Clause 8

Child Poverty Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 29th October 2009.

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Amendment proposed (this day): 1, in clause 8, page 4, line 21, at end insert

‘and the promotion of economic enterprise’.—(Andrew Selous.)

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following: amendment 50, in clause 8, page 4, line 23, after ‘education’, insert ‘childcare’.

To strengthen the scope of building blocks to ensure that the provision of childcare services which are delivered within a mixed market are included in the measures taken, and to ensure that funding for and delivery of childcare services are safeguarded despite wider economic difficulties.

Amendment 58, in clause 8, page 4, line 23, after ‘services’, insert

‘and improving the well-being of children’.

Amendment 30, in clause 8, page 4, line 24, after ‘housing,’, insert ‘transport,’.

Amendment 2, in clause 8, page 4, line 25, at end insert—

‘(e) reducing family breakdown

(f) assisting children in families with disabilities

(g) assisting children from minority ethnic backgrounds.’.

Amendment 20, in clause 8, page 4, line 25, at end insert ‘, and

(e) the criminal justice system.’.

Amendment 47, in clause 8, page 4, line 25, at end add—

‘(e) childcare’.

Amendment 60, in clause 8, page 4, line 25, at end add—

‘(e) the development of specific policies to tackle child poverty in rural areas.’.

Amendment 67, in clause 8, page 4, line 25, at end insert ‘, and

(e) the provision of services for looked after children.’.

Amendment 68, in clause 8, page 4, line 25, at end insert ‘, and

(e) the provision of services for children of asylum and immigration.’.

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

I am delighted to have discovered just now, Mr. Key, that your daughter is one of my constituents, which is a very nice thing to  say. I am sure that you had impeccable child care for her when she was being brought up, which brings me back to the subject that I was talking about before the Committee adjourned. I will not be long.

I was supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North in saying that we should include child care as a specific point in the Bill. I oppose putting in a load of amendments that cover specific categories of people or geographic areas, but child care, as a specific service, deserves to be put explicitly in the Bill. I was of that mind before I heard my hon. Friend’s speech, but after she went through some of the many complexities that need dealing with, I was even more convinced that child care should stand as a separate aspect of the Bill and a separate building block.

The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland, intervened just before the Committee adjourned, to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North on her concerns about the migration of lone parents between income support and jobseeker’s allowance and the difficulty in relation to child care issues. That made me realise even more one of the many complexities involved, how all the various issues that we are talking about, including a number of the building blocks in subsection (5), interrelate and why it is therefore important that child care should stand as a separate item. Child care is fundamental to dealing with the issues of child poverty and the family relationships that we talked about earlier, and to how we deal with the issues in the Bill and meet our objectives.

I will not rehearse all the arguments, because my hon. Friend covered many of them. I shall refer just to two other issues that make me concerned that child care should be highlighted separately. The county of Derbyshire, which is my county and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash, has been at the forefront of promoting and taking up the Government’s initiatives on child care in recent years and of promoting Sure Start schemes. I am deeply concerned that if child care does not have the prominence that it needs, that could—even though there will be good intentions and good statements from other political parties—be under threat. That will be very damaging to the cause of trying to eliminate child poverty.

Unfortunately, we have just lost the elections in our county and I do not trust the current regime. Specific ideological issues are raised about how we proceed. I know that the Opposition say that they, too, support Sure Start, but that would be in a very different way, because they plan to cut money from that programme. They say that they will deal with it by increasing vastly the number of health visitors, but by removing other outreach workers; they will also cut that scheme.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I may have missed this, despite being a member of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, but the Government have not stated that the parlous level of cuts as a result of their financial mismanagement will not necessarily come down on Sure Start centres.

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that we do not think that the recession should be dealt with through cuts. The recession should be dealt with  through increased growth and, although obviously there will be very tight financial regimes, it is clear if one looks at the record of last week’s debate in Westminster Hall on Sure Start that we have a continuing and very strong commitment to it.

However, my point is about not the level of funding for that area as much as the different views on how we make progress and what type of services should be provided with regard to child care, Sure Start and the whole provision for the under-fives and children over that age. That has been highlighted in debates that we have had and will continue to have. It is very important that we highlight child care as a specific area to which attention needs to be paid. I shall raise one other—

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

We do not have much time in this debate, but I will give way.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

The hon. Lady is raising important points, so I am grateful to her for giving way again. One difference in approach that she rightly identifies between the parties relates to health visitors. The Labour Government have dismantled the universal health visitor system, but the Conservatives are committed to restoring universal health visiting—not a token health visitor in each Sure Start centre, but universal health visiting. Does the hon. Lady support that Conservative initiative?

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

I completely contest that that is the situation. Families do have health visitors. The question is what kind of workers they have, for how many visits and for what ages. When I was canvassing in a recent election, I put that point to one parent, who said, “We as a family do not need a health visitor for a long time; we need some other provision for my older child, who’s not an under-five.” This is a complex area, and that is precisely my point. I am sure that we will continue to have these debates. I contest that taking away all the other outreach work is of any benefit whatever. That highlights the importance of including child care as a separate building block.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Digital Britain) (also HM Treasury), Financial Secretary (HM Treasury) (also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)

My hon. Friend will have heard the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness say that he wanted to stop overstating his case. Does she, like me, look forward to this new era commencing?

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

I do indeed, but I did feel that I should allow him to intervene—he was very good at provoking me into wishing to intervene on him, so it was only fair.

The other example of the complex way in which all these building blocks fit together is equal pay. Earlier this week, I was a bit astounded to hear on the radio a Conservative Front-Bench spokeswoman who was discussing equal pay with the Solicitor-General fall into the trap of implying that the equal pay gap, which we all deplore—I have tabled an early-day motion on the issue, and I hope that everybody will sign it, if they have not already done so—was caused principally by direct discrimination. The equal pay gap is important because it relates to whether women, especially those who live  by themselves, have enough money to bring up their families. It has three main causes. One is discrimination. Another, huge reason is occupational segregation. Then, there are all the issues relating to child care, family and living relationships, which also affect occupational segregation. All those issues lead to an equal pay gap, which makes it difficult for women to earn an income for their families. That is another area of complexity, which ties into child care provision. It is one of the key reasons why women go into particular jobs and why they have particular types of pay.

Those are just a couple of examples. One is Sure Start, which has already provoked some debate about what we should be doing. The other is equal pay, and my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North spoke cogently of the complexities earlier. We should therefore highlight child care as an important issue, and it should have its own specific place in the Bill.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Digital Britain) (also HM Treasury), Financial Secretary (HM Treasury) (also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)

I welcome you back as Chairman of our Committee, Mr. Key. This is the first opportunity that I have had to do that today.

On Tuesday, we debated the clear focus in the Bill on tackling income poverty and material deprivation, because of the evidence of the impact of poverty on children’s lives—their experiences now and their chances for the future. A strategy to tackle child poverty will need to be wide-ranging and will certainly need to cover many, and perhaps all, of the issues that Members have raised in their amendments. However, my concern is that we should not lose the clear focus on income poverty and material deprivation by, as my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley has suggested, adding lots of extra things. Were we to go down the road of putting lots of baubles on the tree, we would necessarily end up with a strategy that tackled each of the issues, but which perhaps did not tackle other things that, as might become clear, were also important.

The strategy required by the Bill will need to consider measures in a number of broad policy areas, encompassing the main drivers of child poverty, including parental skills and employment; financial support for families with children; promoting outcomes for children in health, education and social services; improving the quality of housing; and promoting social inclusion. Those issues are set out in the clause, and they were chosen as a result of lots of detailed analysis of the barriers to eradicating child poverty through extended discussion and consultation with organisations and people both inside and outside Government.

The Bill deliberately avoids being too prescriptive about the content of the strategy. Each three-year strategy will need to respond to circumstances that change between now and 2020, building on evidence about what works in tackling child poverty. More specific measures will need to be considered, as appropriate, for each three-year phase.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I am struggling to follow the Minister’s case. He seems to be saying that the focus of the Bill is on income deprivation, and subsection 5(a) and (b) are about improving the skills and employability of parents and the provision of financial support, which go to the heart of what he is saying. However, what I do not understand, and he has not really explained it, is why  health, education, social services, housing, environment and social inclusion are there but not transport and other things. If the Minister’s point was intellectually correct, surely he should drop paragraphs (c) and (d) because inevitably and rightly Members across the Committee will put forward other things that they think are just as relevant and important.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Digital Britain) (also HM Treasury), Financial Secretary (HM Treasury) (also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)

No, and the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire referred to that earlier on. Those broad areas have been widely discussed in the specific context of this legislation and tackling child poverty. Our view is that the broad areas set out in that part of clause 8 cover the principal drivers.

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

I think that the Minister will agree that subsection (5) really relates to the original building blocks in the document, “Ending child poverty: everybody’s business”, which his Department signed up to earlier this year. Why has family, which was in that document, been dropped from subsection (5)?

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Digital Britain) (also HM Treasury), Financial Secretary (HM Treasury) (also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)

The hon. Gentleman is right to the extent that the document that he showed to the Committee earlier set out the building blocks. There was a lot of consultation around them, and the consequence of that is what we can see in the Bill. I will come to the topic that he has raised when I get to his amendment.

Amendment 1, which the hon. Gentleman moved, suggests that promoting economic enterprise should be added to the list of areas that need to be considered. Taking steps to promote enterprise, particularly among low-income families, will certainly have a role to play in reducing levels of child poverty. A strategy will need to address job creation. The flexibility associated with self-employment could, in a number of cases, help lone parents back into work. We are working to ensure that as many people as possible can get back to work in the economic downturn, and the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that in the six-month self-employment offer, introduced nationally from April this year, specific support for self-employment among jobseekers is being offered. Self-employment was a major strand in the early new deal. For some time, I have felt that we could make more of the potential of self-employment, and I am pleased that that is now being done.

As clause 8 already requires a Secretary of State to consider measures in relation to promoting and facilitating parental employment and skills, it would be superfluous to add the specific point that amendment 1 includes. I would make similar points about a number of other amendments in the group.

Amendment 2 is on family breakdown, and I will come to the point that the hon. Gentleman raised and spoke about this morning. I applaud his efforts to seek a consensus on the issue of family breakdown. He was very careful in the language that he used, and he is right to say that that consensus would be a desirable state of affairs. However, the relationship between family breakdown is not a straightforward one. That point was made in other speeches this morning, but let me go a bit further.

Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark all have relatively high rates of family breakdown, but relatively low levels of child poverty. That is because they have relatively high levels of lone parent employment: in  Scandinavian countries, it is about 70 per cent., or in the 70s, whereas in the UK it is 56 per cent. The UK figure is a great deal higher than it used to be, but is still lower than that in Scandinavia.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire for acknowledging that poverty has a negative impact on relationships and can often be the cause of family breakdown. I agree that that does not mean that the Government should not care about family breakdown. There is certainly a link between parental separation and a raised risk of poverty, and we are committed to supporting families who are experiencing relationship problems. In the next two years, we will provide more than £7 million to third-sector organisations that work with such families—the kinds of organisations that he has praised this morning.

We have promoted measures to support parents in maintaining strong relationships and to support those who are experiencing family breakdown. Last December, the Department for Children, Schools and Families announced a series of measures, including local pilots. The hon. Gentleman might be particularly encouraged to hear that we will soon publish a families Green Paper that will set out further proposals on how the Government can support families. That document will give him and other Members, on both sides of the House, the opportunity to explore these important points further. We have also commissioned independent, qualitative research to help us to understand what relationship support adults, particularly parents, need. We expect the results of that research to be available by the end of this year, and they will be used to inform the development of future policy.

Other issues have been raised in the debate on this sub-group of amendments, including support for families, families who have a disabled member and ethnic minority groups. Those are just three of many factors that we will need to consider when preparing our child poverty strategy. We anticipate that the strategy will outline the specific action required to meet the needs of the most vulnerable groups of children and parents.

Amendment 20 highlights the role of the criminal justice system. Again, there is a good deal of work going on in this area. We are prioritising action to support families who are at risk, including the families of offenders, through the national roll-out of the “Think Family” initiative. A multi-agency approach to supporting children, families and offenders will be launched at the national “Think Family” conference next week. The National Offender Management Service and the DCSF have a joint programme that includes the “Hidden Sentence” awareness training programme for people who work with families in custody, as well as the use of family support workers in three prison pilot sites.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North, who was unable to attend this afternoon’s sitting, will be interested to learn that an estimated 160,000 young people are affected each year by parental imprisonment; the problem is not a small one. Those young people often suffer hardships such as poverty, bullying, stress, educational disadvantage and other forms of exclusion. The children of offenders are three times more likely than their peers to have mental health problems or to take part in some kind of antisocial  behaviour. Nearly two thirds—65 per cent.—of boys who have a parent in prison will go on to commit some kind of crime.

My hon. Friend raised important points on this issue, particularly about the delay between someone leaving custody and being able to get into the benefit system and access housing and job support. She is absolutely right about how much of a problem that can be, and that is the reason for the fresh start programme, which focuses directly on accelerating the progress of offenders into job searching, through Jobcentre Plus, and into the benefit system, through my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary’s Department. For people leaving prison, getting a job is the best possible thing that can happen.

Amendment 30 raises the issue of transport. I certainly agree that good, accessible, affordable transport can help to tackle child poverty, for example, by enabling access to services and employment. However, as with the other issues, it would not be a good idea simply to add transport to the list. The clause already captures the need to ensure the provision of good local services, including transport, under the topic of the built and natural environment and the promotion of social inclusion.

The subject of transport is also reflected in the duties on local authorities and other bodies in England to co-operate to reduce and mitigate the effects of child poverty. Indeed, integrated transport authorities are listed in clause 19 as partner authorities, with which the responsible local authority must co-operate to reduce child poverty in the local area. We have also specifically listed Transport for London in clause 19.

Amendment 47, which was moved by the hon. Member for Northavon, and amendment 50, which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North and supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley, makes some telling and important points. My hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North highlighted how much progress there has been on child care. We have invested well over £25 billion in child care and early years services since 1997 because it is absolutely the case that affordable child care can remove one of the key barriers to employment for parents. Good quality child care and pre-schooling also has important beneficial effects for children’s development, particularly for those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

I could make a compelling case in saying that if one looked—my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary anticipated this point—at clause 8(5)(a), on the promotion and facilitation of the employment of parents, and at subsection (5)(c), on education, one would see that it would be difficult to compile an effective strategy without giving a good deal of attention to the topic of child care. Nevertheless, I have heard clearly what has been said and, having had the opportunity of a leisurely lunch break, over a sandwich, I have reflected on the case that my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North has made. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley and the hon. Member for Northavon will feel able to withdraw their amendments on the basis that I will come back to the House on Report with a Government proposal on how we can explicitly ensure that child care is included in the Bill. I hope that that will address the concerns of my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman.

Amendment 58 suggests that improving the well-being of children should be added to the list. Of course, we have underlined our commitment to promoting child well-being in Every Child Matters. I hope that Opposition Members would accept that the main policy area in clause 8 will positively improve the well-being of children. Clause 8(2)(b) requires the national strategies to ensure

“as far as possible that children in the United Kingdom do not experience socio-economic disadvantage.”

The strategy will, by necessity, include measures to promote child well-being. I do not think that the amendment would take that further.

Amendment 60, tabled by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness, addresses the issue of rural poverty. As I indicated in my intervention, I was particularly pleased to hear his rather unexpected announcement to the Committee that he plans to cease over-stating his case. I hope that he will let us know what date this new era in his rhetorical career will commence, because I think we are all looking forward to it.

Of course, the hon. Gentleman has raised some important issues. The Government take the problem of rural poverty very seriously. Children growing up in low-income families in rural areas may well face additional difficulties—in accessing services or employment, for example—because of their location. However, it is not necessary to explicitly specify rural poverty in the Bill.

The Bill ensures that the local environment of every child will be taken into account during the development of local and national strategies. Clause 8 requires the Secretary of State to consider what action is needed to promote social inclusion, and to promote and improve the built and natural environment. The local authority will be required to prepare and publish an assessment of the needs of children living in poverty in the area. I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels reassured that his legitimate concern will be addressed.

Amendments 67 and 68, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North, relate to the provision of services for looked-after children and children of asylum seekers. As she indicated, we have debated that subject already, and I pointed out that clause 8(2)(b) requires us to ensure that as far as possible, children in the UK do not experience socio-economic disadvantage. That provision has been deliberately included to ensure that the Bill covers all children, and does not neglect the needs of any vulnerable group—including the small but significant number of children who would not be covered in the survey, for the reasons that we have explained.

We have set out the main policy areas in clause 8(5), to allow the strategy to respond to changing circumstances between now and 2020. We are carrying out a thorough review of the evidence base, to help us understand causal pathways and identify how different sets of policies can contribute to the 2020 target. The strategy will tackle the root causes as well as the symptoms of child poverty, and help ensure that poverty is reduced and that the targets in the Bill are achieved.

I am grateful to hon. Members for putting on the record a number of important considerations that the strategy needs to address. I will come back on Report with a Government amendment picking up on the point made by amendment 50. I hope that those who have  tabled other amendments in the group will feel reassured by what I have said, and that their concerns will be addressed by the Bill as it stands.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 1:15 pm, 29th October 2009

We have had a full, interesting and useful debate. I am grateful to the Minister for his customary courteous, full and, in some cases, placatory reply. I intend to press amendment 1 to a vote, because I think that it is significant. It touches on the balance between public and private sector activity to reduce child poverty. All we are asking is for the Secretary of State to consider the promotion of economic enterprise. That point is fundamental and goes to the heart of how we believe we can best get children out of poverty, the roles played by the state and taxpayer and what private industry can do.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Division number 6 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 8

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

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

I beg to move amendment 52, in clause 8, page 4, line 22, at end insert

‘and family and friends carers who take on the care of a child for more than 28 days per year in the following circumstances:

‘(i) where the child comes to live with the carer as a result of plans made within a section 47 Children Act 1989 child protection enquiry; or

(ii) where a child comes to live with the carer following a section 37 Children Act 1989 investigation;

(iii) where a carer has secured a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order to avoid a child being looked after, and there is professional evidence of the impairment of the parents’ ability to care for the child; and/or

(iv) where the carer has a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order arising out of care proceedings; or

(v) where the carer has a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order following the accommodation of a child,’.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 64, in clause 8, page 4, line 22, at end insert

‘and family and friends carers who take on the care of a child for more than 28 days in the following circumstances:

(a) where the child comes to live with the carer as a result of plans made within a section 47 Children Act 1989 child protection enquiry; or

(b) where a child comes to live with the carer following a section 37 Children Act 1989 investigation;

(c) where a carer has secured a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order to avoid a child being looked after, and there is professional evidence of the impairment of the parents’ ability to care for the child; and/or

(d) where the carer has a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order arising out of care proceedings; or

(e) where the carer has a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order following the accommodation of a child.’.

This would require the Secretary of State to consider what measures ought to be taken re the provision of financial support for family and friends carers who are raising children because the parent is unable to care for the child and there is judicial or professional evidence to verify this.

Amendment 54, in clause 14, page 9, line 2, at end insert—

‘(2) The report under section 13 (3) must include a statement on the numbers and the percentage of children living with family and friends carers in qualifying households, including:

(a) the percentage of these households that fell within the relevant income group for the purpose of section 2;

(b) the percentage who for the purposes of section 3 are living in households that fell within the relevant income group and experiencing material deprivation;

(c) the percentage of these households that fell within the relevant income group for the purposes of section 4;

(d) the percentage of these households during the survey years (as defined by section 5 (2)) which relate to the target year who have lived in households that fell within the relevant income group for the purposes of section 5 in at least 3 of the survey years.’.

Amendment 53, in clause 17, page 9, line 33, at end insert—

‘ “family and friends carer” means a person who is raising a child (who is not living with his or her parents) and is related to the child or otherwise connected to them.’.

Amendment 65, in clause 17, page 10, line 6, at end add

‘A “family and friends carer” means a person who is raising a child (who is not living with his parents) and is related to the child or otherwise connected to them.’.

Amendment 55, in clause 21, page 12, line 26, at end insert

‘including the number and needs of children living with family and friends carers;’.

Amendment 66, in clause 21, page 12, line 26, at end insert

‘including the number of, and needs of, children living with family and friends carers.’.

This aims to ensure that regulations setting out what local authority child poverty needs assessment covers includes children who are being raised by family and friends carers.

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

All these amendments relate to one specific set of issues: the needs of children who are cared for by friends and family but not their parents. Observant members of the Committee will have noticed that amendments 52 and 64 have a certain similarity. Initially, we thought that the only difference was that one used Roman numbering and the other used letters (a) to (e). The very perceptive will notice that we added the words “per year” after “28 days”, which we thought was tidying up but we now think might not have helped  at all. Essentially, amendments 52 and 64 are the same. We and the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North seek to highlight a group of children and families who perhaps have not had the attention that they deserve.

It will not astonish the Committee to know that we did not write the amendment. It was drafted for us by Grandparents Plus, which is a very effective charity. Its profile has been raised considerably recently, including at an event yesterday in the House chaired by the Chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee. The concerns were also raised at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday. The set of families we are talking about are those where for a variety of reasons a child is not with the natural or step-parents but is being brought up by grandparents, other family members or friends. The campaign is trying to highlight the fact that there is a gap in the system. The arrangements under which a child may be placed with a grandparent, or a carer who is of the family or a friend, can be diverse, and not all such arrangements bring money with them.

Amendment 52 specifically focuses on the need to assess the financial needs of carers who are friends or family. Research evidence from a sample survey shows that whereas 15 per cent. of foster carers—the closest analogue—said that they were in financial hardship, 75 per cent. of friends and family carers did so. We are looking at a group of children who may fall through the net unless an amendment of this sort is accepted. The financial mechanisms of support for such families are varied and complex. Although there are specific forms of support such as guardianship allowances, they often apply only in very specific cases. Certainly the mechanisms for financial support are leaving many in financial hardship.

Very often the friend or family carer will make sacrifices for the sake of the children. One grandparent carer wrote on the discussion board of the Family Rights Group:

“Like most we have had a dramatic change of life style. All ‘retirement’ plans gone. I had to give up work and if I try and return later I will have lost all seniority therefore will be on minimum wage”.

So the carers are making sacrifices for the children. When we assess child poverty we do so in terms of the household’s income, so obviously the living standards and needs of the whole household are relevant when we are looking at the well-being of a child. So if there is a set of children whose family arrangements leave the adults in hardship, its needs have to be properly identified and responded to. One way would be to put them in the Bill under amendment 52.

Amendment 53 would define the group that we are talking about. Amendment 54 would find out from the Secretary of State the number of children involved so that we can assess the scale of the issue and know more systematically than we currently do how many children are being brought up by grandparents, relatives and so on.

We must consider the well-being of children. The alternative may be local authority care; we want to avoid situations in which although friends and family are available to provide a more loving, secure and familiar home environment than foster care or that of an institution, they cannot do so because of the lack of financial support. To reduce child poverty, we must track down the causes and, if one is that friends and  family cannot afford to have the child with them, the well-being of the child will suffer, which I am sure the Government would not want. Amendment 55 would require that, when the local authority is doing its needs assessment, the needs of that particular group should be taken account of.

As ever, we could have come up with a lot of groups that needed their own bit of the Bill so, in a sense, our proposals are probing amendments to see how much, for example, the Government already know about such groups, what assessments they have already made of the scale of the problem and what policies are either in place to tackle the needs of the groups or would be in place under the Child Poverty Bill. I commend the amendments to the Committee.

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

I commend the hon. Members for Northavon and for Regent's Park and Kensington, North for introducing the amendments. They are useful, probing amendments and I shall listen with great interest to the Minister’s response. My briefing on the subject is from the Family Rights Group, and other groups including Grandparents Plus, Family Action, the National Children’s Bureau, the Fostering Network, the Frank Buttle Trust and the Grandparents Association—a wide range of organisations that have interest in such issues. We are discussing about 200,000 to 300,000 children throughout the United Kingdom, so it is not a small group. It is interesting that, of those children, only 6,900 are looked-after children as defined under the Bill, their local authorities having a specific and statutory interest in them.

Some 25 local authorities have admitted paying friends and family carers, even when they had been approved as foster carers, at a lower rate than other foster carers. That seems odd, to say the least. It is particularly unfair that grandparent carers are discriminated against. In many ways, it is a false economy not to do something about that, given that outcomes as a result of placement stability are much better when the family are involved.

We must bear in mind what life is actually like for the child. When friends and family are involved as carers, it often enables the children to stay on at their school, and to keep up with their local group of friends, which will have significant outcomes for the children and their earning ability when they, too, become parents. The amendments are useful. The Department for Work and Pensions does not know how many friends and family carers are in receipt of income support. The fact that it is not aware of that supports the point made by the hon. Member for Northavon when he said that the group is slightly invisible in the statistics, so I shall listen with interest to what the Minister has to say on the subject.

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

I inadvertently got a few sentences into my speech on this very topic earlier, so I shall not strain the Committee’s patience by repeating myself. The hon. Member for Northavon set out the basics of the case extremely well. I will repeat the fact that shocked me—reading the Family Rights Group briefing brought home to me something that I confront every week or two in my advice surgery and that has massive policy implications. I feel ashamed that I had not realised what the policy implications were. Clearly, a huge number of people are providing care for the children of other  adults, often temporarily but sometimes permanently—the Family Rights Group put a figure of 200,000 or so on the table. That is almost always as the result of crisis, which has massive implications for the family and significant implications for their finances.

One of the cases that I am dealing with now is that of an 82-year-old grandmother whose daughter, sadly, is a crack addict who has been in and out of prison and rehab fairly consistently over a number of years. The grandmother has brought up three of her grandchildren in those very challenging circumstances. I am dealing with a specific issue for the family at the moment. I was speaking to the grandmother a few days ago, before having read the briefing for the Bill, and she was talking about everything that she looks for to help the 13-year-old grandchild materially, such as having a computer in his house. He has a statement—special educational needs—and has been excluded from school once. He has no computer because she has to go to the social services department to ask if they would make provision for him out of the social services budget as an exceptional case. She said, for example, “They are always promising me things, and then they never deliver”, or, “They promised him a bicycle.”

A 13-year-old kid is growing up on an estate that is a super output area and the most deprived estate in the whole of England; he does not have a bicycle or a computer at home because the family does not have the level of financial input that one would expect for someone who is looking after the children of another adult. Almost all the cases of people who come to me are as a result of a parent in prison, a parent who has drug or severe alcohol problems, a parent with a severe illness or disability—cancer or a major injury—or something of that kind. That puts extreme pressure on a family, almost always including the fact that the child or children being cared for overcrowd the house. We talked about overcrowding and poverty earlier on an amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North. Bringing in the children of another adult will almost invariably lead to overcrowding and physical pressure on a house. The family income will rarely stretch to providing holidays, outings or extra-curricular activities for a child, often because the arrangement is not permanent.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Work and Pensions Minister

I listened to what the hon. Lady was saying, and she is making some important points. She referred to an 82-year-old grandmother, but would she accept that there is another group that is badly affected—the many grandmothers who are still of working age? Dealing with a crisis immediately puts a stop to their income and has a knock-on effect.

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

That is a good point. The Family Rights Group briefing talks about one of the major drivers of the financial pressure of looking after another person’s children being that it will frequently—again, often because it is born out of crisis—require people to give up their earning capacity.

The case has been well made and we understand that the group concerned is very important and very overlooked. In connection with the amendment, I urge the Minister to take the matter away and think about how, cross-departmentally and within the Department, there could  be some proper analysis of needs and numbers, looking at some of the particular points that have come up in the briefing, such as, for example, what proportion of people looking after a child for more than three or six months would be entitled to trigger foster care payments and to raise their family income in that way.

The amendment is very important, raising some very important issues, which are not necessarily appropriate for inclusion in the Bill. However, the Family Rights Group has done a service—certainly to me—by making us think about a challenging and often tragic group of people for whom we do not have an adequate policy response.

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley 1:45 pm, 29th October 2009

I spoke to Ministers about these proposals last week. I draw attention to the early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) and a similar one stimulated by Grandparents Plus, which has attracted considerable support across the House. Hon. Members outside this room think that this issue is important.

Last week, I explained to the chief executive of the Family Rights Group that it would not be appropriate to put the detail of the amendment in the Bill even though I consider this to be an important issue, for the reasons set out by hon. Members. I have asked Ministers whether they or their appropriate colleagues can respond to those organisations about these issues. The chief executive referred specifically to the lack of data. One of the big problems is that we do not know exactly what is involved. It can involve people with a long-term caring relationship with family or a short-term relationship.

The most recent example I heard about was when I was out canvassing. A woman opened the door and said, “I’m glad you’re here. We were about to try to get hold of your office.” Her sister had been sent to prison unexpectedly for benefit fraud, against the advice of the probation service, and she had taken in the children. One of the children was at school and so needed to be collected and brought home and the other was older and a bit school-phobic. She had no problem with taking them in, but was concerned that nobody from social services had been to ensure that they were being looked after properly while their mother was in prison temporarily. That is another eccentric example that demonstrates the range of circumstances in which this issue can come about. It is hardly surprising that there is a lack of data and that it is so difficult to get the appropriate cross-agency action that is needed to deal with these problems.

I hope that Ministers will ask colleagues to look at this issue and to give some thought to the groups that are taking up these issues. It has generated a lot of interest this week, as is reflected in the early-day motions and the lobbying. Although it is not appropriate to put this issue in the Bill, I hope it will be looked at.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Digital Britain) (also HM Treasury), Financial Secretary (HM Treasury) (also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)

We have had another interesting and thoughtful debate. I am sure that all hon. Members sympathise with the points that have been raised. I am grateful for the way in which they have been raised.

It is clear from the evidence that care by family and friends is the best approach for many children who cannot be looked after by their birth parents, for whatever  reason. We want to recognise fully the additional support needs of that group and the contribution that family and friend carers make to the life chances of vulnerable children. We are taking steps to encourage families to bring up children and to ensure that family and friend carers receive the appropriate financial and practical support.

We recognise that grandparents play an ever-increasing role in family life by supporting parents and caring for children, as has been emphasised in this debate. They are an important provider of full-time kinship care for children whose parents are unable to care for them. Many grandparents provide flexible and affordable child care, particularly in the gap between school and formal child care. I remind the Committee that it was announced in the Budget that grandparents and other family members with significant child-care responsibilities will be eligible for national insurance credits. We have heard of a number of examples of grandparents giving up work to care for their children’s children. Under that measure, they will at least continue to receive national insurance credits for state pension purposes. It is estimated that 135,000 grandparents, and other adults under state pension age, are caring for family members aged 12 or under for 20 or more hours a week, of those, an estimated 45,000 could gain basic state pension under the Budget announcement.

It may be helpful to clarify that in the Bill “parent” means more than “parent” in the normal sense. It includes any individual who has parental responsibility for a child under the terms of the Children Act 1989, which, under sections 3 to 5 and 14C, includes many of the persons described in paragraphs (i) to (v) of the amendment, specifically, parents, step-parents, persons appointed as guardians and persons with residence orders or special guardianship orders. Section 17 of the 1989 Act places a general duty on local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need in their areas through a range and level of services appropriate to fulfilling those children’s needs. That includes providing services, including financial support, to any member of the child’s family, which includes persons with whom the child has been living even if they do not have parental responsibility. The Children and Young Persons Act 2008 amended section 17 of the 1989 Act to make it easier for local authorities to provide regular and long-term financial payments to families caring for children, where they assess that to be appropriate.

The way that hon. Members have spoken about the amendments reflects that there will be more to do. I take the point of the speeches urging me and other Ministers to reflect on the issues and see what further action can be taken. Perhaps it would be helpful if I undertake, on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland, myself and other Ministers, to write to the organisations mentioned to set out the steps that we are taking to address the perfectly proper and right concerns raised in this relatively short but important debate.

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

I am sure that a letter would be nice but a meeting would be better. Could he spare a little time with those groups to explore, perhaps on the basis of his letter, how the issues can be taken forward? I am sure that that is happening informally anyway.

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

It has been a very constructive debate. There is a desire in the Committee to recognise the needs of this group, perhaps not through these amendments specifically but through the sort of mechanisms discussed. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 8, in clause 30, page 15, line 25, after ‘Child’, insert ‘and Family’.

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

I do not think that the debate on this will take long because we have had very full debate on clause 8. The amendment adds “family” to the Bill’s title, so it would be the Child and Family Poverty Bill. I pray in aid the brief from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services that Committee members were given before the witness session:

“The terminology...of “child poverty” is unhelpful and does not encourage local authorities corporately nor local communities collectively to see tackling the impact of poverty as “everybody’s business”.

Colin Green from the association made the point in the evidence session that the children we are talking about live in families and in communities:

“It is not a children’s issue; it is a consequence to children.”——[Official Report, Child Poverty Public Bill Committee, 20 October 2009; c. 60, Q135.]

I do not want to go on at greater length as we are talking about a word in the Bill’s title, but I think that that change would be helpful for the purposes of emphasis and will return to that point at an appropriate time.

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

I have a couple of brief points on what has just been said and on clause 8 itself. I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman’s point that children live in families, not in isolation, but I have two concerns about putting the word “family” in the title of the Bill so that we focus on family poverty. My first concern, and it is not an entirely pedantic point, is that many people would say that they are part of a family even if they do not have dependant children. As soon as we call it is a family and child poverty Bill, we broaden the scope. Poverty matters, of course, whomever it affects, but the Bill is specifically about children, even though we understand that they live in a context, so I wonder whether such a change in the title would slightly dull the focus.

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

We have had many references throughout our deliberations to comparisons with Europe on the measures we are using, and quite rightly so. In the last Parliament the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North and I travelled across various European countries, and many of the people we spoke with were slightly puzzled by the UK’s focus on the term child poverty. Poverty was very much recognised as a serious issue for them, but child poverty was not a worldwide term.

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

I am sure that that is right, but we measure the economic well-being of a child by looking at the income and material circumstances of the entire household. For example, half of the material deprivation indicators used relate to the child and the other half relate to the adults in the household, so the family context is included, although it is perhaps not as explicit as the hon. Gentleman would like, but I do not feel terribly strongly about it.

My second concern, which the Equality and Human Rights Commission has also commented on, is that on average larger families are more likely to be poor than smaller families, so if we target 10 per cent. of families, rather than 10 per cent. of children, unless we are careful we risk missing out that dimension and not getting to those most in need. I think that that is a slightly marginal point.

Another concern is that the clause begins:

“The Secretary of State must...”.

Generally in legislation it is obvious who the Secretary of State is, but I am slightly unclear in that case. When we had an evidence session we heard from three Departments, and I entirely welcome them talking together, but given that the clause deals with health, social services, employment, housing and the built environment, it will involve nearly half a dozen Departments, so is there a lead Secretary of State? I am aware that technically and legislatively “Secretary of State” refers to all Secretaries of State, but someone has to take the lead, take the rap and be held accountable—[Interruption.]

I am not entirely reassured to see the Minister shaking his head. There is a serious point behind all of this. Who will take the lead, because we all know, as we have seen with efforts to tackle climate change, that it is difficult for an individual Department to have clout across Government. Sorting out the climate is not the job of just the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, so child poverty is not the responsibility of just the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Treasury. A little insight on what duty the clause will put on whom would be helpful.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Digital Britain) (also HM Treasury), Financial Secretary (HM Treasury) (also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)

The Bill has its origins in the commitment made by the Government in 1999 to eradicate child poverty within a generation, and that is reflected in the title. It is right that tackling child poverty will require us to tackle the poverty of the families in which the children live, but it is important to keep the focus that the current title gives. I notice, for example, that the Child Poverty Action Group, in its response to the Bill’s consultation, stated:

“The child poverty legislation is an opportunity to ensure policy clearly puts children’s needs first.”

That view was widely reflected in the points made by those who commented on the Bill. That priority would be lost if the amendment were made. The Bill gives a good opportunity to make sure that the child becomes the focus for policy and that will enable us to tackle child poverty effectively. The focus on children in the title of the Bill will be an important driver for action. This is not about poverty in a vague sense but about the particular circumstances of children, about which people rightly feel strongly. I accept that the amendment would not change any of the provisions of the Bill, which makes it clear that eradicating child poverty would require support for children, parents and families. It  would be a mistake to weaken the focus on children as the animating preoccupation of the Bill. I hope that when we get to clause 30, Opposition Members will not wish to press the amendment.

On the question of which Secretary of State we are talking about, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The term can apply to any Secretary of State. It depends on how government is structured at a particular point. Who knows, there might be some changes between now and 2020. In the current arrangement, my Department leads on the public service agreement, the PSA target, but it is a joint responsibility. I work closely with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. At the moment, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would fulfil that responsibility but it may shift over the coming decade.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.