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Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Volume 767: debated on Monday 7 December 2015

Committee (1st Day) (Continued)

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: Clause 11, page 13, line 12, at end insert—

“( ) The limit on the number of children or qualifying young persons for whom an individual element of child tax credit can be claimed, as set out in subsection (3B), shall not apply to households where one or more of the children or qualifying young persons are disabled (including, but not limited to, those persons in receipt of the disability element of child tax credit).”

My Lords, Amendment 3 seeks to exclude all families with a disabled child from the two-child limit on receipt of the child element of child tax credit and the child addition within universal credit.

I have also tabled Amendment 8, which is more limited in the protection it affords. Amendment 8 would exclude any disabled child from the number of children considered in relation to the child element of universal credit. Thus, if Amendment 8 were accepted by the Government, a family with four children, one of whom is disabled, would still lose the child element for the third non-disabled child. I argue very strongly for Amendment 3, but Amendment 8 would be a great improvement on the Bill as it stands. At this point, I pay tribute to Rob Holland from Mencap for his considerable help with the Bill.

Families with disabled children face financial and other stresses which are not faced where all the children are healthy and able-bodied. These families have extra costs for special aids, adaptations to their homes, and additional clothing and travel costs. The travel costs of medical appointments alone can be very considerable. One family, for example, reported regularly having to get to three appointments a week, and this can rise to as many as seven. The appointments are at four different hospitals, involving additional petrol costs, depreciation of the car and, most particularly, parking fees. Another family talked of their child often breaking bedroom furniture and other items due to the frustration of their disability, which then had to be replaced.

The enormity of the cuts envisaged for families with disabled children is quite extraordinary. While I know that the Government are committed to a much smaller role for the state in future, can it be right to hit the most disadvantaged the hardest? Without these amendments, the two-child limit for claims of child tax credit means that if a two-child family has a third child who is disabled, the family will be £2,780 per year, or an average of £50 or so per week, worse off than they would be under the current provision. This loss must be considered alongside the substantial fall in the level of the disability element of child credit under universal credit. The current value of that benefit is £57 per week, whereas the disability addition in a family’s universal credit entitlement will be worth only £28 a week—a loss of £29 per week. I understand that, in all, a new claimant family with three children, one of whom is disabled, will be about £79 per week worse off when these two changes come into effect than a family currently claiming equivalent benefits. Will the Minister confirm whether or not he agrees with these figures?

Research conducted by the Children’s Society and Citizens Advice in 2012 into the two-child limit for child tax credit found that the impact could be disastrous for the health and well-being of the children. Two-thirds said that they would have to cut back on food, more than half said that it would lead them into debt and more than one in 10 feared that they would have to give up their home.

Have the Government assessed the impact of these cuts on the number of children placed in residential care? There seems little doubt that all parents will be less able to cope with a disabled child at home if money is as tight as highlighted by the Children’s Society and Citizens Advice. What would be the net savings to the Exchequer, having taken into account residential care costs of a proportion of the children involved, as well as other costs of health and social care? I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify whether work has been done to clarify the net savings from the two-child limit in the context of the other planned benefit cuts, and taking account of increased government spending on other services. If this analysis has not been done, does the Minister agree that these changes should not go ahead until the Government have a clear understanding of these points? As one parent put it, “We would face the choice of increased debt or the eventual institutionalisation of our child”.

The Government may be assuming that local authorities will take over the burden of these family costs. I understand that this simply will not happen. In fact, among the families already receiving additional support from local authorities, about 60% said that that support had been cut over the past year, and there will be more cuts to local authority services in the coming years.

A big concern is lone parents with disabled children. Many years ago when I was training to be a social worker, which I did for a few years, I spent six months working in a school for severely handicapped and disabled children. I found myself running a group for the parents of those children. The group comprised about 14 parents, every single one of whom was a single mother. The fathers had apparently walked out some time after the disabled child was born. If these mothers had also abandoned their disabled children, the state would have had to take care of the children and pay the bill. The impact of the two-child limit will be greatest for these parents.

In a meeting with Ministers about tax credits, I was told that the Government expected claimants to work extra hours to make up for their losses. However, these lone parents with disabled children are not able to make up the shortfall by working extra hours. The simple fact is that the disabled children and their healthy siblings will suffer if this measure goes ahead. I understand that the Government recognise that some groups—I think it is two groups—should be exempted from the two-child limit for the child elements of child tax credit and universal credit. I hope very much that the Minister will today assure the Committee that he will give serious consideration to exempting families with disabled children from this particularly savage cut. I beg to move.

My Lords, I support these amendments. It is very important to remember that being the parent of a disabled child is not the same as being a parent. It is sometimes very difficult to get that point over. I remember that when we discussed the Children and Families Bill, officials and even Ministers said, “I am a parent and I do not need any extra support”. However, this is not the same as being a parent of a normal child, if I can put it that way. We all expect to care for our children until they are 18, and many of us for much longer than that but, for a parent who is caring for a disabled child, that caring is likely to be a lifelong commitment— your life or their life. That is the point we have to remember. That lifetime commitment means that these parents face huge problems. They face practical problems, particularly when services are being cut and there is not enough support. They also face very severe emotional problems. As the noble Baroness reminded us, marriage breakdown is very common where there is a child, or more than one, with disabilities. These parents also face financial problems, which is what we are concerned with here. I suggest that most households with a disabled child already face financial hardship, even without these changes. More than half—53%—of parent carers answering the State of Caring survey in 2015 said that they were struggling to make ends meet.

Research shows that it is three times more costly to bring up a disabled child than a non-disabled child, as we have been reminded. Some 34% of sick or disabled children live in households where there is no adult in paid work compared with 18% of children who are not sick or disabled. Four in 10 disabled children live in relative income poverty once the additional cost of their disability is accounted for. Last year, the Carers UK Caring & Family Finances Inquiry found that parent carers of disabled children were one of the groups least likely to be in employment. As one carer said: “I gave up work thinking I would be able to return within a year or two once I got my daughter the support she needed. Little did I know how poor local services were and I am still caring years later”. That carer will probably be caring all her life and certainly for all the life of that disabled child. Surely we are not thinking of making hard lives even harder by these pernicious changes. I support the amendment.

My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 19, standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton, and to the other amendments in this group, which I support.

The case has already been so well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley that I will not add much more. However, I want to get a sense of scale. Contact a Family reports that there are 770,000 disabled children under the age of 16 in the UK. That equates to one child in 20. Most struggle on alone with only 8% of families getting services from their local social services. As we have heard, it costs up to three times as much to raise a disabled child as it does to raise a child without disabilities. We have heard the figures from official statistics showing the much higher rate of poverty among families with a disabled member and the high proportion of children with a disability who live in households in poverty

Families are already struggling. It is very good that we will retain the disability element, which covers some of the additional costs of disability, but the child will still have to be fed and clothed and cared for. The reality is that not only do disabled children cost much more but it is much harder for parents to increase their income, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. Suitable childcare for disabled children is much harder to find and more expensive when it is found. For some children the nature of their disability makes it very hard for anyone other than the parent to be able to take care of them.

As the Children’s Society pointed out in its briefing, the child disability element for children other than those on the high-rate care component of DLA has already been effectively halved within universal credit. Currently a family with a disabled third child would receive a maximum child tax credit entitlement of £5,920. Following the reduction of the disability component and the two-child limit, they get a maximum of just £1,513, little more than a quarter of their entitlement in the current tax credit system.

The Minister has said repeatedly today that this is about choice and that we want to enable families who are on tax credits and universal credit to make the same choices as other families. Will he acknowledge that having a disabled child is not a choice a family makes? Often the family will not know that the child is going to be disabled when the child is conceived. Either the disability may not be known, or the child may develop a disability or an illness which causes a disability after birth. The family are therefore not in a position to know the additional costs they are going to be taking on. I have problems in general with this policy, as I will explain in a later stand part debate, but one of the reasons for having so many exemptions is to try to get the Government to explain the rationale of exempting certain categories of person and not others. The Minister needs to be consistent. If his intention is all about clear-eyed choice, then can he explain how that applies in this case?

My Lords, I put my name to Amendment 3, and I support the powerful speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and other contributions that we have had in this short debate. I want to make a simple point about disability. I had the distinct impression that, although the Government were determined to force through their £12,000 million savings, health and disability were going to be a priority for Ministers over the next five years. There are signs that that is true. Some of the attempts that we are watching unfold to bridge the disability employment gap and issues of that kind are welcome, as far as they go. That should give the Minister some cover to go back to the Treasury and say that there should be some identified exemptions for working families in particular. We are trying to encourage people to sustain employment in the future. Some families have young members with different levels of disability as well as mental health issues and disabilities. There is a little more emphasis on this, thanks to the excellent work that was done during the coalition Government days. There is a real peg on which the Minister can hang an approach to these tragedies which says that something needs to be said and some provision made for disability in the context of Clauses 11 and 12.

I say again to the Minister, and I mean it, that the Committee will weigh carefully what he says in terms of the exemptions or otherwise. So far he has been playing a pretty straight bat and holding the line on behalf of the Government, by which I think he means the Treasury. I understand all that, but he has to be very careful. I have said this before, and I will say it again in the clause stand part debate, that he risks losing some of these clauses, if he is not careful, if he does not appeal to good moderates such as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and me. No, I take that back—it will damage his political career in the new Labour Administration.

There is an opportunity in the context of Ministers rightly focusing again on work and health. If that is applied to the amendments that have been so ably moved, I think there is some room for compromise. If there is not some give and take, I think that the Minister is going to have trouble carrying some of this Bill through the rest of its proceedings.

I was not going to add to the very powerful opening speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, but I will just say to the Minister that, when he faced a similar problem with housing and the cut in benefit to those with a so-called spare bedroom—I refer to the bedroom tax—the Minister understood the degree of disquiet around the House and invested in discretionary housing payments, which he increased and increased. In other words, there was a recognition that there needed to be some head space in the system for dealing with difficult issues, many of which we have discussed today. I suggest to him that we have had so many of those in the previous amendments and most powerfully again on the issue of disabled children that he should seek a similar discretion which then the Government can come back with in proposed draft regulations which the House can discuss before they then become part of the legislative process by the time we get to Report.

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Meacher in her amendment, which she so eloquently moved. A couple of years ago a woman called Stacie visited Parliament to talk to your Lordships in preparation for a childcare Bill. She talked about her difficulty, as a mother of a disabled child, in finding appropriate childcare. I think she went through more than 20 childcare providers who just said, “Look, we cannot deal with the needs of your child”. Eventually she found a very good provider that was prepared to go the extra mile. I know that this is an issue we have to take seriously and are looking to improve in terms of making childcare more easily accessible. It continues to be a problem. So there is that additional issue that I would highlight to your Lordships.

My noble friend also highlighted the fact that so many of these women are bringing up disabled children on their own. I invite your Lordships, women and men, to think about trying to bring up a child on your own when that child has a disability. The risks of isolation, of being overwhelmed—all those things must be exacerbated.

The Minister, in the early discussion about popular feeling with regard to taxation, made his response. It made me reflect a little that perhaps part of the way the public sees these issues is mediated by how the Government present them. I encourage the Government to be very careful, and I hope that this will not be taken the wrong way. On Saturday morning I was speaking to a mother with a two week-old baby, and she was speaking with another mother. The other mother, perhaps a little unkindly, because this two week-old baby had an elder sister, who was three, said, “Has the older sister started trying to kill her yet?”. What this highlighted for me is that it is such a basic element of human nature to be envious, to resent something that somebody else has, that one has to think through very carefully how one presents sharing resources with somebody else, or giving resources to somebody else and not giving it to another person. I am afraid that that may not come across very well. I say to the Government that I hope they are being very careful about how they present these things.

My Lords, we on these Benches support these amendments, too—Amendment 3 in particular. The House needs some assurances from the Government that the disability premium for each disabled child in both tax credits and universal credits will be protected, regardless of the number of children in the family. However, the child element in tax credits and universal credit will be paid only in respect of two children in a family, even when the third child is disabled. That is the point. We need to look at those exemptions, so if the Government have already said that there is some protection, surely that same protection should be afforded to the third child who is disabled.

My Lords, I want to make a brief point in support of the powerful case that has already been made. I believe that the latest HBAI statistics showed an increase in poverty among disabled children. Can the Minister tell us his assessment of the impact of these clauses on the number of disabled children living in poverty?

My Lords, very briefly, I lend my support to these very important amendments. We have heard some extremely powerful arguments. I want to draw attention to one point in Amendment 3, which refers to child tax credits and says that the limit should not apply,

“where one or more of the children or qualifying young persons are disabled”.

I remember vividly a meeting that I attended during the course of what became the Children and Families Act, organised by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. The very point which she was talking about was the impact on parent carers trying to bring up disabled children. One of the mothers was bringing up three disabled children. I remember that vividly because I think it brought tears to most of our eyes, including those of the Minister. Can the Minister say what the Government’s thinking is about households which have more than one child who has a disability?

I thank noble Lords for this debate and, particularly, I heard the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about how the lone parent—the mother—is so often left on her own with a disabled child. That is a very moving point and clearly rings true.

Perhaps I may look at the technical position. Amendment 3 would exempt those families who have at least one disabled child from the policy which limits support to two children. The intention of this amendment is to allow families with a disabled child to claim the child element of child tax credit for an unlimited number of children. Under Amendment 19, that intention would apply to both tax credit and universal credit. I should point out, as a matter of information, that the difference in having the child element allowed for a third child is not actually that great, if you look at the statistics. That is because the number of parents who go on to have more children is actually very few, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, will probably know, so there is not a lot of difference in the cost. I know that she will appreciate the thinking behind that point. Amendment 8, meanwhile, which goes on to the point about paying the child element, is technically a bit misdrafted, but I know that the intention of the amendment is to allow that child element to be paid.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, drew on the issue of whether a choice has been made. Clearly, we have considered the issue of disabled children carefully and looked at the challenges which these families face. We are committed to supporting those families with disabled children by paying the disability element of child tax credit and the equivalent in universal credit. That is true for all disabled children, although there are in practice rather few—I mean that there will be some, but relatively few—so, however many there are, it will be for not just the first disabled child but all of them. From what I am hearing, I think that the debate is now around the child element as well as the disability element and that that is where the differences lie in practical terms.

I acknowledge broadly the figures to which the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, drew attention in regard to the reduction without the child element. When that is in UC as a unified benefit, it will be only one part of the total payment. On the amount that the family gets, the reduction will be much less than the “down to a quarter” figure to which she was referring. On top of the disability element that we are exempting, we are exempting from the benefit freeze all those benefits which relate to the additional costs of disability, including PIP and DLA.

On Amendment 19, which would create a duty for an appeals process, I repeat the point that I made earlier: we already have comprehensive appeal arrangements and therefore do not need this amendment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, made a point about what happens to HBAI figures. As we have found out year after year, it is impossible to predict with accuracy future HBAI figures. As is customary, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has a solution to it all, but I am not convinced that the discretionary approach would be the optimum one in this area. Whatever happens, I do not think that any kind of solution would come from that.

Given the amendments that we have debated so far—in the first group, the second group and now this one—what proportion of the estimated £1.3 billion in savings that I think the Government were expecting to make from this would therefore be lost to the Government?

I am simply not in a position to deal with what are entirely hypothetical issues. I am not in a position today to offer very much satisfaction in these areas, as noble Lords know.

Can I push the Minister on this? In earlier debates, he was saying that the two main drivers for these proposals on the two-child policy were, first, the need to get financial control—he quoted very large figures that he expressed great concern about—and, secondly, the need to produce a level playing field between working families and non-working families. He must know the cost of all these amendments, because he will have had the briefing from the Box about them, but I have not heard him tell us that. How much would the cost be of the previous exemptions and, in addition, the exemptions referred to so powerfully by my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher? How much of those savings would the Government lose if they were to meet the exceptions that all the Committee has, so far, argued for today?

I am not in a position to answer those questions because I have had all kinds of amendments tabled—including one from the noble Baroness, which would remove the policy and lose all of the £1.3 billion. I am not in a position to go through the exemptions at this stage like that.

So are the Government really saying, “We are opposing amendments because we can’t afford them”, but do not know what they will cost?

I have given out as much information as I can on the questions at this stage and indicated what the relative positions are. On this amendment in particular, I was careful to make it clear that there is not a huge difference in cost terms—and I will double-check this—between allowing a child element for the disabled and exempting the family which has a disabled child. That is the main cost implication which I have been able to provide today.

If the Minister is not in a position tonight to answer those questions, can he give an indication of when he might be?

My Lords, before the Minister answers that, can I just say that I have found his responses today a little surprising. Many noble Lords have experience of being in Committee with him and having careful, detailed and well-informed debates. We are used to the Minister regularly getting up and telling us how much things cost and I find it almost impossible to believe that his department does not know how much these elements will cost. They have been proposed a long time. The department has had every opportunity and there are very good statisticians and modellers in the DWP. I can conclude only one of two things—either they know and have not told him or he knows and is saving it up for Report to launch it at us from the Box when we try and press a vote. Which is it?

I would never launch something at noble Lords on Report in that way. Let me go and think about how I might present some useful figures in a reasonably timely way. That is not a promise to produce anything more than I have but I will look and see whether I can be more helpful, given that I clearly have not been now.

My Lords, will the Minister consider writing me a letter about improving access to childcare for disabled families?

Can I look at that? I am not sure quite how much of this is in my own purview. If I can, I will.

I am amazed this information was not available at the Commons stage of this Bill, given it has been discussed in Parliament for several months— I think it was back in July that Second Reading took place—and to still not to know these figures surprises me enormously. While the Minister is being helpful in producing information, given that we know that 85% of the welfare cuts proposed by the Chancellor will fall on women and given we know that nearly all the “victims”—the recipients of concern in the exempted groups that we were talking about in previous amendments—are women, will he also do us a gender breakdown? He is absolutely right, as other noble Lords have also said, that it is usually the mother who is left caring for disabled children. I remember meeting vaccine-damaged children—part of the Minister’s responsibility, I think—and every parent there with a disabled child was a woman. Can I ask the Minister if he will add a gender analysis to the financial analysis of where some of these cuts fall and who the exemptions, therefore, would help to protect?

I think I have to fall back on the position that we have produced an analysis that is published and is available to noble Lords. I just make the point that often these statistics refer to households with both a man and a woman in them and it depends on who the recipient is. It is a household payment, not a payment to women specifically. One has to be rather careful of that when one looks at those statistics in the way that the noble Baroness has.

The noble Lord is correct but women still tend to bear the main responsibility for the care of children, so the impact on a household is borne particularly by the mother.

We are getting way off but our evidence is that the vast bulk of households share financial resources, so although someone in a household may receive a particular amount of money it does not necessarily mean that they do not share the burdens evenly. One can make a lot of false assumptions out of some of these data if one is not careful. I urge noble Lords not to press these amendments.

My Lords, I thank the many noble Lords who have spoken in this relatively short but very powerful debate. The Minister certainly got a clear message that this is a matter of considerable concern to Members in most parts of the House. Perhaps I can say again that one-nation Tories of the past have always supported families with disabled children. I still hope that this Government too can show that they will follow the traditions of their party and not leave these families bereft and in severe straits. That is what these provisions will do in the absence of any amendments to them. I thank the Minister for his thoughtful responses as always. I think he always gives us a pretty good innings, but I hope that before Report he will feel able to clarify the relative costs of these various amendments, and then we can perhaps sit down and really think where the need is the greatest. If we are all in the dark it really is quite difficult to make sense out of things, unless the Government have implacably decided they will not change anything in this Bill at all. I hope that is not the view of the Government and of the Minister. I thank all noble Lords and the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.

Amendments 4 to 7 not moved.

Debate on whether Clause 11 should stand part of the Bill.

My Lords, I propose that Clauses 11 and 12 do not stand part of the Bill. We have heard during the debate today that this measure will have all sorts of, presumably, unintended consequences disincentivising kinship care and private fostering, disincentivising adoption, separating sibling groups, incentivising the break-up of larger families and acting as a deterrent to the formation of stepfamilies. It could require intrusive inquires of women who have been raped and, of course, will take large amounts of money from families with children. Another problem with the policy is the lack of any mitigation. Impact assessments often have a section that explains how the policy will be mitigated but here there is nothing. Of course that is because, once a child is conceived, there is no mitigating action that parents can take other than to have an abortion or to give up the child for adoption. I presume that nobody is advocating that. However, the Government are offering no help to families to mitigate the impact of these losses except where a woman has been raped or in the case of multiple births.

The Minister still has not explained the rationale for the exemptions. I am not satisfied with the question of choice. We also are left with the question of domestic violence and the 16% of pregnancies that are unplanned. Ministers sometimes talk as though conception were simply a matter of choice. The NHS website says very clearly that no contraceptive is 100% reliable. Where contraception has failed a woman has not exercised a choice to have a third child, unless the Minister is suggesting that a refusal to have an abortion constitutes a choice to have a baby, which it clearly does not. So why is that family penalised for having a third child? As we have discussed and will discuss again in a moment, it will affect some children who are already alive, as people making fresh claims for universal credit will get no money for their third child.

Given those effects and the lack of mitigation, the Government need a pretty compelling case for this policy. Have they made their case? The impact assessment says:

“The objective of these policies is to reform tax credits and Universal Credit to make them fairer and more affordable. They will ensure that the benefits system is fair to those who pay for it, as well as those who benefit from it, ensuring those on benefits face the same financial choices around the number of children they can afford as those supporting themselves through work. Encouraging parents to reflect carefully on their readiness to support an additional child could have a positive effect on overall family stability”.

That is what it is meant to do, so does it? Let us deconstruct it. The first objective is to make the system,

“fair to those who pay for it, as well as those who benefit from it”.

This contains an implied fallacy from the start, suggesting that there are two categories of person—those who pay for benefits and those who receive them, and ne’er the twain shall meet. We know that this is not true. As my noble friend Lady Hollis pointed out in a compelling Second Reading speech,

“over the course of 18 years, half the population has needed and received a means-tested benefit”.—[Official Report, 17/11/15; col. 57.].

People move in and out of entitlement to benefits and tax credits and the amount of tax they pay, and the degree to which they are a net recipient or contributor to the system changes over their lifetime and as things happen to them.

What about the second part, namely,

“ensuring those on benefits face the same financial choices around the number of children they can afford as those supporting themselves through work”?

Again, that paints a picture of people who are not working and having lots of children that hard-working families, who pay the taxes that fund the benefits and tax credits, could never afford to have. Let us test that. First, are those affected unemployed? The IFS figures show that, at the moment, 872,000 families receive an average of £3,670 for three-plus children. Of these families with three-plus children, 548,000 have parents in work, so approximately 63% of those getting benefits at the moment are in work—the typical victim of this policy is not the unemployed mother of a large family.

Of course, if the benefit cap is reduced, as the Bill proposes, to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere, then any family out of work with three-plus children is unlikely to get to enjoy the benefit of the child tax credit in any case. Shelter has pointed out that a typical couple with two kids renting a house in somewhere like Plymouth or Leeds—so not Mayfair—will be hit by the cap. Most of those affected are working, which means that tax credits are only part of their household income and top up their earnings, with the exact amount they get at any point depending on how much they earn. They are already funding much of the cost of raising their children in any case from their own resources and their own earnings. In that case, is there evidence that those in receipt of tax credits are having lots of children in a way that other people are not? No. We began a debate on this earlier. I have looked quite carefully at a study based on ONS statistical information which looked specifically not just at very large families but at what proportion of families had three or more children. It put it very starkly:

“These data show that socio-economic class, perhaps contrary to popular belief, does not affect family size”.

The third policy aim was:

“Encouraging parents to reflect carefully on their readiness to support an additional child”.

That raises two questions. First, do the Government believe that cutting funding will reduce the number of children born to poorer families? Although it mentions in passing a study on working tax credit, the impact assessment acknowledges there is “no evidence” on the strength of any such effect. My reading of the global evidence is, frankly, that it is inconclusive. Secondly, to what extent is this about choice and, more specifically, economic choice? Ministers—to be fair those of more than one Government—have in my view a surprisingly touching faith in the rational-actor model of humanity. In fact, the evidence shows that plenty of us make economically irrational decisions, or rational non-economic decisions, all the time. People may have cultural or religious reasons for wanting larger families, or be unwilling to take steps that might limit family size because of ethnical views on contraception or abortion. If people had children only when they were sure they could support them, that would mean conceiving only if they knew for sure their household income would be secure for the next 18 years. How many people can be confident of that? Who would have children if that were the case? Eighteen years ago, people might have thought working in steel factories could be a job for life, but factories close and economies falter; even MPs can lose their jobs. Things happen to people and working patterns change.

I then began to wonder whether this could be a way of managing population change. Ministers have not claimed that, but maybe it is a secret option which is so politically sensitive that they cannot mention it. But that does not make sense either, because again the latest ONS population studies, published in 2013 using 2011 census data, showed the fertility rate. They focus on women born in 1968 because they assume that when you reach 45 you are past your child-bearing years—many of us certainly hope we are. The assumption at that point is that you can assume that the child-bearing period has finished. Women born in 1968 had an average of 1.92 children—it is worth noting, as Naomi Finch and others do, that a replacement rate, which would maintain the population, would be a fertility rate of 2.1. The studies also show that fertility rates are remarkably constant. The ONS notes that for over 70 years the two-child family has been the norm, while the numbers for families with three children and no children are also broadly consistent for women born in 1968. Interestingly for those worried about large families, one in 10 women born in 1968 had four-plus children, down from one in five for women born in 1941. That is clearly going in a direction that need not worry the Minister.

I have the following questions for the Minister. If the policy were to result in families on benefits and tax credits having fewer children, would the Government regard that as a good thing or a bad thing, or would they be indifferent to it? Secondly, what will the Government do to mitigate the effects on children of the hardship and damage to life chances that must result from increasing poverty in large families? If this policy succeeds in persuading poorer families to have fewer children, our society will suffer. As my noble friend Lady Hollis mentioned, since our birth-rate is below replacement rate, if the Government are serious about wanting to clamp down on immigration as our population ages, who is going to be around of working age to pay our pensions, fund our health service and care for us when we get old?

However, in fact there is little evidence that that will happen. If this policy does not change the number of children being born, then it must increase child poverty—it can do nothing else. One or the other must happen. It will take money away from larger families when child poverty is already 35% higher in those families, so the real losers from these policies will be the children who happen to be born into larger families, especially as younger siblings.

The policy also undermines the fundamental point of our welfare state, which is to protect the vulnerable and insure citizens against the hazards of life such as illness, disability, unemployment and bereavement. Given all that, the onus is very much on the Government to provide the evidence that this policy is necessary and proportionate. I look forward to hearing the Minister do just that.

My Lords, I was so disappointed with the Minister’s responses to the olive branch that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope, held out and the inflexibility in response to all the suggestions of how these clauses could be mitigated. In support of the contention that these clauses should not stand part of the Bill, I want to address two main issues: one is the mentality underlying the clauses, and the other is the equality and human rights implications.

My noble friend Lady Hollis referred back to the 19th century in her earlier speech. I will go back just one century. The mentality of the Bill was summed up rather well in a letter to the Scotsman in 1931 which was quoted in The People by Selina Todd, which I just happened to read on holiday—it is a very good book. The letter complained that:

“Many of the workless marry and breed families while in receipt of the dole”,

adding to the taxpayers’ “heavy burden”. Nearly a century on, perhaps we are a bit more subtle, but that sums up the mentality. We have this constant false division, referred to by my noble friend Lady Sherlock, between taxpayers who fund the tax credits system and those who benefit from it and references to how families supporting themselves solely through work do not see their incomes increase when they have another child. Who are these families? Apart from the very wealthiest, those families will be in receipt of child benefit, so they are not supporting themselves solely through work. If they have another child, they will get extra child benefit, and rightly so.

The main difference between now and the situation referred to in the letter to the Scotsman is that the Government do not want those in work and on low incomes to breed too many children either, given that, as we have heard, the majority affected will indeed be in paid work. Incidentally, could the Minister tell us what the rationale is for the abolition of the family element and its universal credit equivalent, which I think perhaps we have rather overlooked in focusing—rightly—on the two-child limit? Is that to discourage people in poverty from breeding altogether?

I turn to the human rights and equality implications. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has raised concerned under a number of articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The impact assessment and the Government’s human rights memorandum do not adequately address these issues at all, although I commend the department for providing the latter.

Relating back to the point made by my noble friend Lady Hollis about the gender impact, the legal officer of the Child Poverty Action Group—I declare an interest as honorary president—refers to Article 14 of the ECHR and the disproportionate impact on women as mothers. Indeed, the impact assessment notes that women are more likely to be affected than men. Article 16.1(e) of CEDAW guarantees that women have the right,

“to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise”,

that right. The International Conference on Human Rights proclaimed:

“Parents have a basic … right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children”.

With regard to families and children, as the Government acknowledge in their human rights memorandum, it may be argued that the clauses discriminate against large families and that large families have status for the purposes of Article 14. They discriminate against religious groups with a conscientious objection to contraception and abortion, which is contrary to Article 14, read with Article 9, of the ECHR. We have heard a lot from different faith groups about their very real concerns about the impact of these clauses.

It is difficult to see how these clauses are in the best interests of children affected, in line with Article 3 of the UNCRC. The Government’s justification in their human rights memorandum is that the articles are,

“justified, proportionate and not manifestly without reasonable foundation”.

That is based partly on all the usual guff about fairness and the encouragement,

“to make the same financial decisions as families supporting themselves solely through work”.

However, we have already heard that the majority of the families affected will be in paid work anyway. The overwhelming response, from a wide range of organisations, suggests that the clauses are not justified, are not proportionate and are without reasonable foundation.

Article 3 of the UNCRC is addressed with what I would call unconvincing arguments in the human rights memorandum, which says:

“The best interests of children … is to have parents in work”—

as we have already heard, the majority of these parents will be in work—

“and work remains the surest way out of poverty”.

These clauses will mean that it is a less sure way out of poverty than it is at present, and that is saying something.

The memorandum says that the savings,

“will allow the Government to protect expenditure on education, childcare and health and the improvements to the overall economic situation will have a positive impact on children and their best interests”.

I draw attention to the arguments of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, in the recent judgment on the benefit cap. She said that,

“article 3(1) … requires that first consideration be given to the best interests, not only of children in general, but also of the particular child or children directly affected by the decision in question”.

I suspect that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, would give the arguments in the human rights memorandum pretty short shrift. She will probably have the opportunity to do so quickly, if this Bill becomes law. I look forward to hearing her judgment on it.

The EHRC is also concerned about the disproportionately negative impact on particular black and minority ethnic groups, which are more likely to have large families. It says that this could be at risk of breaching Articles 2 and 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The statistics bear this out—of course, those statistics are not provided in the impact assessment, as it would be asking too much to have statistics in the impact assessment. For example, an analysis of the HBAI statistics, pooled for 2010-13 by Professor Lucinda Platt for the Women’s Budget Group, shows that just under two-thirds of children in Pakistani and Bangladeshi families with three or more children are already in poverty. Two-thirds is a staggering figure, and I dread to think what that figure is going to be like if these clauses go ahead.

My Lords, I will make just two points. First, although it makes me sound old-fashioned, I am in favour of using the social security uprating rules, established over years, for looking at the total spend of the department and what proportion of the national wealth goes to social protection. I am always frustrated and angry when Chancellors of the Exchequer stand at the Dispatch Box. The Treasury knows the square root of nothing at all about social protection. In the run-up to the Budget, we have purdah, so nobody knows what is going to issue forth from the Chancellor’s Budget briefcase. We get things landed upon us that we all have to live with as a consequence.

I want to try to persuade Governments in the future to stick to the established rules, because there are very clear ways of changing rates and benefits. In the annual uprating, Parliament has a chance to look at trends and how things are changing, make decisions and support the Government or make suggestions otherwise. That is a sensible, well-established way of doing business.

My objection to clause stand part, absent any further exemptions, is that we now have a two-child rule. It is a precedent that I believe is very dangerous, because Chancellors of the Exchequer in future could start importing it to other parts of the social security system without let or hindrance. We might start asking ourselves: what are the intrinsic differences between the child element of tax credits and child benefit itself? They are semantic and subtle; we could be entirely wrong. My point is that a clause such as Clause 11, interfering with child tax credits, and the way in which it has been done, leaves the House with some really serious thinking to do about whether this is supportable.

My view is an olive branch, and I will probably be off the Christmas card list of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, as a result of taking this weak-kneed position. But if the Government do not come up with serious responses to the powerful speeches that have been made this evening, it will condition how I will approach any future support for Clauses 11 and 12. Of course, it is technically true that clause stand part is not necessarily available to us on Report or at Third Reading, but there will be ways of trying to address this in other ways. I was put right on that by a stern note from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, a moment ago. She is of course right, as she always is.

I am quite clear about this: it is dodgy procedure and a dangerous precedent. The Minister might be able to sell it to people like me if there is serious consideration of the powerful speeches that have been made. I understand the constitutional context; we are not in easy territory. I am not looking for trouble or to pull the Government down, defeat manifestos or any nonsense of that kind, but I have a conscience to deploy in deciding how to vote on some of these really important things and I will follow my conscience. I am not frightened of constitutional rows, if that is what it comes to. However, we do not need to get into that territory if the Minister carefully reflects, as he has done in the past, on what he has heard this evening and comes back with further and better particulars in terms of exemptions.

My Lords, in listening to this debate, a few things have become clearer to me. One is how important it is that the Government have been so successful in securing employment for so many of our people. In the debate that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, had and the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, spoke to, both agreed that getting work is the most important way out of poverty. I pay tribute to the Government again for being so successful in that.

The Minister opened by saying that we are in an atmosphere of austerity and may need to make some tough choices. But it seemed to me that the language changed later on, to say that this is not just about austerity but is the right thing to be doing. I challenge that sincerely. It does not seem at all right to put these burdens on people. Just think: at the moment there is a storm in the north of England—Storm Desmond—flooding many families’ homes. A family in poverty, who may be working but on a very low income, may think to themselves, “We won’t take out insurance on this, that and the other, and we will hope for the best. We hope that there won’t be a storm”. Then this storm comes along and they have not insured their home, and they are already borrowing money anyway for various things because that is the only way that they can afford them, so they already have that debt and now they have lost more. The point I am making is that we are dealing here with some of the more vulnerable families in our society, and we are reducing their resilience.

Every family is challenged, maybe by bereavement, ill health or a flood, and we are challenging them further by taking money out of their pockets by doing this. I challenge the Government to think more about this. I encourage their Back-Benchers particularly to do so; I hope that, having listened to what has been said today, they might go away with some concerns that they want to sleep on, think about and take up with the Minister, because whatever they say will be particularly important and, I am sure, helpful. Maybe I am mistaken in my concerns, though, and maybe they will wish to put the other position.

I will give another example. I have spoken with homeless parents in the past. Barnardo’s used to run a project called Families in Temporary Accommodation. Something that came out of speaking with the mothers there was the importance for them of contact with others—being able to visit their family, friends and community. One of the issues of living in temporary accommodation is that when one is shunted around the place, one loses contact with all those human connections. Things such as bus fares are important, for instance, as is being able to use a mobile phone and having the money to pay for it. Again, if you impoverish these families and take money out of their pockets, where are they going to find the money to pay bus fares, which seems very basic, to go to see their friends and families, and for their children to see their friends and so on?

To my mind, this is a very harsh way of treating some of our poorest, often working families. I very much regret that the Government are taking this step. I hope that we can reduce the harm in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, referred to. Having listened to this debate with its very well-informed contributions, though, I feel more concerned than I did when it began.

My Lords, this is a Bill that my noble friend Lord McKenzie has gone on record as saying—and I certainly support him in this—is one of the most wretched that he has known in this House. Most of it deals with cuts that many of us find objectionable because they fall on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. We will oppose those, and on Report we will try to persuade the Minister to make some mitigation if that is possible.

However, the two-child policy is of a different order from the issue of cuts, primarily because it is saying to those families who have a third child, “We are hugely increasing the odds that you as a family will descend into poverty, that your poverty will be persistent, that you will not be able to get out of it and that your children will carry that poverty into the next generation”. We know this to be the case, yet the Government, and the Minister on their behalf—I cannot believe that his heart is in this—are actually willing to go down a policy route that knowingly sends poor children into longer, deeper and more persistent poverty, not only for their childhood but for a substantial chunk of their adulthood as well. We know that the children of poor parents are twice as likely to be poor at the age of 30 as others of the same age, yet the Government are going down a route that, to me, is deeply morally offensive. As opposed to the cuts, over which we have argued and will continue to argue, this seems to be a knowing castigation of poor children into permanent poverty for sums of money that we do not even have any evidence for. I say to the Government that they really should not go down this path: it is a damned path to go down.

My Lords, I express my strong concern about these clauses remaining part of the Bill. I offer three straightforward and, I hope, succinct comments: first, about the implications of these clauses; secondly, about the motivation of parents that is implied; and, thirdly, about where responsibility lies.

First, the Government place great emphasis on choice and personal responsibility for family size. I have to say that that assumes a remarkable assumption about the fail-safe effectiveness of contraception—or, if not, an apparent willingness for abortion to be appropriate as a sort of emergency contraception to keep family size to two children. I doubt the assumption, and would deeply regret driving people to seek termination on economic grounds. Is that really what the Government wish?

Secondly, over 35 years now I have played some part alongside others in preparing engaged couples for marriage and have often heard myself saying, “If you wait until you are sure you can afford children, you will never have them”. Religious traditions other than my own go further and specifically enjoin the blessing of children and family life. Are the Government aware of how these clauses will be received?

Thirdly, as I mentioned earlier in Committee, we—that is, a number of faith groups and organisations—made clear, in a letter circulated to all Members of the House prior to Second Reading, our belief that children are a blessing and not burdensome, a problem or a difficulty. To consign a child to being a financial problem over which the child himself or herself has had, and has, no control is indeed a singular responsibility—a responsibility for the mother and father indeed but, if these clauses go forward, it is a responsibility in which we shall all share. How sad it will be that a child growing up, becoming increasingly aware, will one day hear or discover that he or she is responsible in part for the family’s level of income simply by having been born. Although the Government seem to place that responsibility wholly on parents, I fear that the responsibility for this change would rest with us all. Is that what the Government want, and are we all prepared to accept that responsibility?

My Lords, Clauses 11 and 12 introduce the Government’s reform to the child element of child tax credit and universal credit, which was announced by the then Chancellor in the Summer Budget of 2005. The purpose of child tax credit is to provide support to low-income families to help them with the cost of raising children, while universal credit, which replaces the child tax credit, is a unified benefit that provides support to low-income families both in and out of work. As it is being rolled out across the country it is providing a clearer and simpler system of support for families and provides real incentives for work. However, it is important that universal credit is kept on a sustainable basis and encourages families to make similar decisions to those who support themselves fully through work. The Government believe that child tax credit has become unsustainable, with expenditure trebling in real terms between 1999 and 2010, and going up the income scale to a level where a family with three children earning up to £40,000 will still be eligible for support. Last year the Government spent almost £30 billion on tax credits.

I will deal with the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, on the dependency ratio. In recent decades Britain has had a higher total fertility rate than the average of the older EU member states. Most families will not be affected by this measure. The mean number of dependent children per family is 1.7, and 86% of families have one or two dependent children. In fact, those families with two or fewer children are remarkably stable, whether they are lone parents, at 88%; opposite-sex cohabiting couples, at 87%; or married couples, at 84%.

My Lords, the point my noble friend was making was not just about replacement fertility rates. Given the time all of us hope to live longer, one of the responses of government has been to say that unless we can improve the worker-to-pensioner ratio we have to defer the age at which people begin to draw their state pensions, even if they have had hard lives previously. We do not have the resources to pay for it from existing workers as we do not have enough of them to sustain that pensioner support in the future. Nothing the Minister has said has challenged that.

We are going way off the core issues by looking at the times people retire. A lot of things are changing, and it is almost impossible to fine-tune for that.

I will address the challenge set by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, on what our rationale for this is. It is very simple: the Government want to ensure that the system is fair to those who pay for it as well as those who benefit from it. That is the government position. I should add that the Bill should not be taken in isolation. We are introducing a number of measures to support households in work by reducing income tax through increasing personal allowances, increasing wages and increasing free childcare.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth and the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, raised the issue of those areas where there is a cultural disposition for larger families. To that, we make the point that all families need to think carefully and ensure that they can afford to provide for a new child in their household.

I make it clear that these changes will not mean a reduction in entitlement for those families already receiving child tax credit for children born before the 6 April 2017. In universal credit, for families already receiving the child element of universal credit, the changes will apply only to children joining the household on or after that date. I think that we have another amendment on which we can go into that in more detail.

Families moving to universal credit from child tax credit and receiving child tax credit for more than two children, and families claiming universal credit within six months of a previous universal credit or child tax credit claim that included the child element, will continue to be able to receive the child element for those children.

On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on the EHRC, as she knows, the Government set out their assessment of the impacts of the policies in the Bill on 20 July, and the memorandum to the Joint Committee on Human Rights was published on 8 September. Ministers have considered impacts with regard to all the relevant legal obligations when formulating the welfare policies announced in the Bill. The intended impact of these reforms is to incentivise work and ensure that work always pays.

Subsequent to that, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has produced its own assessment, which says very clearly that it believes that the human rights statement from the Government was inadequate. I welcome the fact that the DWP produced such a statement but given its inadequacy, will the Minister now respond to what the EHRC is saying?

That is the best I can do at this stage. However, I accept that that is a bit tentative as an answer, so I will look to get the noble Baroness a better answer, or as full an answer as I can provide after talking this through with colleagues.

The Government believe that these changes strike the right balance between protecting the vulnerable—we have discussed the extra support for families with disabled children—while encouraging families which receive both child tax credit and universal credit to make the same financial decisions about the number of children they can afford as are made by those families who support themselves solely through work. They help to make the welfare system sustainable and the move towards a high-wage, lower-tax and lower-welfare country. Clauses 11 and 12 should therefore stand part of the Bill.

Before the noble Baroness responds—and I do not wish to keep the Committee from its dinner—while I thank the Minister for reminding us about the very welcome new higher minimum wage that the Government are introducing, looking at figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies on projections for the difference that that will make, it has been clear to me that the complex way in which the tapers work will often mean that, for instance, lone working parents will not benefit that much more from this new, very welcome offer. Therefore I encourage your Lordships to keep that in mind. It is a very welcome offer but it may not make that much difference to the families that we are concerned about today.

I will just deal with that. In universal credit we are producing something very clearly tapered, without the trap at the 16-hour point, which is in the current legacy welfare system. Therefore we have a pathway. One of the things we are doing, particularly for lone parents, is that once you are freed from that tyranny of the 16-hour rule, it is interesting how firms in the north-west, where that is already happening, are able to work with those people and start moving them up the earnings progression—not just as regards the number of hours but earnings progression—and we are beginning to see signs of a transformation. That is behind some of these changes—we want to make people independent of the state as much as we can.

My Lords, I have debated a lot of subjects with the Minister over the last few years, and I am not sure I have ever been as disappointed in a Dispatch Box performance as I have been today. I know that the Minister knows these issues very well, and that he normally comes back. When noble Lords take a lot of care to mount arguments, take apart his arguments and engage, as many have done today, he normally does us all the courtesy of taking them on and responding to them carefully. He simply has not been doing that today.

I asked him only two questions and he did not answer either of them. I deconstructed the argument, and all he did was repeat it. He did not even engage with it. This is only a suspicion, and I am sure I am wrong, but it may just be that the Minister does not have any more enthusiasm for these provisions than I do. However, I am sure that that cannot be the case, and we will find that he comes back from supper enthused with zeal to take on and defend these proposals—which, frankly, has been sadly lacking so far.

I will say a couple of things. One is to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. He mentioned worrying about constitutional implications. He need not worry, of course, as he will well know, being much longer-serving than I am. Since this is primary legislation there is absolutely no reason why we should not send matters back to the House of Commons. The Companion makes this very clear at paragraph 8.181, where it says that,

“with regard to Commons financial privilege, the Lords may properly make amendments to Commons bills (other than supply bills) which, when they come to be considered by the Commons, are deemed by them to infringe their financial privileges. It also follows that the Lords need not anticipate what view the Commons may take of any Lords amendments with respect to”,

that. I hope that as a result he will sleep more easily tonight and will feel able to pursue this at a later stage.

I will make just one final point. I agree with the point made by many noble Lords that this two-child policy is qualitatively different from all the other measures. What we have traditionally done in support is to recognise in social security that children are a public and a private good and therefore that the costs of raising them should properly be shared between the taxpayer and the family. Traditionally, in the case of child benefit, we have said that we should all contribute something to the raising of all children; that where there are particular needs—for example, for disabled children—we should all contribute more; and that where people’s needs are greater, we should contribute more through means-tested benefits. This is a very dangerous day indeed if we move away from that and I hope very much that we will return to it at a later stage in the Bill. But I beg leave to withdraw my opposition.

Clause 11 agreed.

Clause 12: Changes to child element of universal credit

Amendments 8 to 10 not moved.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.50 pm.