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Child Poverty

Volume 708: debated on Monday 7 February 2022

9. What assessment she has made of the reasons for the finding in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s “UK Poverty 2022” report that child poverty in families with more than two children increased from 33% to 47% between 2012-13 and 2019-20. (905455)

13. What assessment she has made of the reasons for the finding in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s “UK Poverty 2022” report that child poverty in families with more than two children increased from 33% to 47% between 2012-13 and 2019-20. (905460)

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer Questions 9 and 13—and, with your guidance, probably a whole load more—together.

We have long championed the principle that work is the best route out of poverty, based on clear evidence of the importance of parental employment, particularly where it is full time, in substantially reducing the risk of poverty. In 2020-21, there were more children living in a home where at least one person was working, with nearly 580,000 fewer children living in workless households than in 2010.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlights that child poverty in families with more than two children has risen, on this Government’s watch, to levels not seen since before 1997. Those families are disproportionately affected by increases in the cost of living and are treated punitively by the benefits system. Does the Minister really believe that it is acceptable for children to suffer more just because of the number of siblings they have? If not, what is he going to do to ensure that all families with children have the support they need at this very difficult time?

At a time of record vacancies, the key thing we need to do is to focus on getting parents into work and helping them to progress in work. That is our underlying priority. For those with vulnerabilities, we will make sure that extra support is available through the household support fund. I understand that Lambeth alone has £2.7 million to support people in the borough.

The End Child Poverty coalition reports that of the 20 UK parliamentary constituencies that have seen the highest increase in child poverty, 17 are in the north-east of England. My constituency of Jarrow is at No. 5. Will the Minister say what he and the Secretary of State are doing to tackle child poverty, specifically in the north-east?

As I said to the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), our key priority at a time of record vacancies is to encourage people into work. The opportunities for the north-east highlighted in the recent levelling-up White Paper and those sponsored by local Mayors and, indeed, local MPs will be a real boost. Of course, the household support fund will be available. In South Tyneside alone, £1.4 million is available.

20. Child poverty and destitution are increasing under this Government. In Lewisham, 39% of children are growing up in poverty and more than 14,000 families are on universal credit. Not only have the Government cut universal credit by £1,000 a year; today they are again cutting support in real terms. A lone parent who is out of work will be £300 worse off. That means more children in Lewisham living in poverty. How is that fair? (905468)

We need to make sure that we support lone parents into work and help them realise the opportunities that are available. I strongly suggest that they take time to speak to their local jobcentres and work coaches, who can help them get on. Of course, even in Lewisham £2.6 million has been made available through the household support fund.

We want to tackle child poverty in every way, shape and form. As I said earlier, there are now 580,000 fewer children living in workless households. That is a really important statistic. Helping more people get into work means that, over time, they have the support to stand on their own two feet and look after their children fully.

We know that the chance that a child will grow up in poverty falls when both their parents are in full-time work. Last Friday, I visited Stafford College ahead of National Apprenticeship Week. What are we doing to help more parents into work, in particular full-time work, to help my constituents in Staffordshire?

We have a full plan for jobs, which sets out a huge range of initiatives from kickstart for the young through to SWAPs—sector-based work academy programmes—and restart, and even a midlife MOT. Those are incredibly important tools that will help people get their children into a better financial situation. Of course, childcare is also available. We spend about £6 billion a year to support childcare. We need to make sure, as the Secretary of State said, that we make that work better for the families who rely on it.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that the best route out of poverty is work. By lowering the taper on universal credit, we are enabling people to get into work and retain their benefits. Does he agree that that combination has to be seen through the prism of encouraging people to work and to earn their own living?

I strongly agree. I have seen the amazing work my hon. Friend does in his constituency and did previously in Brent and he sets out our clear direction. Through our plan for jobs, and now, in a time of record vacancies, we are putting huge focus on the Way to Work, which I think he will agree provides even more incentives for those getting closer to job readiness to move into a job and then advance their career.

We know from the Department’s own recently published abstract of benefit rates statistics that the real-terms value of child benefit fell by 16% between April 2010 and April 2021. How many fewer families would now be in poverty if that and universal credit had been uprated consistently in line with inflation?

Questions on child benefit are obviously for the Treasury, but the work we are doing to improve the universal credit taper and the work allowance will help a huge number of families to have greater financial security over the years ahead.