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In-work Households Living in Poverty

Volume 638: debated on Monday 26 March 2018

As Members would expect, we make constant assessments of the level of poverty in the UK, given that our primary purpose as a Department is to stimulate and support social mobility and give people the tools and assistance to build a better life. There are 1 million fewer people living in absolute poverty since 2010, and working families are around four times less likely to be in relative poverty than working-age adults in workless families.

Even though they are in work, many families in my constituency of Crewe and Nantwich are struggling to feed their children. That suggests that work is no longer an escape route out of poverty. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that child poverty will increase from the 4.1 million recorded in the Government’s latest figures to 5.2 million by 2022. The Government originally claimed that universal credit could lift 350,000 children out of poverty. How many children do they now expect to lift out of poverty, and by when?

I hope that no one in the House is complacent about poverty, particularly child poverty. As I said in answer to earlier questions, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, we are entirely focused as a Department on doing what we can to try to deal with these issues, but they are complex and deep-seated, so the solutions will be, too. Having said that, we believe that there are two primary causes and two primary solutions, the first of which is work and the second education. We are throwing everything we have at that to try to improve things. If we look back at the results thus far, we see 1 million fewer people in absolute poverty, 300,000 fewer children in absolute poverty since 2010, and half a million fewer working-age adults and 100,000 fewer working-age lone parents in absolute poverty since 2010.

The copious character of the briefing is in one sense very impressive, but unfortunately exceeds the time available for its delivery.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to pay tribute to a stalwart in Coventry who for many years helped the homeless. Mike Parker started the Coventry Open Christmas shelter in 1992 to provide warmth, food and shelter. His funeral was today. The shelter started as a one-night one-off and developed into a long-running campaign. It helps hundreds of homeless people in Coventry every year. Mike Parker helped to ensure that those who were lonely and hungry had somewhere warm and friendly to go. He will be sorely missed in Coventry.

Now for my question: will the Government look into ending the freeze on children’s benefits, lift the two-child limit on tax credit and fix universal credit to help to lift in-work households out of poverty?

May I, too, salute the hon. Gentleman’s constituent? I did not know him, but he sounds like a remarkable man. I am sure he will be missed by those who loved and knew him.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the two-child limit. In our welfare reforms, we have tried to establish for those who require assistance through the welfare system the same choices that are made by those who do not have that kind of assistance. Having said that, we have ensured that nobody who currently has more than one child will suffer, and of course all children will continue to receive child benefit, irrespective of their status.

As we have already heard, the majority of children living in poverty live in households in which at least one person works, so why does the Minister refuse to end the freeze on the majority of in-work social security support and to provide the support that working families so desperately need?

We believe that the solution for working families is universal credit and that people should take control of their own lives and work hard so that they can build a life for themselves and their families. That is exactly what we are trying to achieve through our welfare reforms.

My right hon. Friend raises an interesting point. A fair amount of analysis of that idea is currently going on. As soon as we have a conclusion, we will let him know.

Will the Minister confirm what he and the Government think is the most useful measure of poverty? Is it absolute or relative poverty, and can he tell us why?

My hon. Friend displays her normal mental acuity in putting her finger on the point here. She is completely right: relative poverty is a poor indicator of how people are faring. For example, if everybody’s wages were to double overnight tonight, absolute poverty would plummet, but relative poverty would stay exactly the same.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: using relative poverty produces perverse results. What is he doing about it and what is a better measure?

My hon. Friend made a remarkably good speech about this just a week or so ago, and I congratulate him on his foresight. He is absolutely right: relative poverty as currently measured suggests that there are quite a lot of poor people in Monte Carlo, which, of course, is not an intuitive picture that people would have. As a Department, we are looking at other measures. We believe that absolute poverty, which currently stands at an all-time low, is a better indicator. Of course material deprivation, which asks specific questions about how people live, holds some promise as an indicator that the public might appreciate.

I am disappointed to hear the Minister be so facetious about a subject as important as child poverty. At the last count, 72% of households whose benefits were capped were those of lone parents and 77% of those lone parents had a child under five. They can escape the cap by working at least 16 hours a week, but are then hit by the cuts to work allowances in universal credit, which trap many in poverty. According to Government figures released last week, more than half a million children are currently in poverty in lone-parent families where their parent—usually the mother—is either in full or part-time work. If the Government really believe in making work pay, will they reverse the cuts to work allowances?

I know that the hon. Lady likes to present herself as some kind of latter-day mahatma and as the only person in this House who cares about poverty, but, of course, that is not true. Many of us—as councillors, voluntary workers, social workers and so on—have spent many years fighting poverty, so it would be helpful to the general tone of debate in this House if she were not quite so accusatory. Our view, and the Office for National Statistics points this out, is that 100,000 fewer work-age lone parents are now in poverty and that their biggest problem—the biggest thing that assails them—is childcare. The 85% payment for childcare under universal credit and the increase in availability to 30 hours will give the greatest assistance to lone parents.