Examination of Witnesses

Welfare Reform and Work Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 15 September 2015.

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Alison Garnham, Matt Padley, Professor David Gordon and Dr Samantha Callan gave evidence.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon 9:53, 15 September 2015

Colleagues, we will make a start. We have one witness yet to arrive, but we hope he is on his way.

It is wonderful to welcome witnesses from the Child Poverty Action Group, the Centre for Research in Social Policy and the Centre for Social Justice. Could you kindly read yourselves into the record?

Dr Callan: I am Samantha Callan, associate director for families and mental health at the Centre for Social Justice.

Alison Garnham: I am Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group.

Matt Padley: I am Matt Padley, senior researcher at the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

I should put it on the record that I think I am a life member of the Child Poverty Action Group, and I am certainly a former chief executive, but I will not be asking the questions in this session.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Thank you, Kate; that is good to know. I know that Stephen Timms has three questions for the panellists.

Q 162

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Welcome to the witnesses.

Obviously, in the background to what this Bill does in relation to the Child Poverty Act is the controversy about how child poverty should be measured. Everyone recognises that it is quite a difficult subject. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself has argued both in favour of and, more recently, against the use of a relative poverty measure.

I wanted to ask each of the three witnesses to comment on three particular points. First, the Bill deletes all the targets around child poverty—there will be no targets left if the Bill is enacted in its current form—and I am interested to know whether each of you thinks that there should be some target around child poverty set by Government, or do you agree that removing every target entirely is appropriate?

Secondly, the Child Poverty Act requires tracking four measures, all of them related to poverty—relative poverty, absolute poverty, persistent child poverty and material deprivation—but this Bill replaces that with a requirement to publish data on children in workless households and educational attainment. I wonder what each of you thinks about the validity of those alternative indicators for assessing and measuring what is happening to children, compared with the measures in the Child Poverty Act. Thirdly—

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Shall we come to the third one in a moment? Professor Gordon has just arrived. If we ask the first two questions first, then everyone can answer the third one—or are they so linked that they must be taken together?

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

No, I can come back to the third one.

Professor Gordon: Thank you. Sorry, I went to the wrong Committee Room.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Well, you have come to the right place now, and we are very grateful. I think you will catch up on what the questions are, then you can give your answers and we can have the third question. Mr Padley first, please.

Matt Padley: Taking the first question—should there be a target—from my point of view, that relates to whether or not there is a strategy through which to reduce child poverty, and targets related to that. If targets prevent or get in the way of doing things that actually reduce child poverty, then they are not useful. What I am saying is that the targets have to be useful and have to measure the right things.

If I can answer the second question at the same time, the measures of related worklessness and educational attainment as proposed are not necessarily measures of child poverty. It is entirely possible for households to move from worklessness to work, for instance, without necessarily moving out of low income. It is important to stress that they are not necessarily measuring what they purport to measure. I think that that relates to the first question, so my view would be that if there are targets, they need to be part of a plan of how to tackle child poverty. That is missing from the Bill as proposed.

Q 163

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I think the Government’s argument would be that if you want to measure the life chances of children, you are better looking at measures of worklessness and educational attainment at key stage 4 instead of the poverty indicators in the Child Poverty Act. If you want to get to life chances, do you think that that is the right approach?

Matt Padley: I do not see why it needs to be either/or—I think both in combination. What looking at educational achievement at the end of key stage 4 will tell you or what looking at the proportion of children who have grown up in workless households will tell you is useful information, but still there is so much evidence to suggest that children growing up in low-income households have poorer outcomes that measuring the incidence of low income remains important. I am not saying don’t measure worklessness or educational attainment at the  end of key stage 4; I am saying, don’t wholesale abandon income measures, just because of the recent broader economic climate that has meant that relative income measures are showing some very perverse results.

Alison Garnham: What I would like to say is that the basket of measures that we currently have is an attempt to operationalise a definition of child poverty. The most well known one that we have is the one that Peter Townsend came up with back in the 1970s. He said:

“Individuals...in the population can be said to be in poverty when they lack resources to obtain the...diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities which are customary, or...widely encouraged and approved, in the societies in which they belong.”

No indicator is perfect, which is why, in order to try and triangulate this problem, there are about five measures in the Child Poverty Act. Some of them relate to low income and some relate to deprivation—things you cannot afford because you lack resources. Some of them relate to the persistence of poverty. If all of those go, we do not know what we are tracking these other life chance events against. If you were to add all those life chance measures to the core set of indicators in the Child Poverty Act, that would be a good thing. In fact, we have always said, why not add more indicators? That is a perfectly sensible thing to do.

The problem with what has been proposed is that by taking away all the income measures, you are no longer really measuring child poverty; you are measuring something else. Also, you are completely missing out on one of the main causes of child poverty today, which is low-paid work. Two thirds of poor children live with working parents, so if all you measure is worklessness and educational attainment, you are completely sweeping aside that group.

Q 164

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The other question is: do you think there should be a Government target around child poverty?

Alison Garnham: Yes, I do. It keeps the Government honest. I think it is really important. In fact, in 2010 there was a cross-party consensus that we needed to tackle and drive down child poverty, so it is very disappointing that we are now arriving at a point where we are not even going to track it any more. It should continue to be tracked, and there need to be targets, because in that way there is something to aim at. Child poverty was reduced by 1.1 million between the baseline year of 1998 and 2010, so we were on course. We were halfway towards the target of elimination, which was 10%, even though we were not halfway to zero, which was the target the Government had set itself. So we were actually doing rather well. The problem now is that policies are driving us away from reducing child poverty, rather than that the target should go.

Dr Callan: The problem with having income targets is that they will always drive effort towards tackling symptoms and not causes of child poverty, so I would be much more in favour of a more rounded set of measures. Currently, we have only got measures to tackle what we would call two of the five pathways to poverty: poor educational attainment in children and parents, and worklessness. We know that family breakdown drives poverty. We know that serious personal debt and addictions, including gambling addictions, drive poverty, so I think we need more measures. The only thing I would say about income is simply that we need to be measuring  the numbers of children who live in households where parents are not earning a living wage, or where parents have not earned a living wage for the last two years. Again, that puts the focus on earnings.

My understanding of the Government’s welfare reforms is that they have a very dynamic approach, which is what the CSJ asked for in 2009, that will help drive people into behaviour that will mean they increase their income through earnings. In international development, our approach for a very long time has been to not just give people money, but to give them the tools to increase their own life chances.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Professor Gordon, have you picked up on what the questions are?

Professor Gordon: I think I have.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

I thought you might have done. Your answers, please.

Professor Gordon: There has been 400 years of research into the measurement of poverty in general, and child poverty in particular. The UK is arguably one of the world’s leading experts in these kinds of measures, which have been developed and have, over the years, spread across the world. They have been adopted by the European Union, by the OECD, and even by the World Bank. So we have a lot of expertise in the measurement of child poverty. The targets are very useful in terms of seeing whether resources are being allocated efficiently and effectively, and in seeing if the policies are working. So targets can be useful from that point of view.

The low income measures were originally introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Government. The measures proposed in this Bill were originally introduced by the last Labour Government, although they were abandoned in 2007. They are all good measures, but the worklessness and education measures are not direct measures of child poverty. Child poverty is important because it is very expensive; it is not cost-neutral. Conservative econometric models have shown that the long-term consequences of child poverty cost about £25 billion, about 2% of GDP. Eradicating child poverty would be a boost to the economy and would, of course, create a much better society and much better life chances for children.

As I say, the measures of worklessness have been used before. They are part of a package of measures to which I have no objection. I support them and I always have, but they are not very specific measures of child poverty. Approximately two thirds of children in workless households are not poor: they do not live on a low income and the worklessness is temporary.

Q 165

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I have one more question. You may not all be in a position to comment, but I would be interested to hear any of your opinions. One element of the Child Poverty Act was the requirement on local authorities to work with others in their area to develop a child poverty strategy for that area. There is no similar proposal in the Bill—for example, there is no requirement for a life chances strategy. In practice, were those strategies useful? Or do you think that the fact we are not going to have them in future is not a problem?

Alison Garnham: I think they were incredibly useful. They drove a lot of action and activity locally. Many local authorities set up their own local child poverty  commissions and worked out what they could do to address child poverty. One of the biggest losses in losing the Child Poverty Act is that there will no longer be anything driving action at a local level. It would be a big improvement if something like that was introduced into the Bill to require local authorities to have local child poverty or life chances strategies.

Q 166

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Can you give us any examples of where particularly good work was done in developing a strategy?

Alison Garnham: There were a number of local authorities, such as Leicester, Birmingham, Milton Keynes and so on. They tended to take on different characteristics in different areas. For example, in Liverpool they focused on early years strategies to improve early childhood education and care. In other areas they looked at things such as how they could manage their own benefits authority for discretionary housing payments and ameliorations of the council tax benefit scheme. In other areas, they looked at other kinds of projects and services. There was a wide variety of activity, which was very positive.

Dr Callan: Again, if we had something in the Bill that recognised that, alongside work and education, family breakdown—or boosting family stability, if you want to put it more positively—is such an important area for Government activity, then local authorities would have a lot more to get their teeth into at a local level. The use of children’s centre stock is very important. The opportunity would be created for children’s centres to do far more around a whole-family package of support, which is something the Prime Minister has talked about. The Bill could help to put some teeth on to that.

Q 167

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Are you suggesting that there ought to be a requirement for local strategies to be in place, albeit perhaps that they would look rather different from the ones we have had in the past?

Dr Callan: Local strategies around life chances. As I say, if it is just education and worklessness, there are not necessarily enough levers at a local level to get local authorities working together more than they are already. Obviously a lot of local authorities already work very closely with the whole school estate in their areas, going right up to further education and universities.

I do not think that family support is a niche issue. It should be universal, in the same way that we have universal health and universal education. That is why it has to be in the Bill. I do not think it is beyond the wit of well intentioned people to come up with a measure for family stability, which would really strengthen the Bill.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Eight colleagues have caught my eye, so we will have concise questions and concise answers, please, although it is all good stuff.

Q 168

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent

Will the panel please discuss the mechanisms by which children move out of poverty? I am particularly interested in the connection between work and children moving out of poverty, with reference to the recent Department for Work and Pensions report that showed a strong connection between families moving into employment and children exiting poverty.

Professor Gordon: Child poverty is highly dynamic. Virtually nobody is born in poverty, grows up in poverty, lives in poverty all their life and then has children who live in poverty. That is anecdotal—it does not happen. The welfare state has been very effective in catching people just below the poverty line and giving them a chance to move up above it. The causes of poverty have been known for a long time, and they are largely structural. The reason people do not have jobs is often that there are no jobs, rather than because they are lazy. People get sick and cannot work. Their relationships break up and so on. The reverse happens to get children out of poverty. Poverty is a cycle. Local authorities have often been the first line of defence against poverty, and they are right at the forefront of the battle.

To answer the last question, it would be very helpful if there were some requirement on local authorities, as I suspect there will be in the devolved Assemblies. I do not think Wales is likely to change its legislation, which has a requirement on local authorities. Scotland and Northern Ireland are also unlikely to ignore local authorities in their attempts to reduce child poverty and improve life chances. You have to make sure you do not mistake cause and effect. A lot of family breakdowns are a result of poverty, not necessarily a cause of it.

Alison Garnham: I agree with what David said about the general routes into poverty—unemployment, low pay, becoming sick or disabled, relationship breakdown and so on. Obviously, if you reverse that, people move in the opposite direction.

We also have very good evidence, if we just look straightforwardly at the poverty statistics, for the difference made by people getting a job. Worklessness is a really strong indicator. If everybody in a household is unemployed, the poverty rate is about 70%. If one person gets a job, the poverty rate drops to about 20%. If both do, it drops to about 8%, so the impact of getting paid work is quite significant.

We also know that two thirds of children live in a working family. The issue of low pay is hugely important today in terms of child poverty. We also have very good evidence about the impact on children’s outcomes of living on these kinds of low income. Kitty Stewart did a meta-analysis of all the studies into the causal links between what happens to children and their outcomes, and the most powerful indicator of all is low income. It is most strongly related to children doing less well later in life, which is one of the key reasons why income is such an important indicator.

Dr Callan: Simply, we cannot forget how important a message it is to children when they see their parents really striving—don’t misunderstand the word—to increase their family’s living standards. Previously, there were cliff edges in tax credits. The Government were well intentioned and wanted to get people over a certain line, but it was kind of, “Once you’re in work, we’ll leave you alone. We won’t necessarily give you all that much support.” What is important about what I understand of the Government’s agenda, and which has to go alongside life chances measures, is that they will say, “We’ll hassle you, but helpfully, to make sure you are earning more and upping your skills and that you, as parents, are taking in hand the job of increasing the life chances of your children,” and showing them a really great example.

I do not want to over-simplify the root causes of mental ill health, but feeling powerless and feeling that efforts at self-improvement are not going to be rewarded can make people feel very depressed and anxious if they want to do better for their children. The Government should absolutely push towards saying, “In the efforts you make, we will be alongside you. We will help you,” rather than, “When you get over a certain level, you’re going to lose punishing amounts of tax credits.”

Matt Padley: I would echo the comments of Alison and David. It states explicitly in the Bill that rewarding work is one of the aims of this. That is fundamentally important. The introduction of the national living wage, for instance, may go some way towards that, but it still puts some people in situations where they are not necessarily better off. Certainly, making work pay is fundamentally important.

Q 169

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent

I have a few follow-up questions. That was very helpful. You described multiple factors and particularly focused on the value of work in helping children out of poverty. Well-paid work and the national living wage are connected to this. Samantha talked about the importance of supporting families’ efforts to improve their living standards. Given that, as I say, there are multiple factors, does the panel agree that measuring the range of factors is helpful in understanding poverty? Is it helpful in measuring the root causes, not just the symptoms, of poverty?

Alison Garnham: The root causes include income, and that is the problem: we no longer have an income measure. In fact, you will be looking just as much at effects, if you are looking at things such as educational attainment, as causes. That is why you need a core set of income measures, plus all the other things we are talking about. They are also important things to track, and they would be welcome.

Matt Padley: I agree. In terms of the causes of poverty, income needs to be measured.

Q 170

Professor Gordon: Income is crucial. The last consultation on measuring child poverty received 104 responses, 103 of which wanted to keep all or at least one of the low income measures, because it is a root cause of poverty. Two thirds of children in poverty are in households in which at least someone works. Low pay and poor working conditions are a root cause. The low income is the cause of the poverty, not the workers.

Q 171

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent

I am hearing a lot of you referring to the income measure, but what are the panel’s thoughts on the way that a relative income measure means that reported child poverty falls during a period of recession, when median income falls, and rises in a period of economic growth, when incomes rise?

Professor Gordon: That is one of the major objections to that one measure. The Child Poverty Act 2010 had a series of tiered measures so you could get an overall picture. If you have just one measure, you get an artefact, but the other measures pick up on that. The relative falls, the absolute rises, the combined low income and  material deprivation rises, and probably so does the persistent poverty measure. By looking at all four measures, you get a full picture of what is happening.

Matt Padley: The line is not necessarily always helpful. Just getting people over a line does not solve poverty. The bundle together indicates a direction of travel, which is fundamentally important. Without that, you cannot track the direction of travel. When all those things are moving in the same direction, you know that things are getting worse or better.

Alison Garnham: The fact that we had four measures enabled us to explain what was happening to the headline indicator. Basically, everybody was doing badly, so people at the bottom were not doing so badly in relation to the middle, but the absolute poverty indicator was going up so we knew that people at the bottom were losing income. The group of indicators together gives you a powerful explanatory tool.

Dr Callan: The only thing is that if you have a legally binding income target, we are right back to where we were before. The Government could be subject to judicial review for, frankly, doing the right thing: taking a more effective approach to poverty and tackling life chances.

Q 172

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Fair Work and Employment)

I thank the panel for joining us. I would like to pick up on the removal of the targets. It seems to me that the targets are being removed because the Government had no chance of meeting them. That in itself is a very dangerous move. I also want to pick up on some of the observations that have been made about the rise in the national wage, which as we all know is not a living wage, because the living wage has been set independently at £7.85 outside London and £9.20 within London. Even the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the welfare cuts, coupled with the moderate increase, will lead to only a 13% benefit, and the vast majority will have their income reduced significantly. The Scottish National party believes that we should not remove the targets. Do you agree with that? At the very least, should we delay any removal so we can properly consider and review what impact it will have?

Alison Garnham: Yes, I would support that. I have said that I am in favour of keeping the targets. It is worth pointing out the kind of change that was driven while child poverty was falling. We know that as people’s income was improving and child poverty was falling there was more spending on fruit, vegetables and children’s books, and less spending on tobacco and alcohol. We saw improvements in child wellbeing in 36 out of 48 OECD indicators. It was not just about people simply getting more money; there were big impacts on what was happening to families, too. That is one of the reasons why we need to continue to track it. One of the important things about the indicators we have is that we have an income series that goes back to 1961, so we can compare historically. We can also compare internationally, because these are the measures used in the EU, the OECD and the International Monetary Fund, so we are able to see how we are doing in relation to other countries.

Dr Callan: May I point out some other drawbacks? It has already been mentioned that in the recession it looks like child poverty is falling, which does not make sense. There are other reasons why the targets were unhelpful. There is no sense of how families’ circumstances  change when they move in and out of poverty across a certain line, and there is no distinguishing between those a long way from the line and those just below it. Obviously it is nuanced—you do very careful analysis, I appreciate that—but we get into this poverty-plus-a-pound issue, where somebody is just over the line but their life circumstances may not have changed one bit. It is misleading, really—

Dr Callan: Sorry?

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Please continue, don’t be put off.

Q 173

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Fair Work and Employment)

If I might come in, you have some specific things that you are talking about that you think should be measured. Would it not make sense to add those and not remove the other ones? Should it be one in place of the other? To me, it should be additional.

Dr Callan: I could go through more reasons. Compared with other countries I do not think we are doing brilliantly in Britain in terms of life chances yet, but if we compared ourselves Europe-wide, we are not doing too badly. Yet do we want to just say, “Oh, we’re not doing too badly compared with the rest of Europe”? No, not at all. I am just trying to build a picture of how inadequate these are. I have already talked about the Government activity that will be driven by anything, frankly, to do with income.

One more thing on what you were saying about the IFS figures. What tends to be lacking is that, first, you cannot forecast child poverty—the IFS knows that, it has tried and gets it wrong quite a lot of times. The dynamic effects are what very few projections ever really bring into play. I know people who say, “I can see the day when I’m not going to be able to have child tax credits any more, so I am planning for it—I want to up my skills, I want to up my game”. If these are people who can do that, then good, but if people know they need to but need help, that is where we need to put Government effort. We will not put the Government effort into that if we are just thinking about how much income there is in a family and are not even disaggregating that and thinking how much is earned income, which is also very important.

Q 174

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Fair Work and Employment)

On the point about the IFS, I understand that it cannot measure child poverty, but what you are talking about is income and the effect that the cuts, versus the lift in the minimum wage, is going to have on people, which is significant. Surely a measure of income against child poverty is very important in that instance—we recognise that.

Dr Callan: If the Government activity is in raising people’s skills and raising people’s expectations of what they can do and that is where the effort is directed, with people getting help to move up and out of tax credits, it is a completely different way of seeing it.

One final thing. I do not think that we are doing this too quickly. The Centre for Social Justice has been writing about this and provoking a debate since 2007 on whether we should be simply looking at income levels or whether we should be tackling root causes. Eight years have already passed; I think we need to do something about it with the political will that is there.

Professor Gordon: Improving skills and improving the quality of services such as education and health are very important, but the scientific evidence shows that money matters. If you raise the income of children in poor families, child wellbeing increases across the whole range of measures. The targets were not met in 2010, although they were reasonably close—they are on track, possibly. When those targets were first introduced, Britain was ranked at the bottom of the UNICEF league table for child wellbeing. By 2010, as things had improved, there were fewer poor children in terms of low income and Britain had moved up to the middle of the ranking for rich countries. That is across a broad range of measures, in independent research by UNICEF.

There is, of course, also a whole lot of UK research that shows, as Alison said, that there was more money spent on better-quality food, on education equipment for children and a whole range of positive things that improved child wellbeing. Attainment among poor children also increased, in terms of education.

Matt Padley: We looked at research recently that points out that those who are most likely to gain from the national living wage are those without children, which I think adds some context. Increasing wages at the bottom is not necessarily going to have an impact on households with children.

Q 175

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Labour/Co-operative, Redcar

I have been harrumphing all the way through because so many of the questions I was going to ask have basically been answered. I was going to ask the panel a very simple question. Do you think it is possible to measure child poverty and life chances, without taking financial income into account? I think we have heard a very emphatic “No”, “No”, and “No”, although I am not sure about Dr Callan. I was really shocked to hear you say in your introductory comments that financial income is a symptom, but that families and things such as addiction are drivers of poverty. I find that a very simplistic and narrow view. The rest of the panel said quite emphatically that income is a driver of a lot of the other outcomes that we see in life chances.

Dr Callan: If you look at why people have low earnings, it is not—that is why the living wage is so important, that is why doing more hours is important and people upping their skills, so that they can earn more is important, rather than just, “The Government’s going to sort it all out.” That is what I am trying to get at. We do not want to take all agency out of the hands of people and say, “Whatever you do, don’t worry. We’ll look after you; we’ll top you up.”

We should not be subsiding firms. Firms should be paying enough so that people can work their way out of poverty. Just now people have told me that it is laughable to talk about working your way out of poverty. I agree when wages are so low. That is why we need a whole package of things, but not necessarily setting targets around income levels, for all the reasons I have said.

Matt Padley: But if the living wage, for instance, is a way out of poverty, then surely it is important to measure those who have low incomes. Without a low-income measure, knowing who is above or below the living wage—

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

This is not a debate among the panel. Thank you for that. Professor Gordon and then Alison.

Professor Gordon: We have just completed the largest and most comprehensive study of poverty that has ever occurred in the UK.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Who is “we” in this context?

Professor Gordon: The University of Bristol and a consortium of eight other universities: about 120 academics were involved, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. We looked at employment in terms of stress, control, physical conditions, security and satisfaction. We looked at the bottom 20%, the worst conditions of employment, and we found that there were very high rates of child poverty, that the health and wellbeing of children and adults where parents worked in those conditions was no better than for the unemployed.

Although it is often argued that it is a stepping stone to better employment if you go into one of these bad low-paid jobs with bad conditions, about a third of people in those jobs have been stuck there with no prospect of improvement. So it is not just about low pay in those jobs; it is also about regulation to ensure that the physical working environment is safe and that people have some control and flexibility over their jobs, and to ensure that they have some kind of security in those jobs. Those bad working conditions harm the children, as well as the adults, in those households.

Alison Garnham: I just wanted to point out briefly, in answer to what Samantha was saying, that when child poverty was falling, it was not just about raising people’s incomes. Tax credits and child benefit were important, but there were also other things going on. There was the first childcare strategy, there was welfare to work and there was a big increase in lone parent employment. In fact, the increase in lone parent employment from 45% to 57% accounts for a third of the falls in child poverty between 1998 and 2010. All of things that Samantha is talking about are still all of the things that you need to do. It is not just about improving income, but they then have an impact on the poverty figures, and that is what we are looking for.

Q 176

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Conservative, Louth and Horncastle

I want to look specifically at the troubled families programme, which is helping to tackle deep-rooted problems in families. What effect is that programme having on child poverty? That question is for all the panel.

Professor Gordon: The troubled families idea came out of some work that was done for the Cabinet Office on multiple social exclusion by ourselves at Bristol, York, the National Centre for Social Research and the Cabinet Office itself. It looked at some families that had multiple difficulties—five or more problems. They were about 2%, on a guesstimate, although there is quite a lot of uncertainty and we had data only for England. It only looks at people who have multiple problems, of which poverty may or may not have been one of those problems. It can only have quite a small effect on poverty overall. Although, for those families, high quality social work, and combined and improving services are obviously very good things, it will not affect child poverty overall.

Q 177

Professor Gordon: For a small number of children.

Dr Callan: I was in the Isle of Wight recently, looking at the family hubs that I mentioned a bit earlier. They are putting their troubled families programme very much at the heart of how they are helping families right across the Isle of Wight. It does not mean that they are treating all the families as troubled families. The fairly narrow criteria have been broadened. It is enabling that transformation and reorganisation of services, so that you do not have families with multiple problems having multiple professionals trying to help them and further complicating things.

In terms of how the programme is affecting children growing up in poor life circumstances, if it is driving more effective local government working and ensuring that far more people are getting family support than they were, it can be a really a good thing, for all the reasons that I have said. It is about getting underneath the life chances—things such as why children are not going to school, why the parents are not getting into work and so on. Health is also hugely important—the mental health and addiction issues that many families face.

Q 178

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Conservative, Louth and Horncastle

Just touching on that—I know that Anna raised this as well, and this is a very specific example—if a parent has an addiction of some sort, it can mean that the family income, sadly, is being spent to support that addiction, rather than to help the child grow up and so on. My broader question to the panel is that we have heard a lot about income, but is it not just as vital to focus on how that income is spent, as Alison said, on fresh fruit and vegetables and so on, rather than—I think you gave this example—on tobacco and alcohol?

Dr Callan: That is really important. CSJ works with several hundred organisations that are working in the community to help tackle these root causes. I have gone and visited a lot. I have talked to a lot of people who have used the services they offer. One thing that people say is, “I feel so bad about how my addiction is affecting my kids that when I get a dollop of cash I just want to treat them.” It is so understandable; it is kind of spending out of guilt. They may be buying them fantastic food, but—I am not saying this is everybody—there is a sense of “If I have money, I will buy them expensive luxuries because I had to make up for the fact that I haven’t been emotionally available as a parent.” You may think that is just an anecdote, but if it is happening in lots of families where there are addictions—that is what we are hearing from people working at the grassroots level—we have to pay attention because there may be money going to that family, but it is not, as you say, necessarily improving the future life chances for the children.

Professor Gordon: Alcohol and drug dependency are devastating for families and obviously a key issue in child protection services, but it has to be remembered that the overwhelming majority of families where someone has an alcohol dependency or even a drug dependency are not poor. They have higher incomes—sometimes very high incomes. It is a very important issue for child wellbeing and life chances, but tackling that will not necessarily reduce child poverty. There are very few households in which alcohol and drug dependency is causing child poverty.

Alison Garnham: I agree with that. Alcohol and drug dependency are not a good indicator of poverty. Troubled families is allowing and funding a lot of local authorities  to do a lot of admirable work with very disadvantaged families. Part of the problem is tracking it. We do not actually have much evidence yet about how it is doing, partly because the schemes are different in different areas, so the data is not comparable. It will be a while before we are able to tell what impact it has actually had.

Q 179

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Conservative, Louth and Horncastle

Drawing on that, the other indicator the legislation allows for focuses on children’s attainment at key stage 4. How important is that key stage to helping us to understand a child’s life chances?

Professor Gordon: The indicator will be only for England; it will not be for the whole of the UK. Also, I would have thought that was an indicator that the Education Minister should report rather than the DWP Minister. It will also change, because the grading system will change, so it will be reported and then the next set of reports will not be comparable with the previous set, so you will not know whether things have got worse or better for either of the two indicators suggested. So although it is important, it has not been very well thought through as an indicator, because it will not mean anything for at least a few years. There is also no target attached, as there is in Wales, for example.

Q 180

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Conservative, Louth and Horncastle

You have been talking about income a lot, and the point I am trying to make is that there is an holistic approach in this Bill and the Finance Bill. We have discussed the national living wage, the higher personal allowance in tax, free childcare and so on, which are factors against which the Government will be judged on child poverty and how the low-paid are faring generally. Do you accept that these factors in the Bill are part of a general package?

Professor Gordon: The indicator will not be meaningful. It will be only for England and it will not be comparable. Because of the grading changes from A to E to 1 to 9 and because the boundaries are changing, you will not know whether it has got better or worse.

Dr Callan: I think we absolutely have to look at educational attainment. Children doing well, perhaps against all the odds, boosts their self-esteem. A really quick point: if we are saying that we are not interested in the kids of people who have addictions or high incomes, actually that high income can be drained away completely almost overnight by addictions. That is exactly the reason why we need to look at the lives of all children across our country rather than just the ones that seem to be under those financial circumstances.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

A quick response from the next two panel members.

Alison Garnham: Everybody wants a multidimensional approach to child poverty. Everybody wants to look at housing, health, education. All of these things are relevant factors and they should all be tracked, but you will not know whether you have made any progress unless you have got some indicators that show if that has improved the family’s circumstances.

Matt Padley: Many of the things you are talking about may indeed have an impact on child poverty levels and may have an impact on income. Generally, what we have all been saying is that you need something that is multidimensional, not something that just measures income.

Q 181

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Fair Work and Employment)

Just a brief question. Alison, you touched on OECD targets. I am concerned more fundamentally that we will not be able to measure impact, but from an international perspective, will how we report our poverty levels damage the world’s view of us? Will the international bodies still be able to measure us as they do at the moment, given that we will not report in the same way?

Alison Garnham: Well, they will have to continue to do it, because of course the data still exists and the Government will continue to produce it, so they will still be able to make those comparisons.

Q 182

Alison Garnham: Not as long as we continue to conduct the family resources survey and get data from that. That should not be a problem.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Professor Gordon, are those figures going to be skewed? We need to know.

Professor Gordon: As I said, the UK has been a world leader and the OECD and European Union have adopted our measures. So, if we abandon our measures, there is a danger that we become an international laughing stock. They will still report those measures if the HBAI—households below average income—is still collected and reported. I suspect it will be, because, as we are a part of the European Union at the moment, it is a requirement to report. So, at least for the time being, it will be reported. If it stops being reported, Britain will go from being a leader in the world to being—

Q 183

Photo of Corri Wilson Corri Wilson Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Much of the proposed legislation is born out of the assumption that those on benefits face the same choices as those in work. Does the panel agree?

Matt Padley: No. There is lots of evidence to suggest that people living on benefits, or with very low incomes, have very restricted choices across the board. Some of the language in the Bill does nothing to encourage integration across society; a lot of it is divisive.

Alison Garnham: I did not quite understand the question. What is the thing you think will be affected?

Q 184

Photo of Corri Wilson Corri Wilson Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Much of the proposed legislation is based on an assumption that people in work and people out of work are able to make the same choices.

Alison Garnham: Right. So you are thinking in terms of cutting different benefits? Is that what you are thinking?

Q 185

Photo of Corri Wilson Corri Wilson Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Is somebody who is out of work and relying on benefits able to make the same choices as someone who is in work and who has all the trimmings of being in work?

Alison Garnham: There are big differences between people in work and people out of work in terms of the choices they can make; that is absolutely evident. We know that children living in poverty, including those in working families—part of the problem we are talking about today is that two thirds of poor children live in working families—face constraints on what their families are able to afford. Children are not able to take gifts to birthday parties, they do not have adequate clothing and so on. That affects all low-income families.

Dr Callan: My understanding is that what the Bill is trying to achieve is to equivalise the choices—not to say, “You already have them,” but to say, “We need to make the benefit system work in such a way that you have the same choices around things like the numbers of children you have and being able to afford the number of children you have.” So I read it in a slightly different way.

In terms of us leading the world, our UNICEF reports on child wellbeing, very sadly, do not tell a good story about how well Britain has been doing, despite having leading child poverty indicators. I think we need to be very realistic about how our children are faring.

Professor Gordon: People do not choose to go on to benefits. The DWP’s own research shows that. They go on to benefits because they have little or no choice. Most people—the overwhelming majority—would choose not to be on benefits if they were able to get off them. So the idea that people on benefits have the same choices as people in work is just not supported by any evidence.

Q 186

Photo of Corri Wilson Corri Wilson Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

Following on from that, Dr Callan, you talked about helping and supporting people to get off benefits. Surely that works only when there are decent work opportunities out there, and not things like zero-hours contracts. Does the cap on child tax credit not cause a bigger disconnect, making it even harder to get off benefits?

Dr Callan: There are more jobs out there than people realise, often not at the skill level they currently have. We have a massive skill shortage in this country. You are absolutely right: people have been stuck in very poor jobs, very poor working conditions. If the Government is doing what it said it would, and helping people at every stage to go through the income levels and to up their skills, and there is a culture that says, “That’s what’s expected,” that is where we will begin to see similar choices. A lot of people in work—certain professional people—think, “I want to improve myself.” Well, everybody in this country wants to improve themselves, and that is why we need to create a benefits culture to encourage, rather than dampen, people’s feeling that they can change their life circumstances.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

We have 12 minutes left for this session, colleagues. Three colleagues wish to ask questions, so can I ask, please, for brief questions and brief answers? I will call Peter Heaton-Jones, followed by Neil Coyle, followed by Emily Thornberry, who will ask the final questions.

Q 187

Photo of Peter Heaton-Jones Peter Heaton-Jones Conservative, North Devon

I will be very brief. I seek just one point of clarification from Professor Gordon. In your opening answer, you made a reference I want to clarify. You said certain measures in the Bill had previously been proposed in 2007, I think—

Professor Gordon: Between 1999 and 2007, under the last Labour Government.

Q 188

Photo of Peter Heaton-Jones Peter Heaton-Jones Conservative, North Devon

And what were the measures that that Government proposed?

Professor Gordon: They were part of the opportunities rule, which had a whole suite of measures of child wellbeing. There were effectively identical to the measures proposed in the Bill.

Q 189

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Alison, you mentioned your disappointment at the abandonment of the consensus on tackling child poverty. What does the panel think is behind the Government’s poverty of ambition on measuring in-work poverty? Is it about the costs of measuring, or is it about a lack of faith in the living wage to tackle in-work poverty? Is it perhaps that the impact of changes to tax credits or other benefits will undermine the national living wage? In the context of the discussion about tackling the symptoms and the cause, what are the costs of getting this measurement wrong?

Matt Padley: We have already heard that the estimated cost to the country of child poverty is between £25 billion and £29 billion a year. If you are not tackling and addressing child poverty, there is a significant cost to the country. There are also costs to those children who grow up in households without access to lots of the things that the rest of society see as providing a minimum standard of living, so there are individual costs as well as national costs. Is there a poverty of ambition? Given the broader economic context and, as I said earlier, the perverse results you get from a relative income measure, it has become easier over the past few years to dismiss that measure as not telling you anything particularly useful. However, I think that in combination with all the other measures that are currently in the Child Poverty Act 2010, it does tell us something useful and it does enable us to track low income. We know that money matters.

Professor Gordon: On the subject of costs, I emphasise that we know from good evidence that growing up in poverty has long-term health consequences in terms of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, which are then expensive to treat. Poor children tend to have worse educational outcomes and get worse jobs, and therefore pay less tax. So the economic costs of child poverty are quite high, particularly in the long term. Getting it wrong means that you have a worse society and less money to spend.

Alison Garnham: I agree with that. It leads to a health divide. Children who are far behind are more likely to have lifelong limiting illnesses, to die younger or even to die on the road, to be nine months behind in education and to have low self-esteem. In terms of poverty of ambition, one of the problems is that many of the current policies fall most heavily on low-income working families. For example, 60% of the cuts to benefits and tax credits have affected low-income working families. So that is definitely something that needs to be tracked to see what its impact is.

Rather than get rid of the targets, another approach would have been to say, “Well, let’s lengthen the target. We have gone through a recession and it has been particularly difficult to reach the target, so let’s lengthen the period of time that we have to actually achieve it”. As David said earlier, child poverty is very expensive. Donald Hirsch modelled this for us. The impact of high child poverty in terms of the cost of services and the cost of benefits is now about £29 billion. If child poverty rises by nearly another million, as predicted, that cost rises to about £35 billion a year.

Dr Callan: I am not convinced that there was a great political consensus about this issue before 2010. In the debates on the Child Poverty Bill, serious people—  Lord Freud in the House of Lords and Andrew Selous in the Commons—raised issues such as the £170 billion that we poured into tax credits over a six-year period.

Q 190

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

So what was the parliamentary vote? There might have been individual voices, but what was the parliamentary vote?

Dr Callan: It was very difficult. There was no developed alternative strategy, and I think that there is now a life-chance strategy.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

A quick question from Mr Hinds, and then we will move to Emily Thornberry.

Q 191

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Exchequer Secretary

All the panel have talked about low income as a driver of poverty, and that is for obvious reasons. It is almost a truism. First, could you confirm whether it is your understanding that those measures of income will of course still be measured? Secondly and more importantly, when trying to tackle child poverty, should the Government have not just a target but a relentless focus on maximising employment, supporting parents as they increase their hours, particularly through childcare, and making a very significant increase in the legal minimum that people can be paid, ultimately tied perhaps to 40% below median income?

Professor Gordon: The Minister has said that they will still publish the HBAI, and that the Family Resources Survey on which it is based will still go ahead. I do not know whether that will change in the future. Alternative survey data that the UK has to collect as part of the national accounts on expenditure and income have been used in the past. So you will be able to cobble together something, even if the Minister changes his mind about the HBAI, but the UK would become an international joke if it stopped measuring income and low income.

Q 192

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Exchequer Secretary

And what else should the Government be doing?

Dr Callan: We have to hit this in every way, not just education and worklessness, terribly important though they are. I have already mentioned addressing family breakdown, addiction, serious personal debt, mental health and poor housing— anything that is driving children’s poor life chances. So, more.

Alison Garnham: It is a no-brainer. As you said, it is a no-brainer; we need to look at low income, because that is everyone’s common understanding of what poverty is. It is also a no-brainer that we need to look at maximising employment, supporting parents and so on. We used to have to write strategies, and that is what we will lose with the Child Poverty Act—

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

I am sorry. You’re nodding, you’re happy, I have to conclude this in five minutes’ time under Standing Orders and I must give Emily Thornberry the last couple of questions.

Q 193

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury

I only have one question. In my opinion, we cannot have the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group and others in front of us on such major changes to the welfare Bill without asking not only about measuring child poverty but about whether the Bill will increase child poverty. If it  does increase child poverty, how will we know and how will we hold the Government to account if they stop measuring it?

Professor Gordon: Since two thirds of children who are poor are in working families, and a lot of those families are dependent on child tax credits, if there is a large cut to that and other tax credits, other things being equal it will inevitably increase child poverty. I do not think that there is the slightest doubt about that.

Dr Callan: If we are talking about “ambition”—someone mentioned it earlier, but I think they have walked out—if we have an ambition to do all that we can to tackle the root causes of poverty, my hope is that the Bill would lay the foundations for reducing the number of children growing up in poor circumstances, which includes low income.

Alison Garnham: The Institute for Fiscal Studies has projected what existing policies will mean for child poverty. It projected that child poverty would rise by 700,000 by 2020. That did not take into account the recent announcements, so obviously that is an underestimate, and there will be more. We do not know the extent yet, but we know that some of the proposals modelled by the IFS would increase child poverty by 300,000, for example. So we are looking at something over 1 million.

Matt Padley: As David has said, there is little doubt that much in the Bill will increase child poverty. Going back to the importance of measuring it, it is really important that we know what is happening, so that we can hold the Government to account and ensure that we do not have such a high proportion of children growing up in income poverty, which has damaging consequences on their lives.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Thank you very much indeed. I am so sorry, we could have gone on longer; it has been a fascinating session. Thank you for your helpful expertise. Professor Gordon, Dr Callan, Alison Garnham and Matt Padley, thank you so much for coming and being with us this morning.