Equality — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:44 pm on 8 February 2011.

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Photo of Lord Smith of Clifton Lord Smith of Clifton Liberal Democrat 2:44, 8 February 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy regarding the growing gap between the rich and the poor in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, action taken in the June Budget and spending review has demonstrated the Government's commitment to fairness. We set out in the spending review our best estimate of the overall distributional impact of the fiscal consolidation. This shows that the top 20 per cent contribute most to the fiscal consolidation as a percentage of net income and benefits in kind.

Photo of Lord Smith of Clifton Lord Smith of Clifton Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for that Answer in so far as it goes. This gap has been growing for three decades. When does the Minister think that the gap will be so great that it constitutes a threat to the social fabric? Will he also give us a progress report on the pay crackdown on bankers promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, the Government take extremely seriously the question of fairness, which is why we introduced for the first time a distributional analysis to show the effects of not only our Budget but also our spending review decisions. In the measures that we have announced so far, in what is a very difficult fiscal situation, there is a fairness premium of £7.2 billion. The Government are putting these issues centre stage. In relation to bankers' pay, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced today that the levy on banks will be brought forward, so that the banks will be taxed at a higher level than under the previous Government's one-off spending plans. We will await further developments in relation to discussions ongoing with the banks.

Photo of Lord Eatwell Lord Eatwell Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

My Lords, in the noble Lord's reference to his Government's policy on this matter and to the Budget, was he not being a little misleading, as the equality analysis in the Budget included the measures introduced by Mr Darling in March? When the measures introduced by the coalition are taken alone, they do not contribute to greater equality.

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, we took some very difficult decisions about which of the previous Government's measures we would continue with and which we would not. The principal measure of the previous Government that we did not continue with was the full national insurance tax-the jobs tax-which would have been a significant drag on the growth prospects of this economy. Of course it was right that we should take into account the distributional effect of the total package of measures that we put through as a Government this year in the Budget and in the spending review. That is just what we have done.

Photo of Lord McFall of Alcluith Lord McFall of Alcluith Labour

Is it the Government's intention to adhere to the last Government's ambition to eliminate child poverty completely by 2020?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, this Government are committed to the Child Poverty Act 2010. I note that the previous Government struggled somewhat with their previous child poverty target; the target to halve child poverty by 2010 was widely acknowledged to have been missed. This Government are committed to the targets in the Child Poverty Act and will bring forward a strategy by the end of March 2011.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, the Minister will recall that the right honourable David Cameron, the Prime Minister, appointed Frank Field MP to produce a report on child poverty, which he duly did and recommended early intervention. Is he aware of the report in yesterday's Timesin which Frank Field said that he is very concerned at the threatened closure of many Sure Start children's centres? Will the noble Lord consider with his colleagues what might be done to prevent this? Frank Field suggests that local authorities should be made aware that shortly there will be new child poverty indices and that local authorities will fall down if they do not meet them and if they close these centres.

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, Frank Field's work will indeed inform the child poverty strategy, which, as I said, will be coming forward by the end of March this year. In relation to his reported comments in the newspapers, the Government have introduced an early intervention grant amounting to £2.2 billion, rising to almost £2.3 billion in 2012-13. It is up to local authorities how they spend that and their other resources. We have taken away significant numbers of the ring-fenced targets that they had to meet. They have money with which to keep the existing network of children's centres open and they have obligations under the Childcare Act 2006, but it is a decision for the local authorities.

Photo of Lord Boswell of Aynho Lord Boswell of Aynho Conservative

My Lords, while I in no sense wish to minimise the realities of poverty, is it not time that we started to move at least some of the terms of this debate away from a static analysis about whether one measure is or is not helpful, or whether there is enough incentive at one point in time, towards a much more dynamic approach in which we emphasise the importance of personal development, education, training and personal responsibility so that, as people move into employment, which is the best solution for poverty, they may better themselves financially and lead a more fulfilling and satisfactory life?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

I am grateful to my noble friend and I agree completely with his analysis. That is why we have introduced the £2.5 billion pupil premium to increase the emphasis on the educational development of children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds; that is why we are introducing the £150 million per annum national scholarship fund; and that is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is working on the most complex and important reassessment of welfare and benefits that has been attempted for two generations in order to get away from the overcomplex system of means-tested cash benefits and the dependency of far too many families who are trapped in welfare.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Labour

My Lords, would the Minister care to answer the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, who asked not about the taxation of banks but about bankers? Does he agree with me that if I received a bonus of £100 million and were to lose even half of it, that would not be the same as being in poverty and losing £10 a week?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, the subject of the Question this afternoon is what the Government are doing about the gap between the rich and the poor, which is something that we take extremely seriously. The best thing that we can do is to set the stable conditions for sustained growth in the economy, because that is what will improve the lot of the poorest in our society.