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Disadvantaged Families and Children: Life Chances

Volume 613: debated on Monday 11 July 2016

1. What steps his Department is taking to improve the life chances of the most disadvantaged children and families. (905748)

11. What steps his Department is taking to improve the life chances of the most disadvantaged children and families. (905760)

20. What steps his Department is taking to improve the life chances of the most disadvantaged children and families. (905769)

The Government are committed to tackling disadvantage and extending opportunity so that everyone has the chance to realise their full potential. Our life chances approach will focus on tackling the root causes of poverty, such as worklessness, educational attainment and family stability.

While I welcome my right hon. Friend’s recognition that strong and stable families make an enormous impact on children’s life chances, will he spell out to the House precisely what his Department is doing to ensure that those relationships are fostered and strengthened, particularly in a coastal town such as Southend?

My hon. Friend is exactly right: family stability is a really important part of our mission to tackle entrenched disadvantage. That is why we have doubled funding for relationship support to £70 million and are significantly expanding support for parents. In addition, through our local family offer, we are working with 12 local authorities, including his own in Essex, to learn how best to strengthen the support they offer to families.

As my right hon. Friend might know, there is a 12-year difference in life expectancy between one side of my city of Plymouth and the other. What advice would he give to improve chances and life expectancy in Plymouth?

My hon. Friend is right that such inequality is unacceptable in Britain today, and that is why our life chances approach includes a set of statutory and non-statutory indicators that will drive action to tackle the wide range of complex and deep-rooted factors that can trap people in poverty, damaging their health and preventing them from making the most of their lives.

I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his amazing work on the life chances strategy. I hope that every Member, on both sides of the House, will continue to pursue this aim.

The troubled families programme has been a huge success, but does the Secretary of State agree that it could more positively be labelled the “supported families” initiative?

I agree very much with my hon. Friend’s point about the leadership role that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has played—it has been critical in driving this agenda forward—and I am delighted that the future Prime Minister also shares his commitment. My hon. Friend is also right about the troubled families programme. It is important that we stay positive about the changes and that we do not stigmatise any particular communities, families or households.

The Secretary of State has mentioned support for working parents several times, but those hit hardest by the Government’s cuts to in-work support for parents are single parents—those who least deserve it—so, on this issue and that of helping single parents, will he think again?

I share the hon. Lady’s passion for helping single parents. The current statistics all demonstrate and underline that when lone parents are supported back into work, they can achieve remarkable things in bringing children in those households out of poverty. The trends are moving in the right direction. She should welcome initiatives such as universal credit and our support for childcare costs.

Does the Secretary of State agree that efforts to improve the life chances of disadvantaged children and families will be undermined by neglecting the importance of current income levels?

I have always been very clear that income levels are important—a regular income is vital for families in difficult circumstances—but it is important that we look beyond that and, for the first time as a nation, start to tackle the underlying root causes of entrenched poverty.

Last year, child poverty increased by 200,000 as a direct result of the Government’s tax and social security policies, with two thirds of these children living in working households, and it is estimated that by 2020 more than 3.6 million children will be living in poverty. There is overwhelming evidence that child poverty has a direct and negative impact on children’s social, emotional and cognitive outcomes and ultimately on their life expectancy. Given the catastrophic consequences of Government policy implemented on scant evidence, will the Secretary of State do the right thing and repeal the damaging effects of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, which threaten the life chances of these children?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new position on the Front Bench. Given her work in the Select Committee, I am sure she will do an excellent job in the shadow role.

The 200,000 figure that the hon. Lady mentioned exactly points to what was wrong with the previous relative income approach, which her previous Government took to tackling poverty. When real wages grow, poverty rates increase, despite people’s incomes not falling. It is much more important to tackle the underlying causes of poverty—worklessness, educational failure, family stability, problem debt and addictions.

My right hon. Friend will know that Norwich is challenged by social mobility as per the social mobility index of earlier this year. Does he agree with me that it takes all parts of the community to come together to address these kind of problems, including the private sector and the third sector, and that constituency MPs can also play a key role in leading these things?

I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. The work she has championed in Norwich is a good example of local action, showing where local MPs can indeed be the champions. Much as we might want to talk about national levels of poverty and social mobility, it is much more important to understand what is going on at a local level and to drive local action with effective partnerships.

Many disadvantaged families have an older disabled relative, including 2,000 in my constituency who receive attendance allowance. The Government have said that they will scrap attendance allowance and pass funding to councils. When are the Government going to consult formally on those plans?

The Government have not said that they are going to scrap attendance allowance. We are looking at options for devolving it to the local authority level, but we have been absolutely clear that this does not mean a cut to supporting attendance allowance. It is about looking at more effective ways of delivering it at the local level to achieve what it is intended to achieve.