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Child Poverty Strategy

Volume 822: debated on Monday 6 June 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the review by the Church of England Making the case for a child poverty strategy, published on 28 April; and what plans they have, if any, to introduce a child poverty strategy.

My Lords, I confirm that no specific assessment has been made. We are completely committed to supporting low-income families and will spend £108 billion on welfare support for people of working age in 2022-23. With record vacancies across the UK, our focus is firmly on supporting parents to move into work and to progress in work wherever possible, as we know that this is the best way to tackle poverty, particularly where work is full-time.

I thank the Minister for her reply. In the Church of England child poverty review, we present a consensus from across the political spectrum that child poverty is a complex issue that must be strategically dealt with across all departments but in a locally facing way. One group cautioned in its response that the feasibility and success of a child poverty strategy will be dependent on the will of the Government, so my question is this: is there enough will to produce a specific, targeted strategy that aims to end child poverty?

My Lords, Ministers and officials engage regularly across government to ensure a co-ordinated approach to this very important issue. We keep all priorities under review, but, as I said, with almost 1.3 million vacancies across the UK, our focus is to ensure that we can fill those vacancies with people who can work so that they can become independent. The latest available data on in-work poverty shows that, in 2019-20, a child in a home where adults were working was around six times less likely to be in absolute poverty before housing costs.

My Lords, recently the Prime Minister admitted that we cannot level up without tackling child poverty, and the Deputy Prime Minister declared himself heartbroken at the story of Emma, whose son provided her with a bowl of cereal because he had not seen her eat for days. Does this not underline the urgent case for a child poverty strategy? According to the Social Mobility Commission, England is the only country in the United Kingdom without such a strategy. Does that not also make the case for immediate urgent help for children so far lacking in the face of the cost of living crisis?

The case study the noble Baroness relays is definitely harrowing, and I wonder whether I might meet with her to talk more about it and to understand it in more detail. However, the Government are absolutely committed to dealing with the issues of poverty. We have just allocated another £15 billion support package. This will include a £650 payment to more than 8 million low-income households and a £300 increase to the winter fuel payment. Individuals receiving disability benefit will receive £150 as a one-off payment in September, and this will not be taken into account for tax purposes on benefits. We have cut the taper rate, and we have also given a non-repayable £400 reduction in energy bills. Those in houses in council tax bands A to D will get £150, and for other people who do not get that there is a further £144 million. We understand the issues of poverty, and we are placing vast sums of money to do what we can to help.

My Lords, during the passage of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, my noble friend Lord Freud said that focusing on income-based poverty measures fails

“to tackle the root causes of child poverty.”—[Official Report, 25/1/16; col. 1054.]

He promised regular reports on family instability, inter alia, to hold the Government to account for their actions and progress. The Government have not yet fulfilled that promise. Can my noble friend assure me that they recognise that family instability is a driver of poverty and are concerned not just about parental conflict?

I completely agree with my noble friend about family instability and how it drives poverty. That is why we are investing so much in family hubs, and I pay tribute to my noble friend for the activity he has had with those. I am meeting the Minister responsible for family hubs next week to see how the rollout is going and how the DWP might work with them. But I have to say that through the reducing parental conflict programme, in which we will invest £33 million, we have supported over 4,400 parents since 2019. We are confident that we have gleaned sufficient data from this to continue to roll out the programme and to ensure that we support people with difficult relationships.

My Lords, the review’s recommendations range across a number of policy areas, including the importance of addressing educational inequality in tackling child poverty. With the conclusion this year of the five-year opportunity area programme, could the Minister tell the House what lessons have been learned about what works to level up opportunities for those children born into areas of persistent poverty and deprivation, and how these learnings will be incorporated in future policies?

Opportunity areas caused great excitement when they were announced. They are a matter for the Department for Education, so I hope the noble Baroness will be happy with me asking my noble friend Lady Barran to give her the information she requests.

My Lords, in government, Liberal Democrats delivered on free school meals and ensured that every child between four and seven was provided with a free school meal regardless of income. In any child poverty strategy, will the Government commit to extending eligibility for free school meals to every pupil whose parents or guardians are in receipt of universal credit, and to pupils from low-income families whose parents or guardians have no recourse to public funds?

In 2018 the Government introduced new eligibility criteria for families on UC following a consultation. It is estimated that this will be more generous in its reach by 2022 in comparison with the legacy benefits system. Further to this, we included generous protections which mean that any family eligible for free schools meals transitioning to UC from a legacy benefit will continue to have access to a free school meal even if they move above the earnings threshold.

One of the important recommendations in the strategy was to ensure that the hidden poor and those with no voice, such as victims of modern slavery, the homeless and victims of child abuse, are not missed. Does the Minister support this recommendation for implementation within her department, and what steps are being taken to lift these groups out of poverty?

I am not able to make a commitment right now, but I know that the department is looking at all the recommendations and will respond to the Church in due course. I reiterate that we will be spending £64 billion on benefits to support people who are unable to work or who are on a low income. Another point I would like to make—I ask all noble Lords to help me on this—is that we urge people to check whether they are receiving all the benefits to which they are entitled and to be aware of the wider support this opens up, including help with transport, broadband and prescription costs.

My Lords, the report highlights the widespread agreement among concerned organisations that the two-child limit is a significant cause of child poverty. Given that this is an explicitly punitive measure directed at children, should the Government not be taking this advice to end that policy?

It is important that we support families. I note the point the noble Baroness makes about the two-child policy, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, but it is important that we are fair to the many working families who do not see their budgets rise when they have more children. This does not apply to child benefit nor to the disabled child element, and statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2021, 85% of all families with dependent children had a maximum of two children, and for lone parents the figure was 86%.

My Lords, my noble friend has rightly spoken about getting people out of poverty through work, but what steps are the Government taking to help those who are in work but are low-paid and low-skilled to better themselves?

Another exciting initiative is the in-work progression offer. We have in-work progression champions working with every jobcentre and district to help people to get a job, and then to get a better job which pays more and helps them with their cost of living.