Child Poverty

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Security – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th January 2001.

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Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams Labour, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr 12:00 am, 29th January 2001

What percentage of children live in households in the bottom (a) decile, (b) quarter and (c) half of household income; and if he will make a statement. [145959]

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker Minister of State, Department of Social Security, Minister of State (Department of Social Security)

In 1998–99, the proportion of children living in households in the bottom decile, quarter and half of income distribution before the deduction of housing costs were 13 per cent., 33 per cent. and 61 per cent.

Photo of Dr Alan Williams Dr Alan Williams Labour, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

I am grateful for that information. My hon. Friend knows that during the period of Conservative government between 1979 and 1997, the incidence of child poverty in Britain trebled. This Government have done a great deal to tackle that through the working families tax credit, child benefit, the minimum wage and the new deal. How will the new child tax credit help to solve the problem, especially for households with the lowest income.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker Minister of State, Department of Social Security, Minister of State (Department of Social Security)

I apologise to my hon. Friend because it is too early for me to answer a question in detail about a credit that will be introduced in the next financial year. However, it will ensure that help through the tax system is targeted on families who are raising children.

My hon. Friend is right about child poverty: in 1996–97, approximately one in three children lived in low-income households, which was three times the rate in 1979. A substantial increase in child poverty and, as we know from our debates, pensioner poverty has therefore occurred. The gap opened up during the 18 years when the previous Administration were in office. However, we have taken considerable steps to reverse the trend since 1997.

Photo of Sir Sydney Chapman Sir Sydney Chapman Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Given that a New Policy Institute report shows that 500,000 more people are living in poverty, will the Minister confirm whether the Government continue to pledge that 1 million children will be removed from poverty by the general election?

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker Minister of State, Department of Social Security, Minister of State (Department of Social Security)

Yes, there is no doubt about that. I was careful that my original answer was specific as to dates. The 1998–99 figures are the latest that we have. We are now at the end of January 2001, so the figures that I gave are almost two years out of date. Substantial changes have taken place—the introduction of the working families tax credit and the national minimum wage, and extra significant increases in child benefit. Given the measures in our four Budgets as a whole, we are absolutely confident that 1 million children will be taken out of poverty, if poverty is measured as 60 per cent. of median earnings after housing costs.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Will the Minister confirm that, through the child benefit system, his Department holds the names and addresses of every child in the country, but that when the Inland Revenue tried to send out child tax credit forms, it did not use that information, but instead issued millions of forms, including 1 million to families with no children? Is it not the case that the Revenue did not use his Department's records to get the child tax credit to families because the form would have had to be sent to non-tax paying mothers, who would have had to pass it to tax-paying fathers? That would have made it apparent that the Government are not giving the support to women and mothers, but are transferring it to men.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker Minister of State, Department of Social Security, Minister of State (Department of Social Security)

I honestly think that that question should be directed at my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.