House of Lords
Monday, 7 December 2015.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.
Introduction: Lord Stunell
The right honourable Sir Robert Andrew Stunell, Knight, OBE, having been created Baron Stunell, of Hazel Grove in the County of Greater Manchester, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Maddock and Lord Greaves, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Lord Bird
John Anthony Bird, Esquire, MBE, having been created Baron Bird, of Notting Hill in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Alton of Liverpool, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
My Lords, abortion on the grounds of gender alone is illegal, and we have made this very clear on a number of occasions. The Government published an analysis on 27 August this year which found no substantiated evidence of gender abortions taking place in Great Britain. We are committed to continuing to monitor this issue carefully and will examine any evidence that comes to light.
My Lords, I am most pleased to hear what my noble friend just told us. Why are there constantly reports in the papers of such abortions being carried out? It seems to be fairly usual if we look at the papers. Is he as concerned as I am that there seems to be no great battle against this?
My Lords, abortion on the basis of gender alone is illegal; there should be no doubt about that. There is no evidence at all on a population basis of any such abortions taking place. However, my noble friend has mentioned that there is anecdotal evidence to the effect that that may not always be the case. To that extent, she is right to be eternally vigilant about these matters. If it is happening, it is totally unacceptable, abhorrent, and against everything we stand for in this country.
My Lords, I have a long list of stakeholders, which covers all the usual suspects in this area, if I can put it like that. In the way that the methodology was developed to assess whether there was a population basis for gender abortions taking place, we took advice from the Office for National Statistics and a number of the royal colleges.
My Lords, has the Minister yet had the opportunity to consider the judgment made last week about abortion in Northern Ireland? What advice and work are the Government going to do with the devolved Administration to ensure that women in Northern Ireland get the same human rights as women in the rest of the United Kingdom?
My Lords, there may not be sufficient evidence for gender-based abortion prosecutions, but there is sufficient evidence, surely, for greater effort to be made about female genital mutilation. Tens of thousands of women in this country have suffered from it yet we still have not had a single successful prosecution. Does he accept that far more needs to be done to deal with this evil?
My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. Gender-based abortion, female genital mutilation, honour crimes and various other issues still take place in some ethnic communities in England. Across the board, we have to be vigilant about all of these issues and make it clear that they are not acceptable. They are against the law and anyone aware of these practices going on should report them to the police.
My Lords, my noble friend has twice referred to evidence on a population basis, which I take to mean that the evidence is taken without distinction of which part of the country it comes from. Has any effort been made to correlate the evidence with clusters of cases, which might point to some social activity that would be possible to countermand?
My Lords, the statistics are collected on the basis of birth across the population. They are then analysed in 500 different ways. In only one of those 500, which concerned the third or further child given birth to by women from Nepal, was there any variation from what one would expect. I can assure noble Lords that the statistical analysis is very robust.
My Lords, while welcoming the appointment of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, as the Minister with responsibility for women and children and for tackling violence against women and children overseas, given the prevalence of this abortion of female foetuses and the prevalence of FGM among certain girls under five, are the Government thinking of appointing a Minister for violence against women and children in the United Kingdom?
I thank the Minister for his original reply; it is one with which we concur—we do not have the evidence and, like him, we consider that the Act is sufficient as it is. Some of the stories are partly, I think, just about the lack of self-worth that some girl children sometimes feel; that is partly about their education and that of their mothers. Can the Minister say something about what the Government do to encourage greater self-worth among young women and, indeed, older women?
My Lords, I encourage anyone with an interest in this matter to read some of the case stories put together by Jeena International—they are really quite shocking. They are anecdotal, but they are very real for a small minority of women who lack self-worth. That is, tragically, part of some of the cultures in England and we must do everything we can to improve women’s self-worth. I think that, in the long run, that will be done by education, education, education.
My Lords, if, as anecdotal evidence suggests, there are such terminations of female foetuses, surely that would be reflected in the overall population of girls being born. The figures I have seen show that women are, thankfully, still in the majority in this country.
The statistical evidence is absolutely clear and points to the fact that there is no widespread gender abortion happening in this country. One would expect a ratio of 105 to 100 boys to girls and it is actually 105.2 to 100 in England, Scotland and Wales, so it is exactly where we would expect it be. There is one exception, which is the third and fourth born of Nepalese women, but this has been looked at two or three times and it is just a random variation in the statistics that we use.
India: Human Rights
My Lords, India has a strong democratic framework and its constitution guarantees fundamental human rights. However, it also faces numerous challenges relating to its size and its social and economic development. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister discussed human rights with Prime Minister Modi during his visit in November and welcomed Mr Modi’s commitment to preserve India’s traditions of tolerance and social harmony and to promote inclusive development.
I thank the Minister for her reply. India does, indeed, have vast problems because of its size, but the human rights situation is extremely worrying in a number of aspects. My particular concern is access to justice for minority groups and, in particular, for the Dalits. Every week 13 Dalits are murdered and five have their homes burned, and every day three Dalit women are raped. The problem is that while legal mechanisms are in place, their enforcement and implementation are weak or non-existent. Will Her Majesty’s Government encourage the Indian authorities to strengthen the whole legal justice system so that perpetrators are charged and brought to justice?
My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord is right to point to the importance of implementation of laws where they exist on these matters. The British High Commission in India regularly discusses the treatment of minorities with India’s National Commission for Minorities and with state governments across India. It is important that we are able to continue dialogue with India about how best it can implement the strong legislation it already has.
My Lords, reference to respect for human rights in a constitution does not necessarily guarantee those human rights, and there has been disturbing evidence of discrimination in particular against the Christian and Muslim communities since the coming in of Mr Modi’s Government. Does the Government agree that human rights should be respected everywhere, without any considerations of trade?
My Lords, when we discuss human rights matters with countries around the world, we never allow issues about our economic relationship to get in the way of upholding international law and international humanitarian law, and it is important that that should be the case. I can say of course that during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the UK, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister discussed intolerance in India with him. We should note that Prime Minister Modi has on numerous occasions reaffirmed his commitment to and respect for India’s core values of tolerance and freedom, as well as reaffirming the importance of social harmony and inclusive development. That is most welcome.
My Lords, we have a thriving Indian diaspora in this country, and many British NGOs have counterparts in India and work very closely with them. However, the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act 2010 in India does now inhibit the extent to which our NGOs and theirs can co-operate, and discriminates against British NGOs providing finance for their Indian counterparts. Have we raised that major and very illiberal Act with the Indian Government?
The noble Lord is right to point to the importance of the work of the diaspora, which is a valued part of our community. We are aware of concerns that some Indian NGOs have about the use by the Indian Government of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act to which the noble Lord referred. We are monitoring the situation closely. When, for example, Greenpeace has made representations about the Act, we have encouraged it to pursue these matters through the courts in India.
My Lords, we are aware of an escalation in the number of rapes against women in India, including several allegations made against Ministers in the Modi Cabinet against whom criminal cases are pending. Was the issue of violence against women raised by the Prime Minister in his discussions with Prime Minister Modi—and, if not, why not?
My Lords, my right honourable friend discussed a wide range of human rights issues with Prime Minister Modi, and I am sure that the noble Baroness will be aware of the speech that the Prime Minister made at Wembley underlining his commitment to human rights. Certainly through both the British High Commission in India and the Department for International Development, we look closely at the issue of violence, whether in the public or the domestic sphere. With regard to violence against women per se, we are currently helping to implement India’s domestic violence Act—but clearly it is important that all justice systems should respect the needs of those who are victims within it. That is the case in India as in other countries.
Syrian Refugees: Settlement in the UK
My Lords, the charter flights which have arrived represent a significant upscaling of the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement programme. We are on track to meet the Prime Minister’s ambition of 1,000 arrivals from the region by Christmas.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of the requests that have come from many places that we accommodate 3,000 unaccompanied children? Following the Prime Minister’s promise made last Wednesday—
“I am very happy to look at that issue again … to see whether Britain can do more to fulfil our moral responsibilities”—[Official Report, Commons, 2/12/15; col. 339.]
—what progress has been made towards Britain fulfilling its moral responsibilities?
In terms of moral responsibilities, it should be recognised that we have committed to take 20,000 refugees by the end of the Parliament, which represents a significant upscaling of the scheme. The Prime Minister said last week that he would look at this issue again. He is doing so, but a key group that is concerned here is the UNHCR, which we are working closely with. It is concerned that if we offer special treatment to unaccompanied minors, that may encourage more of them to be trafficked or might take them away from the region where they would actually stand more chance of remaining with their families. In fact, that is being exploited by the people traffickers, who send the children first in the hope that they might be resettled, and that others may follow afterwards. The Prime Minister is looking at this again because on the face of it, there is a compelling humanitarian case. However, no decision has been taken yet.
Will the Minister reflect on the fact that another of the Prime Minister’s pledges was to reduce net migration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands? Can he update your Lordships’ House on the statements made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week, in which he seemed to suggest that the Government are minded to take migration for the purposes of higher education out of the net migration count?
I have two thoughts on that. First, of course, it is absolutely right that there needs to be downward pressure on the wrong sort of immigration into this country. We have got to get those numbers down, precisely so that we can also offer more generous support to the genuine refugees and asylum seekers. On the specific of students, whatever the change in the calculation of the numbers, it will make no change to the student policy. There is no cap on the number of students who can come here for genuine courses at genuine universities, and that will remain the case.
Yes, my noble friend is absolutely right to point this out. That is one of the reasons why we want the investigations and checks to take place in the refugee camps in the region, under the auspices of the UNHCR, rather than encouraging people to make the perilous journey here and then try to establish whether their bona fides and credentials are as they say they are.
My Lords, I return to a question I previously hinted at, and in the light of the rather high-profile reportage of the plan of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury to house refugees in a cottage in the grounds of Lambeth Palace. Given that we understand there is some necessary bureaucracy associated with the proper placement of refugees, have we got the balance right? It is not just a question about the Archbishop, but about the good will shown by a good many people, which seems to be turned back by unnecessary bureaucracy.
We do not want that to happen, of course. We must remember that the priority consideration regarding the vulnerable persons scheme is that the people in question are vulnerable. First, we are talking about women and children who are at risk, along with people who have been subject to torture and those in need of acute medical care. They may not be the ideal people to take up the offers coming forward under the community-based sponsorship scheme. Like the right reverend Prelate, I read that report over the weekend. A meeting is going to take place on Thursday between Lambeth Palace and the Home Office to resolve that difference—I am sure it can be resolved—and to make sure that that very generous offer is accepted and taken up.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the recent thoughtful report from the Children’s Society, entitled Not Just a Temporary Fix, on the search for durable solutions for separated migrant children? One of its recommendations is that Home Office decision-makers should be trained in how to assess a separated child’s best interests, rather than simply referring to Section 55, the welfare duty, as if such a reference was enough.
I read that report, which I think is good. We are looking at it and it raises a number of issues. Under the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children scheme—UASC—there is an additional level of guidance from the Department for Education, and the Minister for Children and Families, Edward Timpson, has lead responsibility for it. Also, we cannot get away from the fact that although the Home Office might have such responsibility under the Children Act 1989, local authorities have the statutory duty of care for any children under their care, whether or not they are asylum seekers.
It is a slow process because we are undertaking the vetting and prioritising procedure in the camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey with the UNHCR. The UNHCR undertakes its checks, as then does the Home Office. It is a lengthier process at that end, but the whole purpose of the vulnerable persons scheme is that, once they are given leave to remain or international protection, they come to this country and do not have to go through any such process. They have accommodation to go to, they have schools, hospitals and medical care, and benefits if they need them. Therefore, although it is taking slightly longer at that end, we hope that that will shorten the process when they actually arrive here.
My Lords, I suggest that it is the turn of a Back Bencher—the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.
My Lords, what advice, support and help are the Government giving to local authorities to ensure that they have a satisfactory settlement, so that people can be helped into move-on housing and that the local medical and education support services, for example, are there? Given that we have previous experience—for example, when the Bosnians came here—please let us not waste it.
Exactly. Taking precisely from that experience is the reason why the Prime Minister appointed a Minister for the Syrian resettlement programme. Richard Harrington is based in the Home Office and is liaising with the DCLG, which is conveniently in the same building, to ensure that such joined-up work happens and people get the support they need when they arrive.
That, of course, was one of the big pressures. There is now in place the Kent dispersal scheme, for which Richard Harrington is responsible: rather than people being concentrated in a given local authority area, they are redistributed nationally. So far, 55 local authorities have signed up to that scheme, through which they can receive unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
My Lords, I am so sorry. Although I understand why the noble Baroness is trying to get in, there are occasions when we should give priority to Back Benchers rather than Front Benchers. I suggest that if we are to have one more speaker, it should be a Back Bencher.
While no one would underestimate the complexities, and indeed the pressures on the Minister and his colleagues, is it not important for the consistency of our position to remember constantly to emphasise the values we are trying to protect in our society, one of which is the Christian value of generosity and warmth towards people in situations such as this? Must we not keep that in mind and remember to consider, with all our preoccupations, what we are adding to the preoccupations and problems of Jordan and Lebanon?
Part of that is the generosity of people directly making offers under the community resettlement scheme. But I am also very proud of the generous commitment the Government are undertaking on behalf of this country in providing £1.1 billion of aid to Syrian people in the region to allay their suffering there. That is the second largest figure in the world.
Cyberattack: UK Defences
My Lords, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his speech to GCHQ on 17 November, despite a huge amount of investment, effort and world-class tools and capabilities, we are not where we need to be, particularly given the pace of innovation in cyberspace. Since 2011, we have invested £860 million in a national cybersecurity programme. As announced in the national security strategy and strategic defence and security review 2015, we plan almost to double investment in cybersecurity over the next five years.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very helpful reply. One of the most serious threats we face is that of a co-ordinated cyberattack against the UK financial sector. The Bank of England has shown that individual banks, especially the large banks, are pretty well protected but there are huge vulnerabilities in the connections between the banks and the rest of the economy, which some people say could lead to panic. One quite seasoned observer described the possibility of financial Armageddon—the meltdown of the system—given that most money today is electronic and no longer held in the form of cash. This is a matter for the Government, not just for the Bank of England, so what concrete steps are the Government taking to address this issue?
I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord and a number of other of your Lordships in this area. On the specific point, the financial sector, including the City of London, has undertaken a number of exercises in recent years: Waking Shark I, Waking Shark II and the Market Wide Exercise, as well as the more recent Resilient Shield exercise between the US and the UK last month. In June, the FPC agreed that the Bank, the PRA and the FCA should also establish arrangements for CBEST tests to become one component of regular cyber resilience assessment within the UK financial system.
My Lords, the Minister may be aware that the infrastructure in most of the exchanges of internet service providers in this country is supplied by a Chinese company, Huawei. In the previous coalition Government, Sir Malcolm Rifkind was commissioned to inquire about this country’s vulnerability to a possible instruction by the Chinese Government to shut our systems down. Does the Minister have the results of this investigation? He should also be aware that the United States does not allow that company to operate there.
I will write to the noble Lord about his specific point. However, we are not complacent on this issue. As the noble Lord, and other noble Lords, will know, virtually every telecommunications network in the world incorporates foreign technology. Most manufacturers have some of their equipment built in China and use technical components from a global supply chain, regardless of the location of their headquarters.
My Lords, I should declare an interest as a former adviser to Huawei. Given that 90% of larger companies suffered a security breach last year, I welcome what the Chancellor and the Minister have said about setting up a national cyber centre. To date, the Cabinet Office has been responsible for the national cybersecurity programme. Can the Minister confirm that it will continue to be so, and to be responsible for the national cyber centre, rather than handing it over to the tender mercies of the Home Office, which is not known for its business-friendliness?
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the firing chain for Trident is air-gapped in its entirety, as it certainly was until 2006, and is therefore invulnerable to cyberattack? Will he also confirm that any upgrades that may be planned for that firing chain will remain air-gapped? If not, there will clearly be a vulnerability.
The noble Lord speaks with immense experience in this area and I will write to him on the specific point. I cannot comment on the detail of the security arrangements for our nuclear deterrent but we can, and do, safeguard it from threats, including cyber.
My Lords, will the Minister update the figures on substantial attacks on British government institutions and businesses which last year were running at between 150 and 200 per month? Has that figure changed substantially and has there been the slightest indication that, since the Chinese leadership pledged to the Prime Minister that they would lay off, there has been an easing from that quarter?
I can give some figures. GCHQ typically responds to an average of 70 sophisticated attacks on government networks per quarter. In summer 2014, GCHQ responded to approximately 200 incidents and this figure doubled to nearly 400 during summer 2015.
National Insurance Contributions (Rate Ceilings) Bill
Welfare Reform and Work Bill
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in another place. Since my right honourable friend’s Statement, the Lancaster electricity substation has failed and every effort is now being made to restore power as soon as possible. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the impact of storm Desmond and flooding in the north of England.
As the House will know, this weekend has brought some enormously difficult and extreme weather conditions, and I would like to begin by expressing my deepest sympathy to those who have been affected in all parts of the United Kingdom. I would also like to commend the emergency responders, volunteers and the Environment Agency, who have been working tirelessly throughout the weekend, often in horrific conditions. People have come from all over the country, as far as south Wales, Lincolnshire and Somerset, to help. I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to their work, and the generous community spirit of those who have been offering food, transport and even beds to neighbours.
Over the course of Friday 4 December it became increasingly clear that storm Desmond would bring an exceptionally high volume of rainfall across the United Kingdom. The Environment Agency responded by mobilising its people and assets, moving temporary defences and pumps to north-west England through Friday. On Saturday morning it became clearer which counties would be impacted and that we would see very high levels of rainfall that evening. Therefore, the Government mobilised a full national emergency response. At midday on Saturday I held a cross-departmental meeting to assess the projected impacts, shortly followed by the mobilisation of 200 military personnel and supporting assets, including making available a Chinook helicopter. Local commanders were able to call upon more than 50 high-volume pumps, as well as specialist tactical advisers and rescue boats from around the UK, adding to more than 200 emergency responders already on the ground.
My honourable friend the Floods Minister travelled to Cumbria on Saturday to ensure that the emergency responders on the ground got all they need. He has remained in the north-west throughout. On Saturday night we saw an unprecedented amount of rainfall. More than a month’s rain fell in one day. During Saturday night main rivers all across Cumbria exceeded the highest levels ever recorded. There is a mark on the bridge in Carlisle showing the flood level in 1853. The 2005 flood was half a metre higher than the 1853 flood, which was the highest on record until then. This flood was half a metre higher again. It was 0.6 metres higher than previous records in Kendal, 0.7 metres higher in Keswick and 0.3 metres higher in Appleby.
Although more than 8,000 properties were protected by our flood defences, by Sunday morning more than 3,500 properties had been flooded across the country, with the majority in Cumbria. In Carlisle, more than 2,000 properties flooded. More than 600 properties flooded in both Kendal and Keswick, with more than 200 in Appleby. Flooding was also seen in Northumberland, with more than 60 properties flooded at Hexham. Some 55,000 properties lost power in Lancaster following the flooding of the electricity substation. Transport was severely disrupted, with roads closed across the north-west and bridges damaged. The west coast main line was suspended.
Tragically, I can also confirm to the House that there were a number of weather-related fatalities, with a number of incidents caused or exacerbated by flooding or poor weather. I am sure the House will want to join me to express our deepest sympathy to their families and friends. It is a tragic reminder of how dangerous these conditions can be. On Sunday morning I chaired a cross-Government COBRA meeting to ensure the emergency responders on the ground had all the resources they needed and to address immediate issues, including the threat to the power supply in Lancaster and Carlisle. I spoke with gold commanders in the worst affected areas during the day to ensure they had sufficient national resources to deliver their emergency plans.
The Prime Minister chaired a further COBRA meeting this morning and is visiting the affected areas today. I am pleased to confirm to the House that progress is being made on recovering from some of the impacts. The number of homes affected by power outages has been reduced to fewer than 5,000 following restoration of power at Lancaster substation. Electricity companies are working around the clock to restore power as soon as possible. Transport remains disrupted across much of the area. Many roads remain closed and will need to be repaired. The west coast main line remains suspended between Preston and Scotland, and service is unlikely to be restored until Wednesday at the earliest.
The Government will continue to ensure all resources are made available to support recovery from this flooding. COBRA will continue to meet daily to oversee recovery efforts and I will be travelling to Cumbria and Lancashire after this Statement to continue to ensure we are doing all we can to help those affected. I know local communities will want to know what action Government will be taking to support the recovery phase. I am pleased to confirm to the House that my colleague the Communities Secretary will shortly be opening the Bellwin scheme for local authorities affected by floods, and that 100% of eligible costs will be met by Government. We will be announcing support schemes in coming days.
Since 2009 we have invested £45 million in new defences in Cumbria, but we will need to reflect on any lessons we can learn from this extreme weather event. In the last Parliament there was a real-terms increase in investment in flood defences and in this Parliament there will be another real-terms increase in spending. We are investing £2.3 billion in 1,500 schemes throughout the country that will protect 300,000 homes. The spending review has also confirmed we are protecting flood maintenance spending throughout this Parliament, as well as capital spending.
I am sure the whole House will join me in expressing our sincere sympathy to those affected by this weekend’s extreme weather conditions. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to do everything we can to support those affected”.
I commend this Statement to the House.
My Lords, I join the Minister in passing on our condolences for the very sad loss of life reported in Cumbria. We wish to offer our compassion and support for all those whose lives and livelihoods have been damaged by the recent floods. It is sometimes hard for us to fully comprehend the scale of the ongoing trauma and pain being experienced by these communities, but our thoughts go out to them.
I also join with the Minister in thanking all those working for the emergency services, the local councils and the Environment Agency. They have responded to the challenge with speed, calmness and efficiency. The priority in the next few hours and days must be to make people safe and to return essential services to full working capacity. Clearly the latest news about the Lancaster substation is a particular cause for concern, so our response will involve the need for co-ordinated action across local authority, energy, transport and health services.
I welcome the statement from the Minister that the Bellwin scheme will be applied to give local authorities some helpful financial relief, but can the noble Lord clarify what additional financial help will be given to other essential services such as transport and health to make up the shortfall caused by these events?
There is also a personal crisis being experienced by thousands of householders and businesses. Many of these individuals have only just put their lives back together after the previous floods. There have been countless stories about individuals waiting years to receive the insurance money that they needed to rebuild their lives. I know that the noble Lord promised to look into this issue when it was raised last week by my noble friend Lady Symons, but, given the events of recent days which have underlined the urgency of this issue, I hope that the noble Lord will commit to a summit of the insurance companies to see what can be done to speed up the process of reimbursement.
Sadly, we also know that the new government-sponsored insurance scheme, Flood Re, will not come into effect until next year, so can the noble Lord say what if anything can be done to prevent the insurance premiums for properties in the affected areas rocketing in the mean time? As we know, the Flood Re scheme applies only to domestic households, but the flooding of town centres has brought its own heartbreak to local businesses. Many of them have spent years building up their businesses, so it is a matter of compensation not just for lost stock but for all of those customer relations which have made their businesses a success.
If we are not careful, these businesses will simply pack up, and, in doing so, they will rip the heart out of those communities. Can the noble Lord give some hope to those businesses that they will receive all the necessary support to help them stay and rebuild? In particular, can he update the House on the expenditure from the repair and renew grant which was meant to provide grants for flooded homeowners and businesses after the previous events of the past few years? Figures published earlier this year show that only 1,680 claims were met, despite the fact that more than 11,000 properties were flooded during the winter of 2013-14. Of those, the average payment was £1,666, which is much lower than the £5,000 maximum.
Meanwhile, the Government’s Farming Recovery Fund, which promised £10 million to help flooded farmers restore their land, has paid out only £2.8 million, with another £2.3 million in the pipeline. Is the Minister content with the limited scale of these payments—and, if not, what else is he doing to make sure that the money is put to the use for which it was originally intended?
Obviously we need to take all necessary steps to make amends for this disastrous event, but ultimately that is not the point. What everyone caught up in this crisis really wants to know is why it happened and what is being done to make sure that it does not happen again. The Prime Minister has again pledged support and financial aid for those affected by the floods, but the track record of this Government tells a different story. We are dealing with the aftermath of a disastrous decision by the incoming coalition Government in 2010 to downgrade flood defences as a priority. In one year alone, the coalition slashed flood spending by more than £100 million. So, despite the money now being pledged for capital expenditure on flood defences, we are spending less than we were in 2009-10. In addition, the Government are preventing the Environment Agency from carrying out long-term planning on flood maintenance by restricting its budget to year-on-year announcements. Will the Minister agree to revisit the allocation policy and give the Environment Agency some longer-term certainty about future expenditure?
The mistake we have been making so far is to concentrate on flood defences rather than on the wholesale countryside management that contributes to these problems. In particular, we should be paying greater heed to upstream river management. We know, for example, that trees absorb water much faster than grass, so it should be a priority to reforest upland areas. Equally, we need to ensure that rivers are encouraged to flow and meander more slowly, if necessary flooding adjacent farmland. We need to address the impact of the CAP and the single farm payment to ensure that they are not offering perverse incentives to clear land that would otherwise trap water and prevent flooding. Moreover, we need to intervene to prevent farming practices such as overploughing, which cause rapid water drain-off. I would be grateful if the noble Lord could confirm that these policies are being co-ordinated to ensure that we make the best use of scientific evidence on these issues in the future.
Finally, we will not have a serious strategy at the heart of government until the Government fully embrace the fact that extreme weather events are the result of climate change. The Government have been repeatedly warned by the Committee on Climate Change that these catastrophic events will become more and more common, and that they require a whole-government response. The fact that the Paris talks are taking place is an opportunity for our Government to show real leadership by committing to a low-carbon economy and investing in low-carbon technology. Perhaps the noble Lord could take this opportunity to update us on the Government’s proposed offer to the Paris talks. Ultimately, we are not going to overcome the impact of extreme weather simply by building higher defences. We need to address the fundamental causes, and I look forward to the noble Lord’s response.
My Lords, I add from these Benches that our thoughts and prayers are with those who are affected at this very difficult time, and we offer our thanks to those who are helping them. After the severe flooding in Cumbria six years ago, some £134 million was made available to the UK by the European Union fund for major natural disasters. It is very welcome news that the Bellwin scheme is going to be opened imminently, but, given the scale of the clean-up, the need for temporary accommodation and the need to rebuild vital infrastructure after the record-breaking floods in the north of England, can the Minister say on this occasion whether the Government will be applying to the European Union Solidarity Fund in order to help these devastated communities?
Perhaps I may add from these Benches that I welcome what the noble Baroness said about an update on the climate change negotiations in Paris. It is important that we do not forget at this time of personal tragedy the wider implications of these events, which are occurring far too often.
My Lords, I thank both noble Baronesses for their comments on what is overwhelmingly a personal tragedy for many families, and obviously the fatalities are a great upset to so many people and communities. One thing that has come across strongly is the way in which communities have come together, as noble Lords would expect, to help each other. The other point raised by both noble Baronesses is the extraordinary and exceptional way in which the emergency services from across the country have come together to help. I acknowledge their comments in this regard, and it is something that we should all acknowledge.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, raised a number of points, and if there are matters of detail that I do not cover, I will be in touch with her. Looking at the investment both in capital and maintenance, it is interesting to note that from 2005 to 2010, there was an investment of £2.7 billion in flood defences. In the last Parliament, it was £3.2 billion. We now have a six-year programme involving a £2.3 billion investment in 1,500 schemes. The maintenance budget has also been protected and that is very important. We obviously have lessons to learn from what happened in Cumbria and other parts of the country.
However, there were a number of key points to which I must respond. A major one was insurance, because, clearly, this is going to be a matter of considerable concern to householders and businesses. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, is absolutely right that this came up in exchanges with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. I understand that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State at Defra met the Association of British Insurers recently and, because the Communities Secretary will deal with the recovery element of this, there will be a meeting of the insurers imminently. However, the department is in regular touch with the Association of British Insurers to discuss not only the situation in Cumbria but beyond, and the industry’s responses.
We are assured that the action taken by insurers—we will work closely with them and make sure that this is the case—includes arranging and paying for temporary alternative accommodation or, for businesses, temporary trading premises; drafting in additional claims staff; prioritising elderly and vulnerable customers; doing all they can to ensure repairers are available to start repairs as soon as it is safe to do so; and making interim emergency payments to support flooded customers. Insurers are aware of the need for prompt payment but the need clearly is for the waters to recede before damage can be assessed. Therefore, I assure the noble Baroness and your Lordships that both the Secretary of State at Defra has already had discussions with the ABI, and that the Communities Secretary will take this forward as we ensure we get into a proper recovery situation.
On repair and renew, I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and I need to compare our statistics. My understanding is that more than £24 million was granted for repair and renewal to 6,000 households and businesses who were flooded in 2013-14. My understanding—and therefore we must compare our information—is that on the farming recovery fund all claims were met in full. I think we need to ensure that we both have the right figures in front of us but I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this matter.
The other point was on farming practices. Clearly, we need to think very carefully about how we work with farmers who are going about their business and looking after their land to make sure that we achieve the best for the environment. We need to think, too, about the way in which farmland can be included, not only the protection of properties but also of agricultural land, which is so important for the production of our food. I mentioned in Questions last week the example of the slow the flow project in Pickering—I am conscious my noble friend Baroness McIntosh of Pickering may be in the Chamber. This is an important way of proceeding: looking at the use of land and how we work with the farming world to ensure that floods can be accommodated. While we should be mindful that farmland is valuable—it produces a crop—there may be certain parts of the country where we should be working together much more strongly to ensure that we slow the flow. I am a great tree planter. The planting of trees and the way in which we farm alongside watercourses are all going to be important.
Climate change is clearly an area which is of particular importance when, for instance, the Environment Agency is considering how best to work on our behalf to get the right results with the right investment to secure the best overall result. All flood risk management schemes are required to take into account climate change during their design and construction. The Environment Agency also produced its long-term investment scenario study in December last year, which sets out national long-term investment scenarios for flood and costal risk management over the next 50 years and includes adaption to climate change. Therefore, that is also going to be very important.
Clearly, important discussions are taking place in Paris. It is important that we are all responsible custodians of the planet in our generation. We need to have a result that ensures that the planet can—we hope—be better restored, and that there are ways in which we can work together with all countries. We need to do our part in this country but also we need to ensure that around the world there is recognition that many aspects of the way in which we live need to be addressed. I think what the noble Baronesses both raised about changes in climate is important in the way in which we deal with flooding.
The statistics on the floods and the levels of the rivers in Cumbria are extraordinary and unprecedented. A rain gauge in Cumbria in Honister recorded rain of 13.4 inches. This is the scale of what happened and the reason why many of the defences, which were above the level of the previous floods, were over-topped. If there is any positivity to come out of this, it is that those investments enabled fewer properties to be flooded and bought time for us to help the evacuation, the informing of the warnings and getting people away. I am sorry, obviously, that these flood defences held but were over-topped, but when I looked at the statistics for the level of rainfall and what the rivers and the defences had to cope with, it is quite extraordinary what the people of Cumbria had to withstand over the weekend.
My Lords, in the almost 40 years that I represented Worcestershire in the House of Commons flooding was one of two issues that came up the whole time. Does my noble friend accept that you cannot hide flood water? If you build barriers in one place, particularly on a river, and keep out the water in a particular place it is quite likely to be pushed on to another place. That happened continually in my old constituency. Upton-on-Severn was always flooding and was almost a national treasure for that at one point. Once we got that sorted out the whole lot went down to Tewkesbury and flooded that out. Therefore, when people call on the Government to spend more money on barriers, I hope he will bear that in mind.
My Lords, my noble friend has great experience of the flooding in his constituency and we have all seen the difficulties when many residents and businesses on the River Severn have been so affected. It is important to note that in Cumbria all the flood storage reservoirs were utilised—at Carlisle, Wigton, Longtown, Kendal and Penrith—and, indeed, the flood basins at Garstang and Catterall on the River Wyre were immensely valuable in preventing more properties being flooded. Therefore, how we stall water or how to slow the flow are things that we need to look at more rigorously.
My Lords, I live only a short distance from Honister, and indeed from Cockermouth, and not far from Keswick, and I was at home during the weekend. The situation is hard to overdramatise. Obviously I could speak at great length about the experience but I will not. Suffice to say that we cannot thank the volunteers and the specialist services enough. They worked tremendously hard; they were very prompt in their arrival; and they worked effectively.
However, we cannot overemphasise the resilience of the people. I do not want the House to be under any illusion. There is a great deal of despondency in the area about how seriously the situation is taken. First, for a long time, ever since the last major incident, there has been scepticism about whether all the money was being spent to good effect and whether what was done was sufficient. Secondly, people had anticipated and discussed—I have heard them over the years—that because it was not enough it would create new problems. Indeed, this has happened. There were predictable knock-on effects from some of the defence work that was done, which aggravated the situation just along the road, or just down the way, or wherever. That has to be considered very seriously. In other areas, the work was just useless because the floods completely overpowered it. There is a lot to be examined about the effectiveness and how far public expenditure was put to good use.
Thirdly, there is the impact on people. There will be trauma for a long time to come with consequences for the health service and others. While the resilience of the people is magnificent, there will be others who are completely broken, which will place a heavy demand on the psychiatric as well as the physical aspects of medicine. I bring these points to the attention of the Minister.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for raising these points today. Absolutely, volunteers came from all parts of the country to help the people of Cumbria. I know there is a very strong flood warden system in Cumbria and I acknowledge, because of the resilience of those communities, that somehow they will get through it but it is going to be very difficult and very painful. I realise that and we need to take all these matters extremely seriously. As the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have said, we need to learn further lessons from this. Obviously, there is the whole issue of river systems, and the way in which we deal with these enormous flows of water is absolutely crucial.
My Lords, I apologise to the House and in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the Minister for my earlier ill-timed intervention. I add an expression of my compassion and sympathy, and the assurance of my prayers, to all those whose lives and livelihoods have been affected and particularly to the families of those who died.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle lives in Keswick so has seen for himself the terrible problems caused by these storms. I know that the House will appreciate that he cannot be in his place today. In the past 10 years we have seen in Cumbria three so-called once-in-a-lifetime flooding events. Does the Minister believe that there may be a category problem here, and that some redefinition may be appropriate? Further, will Her Majesty’s Government reassess not only how they categorise these events but prepare for their apparent more frequent occurrence? We have heard of the help given by some of the flood protection measures that are in hand, but does the Minister believe that reconsideration of present flood prevention measures is not just needed—that is the reflection and learning that the Statement mentions—but urgently needed when we see so graphically the results of this particular circumstance?
Finally, will the Minister confirm that, alongside short to medium-term flood prevention measures, these ghastly events have surely confirmed the vital significance of the deliberations in Paris on climate change for a deep-seated change, so that floods and such awful events occur, if not never, certainly less frequently? Meanwhile, I know that Christian churches of all denominations are working alongside the huge number of volunteers, and we welcome that.
My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. I think that all Members of Parliament from Cumbria are in their constituencies and I am not surprised that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle is in his diocese.
The definition of how we deal with and approach what continue to be unprecedented circumstances is a difficult one. All I can say is: having seen the scale of the rainfall, I hope that what we saw over the weekend remains unprecedented. The point is that lessons always have to be learned when we have such emergencies. We need to look at the flood protection measures. As I said, very considerable sums of money are being spent not only on capital projects but on maintenance, but we clearly need to continue looking at whether they are the best value for money and whether they secure the best safety, which is obviously paramount for people. There are lessons to be learned and, as I have already mentioned, the deliberations in Paris on climate change are clearly of huge importance.
My Lords, I must declare an interest as I was born in Carlisle, I live in Cumbria, and I have property and business interests that have been damaged by these floods. However, they are nothing compared to the misfortune that has fallen on the head of a number of other Cumbrians, many of whom for the second time have been flooded out of house and home at the beginning of a wet and cold winter.
Over recent years the Cumbria Community Foundation, of which I am vice-president, has had a lot of experience after the various floods and the foot and mouth outbreak in distributing money to those who need it. The crucial lesson that you learn is that you need money up front for distribution now. In response to this flood, I understand from the net that the foundation has already raised £100,000, and I ask the Government whether they will make a contribution for immediate distribution to those who are in desperate immediate need of help. I should like to suggest a minimum of £1 million.
My Lords, I know of my noble friend’s connections and strong affinity with Cumbria and the communities there. I am sure that the Cumbria Community Foundation is an excellent local charity but obviously it is not in my gift to make such a donation. However, I can say to him that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defra announced in her Statement that the Government will look over the coming days at what further steps they might take in support of those affected. I will ensure that his suggestion is put forward.
My Lords, as a former Member of Parliament for Workington, Cockermouth and Keswick, in expressing my sympathy I declare an interest as the convener of one of the flood action groups in Cumbria, occasionally meeting with the Environment Agency and United Utilities officials.
A lot of money has been spent on flood alleviation and resilience projects. However, none of the authorities concerned has been prepared to spend money on the big-ticket projects that are necessary if this unprecedented and unpredictable scale of flooding is to be avoided in future. Will Ministers now consider upstream storage, even including new reservoir projects, pump-primed with state money but ultimately transferred to the private sector? Will they consider the urgently needed re-engineering of outflow valves on the dam at Thirlmere? Will they consider statutory month-by-month limits on water asset management at Thirlmere? Will they consider the removal of the Gote Bridge in Cockermouth and the Greta Bridge in Keswick and their replacement by single-span bridges that stop the blocking of water flows? Will they consider strengthening the course of the River Derwent below Cockermouth, to remove some of the meanders, as raised by my noble friend on the Front Bench? Can we have a complete ban on housing development on the west Cumbrian flood plain? Finally, can we have a review of the coverage of Flood Re, which is now exposed as fatally flawed, as thousands of people will find that they are not covered, even under the new scheme when it is introduced?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for raising those important issues. I will take his comments back, with some of his detailed points on upstream storage, re-engineering, water levels at Thirlmere, bridges, and the use of reservoirs and other places to keep water back when we can. The whole area of water asset management is clearly going to be important. On housing, the planning guidance on new development has been very clear. I will look into the particular point about Cumbria, but well over 95% of new housing is now not built in flood-risk areas. The noble Lord and I had a conversation about Flood Re after Questions last week. I am looking into the particular point of long-term leaseholders: I hope I can at least help to address this situation.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Statement. Storm Desmond was clearly an act of God and resulted in flooding of biblical proportions. No matter what preparedness there was, I would defy anybody to find any flood defences that could have protected all the properties. I greatly regret the loss of life and damage to property.
When my noble friend looks at the role of insurance companies in rebuilding homes, will priority be given to developing greater resilience and lowering insurance claims where householders look to increase and improve the resilience of their properties? I declare an interest, as referred to in the register. Also, the first seat I fought was Workington and it is a delight to follow in the footsteps, in this House, of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I support his bid to have a review of the Flood Re categories, particularly for businesses, farms and leasehold properties. There is also the vexatious issue of those on low incomes who cannot afford contents insurance. What regard can we have for them?
Will my noble friend respond to the concern of farmers who will have lost livestock and the use of the land through contamination by these floods and those in 2009? Will he recognise the role of farmers and drainage boards in clearing minor watercourses to allow the flood waters to recede in events such as this? Will he look to introduce novel means of financing future flood defences by levering in private funding? It is in the interests of insurance companies, and water companies, to fund major flood defences in future. If the Minister can be part of that debate, the whole of Cumbria and the United Kingdom will benefit.
My Lords, my noble friend spoke about the flood defences. I have now studied this: the extent of the rainfall was so extraordinary that the defences held but were overtopped because of the exceptional levels. However, we obviously need to look at where we can best devote our resources. It is very important that insurance companies work with policyholders: we want remedies there. Greater resilience is going to be very important. There are all sorts of ways in which we can start to encourage people, particularly in areas where flooding is a possibility or even a probability. I should have declared that I am a farmer myself. I therefore recognise the importance of the farming community working to maintain ditches and watercourses going through their property. It is important that we work closely with them, which is why we have regular meetings with the National Farmers’ Union and farming organisations. My noble friend asked about further funding. Partnership funding is going to be very important. It plays a significant role and may well help us ensure that there will be other sources, in addition to the £2.3 billion of government funding, to fund working closely with local communities to get good results.
I have two short questions for the Minister. First, will he encourage people against non-permeable structures? Secondly, because electricity supply is so important, will he discuss with the electricity companies and National Grid protecting their substations from flooding?
My Lords, the noble Lord rightly mentions how we can best prevent flash flooding in particular. It is important that the policy guidance should be that developers and householders do not concrete everywhere. On the electricity grid, it is also essential that we protect our infrastructure. We are working on this.
My Lords, as the Minister will be aware, the last time Cockermouth was badly flooded, in 2009, it took a long time for the town to get back to normal and some of the businesses had to struggle very hard to survive. When he meets the insurance companies, will he make reference to the fact that it is partly a matter of being covered and partly a matter of the cost? I fear that some businesses and householders in places like Cockermouth will be charged so much to reinsure that they will not be able to afford it. Could he please get them to be sensible about this and not slap up the charges? Last time there were floods, my insurance went up six or sevenfold.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point, which I will feed back. The best thing everyone could do is support Cumbrian businesses next spring and summer. That would be a gesture of support for the great communities of Cumbria, which is a tourism Mecca for so many.
Welfare Reform and Work Bill
Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.