Clause 21

Child Poverty Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 3rd November 2009.

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Local child poverty needs assessment

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

I beg to move amendment 7, in clause 21, page 12, line 26, after ‘assessment’, insert ‘including an assessment of—

(i) job creation, and

(ii) family resilience’.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 72, in clause 21, page 12, line 26, at end insert

‘including the levels of benefit and tax credit take up among the eligible populations’.

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

Clause 21 is an important clause; it deals with the local child poverty needs assessment. I shall speak first to amendment 7, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friends the Members for South-West Hertfordshire and for Billericay, and then touch on amendment 72, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North.

I want to focus, in relation to amendment 7, on the issues of job creation and family resilience. I shall not repeat what I said when I tabled an amendment to clause 8 along the same lines, with respect to economic enterprise, which my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness has drawn attention to. When local authority leaders and chief executives spoke in our witness sessions about dealing with child poverty, the first thing on which they all alighted was an increase in economic activity in their areas. If I were to sum up what we need to do above all to beat child poverty, I would put it in four words—more and better jobs. In other words, more people in work, and more people in higher-paid work.

I understand, of course, issues such as barriers to work, child care, flexible and part-time working, and acquiring the skills to get into jobs, but when we boil things down, those issue bring us to the heart of the Bill—the balance between what we think the benefits system will do through out-of-work benefits, and so on, and the part that we expect enterprise and wealth creation to play in defeating child poverty. This is my second attempt to have that aspect of the matter included in the Bill. I make no apologies for that.

In my experience, local economic regeneration does not get the attention that it deserves in local authorities—even in local authorities that recognise its importance and take it seriously—because it is not regarded as a core or key public service, in the way that education, social care, housing or transport are. Everyone is very clear that those are the things that the council does. It provides housing, mends potholes in the roads, looks after your granny when she gets ill, and educates your children. We all know that, but what is the role of the council in attracting new businesses to the area or helping the businesses already there to expand and grow?

I consider regeneration to be incredibly important. It will be vital in helping to drag the country out of the terrible, horrible recession that we are going through. The Government, of course, have a role to play in that, but local authorities have an important role. I have for months been vocal as unemployment in my area has, sadly, risen, and have said that local economic regeneration should be at the top of the council’s priorities.

The sustainable communities plan that has been imposed on certain parts of the country in relation to the need for extra housing growth includes targets for the creation of extra dwellings and jobs, but the emphasis—the drive from the Government offices—seems to be on housing targets. I hear relatively little about what is being done to create the jobs needed for a genuinely sustainable community, so that the people in the new houses also have work. That is an incredibly important area that needs the help and focus of a mention in the Bill. The Government should make it clear to local authorities that the Bill is not just about public services, vital as they are in getting people out of poverty and helping parents to do better, but about good old-fashioned wealth creation, building bigger businesses, providing more and better jobs and enabling people to get into them.

I am aware that the challenge of getting into work from being out of work is huge. The move from not working and being on benefits into full-time work is an  enormous step—sometimes almost a step too far that many people are not able to make in one leap. In relation to the creation of jobs, I was struck by some of the proposals discussed at a reception yesterday about the community allowance. I do not know whether other Committee members were able to attend. When the Minister responds to this part of the debate she will refer to the proposal—it is to be trialled by the Government in north-east Lincolnshire, Tameside near Manchester and the Isle of Wight—to extend the disregard for people on benefit, so that they can work up to 15 hours a week on the minimum wage without having benefit withdrawn. From April next year people on incapacity benefit and employment and support allowance will be able to earn £92 a week without having benefit withdrawn. The Government have committed to that and to the three pilots we learned of yesterday evening. I welcome that initiative which is on the right lines, although there is further to travel and more to be done.

When getting people off a life on benefits—if they remain on benefits, we know that their children will live in poverty—these mini-jobs are an important way to help people into work. They may be very local with little need to travel and may be provided by community organisations, as proposed in the excellent community allowance document.

One other matter that is relevant to amendment 7 in the interaction of the benefits system with people in work is the informal economy. People may be in work but are not captured by data and do not have any involvement with the benefits system. The Financial Secretary will be familiar with an organisation called Community Links, and its national arm Links UK, which is actively involved in his constituency. I was struck when I met its representatives recently and they told me of a meeting they had in Salford with 30 young people aged between 15 and 25, who were not in education, employment or training. Some 23 out of 30 were involved in the informal economy and not receiving any benefits. We need to look at the community allowance proposals, mini-jobs and what is happening outside the benefits system, working tax credit, child tax credit and so on. Why are so many of our young people—23 out of those 30 young people in Salford—working in the informal economy?

The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Four o’clock.