Poverty Reduction - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:49 pm on 22 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Loomba Lord Loomba Crossbench 12:49, 22 February 2024

My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of Barnardo’s. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for bringing this important subject before the House and pay tribute to him for all he has done to bring hope to those in our society who most need it. With the Big Issue, he has shown and continues to show what can be done through charity and philanthropy to turn lives around. Indeed, there is such an important role in our country for charity, philanthropy, volunteerism and what the Foreign Secretary once dubbed the “big society”.

Important and cherished as that is, it does not take away the responsibility of government to address poverty directly, to ensure that government policy minimises unnecessary hardships and to look out for those who are unable to look after themselves. Child poverty is an entrenched problem in the UK, with more than one in four children living in poverty. Barnardo’s recently looked at one aspect of child poverty—bed poverty—and found that there are over 680,000 families in the UK with children who have had to share a bed because their family cannot afford another one. Crisis requests to local authorities for help with children’s beds and bedding have more than quadrupled in the last four years. What more does it take to shake us into realising that we must align and strengthen efforts to tackle poverty?

Let us be clear: when we talk about child poverty, we are talking about family poverty. Families, often with both parents working hard and doing all they can, are unable to provide adequately for their children. The red flag that Barnardo’s has raised is the imminent ending of the household support fund. That fund, provided by central government and renewed from year to year, is administered by local authorities. It has been a lifeline to those facing hardship, providing practical help and access to essentials.

Some 62% of funding for local welfare currently comes from the household support fund; yet, as matters stand, it will come to an end in only 39 days—at the end of March—at a time when the pressures on households who find themselves in poverty are greater, not less. Earlier this month, Barnardo’s and 120 other organisations warned the Chancellor of the devastating consequences for families if the fund is not extended beyond March. More broadly, local crisis support is a vital part of our social security system, providing timely support to those facing acute hardship.

A long-term strategy that connects the dots is desperately needed, with funding to match. Short-term rounds of funding have led councils to close their schemes and let staff go, only to reopen them at short notice. Many local authorities have closed their schemes entirely. Barnardo’s is calling for a three-year funding settlement for crisis support to embed efficiency in local welfare.

In closing, I return to the immediate issue of the household support fund, which must be an urgent priority for the Government. Can the Minister assure the House that this essential support will not be withdrawn at this critical time, and that this lifeline for households will be maintained to allow the most urgent manifestations of child poverty to be addressed?