Schedule 1 — The Child Poverty Commission

Part of Bill Presented — Fiscal Responsibility – in the House of Commons at 6:56 pm on 9th December 2009.

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Photo of John Mason John Mason Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 6:56 pm, 9th December 2009

I thank Mr. Stuart for leaving me approximately four minutes to make my comments.

We are agreed that we need to tackle income inequality. There has been much mention of the root causes of poverty, and we agree that we need to tackle them. I was not convinced by the Conservative argument that we should widen the Bill ever further to take everything into account, but income is clearly key. It is worth reminding ourselves of the explanatory notes to the Bill, some of which were extremely good. For example, they state:

"It is nearly impossible to quantify the financial benefits of eradicating child poverty. Growing up in poverty can damage cognitive, social and emotional development, which are all determinants of future outcomes for a child. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that child poverty costs at least £25 billion a year in Britain, and that £17 billion could accrue to the Exchequer if child poverty were eradicated. However, this is a possible under-estimate of the true benefit. There are other benefits associated with the eradication of child poverty which are difficult to quantify such as equity, reducing hardship, deprivation and exclusion and breaking the intergenerational poverty link."

I think we all agree on that.

The Child Poverty Action Group and others have said that we have to put serious extra resources into tackling child poverty. They have mentioned a figure of some £3 billion, and Steve Webb, who has spoken ably today, mentioned a figure of £4 billion to £5 billion. That is the kind of sum that we would have needed from the Government if they were really serious. Without real money, I cannot see how child poverty targets can possibly be met. I know that we are not supposed to venture into the pre-Budget report, but it seems to have done very little to help.

There are other factors to consider, such as the fact that when people's work is cut to less than 16 hours, they lose tax credits, as well as the particular problem of single-parent families. In my constituency, there is a real problem of some kids being able to afford to go on a school trip whereas others in the same class cannot. The main issue brought to me is housing problems, and I see many youngsters being brought up in seriously overcrowded accommodation.

I agree with those who have said that less than 10 per cent. of children in relative poverty is a pretty poor target to aim at. Is it ambitious enough? It is certainly not eradication.

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