Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Child Poverty Bill

Part of Bill Presented — Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:10 pm on 20th July 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North 6:10 pm, 20th July 2009

I start by emphasising an element of consensus that has emerged from the speeches that we have heard so far: that the Bill is, broadly speaking, a good thing; that establishing a target in statute is, broadly speaking, a good thing; and that targets alone do nothing to put money in the hands of children who need it, so what matters is what we do to reach the targets rather than the targets themselves. The Secretary of State gave us a compelling reason for reminding ourselves of that-the human dimension of child poverty-when she gave the example of a child who received nothing for his birthday. That is a common experience for children living in extremely low-income families. They will actively avoid other people's birthday parties. Many times I have found that children simply do not respond to an invitation because of their parents' fear that they will not be able to take a present with them.

For the many of us who are parents, this is the first day of the school holidays, and it is worth reminding ourselves exactly what poverty will mean for children who are looking at a six-week stretch without the resources to participate in activities that are regarded as the norm and on offer in the community. We know that one definition of a family on a very low income is of a child of 16 living in a household where the total gross disposable income is £100 a week or less. It costs £9 for a child of 16 to go to a cinema in my constituency, so a family would be looking at spending 10 per cent. of their income on one trip to a cinema. To attend a sports camp, such as a tennis coaching camp, in a local park would cost nearly half the family's income, so the children simply do not take part.

It is no surprise then that we see a tendency for some children from particularly poor families to find themselves in trouble-bored, at a loose end and drifting into antisocial behaviour. When the norm is to participate, and some children are not able to do so, the situation is very difficult. One element of poverty about which we always have to remind ourselves is what the costs of living actually are. Poverty is not just a matter of how much money is coming into the household; it is about what demands are placed on families and their children and their ability to fund those commitments.

That is as far as the consensus goes. I pay tribute to Steve Webb, who said a great deal with which I agree and who has a long track record of displaying knowledge and expertise on this issue. We heard a speech from the spokesperson for the official Opposition that I found profoundly depressing in many respects. The first element that depressed me was the fact that there was no recognition whatever that tough though progress has been to achieve-I shall turn later to some of the problems of maintaining that progress-a great deal has been done. Mrs. May was extremely negative-indeed, damning-about the Government's record, and drew on some quotes to illustrate her argument. However, we should also consider what has been said by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others.

Donald Hirsch's report, "What is needed to end child poverty in 2020?" says:

"Over the last few years a significant reduction in child poverty has been achieved, backed by significant resources."

Similarly, the poverty and inequality official report, published in February by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, says:

"There is no simple picture of success or failure...trends have improved in more policy areas than they have worsened in...Notable successes in the last decade included...reduced child and pensioner poverty; improved educational attainment for the poorest areas and schools; and a narrowing of economic and other divides between deprived and other areas."

It is extremely worrying that we are not able to begin a critique of what needs to be done and why progress has stalled in the past couple of years without at least an honest and mature recognition of what has been achieved. When the official Opposition speak-this also came through in interventions-they totally ignore not just some of the progress but the substantive work that the Government have done over the past dozen years to tackle the complex causes of poverty. One has only to look at the annual "Opportunity for all" reports and all the documentation produced by the social exclusion unit to see the enormous amount of research and thinking that went into examining the complex drivers of poverty, including family breakdown and, of course, worklessness, and establishing the importance of early intervention.

It is utterly dishonest to claim that the Government have driven an entirely statist agenda on poverty without working in partnership with voluntary and community organisations. That is simply nonsense, and if that is the Opposition's intellectual level, it bodes very ill. There are plenty of criticisms that can be made of the Government, and plenty of anxieties that can be expressed about where we go from here, but there is a vibrant partnership with voluntary and community organisations at both a local and a national level. I look at my own constituency and see a range of organisations that are working in partnership, such as Sure Start and its children's centres as well as those that are involved in relationship counselling and those that work with children. Westminster Children's Society is our main partner in delivering child care, and Women Like Us works on outreach for parental employment. I point the right hon. Member for Maidenhead towards that kind of work, and ask her to rethink the sterility of the Opposition's position.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website