Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill

Part of Parliament (Amendment) – in the House of Commons at 7:34 pm on 26th October 2010.

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Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Labour, Stretford and Urmston 7:34 pm, 26th October 2010

This is an incredibly serious debate and I would like to address what I believe are important points raised on both sides of the House. I shall deal with all three elements of the Bill-the health in pregnancy grant, the child trust fund and the saving gateway proposals-in the context of what I understand to be important drivers for this Government, such as reducing inequalities, improving social mobility and improving child outcomes. I shall also consider the extent to which the proposals meet the Government's own fairness test.

I start with the proposal to abolish the health in pregnancy grant. There is considerable evidence to show the impact of poor maternal nutrition-during pregnancy and, importantly, prior to conception-on low birth weight, and the impact of that on a series of outcomes for child development down the line, including educational attainment and health outcomes. I certainly agree with the Conservative Members who said that a grant in the seventh month of pregnancy was not sufficiently early to achieve everything we would want to improve the well-being of pregnant women and their unborn children.

For women on low incomes, affording a healthy diet is a challenge. Indeed, women reliant on safety net benefits will, if they are under 25, have an income of £51.85 a week; and if they are over 25, £65.45 a week. Those amounts are sufficient to meet the minimum income standard determined by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation-£44 a week in order to afford a healthy diet. However, once we take into account other expenditure that has to be met out of those benefit payments-fuel, clothes, travel, personal items, insurance utilities and so forth-it means in practice that women conceiving and bearing children on benefits could find themselves with as little as £10 a week to spend on food. Clearly, none of us could eat a healthy diet on that.

It is right, as Opposition Members have repeatedly pointed out, that despite its perhaps unfortunate name, the health in pregnancy grant has the potential to achieve much more than simply help with a healthy diet. It helps to meet a number of the costs associated with preparing for and coping with the arrival of a new baby. Obviously, parents across the income spectrum will be grateful for any help. Although I was rather pooh-poohed by the Minister when I suggested that such a grant is likely to be spent pretty readily so it will also help the economy, there is lots of evidence to show that if we give money to parents at a time when their costs rise, they will go out and spend it quickly-they need to; there are items that they must buy. This will make a modest contribution to our economic regeneration, although that was hardly the overriding reason for introducing the grant in the first place.