I would hope so. New clause 2(1) mentions
“a childcare element for claimants who are in work, except in prescribed circumstances.”
One of the problems with the current system is that 52,000 families already in receipt of tax credits are entitled to, but did not claim, the child care element in 2008-09, whereas 55,000 families were entitled to the child care element but did not claim tax credits in the same period. We need to ensure that real help is available for children. Universal credit will ensure that we do not have thousands of families who do not receive their full entitlement. That is a really important aspect of the Bill.
I am not sure that new clause 2 is the right way forward. I am concerned that it would cost the vast extra sum of £400 million in Government spending. It would be expensive, but retrograde, and it would make life harder for those who want to be in part-time work.
My other concern about the new clause is that the maximum award for the child care element is far higher than was set out in the consultation document. I can only assume that in drafting it the Opposition thought, “What high figure can we come up with that will be a substantial number so we can appear to our constituents to be much more generous in spending other people’s money?” That is not a sensible approach. The right approach is to have the consultation that the Government are having so that the book, when it is written, is slotted into the bookcase and is as effective as possible.
The Government have made a real effort to make strides on this issue and they have come up with a really great plan. They have also gone to considerable lengths to put up various options for discussion. Nowhere in new clause 2 does it canvass the possibility of a different rate for children under five, although the Government have canvassed that possibility. Nowhere does the new clause mention the differences between what people would get with 70% child care costs and with 80% child care costs: it just assumes that the figure should be 80% or 90%—figures that, on the face of it, appear to have been plucked out of the air. Nowhere does the new clause discuss the working of the hours rules, which would create great problems especially for lone parents and the parents of the youngest children who are just starting to find their way back into work. We must support them in going back into the workplace. That is the sort of discussion that we should be having, and I would hope that the Opposition would work positively with the Government to try to achieve a system that works for everyone.
These reforms are important because we need to reduce child poverty. In recent years, the figures have not been pointing in the right direction, if one includes after-housing costs. I will be challenged and told that that is the wrong figure to use and that I should use before-housing costs, but as I said in Committee people have to live somewhere. We cannot expect them to live in a garden shed or on a remote Hebridean island at very low expense where perhaps they could find shelter and the odd sheep. Indeed, Kate Green, who is no longer in her place, nodded in Committee when I said that this was the right measure.
In 2004-05, some 3.6 million children were below the 60% median for after-housing costs and now it is 3.8 million. I regard that figure as worrying in terms of the mischief that the universal credit and new clause 2 are aimed at combating. The Government’s plans would substantially reduce child poverty. New clause 2 and the Government’s plans are presumably aimed in the same direction, but the latter would reduce child poverty by at least 50,000 in 2011-12. I see that as a positive move. I asked the Secretary of State today about the effect of universal credit on poverty and he said that 90,000 fewer people would be in poverty. That is the right direction.
The Opposition have tabled amendments 23 and 24, which propose that the prescribed maximum should be £50,000. In other words, if someone has £50,000 in the bank but their earnings are very low, they will be able to claim under universal credit. Earlier, I put an example to Sheila Gilmore. If a person earns £50,000, has no savings—probably a young person—and pays tax, they will be subsidising an older person on lower earnings but with £50,000 in the bank. If we asked people in the street whether that was really justifiable, they would say no. The reason we save is to have a rainy day fund. The whole idea of such a fund is that when it rains, we should spend it—because we believe in taking responsibility for ourselves.
Today, the Leader of the Opposition gave a little speech about responsibility. He said:
“Labour—a party founded by hard working people for hard working people—was seen, however unfairly, as the party of those ripping off our society. My party must change.”
But I looked at the amendments and saw that Labour wants to give benefits to people who have £50,000 in the bank. Are we being ripped off? Is that a party that believes that hard work brings rewards and that believes in responsibility, in a messianic conversion, or is it a party that simply wants to hand out other people’s money like confetti?
I read on in the speech and I realised that the amendments had been tabled for the sake of a sound bite. The Leader of the Opposition said:
“Just take their current welfare reform bill.
It punishes people in work who save, denying them the help they currently get through tax credits.”
Well, there is saving and there is saving, and if we polled people I am sure that we would find conclusively that someone with £50,000 in the bank should not get any out-of-work benefits. They should take responsibility and seek to get back into work as quickly as possible.