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Covid-19: Child Poverty

Volume 688: debated on Monday 25 January 2021

What recent assessment she has made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on trends in the level of child poverty. (911261)

What assessment she had made of the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on trends in the level of child poverty. (911274)

Her Majesty’s Treasury’s analysis has shown that the Government’s comprehensive £280 billion response to the pandemic, including a temporary and emergency £6 billion increase to welfare support specifically designed to help low-income families, has supported the poorest working households the most, with the poorest 10% of working households seeing no income reduction.

It has been clear from what Department for Work and Pensions Ministers have said to the House and in the media that they understand the real difference the £20 a week universal credit uplift has made to some of the poorest families. Given that we know withdrawing that uplift will plunge huge numbers of people into poverty, including 300,000 children, why are Ministers having such a difficult time persuading the Chancellor to do the right thing by the poorest families and tackling child poverty?

We are in active discussions with Her Majesty’s Treasury regarding the £20 universal credit uplift. No one in this House wants to see anyone in poverty. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s ask and it comes from the right place, but I would just push back a little and say that, over and above the £100 billion we spend annually on benefits for working-age people to support those facing the most financial disruption throughout this pandemic, we have invested several billion pounds more. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has an unenviable task, but I point out to the House that my right hon. Friend has a proven track record of stepping up and supporting the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. I have no doubt he will continue to do so.

I understand, without a shadow of a doubt, that the Minister cares deeply about this issue, but I listened to the Secretary of State this morning on broadcast media saying that she was not able to set a particular date because of the active conversations in the Treasury. The Minister just gave the same answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting). Why is the Chancellor not listening? Is he tin-eared on this issue? We are talking about 600,000 extra children in poverty since this Government came into office in 2010. The £20 uplift provides certainty and these people need that security desperately. We cannot be a nation where there are more and more children living in absolute poverty, and more and more families living without savings. That simply is not good enough. I ask the Minister to challenge the Chancellor and ensure we stop more children going into poverty.

As I have said, the universal credit uplift is still in place for the remainder of this tax year. Discussions remain ongoing with Her Majesty’s Treasury, and a decision on the future of the universal credit and working tax credit uplift will be taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in due course.

But the number of children in poverty has increased by 600,000 after housing costs since 2010, and that has been in substantial part due to the £9 billion that the Government have withdrawn from social security since 2015 alone. The universal credit uplift and other measures taken since the beginning of the pandemic will have reduced the number of children living in poverty to 300,000, but can the Minister confirm that if the Government proceed with ending the £20 UC uplift, together with rising unemployment, that will mean, by the end of this Parliament, that they will have seen 700,000 more children cast into poverty than at the beginning?

We take the issue of poverty, and tackling poverty, incredibly seriously, and as I made clear, active discussions are ongoing with Her Majesty’s Treasury. But I have to say that I fundamentally disagree with the approach of Labour party: simply throwing money at our benefits system—an approach that, under the last Labour Government, left a generation trapped on benefits, trapped in poverty and incentivised not to work by punitive cliff edges in the legacy benefit system. We will not be going back to those dark old days. We know that work is the best route out of poverty and, under universal credit—our modern, dynamic, agile system—work always pays.