Clause 5 - Social Mobility Commission

Welfare Reform and Work Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 12:15 pm, 17th September 2015

I beg to move amendment 7, in clause 5, page 5, leave out lines 16 to 27 and insert—

“5 Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission: additional functions

(1) After Section 8A of the Child Poverty Act 2010 insert—”

To leave the name of the “Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission” unchanged.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 8, in clause 5, page 6, leave out lines 15 and 16.

A consequential amendment to amendment 7 to leave the name of the “Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission” unchanged.

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

Amendments 7 and 8 seek to leave the current name of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission unchanged. We are shocked at the Government’s brass neck in the way that they seek to airbrush child poverty off the statute book and, indeed, to measure and report on it.

The Child Poverty Act 2010, which established the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, was passed with cross-party support. I was not in the House at the time. I was not in the House at the time; I was one of the external campaigners who warmly welcomed that the Conservative party, in particular, was taking such an interest and demonstrating such an understanding of the importance of income poverty.

We were very encouraged from well before 2010 by the speech given by the Prime Minister, then the Leader of the Opposition, in 2006 at his Scarman lecture. He talked of the importance of thinking of poverty in relative terms. He said:

The Conservative party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty.”

Sadly, what we have before the Committee today is an attempt to deny its existence altogether.

We heard in oral evidence from Neera Sharma of Barnardo’s last week how important a signal this will be to the sector, practitioners and the whole country of how the Government disregard the significance of poverty in relation to children’s life chances. It is a deeply  disappointing proposal from the Government. It may seem trivial to argue about a name but it symbolises something much deeper and more concerning.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) 12:30 pm, 17th September 2015

The amendments seek to preserve the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission in its original form by retaining its name and preventing the technical change to the Child Poverty Act 2010. It would retitle the relevant schedule to reflect the commission’s name change.

Clause 5 will reform the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission to become the Social Mobility Commission. As part of the Government’s drive to improve prospects for everyone in the country, the reformed commission will ensure independent scrutiny of the process to improve and promote social mobility. The reforms to the commission will ensure a high level of independent scrutiny of progress towards a society where everyone is able to play their full part and realise their potential, regardless of their background.

The reformed commission will look beyond the Government’s action to the important role that wider civic society plays in improving social mobility. That is crucial if we as a Government are to meet our ambitions and targets of full employment, in creating 2 million more jobs, and improving the future prospects of disadvantaged children.

The commission has already demonstrated its ability to drive forward the social mobility agenda. Its fully argued annual reports and groundbreaking research on themes such as social mobility in London schools, and evaluating the non-educational barriers to the elite professions, have helped inform the debate on how to improve social mobility. Our reforms will free the commission from having to track the Government’s progress on the old, flawed child poverty targets.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

I will not give way.

Our reforms will enable the commission to invest all its resources in galvanising effort and improving social mobility. Ultimately, reforming the commission to focus on social mobility will help to ensure that all children can reach their full potential. I urge the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

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

I have no objection or disagreement with the Minister on the importance of addressing social mobility and looking at the drivers of improved social mobility. She simply must accept that around the world the compelling evidence of the importance of income poverty to all other outcomes is unquestioned. This Government will set their face against both that international evidence and their own understanding in 2010.

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

Under the Bill, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission will be renamed the Social Mobility Commission, with a much narrower remit. It will report on progress made towards improving social mobility in the UK, as well as in England.

The Bill is designed to have a limited impact on the current duties of the devolved Administrations. Scotland will continue to be required to produce a child poverty  strategy under a duty in a UK Act. Clearly, we will no longer be statutorily bound to report on the income targets, as they are being removed.

Removing income as a measure of poverty ignores the fact that low income impacts on children’s development and wellbeing, including their development in education and their cognitive ability, behaviour and anxiety levels. Child poverty rates that had previously fallen at the beginning of the century are now at risk of being reversed. The IFS projection is that absolute poverty will stand at 3.5 million children before housing costs and 4.7 million after by 2020.

Although worklessness and lack of access to employment are key drivers of poverty, there is no recognition of in-work poverty. Therefore, income has also to be included to ensure the other measures are meaningful and that there is a tangible benchmark. How can this or any Government tackle child poverty if they do not even recognise it exists? The child poverty measurement framework recognises the importance of measuring poverty in consultation with stakeholders such as the Child Poverty Action Group, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children. It looked at the wide range of factors that can lead to poverty as well as providing an understanding of the impacts of poverty on children and their families.

In addition, the Scottish Government have an ambitious and robust child poverty strategy and host a ministerial advisory group on child poverty, which includes stakeholders from a variety of sectors. On 23 June 2015, Nicola Sturgeon appointed a new, independent adviser on poverty and inequality to help the Scottish Government’s—

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Order. I am trying to be helpful to the hon. Lady; she is going a bit wide of the amendment. Would she come back to the amendment moved by Kate Green?

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

The Scottish Government will investigate a Scottish approach, building on wide support for the poverty measurement framework. We will support Labour to stop the proposals and ensure that the most vulnerable in society are protected.

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

I believe that we will have the opportunity to return to the matter on clause 6, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

I beg to move amendment 86, in clause 5, page 5, line 23, leave out from “which” to end of line 24 and insert

“section 5 of the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2015 comes into force.”

This amendment brings the date from which the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission is to be called the Social Mobility Commission into line with the commencement of the other changes to the Commission made by clause 5.

The amendment brings the wording of the provision describing the date from which the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission will be called the Social Mobility Commission in line with the commencement date of clause 5—that is, two months after Royal Assent. This is a purely technical amendment, designed to ensure that the wording of the Bill is consistent.

Amendment 86 agreed to.

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

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 5.

Division number 8 Decision Time — Clause 5 - Social Mobility Commission

Aye: 10 MPs

No: 5 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.