Skip to main content


Volume 783: debated on Thursday 13 July 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Henley on 6 March (HL5600) concerning early intervention programmes, what steps they are taking to prioritise their focus on the root causes of poverty and disadvantage.

My Lords, tackling the root causes of child poverty and disadvantage includes taking action on parental worklessness. New analysis carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions shows that children living in workless families are significantly more disadvantaged and achieve poorer outcomes than other children, including those in lower-income working families. Improving Lives: Helping Workless Families, published on 4 April, provides a framework for a continued focus on improving children’s outcomes now and in the future.

I thank the Minister very much for her reply. I would like to make the obvious statement that prevention—

Oh! I am sorry. I will not make a statement; I will ask a question. Forgive me. Could Her Majesty’s Government move inexorably towards a situation where we could put prevention right at the centre of all the work we do? We know that prevention pays off. We know that when money is spent on prevention, it reaps enormous benefits. Could Her Majesty’s Government look at the possibility of creating a prevention unit across both Houses and all parties, so that we could at last make sense of the need to prevent people falling into poverty because too many people are stuck in poverty and are not getting out?

I thank the noble Lord very much for his question. I entirely agree that the focus must be on prevention. We strongly believe that it was right to replace the income-related child poverty targets, which we had until 2010, with statutory measures of parental worklessness and children’s educational attainment—the areas that can make the biggest difference to children’s outcomes. We believe that the way to help people out of poverty is through employment. A great deal of progress has been made and employment is now at a record high level. However, although record levels of employment are great, one in eight children across the UK still lives in a workless family, and we need to tackle that. A prevention unit is a great idea but the reality is that we can perform that function by working across government, as we are doing, on the strategy that we have now developed within Work and Pensions.

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that the evidence on social mobility and what makes social mobility work is now very strong. Two of the factors are excellent childcare and excellent early years education. Why, then, do the Government not accept that and put more money into that kind of early intervention for children?

My Lords, we are working on our strategy for childcare because we understand that, if we are to have people in work, we have to have the right system in place supporting childcare that works for everyone. I know that colleagues across government are looking at this at the moment, improving on the support for young families that we already have. The reality is that we want to focus on prevention through getting more people into work, because we know that that increases people’s confidence and their health and well-being, and all that impacts on the child and their future levels of attainment and well-being.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a problem here, in that we want to applaud the employment figures released today but, at the same time, we need to recognise that it is people in employment who are using our food banks, where the numbers have rocketed in the last few years? Therefore, the simple statement that we applaud the rise in employment disguises a deeper problem.

I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate that it is not a question of just making statements; it is more about making sure that we do the right things from the bottom up. We have to take on board the fact that we continue to spend over £90 billion a year on benefits for people of working age but that targets to put more into that area have not worked in the past. The reality is that we know that children in families where no one works are significantly more disadvantaged and achieve poorer outcomes, and it is right that we focus on improving the long-term outcomes for those children. Improving Lives: Helping Workless Families provides a framework for a continued focus on tackling worklessness. For those in work, we have introduced major reforms to make work pay, and we are introducing universal credit to strengthen incentives for parents to move into and progress in work.

My Lords, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that the level of child poverty is rising and predicts that by 2020 5 million children will be living below the poverty line. Why does the Minister think that that is the case, and what strategies does she think need to be implemented to address it? These are serious matters. Do the Government have an overarching strategy that will tackle the root causes of child poverty?

Yes. I am sorry if I have not spelled it out but the reality is that we have a strategy for tackling child poverty. It is about putting more people into work so that children grow up in families where there is work, and educational attainment is also hugely important, but the rates of relative poverty are unchanged since 2009-10. We believe that employment is key to alleviating poverty. Children in workless households are five times more likely to be in poverty than those in households where all adults work. It is thanks to this Government’s actions that there are now 828,000 fewer workless households and 590,000 fewer children in workless households compared with 2010.