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Child Poverty

Volume 615: debated on Monday 17 October 2016

Work is the best route out of poverty. There are 557,000 fewer children in workless households than in 2010. The Prime Minister is clear that tackling poverty and disadvantage, and delivering real social reform, is a priority for this Government. To that end, I will be returning to the House with a number of announcements over the coming months.

The latest OECD figures show the that the risk of income poverty is growing for young people, and that was before the impact of the coming into force of benefit cuts hitting children. Will the Secretary of State accept the warnings from the Institute for Fiscal Studies that child poverty will increase by 50% in the next few years and abandon the cuts to universal credit, which will punish low-paid workers, especially single parents?

I simply point out to the hon. Lady that since 2010 there are 100,000 fewer children in poverty in this country, and, overall, 300,000 fewer people in poverty. I have already said that work is the best route out of poverty. I am sure that she, like me, will welcome the fact that we have far more people in work in this country than most other advanced countries. That is the best long-term way to ensure that children do not suffer poverty.

I very much welcome the change of tone since the Secretary of State took up his new position, but what I would really like to see now is a change in policy. He should be ashamed that the IFS is predicting a staggering 50% increase in child poverty over the course of this Parliament under his Government, who are still committed to a policy where a living wage does not pay enough to live on and where tax and benefit changes will be directly responsible for that increase in child poverty. When will the 2.5 million children who currently go without enough food to eat—who go hungry in this country—see some real action from this Government?

I disagree with the hon. Lady on the points that she makes on income and on tax. On income, the introduction of the national living wage means that a full-time worker who was previously on the national minimum wage is now £900 a year better off, and many children will benefit from that. On tax, over the course of the previous Parliament, we took 4 million of the lowest paid out of income tax altogether. Those are practical measures that help people on low incomes and help children in low-income households.

As the Secretary of State will know from his recent visit to my constituency, earlier this year I worked with local Bath charity St John’s Hospital to set up the Action Against Child Poverty group in Bath, bringing together over 50 charities and £100,000 of funding to tackle the issue of the one in five children who live in poverty in my constituency. Will he agree to meet Action Against Child Poverty in Bath, this time in London—don’t worry!—to learn about the group’s work and extend his congratulations on its work?

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the group in his constituency. It is exactly the sort of thing that one wants to hear that the third sector is doing, and I am happy to meet the group. I am grateful that he is depriving me of yet another trip to Bath. I am always happy to go there, but I quite like to spread myself around the country a bit.

Helping parents on jobseeker’s allowance or income support to start their own business is one way of reducing child poverty. Will the Secretary of State support the new enterprise allowance, which helps unemployed people to start their own business and raise household incomes?

The new enterprise allowance is indeed an extremely helpful tool in our armoury of ways to help disabled people. We have seen 20,000 firms started up—20,000 disabled people helped—through the new enterprise allowance. I intend to continue and expand the scheme, which is so good for disabled people.

The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) said in March 2014 that he believed the Government would eradicate child poverty by 2020, yet, as has already been mentioned, the Child Poverty Action Group highlighted last week that child poverty is set to rise by 50% by 2020. Does the Secretary of State agree with the former Secretary of State or with the Child Poverty Action Group, and are the Government still committed to eradicating child poverty by 2020?

The Government are certainly committed to reducing child poverty. The Child Poverty Action Group made a number of specific demands. One demand was to expand childcare support, which the Government have done, extending the 15-hour offer to the most disadvantaged two-year-olds. Universal credit now reimburses up to 85% of childcare costs, up from 70%. CPAG also demanded support to progress in low-paid work—it is absolutely right about that—and we are undertaking a number of trials to deliver evidence on in-work progression, which will be delivered by Jobcentre Plus, because I agree with CPAG that that is an extremely good step forward.

In 2011, the Government said that universal credit would lift 350,000 people out of poverty. By 2013, that had been downgraded to just 150,000. The Office for Budget Responsibility published its report on welfare trends last week and made it clear that the cuts going ahead under universal credit will mean that it will be less generous than tax credits. How many children, if any, do the Government expect universal credit to lift out of poverty?

Universal credit, which is now being paid to more than 300,000 people, has already shown that people will get into work and progress in work faster and that they are more likely to seek work. If the Opposition accept, as I think they do, that work is the best route out of poverty, they will welcome universal credit because, when it is paid to more parents it helps children in those families to be in households where there is work. That will be the best way to get them out of poverty.