Report (1st Day) (Continued)
Clause 4: Workless households and educational attainment: reporting obligations
3: Clause 4, page 4, line 31, at end insert—
“Maternal nutrition: reporting obligationA1ZA Maternal nutrition and poverty: reporting obligation
(1) The Secretary of State must publish and lay before Parliament a report containing data on—
(a) maternal nutrition in workless households in England;(b) maternal nutrition in long-term workless households in England.(2) The report must set out how the Secretary of State has interpreted the following terms for the purposes of the report—
(a) maternal nutrition;(b) household;(c) worklessness;(d) long-term worklessness.(3) The data contained in the report, and the provision about how the terms used in it are to be interpreted, must, so far as practicable, be derived from any relevant official statistics.
(4) The first report must be published before the end of the financial year ending with 31 March 2017.
(5) Later reports must be published before the end of each subsequent financial year.
(6) In this section “official statistics” has the meaning given by section 6(1) of the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 3 I shall speak also to Amendments 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13 and 14, which are all to Clause 4 of the Bill. Indeed, they are all amendments in effect to the Child Poverty Act 2010. They represent a repetition of amendments that I tabled in Committee about the annual reporting on health and well-being and on children aged five, as opposed to at key stage 4. For very logical reasons, the Public Bill Office has put Amendment 3 before my old amendment, which is now Amendment 5, because maternal nutrition obviously comes before children who have already been born. Therefore, I shall speak first to Amendments 5 and 6 to amplify what I said in Committee, on which I had a discussion with the Minister before Christmas following the rather inconclusive conclusion to our debate that evening, following timing problems in the House. I particularly want to talk about the link between extreme poverty and mental health, particularly of children, which was highlighted in the previous amendment.
In any situation, it is grossly inefficient to tax people who cannot pay. Local government has been quite right to draw the Government’s attention to the inability of councils in England and Wales to collect the £1 billion in three years that they were instructed to start taxing in April 2013. Of course, as has been said many times during the passage of the Bill, there is a cumulative impact on the health and well-being of residents when the benefits provided by central government for survival are being reduced in value as the rents that they have to pay rise. Therefore, in fact, we are talking about the cumulative effects of a great number of issues that are not in themselves all the responsibility of the Department of Health, or, indeed, the Department for Communities and Local Government, which have to deal with the outcomes.
The economic and social costs of mental health provision, which is the subject of this amendment, have been calculated by the Centre for Mental Health, in which I declare an interest as a vice president, as being £105 billion in 2009-10, which is reckoned to be an underestimate. That is a huge amount of money and a great deal of that is caused by the conditions that we have been discussing in this Bill. It is of interest that Dr Angela Donkin, who is a deputy director at the Institute of Health Equity, has said that the national audit in 2010 found that 82% of homeless people had at least one physical health problem, and 72% had at least one mental health problem. So there is a huge cost to all this poverty.
Some 10.4% of those in fuel poverty, living therefore in extremely cold houses, showed higher levels of respiratory conditions, cardiovascular disease and poor mental health as the result of the conditions in which they lived. You then add food poverty, which has been mentioned—and, again, the lack of proteins, iron and the correct vitamins, minerals and fatty acids leave a higher susceptibility to illness and infection and heart and lung complications. It is said that preventing low birth weight should be an absolute must for all public health officials, but all their efforts will be hampered by inefficient incomes, which mean that people cannot buy what is required to produce that high birth weight. Finally, there are many mental disorders, particularly evident in women who, in addition to handling the family budget, suffer from maternal depression, which is bound to impact on the children and their social development.
As I mentioned before, we have a situation here where the Chancellor is apparently directing, without ever taking evidence from such as the Barrow Cadbury Trust, whose evidence was used by the Mayor of London to calculate the London living wage—and also, I fear, there is a lack of tie-up between the Treasury, the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions as well as the Department for Communities and Local Government. There is too much silo working. My amendments aim collectively to ensure that the collection of evidence by one ministry or another should be made available to all the others so that they have an aggregated picture on which to make their judgments.
Amendment 3 would introduce reporting on maternal nutrition—an addition to what I tabled in Committee. Also, it has been taken forward considerably since we debated it in December, particularly in a speech by the Prime Minister on 11 January, when he announced his life chances strategy. In addition to maternal nutrition, he also endorsed what was in my previous Amendment 4: the suggestion that reporting on children should not be left until key stage 4, at the end of schooling, but should be done at the age of five, because we would then have some chance of taking remedial action based on something that we had found early, thus increasing life chances. It is interesting that in his speech on 11 January, the Prime Minister said that,
“we must think much more radically about improving family life and the early years”.
He called that a “life cycle approach”—one that takes people from their earliest years through schooling and through adolescent and adult life.
This strategy clearly points to the importance of early child development and getting children ready for school, thus endorsing the assessment currently done of every child by the age of two, which I mentioned in Committee. Without measuring a child’s progress at the age of five, the Government cannot know how successful or otherwise any remedial treatment initiated following the health visitor assessment at two has actually been in preparing children for school.
I also mentioned in Committee that the All-Party Group on Speech and Language Difficulties, which I co-chair, in a report on the links between disadvantage and speech, language and communication needs, found that children with a low IQ from advantaged families overtook children with a higher IQ from disadvantaged families by the age of five. That is a terrible factor to consider: that overtaking will happen unless remedial action is taken. Therefore, I strongly believe that tackling child poverty and improving children’s life chances—the right reverend Prelate has just spoken about this, and we have just voted on it—is a national endeavour and responsibility. My amendment is designed to present the Government with the opportunity, through the evidence produced every year, to learn about what is actually happening to our children, and then to enable all the departments involved, not just the Department for Work and Pensions, to use the information to improve life chances, and thus to invest the nation’s money in its future—our children—more wisely.
My other amendments—Amendments 7, 9, 10 and 12 to 14—are textual adjustments to reflect the content of Amendments 3 to 6. I beg to move.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham. The main amendments in this group are of fundamental importance if the Government are to make a success of their own DWP policy. The Government want to focus upon the life chances of children rather than upon poverty alone—but I do not believe we should lose sight of the significance of poverty, particularly when the levels of poverty will worsen so severely in the coming years. I was relieved to hear the Minister assure the House that the Government will continue monitoring poverty as before, whatever becomes of the amendment on which the House has just voted when it gets to the other place.
Of course, there is a lot more to successful parenting and the life chances of children than income alone. As we all know, sufficient income is a necessary but certainly not a sufficient condition for a successful childhood. Parents’ mental and physical health and well-being are essential to successful parenting. If a mother is malnourished, she is most unlikely to provide for her child’s mental and physical needs. If she is depressed, she may not be able to look after her child at all until her mental health improves.
As my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham reminded us, the Prime Minister himself has highlighted the early years as one of four areas in which to anchor the Government's approach to life chances. The Government’s life chances strategy can, in my view, set a course for improving school readiness for the poorest and most disadvantaged children—but only, of course, if it is introduced across the country and is adequately funded. But only by monitoring progress in improving the health and well-being of children in workless households, particularly during the early years, is there any hope that policies will be developed and adjusted over time to ensure that they help rather than hinder the life chances of those children. Any Government will need to learn from their mistakes over time—and as we all know, Governments certainly make mistakes.
I was a member of the Marmot Commission on Social Determinants of Health. That commission made it clear that parenting in the early years is a key determinant of the school readiness of any child. If a child starts school at a significant disadvantage, that failure will dog them throughout their school life and throughout their entire adult life. We need to understand why a child is not school-ready on their first day at school, so all the information that the Government can gather is imperative—absolutely essential. It is concerning that only 58% of children from the most deprived communities reach a good level of development, compared with 77% in the better-off areas. That gap of nearly 20% is utterly disgraceful. Monitoring, as proposed by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, will enable better targeting of the most successful programmes on those who can benefit most.
While so much is being cut back, the Government have made vital investments in the health and development of young children in recent years. I applaud their investment in expanding the health visiting programme by nearly 50% in four years, increasing the numbers by more than 4,000 health visitors. These health visitors could contribute to the monitoring of maternal nutrition and mental health. I am sure that they already do a lot of that, but an obvious thing to do would be for the Government to systematise the information and gather it nationally. Health visitors can also monitor the health and well-being of the children of workless households. We need to understand which interventions really help a child and which have little or no effect. Resources are going to be incredibly scarce in the coming years. We need them to be smartly focused.
The free early education for the most deprived two year-olds is welcome. But the Marmot Commission pointed to the importance of parents’ involvement with their child’s learning—such as reading stories at bedtime and other basic activities, which some parents may lack the confidence to do. The monitoring and reporting required in these amendments will make sure that the policies are really working. It may be that investing in two year-olds’ education will achieve little unless we go the extra mile and help parents become involved, if necessary by offering them some help with basic skills. I regard these amendments as non-political but essential for a Government of any complexion.
I support these amendments. I too am most grateful to the Prime Minister for his recent announcements on maternal depression during and after pregnancy. I attended the launch last year of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance report on maternal depression and other mental ill-health issues. It found that the nation loses about £1 billion a year through maternal perinatal mental ill health. The main cost is incurred because the relationship between mother and child is impoverished by the mother’s mental ill health. I therefore strongly support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I too support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, particularly Amendment 4. I tabled an amendment in Committee on reporting on attainment at key stage 1. I felt that was imperative, because that is the age at which early measurement of children, when they are going to school, can take place. I do not want to say any more now, because we had a very full debate in Committee; I just want to lend my support to these amendments. As an ex-health visitor—that was many years ago, I hasten to add—I recognise the importance of the health and well-being of both mothers and children. Measuring those factors in children at the age of five is imperative, rather than leaving the measurement of educational attainment, as the Bill now does, until the age of 16. We on these Benches therefore support the amendment.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendments 5 and 6. I remind noble Lords that the terms of reference of the health and well-being boards, established through the Health and Social Care Act 2012, require them to report on local efforts in reducing health inequalities and improving the well-being of their population, so it should not be too difficult to find a way to report on health and well-being, as suggested by my noble friend. On Amendment 3, the evidence is enormous that the nutritional status of women both before and during pregnancy can have an important influence on foetal, infant and maternal health outcomes. I remind noble Lords of the enormous parliamentary and public interest in the manifesto The 1001 Critical Days and the work that goes on in thinking about the first two years from conception to age two, and how nutrition is such a key part of improving the life chances of children and young people.
My Lords, this is an interesting group of amendments. If I heard correctly from each of the speakers, the thrust of it is that government should be entitled to a whole range of information that will best inform it across the piece as to how to tackle a range of issues. Specifically, the group of amendments seeks to add to the reporting requirements to Parliament: the progress of children at five in areas of cognitive, personal, social, emotional and physical development—likewise for children living in disadvantaged households; the health and well-being of children living in workless and long-term workless households; and maternal nutrition in workless and long-term workless households.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to a range of matters. In particular he spoke about the collection of disadvantage that you get: homelessness, mental health, fuel poverty and low income—it is that collection of issues which makes more difficult the life chances of individuals. A number of speakers emphasised the importance of education—the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, picked up again the point she made in Committee about key stage 1 for education, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, spoke about the importance of health and well-being boards. I understand that the Office for National Statistics produces data on national well-being and on the well-being of children; I think it reported in 2014 and again just last year. It is interesting that a whole range of data goes into those measures. It is said with regard to children that there are something like seven domains and 30-odd measures of children’s well-being, which is a whole collection of stuff to have to handle and deal with.
At the end of the day, government ought to welcome the information that this collection of amendments seeks to be reported on, which is a range of information across the piece. The key issue that flows from it is what you do with it, or what strategies or interventions will flow from that collection of data which will make a difference to the life chances of young people—which is the thrust of this.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made the point that we do not have a collective figure for the consequences of all the changes in the tax and benefit system in recent times. I know that the IFS did a calculation of what had happened under the coalition Government with regard to tax and benefit changes and concluded that if you look at those changes—the percentage of the income of various groups of people—the lowest two percentiles bore the greatest burden. If you look at it in terms of absolute amounts, the top 10% bore the most, but if you look at it as a percentage of income, the poorest have had the worst outcome from all these changes the Government have introduced—and that is before we get into ones that are reflected in the Bill we have debated to date.
When we talk about health and well-being, we need to be clearer about our distinctions. We have the national statistics data and the background to that, which is a very broad measure. The issue around health and well-being boards’ and local authorities’ responsibility is a slightly different focus, but important nevertheless. So far as we are concerned, we can see the benefits of this range of amendments, which try to encourage the bringing-forward of data to underline just what the consequences of these policies are. I think the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked a moment ago about how it is all too easy for us in this Chamber to see this in perhaps rather abstract terms and not the reality. People out there have to face the reality of what these policies mean, and the collection of data of which noble Lords speak will help bring that home to government as well as to campaigners generally, so that those who bear the largest burden feel that that is understood, reflected and challenged—which is our job here.
My Lords, these amendments on Clause 4 have been grouped together quite widely. I will start by making a general point about adding to the reporting duties that the Government have already set out. The best way of securing progress by government is to have a focused set of measures. I echo the implication of what the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said. The more you have, the more likely you are to have a diluted effort and distraction from the key issues, which in this case the evidence tells us are worklessness and educational attainment. Of course many factors contribute to these headline measures. For example, we know that children’s health is an important factor in their educational attainment. Tackling health at work will help ensure that more adults are able to work. Therefore delivering on worklessness and educational attainment calls for a wide set of actions. However, it is important that we focus government on its core objectives that will tackle the root causes of child poverty.
First, with regard to additional statutory reporting duties, I turn to Amendment 3. With this amendment the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, seeks to introduce an additional reporting duty on the Secretary of State. The report must contain data on maternal nutrition in workless and long-term workless households in England. I have already set out that our evidence review published in 2014 makes it clear that worklessness and educational attainment are the factors that have the biggest impact on child poverty and children’s life chances. We are committed to supporting families at the earliest stage and to helping parents move into work and earn more through universal credit or investment in childcare, the national living wage and increases to the personal allowance in the tax system. This is the best way to secure children’s life chances and ensure that parents are able to care for themselves, too.
I cannot overstate the importance of ensuring that we focus on measures that tackle the root causes of child poverty and not be distracted by others that do not do so. Of course, the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is important. The Government take action. They provide advice for parents on maternal and infant nutrition via NHS Choices and Start4Life. Government also operates the Healthy Start vouchers scheme, which provides low-income people with vouchers that can be spent on milk, plain fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables, and infant formula. It already publishes the results from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, which includes results by age and gender. There are a variety of reasons why adults have poor diets, and it is important that we look at the whole picture, which gives us valuable information and helps shape interventions. I therefore cannot support this amendment.
Through Amendment 4, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, seeks to expand the duty placed on the Secretary of State to include a duty to report on the progress of children and disadvantaged children living in England at age five in their cognitive, personal, social, emotional and physical development. It is vital that all pupils thrive and develop in their early years. Monitoring children’s personal development is already a core function of every education setting. This monitoring then enables teachers to tailor their support based on how each individual is progressing. I assure your Lordships that we do not take this issue lightly. As the Prime Minister said during his speech about children’s life chances—quoted by noble Lords—we want,
“stable families and good parenting, because we know the importance of those early years in setting children up for a good life”.
There are two key issues at the heart of the life chances reforms—action on work and action on education. Lives can be transformed by focusing on these two most significant drivers of poverty. The Bill will start to realise the vision set out by the Prime Minister when he said that,
“we can rescue a generation from poverty and extend life chances right across our country”.
We all know that the end of key stage 4 is a vital juncture in a young person’s education. It represents the culmination of primary and secondary schooling and provides a consistent point at which to measure attainment across all young people. Pupils who fail to achieve at the end of key stage 4 are at high risk of not being in employment, education or training, so the Secretary of State is committed, through the life chances measures in the Bill—
My Lords, I get what the Minister is trying to say but unless there is a comparator at key stage 1, by key stage 4 it will be too late—the children will be 16 years old. If the Government really are to assess the development of children from the ages of five to 16, there is a need for that assessment to start at key stage 1. If there is an issue, they can be given support much sooner so that they have much better outcomes at 16. That will not happen if we do not have information from key stage 1.
As the noble Baroness knows, we have a lot of information about how pupils progress. The point is that it is necessary to have something that absorbs all that rather than having detailed measures at each point. The earlier processes have to be right to attain the achievements at the key target date. I have spoken in this House before about “targetitis”. If you give hospitals 220 different targets, for instance, which is what happened a decade ago, nobody knows what on earth they are looking at, whereas if you focus on the two things that really matter and not on the culmination of a lot of measures, you drive coherent behaviour through the targets that are set, and that is exactly what this strategy does.
I have already made the House aware that the measures that we have include key stages 1 and 2. Annual reporting at different stages of primary schooling already provides significant detail of the progress and attainment of disadvantaged pupils. Monitoring personal development in the way that the noble Lord suggests—
The whole point is that these reports are published. It is a forcing mechanism to make sure that the relevant Secretaries of State and the relevant departments of government work together to tackle the fundamentals that produce these outcomes.
Returning to the educational issue, if we made this change to the Bill, it would increase the burden on primary schools and send a signal to schools that Parliament does not trust them to carry out their core functions. That is why I cannot support this amendment.
Amendments 5 and 6 look to expand the reporting duty placed on the Secretary of State so that his annual report containing data on children living in workless households and long-term workless households in England must include data on the health and well-being of these children.
It goes without saying that the Government want the best for our children. We want all children to have the opportunity to have fulfilling lives and to realise their potential, and clearly their health and well-being is an integral part of that. However, we can achieve this aim, which is one that we all share, only by tackling the root causes of child poverty, and I will not parrot what I have already said on this point. Our evidence review shows clearly that worklessness and educational attainment are the two factors that have the biggest impact.
We recognise that, as the evidence review pointed out, child ill-health is also a driver of poverty. We are absolutely committed to reducing health inequalities in terms of access and outcomes, and we are working across government to ensure that ill health does not hold our children back from fulfilling their potential. The Government have already put in place a well-developed reporting framework—the public health outcomes framework—that supports health improvement and protection at all stages of life, especially in the early years. The framework includes a large number of indicators on children and young people’s health and, along with the NHS outcomes framework, sets a clear direction for children’s health that allows anyone to hold us to account.
We are committed to improving access to better services and to promoting early intervention to address children and young people’s mental health issues before they worsen. We are investing £1.4 billion in that over the next five years, and we have invested more than £120 million to introduce waiting time standards for mental health services—the first time that we have done that.
If we concentrate our actions and resources on the root causes of child poverty, such as worklessness and education, that will be the springboard from which everything else will follow. While the Government recognise the importance of tackling child ill-health, these amendments would ultimately distract the Government’s focus and finite resources from what is most important for our children’s future life chances. For these reasons, I cannot support the amendments of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness.
Amendment 7, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, would require separate reports for measures of worklessness and educational attainment. We are already committed to reporting on these measures and believe that it is sensible to deal with them together as they are jointly fundamental to improving life chances.
Amendments 9, 10, 12, 13 and 14 are consequential on Amendment 7 and therefore, in the Government’s view, unnecessary.
Once again, I thank noble Lords for their contributions but, on the basis of what I have said, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Before the noble Lord sits down, will he reassure the House about the future of health visitors? Clearly, they have a very important role in the welcome things that he has just said. The Government have done a great job in recruiting and developing the workforce, but now that responsibility for health visitors has been moved to local authorities, which must fund them, there has to be a concern that in the current atmosphere for local authorities we may go backwards and health visitors will not be commissioned to do the work that is so necessary in relation to what we have just been discussing. Perhaps the noble Lord would consider writing to noble Lords who are interested in this area about the mechanisms that exist to ensure that that does not happen.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all those who have contributed to this short debate. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for summing up what people said.
I listened very carefully to what the Minister said, and I am grateful to him for repeating what he has said before about the Government’s concentration on worklessness and educational achievement as being the main causes. However, I do not think that they are unique causes. The health and well-being, not just of the children but also of the families, and particularly the mother, is something that is a huge cause of the subject that we are looking at, and it ought to be added to worklessness and educational attainment.
It is all very well saying that we are going to do a great deal and going to improve the child mental health treatment processes in the National Health Service, but that comes at an enormous cost. The National Health Service cannot afford to do all this at present; otherwise, it would already have done it. I am very concerned that health and well-being in particular are being excluded from the terms of the Bill. They ought to be before everyone who is considering the issues of which the Bill is made up, particularly tackling the problems of worklessness and educational attainment, both of which have mental health as one reason—not the only reason—that they are there.
I am in something of a quandary. In many ways, I would like to test the opinion of the House on each of these three amendments, because I think that they are each important. However, if I may, I would like to withdraw Amendment 3 and not move 4 and test the opinion of the House on Amendments 5 and 6, which deal with health and well-being, which are, I think, the guts of all this issue.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendment 4 not moved.
5: Clause 4, page 4, line 36, at beginning insert “the health and wellbeing of”
Amendments 6 and 7 not moved.
8: Clause 4, page 4, line 41, at end insert—
“( ) children in low income households where one or both parents are in work.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 8 I shall speak also to Amendment 11. Once more I have the support of my de facto noble friend Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope. I am also grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who expressed his support when moving his amendment. These amendments bring up the rear of his amendment but complement and cement it. We do not know what will happen to his amendment in the other place but, because it is partly based on the need to take account of what is happening to children in working families as well as in workless families, it is important that we still debate it.
The purpose of these amendments is to balance the obligation introduced by Clause 4 to report data on children in workless households with a similar obligation in regard to children in low-income working households. As I argued in Committee, whether the primary concern is life chances, as in the Bill, or child poverty, which Ministers assure us they are still committed to eliminating, it cannot make sense to exclude from reporting obligations the two-thirds of children living in poverty in households where at least one parent is in paid work. Indeed, in the mean time the Prime Minister has repeated his welcome pledge of an “all-out assault on poverty”. Surely an all-out assault has to include this group. It is therefore appropriate that the poverty and disadvantage experienced by families with a wage earner should be included in the life chances reporting obligations.
The fundamental importance of the issue to the Government’s life chances strategy and assault on poverty is one of the reasons I return to it on Report. Its importance is underlined by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission in its latest State of the Nation report. It states:
“A One Nation country would be one where work offered a guaranteed path out of poverty”,
and it documents how it fails to do so. As I said in Committee, the amendment has the support of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and End Child Poverty.
The other reason I am returning to this issue is that I was not satisfied with the Minister’s response to the arguments put in Committee. For instance, I specifically asked him to answer a question posed by my noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham at Second Reading: how will the Government account for the poverty among children of working families? His response had been to refer to the continued publication of the HBAI statistics, which was welcome, but he did not give an explanation of the lack of any reporting obligation on this matter to ensure accountability with regard to in-work poverty. He still did not provide a satisfactory explanation under questioning in Committee.
The Minister pointed out that the current situation of the majority of children in relative poverty living in a family where at least one parent is in paid work,
“has developed over the past couple of decades due to the improved progress in tackling poverty in workless families”.—[Official Report, 9/12/15; col. 1586.].
That is fair enough up to a point but is no answer to the question in hand, nor is the fact that the risk of child poverty remains higher among workless households. Whatever the trend or the reasons for it, and whatever the relative risks, it does not absolve the Government of the responsibility to report to Parliament and the country what is happening to children in poverty, regardless of their parents’ employment status.
If the Government are reporting only on children in workless households, they will distort the overall life chances picture and the policy responses. Given that paid work is held out as the route out of poverty and the universal credit’s objectives, surely the Government will want to know what is happening to those who have set out on this route and to analyse any obstacles they encounter.
In Committee, we engaged in a textual analysis of the Government’s own publication An Evidence Review of the Drivers of Child Poverty worthy of an academic seminar. In the end, it all seemed to come down to whether, in its reference to “low earnings”—I note that the Minister carefully omitted reference to that part of the report yet again in his earlier responses—as a key factor, along with worklessness, that impacts on children’s life chances, “low earnings” was in brackets. The Minister seemed to suggest that, because it was in brackets, that meant low earnings “out of worklessness”. I was not sure what he meant by that. I have gone back to the original source and it is clear that the key passages contain no brackets.
To recap, the table on page 6 listing “Relative influence of factors on length of child poverty spell” is headed by “Long-term worklessness & low earnings”. The review spells out that,
“lack of sufficient income from parental employment … is not just about worklessness, but also working insufficient hours and/or low pay”.
Page 9 states:
“The key factor for child poverty now is parental worklessness and low earnings”.
Page 56 summarises the key finding:
“Long-term worklessness and low-earnings are principal drivers of child poverty and the key transfer mechanism through which the majority of other influential factors act”.
Note the “and” and the “and” and the “and”.
The significance of what we, in shorthand, call “in-work poverty” is not surprising, given the nature of the contemporary labour market. A new analysis of the Poverty and Social Exclusion survey by Professor Nick Bailey of Glasgow University shows that,
“one in three adults in paid work is in poverty, or in insecure or poor quality employment”.
Using various measures of in-work poverty, he found:
“one in six is in poverty on the low income measure, one in three on the deprivation measure”—
we spoke on a previous amendment about the measures being about deprivation as well as low income—
“and one in six on the combined PSE poverty measure”.
Professor Bailey wrote:
“It is particularly striking that a large minority of the working poor are working full time and/or live in a household with near full work intensity so that it is hard to see how more work can be the solution to their problems”.
He also notes that, for a substantial minority, what he terms “exclusionary employment” is an “enduring condition”.
Surely this is the kind of analysis the Government would want to draw on to balance and contextualise their focus on worklessness, not least given the extent to which parents on low income move in and out of paid work and worklessness in what has come to be known as the “low pay, no pay cycle”. Indeed, the fluidity of the dividing line between paid work and worklessness, which universal credit in effect recognises, makes a nonsense of a life-chances measure that ignores one side of the disadvantaged labour market position of low-income parents.
When I withdrew my amendment in Committee and warned that I might return to it on Report, I finished by saying that perhaps by then the Minister would have come up with some more convincing arguments than he had done hitherto. However, I realise that I was being rather unfair to him, because I do not believe that there are any convincing arguments, so how could he be expected to do so? Instead, it would be refreshing and welcome if he were able now to accept this amendment—which, after all, allows the Government to define their terms—or, if he prefers, to undertake to bring forward a government amendment at Third Reading to achieve the same end. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the case that has been powerfully made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. We have been discussing for what seems like years what should be done to help low-income families in work, and she has made a very good case. I cannot understand why the Government do not see the force of monitoring carefully the circumstances and environment in which these children will live, admittedly in England, in low-income households.
The Minister referred—and I know the work well—to the Waddell and Burton concepts of the sustainability and well-being that derive from work. That study was done in the early 2000s, and it was a changing experience for me as well—it was new to me. He also referred to the work that he then went on to do with the Labour Government in his important report. It all suggests that low-income working families are struggling to get to the kind of rewards that Waddell and Burton were talking about in their biopsychosocial model, which was so instructive in changing the terms of the debate.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that the evidence is that we are in a very precarious employment environment. It is particularly true, and becoming more so, of self-employment. Single-parent families in low-paid work suffer increased and increasing stress, and all the other well-known elements that lead to deprivation in terms of the indicators of disability. Large households and some ethnic groups have historically had challenges relating to making work not just something that pays a wage but leads to a fulfilling life. This whole area will become more, rather than less, important in future, as the precarious employment environment increases.
There are big regional differences to which, as policymakers, we are at the moment blind. There are geographical areas and differences within England—as the amendment refers only to England—that would be instructive for policymakers looking at children in low-income working families and to which we do not have access at the moment. We could so easily have it if this amendment were adopted by the Government.
Finally, the universal credit change that is coming in this direction is quite new. Not only does it require families on universal credit under the claimant commitment to get themselves ready and able for work but, once within work, they are under pressure under the new system to go for longer hours and higher-level wage contracts of employment. That is all backed by sanctions. That is something that, once universal credit eventually rolls out across 7.7 million households, we will have to watch very carefully in relation to the trends. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with trying to get people into higher-level jobs, because that is important for low-income families, but that element of universal credit is quite new, to me certainly, in relation to how the social security and social protection systems that we have in the United Kingdom work.
I would be much more comfortable if the Government were to agree to these amendments. We would be better informed and, as legislators in the future, we would be in a much better position to protect the interests of children in low-income families who struggle with poverty in this country. It is time that we tried to do something about that.
My Lords, I support these two amendments. In the family to which I referred earlier, Ms Lorna Sculley has three children; the oldest and youngest sons have a disability, and she is a working mother. She works 16 hours a week as a dinner lady at the First Love Foundation—the food bank—and she discussed the prospect of getting more work. She calculated that if she worked seven more hours a week, she might get only another six pounds. It just was not worth her while to progress along a work route. I welcome very much what the Government have said about introducing the new, much higher, minimum wage, but the actual effect on families’ incomes might not be as positive as we would all hope, so I hope the Minister will consider accepting this proposal.
I would like to raise another point about a further complication for Ms Sculley. She depends on housing benefit and lives in Tower Hamlets. Her benefit has not been sufficient to pay her rent, so she has to subsidise it from her other income. She says that she cannot move from where she is because of her eldest son’s disability: he is at a school that is good at meeting his needs. That is what I understood from what she said, so that is perhaps relevant to others in our discussion.
My final point in relation to Ms Sculley is that she was offered a parenting class because of her two sons’ disabilities, but it took place on a Thursday, which is when she has to work at the school. She is therefore, in a way, disadvantaged by being in work because she cannot take up the opportunity of attending the parenting class. There is a lot to be said for these two amendments, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. Before I finish, however, I would like to thank him for the time that he took last week—an hour—to speak on the needs of children as they relate to this Bill. I certainly appreciate that very much.
My Lords, I very much support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Lister, which was supported so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. I will be puzzled if the Government propose to resist the thrust of this amendment. The Government know perfectly well that, although the incidence or percentage of poverty among workless families is high, and higher than that among working families because the number of working families is so much greater than the number of workless families, as has been mentioned already, two-thirds of children who are in poverty live in a family where an adult is in work. Part of that might be that the parent, if a lone parent, has restricted hours, but we know that, with insecure contracts and the minimum wage and so on, the key lever to get that family out of poverty is not just to get the single adult into work but, where there are two adults, to get the second adult into work as well. We know that that is a function of the age of the youngest child and the size of the family. Child poverty might well be for a temporary period until the second earner—let us say, for this purpose, the mother—is able to go back into the labour market along with her husband or partner in order to amplify the family income. The need to support those children may be a temporary issue.
Given that the Minister today has put so much weight on the strain being carried by the new minimum wage and given that he will want to know, as we will all want to know, the interaction of that with the benefit bill, and the extent to which, therefore, that helps to address the levers of child poverty, above all of which is getting the second earner into part-time work, I do not understand why he would not want to track the information that my noble friend has called for. We all support the Government’s move to increase the national minimum wage. If he is right, this hopefully will have repercussions that we would all accept and support for the benefits system. But do we need to do more than that? We do not know. It may be about the size of sibling groups or the need for a second earner. We need to know what levers to pull. Unless the Government track that information, we will not know. I am sure that the Minister does want to know, so I hope that he will think very carefully about this amendment.
We totally support this amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I also totally agree with my noble friend Lord Kirkwood, who has amply identified the arguments as to why it should be supported. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, rightly said that we need levers. If we do not have such levers, how are we to address the issues about people who work, those who are not in work and in-work benefits? We will talk about the universal work allowances and the implications and ramifications of that. I hope that the Minister is listening very carefully. If the amendment is called to a vote, we on these Benches will support it.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Lister for tabling this amendment and for introducing it so well. In Committee, she made a very compelling case and I share her view that the Minister’s response was more than usually unpersuasive. In fact, she may have identified the reason for that and may be on to something. It is not as though we lack evidence. We have heard that two-thirds of children in poor households have a parent in work. I think we all accept that the risk of poverty is lower in families where parents are working and that the risk rises as the hours worked do not. But that does not change the fact that today large numbers of children are in poverty even though their parents are in work.
My noble friend Lady Lister and I clearly had the same weekend reading. How sad am I? I, too, dug out the State of the Nation 2015 report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission and the original evidence command paper from 2014. The commission put it really clearly. It states that,
“today 1.5 million children are in poverty because their working parents do not earn enough to secure a basic standard of living and the risk of absolute poverty for working families after housing costs has increased over the last decade”.
We clearly have a problem. In their command paper, from which my noble friend Lady Lister quoted, the Government analysed what drove how long a child stayed in poverty. They state:
“The main factor is lack of sufficient income from parental employment … this is not just about worklessness, but also about working insufficient hours and/or low pay”.
They did not mention something which was picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood—namely, that another crucial determinant is the nature and level of in-work benefits and the way in which they apply. But the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission did raise that. In its 2015 report, it commented:
“Many families will find it very difficult to increase their earnings enough to make good the cuts in state support even if they benefit from the welcome introduction of the National Living Wage … we recommend that the Government should, as the public finances improve, revitalise employment incentives in Universal Credit”.
However, as we know, things are going in the opposite direction. The Government have done real damage to work incentives—the very thing that UC was designed to tackle—by cutting work allowances. In this Bill, they are cutting the value of the main in-work benefits through the benefits freeze. They are abolishing the family premium in universal credit for all families and significantly cutting child tax credit for families with more than two children, both of which will hit working families with kids. On Saturday, the Times reported that cost-cutting means that 240,000 families will be denied the free childcare promised to them in the Conservative manifesto.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, argued strongly against targets on relative poverty because he believes that they drive government decisions on allocation of resources and he does not like the way they do it. He got his way on that, if not on measurement. But the information should at least be recorded. The risk of failing to measure and to discuss the trends in in-work poverty is that the Government will not do anything about it because it somehow legitimises the idea that poverty is not about money but about worklessness, as though, by definition, children with working parents could not be poor. If we do not focus on that, it could distort policy-making too.
If the Government are focused only on worklessness, they could end up pursuing policies that just move children from being poor in households where they see their parents a lot to being poor in households where they do not see their parents very often because they are out working unsocial hours in order to be able to make ends meet. With all the consequent damage to family life that that does, that is not the answer. I live in hope that the Minister will accept this amendment, having been persuaded by the brilliant arguments of my noble friend Lady Lister, but just in case, unaccountably, he is not going to do that, will he tell the House one very specific thing? Does he accept that it is possible to be poor if your parents are in work and you are a kid? If so, what are the Government going to do about it?
My Lords, let me go straight to that question while it is fresh in my mind. It is, of course, possible to be poor while both parents are in work, particularly under the present legacy system. That is why we are bringing in universal credit—to make that much harder. We are not arguing about the level of poverty; it is about what is likely to happen to the life chances of that child compared to both parents being at that level of income and out of work and in work. That is the argument I have been trying to make all afternoon, with, I think, some resistance.
Under Amendments 8 and 11, noble Lords seek to expand the reporting duty placed on the Secretary of State so that his annual report to Parliament must include data on children living in low-income families where one or both parents are in work. Their amendments would add the terms “low income” and “in work” to the list of terms to be defined in the annual report.
I have already gone on enough about the centrality of worklessness and educational attainment. Alongside these statutory measures, the Prime Minister has announced that we are committed to publishing a life chances strategy in the spring, which will set out a comprehensive plan to fight disadvantage and extend opportunity, including a wider set of non-statutory measures on the root causes of child poverty such as family breakdown, problem debt, and drug and alcohol addiction.
I have said before that work is the best route out of poverty but I want to restate our arguments about the centrality of tackling worklessness. The risk of a child being poor is dramatically reduced if at least one parent works. According to the latest statistics, the risk of being in relative poverty for a child in a working family is 13%, compared to 37% for a child in a workless family. So a child in a workless family is almost three times as likely to be in poverty as a child living in a family where at least one adult works. Perhaps those are the figures for which the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, was asking.
Last year, we published an analysis on the transitions into and out of poverty. What we found was staggering, although some might say that it was obvious. Of the children who are in poor workless families, 74% will leave poverty altogether if their parents move into full employment. The analysis also made clear that the more work parents do, the more likely they are to leave poverty, with 75% of children from poor families in part-time employment leaving poverty if their parents enter full-time employment. I remind noble Lords that we have a package of reforms to encourage people to work. These policies include the national living wage and changes to the personal tax allowance, which will allow people to keep more of what they earn. Furthermore, over 30 million individuals will see a tax cut as a result of the changes we will make in this Parliament. Some 570,000 individuals will be lifted out of income tax altogether by 2016-17 and, as a result of the introduction of universal credit, more people will enter work due to improved financial incentives. We have a vibrant and growing economy, and last year real pay grew by 2.1%.
On the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on support for women, we are supporting families through the national living wage, which is expected to have a stronger positive impact on the female workforce, boosting the wages of three in 10 female employees by 2020. Our childcare reforms will provide support to women who want to find employment, helping them to increase their income.
We have discussed before that two-thirds of children in relative poverty are from working families, but let me go over my argument. I am not convinced that it will convince the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, but I must try. It is correct that the latest figures published in the HBAI show that 64% of children in relative poverty are from a family where at least one adult is in work. This proportion has grown over the last couple of decades due to the improved progress in tackling poverty in workless families. In 1996-97—the earliest period for which data are available—around 60% of children in relative poverty were from workless families, which is around 2 million children, and around 40% of them were in working families, which is around 1.5 million children. During the 2000s, there was progress in reducing the number in poverty in workless families by focusing spending on tax credits, but this had the unintended consequence of weakening work incentives that resulted in hardly any change in the number of children in in-work poverty, which stood at 1.3 million in 2009-10.
My Lords, if the Minister will allow me to say this, he is misrepresenting the statistics. It may be a statement about children in poverty, but in particular the number of lone parents in that period who were in work went up from barely 50% to some 65%. Therefore, tax credits made work pay for them.
It may have made work pay for some people, but it had the effect that, while it was possible, through income transfers, to drive down the out-of-work poverty of children, which is what they were designed to do, it had virtually no impact on in-work poverty. That brought that policy to a reductio ad absurdum: you could not do it without undermining your work incentives because you were raising the level of the benefit structure and it was beginning to knock up the income scale. That was the problem; that is what the data show.
In-work poverty, combined with falling levels of children in poverty from workless families, led to a greater proportion of children in poverty being from those workless families. This meant that, from 1996-97 until the end of the last decade, the proportion of children in poverty from working families actually went up from four in 10 to six in 10. That is the reality of the situation today. I can see that there is some ideological difference to be found over that analysis.
The evidence review, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, highlighted the importance of low earnings, but emphasised the impact of working a lower number of hours, rather than the impact of low-paid work. On the question of how we will know about the levels of poverty—in work and out of work—I reassure her, as I already have, that we will have that data in the HBAI. It will continue to be available. Indeed, those in-work poverty figures in the HBAI can always be broken down by whether the family is in full-time or part-time employment.
I described why having two separate systems worked so poorly. We are introducing universal credit exactly to address those disincentives. I can tell noble Lords that I have spent the most enormous amount of personal time trying to get this structure so that we do not have these odd disincentives, which are really undermining for society. Universal credit is the best way to give people the incentive to enter work: it reduces poverty by making work pay and making sure that people do not lose out as they start to earn more, which is the terrible discontinuity in the legacy system. It provides an effective route out of poverty, while supporting the most vulnerable households. We already see the evidence under universal credit that people are working more and are better off in work.
As with Amendment 2, which we discussed earlier, these amendments would reintroduce an income-based relative poverty measure, which, as I have tried my best to explain—perhaps not as successfully as I might—do not tackle the root causes of child poverty. The Government are concerned with focusing our efforts and attention on those areas that will make a real difference to children’s lives, and concentrating on those root causes.
Resources are finite. It is crucial that we prioritise our actions to make the biggest difference for children. Statutory income measures cause the Government to focus their action and resources on direct and incremental increases to family income, but that does not necessarily drive any real change and is detrimental to the things that we think are vital—noble Lords know what I think they are.
Let us focus on the things that matter and drive the actions that will give our children the future they deserve. Let us not be distracted by measures that detract from that aim. As I said, we will continue to publish the HBAI figures so that we will know exactly what is happening. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke in support of the amendment. I am grateful to the Minister, who at least went into more detail. As he expected, I was not convinced by his arguments, because I still have not really heard a convincing explanation of why there should be no accountability for what is happening. He said that we must focus on the things that matter, but surely what is happening to, for instance, the lady referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, matters? My noble friend Lady Sherlock talked about those who work such long hours that they do not see their children. We know from research at Bath University that children care about that. It talked about children and lone mothers in particular: they are glad when their mother gets paid work, but it affects them. They hardly see their mother. That time squeeze on such families is important. These things matter as well.
I do not necessarily think that this is ideological, as the Minister said. At the beginning he said that it is not the level of poverty that matters, but what is likely to happen to the life chances of children—as if these were totally separate things. The whole point, as the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission and the driver analysis said, is that life chances are affected by income poverty. Therefore, we need to know what is happening to the life chances of children, regardless of the employment status of their parents. I will not go into the detail of the trends; it is pretty much what the Minister said in Committee. I do not think that that is the point; the point is that there should be government accountability about what is happening to those who, as the Minister likes to say, are “doing the right thing”—although I am not so sure it is always doing the right thing—and who are in paid work.
I am disappointed. What the Minister said at the end suggests, if we are focusing on what matters and we do not focus on the poverty of those whose parents are in paid work, that that therefore does not matter. That says volumes. I do not suppose that low-paid parents are sitting at home watching this debate—they are probably out there working—but if they read about it or hear about it, they would say, “Don’t we matter? Don’t the hours I am putting in for little pay matter? Don’t the Government want to report on what is happening to people like me? Doesn’t it matter?”. I think that it matters enormously. However, I will not push our luck and test the opinion of the House, so, regretfully, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Amendments 9 to 14 not moved.
Clause 5: Social Mobility Commission
15: Clause 5, page 5, line 23, leave out “Social Mobility” and insert “Life Chances”
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendments 15 to 23. I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for adding his name to them.
The amendments would rename the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission the Life Chances Commission, rather than the Social Mobility Commission, as in the Bill, so as to align the commission’s remit with the new focus on life chances introduced in the Bill and about which the Minister has spoken a lot this evening. I still think that the removal of the words “child poverty” from the commission’s title—after all, it was originally named just the Child Poverty Commission—is sending a message that the Government no longer care about child poverty, which is surely not their intention given that they assure us of their continued commitment to the elimination of child poverty. However, in the spirit of compromise, I realise that the inclusion of the “CP” words might be sensitive, so I have not included them. I return to this amendment because, as I put it in Committee, I was “desperately disappointed” by the Minister’s response, or rather lack of response, to the case we had made.
To recap that case: the amendment would, in my view, better capture the spirit of the new focus on life chances enshrined in the Bill. Thus I was, and remain, genuinely puzzled about why the Government did not use this opportunity to rename the commission the Life Chances Commission. As I said in Committee:
“At Second Reading the Minister underlined that the Government’s new approach is the life chances one, focused on transforming lives through tackling the root causes of child poverty, and he referred to the new statutory measures as key life chances measures”.—[Official Report, 9/12/15; cols. 1592-3.]
This stance was reinforced by the Prime Minister’s recent speech in which he sketched out the principles underlying the Government’s planned life chances strategy, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred earlier, as did the Minister. The strategy that the Prime Minister sketched emphasises, as he put it, “a more social approach” that moves “beyond the economics” and develops “a richer picture”. In other words, it seems to me that the Prime Minister understands that a life chances agenda is less economistic and is richer than a social mobility agenda. Indeed, I suggest that social mobility is an example of the 20th century thinking—that is, old thinking—that he argues we need to move beyond.
Therefore, I welcome the Government’s introduction of the concept of life chances, even if I argue that they should pay more attention to the importance of material resources, as the current commission recognises. As I explained in Committee, I believe that it is richer than the narrower, meritocratic notion of social mobility. I drew on the work of the Fabian Commission on Life Chances and Child Poverty—chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, who is no longer in his place—of which I was a member. As a good academic, I will define my terms. The commission defined “life chances” simply as referring to the likelihood of a child achieving a range of important outcomes which occur at successive stages of the life course. Again, the Prime Minister talked about a life-cycle approach.
Therefore, the emphasis is on a range of outcomes, including health and well-being, as well as those associated with social mobility. Children must be given the chance to enjoy a happy, flourishing childhood, and to continue to thrive as they grow up. Thus, as I explained, it is about caring about children as beings as well as “becomings”, both of which can be damaged by child poverty. I suggest that, again, this chimes with the Prime Minister’s speech, which for instance emphasised factors such as mental health and character and talked about cultural disenfranchisement.
The commission preferred the concept of life chances over the narrower one of social mobility because the latter reflects the kind of economistic thinking rejected by the Prime Minister and does not embrace the idea of ensuring that everyone has the chance to live a full and flourishing life. Moreover, it ignores what happens to those who are not able, or may not want, to climb the education and career ladder. In Committee, I gave the example of someone who devotes their life to caring for others—undervalued, be it on a paid or unpaid basis. As I asked, do we want to say to children that it is an ignoble ambition to care for others instead of climbing the economic ladder? To these arguments the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham added a perhaps even stronger one—that the notion of life chances resonates with children themselves in a way that social mobility never would. I hope that he will expand on that in a moment.
In his response, the Minister maintained that the reformed commission would be able to focus more single-mindedly on social mobility, and that its remit on social mobility would be expanded. However, its overall remit is, of course, being narrowed in a way that I argue is out of line with the much broader life chances approach outlined by the Prime Minister. It also apparently excludes child poverty, which, as the current commission makes clear, undermines social mobility and restricts life chances. I believe that this will diminish the commission’s role and the value of its work. What the Minister did not do was explain why the Government believe that it is better to focus the commission’s remit on social mobility when the whole thrust of the Government’s thinking, as otherwise enshrined in the Bill, is life chances. Therefore, I was left even more puzzled at the end of our debate than at the beginning.
I know that the Minister takes our debates seriously and goes away and thinks about what has been said. Therefore, I end on a note perhaps more of hope than expectation, but I am hoping that he has done so with regard to this amendment and realised that what I am proposing is helpful to the Government’s cause and, indeed, would be welcomed by people in the field, including many who are otherwise critical of what the Government are doing in the Bill, and, indeed, as the right reverend Prelate indicated, perhaps by children themselves. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this amendment. Yesterday, I spent a delightful evening with a small number of academics after preaching at Evensong in an Oxford college—Worcester College. It was a very pleasant evening. However, as I sat there, I kept coming back in my mind to today’s debate because I was reminded of the extraordinary privilege of being in an Oxford college and the elite nature of it. This is not to criticise it or put it down; I had the privilege of studying in a private hall in Oxford when I trained for my ordination. However, I found myself thinking about the vast number of children and young people I meet in schools and colleges around the north-east, and have met in other parts of the country over the years, for whom such privilege is not their aim. Most of those I meet do not talk or think about being socially mobile. They do talk, however, about wanting a decent home and growing up and finding a good job on a decent wage. They also talk about having a stable, loving family through their childhood and wanting to create stable, loving families in the future. Those are the hopes and dreams of most of them. I believe that we have a lot more work to do on aspiration levels. I would love more of them to dream that one day they could go to Oxford or Cambridge, and that they can be significant players in their own communities and transform them, because that is where most will do it. Of course, we all know people who make huge impacts on their local community because they believe in it.
Social mobility is simply too narrow a focus. I absolutely support the move to the term “life chances” as a better expression of a broader base on which to think about these matters. I am not a great sociologist, but I went back to Max Weber, who was the first person I could find who talked about life chances and who introduced the concept of social mobility. In that, he talks quite clearly about social mobility being only one of the factors. He also talks about social stability, social cohesion and social integration. These are at least as significant and, for large numbers of people, they matter as much as, if not more than, social mobility.
Life chances around worklessness, educational attainment and, indeed, income are a broader-based way of assessing poverty. They will tell us more about the health of society than simple social mobility. Changing the name of the commission will absolutely reflect more closely the intention of the Government and offer a way of monitoring progress and feeding into it through the commission’s work. It matters and it would be nice to have a commission with a title that children themselves recognise, understand and could talk about and debate in their schools. How much they would, I do not know, but the idea of a title that they relate to is very valuable. This is intended to be helpful. To call the commission the Life Chances Commission fits absolutely with what the Government are aiming at and will help serve that aim better than the simple, narrow focus of social mobility.
In listening to this debate, I find myself sympathetic to the notion of social mobility but I also think of the play “Macbeth” and of Macbeth and his wife. There is a risk, I suppose, if one puts too much weight on social mobility, of a society which is red in tooth and claw. The addition of the words “Life Chances” balances that. Your Lordships may also remember the series “Seven Up!”, which I think started in the 1970s and followed 10 children through their lives into adulthood. To my mind, the happiest life in the group was that of a young black boy who grew up in foster care and then went on to become a butcher, marry and have a family. He seemed the most contented of the lot. To be able to achieve a stable and loving family is also important to society, so it would also be helpful to measure that.
My Lords, this amendment has been moved very comprehensively by my noble friend Lady Lister and spoken to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, to whom I should say that the closest I got to Oxford on Sunday night was watching “Endeavour” on television. This is a re-run of an amendment moved in Committee as part of a wider group covering life-chances strategies. The Minister’s response then, as reported in col. 1598 of Hansard on 9 December 2015, was clear on a commitment to publish a life-chances strategy, as well as the annual report as set out in the Clause 4 obligations, but there was no commitment to make this a statutory obligation. As my noble friend Lady Lister has argued, the concern which has been expressed about the commission is that, for the future, it has no obligation explicitly to promote the tackling of child poverty. Although there is a commitment to report on life-chances data, and a statement on the record that there will be a life-chances strategy, the role of the Social Mobility Commission seems somewhat removed from this.
As my noble friend Lady Lister pointed out in Committee, promoting social mobility is a narrower ambition than tackling poverty and promoting life chances: it is not a substitute. It is, of course, a not unreasonable ambition, but a commission focused on life chances would naturally encompass the prospects of social mobility. The reverse is not the case. We therefore support my noble friend’s amendment. It seems odd that the Government are keen to have a commission reporting on progress on improving social mobility but not on life chances.
These amendments seek to rename the reformed commission as the Life Chances Commission, rather than the Social Mobility Commission, and to amend the duties placed on the commission to promote and improve life chances instead of social mobility. The two concepts—social mobility and life chances—are different although there are, of course, areas of overlap between the two. The Prime Minister’s speech earlier this month demonstrated the importance this Government place on improving children’s life chances. The statutory measures of worklessness and educational attainment and the Government’s life-chances strategy will drive action that will make the biggest difference to children’s life chances. Together, they will provide transparency and enable anyone to hold the Government to account.
The Government also place great importance on improving social mobility and providing equality of opportunity for all citizens. Our proposals for the reformed commission will enable it to have a single-minded focus on social mobility and play a crucial role in its scrutiny and advancement. That is about ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to realise their potential in life, regardless of their background. Perhaps those in Oxford do not need quite as much looking after as others. The commission will also have a new duty to promote social mobility in England, enabling it to engage with a wide range of partners, including government, business and the third sector. This will be crucial to tackling the institutional biases and cultures that prevent individuals fulfilling their potential. Through our new statutory life-chances measures and strategies and the reformed Social Mobility Commission, the Government will drive action and enable scrutiny on these two vital issues. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lords who have spoken. I feel slightly embarrassed; I am supposed to be the sociologist but it was the right reverend Prelate who quoted Max Weber. I had better go back and read my old sociology textbooks. I still do not feel that the Minister has given a true explanation. He seems to be making a distinction: the way he and the Prime Minister see it, life chances are about children’s life chances, while social mobility is about everyone—children and adults. However, children become adults and I see life chances as being about the whole life course, from cradle to grave. If that is the case, and the distinction lies in the commission’s focus being more on what is happening to adults, that worries me even more. Let us remember that this started life as a child poverty commission. In the Welfare Reform Act 2012, it became the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission and some of us were a bit worried about that at the time. Were we not right to be worried? Now it is not just child poverty that has been dropped, but children, too. Apparently it is not now supposed to be interested in children at all. I am not so much puzzled now as quite worried about what this means for the commission, because the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has produced very valuable reports about what is happening to children in this country. The Government no longer have a statutory obligation to report on children in poverty, other than in relation to worklessness and educational attainment. We do not know what will happen to the Child Poverty Unit. It is as though children—and children in poverty—are just disappearing.
I am less puzzled than really upset about what has happened here. The complete shift of focus away from children in this commission is disgraceful. I am not going to push it now, for obvious reasons, but I hope there may be some other way that we can come back to this, though I do not know at what point this can happen or what scope there will be for the commission to try and expand its remit. I find what the Minister is saying quite extraordinary. As he himself has said, we want to focus on what matters: he is saying that children do not matter. I leave it there and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Amendments 16 to 23 not moved.
Clause 7: Benefit cap
24: Clause 7, page 9, leave out lines 5 and 6
My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to remove carer’s allowance from the list of qualifying benefits for the benefit cap. It would also remove an injustice.
While an exemption for households including a disability living allowance or personal independence payment claimant exists, this does not protect all families affected by disability or all carers from the cap. This is due to the way that a household is defined by the benefit system, as your Lordships will know. For the purposes of that system, a household is considered to be an adult, their partner, if they have one, and the children that they have who are under 18. If any other adult relatives—for example, older parents, brothers and sisters or even adult children—live in the same house, they are considered to be part of a different benefits household or unit, even though they live together. This means that while carers looking after disabled partners and disabled children under 18 are exempt from the cap, those caring for adult disabled children, siblings or elderly parents are subject to it. Currently, about 1,400 households containing carers are affected by the benefit cap—please remember that figure, as it is a relatively small number.
The Government’s stated objective for the cap is to encourage more households to move into work. A new lower-tiered cap has been designed to strengthen the work incentives for those on benefits. That is a perfectly respectable aim but if it is designed to be fair to individuals who are working hard and contributing to society, it cannot be right that it is applied to carers. There are two main reasons.
First, carers contribute an enormous amount to society; your Lordships will be familiar with this. The value of unpaid carers’ support to the economy is £132 billion every year—the cost of a second health service. Indeed without the support from carers, health and social care systems would simply collapse. There is no doubt that carers are a major contributor to society. Secondly, carers cannot mitigate the impact of the cap in the way that the Government suggest. In Committee in the Commons, the Minister, Priti Patel, said:
“We all acknowledge the important role that carers provide, but we do not accept that carers are unable to work. Although seeking work is not a condition for receiving carer’s allowance, many carers are nevertheless able to and combine work with caring responsibilities”.—[Official Report, Commons, Welfare Reform and Work Bill Public Committee, 17/9/15; col. 237.]
The Minister is quite right but your Lordships should remember that to receive carer’s allowance, carers must be caring for a minimum of 35 hours a week, the equivalent of a full working week.
While it is true that some carers combine work and care, for the majority the intensity of their caring role means that this is simply not possible. For those who combine heavy caring with significant work, the prospect of reaching breaking point, where carers suffer exhaustion and physical and mental breakdown, is greatly increased. The latest survey from Carers UK about carers at breaking point shows that six in 10 people caring for an older, disabled or seriously-ill loved one have reached that breaking point at some time.
The cap is applied unequally to carers. While the exemption for households in receipt of PIP or DLA is very welcome it means that carers who are considered not in the same household are penalised, although they may be living in the same house as the person they care for. This means that of two carers who are caring for exactly the same amount of time with the same income, one would be subjected to the cap and one would not. Surely subjecting those who provide unpaid care to the benefit cap is unfair, counterproductive and inconsistent with the Government’s stated aims for their policy.
Hearing me say those things, your Lordships may think, “Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she?”, but they are very much reinforced by the recent High Court decision. On 26 November, the High Court ruled—
Amendment 24 seeks to remove carer’s allowance from the list of benefits that are included within the benefit cap. As written, the effect is that recipients of carer’s allowance with a benefit income above cap levels would still be included in the cap but their carer’s allowance payment would be disregarded from the cap. That is the way that this amendment works.
I emphasise to the noble Baroness, and to your Lordships, that this Government value the contribution which carers make to society, and shall outline the further steps that we are taking to support carers. As I indicated earlier in the process, the Government have been carefully considering the position of carers and the people who they care for in relation to the benefit cap. I am grateful for the patience which noble Lords have shown while we completed this consideration. I know that your Lordships have been keen to hear where we would come out but it is necessary to look at these things in detail and take the right time to do so. We keep all these policies under review and have been looking at support for carers with particular attention—that is, across the piece and not just here. In relation to the benefit cap, the position of carers cannot be considered in isolation from wider policy aims. Our strategy is to support and invest in carers. We have therefore looked at the evidence and considered the best way to continue to support carers in the context of wider government strategy.
We do not consider that the disregard which this amendment would create is the right approach. We want to go further; we will be exempting all recipients of carer’s allowance from the benefit cap, whether they are single or part of a couple. This approach fits within the wider government strategy to support and invest in carers. Many carers wish to enter paid employment and many have done so while sustaining the role. We recognise that in some cases, it is beneficial for both the cared-for person and the social care system if people are cared for at home. It continues to be the case that some paid employment, alongside caring, will be right for many carers. But our strategy to support carers through the Care Act and through wider investment strategies provides new, targeted opportunities for help and encouragement, where appropriate, to remain close to paid employment.
As I say, we will be exempting recipients of carer’s allowance from the benefit cap. This is of course complex and we will need to get it right. But with my assurance that to support this exemption we will bring forward an amendment at Third Reading, and then appropriate regulations in due course, I therefore ask the noble Baroness, if she has finished moving her amendment, to withdraw it.
I am always happy to spare the Minister more vituperation, as he pleaded for. I am of course delighted with what he said, with the recognition that the Government have given to the contribution which carers make and to their inability to mitigate the effect of the cap in other ways. Certainly, some carers combine paid work with caring but, as I have said, for many their caring responsibilities are too heavy for them to do that without enormous stress. I am very glad that the Minister has taken account of that, and that the Government have taken account of the very strong wording of the High Court judgment. The wording was extremely well put but extremely firm. It would have been very difficult to understand if the Government had not heeded the very strong words of that High Court judgment. At the time, it seemed that there was neither logic nor justice in the Government’s position. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 24 withdrawn.
Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 8.30 pm.