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Child Poverty Bill

Part of Bill Presented — Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:56 pm on 20th July 2009.

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Photo of Dai Davies Dai Davies Independent, Blaenau Gwent 7:56 pm, 20th July 2009

Like many others who have spoken, I welcome the Bill and the continuing forecast for the eradication of child poverty.

Let me touch on a few issues that, although they have already been raised, I consider to be important enough to mention again. First, there is the poverty of love. We have heard about the importance of marriage and families and about marriage break-up and its effect on children, but one of the major issues that I regularly encounter in my constituency is that of families who experience antisocial behaviour problems with their children. Such families need one-to-one assistance-focused help-but at present local authorities are finding it difficult to provide it. We have heard about the poverty of health, and, from Ms Keeble, about poor housing, which is a huge problem in my constituency. It is a former mining constituency containing many terraced houses, and the loss of housing grants and inability to make repayments is a major problem.

Disability has been mentioned, and another health issue, affecting both children and their parents, is that of mental health. There is huge pressure on children nowadays. There is stress and anxiety, not just in the home but in the community. We tend to take our eye off the ball when it comes to mental health, and I think we should focus on that in the coming months. We have also heard about the poverty of opportunity and ambition, and about the support that we should give children and young people to encourage them to want to get on. It is so easy to fall into the poverty trap, not just in financial terms but in terms of having no ambition and not wanting to change.

When it comes to education, one of the major problems is sex education. We see many parents aged 12 or 13. We have forgotten about the education that is needed in telling children about the problems of having a family at such a young age.

There is another problem on which I think all Departments need to work together. In other Bills, the Government have proposed fining families if children fail to attend school. Which families would that affect the most? It would tend to be those living below the poverty line. We have heard that £15,000 tends to be the average annual income, and that anything below that is seen to be poverty level. In my constituency, a significant number of people live on real incomes of well below £15,000 a year. Although there is a reliance on benefits, the worry is that those benefits can be taken away at any time.

I have another concern about benefits and the benefits structure: where does the money end up? Does it end up benefiting the child? Is it targeted within the family to look after the children? Where is it spent, and how is it spent? Again, it comes back to education and helping families to understand that the money needs to be used in the right way.

Another issue that has not been touched on is the role of grandparents and the wider family. In my constituency, we have a huge problem of children having children and very young people being caught in the family trap. The role of grandparents has been undermined in so many ways. The chances of grandparents to look after the children have been undermined. Their voices need to be heard.

Constituencies such as mine have suffered over the past 30 years from the loss of traditional industries and manufacturing. I urge the Minister to ask the Prime Minister for sight of a report called "The Other Half of Britain" that was produced by the Alliance, which is primarily made up of local authorities from areas of the country that have suffered from the loss of traditional industries and therefore have a huge need for investment. I sent a copy of the report to the Prime Minister some 12 months ago. If he has not got it, I can provide another one.

We heard again about partnership working by the voluntary and statutory sectors, but I worry that in some respects the statutory sector sees the voluntary sector as a threat. Instead of allowing it to do the job it does well, it tends to resent the interference, as it sees it sometimes, from the voluntary sector. There is a huge task to be performed throughout the country in encouraging increased partnership working.

I was pleased, proud and privileged to be part of the "end child poverty" rally that was held in London earlier this year. I was lucky enough to have a number of my constituents alongside me and to be one of the 10,000 people in Trafalgar square. It showed again that the focus on ending child poverty goes much wider than this place.

The Bill concentrates quite a lot on targets and statistics. I worry about targets and statistics. We can make statistics say anything we like. If targets are not realistic, they work as a disincentive to people to achieve; we need targets that can be achieved. That is a problem with the Bill.

A promise of delivery in terms of ending child poverty is one thing, but just passing a Bill through the House will not achieve that. I am seeing services being cut in my constituency. I urge the Government to take the advice of the latest report from the House of Lords on the Barnett formula. It stated clearly, and so has Lord Barnett, that the formula needs to be reviewed. The Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government have carried out their own review, which comes to the same conclusions. The distribution of wealth across the country should have a needs base within it; otherwise areas such as mine will find it very difficult to come out of the difficult times that we are in now and to recover from previous difficult times.

We are losing community facilities. My other worry is that the first things to be cut by a local authority in times of austerity tend to be things that are seen as the flowery bits, the add-ons: community centres; places where young people can meet, be occupied and do things; and youth workers. There needs to be ring-fenced funding from central Government to local government, which must be told "That is what the funding must be spent on", otherwise it will be spent on many other services.

We in Wales were fortunate enough to be the first country in the UK to have a commissioner appointed for children. I know that that idea has now spread across the country. The influence of the commissioner has been significant in making many improvements in our areas. It is wonderful to come up with plans, strategies and initiatives but the problem is that, if the funding is not provided to take them forward, we will lose the plot. Again, to disincentivise people and to communicate things to people and then not deliver is the worse thing one can do. There is a huge difference between consultation and negotiation. If we consult and then fail to deliver, people will walk away.

Over the past 30 or 40 years, we as a nation have struggled to understand the poverty issue not just in terms of children-as we heard earlier, we have struggled to understand it in terms of older people as well. We will be judged on how we provide for our senior citizens and our young people, who are the future of this country and are so important to us.

There is more than enough in this country and the world for people's needs, but as we have seen over recent months, through the bonuses paid to bankers and the financial services collapse, there will never be enough for people's greed. I hope that the Government, through the Bill, will concentrate on those who need help the most.

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