Child Poverty Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 20th October 2009.

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[Robert Key in the Chair]

CP 01 Save the Children

CP 02 Campaign to End Child Poverty

CP 03 Barnardo’s

CP 04 Gingerbread

CP 05 Zacchaeus 2000

CP 06 Action for Children

CP 07 Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council

The Committee deliberated in private.

On resuming—

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to this sitting of the Child Poverty Bill Committee. I remind hon. Members and witnesses that we are bound by the deadline agreed this morning, so this afternoon’s first evidence session must end at 5.30 pm and the second session must end at 7 pm. I hope that I will not have to interrupt hon. Members or witnesses in the middle of sentences, but I will do so if need be.

We are here this afternoon to hear evidence from Kate Green of the Child Poverty Action Group, Neera Sharma of Barnardo’s, Fergus Drake from Save the Children and Kate Bell from Gingerbread. Members of the Committee will ask them questions and we look forward very much to their answers. I turn to Graham Stuart for the first question.

Q 7575

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

The Government missed their 2005 child poverty target, and they look almost certain to miss their 2010 child poverty target. They have a great incentive to bring forward legislation now so that you focus your attention on that rather than on their failure to meet their previous promises. Why do you think that legislation will give you more confidence about delivery in future than you could have had from the Government’s pledges in the past?

Kate Green: I do not think that we have lacked confidence in the Government’s intentions in the past. Broadly, we felt that we would have supported many of the measures that were adopted, but we would have liked to have seen more investment, effort and speed. I do not think, therefore, that we are as sceptical about legislation that will continue to keep the context in place for that investment and effort to continue and increase.

However, there is clearly an important issue for us and for Parliament in terms of the credibility of the Bill and of making sure that as much is done as early as  possible to continue progress towards the 2010 target—not least because children cannot wait until 2020 to see the quality of their lives improve.

Kate Bell: It is worth adding that obviously we are still pushing very hard for progress towards the 2010 target. The pre-Budget report coming up represents an absolutely key moment for making that progress. I also think that the structure of the Bill gives us a good opportunity to continue pushing the Government as they reach 2020. We see the fact that there is a strategy every three years and an annual reporting mechanism on progress very much as giving the structure and framework for us, hopefully, to push the Government to make sure that they meet that 2020 target.

Neera Sharma: We welcome the legislation because we believe it to be a major opportunity to shape and drive policy to tackle child poverty and to improve children’s life chances and the quality of their childhood. It also sets the context for greater action at a local level, to drive progress on child poverty to meet the 2020 targets.

Q 76

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

In any other walk of life, “eradication” would mean the end of something, but the word has a different meaning in relation to the Bill. Are you happy with the use of “eradication” when it is clearly not eradication? Moreover, are you happy with the assessment used in the Bill as a description of “eradication”? Every time I use “eradication” it means something different from what we are going to be discussing here today. Is there a problem for those outside the loop in understanding exactly what the Bill means?

Neera Sharma: The Bill states that the measure for the eradication of relative poverty is below 10 per cent. We believe that 10 per cent. would still leave 1.3 million children—one in 10—living in poverty. That measure is not challenging or ambitious enough, and it is likely that those children most at risk of poverty, such as disabled children and some black and minority ethnic children, will still remain poor under that 10 per cent. measure. When the Government made a commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020, they stated that that would be the best in Europe. However, the best in Europe at the time was a level of 5 per cent., in Demark and Finland. We would prefer a more challenging measure of 5 per cent., rather than 10 per cent.

Kate Bell: That is the view across the panel. We have talked to the Government about the technical difficulties of measuring child poverty below the 5 per cent. level, and we accept that at that stage it might get harder. One of our proposals is a suggestion for after the 2020 target has been met. We hope that it could be done on a three-year rolling average, so that some of the ups and downs that we might get once we get down to those very low numbers could be captured. We think that the Bill needs to be more ambitious in that area.

Q 77

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

Would you agree that within such a general target, there is the danger of specific groups—you mentioned disabled people—heading in the opposite direction, even if the overall target is being approached?

Kate Green: Yes, that is absolutely a risk. It is important that the building blocks, the strategies and the reporting of data enable us to track the progress of some of the  small but vulnerable groups. On the whole, those groups are reasonably easy to follow in statistics, but they would not be captured in a broad measure if most children were getting better outcomes but a small group was being excluded.

Q 78

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

Have you made any assessment of how much tougher the targets are because there are four of them, rather than just one relative low-income target? What impact do you think that might have?

Neera Sharma: We welcome the fact that there are four targets, but we think that the headline, the most important target, is the relative low-income target. We believe that measuring right across those four indicators is important, and we welcome that as well as welcoming measurement through the strategy and the building blocks.

Kate Green: We have had three indicators for looking at child poverty for some time. The new target that the Bill introduces is the measure of persistent poverty. We hope that that will pick up some of those more vulnerable groups, so I would say that, yes, it is welcome.

Q 79

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

May I explore the possibility of bringing a judicial review under the terms of the Bill? I will do that by assuming for a moment that a Bill similar to this one was enacted in 1997 and enshrined the 2010 target just as this Bill enshrines the 2020 target. Are there any circumstances from the past 12 years under which any of you would have been tempted to seek judicial review on a Government policy?

A

Has consideration been given to children of disabled parents? Especially the children who are attempting to care for a parent who has a severe mental health problem?

Submitted by Alix Cull

Kate Green: I think that you are asking two questions. You ask whether we would have been tempted to seek judicial review on a Government policy. As the Minister and hon. Members will know, we have taken the Government to judicial review during the past 10 years on a number of aspects of policy. I suspect that the question is about whether we would have asked for a judicial review on the failure by the Secretary of State to address the demands in this legislation.

It is difficult to speculate after the event, but we can see a framework now in which, if no significant and meaningful efforts were being made and it clearly looked like the target would not be met, I imagine that we would look for a judicial review well in advance of the failure to reach the 2020 target. It is not only about hitting the end point, but about the progress, effort and the steps that we can see are being made on the way, consistent with that objective.

Everybody understands that unexpected and difficult circumstances can arise, so it is important for us to track progress, not only as we reach the finishing post, but well ahead of that point. We will certainly be planning to do that.

Q 80

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I would be interested in the views of the rest of you on that, but I take it that your view of the Bill is that it would enable you to seek judicial review any time between its enactment and 2020. It is not something whereby you have to wait until the last year or so and then seek judicial review.

Kate Green: I do not think that you would have to wait until after the 2020 target date had passed. It would be considered unreasonable by the courts not to have given Government the opportunity to develop and implement meaningful strategies, and we would have no intention of rushing in with legal challenges. It is a strategic process that we want to see work. Taking legal action is not at the forefront of our minds. We want to use the legislation to promote positive and proactive activity by Ministers in a spirit of willingness and ambition, which we confidently expect because of the cross-party support that the legislation enjoys. Of more importance to us is that the Bill gives public profile and a political push to the issue and ensures that there is constant progress and momentum.

Q 81

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Kate Bell, a moment ago you said that you saw the public borrowing requirement as a key moment with regard to the 2010 target. Imagine that similar legislation was in place now with regard to the 2010 target. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the targets could be met if one spent an additional £4.2 billion on tax credits and benefits. Assuming that there was very little there towards meeting the 2010 child benefit target, with the benefit of this Bill, do you imagine you would seek to obtain judicial review to ensure that the Government spent more on this area?

Kate Bell: I think that it is hard to counterfactual it backwards. The Bill requires Government to meet the 2020 target; they have set out a strategy to do so. In considering a judicial review, we would look at what the Government had said they would do in their strategy—whether they had taken steps to meet the target and what the circumstances were had they not done so. Without the benefit of the architecture that the Bill puts in place now, it is difficult to say in what circumstances we would seek a judicial review.

Q 82

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

So are you saying that the Government have not had strategies in place to meet the target—they have merely had a target?

Kate Bell: They have clearly had strategies in place but they have not been on the statutory basis that the Bill places them on.

Q 83

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

If they had been, would you have been able to look at them and say, “This is inadequate; there is an opportunity here for judicial review to ensure the target is met”?

Kate Bell: I think that were a statutory strategy and the architecture of the Bill in place, you would be able to have that opportunity. You would be looking at that. As Kate said, you would be examining the circumstances carefully. I do not think it possible to say now, with what we have got, how we would use the architecture of the Bill.

Fergus Drake: I think that overall we strongly welcome the Bill, because it can have a carrot and a stick effect. There is the stick there. We as a group would have specific conversations around it, should we be seriously off track in 2017 or 2018. The carrot is all of us working with children, trying to ensure that their voices are in the Bill, and working closely with local authorities in terms of needs assessments and the specific poverty strategies that they will be working on. That is why we as a group are very supportive of the Bill overall.

Q 84

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

May I ask one final question? Kate Green, you said that you saw the political pressure as the key driver in the Bill, as opposed to the judicial review side of it, although you obviously welcome that. Would the rest of you agree, or do you see being able to take the Government to court if they fail to abide by an appropriate strategy as the teeth of the Bill? Or is it the political pressure and the greater focus on child poverty in the Bill that is the key?

Neera Sharma: I think that it is the political pressure, but it is also the prospect that there will be strategies in place. Also, the commission will have a key role, so we can hopefully speak to the commission, which might call for witnesses. There will be architecture in place for us to make our voices heard and to make representations. If we feel that the strategy is not going to address the issues that we think are pertinent to progress being made, we can have input at that stage.

Q 85

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

If one were cynical, one could imagine a future Government sensing that there was trouble down the track—even getting wind that you were thinking of judicial review—and amending the Bill: “delete ‘2020’ and insert ‘2030’”, or “delete ‘2020’ and insert ‘as soon as is reasonably practicable’”. Does the Bill have any teeth? You cannot bind future Governments—we know that, and this is the nearest we can get to it. We will talk later about whether the child poverty commission has any teeth. Is there not only a political cost, as legal action could be forestalled? How strong is the Bill?

Kate Bell: It is worth mentioning that all three parties have said that they support the Bill, so I hope that it has cross-party support and no future Government would do what you said. One of the great things about the Bill is having the statement that all political parties see ending child poverty by 2020 as a priority.

Q 86

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

But none of the parties has put anything credible in its manifesto that would come anywhere near that. They are all paying lip service, are they not?

Kate Green: We look forward to your forthcoming manifestos with great interest.

Kate Bell: We have not yet seen your manifestos. We would start by not being cynical about it but by saying, “This is real.” I think it is real that any Government would have to come back to Parliament and say explicitly, “We are no longer committed to meeting this child poverty target”, and that is what Kate talked about regarding the political pressure as well as the legal one. So I think the Bill does more than just say, “This would be done” or “This would be nice.” I think it is a real commitment.

Q 87

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

As you know, the Government are introducing a new indicator for persistent poverty, but as yet, exactly how that will be measured is not set out in detail. What would be an effective way of measuring sustained, persistent and deep poverty? Is there a risk that the indicator will once again allow Governments to concentrate on households just below the poverty level, and will not necessarily deal with deepened and sustained poverty?

Kate Green: I think it is unfair to say that Government policy to date has dealt only with people just below the poverty line. In fact, I think I am right in saying that there have been improvements on income across all income deciles. Some policies have been increasingly directed at those who are at greater risk of poverty, although I think that there is more to do.

I think the advantage of measuring persistent poverty is that that gets to a group of families who suffer significant disadvantage. Particularly, it gets at some of the instability that persistent poverty causes for family incomes. That includes them moving in and out of poverty; they are out of poverty for short periods, but there are long periods when they are plunged back in again. I think we would be interested in measuring, over a period of time, children who spend most of their time below the poverty line, and I think that would be a useful way of getting to a number of the at-risk groups that we are concerned about.

Neera Sharma: We can also get to the at-risk groups as part of the strategy and the building blocks. The strategy needs to include a focus on groups most at risk of poverty, which are set out in the equality impact assessment. Examples include children in BME groups and disabled children. That is another way of making sure that progress is made with the children who are most at risk of poverty and persistent poverty.

Q 88

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

Are the Government right to have, to some extent, changed the goalposts a little by moving away from a clear after-housing-costs measurement of poverty, or does that not matter?

Kate Bell: I think that the sector view has always been that the after-housing-costs measure is the better one. The Government took a decision a long time ago, in 2003, to have their headline figure in terms of before-housing costs. Luckily, the after-housing-costs figure continues to be measured, and that is the one we examine when child poverty figures come out. Although we lost the battle six years ago, we will continue to monitor that figure.

Q 89

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

Can you explain what the difference would be, or has been?

Neera Sharma: The after-housing-costs measure gives a better indication of the disposable income that families have after housing costs. Housing costs vary so much across the country. That is why we keep the focus on that measure. For us it is a more accurate measure of disposable income for families and a better measure of child poverty.

Q 90

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Clause 8 is the heart of the Bill in some ways; it deals with the UK strategies that the Secretary of State will have to put in place. There are clearly some good and important things there. I will not read them all out, but subsection (5) refers to the facilitation of employment, the development of skills, the provision of financial support, health, education and social services, housing and the natural environment. None of us would disagree with any of those.

What other areas that you consider important are missing from that list? I would be interested to hear from all of you about what shape you think the UK strategy should have. We have not done as well as we all would have liked, notwithstanding some progress over  the past 10 years. So how will it be different? What drivers of poverty do we need to hit rather harder to really step up the progress over the next decade?

Kate Bell: The important thing about these building blocks, as they have been called, is that they give you the tools that you might be looking at for tackling child poverty. They define quite nicely the tools that you can use when you are looking at the strategy. They also provide a bit of space for whichever Government is implementing the strategy to decide what those tools might look like and how that would work.

Certainly Gingerbread thinks that the tools around employment will be particularly important. We know that if we are going to end child poverty by 2020 we need to see more parents in work, but employment is probably going to look quite different. It will have to be much more flexible. There will have to be many more opportunities for part-time jobs. One thing that we will want the strategy to do is to create those opportunities and to make sure that there are real jobs that lift families out of poverty.

Kate Green: We would like to echo what Kate Bell says about the importance of the employment building block and how that is broadly interpreted, in relation to not just employment rates, but the quality of work and the fact that it genuinely lifts families and children out of poverty. We see child care as an important element of the building blocks that you need if a child poverty strategy is to be successful. There has been good progress in creating child care places in recent years, but clearly there is still a very long way to go before parents will be able to access the affordable and available child care that they want and need.

We are also interested in placing child well-being centrally in the way that we think about the approach to the strategies to eradicate child poverty. I think we see the building blocks as being quite useful for developing policies across a range of different aspects of public, national and local provision, which would make sure that children at the greatest risk of poverty were reached. Many of the elements that are in the building blocks are very helpful for that.

Neera Sharma: I would echo what Kate has said. Barnardo’s broadly welcomes all these areas, but in drawing up the strategy it is key that the needs of those children and families most at risk of poverty are specifically addressed. We need to consider how those building blocks could target those families and reach the families that have been in persistent poverty and are hard to reach.

Fergus Drake: From a Save the Children perspective, I completely echo what has been said already. We had some very interesting feedback from children when we worked with the child participation unit to get feedback directly on what was proposed in the Bill. They expressed concern about these four areas being seen as silos and the fact that there needs to be a strategic focus on how they can be joined up. I thought that was an excellent point. It is in step with one of our overall points about giving children a voice in the Bill, in terms of participation, particularly at ground level with local authorities.

Q 91

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

May I press you all a little bit more on that, as it is really important and gets to the heart of the Bill? Do you think that there are any  omissions in subsection (5)? Are there any things that are not there and make you think, “Gosh, if we are really going to make progress we need to do something about x”?

Secondly, I have not really heard anything from you about what extra things need to be done, or what needs to be done differently to try to step up the pace a bit. Sadly, we look as if we may not reach the 2010 target. We have got to do better. We cannot have more of the same, notwithstanding the progress made. I have not heard what I hoped to hear from those earlier answers, and I want to press you all a bit more.

Kate Green: I think that child care is missing. Health, education and social services are fine, but we specifically say that child care is so key to a successful child poverty strategy that we would like to see it explicitly in the building blocks. On what more should be done, or what should be done differently, a number of interesting issues were raised on Second Reading, particularly regarding benefits adequacy and an adequate financial safety net. That is something that is not sufficiently in the thinking of the anti-poverty policy to date. That is certainly something that we want to see getting proper attention in the strategies that come forward as a result of the legislation.

Like many of you, all of us are very concerned about rising levels of in-work poverty and addressing some of the disincentives built into the system, which were highlighted in the Centre for Social Justice report the other day, for example. A proper focus on those disincentives in the system, but also on what is happening in the workplace regarding quality of jobs and level of pay, is a very important part of a holistic anti-poverty strategy that is genuinely everybody’s business.

We are also very interested in how other legislation may, to some degree, work against the Bill and its intentions. For example, it is very important that we examine welfare reform proposals for their impact on child poverty. While there are some very good intentions in the welfare reform proposals—from all political parties—on helping more parents into good-quality sustainable jobs, which of course we all support, we have to be anxious that too punitive a model of welfare reform, or a model that rewards the wrong sort of provision, could actually be damaging for child poverty. For example, we might see increases in levels of benefit sanctions coming through over the next few years.

Q 92

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Fergus, I wanted to ask you about the excellent films that you produced, in which one of the factors that the young people identified as being a problem for child poverty was overcrowding. Would you welcome the kind of measures that Helen talked about this morning, where the Bill would improve the standards for overcrowding from the pretty abysmal current standards?

Fergus Drake: Yes. What we saw in the series of films, where children engaged with what poverty meant for them in their own environments, was very powerful. We heard directly on issues about free school meals and child uniforms. Social housing, in particular, is something that there are ongoing concerns about—its impact on educational attainment and the social circumstances that people then report back in school, which can then lead to areas of discrimination there.

Q 93

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

What we heard this morning was that the overcrowding standards will be improved by the Bill; I remember in the films that overcrowding was particularly mentioned. Are you concerned that those standards need to be properly monitored and enforced, if they are higher than the standards that are accepted currently as constituting statutory overcrowding?

Fergus Drake: I think that we would welcome that, certainly.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Would you want to see them properly enforced?

Fergus Drake: Yes.

Q 94

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

What I was concerned about is that Kate Green has now mentioned the problems of conflicting bits of legislation, which there could be here. There is even a conflict between the Children and Young Person’s Act 2008 and some immigration legislation. Are you concerned that some of the very good measures in the Bill might be overridden by other bits of legislation, for example on access to housing?

Kate Green: I think that we are. I do not have a comment on that issue specifically, but I can think of a number of areas where there could be conflicts between the Bill and other legislation.

Kate Green: Welfare reform is one. You mentioned immigration legislation, which I think is clearly another. At any moment, changes in world circumstances could lead to an upsurge, potentially, of children in the UK suddenly becoming vulnerable to poverty. I think that we are also anxious about the legislation that we are expecting from the Government on reducing the deficit and how public spending decisions might affect the child poverty target. It is very important to us, therefore, that decisions about public spending and managing the public finance deficit should address the need to continue spending on child poverty measures to meet the requirements of the Bill.

Q 95

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Fergus, at that event the young people also talked very specifically about the business about holidays—something that some people might think is marginal to child poverty, but was clearly important to them. Are you concerned that quite a number of those measures are tucked away in the regulations as side issues rather than being in the Bill? How do you think we can ensure that those issues are carried through and enforced?

Fergus Drake: Because we have been talking about the four points that are the building blocks, I would hope that the local authority, in terms of needs assessments and local child poverty strategies, would be able to focus on quite a few of those areas. In general, those areas have a huge impact on children’s sense of self-worth and where they stand with regard to their peers. That can flow into their aspirations about their future. Yes, I agree with you.

Q 96

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Bearing in mind that not all local authorities are responsible authorities—that is something else that we discussed this morning—do you think that  a local authority, faced with a choice between repairing a pavement and letting a poor kid go on holiday, might prioritise the pavement over the child? That is the kind of thing that I am thinking about.

Fergus Drake: I think that that is one of the things that we are very keen on, in that we are very supportive of the focus in the Bill on local authorities, as I have said already. But we would also be keen that resources are flowing in that direction as well, where there is more emphasis on them to have that focus and that work. Such choices—between the bins or child poverty—are not at the front and centre of what people actually have to allocate resources to.

Q 97

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Do you feel that there is enough in the Bill to look at the overlap between ethnicity and poverty among children?

Fergus Drake: I would be interested in other views on that.

Neera Sharma: The equality impact assessment published alongside the Bill specifically mentions children from BME communities and the high levels of poverty in those groups. The strategies and building blocks should address the needs of those children, and local authorities should also prioritise those groups as part of their sustainable communities strategies.

Q 98

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Do you think it a mistake to exclude mental health trusts from the list of responsible authorities and partner authorities? They appear not to be listed in either list—neither are acute trusts or the new health delivery bodies. [Interruption.] If you look on page 10, you will see that under health, you have the strategic health authority and the primary care trust, but you do not have mental health trusts with a specific duty, despite the fact that one would think that there is a fairly clear link between mental ill health and poverty.

Kate Green: Indeed there is; both parental and child mental ill health. It is certainly not specifically listed.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Do any of our witnesses wish to respond to that?

Kate Bell: I do not think that it is an issue that we have looked at.

Kate Green: I think that that has always been our concern about the lists. In any given list of building blocks, groups of children or partner authorities, you are always at risk of missing either someone who is key and has somehow been forgotten or someone who becomes key, though who is not envisaged so today.

Between now and 2020 there could suddenly be a very live issue or an agency that needs to be engaged in making the strategy work. That is why we are interested in having the strategies at the heart of the way we make this legislation live. Though we had not given it thought or particularly picked up the Mental Health Trust’s important point, we know that mental ill health is associated with high levels of child poverty. Parental mental ill health significantly locks parents out of the labour market, for example, or propels them into poor quality stop-go jobs. We are also aware in terms of wider child well-being of the pressures on child and adolescent mental health services. You rightly draw attention to that important group of organisations in terms of improving children’s enjoyment and health.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Andrew, do you have a question on the list itself?

Q 99

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Yes. Briefly, I would like to press a bit further on that general point. In the list of partner authorities in clause 19 you see police authorities and chief officers of police but not further education colleges or chambers of commerce, for example. The list is slightly odd to me. I wonder whether any of your eyebrows have been raised at some of the partner authorities included and whether there were any that you thought should be included.

Kate Bell: The explanatory notes explain that employment partnerships are covered under the duty of the Secretary of State. With the structure of further education changing so that it is devolved down to local authority level, we hope that they will come under the local authority remit. The other useful thing about the strategies, both at local and national level, is the duty to consult. I hope that if there are omissions they are being picked up as we go through. Again, that may be an optimistic view.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

It seems to me that the list is an interesting area. Maybe our witnesses would wish to send in a supplementary memorandum when they have had time to think about it.

Minister, you have been very patient.

Q 100

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

This is a question for all of you but I think Kate Bell might have some particular insights. Do you think that family breakdown is a major driver of child poverty? Should it have been added to the list of building blocks in clause 8? Are there obvious policies that could be introduced to reduce family breakdown and have a major impact on child poverty in this country?

Kate Bell: What I was trying to say earlier about the building blocks is very important. They are tools and not target groups. We would understandably be very concerned about a specific strategy that set out to prevent family breakdown as a causal approach to tackling child poverty. We know that children growing up in single-parent families in this country are more likely to be poor, but we also know that some of the countries that do best on child poverty have very similar levels of single parenthood to this country.

There would be concern if tackling family breakdown were applied at individual family level. We know that outcomes on a global level are better for children in two-parent families although, again, the causal links are very unclear. There are families where it is much better if the parents do split up. The outcomes for children actually improve in that situation. A global target to reduce family breakdown may impact poorly on that.

Kate Green: Clearly, nobody would want to stop investment in supporting family and couple relationships, but we doubt that that would be an assured instrument for ultimately eradicating child poverty. As Kate Bell says, other countries with high levels of single parenthood are able to have much lower levels of child poverty than we have. No direct link can be traced in a range of developed countries between the level of single parenthood and children’s well-being and outcomes. We published  some research on that as an update of the UNICEF report card, which did ask that question. As Kate says, it is a matter of disentangling causes and consequences. There is no doubt that lone-parent households are at high risk of poverty, but that can be addressed successfully. Nevertheless, we should be doing all we can to protect couple and family relationships wherever possible.

Q 101

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Kate Green, I would like to follow up quickly your comments on concerns about the proposed fiscal responsibility Bill and welfare reform. Coming back to my earlier question, given the duties on the Secretary of State under clause 1, are there areas here where there may be scope for taking the Government to judicial review because they fail to abide by those duties in pursuit of other policies, such as welfare reform ones?

Kate Green: I do not think that the Child Poverty Action Group is quite as trigger-happy with judicial review as you might be suggesting. Apart from anything else, it is expensive.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

You have had your successes.

Kate Green: We have had some successes. To some degree, we want to see this legislation produce moral pressure and moral will to create a space in which all politicians of all parties vie to achieve, rather than look for ways to duck and evade the intentions of the legislation.

I cannot remember which country they were from—probably one of the Nordic ones, as usual—but we had some visitors who, very interestingly, were talking about localising their child poverty strategies, the impact of regional government and devolution, and whether that had fragmented the anti-poverty strategy. They said that, on the contrary, it had led to competition between the different local agencies to drive their child poverty standards up. So we are hopeful that this legislation will raise the game, rather than lead us to look for ways to say, “Well, that bit of legislation over there means that you are not really serious about achieving these targets”. Having said that, we do not rule out using legal means to challenge legislation if that seems necessary, and where we see clear discrepancies or something working directly against the Bill’s intentions.

Q 102

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

You have all raised the importance of child care, and it is obviously the key to employment for many people. It has to be affordable and accessible. How could that be put into legislation? Do you think it should be?

Kate Green: Local authorities are already required to undertake child care sufficiency assessments, and they give us some very important data now about the nature of child care provision and where the gaps exist. Clearly, what we want is not just to have the data, but to have action on those assessments. That is a moving picture for local authorities: it is possible to deal with pockets of need and demand today, and then find that a new set of needs and demands pop up tomorrow because employment patterns or demographics in the local authority change. Certainly, some of the changes in migration patterns into the inner-London boroughs can very quickly cause a stretch on child care and on school places too. It is very important that we take the child care sufficiency assessments as the base point for doing something with that knowledge. Child Poverty Action Group would like  to see child care included in the building blocks, because then we would get clear certainty that there would be plans to address it within the child poverty strategies.

I should also say that I am talking about England. There is of course an issue for the devolved nations, and I know that colleagues from Scotland would certainly express some different concerns. I am not really in a position to say very much about that, but I do know that that is an area that the Committee may want to investigate.

Q 103

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

Of course what you say about child care being central to children’s well-being and vital for parents’ employment opportunities is absolutely true, but do you not feel that the duties that were put on to local authorities, with respect to provision, information and introducing child care in a way designed to increase equality in local areas, have already covered that point? If we were to incorporate it into the Bill, would that not be an unnecessary duplication?

Kate Green: No; I think it would be a reinforcement of the good progress that has been made so far to recognise the absolute importance of child care. I suppose that the other thing that will be important about having it in the context of the Bill is that it will be a very child-centred Bill, which is important for us in terms of thinking about what child care is for and what good child care looks like. I hope it would not mean that it created extra effort and difficulty in people’s minds. I think that there is a real local understanding of the importance of the provision of good quality child care, but I cannot see why there would be any specific disadvantage to including it in the building blocks of this Bill.

Q 104

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

Earlier, you described the work that you do, which we are all aware of, at a strategic level with central Government. However, what the Bill does is to pass a lot of the responsibility for delivery over to local government. How do you see your role and your working relationships with local government in practice as a result of the Bill?

Neera Sharma: Barnardo’s works throughout the UK. We have 400 projects working in the most disadvantaged communities and we work in partnership with local authorities. We see the Bill giving us a framework to work on child poverty issues. Child poverty is an inescapable fact of all our services. Many local authorities work with us proactively on examining issues of disadvantage and child poverty. Some are not so engaged. So we feel that, at a local level, the Bill will give us a framework to work with our partners.

Kate Bell: Gingerbread, as well as lobbying and campaigning, runs services and among the services that we run are employment services, helping single parents to return to work. Some local authorities have taken a very active approach on that issue. For example, we have worked closely with Manchester city council and Camden council. We hope that the Bill will drive that type of action and make local authorities more open to thinking about the opportunities for disadvantaged people in their area and how they can help them, including helping them to move closer to the labour market.

Q 105

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

What on the ground do you see yourselves doing differently or additionally after this Bill has received Royal Assent that you do not already do?

Neera Sharma: In terms of our commissioning arrangements, we want to look at how we commission and what sort of targets we include when we are commissioning with local authorities on child poverty indicators. Some local authorities, when they renewed their contracts with us recently, have asked us what our shared objectives should be around child poverty, and others have not. So we hope to review our commissioning arrangements with local authorities, to ensure that we can work proactively on the child poverty agenda at a local level.

Q 106

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I do not think that I have quite got the answer about the additionality issue that I am seeking, regarding your own view about what you will be doing differently as a result of the Bill. You say that there might be a different type of commissioning, but is there anything else there? After all, local government already has a generalised indicator and a whole lot of sub-indicators that it can work to. I am just trying to grasp how you see the landscape differing, at a practical level, after the Bill is passed.

Neera Sharma: Some of the differences would be in the softer outcomes. So, most of the families that we work with are not employed and there has been intergenerational poverty. So we would want to look at the soft skills that people need before they reach the labour market. For example, more volunteering opportunities would be useful, so we would seek to work with our local partners on providing those opportunities, or signposting people, if they have mental health problems or other issues, so that they build up those pre-employment skills. Then, we would work in greater partnership to look at how we could help people to access the right sort of child care or to move into employment. Bringing lots of partners to the table will help to do that at a local level. As local authorities formulate their sustainable community strategies, it will especially give partners a greater say in what needs to happen locally for children and families.

Kate Green: I hope that we might be able to find it easier to have a dialogue with local government to help shape local service design. There is already a real appetite for that among some local authorities. Only this morning, I was invited to Be Birmingham, the Birmingham city council local strategic partnership, specifically because it was holding an event about putting together its child poverty strategy. There is an opportunity for real engagement and dialogue between organisations such as ours and the chance to talk about our intellectual understanding of policy issues and the experience that—not, I must say, the Child Poverty Action Group—the other organisations represented here gain from delivering local services and the interest that local authorities have with their partners in thinking about the whole landscape of service provision and how it might impact on poor families.

For the Child Poverty Action Group, the issue is likely to be about influencing local government and its partners to think about a broad range of activities in the local authority and how they can be shaped, designed and delivered, and about explaining and working with it to identify the impact on families and children in poverty in the local area and help it to think about ways in which it can reconfigure and offer services in a more accessible way.

An example of that policy might be to encourage local take-up campaigns. I can envisage our providing an analysis of why take-up might be low in a particular community or area, and what can be done to drive it up. We have already worked with the Local Government Association to reproduce the “Quids for Kids” toolkit, which comprises take-up materials for local authorities. There would be quite a lot of interest on both sides in sharing good practice and expertise.

Q 107

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

What, given your experience so far of having worked with local government, do you think it needs by way of additional resources to make the policy work?

Kate Green: Not all local authorities have shown the need for additional resources to make the policy work, although additional spending on low-income families will be good both for those families and the local economy, because if there is more money in the household budgets of poorer families, they immediately spend it on local businesses. It is also true that some local authorities have already begun to look at the way in which they make spending choices within their existing funding arrangements. A good example of that is Kent, which has made some quite deliberate choices to fund the provision of free school transport, for example. Presumably, it has had to make choices not to offer another public service provision, but it is a matter of balance between the need for leadership and sufficient resources at local level. Furthermore, the process is one of local strategy development with local people in which they are making informed and deliberate choices.

Kate Bell: The process of setting out a child poverty strategy will lead to less duplication of work at a local authority level. Parents often ask us why five different people are telling them about employment and skills policy, and we hope that the provision of the strategy might help them to say that their resources into advice provision and take-up are going here, and their resources into employment skills are looking across the partner authorities as well, where action can be done more efficiently to achieve the goal of ending child poverty.

Fergus Drake: We, in Save the Children, are particularly interested in being a bridge with regard to the voice of children, especially in local child poverty strategies and needs assessment work. We have looked at whether it would be useful to have some form of kite mark, which says that we believe that a particular needs assessment has actually gone down on the ground and that we have listened specifically to children, thus involving them at every point as each strategy is worked on. That area is something to which all the organisations represented here could add tangible skills as well as the resource matter that we have just talked about.

Q 108

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

You have been quite upbeat about the benefits of decentralising some responsibility to local government, and I am sure that there are some grounds for that and that more good practice can be encouraged. But can I push you further on the flipside of that? There is a risk, particularly in a much larger country than the Nordic countries, with a much more decentralised press, with much less scrutiny and political pressure on individual local authorities, that some authorities—I would probably say many—will find ways of possibly not taking some decisions that are hard to  deliver. They will have strategies, but they could easily say that the big-ticket items for dealing with poverty are the benefit system, the tax system, employment and pay, all of which are outwith the responsibility of a local authority. It will actually be quite slippery—quite hard—to hold to account those authorities that have other priorities than child poverty. What would you encourage Ministers and Parliament to do to ensure that there are measures for and means of holding to account those authorities that will sign up to a strategy but are not going to be the ones in the forefront of good practice?

Kate Bell: At the risk of being upbeat again, the advantage of having strategies is that you can at least try to progress against them. It is also really important that we have a national strategy. One of the things that a national strategy may want to do is to pick out local areas that are doing particularly badly. I think the point that Kate was making earlier around authorities therefore being quite keen not to be seen as falling behind is something that the national strategy can also help push.

Neera Sharma: Local authorities will need resources and support, also sharing of good practice—local authorities that are doing well could partner up with local authorities that are not doing well to share learning and experience and to have mentoring schemes. So, there is a possibility of being quite imaginative as to how local authorities get support and the knowledge that they feel they might need.

Q 109

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

You mentioned some good practice, and you are all meant to be doing some work with local authorities. Tell me where there isn’t good practice. Are there any authorities that are not really stepping up to the plate and not showing a great deal of interest, or is every local authority in Britain engaging in this?

Kate Bell: We do not have the resources to look at every local authority in Britain. One of the reasons for being a small charity and lobbying at national level is to put in place the framework so that those who are working at a local level can challenge things. I think that that is the other really important thing about the child poverty strategies—empowering groups, which are working on a smaller level and do not have access to national lobbying, hopefully to be able to say, “Here’s a strategy, here’s what you are not doing.”

Kate Green: In England the Government offices have an unfortunate role in terms of using the national indicator set proactively to maintain pressure on the local authorities in their area. The other thing that I would say is that we have observed a real step change in local authority interest over the past two or three years. I think that three or four years ago the extent to which local government was engaging, in the sense that it could do anything about child poverty at all, was very patchy. I think that has changed significantly, I am sure in part because of the debate that has been going on around this legislation.

Q 110

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

I want to ask about the devolved countries and how you think they would fit into this UK-wide strategy. Obviously Wales is going to have its own new poverty strategy this year or next year—how do you think that will fit into the overall UK strategy?

Neera Sharma: We think the proposals in the Bill for the devolved Governments to formulate their strategies to fit into a UK strategy are right. We are hoping that  there will be an overarching UK strategy. Obviously the income targets are not devolved, but we think that in formulating the devolved strategies and the UK strategy, the devolved Administrations will have the flexibility to look at the kind of issues that should be in their building blocks to drive progress in their nations. We know, in Barnardo’s, that our colleagues are working with their officials and their Governments to look at the Bill and that they are having discussions with the child poverty unit on how to make it work.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

Obviously some of the policies in Wales and Scotland, such as free prescriptions or free breakfasts for children, have an impact on poverty. Some of those initiatives are, say, not available in England, so there will have to be different measures than for a UK-wide strategy.

Q 111

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

How should incentives be altered for those in local authorities such as chief executives and others? All Governments talk about not rewarding failure and rewarding success, but the tendency is towards precisely the opposite. You inevitably get drawn in, such as when Liverpool was failing in the 1980s, with Governments giving the authorities money because they cannot let people sit with failure. The real incentives for success are rarely there for those on the ground, so the rich areas get less and the poorer areas get more. The poorer the area, the more money it gets. Do you have any thoughts on incentives and how we should align them so as to ensure that we get positive feedback all the way through, and do not suffer perverse eddies in the incentive structure?

Kate Green: I am not a great expert on this, but I make two points. First, I observe a strong commitment to public service across local government, and to the drivers that people feel to deliver high-quality services in their local community—you want to build on the positive there. Secondly, although I understand your point that rich areas never get the money and that it always goes to poor areas that are failing—the reward for failure—we need money to reach the families and communities that are failing the most.

The real problem with saying, “If you succeed, we will give you a bit more money to do more,” is not that we do not want to reward success but that we do not want to punish individual families when there has been a failure to meet standards and targets. It seems to me all the more important that funding reaches those most disadvantaged communities. It is not reasonable that individuals should bear the pain for administrative failure. You can see that, for example, when housing standards are not met and extra funding is then not available for further refurbishment of social housing estates. That is extremely hard on the people who have to live in that housing, and it is no fault of theirs that they are in that situation.

Q 112

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

You make the extremely good point that Governments of all colours always act in the way that you say, despite the pronouncements that they make. How can we cut through that to ensure that the most positive incentives are put in place? Successive Governments have wanted to challenge poverty and underachievement, and have put in place resources towards that end, but in many places we have not seen the response that we would have liked.

Kate Green: I think that you are taking me out of my depth. In terms of how you incentivise public servants, you are probably going some way beyond the remit of any of our organisations.

Q 113

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Is it possible that the Bill could end up having perverse effects? Is there a way in which local authorities and local government could go for short-term measures? For instance, as has been mentioned, the IFS says how much can be spent on benefits, yet the Centre for Social Justice has reported on the disincentives in the system. The Minister spoke this morning of her belief that there had been improvements, which would obviously be welcome, but are there dangers that we need to watch out for? Are there changes that could be made to the Bill to ensure that we do not allow the short-term political desire of meeting the target to go against the long-term desire of creating opportunity for all and the other broad policy changes that are needed?

Kate Green: That is a very important point, and it has been important since we first had child poverty targets and interim targets were set. It is really key, therefore, that the strategies that are produced, and the commission’s examination of those strategies—and the bite that the commission has—are strong as a result of the Bill. When the commission reports, we will want it to say not only, “This looks like it will make a bit of a difference this year,” but, “Is this helping to drive towards the 2020 goal?”

Neera Sharma: I think that the sustainability of any success is absolutely key. Both on the income targets and on the building blocks, the way in which the strategies are delivered and how this is all implemented must be sustainable. As Kate says, the commission would hopefully have a key role to play there.

Q 114

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Could we end up with many people just above the artificial 60 per cent. figure—with them being pushed over that figure to meet a target? Is that a realistic danger?

Kate Bell: The suite of targets—not just the 60 per cent. relative income target—does, to a certain extent, try to avoid that. You have the material deprivation targets in there, which look at poverty in a much more experiential way. Also, you have the persistent poverty target. Looking at those is at least trying to get beyond that problem. I also think that the fact that the strategy is three years, whereas the reporting is annual, gives you a longer-term horizon as well as that short term. That is progress being made. I think that that interaction is quite important.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

The Committee now wishes to turn to the child poverty commission.

Q 115

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

What, in the witnesses’ view, is the rationale for having the child poverty commission?

Neera Sharma: I think that the commission is a key part of the accountability process. There is definite value in having a commission that can play a key role in designing the strategy and scrutinising progress towards the targets. We believe that having a commission is a key part of the legislation.

Q 116

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

Would you agree that, in the process of consultation, the powers of the commission have been significantly strengthened?

Neera Sharma: We believe that the commission should be as strong as possible so that it can play a key advisory role. In order to do that, we feel that it should be able to publish its own research—and have a budget for that—and to call for witnesses. We feel that the powers of the commission need to be strengthened.

Q 117

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

Are you satisfied by the proposals in the Bill to publish the advice and require the Secretary of State to have regard to it, with the experiences laid out by members of the commission?

Neera Sharma: Yes.

Kate Green: We would also like the Secretary of State to explain why he might be departing from the advice, if that is the case.

Neera Sharma: We would also like Government to look at the time scales for setting up the commission. The first strategy will be published within 12 months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent. That could limit the commission’s ability to influence that first strategy. If the commission is not set up for several months after Royal Assent, it will not have enough time to influence the strategy. The first strategy will be a blueprint for other strategies and annual reports to follow. The timeline for establishing the commission is absolutely key. In other legislation, such as the Climate Change Bill, a shadow commission was established so that it could get to work as soon as the Bill got Royal Assent.

Q 118

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I think that that last point is a powerful one, having been involved with the Climate Change Bill. The shadow commission more or less dictated the amendment of the Bill—to an 80 per cent. reduction—and made it powerful.

To be momentarily cynical again, the child poverty unit’s impact assessment of the Bill says that the child poverty commission will meet four times a year and have 14 staff. It tells us the cost of their travel. It even includes the cost of a room; I am surprised that it does not include tea and biscuits. The commission will oversee Government spending of £400 billion, according to the Bill, over the next 20 years, with an annualised running cost of £190,000. The civil service staff will be one policy grade 7—I am sure that they will be a splendid person, but that is not terribly senior—and an executive officer, who does minutes, I suppose. There is an £80 day rate for people attending. It is all a bit half-hearted, is it not?

Kate Green: Clearly we think that it must be adequately resourced, including, as Neera said, with an adequate research budget, the power to call for and commission its own research, and adequate staff to critique the strategies and provide proper advice and information for Parliament and the public.

Q 119

Kate Green: It does not sound adequate to me.

Neera Sharma: There is another option in that assessment, which is £390,000. That would include a research budget. We would, obviously, want to push for the higher budget so that the commission can have its own research budget.

Fergus Drake: But overall, the point you are alluding to is that it has to be properly resourced in order to give it the role that it needs for best practice in some of the areas that we have been talking about. We need to  ensure that there are not four or five wonderful beacon authorities and then tens, or hundreds, that are lagging behind.

Q 120

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Do you think that the Bill should provide for the child poverty commission to be abolished once the job is done?

Neera Sharma: I think that the commission should have a say in whether it is abolished. This is also about at what point it should be abolished—there is a question of sustainability. We could get to 2020 and the targets might have been met, and then a year later child poverty could start going up again. When the commission is abolished depends on the process and the timing. It could stay until after 2020 to ensure that the whole strategy is proving to be sustainable.

Kate Bell: As I remember, I think that the commission must be abolished through an affirmative resolution in Parliament, although that does not provide the greatest safeguard. Clearly there must be a strong provision that some debate will happen before we say, “Okay, it is telling us things we don’t like; let’s get rid of it.”

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

I think that there are no further questions, so that brings us to the end of this evidence session. On behalf of the Committee, I thank Kate Green, Neera Sharma, Fergus Drake and Kate Bell.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 5:18 pm, 20th October 2009

Good afternoon and welcome to the second session of the afternoon. We are now going to hear evidence from Catherine Fitt from the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services, Colin Green from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Kevan Collins from the London borough of Tower Hamlets, Richard Kemp from the Local Government Association, and Paul Carter from Kent county council. Welcome to all of you. I start by asking John Howell for a question.

Q 121

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

Local authorities already have a number of ways of prioritising child poverty. They have the NI 116 as an overall indicator of child poverty, and they can sign up to a number of specific indicators that better reflect the local circumstances. They also have relationships with myriad other partnerships on the ground, and in many authorities I am aware that the child poverty agenda goes right through those partnerships. The basic question is: what does the Bill add to that?

Catherine Fitt: I think I need to explain that until nine weeks ago I was director of children’s services for Newcastle city council. To a great extent, what I want to say today is coloured by my experience of the last four years and four months. I have also been chairing a theme group of the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children and Young People’s Services, looking at child poverty.

For me, the reason for having the Bill is to ensure consistency across the country. We know from what has been happening over the last few years that local government and its partners are engaging very positively. For example, nine out of the 11 local authorities in the north-east region now have child poverty as a priority in their sustainable communities strategy. That has been very much down to the work of the region’s coalition to  tackle child poverty. We are very aware that it is no good solving the problem in just one part of the country, because whether a child’s needs are met should not be dependent on where they live. We are looking for consistency.

Richard Kemp: I take a different view from that. Giving local government a duty would not help us, but enhancing the duty of our partners to co-operate with us around a specific thing would. You will be aware, because you have passed the legislation, that the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 gives all the partners around the LSP table the duty to co-operate with the council, in this case the upper-tier authorities. It is taking time for our so-called partners to understand what that duty to co-operate is. Even where a council is being a good lead partner, it takes two to tango. Who is coming in behind us?

Although it is clearly evolving, partnership is developing and more and more councils—as I think we will see from the comprehensive area assessment reports, which will be presented in the next few weeks—are creating successful partnerships. However, that is not always carried through by the quangos and departments of local government. So, we think that ensuring that that co-operation means something, rather than just being an Act of Parliament, would be of assistance to us.

Paul Carter: I take a long-term view. In trying to address child poverty you are not going to get a quick fix. In Kent, we are taking a longer-term approach to the underlying problemsto try to stop the cycle of repetitive benefit dependency and generational behaviours, through transformation in education as well as working alongside Sure Start programmes, children’s centres and the support given to wraparound family care. That all adds value. There has to be a multi-agency approach to the solutions. On the journey that we have been on for the last six, seven or eight years, we are beginning to see some positive outcomes.

In Kent, by raising young people’s aspirations and ambitions we have reduced the number of young people who are not in education or employment by 16 per cent. The numbers in the rest of the country have gone up. So, some of the medium and longer-term solutions in changing the mindsets of young people are beginning to take effect. One head teacher of a high school—not a grammar school—in Kent said to me, “The only child poverty around here is the poverty of aspiration and ambition”. It is not about money. It is not about resource. If you have families where one or both parents have alcohol or drug addiction problems, no matter how much money you give them it will not stop child poverty. Child poverty crosses all social boundaries. There is child poverty in relatively affluent parts of society as well as the more deprived areas.

It is a massive problem, but to think that putting in financial resource and increasing benefits will stop child poverty is absolutely wrong in my view. You have to get to the underlying cause. You have to do all you can to bring wealth and prosperity into an area. Some people think that Kent is relatively prosperous. Our average gross value added per head is less than the average for this country, not just for the south-east of England. The east of Kent has social deprivation indices that are off the Richter scale and in the top 20, something we are not proud of. Roger Gale said to me the other day that when he first became an MP he was going to change the  dynamic of Thanet in five years. If anything it has gone backwards, not forwards. So, what are the underlying levers of control that we have in local government, working with the other public agencies that can bring wealth, prosperity and job opportunities and through education change the mindsets, ambitions and aspirations of young people? I think that we are starting to make good progress.

Q 122

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

What you have just described is a situation, if I read it correctly, that Kent has been involved in for some time. What I am trying to grasp is what you would do differently, if the Bill were to be passed tomorrow, as a result of its passage?

Paul Carter: But the Bill does not go into the solutions model, does it? It talks about establishing the commission X, Y and Z. As I understand it, however, it does not go into what we are going to do about it. That is the interesting debate in my view: what are we going to do all over the country to try to address the essential need to reduce the number of those in child poverty, however you define it?

Q 123

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I think that that goes to the heart of another question really, picking up the consistency argument that Catherine Fitt made. Surely, what we need to establish in the Bill is a balance between some consistency and quite a lot of flexibility, because the solutions for tackling child poverty will not be the same in each area. How will we get that balance, or do you see that balance already within the Bill?

Richard Kemp: One can see that, from the local area agreement indicators that we have signed up to. In crude terms, only 45 out of about 140 local authorities have signed up to NI 116, which is the child poverty indicator. However, 118 local authorities are doing work on NEETs, 101 on obesity in teenage schools and 107 on under-18 conceptions. Those issues are entirely relevant, because these things go hand in hand. So that is an indication that local authorities are saying, “What is it that we need to do in our area, using our local knowledge and our partnerships?” So my response to your earlier question about what we would do differently as a result of the Bill is, “Not necessarily anything at all”, although it might help to change the way that some of our partners relate to us, because I do not think that those partnerships are strong enough to deal with some of the indicators that we face.

Kevan Collins: The point about what we would do differently if the Bill is passed is the key one. I think that we are already doing things differently because of the debate that has begun. The most interesting thing is the way that people have come together to look at this issue in the round. Paul’s point is absolutely right: this is a complex and very sophisticated issue, and you need the broad set of partners around you to consider it. However, the question is this: is there a collective effort genuinely across the whole of local and central Government, or is the buck being passed to local government? People are nervous about that issue, to be honest with you.

Nevertheless, I think that the point about local plans, including the strategic needs analysis, is important. All of that activity is creating a much richer frame to place our actions against, and I think that much more intelligent work is going on because of the potential of the Bill, and even more work of that kind will flow from the Bill.

There is an important point about there being a greater sense of duty to co-operate with the Bill and to be part of it, which needs to go right across the range of partners. In Tower Hamlets, we have found that the work with health workers, police and our community groups has been fundamental in getting a comprehensive plan in place.

Q 124

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

How do you see the relationship between central Government, with its responsibilities under the Bill, and local government working out? Is it one of stick, or one of carrot? The Bill threatens, or promises, guidance. How do you see that guidance coming into effect on this issue?

Kevan Collins: Guidance always leaves me with a slight—do we need more guidance? I think that the tension between responsibilities will have to be resolved. If the guidance becomes a stick that is used to beat local authorities, for example Tower Hamlets where we have a higher degree of child poverty but we are working hard on it, I think that would be unhelpful; it would be unhelpful if it created a new level of conflict. I think that it has got to be about co-operation and working collaboratively, to pull all the levers that are available and that are only available if you are working at the national and local levels in concert. That is my worry about the guidance in the Bill.

Paul Carter: I think that the answer is in local solutions and in public agencies working together. When we started all these public service agreements and local area agreements, I was a real sceptic. All this partnership working was going to deliver the holy grail supposedly. And yet when you look at some of the big outcomes of the first local area agreement, before it started in micro-management and became far too complex, the big outcomes of fewer children being taken into care and a significant reduction in bed blocking in our acute hospitals in Kent were really significant results that were achieved by the public sector and the public agencies coming together. That is why I am a great supporter of the Total Place concept, which is about joined-up public services looking at the totality of expenditure in any one area and sitting round and trying to go into solutions mode, when currently there is still a silo mentality across the public agencies, which are acting in isolation and not in concert. If you can get them all working together in a defined area with the totality of their budgets and a clean sheet of paper, public agencies will start to deliver things in a fundamentally different way.

Colin Green: I would agree with most of what has been said. The potential of the Bill is in adding leverage to what is already a very high priority for nearly all local authorities. The ADCS regrets that the Bill is not framed in terms of families rather than children. Children live in families and a family concept of poverty is more useful in engaging the totality of partnerships, particularly the NHS, whose resources are devoted in large part to older people and very significantly at a local level.

The other issue is that there are many other measures on which we are already performance-managed, particularly on equality. In terms of the driver for disadvantage and poor outcomes, inequality is the core driver rather than absolute measures of income. I think the matter is strongly on local authorities’ radar. It is on the radar of directors of children’s services. I advocate minimal guidance. The Bill is an enabler: we do not need more micro-management. The national indicator set has a whole  range of indicators—not just NI 116 but all the ones concerned with educational attainment and gap narrowing, of which there are a number. They are very effective measures about whether we are having an impact in the local authority and with the partners.

Q 125

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

May I pick up on that last point? One way in which the money is going to be channelled is through a pooled fund. I know from my previous experience in local government that pooled funds have had a chequered history in terms of the ability of people to put money in and to access them. In your experience of them, is there anything that would help to improve things?

Richard Kemp: My experience is similar to yours. The theoretical agencies that put money into a fund do it voluntarily but still expect to give you their outputs as you use the money out from the fund. It is quite opaque. What the Local Government Association argues generally is that there are a set of needs—in my case in Liverpool—that ought to go into a pot, and that is what Total Place is all about. I am sure Members are familiar with it. Very important work is being done in Total Place to understand how we use the totality of the money, where it comes in and where it goes, and to ask a vital question: if we were starting again, would we spend this amount of money this way? The answer is usually no. There is some really radical thinking coming through from local government in partnership with central Government, which will affect a lot of the debates in 12 months’ time.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Andrew, do you want to talk to Mr. Kemp?

Q 126

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Briefly. On Total Place, and picking up what Paul Carter was saying about it earlier, I am particularly interested in the relationship of local authorities with the benefits system. I have just received a brief from my own local authority, which is one of the Total Place pilots. It says that it is not happy with things at the moment. I would be interested in any ideas or thoughts about how we could get the partnership between local authorities and Jobcentre Plus to work better.

Richard Kemp: There are some pilots at the moment on what I am going to suggest, but one of the problems of dealing with families who are in and out of employment and just above the poverty level is benefits—not the benefits trap but the benefit claims problem. We would like to use the extensive local government one-stop shop system as a place where you go in and claim all your benefits. One of the reasons we get delays is that the council does its housing and council tax benefits and we wait for information to come from somewhere else. In my own city we have 14 one-stop shops in the key areas of poverty. You should be able to go in and get your benefits sorted out in one place, because then you can decide whether you can afford to take a job or not. If you are going up and down, you can get your benefits adjusted properly. At the moment, it is still not worth some people getting a job, because it puts them into poverty for 12 months while someone reassesses what they should have, and by that time they are halfway to being evicted. That is a simple system that local government can do, particularly if it is a four-star benefits service as judged by the Benefits Agency.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Catherine Fitt—[Interruption.] Oh, sorry. Did you want to come back in?

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Paul Carter mentioned Total Place. He or any of the other panellists may want to add to that, but that was helpful—thank you.

Catherine Fitt: I have never been a great fan of pooled budgets, not least because it seems to be complicated in terms of administration—getting people to put their bits of money together and then be jointly accountable. However, I am, and always have been, a strong advocate of aligned budgets. For me, that is what it is all about. It is simply about lining everyone up—central Government, local government and people out in communities, whichever sector they come from—to do things that are going to be on balance for the benefit of children and not to their detriment. It is probably no more complicated than people being aware that decisions that they make for grown-ups sometimes have unintended consequences for children. I am absolutely a fan of aligning budgets. I rather like people knowing what money is in which bag on the table, and the trouble with pooled budgets is that it becomes messy when you start putting money together into one big pool, and it is difficult to argue with your treasurer to have your bit to provide for children.

Paul Carter: May I take that forward? I like the Westminster model, which we are repeating in the Margate renewal, which is one of our themes in Total Place. We are looking at vulnerable families in Westminster and in Margate. In one shape or form, the amount of public agency support going to those families is more than £100,000 or £150,000. When you then start to talk to the health economy and the educational economy through to special needs, all of them are acting in isolation. With the health economy, the special needs economy and the public agencies, if you looked at the totality of expenditure on those 15, 20 or 100 families—more than £150,000—and thought about that pooled resource, would you start to do things dramatically differently that would lead to much more positive outcomes for those vulnerable families? That is part of the Total Place work. Whether you call it a pooled or whatever you called it—

Catherine Fitt: Aligned.

Paul Carter: Whether you call it a pooled or aligned resource, it is making everyone aware of interventions and support, which may be well-intended, but individually. Collectively, it could have a much better output and an outcome than people operating in silos. That is a small example of what can be achieved.

Kevan Collins: Just to return to the benefits issue, the challenge we found was to create a more flexible and experimental approach in the benefits world. For example, if you take incapacity benefit, we see a strong correlation between families where the parents are receiving benefit and children who then go on to be NEETs.

Child poverty, as you all know better than I do, it is about breaking cycles. We ask the benefit system to be flexible. How do you get a holiday from that when there is a great fear that that means that you will never get back on again, and yet get people back into work? Flexibility in the benefits system is what we seek.

When you look at localisation or you tie it into some of the innovative work that is going on between families—we have all found our 50 families who fire a certain set of triggers—how do you then not only get  the resources wrapped around them but get the system flexible enough to give that family a chance to change their whole lifestyle? You are quite often breaking generations of a relationship with the state and with public service, and you have to do something quite dramatic. We can do that with housing tenure, and we need to do it with other kinds of benefits to break people out of a certain set of relationships and behaviours that they have developed. I would like to see much more flexibility with Jobcentre Plus. We are finding it quite hard to get it to have a more flexible and innovative approach, particularly to those families, but I absolutely take the point that it is about getting families out of poverty.

Q 127

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I want to ask a question about partner authorities that has already been raised. Under clause 19, we have a list of partner authorities that have a responsibility to co-operate with the responsible local authority. It also appears to be the case under clause 20 that each responsible local authority must make arrangements with each of the partner authorities. Can I ask whether the list under clause 19—apologies to those of you who have not had a chance to study it—is the right one? It consists of an interesting range of people, including district councils, police authorities, chief officers of police, integrated transport authorities, Transport for London—where relevant—strategic health authorities, primary care trusts and youth offending teams. I do not know whether anyone has had an opportunity to look at the list or whether there are any other organisations that you think should have a responsibility to co-operate. Also, given that there is an obligation involved—it is a case of “must” make arrangements rather than “may” make arrangements—is there anyone on the list who should not be there?

Paul Carter: You are referring to statutory bodies. Obviously, the third sector—the voluntary sector—has a massive part to play, but it does not consist of statutory bodies, which is presumably why it is not listed. You have given a list of all the partners that sit on local strategic partnerships at various levels in local government. In Kent, for example, we have one overarching local strategic partnership called the Kent Partnership, and virtually every district authority has its own distributed local strategic partnership in its locality, although some of the authorities have coalesced together.

It is one thing creating all these talking shops, but the leadership of the strategic partnerships with the outcomes that you want to derive from them is another. Part of that is joining together to deliver some of the local area agreements, but there is also no reason why we cannot be much bolder and braver—I am trying to encourage this at Kent Partnership—on some of the four, five or six big issues that we want to crack across the county of Kent, and get a lot of traction and buy-in from those partners. However, that needs leadership, because otherwise, if we are always responding to the micro-management of central Government, we are never going to get on to the job in our locality.

Richard Kemp: I would like to add a point on housing, and particularly housing associations. I know that this is a difficult issue, because I chair a housing association and theoretically we are private companies. In fact, we are private companies that are dependent on the public sector, and the decisions that we make about housing  allocations do not necessarily affect individual families, but our allocations policy can actually aggregate poverty by putting a whole series of people together. I do not see how you can deal with this effectively without considering housing in its general sense. If housing associations create a problem because we are not statutory, I think that you have to find a way of building us into this.

Colin Green: This, in a sense, is the obvious list of local commissioning bodies that actually have the resources to commission services. I would say two key things. First, it leaves out central Government bodies, particularly the Benefits Agency, which colleagues have just been discussing. Where is the leverage over the Benefits Agency to do some of the things as part of this that colleagues have just been discussing? Secondly, within this kind of framework, given our experience thus far of these kinds of arrangements, unless the national Government priorities align and support this, it is actually difficult to do. That particularly applies to what kind of priority this will be for NHS bodies. Will it be among the must-dos for PCTs and strategic health authorities, or will it be somewhere in a long list of if-you-get-times?

Q 128

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

I want to ask about housing authorities. If housing authorities are included in the list of responsible authorities, they would presumably have to incorporate the housing strategies, which will pull in the housing associations. Do you agree with that, Richard?

Richard Kemp: Yes, I would. In good areas, the council—even if it does not have any stock of its own—acts as the strategic housing authority and tries to build them in. In good areas, good housing associations work with them, but I can show you areas where neither of those two things applies.

Q 129

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

The other thing that I want to ask about is partnership working. On children’s needs, we have two-tier local government with the county council and children’s services, and the district council and housing services. One of you—I think it was Paul—referred earlier to the difficulty of the joint working protocols. Do you find that those work well? Richard might have views on that as well.

Paul Carter: The two-tier relationship is always difficult. We are working very hard to make it work in Kent. Part of our overall vision and regeneration framework for Kent encompasses an overarching housing strategy, looking at housing condition and need. The districts have signed up to it—a few of them reluctantly—but it is not getting in the way of what we need to do to start to change things significantly with regeneration. If you were being specific about the two-tier issue of getting districts and counties working together, I am optimistic that we are gaining ground and making it happen.

Q 130

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Colin, in terms of dealing with vulnerable children—Catherine, you have probably seen this as well—my observation is that slip-ups have quite often been due to a lack of information getting through to the children’s services about where the child is. Are you concerned about the need to ensure that much more real meat is given to the need for joint working protocols to be effective if we are to tackle poverty and vulnerability among children?

Colin Green: Clearly, that is a central part of good provision for children and families but, fundamentally, it is about changing people’s behaviour and practice on the front line. It is about training together, about the leadership being united around that as one of their core objectives and about each local authority within that having the means for people to come together, communicate together and understand what they are telling each other about children and families. Those seem to be the fundamentals. Those are very much about having enough of the right people properly trained who understand that that is their job and that those who work in housing have a responsibility to children under the Children Act 2004. Those in other parts of the children’s service, whether in schools or children’s centres, should have some grasp of the role of housing authorities and providers so that they can all do their jobs well together.

Catherine Fitt: My experience echoes Colin’s. The Children Act 2004 seems to give us enough support through the children’s trust arrangements to have housing at the table, and my experience is that that works extremely well. We wanted to have influence where decisions are made regionally as to what is going to happen in terms of the provision and development of housing. That is where we wanted to start having influence. I know that there have been some changes in the way that strategic discussions will happen regionally. I am not confident enough to name the body that would do that, but I suspect that if that body were subject to co-operation, that would probably be sufficient.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Final question if you could, Sally.

Q 131

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Under the overcrowding provisions, it is virtually impossible to be statutorily overcrowded unless you manage to have an exceptionally large family in an exceptionally small flat. The legislation is going to improve and tighten the standards. In those cases that are sort of off to one side, and that would be managed by a partner authority, not a responsible authority—so it would be down the edge—how will you ensure that the standards are properly enforced by the responsible authority, and that children get the benefit of the tighter standards?

Richard Kemp: First, you are right: there is a difference between those who do it well and those who do not. Perhaps that is one of the answers to whether it is legislation or more support and training that is required—probably not guidance, but more support and training. I chaired a housing committee of a council and a housing association, so I have an open mind. I am not trying to make particular claims. Housing associations in particular are very well attuned to who lives in their properties, which is an important point that has not been used effectively before.

We know who lives in our properties. We are able, within the resources of our housing associations and the wider public sector where there are partnerships, to move people appropriately to different types of accommodation. The other thing that we can do is crucial to this debate; we also, by and large, have a very good relationship with our tenants. I believe that there are major opportunities for using good housing associations and good housing providers in the public sector to go through the front door of those houses on behalf of all the agencies here and create the links. It is very difficult. If you are not used to dealing with authority in a  variety of ways, to go into someone else’s office is a brave step. We can take people though the door. We can hold the hand of the public sector and take it into those houses, because we know where to go—where the problems are. So, we should be used far more imaginatively, because we can do more than provide housing.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Thank you. Sally, if you will forgive us, we need to move on. Judy Mallaber, you have been extremely patient.

Q 132

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

Thank you. I am not sure that we are still in any sensible order on questioning.

Going back to the very first comments in this evidence session, you talked, Catherine, about the value of the Bill probably being in its seeking to bring consistency across the country. Taking on board Richard’s and some others’ earlier comments about how to ensure that we have co-operation, we know that duties are placed on both responsible local authorities and partner authorities within the legislation, and that there are powers within the Bill for the Secretary of State to add people to partner authorities or take them off, and powers for local authorities to consult organisations. Within all that, what would be the appropriate response if a local authority, or indeed a partner authority, failed to deliver on its duties? That would be moving against what you are seeking to do in terms of providing consistency.

Catherine Fitt: In the extraordinary circumstance of a local authority and its partners not wishing to tackle child poverty, I would suggest that the penalties—if you like—were no different to any of the others in place for the rest of local government and local partner arrangements, and were covered within the corporate assessment.

Richard Kemp: You are making an assumption that a duty is necessarily a good thing but I am not convinced that it is. You can give me a duty and I can perform it well because I want to—but I would probably have done it anyway—or I can perform it to meet the minimum requirements so that you do not take me to court or wherever, but that does not actually move anything forward. Of course, as a democrat, I believe that there is only one way to deal with a bad council, and that is to vote it out of office.

Paul Carter: Again, it is not simple. Being on the periphery of London, Kent gets a lot of problem families that have been shunted out of London boroughs, particularly into east Kent, into housing that is already creaking. If you looked at consistency across the country on housing condition and housing need, you would see that in private sector houses in multiple occupation in east Kent there are 1,000 unaccompanied asylum seekers, and problem families that tend to hover around the coastal counties and repeatedly move from one set of bad debts to a new authority and a new roof over their heads. One cannot simply look at child poverty at any one moment without knowing what else is coming in and being imposed upon you elsewhere. So, you could suddenly have more vulnerable families placed into Kent and more children living in poverty as a result of the housing policies of other boroughs, which you have no control over at all. Likewise, we have 1,000 looked-after children placed into Kent by London authorities—I know that it is into foster care, but it destabilises the housing market in a number of ways as a result.

Q 133

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

So, are you suggesting that it would not be possible to assess whether a local authority had failed in its duties under the Bill?

Paul Carter: How do you measure that? You are dealing with a moving target.

Richard Kemp: You can assess whether it is doing well or badly, but that is different from whether it is dealing with a duty properly.

Paul Carter: Exactly.

Q 134

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

Is the local authority the appropriate body to bear a duty locally for reducing child poverty, and, if not, what alternatives might there be?

Kevan Collins: I declare myself as the chief executive of Tower Hamlets council. I do not know what other body locally would be the appropriate one. The local authority has a special, important place in convening, and a leadership role in all these matters, so it is absolutely right that the responsibility is distributed in that way. What I find exciting is the idea that we are looking towards a collective effort on the issue. The minute we start trying to work out where the lines will be drawn around blame or punishment if we fail, the whole endeavour will have failed. It must be a collective effort. It must be about how well people are doing to create the conditions that will reduce levels of child poverty, rather than about trying, as I said earlier—I know no one is suggesting this, but it is what we have to watch for—to locate and point the finger at a particular level of government that has failed. It is not about passing the buck to local government; it is about collective effort. That is the game. The minute we get into a culture of trying to allocate responsibility at one level or another, all of that shared endeavour would be lost. People would start hiding behind all sorts of reasons why it was not their responsibility.

Q 135

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

The ADCS thinks that child poverty is an unhelpful expression. Could you expand on that, Colin, and could other members of the panel comment on whether they think the whole focus on child poverty in particular is misconceived?

Colin Green: I think our view is that children do not live on their own; they live in families and they live in communities. Many children are doubly disadvantaged because they are both in a family that is living in poverty and in a community that is living in poverty. As we have already discussed, some of that can be about poverty of aspiration as much as about lack of income in an absolute sense. That is why I come back to the issue of inequality being very important and to the issue of persistence, which is recognised within the measures. Persistence is very important in whether children spend the whole of their childhood in poverty. We also feel strongly that the notion of family poverty is a better lever for engaging the partners, because, otherwise, it tends to be seen as a children’s issue. It is not a children’s issue; it is a consequence to children. We feel that better engages the whole community and the other partners.

Richard Kemp: You have to differentiate between two types of poverty. The first is short-term poverty, when someone is down on their luck—they have just lost their job, but in six months they will have a job and will move  back out of poverty. What concerns me most is systemic poverty. In extended families, I can show you people who are fifth-generation unemployed, and you have to deal with the whole family because there is a total lack of esteem and aspiration in that family. They operate in a way which would not be recognisable to most of the people here. I think we have to deal with the family. Paul Carter is absolutely right to say that we have to join the organisations around those families. We can identify 27 organisations or parts of organisations that are dealing with some of those families. That is very expensive, and, frankly, the fact that they are fifth-generation means that it is not working either.

Catherine Fitt: I don’t think this is disagreement, but more about perspective. At one level, I am just glad that, whichever words are used, people are looking at what effect this is having on children and their lives. I also think, in the case of young people, that they would probably see themselves as being a group in and of their own right and being in poverty in and of their own right. While they do live in families and are part of families, increasingly, as they grow up, their separation from the family becomes more significant. I suppose what I want is for us to look at what is going on in the lives of children and young people. I have had parents say to me very powerfully, through Sure Start children’s centre programmes, “We are not poor, because we have hope,” and they lived in the most deprived wards of the country. So, I think that something very important goes on when we translate our intent into language out there, working with people. We need to do that sensitively, but the bottom line for me is that, as long as this makes us do that, it is justified.

Paul Carter: May I add to that? Again, it is about the definition of poverty. This 60 per cent. threshold regarding median income does not hit the spot, in my view, when apparently we have 48,000 children in Kent living in poverty. I agree that it should be family, rather than child, poverty, but it is about defining what you mean by those young people living in circumstances that you would badge as family or child poverty. That is really important. Before you get the definition of that and start to set benchmarks of what is acceptable and unacceptable, and whether you are going forward or backward in this country, sub-divided into the counties, city regions, metropolitan authorities and anything else, you need to get that definition right.

Q 136

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

That is a helpful thing to say, because this discussion is the absolute crux of the evidence that we have heard in the past hour. I admit that I am feeling a bit anxious about it. What I have been hearing in the general responses to questions so far is some important thinking and analysis, but it is all about something different: the multiple problems of children and families of the kind that Paul discussed as being within Westminster’s family recovery project. That is a Government programme, by the way, but be that as it may, it contains 100 children. Actually, there are 2.9 million children living in poverty in this country. You have just brought our attention, helpfully, to the figure in Kent, which is 48,000. That is what the Bill is about.

Local authorities may well have varying numbers, and will therefore consider how they might want to tackle that as authorities and in partnership, but surely the Child Poverty Bill and its responsibilities on local  authorities are about addressing the number of children living below the poverty line. What I want to hear back from all of you is whether that is what you are talking about too. I am not sure that I have heard that it is. If that is what you are talking about, how will you develop a strategy that reduces the number of children living in poverty under the indicators that the Bill specifically requires us to achieve?

Richard Kemp: I have been concentrating on the things that I concentrate on, because I realise the shortcomings of local government. We can only do so much. The thing that will still take more people out of poverty in my city is more and better-quality employment. We do not have enough jobs and have not had enough for some time. Although we created 4,500 jobs last year, they did not get down to some of those people who are fifth-generation unemployed. We need to look at the benefit system and the tax system.

Unless we do all those things, we will not deal with a very large proportion of those people whom Councillor—[Interruption.] Sorry, I was going back to your old job; whom Karen Buck rightly mentions. Councils can do the things that we are talking about, but if the Department for Work and Pensions, for example, is not a partner, that loses one big chunk of Government direction and spending that could be better used with some local direction. However, DWP is not in at the moment.

Kevan Collins: I am sure that we are not alone in how the strategy is framed locally—that is the value of the local strategies—in trying to attend to the long-term issues of how to raise educational standards, build a skills base and get people into work, because the surest way out of poverty is work, as well as mitigating the effects of poverty in the here and now. That is where it is very important to focus on the benefit system and those issues.

The other issue for me in terms of mitigating the effects of poverty is how to ensure that people, regardless of their economic circumstances, have the right to a full and enriching life, whether that involves leisure, sport or culture. All those components—as we said at the beginning, certainly, for me, it is a complex array of things—have to be corralled into a local strategy, and all the partners need to be around the table. But absolutely, it is the skills and access to employment. Into work is the key agenda for us, both for children in the long term and parents in the here and now, if we are going to break the cycle of poverty.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Helen Goodman wants to leap in at this point.

Q 137

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

You have all talked, quite reasonably, about the importance of co-operating also with Jobcentre Plus. I am the Minister for DWP, so I wanted to check out with you whether you are conscious of the partnership that we are running in Birmingham—the multi-area agreement—which includes Jobcentre Plus. Do you know anything about that? We have positive experience in some places, but I am not sure whether you are conscious of it.

Richard Kemp: Yes, but would you like some negative experience as well? The trouble is that one council can say, “DWP and Jobcentre Plus are absolutely marvellous partners and with us all the way,” but I could take you  to the next council and it will not. In my area, someone from Jobcentre Plus was supposed to be leading the worklessness stream, which is of vital importance in Liverpool. She pulled out because she said that it was not part of her day job, although we were trying to create a partnership to help her do her day job in that case.

Q 138

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

Of course I understand that sometimes things go well and sometimes things do not go well—we do realise that—but the point that I was trying to make was that these partnerships exist in some places. I was getting the impression from the way you were talking that you were not conscious of any partnerships with Jobcentre Plus and local authority agencies anywhere.

Paul Carter: I find them quite reluctant partners. In sharing the data and the information, the data protection gets in the way. You are trying to get a handle on what is going on in a highly socially deprived ward, but getting that information is—for perhaps legitimate data protection reasons—a real problem. There is an enormous reluctance to focus in on some of those vulnerable families that are significantly benefit-dependent—you need to look at and share the data on them to find the solutions.

Q 139

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Following on from Karen’s question, I think that she was absolutely right in that a lot of what we have heard from you today about addressing deep, severe and persistent poverty, which we all support, and also about the very long-term aspects of creating the right environment and so on, will not necessarily have an immediate impact on getting people above the 60 per cent. target. Do you have any concerns that the 60 per cent. target might divert resources from what you are already doing? Richard, you made the point that there are only so many things that you can do. Is the point more that, as far as the 60 per cent. target is concerned, the effective things that can be done are to do with tax and benefits and so on, and it is more a central than a local government point?

Colin Green: I would say that that is more the case. If I look at the things that I think that a local authority can do with the partners, the most important things in this area are those that Richard pointed to, about creating a dynamic local economy. It is about what you are doing about getting people into employment, given that the local authority is often the biggest local employer. What are you doing in that area? What are the NHS bodies doing in that area? How effective are you in improving schools? It is very important that the local authority maintains a role as leader of the local education system. It needs to have the powers and capability to do that. Similarly, about tackling health inequalities—is the PCT addressing that? These are the ways in which, by creating a dynamic and positive local environment in the city, county or wherever, you give people the opportunity to get better jobs to change their lives. Those are the things that we can actually do.

Q 140

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

Following on from that point—maybe each of you might have a quick view on this—should it be about having an impact assessment of all that you do as local authorities to see what the effect on poverty is? One of the things that is very concerning about government, including local government, is that the delivery of one service will directly cut across the attempt to achieve  another target. For example, everyone has talked about child care and agrees that it is an incredibly important engine for delivery on child poverty, but local authorities are busy increasing their rents to child care providers, immediately having the effect of pushing up the charges to parents. That is because there is somehow no read-across from one area of service to another. Is that something that should be the basic—probably the starting point—child poverty policy in each area?

Kevan Collins: We have brought in a child poverty impact assessment to how we consider policy across the piece, with the partnership and the council. I think that that is helpful, because you do not quite see the connections unless you have the discipline. The danger is that it becomes another bureaucratic process, which is an issue, but I agree with you that, otherwise, you miss the connections, which are very complex. The threads go far and wide in this one.

Catherine Fitt: First, an absolute yes to the impact assessment and, secondly, we have had an extremely good experience working with Jobcentre Plus—we had organisations working with it through the new futures project. Thirdly, I think that there were three groups identified: those families in long-term poverty, over several generations; those families who are in in-work poverty, who worry people considerably; and those people who were coming in for the short term but for whom being in poverty was a real shock to the system. It is not the same for those three groups.

Q 141

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Paul, a little while ago you quite rightly made the point that the Bill is pretty much a blank canvas. It talks about the mechanisms, the legal framework and the strategies that will need to be written, but the content is quite blank. I should be interested to hear from you and anyone else on the panel what you think needs to be in it, both nationally and locally. You have talked about some of what you have done in Kent, but I should appreciate a slightly fuller answer.

Paul Carter: Presumably, we are going into solutions mode.

Paul Carter: We are not just going to click our fingers and bring wealth and prosperity to highly socially deprived areas, so what can we do against the rather bleak, economic outlook for the western world and this country at the moment? There is a massive role, certainly in the education part. The outcome of reducing the number of NEETs is clearly beginning to work by raising aspiration and ambition, and introducing a pioneering 14 to 16-years-old technical, vocational programme. Some 5,000 young people are now choosing to do that one day a week in our high schools. We have the best careers guidance that allows people to explore social enterprises and what they might see in a really interactive, creative way.

We have the future jobs fund of which Kent is an early adopter. We have to create 1,700 jobs every six months for the long-term unemployed, 70 per cent. of whom are young and unemployed. That is an enormous task. How can we create with the voluntary and public sectors social enterprises that can be of community benefit and raise the self-worth and self-esteem of those unemployed—particularly young people—who will get used to having low self-esteem, and low aspiration  because they cannot make the world a better place in any shape or form because they cannot get a job? The role of social enterprises in the third sector is enormous. I could go on with a continuum of other initiatives that we are trialling and on which we want to build momentum in Kent.

Q 142

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Thank you, Paul. That was very useful.

Kevan, something you said earlier was fascinating and very radical. You were talking about the possible flexibility of the benefits system and the fact that it is not flexible. You said that it does not do flexibility, that it is set down nationally, is incredibly prescriptive and that there are thousands of pages of rules, regulations and so on. I am intrigued by the idea of local flexibility. You are on to something there. Will you outline a bit more of what you would like to see, or what you were alluding to in that regard?

Kevan Collins: It goes back to an opportunity to ask for freedom and flexibilities to be put forward as a package. We have had good relationships with Jobcentre Plus. What we could not get was the freedom to have a holiday from the particular benefit in order to put people into work—that was a few years ago in the Canary Wharf area. If that policy did not work out, people would go back on to their benefit without losing their rights. What we know is that the minute people get a taste of work and are into work for a while, it changes their relationship with that whole experience. Many people, particularly those on incapacity benefit, are frightened to come off that benefit even for a short time because of the task of getting back on to it—I am not applauding that, just stating it.

With the benefits system, it is difficult to find the location of accountability around the table at the strategic partnership. Where is the person with the authority to take a risk? We are lucky with the London boroughs in that we are coterminous with our PCT and our borough commanders—the key players around the table. The right leaders are there to take a risk to bend their resources. It is a matter of finding that authority at the right level, when someone from the benefits system has the power and authority to say, “You know what, I’m going to go with this, and take the risk and the flexibility at that level.” In places like Tower Hamlets, as we have done this work, the localisation of the economy around benefits strikes you in terms of its enormity, and it could be used to strike new relationships between individuals and the benefits system. It is all clunky, and in the end you feel worn down by it, and that is a challenge.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

I see unanimous nodding heads from our witnesses.

Q 143

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

How will children’s trust boards be involved formally with the work of local authorities to meet their duties in reducing child poverty?

Colin Green: They would be the group who would do that. I do not think that there would be a separate group. Such people are already engaged in the children’s trust partnerships. However configured, they all play a role at present, so it would be that group. In Coventry, I certainly would not envisage having another set of arrangements because such things are all interconnected.

Q 144

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

Children’s trust boards may not be working very well; there is mixed information so far on how effective they have been—all sorts of things around the difficulties of pooled budgets, partnership working and junior people turning up after the first couple of meetings; all that sort of stuff. If they are the main vehicle and they do not work we have a serious problem, haven’t we? Don’t we need a plan B?

Colin Green: Potentially, yes, but setting up another body is not going to solve that. If the children’s trust body is not working, that is fundamentally to do with the dynamics—the difficulties between those partners. Having another group is just going to replicate those difficulties.

Richard Kemp: In fact, the comprehensive area assessment, which, as you know, is in the process of reporting, will not be reporting any longer on the council but on the partnerships and who is contributing to those partnerships. That is a call to arms. Local government tends to be better at partnerships, not least because we have always done lots of bits of things. In our council chamber we are used to seeing housing, social services and education, whereas a lot of our silo colleagues do health, for example. Some do this and some do that and they find it a lot harder to come together. I think the CAA will show that. I do think there needs to be more training for some of our partners. I go along to board members of partners who are listed here who have a duty to co-operate with the council and ask what they have done about that and I am afraid they say they do not know it exists. It is early—only two years—but we have got to provide more training and support in that sort of situation.

Paul Carter: May I agree, Chairman, on that? The jury is out on the trusts. They are great conceptually but they have to prove to me and Kent that our 23 distributed children’s trusts across the county are actually delivering and are not talking shops. Is the joint commissioning going on? Are the PCTs actually getting their cheque books out and putting their money on the table or not? Please do not make me suggest that they are not, but I want proof that they are because the opportunity for cost shunting is quite considerable. There can be blurred accountability—“We thought you were doing it. Oh no, you’re doing it.” Things slip through the net. Conceptually it could work but it worries me that in Kent they have been rather distanced from democratic accountability and political leadership.

Q 145

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

I want to move away from the wider issues to a specific group—children in local authority care. You mentioned, Paul, that there are 1,000 in Kent. There are also unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. How should the measurements for child poverty be made for those specific children?

Paul Carter: You are going into the area of looked-after children. In Kent there are 1,000 indigenous, 1,000 unaccompanied minors and 1,000 placed by other authorities. Obviously, we are now going into how you help and support that significant number—concentrated predominantly in the coastal areas of the county of Kent—delivering the best outcomes for those young people. I think you are going down a path to a category potentially living in child poverty, but there is a slightly different set of solutions to that problem in my view.

Richard Kemp: In my own council last Wednesday we had a presentation made by some of our children in care. We have all signed a pledge that has to include a specific example of what all 90 councillors in Liverpool will do as a corporate parent. I was not actually there but I will be signing up to this. Frankly, this is a responsibility on all councillors and I guess a lot of councillors do not even realise they have it and do not do anything about it.

We have a series of national targets and local targets. I can either do this with my heart because I want to help these people or do it with my head. If we do not help them early we know we will be dealing with them for the rest of their lives. That is just common sense as well as being what we want to do. Increasingly I think looked-after children are coming up the councillors’ agenda.

Paul Carter: May I just add to that, Chairman? This puts a larger burden on trying to fight indigenous child poverty in Kent. We are exacerbating the problem by allowing London boroughs and other authorities to place such children into an economy at considerable distance from their birth families. Legislation needs to change to say that they cannot make placements over a certain distance. Guidance has been produced left, right and centre but there is no actual legislation that makes placing authorities have a duty of care within defined restrictions.

Colin Green: Clearly, we have a duty of care to every child in our care wherever they are placed. I want to come back to the issue that children who become looked-after are overwhelmingly drawn from poor families. Our role is to try to ensure that they do not become poor adults, living in poor families. That is about whether they have the social, educational and emotional equipment to lead a successful adult life.

Q 146

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

I want to connect the points made by Mr. Green and Mr. Carter. Let us say that one took a child-centred approach. I was not exactly sure, from what Mr. Carter was saying, what the benefits to the children would be of the approach that he proposes. I could see the benefits of it to the local authority, in that it is easier to organise, better to run, more straightforward to manage and so on, but how precisely would what you were saying about not allowing children to be placed away from the central London boroughs help the children?

Paul Carter: It exacerbates our problem substantially in Kent, because it puts up the cost of foster care provision.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

Yes, but I was asking about the child’s perspective, not the local authority’s perspective; that was my question.

Paul Carter: Well, I would like to track back some of the placing authorities to make sure they do carry out their duty of care sensibly and responsibly. Some of these are the most challenging young people, with extraordinary special educational needs. The funding formula and distribution mechanism in relation to our schools funding does not take into account the extraordinary problems from placing some extraordinarily challenging young people into Kent and into Kent schools. If you go round the primary schools in parts of Thanet, you will talk to head teachers who say that  there might be two young people who started in year 1 and ended up in year 6 because the transience of the school population is quite enormous. That places a most extraordinary burden on those primary schools in Kent in providing good-quality education for all young people. It exacerbates the problem in concentrated pockets, so it has an effect not just on those looked-after children, but on the whole environment in which they live.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Just a little one, Sally.

Q 147

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

You made the point quite frequently about the mobility of certain children and issues about having a strategy to deal with that. I used to be a leader in Southwark, which regularly sent children and people down to Kent. Do you find in the Bill anything that deals with that specific issue or do you think that something should be put in to deal with the problem of transience and mobility?

Paul Carter: I do, obviously. I have clearly explained that in areas of high social deprivation, I think it places an unacceptable burden on all the systems.

Q 148

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

So what do you think should go in specifically to deal with the transience or the mobility issue?

Paul Carter: The information that is required on the placement from a placing authority into the county of Kent needs to be absolutely robust—from what I hear, I am not convinced that it is—so that we know the exceptional needs of those young people when they arrive, with a proper statement of need attributed to them. The information also needs to be robust so that the authority keeps a watching brief over those placed, looked-after children, extending its responsibilities to make sure that its duty of care is carried out with all those young people placed in Kent and the burden is not just placed on Kent county council. From what my officers tell me, that is what so often happens.

Q 149

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

Do you need any more particular powers or resources to ensure that looked-after children are not living in poverty?

Paul Carter: I feel I am hogging the conversation.

Colin Green: I am puzzled by the question because if looked-after children are in the local authority’s care—a small minority will be placed back at home—they will not be living in poverty. Given the rates for foster carers or the situation if they are living in residential care or some other setting, they will not be living in poverty in a financial sense.

Q 150

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

Are there any other powers that could prevent children from ending up in poverty?

Colin Green: The issue for me, by and large, is what happens to children before they become looked-after, and the impact of that experience. The difficulty for the local authority and our partners is in addressing that, and changing the child’s or young person’s life to overcome whatever happened to them in the past. That is a much bigger and longer question.

Paul Carter: I would like to think that the world is getting a better place for looked-after children. There has been a substantial focus on the provision of additional  support outside the foster-care family that you can give to looked-after children, particularly post-16 and post-18, and on the educational outcomes of those looked-after children.

At the moment, there is far too much of a cliff edge coming out of foster care into the big wide world, with no safety net—well, not a proper safety net provision—to keep them on the straight and narrow and into work and employment. It is all about getting to a certain age—I think it is 18—and boom! Although the duty of care probably extends to 24, most come out at either 16 or 18. When you talk to young people, they would like more help and support. The amount of resource that goes into helping and supporting them up to that cliff edge, and then what happens afterwards, need looking at in my view.

Richard Kemp: I do not think that we need more powers, but there are two things that we do need. First, we need more social workers. It is not a question of resource; at the LGA, we work closely with the Government to try to bring more people back into the profession. We call it “recruit, retain and return”, to bring back people at least on a part-time basis. Every time our social workers—this goes across children’s services generally—get vilified in the press after a baby P type case, it makes it more difficult to recruit. It creates pressures on the profession to take action that it would not necessarily take otherwise. Like the rest of us, it wants to cover its back.

If I was to make a criticism of local government—I am not going to defend everything that local government does—I would say, in terms of looked-after children, that many councillors have not taken their responsibility seriously. I have been a councillor for 29 years, and no member of the public has ever asked me about looked-after children unless there was a baby P-type case. I accept some responsibility as a councillor, through our agencies such as the Improvement and Development Agency, to take some of those messages about looked-after children, so that all 25,000 councillors in the UK actually accept the pledge of corporate parenting. We accept full responsibility ourselves.

Kevan Collins: I am slightly nervous sitting next to Paul; we are a London borough that also sends children to Kent, but we send them to loving, caring families—and we send them with quite a lot of resources as well, so they are certainly not poor when they are there.

I would like to focus on leaving care—that is a strong point—rather than in care. As children leave care, the quality of support they need if they are not to become poor members of our community, and parents who are then poor, is very profound. That is the cycle that worries me, and not while they are in care. While they are in care, often the support is very powerful. It is before and afterwards. Strong agendas around families facing crisis and families entering poverty is very important in order to prevent children going into care, and that is what we would all love to see. We would also love to have them all in our borough if they are in care and if we have the right kind housing support for them. However, I think that the leaving-care agenda is right. The kind of support—into work and into housing as you leave care—is most important to prevent the cycle of poverty, and these children are often from a background of poverty.

Catherine Fitt: I agree very much with what Kevan has had to say. All I can say is that, for me, it is that the chicken and egg are the other way around. When I look at the outcomes for children and young people in Newcastle, poor outcomes are closely correlated to areas of deprivation. Whether that is teenage pregnancy, low educational achievement, becoming looked-after, incidents of domestic violence, parental substance abuse or parental mental health problems, there is such a strong correlation.

I realised that I was not going to be able to make the impact needed to provide outcomes to children unless I tackled child poverty head-on. That can be done only if everybody is determined to do it and accepts that we do not have all the answers; but together we might possibly find some. For me, it is rather that way round. That is why we want to tackle child poverty. That is why I believe having legislation is, on balance, important symbolically, and that it will be helpful. It is because I want to improve outcomes for children.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

Thank you, Catherine. We will now move on to Andrew Selous.

Q 151

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I wonder whether you could elaborate a little on something you said earlier. You talked about some of the families in acute need who were having budgets in total of perhaps £100,000 or £150,000 a year spent on them and you said that perhaps there was not always the collaboration that is required. I just wondered what your thoughts were on how that collaboration would work from the perspective of management, budget-holding, reporting and accountability. I think that is almost the holy grail for a lot of people in terms of these really difficult social problems, but I have never quite managed to get my mind round how it works in terms of reporting lines, budgets and so on. If you have any thoughts on that, I would be very grateful to hear them.

Paul Carter: We are only just starting the journey. Clearly, Westminster is further ahead in looking at the 50 or 100 such families in Westminster and therefore in trying to establish what the solutions are, what the totality of public resource going into the support of those families is, and what are the better solutions that give better outcomes at lesser cost. As I say, it is one of our themes in the Total Place concept around the Margate renewal programme. For example, I am told that, regarding the assessment cost of vulnerable families, you get two, three or even four different officers of the various public agencies knocking on the same doors and asking the same questions, so the assessment cost is not what it ought to be, because we have not joined up helping and supporting families with either single access to the support mechanism or single assessment of their needs.

Kevan Collins: May I add to that? We have been running something that is, I think, very similar for a while now: the budget-holding lead professional scheme, which has been a pilot from the Government. In the pilot, around a single professional, you have been able to identify a budget that can be spent in a very flexible way on the needs of a particular family. The accountability framework of that system is, of course, that the initial assessment, which has to be joined up, has a mechanism that allows you to evaluate progress. Some of these things are incredibly practical. Are the children now arriving at school on time? Has the number of antisocial  behaviour orders applying to that family fallen? Are they paying their rent on time? Those are measurable improvements in a family’s behaviour and then, classically, there is someone getting into work. There are therefore mechanisms that you can put around those types of frameworks.

The key for us was connecting that system with a lever, and the lever, of course, related to tenancy. It was to do with the fact that our expectation was that you would engage in this work as a family, and there was a requirement right at the end of the spectrum, because your ability to move and to get the kind of housing that you wanted, and your place in our order, would be jeopardised. So I think that those levers, as well as the opportunities, are important.

What was striking was the type of things that people did with the money, whether it was buying new mattresses or whatever. Buying alarm clocks for a whole family was one that struck me. They were things that you just would not have intuitively come through the normal mechanisms—well, you might have, but it was unlikely.

The final point about that system was that there was a need for a new kind of professional. With one of the families in our borough that we had all known for 20-odd years, the right professional happened to be a youth worker who knew the family well. How do you get the right person connected to a family? I am therefore not necessarily claiming that there should be more social workers, although I am always doing that. I am also claiming that this kind of work with families require a new trained professional who understands how to work with these families in a very practical “sleeves-rolled-up” way.

Q 152

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

My question is possibly not directed so much at you, Kevan, because I think this is very true for your area. Of course, half the households in poverty do not live in council properties or housing association properties. This is a little bit of the same danger that I have raised before: we are looking at poverty through the prism of the Bill, and we are constantly coming back to a hard core of multiply disadvantaged families. They exist—and you are on the front line dealing with that real issue—but for the purposes of the Bill, we need to focus not just on those families with multiple difficulties, but on income poverty, employment and what you do about households that own their own homes, not just those who are tenants. This just keeps drifting back to the same sort of categorisation of people in poverty but I am really not sure about that. It worries me that that is the local authority mindset.

Richard Kemp: As I tried to explain before, that is not our mindset; that is in our ability and our duties to perform. People will come out of poverty at a high rate in our economy as the economy improves and people get jobs. What can I do as a councillor to affect that? I can do some things to safeguard my community. I can do some things to make sure that we are preparing for new industries and new opportunities. I can do some things to mitigate the circumstances of people in poverty, whether full term or short term. However, I cannot, as a councillor, refloat the economy and that is why we are concentrating on a particular area, because I can show you that if we work in those areas, we can have some effect. However, there are other areas—which might rightly be in the Bill—where you think that you have  given us a duty to do something, but I will not be able to have any effect on it because those levers are outside my control. That is why we concentrate on the areas where we do have control.

Q 153

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

May I put this to you, particularly in light of what Richard has said? There are various poverty measures in the Bill, and clause 24 sets out the measures that apply to local authorities. One of the measures is described as the relative low income target— 60 per cent. below medium income. Some other measures relate to an absolute level of income and others relate to material deprivation combined with low income. Is it the view of our witnesses that the 60 per cent. target is perhaps not appropriate in the context of local authorities?

Paul Carter: There are grades of poverty, and that is one way of making a line. I wanted to look at the figures to check that 48,000 children, according to that definition, lived in poverty in Kent, to make sure that I had not got the nought in the wrong place. However, according to that measurement, the figure is 48,000. We are focused on various different categories of poverty and the need to address the real concerns of looked-after children—young people living in pretty appalling conditions in very vulnerable families where interventions are needed. So, you have to grade it. If you want to start, the simple solution is to give people greater benefits to bring them up to the 60 or 70 per cent. You have then cracked a big problem of getting probably 48,000 down to 25,000 at the click of a switch. That is not, I would hope, what the commission is all about. It is all about trying to look at the underlying causes of child poverty at those different levels that add up to that massive cut-off point that shows that 48,000 young people in Kent are living in poverty. I would like to look at the need type of those 48,000 young people to better understand the various grades and the various different solutions that need to be applied to those young people in fundamentally different ways.

If there is to be a role for the commission, it is to network and look at what is working—as far as I am concerned it is what is working that counts. When you look at some of the Government’s interventions on vulnerable family support—a lot of it well-intended and a lot of it working, but a lot not working—nobody has actually done proper research to look at the input and the outcomes for much of that vulnerable family wraparound support in an intelligent way. The Sure Start academic research analysis—it said that Sure Start was generally bad—was not good. I could take you to three or four early Sure Start programmes in Kent that are doing a fantastic job of changing life outcomes, and two or three that are pretty poor, but reaching that generalisation—the research and analysis—needs to be done in a much more detailed and intelligent way. We will learn a lot from that, and in my view the commission could learn a lot from what is working and, most importantly, what is not working where a significant amount of public resource is being spent.

Q 154

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I want to move on to joined-up working with other authorities—other bodies—but may I just ask you about this 48,000 number? The national figure of 2.9 million or whatever is based on a sample survey that has been grossed up. The samples are too  small to give a figure on that basis for any local authority. The Kent number cannot be a pro rata of that and cannot be based on that same data source. I am not arguing with you, but how can you possibly know that 48,000 Kent children are in households whose total household income—you probably do not know that income, unless they are on benefit—is less than 60 per cent. of the equivalent median? Can you know that? Where does the 48,000 come from?

Paul Carter: It is a horrible answer, because I usually challenge everything that my officers give me, but that is what the officers tell me—that there are 48,000 who fit those criteria at the moment. Kent is one fortieth of England, and you can multiply. Kent is pretty much a cross-section of the country and its social diversity is similar. What is the national figure?

Q 155

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

It is 2.9 million. However, if local authorities have to make progress on child poverty, but no local authority has a local authority number because the figures are national, it is hard for them to know if they are making progress. They do not know, and I do not know how they could know.

Richard Kemp: That is why we want more partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions.

Q 156

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

On that point, let me move on to the question I was getting to about benefit take-up, joint working and so on. It constantly drives me mad—and it drives real people mad—that if someone gets a low-paid job, they have to tell the tax credit people, housing benefit, council tax benefit, jobseeker’s allowance people and so on. You have to tell everybody—probably several times over in different forms and at different times. Why is it so difficult? Is it, pejoratively, “your” fault or is it “their” fault that these things cannot be brought together so that one set of information—perhaps comprehensive information—is given to one person?

You mentioned one-stop shops and housing benefit administration. Why is it that you cannot simply take the information that has already been given? We keep hearing about take-up pilots and that we are going to make benefit entitlement automatic, but it never bloomin’ well happens. What is the problem?

C

An excellent contribution. I shall always remember talking to the woman next to me in the queue at the Jobseekers', who told me that it wasn't worth taking a low-paid job she'd been offered - 'It'll just switch the council tax back on'.

Submitted by Chris Bailey

Richard Kemp: Local government was not too good at benefit collection 10 or 12 years ago. We have made a massive improvement now, according to the benefit fraud inspectorate. For our own taxes and benefits, large numbers of authorities are four-star and improving. In those areas, we believe that there is proven competence. There is a reach into the communities, so our offer is to take it over.

We have had a series of small pilots, but no one from central Government has yet been prepared to try out a proper full-scale pilot. There will be difficulties; we will have to learn how to do things and I am not saying that we should do it like that nationally. However, where local government has proven itself to be an external regulator, I do not know why we cannot have a full-scale, quick experiment to see what we can do.

Paul Carter: But we have a horribly complex system. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer. They lose their job and have to sign on, and I am told that that is a horrible, protracted process. Thankfully, I have never personally experienced it, but I run a construction  company in London and employ people who have been on and off the dole and on and off benefits. It is a tortuous, horrible position, and once someone is on, what is the incentive for that person to take up a six or eight-week, or three-month job opportunity on one of my building sites, because they will then have the tortuous process of getting back on benefits. If you talk to users of the benefits system who have been able to go in and out, they say it is horrible. It does not incentivise them to have another go once they are on benefits.

Q 157

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Has the situation become worse with tax credits? In a sense, it was once just the good old Department of Health and Social Security, or whatever it was at the time. Now the Inland RevenueHMRC—is far more involved in the day-to-day lives of families with children through the tax credit system. Has it got worse on the ground? Is it more difficult to bring these things together?

C

Spot on. It is a system devised by a cretin - the way tax credits and council tax benefits work against each other. You're not entitled to CT benefit - look, you can pay it out of all this Child tax credit that you're getting!

Submitted by Chris Bailey

Richard Kemp: I certainly have nothing more than anecdotal evidence. Perhaps you are indicating an area that we ought to look at. I know that the people come to my advice centre with the fear of having to repay things. There is a fear factor, but whether that is a real factor, I do not know.

Q 158

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

I am not going to take the Committee down the path of defending the great transformation that is under way at the moment in the way that benefits are delivered. Instead, I would like to ask the witnesses about their relationships with the voluntary sector. Local government finds central Government quite inflexible, and I think that sometimes the voluntary sector finds local government a little bit inflexible. I was wondering how you were intending to use the new partnership arrangements in the Bill to work with the voluntary sector, and whether you think that the provisions in the Bill are helpful and adequate.

Richard Kemp: When I spoke at the House of Lords Select Committee this afternoon, I invited their lordships to join me on 16 November, and I will invite you to join me as well. At the Local Government Association, we are taking up that challenge, but in a wider sense. If we are going to deal with the multiple problems to society, particularly at a time when public sector finances are going to be severely constrained, we need to create a new set of relationships between the public, private and voluntary sectors. We are defining that partly as kit, cash and culture. Although I know that it would not apply in this particular field, we should ask what equipment we can use to help with things, for example that would affect adult social care. How will we introduce new cash into the system? We all look down on each other and tie ourselves into contracts that keep us at the lowest possible level, rather than capturing the innovation and energy that those three sectors can bring, so how will we work together better?

I am not saying that we are starting off from a bad base, because the national compacts, the community empowerment networks and the local compacts are beginning to move us forward, but what we are looking at is a step change. That is where I come back to benefits, because I do not think that there is a separate argument. People in our communities know that there are jobs to be done. They know that the people currently doing nothing could do them, and they would use  benefit money effectively to link the two, because they are meaner with money than people like us. They watch every last farthing and would ensure that benefits were applied to people in their community doing real work, which we know is needed in every community. I just think that there are major ways forward.

Kevan Collins: I think this goes back to Ms Buck’s point. I think that the segmentation of the responsibilities is really important: where central Government have their responsibility; where local government have theirs; and where community groups and the third sector have theirs. I am not sure that that settlement has yet been reached. I am absolutely clear that the powers of opportunity are there in the way in which the Bill has been drafted. There are things that only the third sector can do, particularly when you get to the localisation of getting people back into work or into work quickly. It is not just about learning how to write a CV—you do that only once—but about getting you job-ready for tomorrow and linking that back to the community sector.

Where I live and work there are some striking issues in relation to belief systems about the value of being in work, which to me is fundamental to getting out of poverty, and that takes you into faith groups and to the work we do with mosques and churches. That is critical to changing people’s attitudes and relationship to work where it may have been broken down for a long time. I think that there are very important roles and responsibilities, but the issue of segmenting and clarifying who is responsible for what is key to that local plan. To answer your question directly, I do think that the right kind of arrangements are there for us to do that.

Q 159

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

Following up on that, would you say that the experience of bidding for money from the future jobs fund, which is intended to be Government money from DWP for moving people from benefits to things that have community benefit, has been a good precedent that could be built on in that arena?

Richard Kemp: That depends on who you are asking and where you are asking them. I know about that because Ministers acknowledged that the Local Government Association had a major role to play in producing that money. In my area, that has been passed down for one council to deal with on behalf of the county, and it has then been passed to another agency and another. When we discussed it at the central-local partnership, I foresaw it as being a direct relationship,  as was the case with some of the old youth training schemes, although I am not saying that it should be another youth training scheme. A housing association such as mine already runs social enterprises and wants to take people on, but by the time this has gone through three layers of bureaucracy on Merseyside, there is frankly so little left that we are not bidding for it, despite the fact that I was one of the people who tried to get the money in the first place. In other places they have managed to deal with it. You really need to look at the mechanisms you have put in place to get in to people like us.

Paul Carter: It worries me enormously that we have to find those 1,700 jobs. I want to give all those 1,700 people, and particularly the young people, a really good experience of work every six months, so we must not just create jobs for the sake of jobs so that people will go and do a bit of community work here and there. Their self-esteem and ambitions must be raised as a consequence of being on the programme. Finding so many jobs in community improvement that satisfy those criteria is a massively big ask.

The other thing that worries me is the cliff edge at the end of it. Having got them into work, got them out of bed, got them alarm clocks and got them motivated, there is a cliff edge at six months. We want to try to create a longer opportunity for sustainable work opportunity beyond six months, but that is difficult. A massive amount of public money is going into it and that is well-intended, but how we go about it, to do exactly what I have just said, is difficult.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

You may be anxious about how you are going to find 1,700 jobs, but you must have put in a good bid, because you got the money to do it.

Paul Carter: And we are grateful.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

If Members have no further questions, that brings us to the end of our business for today. On behalf of the Committee, I thank very much indeed Richard Kemp, Colin Green, Catherine Fitt, Paul Carter and Kevan Collins.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mr. Mudie.)

Adjourned till Thursday 22 October at Nine o’clock.