Clause 21 — Local child poverty needs assessment

Bill Presented — Fiscal Responsibility – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 9th December 2009.

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Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury) 5:45 pm, 9th December 2009

I beg to move amendment 29, in page 13, line 12, after 'assessment', insert 'including-

(i) job creation,

(ii) reducing family breakdown,

(iii) families with disabilities,

(iv) black and minority ethnic children, and

(v) looked after children.'.

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: 32, page 13, line 12, at end add

'which must include the number of households within the area that fail to meet the bedroom standard'.

Amendment 30, page 14, line 38, leave out from 'of' to 'section' in line 39.

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Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

The amendments relate to the duties of local authorities. Under clause 21, which deals with local child poverty needs assessments, the responsible local authorities are required to set out how they will address child poverty. Amendment 29 takes us back partly to an earlier debate, and in the time available I have no intention of running back through the arguments. However, as my hon. Friend Andrew Selous eloquently stated, we believe that there is a lack of balance in the Bill, because it focuses on income targets, which we recognise are necessary, but does not contain enough about the causes of poverty and how we can address them.

To some extent, amendment 29 is another attempt to address the causes of poverty. It would do so in the context of the local child poverty needs assessments. The Government can produce regulations setting out matters that must be considered in such an assessment, and amendment 29 sets out some areas that we think should be included in those regulations, two of which relate to the causes of poverty. In particular, the amendment refers to job creation, which could be a solution and also reduce family breakdown. However, we have had a lengthy debate on those matters, and I have no intention of running back through the arguments.

As I said, we have set out areas that we think should be satisfied by a local needs assessment. For example, it should deal with matters relating to black and minority ethnic children and families with disabilities. On several occasions in Committee we had an interesting debate about issues relating to families with disabilities and the treatment of disability living allowance for the purposes of evaluating a household's income. Furthermore, assessments should deal with matters relating to looked-after children, which we also debated at length in Committee.

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Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Does my hon. Friend agree that the process of having local authorities working with their partners, other statutory agencies and the voluntary sector to thrash out local child poverty needs assessments using the headings that he has helpfully set out in amendment 29 would be extremely valuable in getting under the skin of what was happening for children in those localities and prove a valuable tool for those authorities and their partners thereafter?

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Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, there is a recognition of some of those points in the Bill. We have debated such matters in the course of our proceedings on the Bill, but having those points in the Bill would be helpful and would give useful guidance to local authorities.

Given the time and the fact that Ms Keeble has already touched on her amendment 32, I will not go into it. However, I would like briefly to say that amendment 30 concerns a matter that we debated in Committee, thanks to a probing amendment from my hon. Friend John Howell. Amendment 30 relates to the definition of child poverty for the purposes of part 2, which relates to the duties of local authorities. Two issues came up regarding the relative income target in its application to local authorities.

The first issue was about how we measure relative income in a local authority. To be fair, the Minister provided a helpful note about national indicator 116, which stated that it would measure the proportion of children living in families in receipt of out-of-work benefits or working families whose income is below 60 per cent. of median income. That is not exactly the definition in clause 2, so if the Minister has an opportunity, I would be grateful if she could say how significant the difference is between that definition and the definition of relative poverty in clause 2. However, that definition looks pretty close, so to that extent our concern has been addressed.

A second concern is this: what things can local authorities do on the relative income target in clause 2 that are not relevant to those other income targets that clearly belong in the definition of child poverty for the purposes of part 2? The point was made in evidence to us that local authorities do not really have the levers to do anything about the target of 60 per cent. of median income. I can fully understand why that target exists nationally, but if local authorities cannot, as a matter of practice, do anything that is specifically targeted at that income measurement, why have it in the definition of child poverty for the purposes of part 2?

The Government accept that it is right that there should be a different definition of child poverty for part 2 from that for part 1; but if that is so, should we not tailor the definition more, and why should the relative income target be included anyway? We had a debate on that in Committee, but with the greatest of respect to the Minister, I am not sure that we received a clear answer from her. I hope that we will have an opportunity to hear one today, either now or on Third Reading.

Subject to those points, I hope that we will have an opportunity to vote on amendment 29, although I do not intend to push the House to a Division on amendment 30. However, it would be helpful if the Minister could at some point elucidate the Government's position on those matters.

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Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

I want to talk briefly to my amendment 32, which says that when local authorities make assessments of need, they should look specifically at the housing conditions in which children live, given the close link between child welfare and housing, as set out in Every Child Matters. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will address that point in her one-minute winding-up speech.

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Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

Rather a lot of points have been made, and I will have difficulty in responding to all of them. On amendment 32, tabled by my hon. Friend Ms Keeble, I thought that I had made it clear that we were changing the information that would come in through the survey. It would therefore not be sensible to set a target along the lines that she has just described, because there simply is not the information available to do that.

In amendment 29, hon. Members are seeking to prescribe in the Bill matters that we believe would be more appropriately dealt with in regulations-

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 20 July).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the amendment be made.

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The House divided: Ayes 133, Noes 315.

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Question accordingly negatived.

The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

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