setting out the true figures on this important matter.
My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can help me. When I asked what assessment the Government had made about the impact on the likelihood of couples to adopt sibling groups, and whether costs would increase elsewhere, he kindly referred me to the impact assessment. I spent quite a bit of time this weekend reading the impact assessment, being a slightly sad person, and I cannot actually find the section which refers to adoption at all, to sibling groups in particular, or, indeed, to costs elsewhere in any government department. If he can point me to the page or paragraph number, it would be very helpful.
While I am on my feet, the Minister may have forgotten to answer the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, who asked specifically about the impact on couples who had not made a choice. The Government mention in the impact assessment that one of their objectives is to ensure that families make the same choice about the number of children they have as might other families who are not in receipt of tax credits—of which more later; watch this space. I think the point the noble Baroness was making is that the kind of choice you get at midnight, when the knock on the door comes, as described by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, is not quite the same as the choice other families make. Has any distinction been made?
It is actually extraordinarily hard to draw up a system. Those choices are different for different groups. What we are trying to do in this measure is make the choices the same whether you are reliant on the state support system—tax credits—or whether you are reliant on your own resources. That is the parity we are looking for here. That, I am afraid, is the best I can do in terms of the government response.
Has the Minister responded to the question about the impact assessment? I am sorry, which page is it on?
Again, all I can say is that the impact assessment looks at all the impacts. The costs and savings derived are based on the full gamut of impacts.
Perhaps I may say this to the Minister. That is why I was looking back at the reasoning for this policy. When it comes to kinship carers, it cannot possibly be directed at influencing the decision of the carers as to whether or not a woman conceives and has another child, because kinship carers are taking on other people’s children. The choice is whether you embrace a vulnerable child or you abandon them. That is a totally different choice from someone in a family where their parent decides to get pregnant and have three, four or five children. Therefore the reasoning that applies to the person choosing to become pregnant is not the same reasoning that is applied when someone says at midnight, “I will take on this child rather than see them abandoned to the care system”.
Clearly there is a difference between the voluntary and involuntary taking on of children, whether they are your own or anyone else’s. That is what our exemptions are for. We are seeking to try to draw the line between where it is involuntary, as in the case of rape, and where it is not.
First, I thank the Minister for his response, in which he said clearly that he is listening to the concerns raised in what has been expressed in the debate. Perhaps I should speak only for myself. I feel very anxious indeed about the welfare of the children whom we are discussing. I am anxious that children in care or on the edge of care might not have the prospect of a secure home that they currently have if this legislation is brought into being. I would be grateful if the Minister could act as soon as possible to reassure me on this. I am sure that this is a concern for all noble Lords in the Committee.
The question I want to raise with the Minister relates to his introductory comments on the rationale for the two-child limit in terms of child tax credit. I am sure that he will correct me if I am wrong, but he said that the Government are assuming that people make a rational choice when they choose to have a third child, and therefore, given that they are making a rational choice, that it is fair to say, “Of course the state will allow you to have another child, but it will not subsidise that additional child, or at least not to the extent that it has in the past, so you should bear this in mind if you are thinking of having a third child”. That is my rough understanding of what the noble Lord is saying.
When I think about young people in care, I know that most of them come from poverty in the first place, and many of them will go on to have families in poverty. Many will not get good qualifications; only 6% currently go on to university compared with 40% of the wider young people’s population. Their educational attainment remains stubbornly low. On apprenticeships, one hears all the time that these young people do not have the basic mathematical and literacy qualifications to get on to an apprenticeship scheme. So many young people leaving care will end up in poverty.
But we also know that many of them will have children very early. Many young women have children while they are still in care, and many will have them immediately after they leave. This, I suggest, is not a rational choice on their part. One reason that is often given, which seems to me plausible, is that, because they have never been loved themselves, they want to have a child who they believe will love them—and they will have other reasons for starting a family so early. However, they are not starting from a rational point. So my concern—which we will debate this more fully—is that this aspect of the Bill will be particularly disadvantageous to care-experienced adults and care leavers. They will be penalised because their lives are sometimes so chaotic and unhappy that they will start large families and they will be poor, and this area of the Bill will make them poorer still. I wonder if the Minister might say whether he has thought through the implications for care leavers and care-experienced adults of this aspect of the legislation in terms of penalising people who seem to choose to have larger families and who are poor.
I know that the noble Earl is very concerned in this area of the care leaver and I understand exactly where he is coming from. Clearly the Government have a great deal of concern about some of these outcomes for young people in care—the noble Earl touched on some of the figures—but the choices, rational or not, should not be different from those of people who have to support themselves. I know that we will come back to this issue slightly later so I will stop on that particular point because we are dealing with another one today.
My Lords, I understand where the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is coming from and, indeed, I talked about the outcomes for the individual children. On the financial side, have the Government considered the expenditure that other departments will now—or would probably—have to make if this provision goes through as it is currently drafted? My noble friend Lady Sherlock asked the Minister about that and I do not think that he addressed it. While the Department for Work and Pensions may save, other departments will then have to pay more—and the cost of care, of course, is much greater than the cost of tax credits for kinship carers. Have the Government built in the assumptions around that, which are clearly very important?
My understanding is that when we do these assessments we look at all of these aspects. But I have now been asked this question twice and I will go back and double check in this area and write to noble Lords on exactly how we did that set of calculations.
My Lords, I am sure we are grateful for the very thoughtful contributions made in Committee and for the powerful case that these amendments bring to us. I am grateful to the Minister for his recognition of the vital role of kinship carers—albeit that it is a limited recognition in terms of the amendments. I was disappointed by—if I heard the Minister correctly—the inflexibility of his position but grateful for the courtesy with which he heard from us and responded to us, and offered to return with further information.
A lot of emphasis has been placed on the choice that is involved. I fear that a rational choice for many potential kinship carers, if these amendments were not passed, would be the agonising one of not really being able to accept the responsibilities that they would like to accept. I will add that the rational choice for the Government and our society would be to accept the amendments and support these people as they fulfil those responsibilities and offer that love and care.
There has been a lot of emphasis on the cost savings: the potential anticipated initial cost savings and the subsequent costs that might occur to other departments and elsewhere. The important costs are those borne by our society—by the children—which may be significant. Failing to do our best for children is always wrong. Doing less than the best for those who are in these challenging circumstances is a poor reflection on us.
I hope that the Minister may be able to give further consideration to the matters that have been raised this afternoon, to which we may wish to return on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Clause 11, page 13, line 12, at end insert “, or
“(c) subsection (3C) applies.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 2, I shall speak to Amendments 4, 7 and 12 in my name. As we have heard, the Bill introduces a two-child limit on receipt of child tax credits for children born before 5 April 2017 and the child element of universal credit for families making a new claim, whether or not the child is born before April 2017.
My Amendments 2, 4, 7 and 12 are about introducing exemptions. On this, I concur with my noble friend Lord Kirkwood because I understand the budget restrictions that the Minister is facing in relation to the welfare budget. My exemptions also highlight the importance of sensitivity in implementing these provisions. Many exemptions are needed. There are groups of people who cannot make rational decisions—or rational choices, should I say? The problem is about determining whether these exemptions are met, which can be very difficult.
Amendment 2 is an enabling amendment to Amendment 4, which addresses the need for exemptions for,
“the person or persons claiming an individual element of child tax credit”,
if the person,
“has been a victim of rape … is a kinship carer”,
which we have already discussed. Again, I concur with what the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, said so well. Exemptions would also apply to an individual who,
“has previously claimed tax credit as a single parent but is now part of a stepfamily, or a cohabiting multiple family … has fled domestic violence, or … has suffered a bereavement of their husband, wife, civil partner or cohabiting partner who is the parent of the child or children for which an individual element of child tax credit is being claimed”.
Families are complex units. If two single-parent families, each with two children live together, they are entitled to retain or claim the child tax credit but not if they marry. This is because their change in circumstances mean they will fall under universal credit and the two-child limit. Transitional arrangements are supposed to ensure that existing claimants are unaffected by these changes. However, households in receipt of child tax credits and which are migrated into universal credit will be protected only in so far as they maintain their current claim—in this case, if they stayed single.
Iain Duncan Smith has talked about encouraging dual-parent families but this Bill, as I said previously, runs counter to that. However, let us be clear. We on these Benches do not necessarily agree that two-parent families are in some way better, as Iain Duncan Smith effectively believes. All family types are valid and important. In my view, not exempting families where single parents come together is difficult to understand, given the commitment made in other statements.
In domestic violence cases, a woman—it usually is a woman—with more than two children who flees a violent relationship must know that she will be able to afford to care for all her children so that she is not trapped into staying in a violent or abusive relationship due to financial hardship. It is also clear that if a working husband or wife dies, the income in the family will fall. It is logical that these families should be exempt from the two-child tax credit limitation.
The Bill also impacts on many families who already have three or more children if they make a new claim for universal credit as a result of common, but unpredictable, life events. Anyone can lose their job at any time; we can all get sick; we can all have a disability in the future. So this is totally unfair and unreasonable. The DWP’s own analysis demonstrates the risk of child poverty, which is already significantly higher among families with three or more children: 35% compared to 25-26% for families with one or two children.
Other noble Lords will, no doubt, speak on these important issues. As has already been identified, other exemptions may need to be applied in areas such as private foster care arrangements and disability. This is why I have put down Amendment 4, proposing that:
“The Secretary of State may, by regulations, make further provisions relating to the operation of subsection (3C).
The main point of my amendments is that there are lots of complex family situations and many areas could be considered for exemption. However, the ability to exempt these people requires knowing what exemptions they meet. Some exemptions will be easier to assess than others, but how will DWP caseworkers assess if a child is born as result of rape? How intrusive will the questions be and what evidence will caseworkers look for? As we know, many people sadly do not report rape and, when they do, convictions are low, so that will not help. The Minister has already stated that cases of rape will be exempted. How will the DWP know whether a claimant’s child is indeed a result of rape? The only way would be to ask, and I shudder to think how deeply upsetting and totally inappropriate it would be for a caseworker to venture into such traumatic, deeply sensitive and personal issues.
Therefore, although the Government should include exemptions in the Bill, they will also need to consider how exemptions will be assessed and applied. To safeguard against deeply intrusive questioning, Amendment 7 would insert in the Bill the provision that the DWP must,
“have regard to the importance of the person’s right to respect for private and family life”, under Article 8(1) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as set out in Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998”,
and should not,
“in seeking to determine whether the exemption applies, request any information about the claimant’s private medical or sexual history”.
I turn to Amendment 12. As the Bill stands, Clause 12 will mean that families with children born before April 2017, making a new claim under universal credit, do not receive the same protections as those available to claimants of tax credits and may have their child additions within universal credit limited to two children. This seems totally unfair and I do not understand the reasoning behind it.
My Amendment 12 would afford the exempted people I have previously identified, such as people who have been raped and single parents, the same protections once universal credit comes into force through the child element in universal credit. Proposed new subsection (1C) in Amendment 12 states:
“The Secretary of State may, by regulations, make further provisions relating to the operation of subsection (1B)”.
This is a very difficult and sensitive debate. I listened carefully to the discussion on kinship carers and concur with everything that was said. For many of the categories that we have outlined this is not about rational choice. People sometimes find themselves in certain circumstances for the right reasons—for example, the joy of bringing an additional child into a family. However, circumstances such as rape are not so pleasant or nice. I think that noble Lords around the Committee want the Minister to commit to look at exemptions very carefully. As has been outlined by other noble Lords, I want to avoid unintended consequences. I cannot believe for one minute that the Government want such unintended consequences to arise. I believe that they want to do the right thing. Putting exemptions on the face of the Bill will give many people in our country great hope. We are talking about a lot of people—millions, in some cases. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is attached to Amendments 4 and 12. It is a privilege to follow the eloquent noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, and I shall concentrate on one or two aspects of her comments. As regards the need for these exemptions, someone commented to me that the poor have always had the largest families. The austerity that we are experiencing is due in large part to the fact that some vastly wealthy people made some very poor choices. Yet today we are looking to penalise the poorest in our society, and most especially their children, by taking money away from them. Therefore, I support very strongly the noble Baroness’s call to make the exemptions as wide as possible.
Last Friday a report on the education of children in care was launched at the Nuffield Foundation. The Children’s Minister, Edward Timpson MP, addressed the launch. The report highlighted the fact that the educational performance of children in care was still a long way behind that of the rest of the general population of young people. That is a matter of concern. However, children in need who have stayed with their families and not been taken into care, fostered or taken into a children’s home do far better once they are taken into the care of the state than those children who have not been subject to intervention by the state. We all know that due to pressures on local authorities, the threshold for being taken into care is quite high. Many more children in need live in fairly dysfunctional families but those families are not dysfunctional or abusive enough for the children to be taken into care, and those children are struggling. We need to think about families in which the parents grew up in deprivation, not just financial but emotional deprivation. Often the parents will have had issues around drink and drugs, and have not been able to show the children very much love.
I have been trying to put a face on the sort of families who will be affected by the Bill. I think a significant number will be those that I am familiar with, coming through the care system, and those who have grown up in need. What I hear again and again from people who have come through the care system is that it did not meet their need to learn how to relate comfortably with other people. They feel uncomfortable around people, they feel uncomfortable about intimacy. My fear is that we are penalising people who struggle anyway to make and keep relationships, making it harder for them to keep their families together.
This takes me to the other point that the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, raised. I hope I understood her correctly. She was pointing out that these proposals actually discourage single parents from joining another single parent to make a two-parent relationship. She said that she did not want to place any particular value judgment on two-parent families, but we know that boys, particularly, growing up without a father in the family, are much more likely to get involved in criminal matters. Some of your Lordships may have read the speech by President Obama, made when he was a senator, talking about his experience of growing up in a lone-parent family and reflecting on the fact that so many young men in America were growing up without fathers.
There are real consequences to the Government’s proposal. The OECD’s report on family formation—from 2010, I believe—highlighted the fact that in about 2030 or 2035 we will overtake the United States in the numbers of children growing up without a father in the household. I think the Prime Minister is quite right to be concerned about supporting two-parent families. We should look very carefully at what this Bill does to disincentivise parents joining together to bring up their children. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I highlight two particularly vulnerable groups in my Amendments 5, 6, 13 and 14, groups that I believe should be exempted from this measure. These are bereaved parents and victims of domestic abuse. In focusing so heavily on promoting personal responsibility, there is always a danger with welfare reforms that we neglect our collective responsibility to look after those who fall on difficult times, people we will probably never meet but whom we support through our taxes in their time of need so that we, too, will be supported when we need help.
It is not as simple as there being two groups in society, those who contribute and those who receive. I know that one of the most tragic events a child can experience is the death of a parent. When my first wife died, I was the sole parent of my children and a recipient of some benefits. Quite apart from the emotional upheaval, the impact on a family’s situation can be drastic, much more drastic than the situation I faced. It is common for families to require additional support in these circumstances, either because the main earner has died or because the surviving parent must give up work or reduce hours to care for the children. According to the Childhood Bereavement Network over 23,000 parents died last year, leaving around 40,000 newly bereaved children. One in three of these children live in larger families with two or more siblings and will potentially be affected by the two-child limit, if it goes ahead in its current form. It feels particularly unfair that the families who have experienced such a traumatic event should have to cope with additional financial pressures on top of it.
Likewise, parents who are the victims of domestic abuse should not be put in a position where they have to choose between staying with the abusive partner and leaving them for a life in poverty for themselves and their children. I understand that, at any given time, there are around 250 children staying in refuges for women fleeing abusive relationships and that one-third of those are from larger families. Many women remain in abusive relationships for long periods, in part due to the financial considerations. Unless this group is exempted from Clauses 11 and 12, this could prolong their abuse and put them and their children at risk, making it even harder to leave their partner.
As with kinship carers, who we considered in the last group, the cost of exempting bereaved parents and victims of domestic abuse would be relatively small by comparison with the total projected savings, and would help to address the most obvious cases of injustice. I therefore bring before the Committee these amendments in my name, seeking to reflect the circumstances of these children and their parents.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 15, 18 and 20, which are in my name and that of my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton. I shall also speak to the other amendments in this group.
Amendment 15 seeks explicitly to exempt from this measure children entering a household as a result of a multiple birth. In the light of the Minister’s commitment on the record that such children will be exempted, I will not dwell on this for very long but ask him to clarify a couple of things. First, he mentioned that this will be done by regulation. Will the regulations be of the affirmative or negative kind, given the question raised by the Delegated Powers Committee on that point? Secondly, can he confirm that the Government intend that the exemption will apply to any means-tested benefits, not just tax credits, and irrespective of the number of children who may come along at the same time in that multiple birth?
Amendment 18 is a simple amendment which provides for exemptions to apply in exceptional circumstances, as defined by the Social Security Advisory Committee. The thinking behind this amendment is that, as we have heard already today, there are a number of special circumstances which Ministers may not have thought about when devising the Bill. I know that Ministers never like to admit that things can crop up which they have not already thought of but, just every now and again, things that none of us has been clever enough to work out may suddenly turn up and make a difference. To protect the Minister from the exigencies of such a disastrous situation befalling him, I offer the Committee this amendment today. It would enable the Social Security Advisory Committee—a statutory body with huge expertise—to spot these things that, unaccountably, none of us had managed to spot and to bring forward to the Minister recommendations for exemptions which could then be put into legislation. I commend this idea to the Minister; he may have it free of charge. If he does not like it for any reason, and I cannot think that he would not, he might instead like SSAC to undertake a formal review of the impact of this policy 12 months, say, after its enactment and to advise him and his colleagues of any additional exemptions that might be needed. I would settle for that.
Amendment 20 proposes to exempt from this provision couples with dependent children who, if living in separate households, would not be affected by the two-child limit. This is a broader exemption than that proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, in Amendment 4, although I also support her amendment should mine not go forward. Her amendment would seek to exempt someone who is a single parent and previously claiming tax credits; my amendment seeks to address all such reformed families. This is one of the issues which exposes why this whole measure is such a bad idea. The Government have spent a lot of time advocating the importance of family life and making much of their support for marriage. I approve of them doing that, yet they are again proposing a policy which will run in direct contravention to that other policy objective. If two people meet and fall in love and they each have two kids, if they get married or partner and set up home together then overnight this measure alone will make them worse off to the tune of £5,560 a year. The irony is that they may find by coming together as a household—for example, if they are both working—their entitlement to benefits would go down naturally as a result of the means test. It seems particularly unfair to deprive them of support for the children when they would have been supported by the state had those two people decided to stay separate.
I have been struggling to get a handle on data on stepfamilies. Maybe the Minister can write to me. I have had to work my way through official statistics trying to make sense of them. It seems to me that more than 20% of adoptions registered in 2014 were in stepfamilies, and ONS data based on the 2011 census seem to suggest there are 326,425 children living in stepfamilies with three or more children where the parents are either married or in civil partnerships. There are another 196,173 children living in stepfamilies with three or more children where the parents are co-habiting. I make that more than half a million children. They will not all be eligible for tax credits or universal credit, but up to half a million children could be affected by a measure not because they themselves were third children but because their parents made the unconscionable error of falling in love with somebody else who already had children, and by coming together the household suddenly becomes ineligible for those benefits for the third and subsequent children.
I used to run a charity that worked with single parents. Unless the trends have changed significantly, there was a tendency that lone parenthood was a state someone would stay in for an average of five years. It tended not to be a lifetime choice. People tended to repartner or remarry. We are increasingly putting barriers in the way of people ever doing that. I wonder if that is wise. I also wonder whether it is an intention of the Government’s policy. If not, has the Minister given any thought and has the department done any assessment on the likely impact on second marriages or repartnering?
I want to comment briefly on the other proposed exemptions. The noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, expressed the concern I think many noble Lords will share about how intrusive a process might have to be to establish that a woman had been raped. I certainly hope the Minister realises that he will find it a challenge to get the Bill through this House in its entirety without explaining how a proposal that somebody should be tested to see if they have been raped would be implemented. At the very least, is the intention that it is only when a woman has made a complaint to the police or someone has been charged or convicted? If not, who will she give evidence to in DWP and how will that be assessed? How will the Minister guarantee that the process will be confidential? If any other official in a benefit or tax office or school could see that a woman was getting benefits or tax credits for a third or subsequent child, there are only two ways at the moment that that could happen—a multiple birth, which would be evident, or the pregnancy being the result of rape. I wonder where that leaves us in terms of confidentiality. Has the Minister given any thought to that? Given that, has the Minister considered the impact on the child if at some point they discover they had been conceived as a product of rape—something the parents may have gone to considerable pains to disguise from them? The Government mentioned in the impact assessment that they would consult stakeholders before deciding how to deal with this. Can the Minister tell us who the Government have consulted and who they intend to consult?
I also asked at Second Reading—but got no answer—what the rationale was for exempting children in multiple births or those conceived as a result of rape. The Minister has indicated that this is about choice. Does he accept therefore that there are other circumstances where a woman may not be able to exercise choice? The noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, mentioned domestic violence. The proposal, which I support, to exempt people in cases of domestic abuse rests on two arguments: first, that a child may have been conceived under duress, rather than as a result of a clear choice; and secondly, that the two-child limit may make it harder for a parent of more than two children to leave an abusive relationship as they would struggle to support the children.
We have heard how widespread domestic abuse is. Each year more than 2 million people suffer some form of domestic abuse. Its impacts are severe and hard to escape. About 42% of domestic violence victims have been victimised more than once. On average victims experience 20 incidents a year, which can often increase in severity every time. While 80% of victims report physical abuse, it is not just that—nearly 90% of high-risk victims report experiencing emotional abuse and/or coercive control or behaviours. Those are exactly the kind of things that could lead a woman to become pregnant without exercising choice. Abuse can include a refusal to allow a woman to use contraception. It can include rape and pregnancy as a result of rape which she may have been reluctant to report to the authorities because of fear of the abusive partner. Of course, the use of power and coercion are the very things that make it hard for someone to leave an abusive relationship. Sometimes they do manage to leave, often by getting advice or support and by meeting other victims; sometimes things go too far, such as when a child is caught in the cross-fire of domestic abuse. At the point at which they flee, they need all the help they can get. Too often they leave just with the clothes they stand up in. They are homeless and need to move and often hide from their abuser; they leave behind schools and jobs. It is hard enough to rebuild a life in those circumstances but this policy could act as a further barrier, so I hope very much that the Minister will consider this exemption very carefully.
Finally, I will comment briefly on the amendment from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth about bereavement. I thank him for sharing his own experience with us, very movingly, and for describing the wider implications that this amendment raises. My mother died when I was a child and I am very conscious of just how hard it was for my father to manage in those circumstances. When a parent dies, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, the remaining parent has to not only deal with their own grief but do all the practical things, including all the practical tasks that their late spouse had done before they were bereaved.
In the Pensions Act 2014, despite the best efforts of many of us on many Benches of the House, the Government decided to reform bereavement benefits to reduce significantly the time that bereaved parents could get support from the state before they had to return to work. We are now going to compound that by cutting the support they will get even if they are working. Parents with three or more children who have been bereaved will not therefore be able to get adequate support for all their children. This is obviously a particular problem where the deceased was the main earner, but even where the surviving partner was the main earner, they may well end up having to reduce their hours or even give up their job because they cannot manage it now they are the full-time or sole carer for the children, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out.
Bereavements are sometimes sudden, as a result of a medical emergency, an accident or an assault, which can be very difficult for a family to deal with. This whole situation is a perfect example of where a family with existing children who had not needed recourse to benefits or tax credits while there were two earners might well do so now there is a single parent, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out. It is an example of what the welfare state was designed for and I very much hope the Minister will consider these amendments carefully.
My Lords, I think the Minister must by now be feeling pretty miserable at the wretched nature of this two-child policy. It is quite striking that there has not been a single voice in support of these propositions from his own Benches. There are Members here with the expertise to offer that, but they are not giving the Minister the support one would normally expect. We all understand how wretched this policy will be as it plays out—and I am sure the Minister, who is a good man, also understands that.
This is a broad set of amendments, so I will pick up something which perhaps covers almost all the people who have been mentioned as exemptions so far in these amendments today. Poverty has been well researched by the DWP itself, in its evidence review of January 2014. Has the Minister read—I am sure he has—and accepted his department’s Evidence Review of the Drivers of Child Poverty for Families in Poverty Now and for Poor Children Growing up to be Poor Adults, which is at the centre of these child-related policies in the Bill? If so, would he explain to us why not one of the 323 pieces of research that this review analyses supports his policy? Indeed, in my view, they destroy it. Are we dealing with evidence-based public policy or private ideology offered as moral and financial rectitude?
The Minister knows better than anyone—but I will remind him—who are most at risk of serious long-term poverty. They are the third and subsequent children of lone parents. Three-quarters of such children will be in either persistent or recurrent poverty for four out of any seven years. One family in seven has three or more children; within that group, lone parents are twice as likely as couple families to be in poverty, and three-quarters of their children will be in persistent or recurrent poverty.
It is not temporary or transient poverty, deeply unwelcome though that is, which scars families. After all, one-third of the UK’s population falls into poverty at some point over a four-year period, usually when they have lost their job, their health or, desperately, a partner. Many will leave poverty within a year, perhaps to enter work. But the poverty that comes with additional children is not temporary or transient poverty; it is persistent poverty, because those children, for whatever reason, do not conveniently disappear. Yet it is long-term poverty that most damages families. Poverty builds upon itself: the longer you are in poverty, the harder it is to escape from it—and if you do, you have one or, at most, two deciles, and too often, with a year or two, you fall back to the bottom. Any mobility is short-distanced and short-lived. Such children, because they are in larger families, and thus even now facing long-term poverty, have unhappy childhoods, more strained relations with their parents, are more likely to be in contact with the police, and so on.
What does the review last year by the DWP tell us about the drivers of poverty, and how consistent is this Bill with its research? The answer is: not at all. The DWP report says on page 19 that the strongest driver is worklessness, which I am sure we all accept; though even that is a diminishing problem, and of course conceals the unwaged work of caring. Yes, two-thirds of poor children are in a working household, which is a shocking statistic. That is of course because most children are in working families. Proportionately three times as many children in workless families are in poverty as children in working families, so we need to address poverty both in and out of work.
After worklessness, what is the second biggest driver of poverty, according to the DWP? According to the Government in this Bill, it is educational attainment. But that is not so: it is family size. Some 25% of all children are in families of three children or more, and 38%—nearly 40%—of those children in poverty live in larger families. According to the review, other drivers include family instability, parental ill health and lower parental qualifications, but none of those matters anywhere near as much as family size. The DWP’s review concludes on page 30 that other possible drivers—much quoted by the Secretary of State—such as substance abuse and child educational attainment have only limited, indeed marginal, effect.
I repeat: what counts, from the DWP’s own research, are worklessness and a family size of three or more children. Obviously, poverty results from a combination of too low income and family need. Larger families are hit on both counts, because additional and younger children take the single parent or the potential second earner out of the labour market at just the point when family need increases. Research shows that families not in poverty are more likely to enter poverty when they have a third child and not be able to climb out of it.
That is not rocket science, but is recognised across the whole of the OECD—except in this country. Many countries rightly increase financial support for additional children: the rates go up with three, four or five children. Any Government who cared about child poverty, and therefore child life chances, would do the same. Instead, the Government are going to do exactly the opposite, making each child in that family poorer, because the money for two children will now have to be spread over three or four, making their poverty cumulative and inescapable. What a dowry to give to a child: not only are you as a third child not going to be financially supported or helped by tax credits, but your very existence will make your brothers and sisters poorer as a result. You will bring them sliding down the slope of poverty with you.
Every child matters except to the DWP, yet the DWP’s own research shows that families with more than two children, whether through kinship care, through reformation or more generally, will be locked into persistent poverty from which many will never escape, and which will play out for some of them, alas, in troubled lives. The DWP will then piously moralise at them about the very situation that it has itself constructed in this Bill, along the lines of the Reverend Thomas Chalmers in 1819, almost 200 years ago, who said that,
“character is the cause, and … comfort is the effect”.
Today the DWP, just like the Reverends Malthus and Chalmers before it, bleats about poor, large families’ lack of moral or financial continence. This policy is no better than early 19th-century class-superior sermonising, and with little respect for the facts as evidenced in the DWP’s own report. But Malthus and Chalmers, clergymen both, at least had the excuse that they did not have the evidence of statistics, which were not collected then. The Government have no such excuse. They have nowhere to hide. The Minister’s policy today—I cannot believe he wants this at all—is the exact opposite of his department’s own research findings, and will lock large families into persistent poverty.
We know whom the Bill will hit. I have no doubt that it will, directly or indirectly, discriminate against faith and ethnic minority groups. One last thought: we are all living longer, with fewer workers to support pensioners who are living much longer. We need children and, if they are not born British, we will be encouraging Mrs May to bring in immigrants instead.
I ask the Minister again: has he read his own department’s research of last year? If so, or indeed if not, why is the DWP so flagrantly ignoring it? It is abundantly clear that removing financial support, not just from these exempted groups but from the third child and beyond, is the single most powerful way for the Government to increase child poverty and to increase persistent poverty. It is the very worst thing that the Government can do, and they are doing it. Why?
My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate but it seems to me, listening to the noble Baroness who has just sat down, who spoke with her usual eloquence, that she has given only one-half of the story. Government is a matter of making difficult choices. There are always good points on both sides, so it is right that another point of view should be expressed. I speak, incidentally, as the father of a very large number of children.
The late Dick Crossman was a friend of mine; he was Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, as I think it was called then, in the 1960s. He told me how surprised he was when he discovered that the family allowance, which was the precursor of child benefit, was unpopular. Whenever he increased family allowance he expected it to be very popular, but it was not. He set out to discover why. The reason why it was unpopular, so he told me, was that the great majority of people in this country felt it was unfair to those parents who had decided to limit the number of their children—having children is an expensive business, what with clothing them and looking after them and so on—that improvident large families were getting all this family allowance. That sense of fairness is very acute among the people of this country, and that has to be weighed in the balance on the other side of the totally one-sided evidence that the noble Baroness presented.
My Lords, I hate to intervene, but I point out that the evidence to which my noble friend referred was the Department for Work and Pensions’ own evidence. However, at this point I will go back to the amendments, which I support, as we will have another chance to talk about the principle of these nasty clauses later. I just want to ask a couple of questions.
In the impact assessment and elsewhere the phrase is used:
“The Government will develop protections for women who have a third child as the result of rape, or other exceptional circumstances”.
We have not yet had any clue as to what those “other exceptional circumstances” might be. My noble friend Lady Sherlock has suggested that domestic violence should perhaps be one of them because of the coercion that can be involved in domestic violence and abuse, which are not just about physical abuse but emotional and financial abuse—a kind of controlling which is very relevant in this situation.
Points have already been made about the potential intrusiveness of the questioning that might be required to decide whether a woman has had a child as the result of rape. Can the Minister assure us that there will be no requirement either for a conviction or evidence of a police report for the claim to be accepted? As I understand it, according to Rape Crisis only 15% of victims of sexual violence make a police report, and we have already heard about the potential intrusiveness of any questioning there might be. I hope that the Minister might be able to tell us a bit more about what will happen.
Can he assure us that Jobcentre Plus staff will be trained to handle any such conversations sensitively and to provide women who report that they have been raped or assaulted with information about available support services? Will lessons be learned from the experience of women who were subject to very intrusive and deeply personal questioning about the paternity of their children when the requirement to co-operate was enforced under the Child Support Act 1991? As I understand it, extensive guidance was developed at the time but this rule was subsequently abandoned as unworkable. I suspect that the same will apply now.
My Lords, I thought the House might just like an issue to be clarified. I have the document with me which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, referred to. While nobody in the Committee would want any child to be brought up in poverty, the evidence clearly displays that the two key main drivers for poverty in the UK are, first, long-term worklessness and low earning and, secondly, low parental qualifications. Therefore the first key driver is current poverty and the second is a clear indicator of future poverty.
My Lords, I hesitate to challenge the noble Baroness, but if she looks on pages 19 and following she will see that that is not the case.
I can clarify that again but it is here, quite clearly. Perhaps we can discuss this later.
Can the noble Baroness say which page she is referring to?
I thank noble Lords again for another interesting debate, to which I have listened very attentively. Without wanting to get into the evidence, I read this report when it came out, although I may have forgotten all the page numbers.
As I have already said, the current benefits structure adjusts automatically to family size and removes the need for families supported by benefits to consider whether they can afford to support additional children. The mean number of dependent children per family is 1.7, and 86% of families have only one or two children. The amendments that we are looking at now relate to exemptions from the policy.
Amendments 2, 4, 5, 6, 12, 13 and 14 isolate five different groups: victims of rape; kinship carers; those who have previously claimed tax credits as a single parent but are now part of a step-family or cohabiting multiple family; those who have fled domestic violence; those who have suffered a bereavement of their husband, wife, civil partner or cohabitating partner. Amendment 15 would allow an exemption where the child is a member of the household through being part of a multiple birth. Amendment 18 would allow for an exemption in exceptional circumstances, as defined by the Social Security Advisory Committee. Amendment 20 would allow couples to claim the child element for three or four children plus any children to which an exemption would apply.
I make clear to noble Lords that most of these amendments are not actually necessary for inclusion in the Bill because we have already identified the need for exemptions to apply in certain circumstances. Clause 11(4) and Clause 12(4) provide the necessary powers to specify exemptions to the limit of two children or young persons for the purposes of calculating the child element in the two different benefits.
We already have special provisions in the benefits system for people fleeing domestic abuse and suffering bereavement, and we have already talked about kinship carers. On bereavement, to pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, we are introducing a system of paying a lump sum of £5,000, with 12 payments of £400. Those payments will be disregarded from other benefits such as universal credit.
On the point made by the noble Earl about care leavers, we recognise, as I said before, the additional barriers that care leavers experience and we have a series of policies to support them already.
As I have mentioned, we will exempt a third or subsequent child or young person who is one of a multiple birth where the multiple birth takes the number of children above two—clearly, if it is more than twins, that is covered in that category. I cannot at this stage go further on exemptions, but, as I said earlier, I will provide more information on them on Report.
I turn now to the exigency offer—that is how I read it—from the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, to bring in SSAC to define exemptions. The committee clearly has an important role to play in scrutinising draft social security legislation, but it is not right or proper, in our view, for the committee to have a role in policy development and delivery. Accepting this amendment would mean the Government handing policy, and therefore expenditure decisions, to the committee. I should point out, however, that the committee has an independent research capability and so is fully able to look at particular things that it thinks are of interest. The committee can then discuss those with us in some detail. I know that because I have had several of those discussions and found them rather valuable.
Amendment 20 would apply additional support for families that are larger than the average family and have a significant additional cost. Clearly, this amendment goes straight to the heart of the Government’s aim to get welfare expenditure under control and reduce its costs by the significant amounts for which we are aiming.
Amendments 15, 18 and 20 propose to establish an appeals process similar to that which we discussed under Amendments 16 and 17. We already have those arrangements in place.
Amendment 7 has three primary objectives. It would allow claimants to receive additional individual elements of child tax credit where they believe that an exemption applies to them, and where there is no evidence to the contrary. It would require HMRC to have regard to the claimant’s right to respect for privacy and family life under Article 8.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It would also mean that HMRC could not ask for information about the claimant’s private, medical or sexual history in seeking to determine whether the exemption applies.
We are looking at exactly how this exemption will be applied. In response to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, we talked to a number of stakeholders to ensure that these exemptions are delivered in the best possible way. Clearly, to the extent that JCP is involved in doing it, we will be providing that training. We are already required by the Human Rights Act 1998 to respect claimants’ right to a private and family life, so the specific provision introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, is not necessary, as it is already in place through that mechanism.
As I said, we are working on the best way to deliver this exemption; there is clearly a difficult line between voluntary and non-voluntary, which we discussed under the last group of amendments. It is interesting—I remind noble Lords—that we recognise domestic violence in universal credit, and we have got that process organised. Some of the other areas are extraordinarily difficult to introduce in practice, as noble Lords will appreciate, because of the complexity that they would bring to the operation of universal credit, but some of them are more straightforward than others.
Turning to the amendment on making a claim without evidence, if the Government were to allow a presumption in favour of the claimant for all exemptions, it would regrettably leave the policy open to very significant levels of fraud and error. However, we are now working on a way to do it without undermining claimants’ rights to privacy and family life.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked about applying the two-children policy to all means-tested benefits. Clearly, universal credit will combine all of the means-tested support for families once it is introduced. There will be a need to adjust the calculation of housing benefit to ensure that it remains at current levels, and it will not affect the room allowances in that particular measure.
Just to clarify, I was talking in this case about the exemption for multiple births, although it applies to all of them. Will the exemptions apply to all means-tested benefits—for a family not getting universal credit, for example?
I am trying to think of another example because, as the noble Baroness knows, we are trying to incorporate all means-tested benefits. The main one is housing benefit and the other one that the noble Baroness may be thinking of is support for council tax where we have not made any provision because each council has its own policies. I cannot think of any other means-tested benefit to which, once universal credit is in and working, that would apply. I think that I have dealt as best I can with all the points raised and, for the reasons set out, I urge noble Lords not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his responses. I am reminded by what he said of the importance of universal credit, which I think we all support in terms of enabling more people into work. I pay tribute to the Government one more time for their achievement in getting so many of our people into work after a time of such austerity. It is hugely important for families and for all of us.
I also thank the Minister for his acknowledgement of the work that I do and the interest I take in looked-after children. I have a specific question. The Minister talked about important strategies that the Government have developed for care leavers, which are very welcome indeed. But we know that outcomes, despite this good work, are often still very poor for care leavers. Will the Minister consider making an exemption among those that he is considering specifically for care leavers in this regard? Separately, will he consider making a similar exemption for care-experienced adults? These young people and adults have had a disastrous start in life and often their experience in the care system is unsatisfactory, with much instability. As a society, we should consider exempting them because of the histories that they have experienced.
I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, in his riposte to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. If I understood him correctly, he said that we should bear in mind that for the taxpayer, payments of this kind are not popular. Hard-working taxpayers may well not wish to pay other people to have more children when they have had to make hard choices themselves about clothing and schooling their own children. I take his point, but just because a measure is not popular, it is not necessarily not the right thing to do.
As an example, the decision by the Prime Minister to make a commitment of 0.7% of gross national income to the Department for International Development seems to have been pretty unpopular, but I certainly think that it was the right one. It becomes clearer and clearer that it was the right decision when we look at what is going on in Syria. I may well be mistaken, but my personal view is that it seems more and more right when we consider the instability in Syria and other places.
Is the noble Earl, whom I greatly respect, aware that Professor Deaton received earlier this year the Nobel prize for economics? His subject is global poverty and one of his important findings is that official aid does more harm than good.
I thank the noble Lord for drawing that to my attention and I shall make it my business to read that finding.
Perhaps I chose a poor example, but often decisions that are unpopular can be the right decisions to make. Governments have a little more time to reflect and can decide that the cost of bringing children up in poverty has such long-term problems in terms of poor educational outcomes, imprisonment and later dependency on the state that despite such a policy being unpopular it is worth while investing in large, impoverished families to prevent their offspring becoming dependent on the state later on.
The Minister said that the average size of families was 1.7 children. What is the average size of families on benefit and the average size of a family in poverty? My sense is that they tend to be larger families and that this particular legislation will penalise larger families.
Taking the noble Earl’s points in order, we need to have good strategies for care leavers. Clearly, the statistics are disturbing, and they have been for decades. I am not utterly convinced that exemptions in this particular area are the best way of supporting care leavers. There are other things that we can do that are way ahead of this. However, we do now flag care leavers in the benefit system so we know who they are and we can look at what they are doing, certainly with JSA, and I hope that we will be putting that into UC, although I am not absolutely up to date on where we are with that system.
On the noble Earl’s point about popularity, it is important that the benefits system does not become unpopular because that will undermine its legitimacy. It could be argued that one thing that we are doing now is creating a benefits system that has legitimacy and acceptance because it is perceived to be fair and to drive the right outcomes, which is not something that people feel about the legacy benefits system. That is a subtle point and closely related to what we are doing here.
The figures that I have seen, which I am afraid I cannot recall off the top of my head, show that very rich families and very poor families tend to be larger than those in the middle—thereby hangs a tale that goes to my noble friend’s point about who can afford to have large families. But I will have to write to the noble Earl with the exact figures.
When the Minister does that, will he look at the study circulated to most noble Lords which specifically used ONS statistical data to assess the population? One of the things it concluded was that:
“These data show that socio-economic class, perhaps contrary to popular belief, does not affect family size”.
In the higher managerial and professional classes, 6.8% of families had three or more children compared with 6.4% at the very bottom. I can share the reference with the Minister but the data are not as he suggested. Maybe we can compare notes and come back at Report, but as I understand it—and I pay tribute to the noble Earl’s passion for caring for the very poor—one of the reasons that these things are popular is a presumption that poor people have lots of children, which is not true. Even if they did, if they were not working the benefit cap would cut them off once they had two children, if they were renting anywhere—even modest—in Plymouth.
We can cut through debating this by getting the facts, which I shall get to noble Lords.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating and passionate debate and I thank noble Lords who have taken part. I particularly thank the Minister. I know that he is a kind and caring man and I have spoken to him about some of these issues. But I want to bring him back to the exemptions, which are really very important. I hope that he will forgive me if I did not hear him correctly. I assume that he was saying that other regulations addressed some of the issues that noble Lords and I raised. I will certainly read what he said very carefully to see if that is the case. If those regulations do not apply elsewhere—and they cannot, because we are talking about tax credits and universal credits limited to two children—would he please think again very carefully about these exemptions? It really will make all the difference to some of these very hard-working, low-income families we all want to support and help. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.