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Children Living in Poverty

Volume 804: debated on Wednesday 15 July 2020


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce the number of children living in poverty in working households.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord McNicol of West Kilbride and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, our current focus is on supporting people financially through this crisis. Our long-term ambition, based on clear evidence about the importance of work in tackling poverty, remains to build an economy that gives everyone the opportunity to enter and progress in work. In 2018-19, only 3% of children in households where both parents worked full time were in absolute poverty before housing costs compared to 47% in households where one or more of the parents worked part time.

My Lords, the mass unemployment of the 1980s did not leave just a generation of children—far too many children—living in poverty. It affected them, their children and their grandchildren for decades. Will the Government agree that in what is likely to be a very tough economic climate following this pandemic there is a need for targeted action to ensure that children not only escape the trap of poverty but have the educational opportunities to come out of poverty and have a better life thereafter?

The noble Lord raises a really important point. It is not just about fiscal poverty; if youngsters do not get a good education or their education is interrupted, it can have a real impact on their ability to secure the skills and knowledge they need to make their way in the world. This is—I am not trying to duck the issue—a matter for my colleagues at the Department for Education, so I will ask my noble friend Lady Berridge to provide an update to the noble Lord on those matters.

My Lords, the Government like to talk about tackling the causes of poverty. One cause of today’s shameful level of child poverty in working households is the long list of cuts in social security support for children since 2010, which was a policy choice. In this new context, why are the Government refusing to take the simple step of reversing that policy choice in order to reduce child poverty?

The Government continue to review all the matters at their disposal to help children not be in poverty. These matters are reviewed continually. As I have said to the whole House before, the Government will continue to look at the issues and the things they have got to deal with poverty and will review them on a regular basis.

My Lords, in the light of the Minister’s last answer about continual review, in April 2019 59% of families affected by the two-child limit were working, with many struggling to afford essentials. When the new statistics on the policy are released tomorrow, will Her Majesty’s Government finally agree to review and assess the evidence that the two-child limit negatively impacts children in working families and that lifting it is the most effective way to reduce the number of children living in poverty?

As the right reverend Prelate said, we will be publishing the latest annual statistics related to the operation of the policy to provide support for a maximum of two children tomorrow. I cannot speak about what the statistics might show until they are released at 9.30 am tomorrow. However, I can promise that if there is anything about the statistics or trends which goes beyond what we would expect to see, the department will look into them.

My Lords, I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us what support the Government are providing to help people who have found themselves in financial difficulties because of coronavirus access food.

On 8 May, the Government announced up to £16 million to provide food for those who were struggling financially as a result of the coronavirus. As part of this Defra has opened a £3.5 million food charities grant fund and on 10 June the Prime Minister announced £63 million in support for local authorities.

My Lords, in her first reply the noble Baroness referred to children in two-parent families. I point out that many of the working poor are single parents and that half the children in one-parent families are in poverty. They are doubly disadvantaged. What are the Government doing to ensure that these children’s futures are not blighted by the scourge of poverty in their early years?

In my original Answer, I said it was very clear that people in work have a much better opportunity not to be in poverty. The noble Baroness raises the issue of lone parents, who have enormous issues to overcome. The Government are doing everything they can to make sure that people are supported, and the best route out of poverty for this group is to be in work.

My Lords, as we emerge from lockdown, certain issues are being identified that require urgent and immediate attention. However, what is being uncovered in the case of child poverty needs both immediate and long-term action. Can the Minister say something more specific about the long-term issue of child poverty, which will continue to challenge our society long after lockdown?

There is clear evidence of the important role of work in reducing child poverty. I acknowledge that we are in very difficult circumstances, but the Government are doing everything they can to ensure that people can be supported through this difficult time. Huge amounts of support are available. We have a £30 billion plan to support, protect and create jobs, and a £2 billion Kickstart scheme; we are doubling the number of work coaches; there is an expanded youth offer; the work and health programme is being expanded; and we are increasing participation in our sector-based work academies. In addition, there is £150 million to boost the Flexible Support Fund to make sure that people can be given support—and this money will filter into the lives of children.

My Lords, the Minister keeps mentioning work, but TUC research found that the number of poor children in working households rose by 38% between 2010 and 2018—and that was before Covid. Yet poverty was mentioned just twice in last week’s summer statement document: in the title of an IMF body and in the list of abbreviations at the end. We keep making suggestions, such as sorting out universal credit, increasing legacy benefits and ending the two-child limit, but they are all rejected. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government are taking working poverty seriously and tell us what their plans are to stop more of our kids growing up scarred by poverty?

I assure the whole House that the Government take in-work poverty really seriously. Our plan is to build an economy that will support work, as we have said many times. Universal credit is designed to help people to move into work faster, although that can be challenging in the current circumstances. We have also set up the In-Work Progression Commission. As I have said before, people put forward ideas all the time and they are taken to the department. I assure the noble Baroness that we are taking this seriously. We might not be answering at the speed that she would like, but we are very genuine and sincere.

My Lords, the Social Mobility Commission recently published figures suggesting that 72% of children in poverty were in families where at least one adult was in work—a figure that has increased steadily from 44% in 1996-97. It cited mounting evidence that benefit reforms were pushing children into poverty and concluded that the intention of universal credit was to lift more families out of poverty but the DWP appeared to have done little work to ensure that it was not making child poverty worse. What precise work has the department done to assess the impact of universal credit on child poverty, and will it publish its findings?

I come back to what I said before: as a Government, we are always looking at the points that people raise and the issues related to in-work poverty. I think that the Social Metrics Commission said that poverty had been rising but had plateaued. Virtually all the increase in poverty occurred during 2001 to 2008; since then, it has plateaued. Going back to my response to a previous question, we are well aware of the situation of lone parents and are working hard and at pace to help them.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. We now come to the second Oral Question, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.