Impact of provisions of the Act on child poverty

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 18th June 2020.

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‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact of the provisions of this Act on child poverty and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must consider the impact on—

(a) households at different levels of income,

(b) the Treasury’s compliance with the public sector equality duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010,

(c) different parts of the United Kingdom and different regions of England, and

(d) levels of relative and absolute child poverty in the United Kingdom.

(3) In this section— ‘parts of the United Kingdom’ means—

(a) England,

(b) Scotland,

(c) Wales, and

(d) Northern Ireland;

and ‘regions of England’ has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.”

This new clause would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of the Bill on child poverty.—(Alison Thewliss.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 23—

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must conduct an assessment of the impact of this Act on poverty and lay this before the House of Commons within six months of Royal Assent.

(2) This assessment must consider—

(a) the impact on absolute poverty;

(b) the impact on relative poverty; and

(c) whether such a study should in future be a regular duty of the Office for Budget Responsibility.”

This new clause would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of the Bill on poverty and consider whether the OBR should conduct such assessments as a regular duty.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

We had the debate on child poverty earlier in this debate, and it is important that the Government are held to account for the measures in the Bill and their impact on child poverty. They affect many of my constituents and, as others have said, it should not take a footballer to tell the Government that their child poverty measures are inadequate. Public sector reporting duties on sustainable development goals and the importance of action to tackle poverty were mentioned earlier, and the Government have an obligation to deal with that. They are failing so many of our constituents all the time when it comes to child poverty, so it is important that we use all the measures that we can possibly can. I appreciate that the measures to amend the Finance Bill are limited by the way in which the Bill is put through the House, but it is incredibly important that the Government are held to account. They could match the Scottish Government’s tackling child poverty delivery plan 2018-22, which has at its heart the Scottish child payment for low-income families for children under six. We are prioritising child poverty in Scotland because we know how important it is for the life chances of every young person in Scotland.

Without the measures to hold the UK Government to account on child poverty, we fail in the measures that we do not have control of in Scotland. The vast majority of the social security budget and measures are controlled from Westminster, as is the vast majority of tax and spend. We will do everything that we can within our power to mitigate that. The UK Government deserve to be held to account for their record, which is in many respects appalling.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

I rise to speak to new clause 23 that I tabled with my hon. Friends and to support new clause 16. I do not want to disrupt the cross-party consensus among Opposition parties on this particular issue, but I will point out that almost one in four—230,000—of Scotland’s children are officially recognised as living in poverty. That figure is from the Child Poverty Action Group, who used Scottish Government data. It observed:

“In the absence of significant policy change, this figure is likely to increase in the coming years, with Scottish Government forecasts indicating that it will reach 38% by 2030/31. Analysis by the Resolution Foundation suggests the Scottish child poverty rate will be 29% by 2023-24—the highest rate in over twenty years.”

Let us hope that the Scottish Government’s child poverty strategy is a success—children are counting on it. Of course, the Scottish Government—here represented by the Scottish National party—are right to point to some of the impacts of UK Government policy on poverty in Scotland, and we would support them in that, but we also urge them to use their powers under the existing devolution settlement, taking responsibility for the fact that significant numbers of children in Scotland live in poverty. That is on the watch of an SNP Government who have been in power for a significant period now. I hope that next years’ Scottish parliamentary elections shake out some of the complacency that we see in Nicola Sturgeon’s Government.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

I disagree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. Also, bodies such as Sheffield Hallam University have pointed to the fact that Scotland mitigated the bedroom tax. Child poverty in Scotland has been mitigated because of such actions—where we can take action, we have taken action—while children in his constituency still have to face the bedroom tax.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

Children in my constituency suffer under a Conservative Government—the hon. Lady will get no disagreement from me on that. Of course, where the Scottish Government take steps to mitigate the impact of Westminster Government decisions, I have no doubt at all that they will receive cross-party support from my Scottish Labour colleagues, but the point about the Scottish Government accepting responsibility for what happens to people in Scotland has to be a feature of the debate. One of the reasons why I admire Nicola Sturgeon as a politician and political leader is the skilful way in which she always manages so eloquently to pass the buck down to London.

Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Financial Secretary)

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that that money, rather than having to be spent by the Scottish Government to mitigate the actions of the Conservatives, would be better spent on addressing some of his concerns? Is that not the way a Parliament should function? It should not be for a Scottish Parliament or Government to mitigate these things.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

I am grateful for that intervention because, having had our knockabout between the Labour party and the SNP, we can now unite in common cause against this terrible Tory Government in Westminster.

Turning briefly to the facts, we know that wealth and income inequalities in the UK are stark: the richest 10% of households own 45% of the nation’s wealth, while the poorest 50% own less than 10%. The average FTSE 100 chief executive is paid 145 times more than the average worker, and Britain’s top 1% have seen their share of household income triple in the past four years, while ordinary people have struggled. Over the past decade, when Governments have been led by the Conservatives, we have seen the slowest growth in living standards since the second world war.

Shockingly, hard work does not necessarily guarantee even a basic standard of living. Wages have failed to keep up with living costs, and 14 million people live on incomes below the poverty line, including 4 million children. It should never be the case that where people are going out to work, doing the right thing and earning money for themselves and their families, they should still find themselves living in conditions of poverty, and yet that is the situation we find in our country today.

Inequality and the poverty it creates have led to an increasing number of what economist Sir Angus Deaton called “Deaths of Despair”, caused by drug and alcohol abuse due to financial hardship and hopelessness. The rate of such deaths among men has more than doubled since the early 1990s, so the human consequences of economic inequality are clear in Government statistics. People are dying needlessly as a result of the inequality that blights our nation.

Earlier this week, I was struck by the exchange at Prime Minister’s Question Time between my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the man who tries to the give the impression that he is our Prime Minister. Extraordinarily, the Prime Minister did not seem to recognise the description offered to him of child poverty in our country. I do not expect the Prime Minister of the country to have instant recall of every piece of data held by his Government, but on something as fundamental as the number of children living in poverty—or the trends of those numbers, at least—I would have expected that the Prime Minister might have some understanding of what is going on.

When my right hon. and learned Friend described poverty in Britain, he was not talking about forecasts or future expectations of growth in child poverty; he was talking about the situation today, and he was citing the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission. On page 17 of its June 2020 report “Monitoring social mobility 2013 to 2020: Is the government delivering on our recommendations?”— a question that lends itself to quoting the title of John Rentoul’s book, “Questions to which the answer is ‘No!”—it says very clearly:

“In the UK today, 8.4 million working age adults live in relative poverty; an increase of 500,000 since 2011/12. Things are no better for children. Whilst relative child poverty rates have remained stable over recent years, there are now 4.2 million children living in poverty—600,000 more than in 2011/12. Child poverty rates are projected to increase to 5.2 million by 2022. This anticipated rise is not driven by forces beyond our control”.

That is the significant point: this is not about population changes or even, until very recently, the conditions in the economy, but is a direct result of Government policy. The commission notes on page 8 of the report:

“There is now mounting evidence that welfare changes over the past ten years have put many more children into poverty.”

Of the many great achievements of the last Labour Government, the thing I am most proud of is the number of children they lifted out of poverty. That was the result of a deliberate political choice—of public policy pulling in the right direction—and it is a stain on the conscience and character of this Government that their own Social Mobility Commission says:

“There is now mounting evidence that welfare changes over the past ten years have put many more children into poverty.”

On the same page, the commission says:

“Too often also there is little transparency concerning the impact spending decisions have on poverty. The Treasury has made some efforts in this direction, but has so far declined to give the Office for Budget Responsibility…a proper role to monitor this. There should be more independent scrutiny to help ensure policy interventions across Whitehall genuinely support the most disadvantaged groups.”

Because of the limitations on what we are able to do to amend the Finance Bill, new clause 23 does not go so far as to give the OBR formal responsibility for measuring the impact of fiscal events and policies on poverty and child poverty across the board, but at least it makes a start by asking the OBR to look at the impact of the Finance Bill. Regrettably, that is wholly necessary. When the Government’s own independent Social Mobility Commission point to the need for this, Government Members should take that seriously. When their own Prime Minister does not seem to have a clue about what is going on in terms of child poverty, it might be good to produce at least a fresh and independent set of numbers to wake him up.

Just in case Government Members are not alive to the challenges of child poverty in our country, let us look at the latest statistics from HMRC and DWP, via Stat-Xplore. In Saffron Walden, the number of children aged from zero to 15 who are in poverty is 2,261, which means the child poverty rate is 10%; in West Worcestershire, the figure is 2,176, which means a child poverty rate of 14%; in South Cambridgeshire, the figure is 2,051, which means a child poverty rate of 9%; in Kensington, the figure is 1,731, which means a child poverty rate of 9%—those children are not going to Harrods. In Penistone and Stocksbridge, 2,010 children live in poverty, which means a child poverty rate of 13%. In Harrogate and Knaresborough, 1,699 children live in poverty, which means a child poverty rate of 9%.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Could the hon. Gentleman tell the Committee what the rate is in Ilford, North?

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

The Minister asks a very good question; I do not have instant recall of that—[Laughter.] I will hold my hands up and say that he has got me there. However, I will tell him that in Aberconwy, the figure is 1,469, which means a child poverty rate of 16%. In Hereford and South Herefordshire, the figure is 3,054, which means a child poverty rate of 17%. In Macclesfield, it is 1,749, which means a child poverty rate of 11%. And in Montgomeryshire, it is 2,046, which means a child poverty rate of 20%.

I do not really need persuading of the need to act on child poverty in my constituency. It has been a campaigning issue that I have taken up since I was first elected to this House. However, it is a deep source of regret that, even when the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission highlights the impact of Government policies on child poverty, the Government still refuse to act.

I hope that, rather than dismissing it outright, Ministers will not only consider looking at the impact of the Bill on poverty in their constituencies, but take seriously and review again the recommendation made by the Social Mobility Commission for the remit of the Office for Budget Responsibility to be extended. That will concentrate minds across Government in the right way and ensure that we make child poverty, in particular, history.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 4:15 pm, 18th June 2020

I thank Opposition Members for their comments. This Government will always be committed to reducing poverty and child poverty. There is no difference in our view and the Opposition’s view of the importance of these issues: they are very, very important.

The hon. Member for Ilford North has been free with statistics. Let me give him a couple that he might find of interest regarding households with a below average income. The Department for Work and Pensions has shown that 200,000 fewer people were living in absolute poverty in 2018-19 than in 2009-10, including 100,000 children. The record also shows that Government policies continue to be highly redistributive. Distribution analysis of the most recent Budget shows that the poorest 60% of households receive more in public spending than they contribute in tax. In 2021, households in the lowest income decile will receive more than £4 in public spending for every £1 that they pay in tax, on average.

No one thinks that the present situation is such that a Government of any stamp could rest easy. We need to continue to press for lower poverty and greater equality in our society. That is an important theme for this Government. I remind the Committee that, in the past few months, the Government have been focusing on supporting lower income families through the pandemic outbreak—through the schemes that we have discussed and through increases to universal credit and working tax credit. Much of the information that the new clauses ask for is already in the public domain, including with regard to the distributional effects of tax, welfare and spending policy, and data on poverty rates, as the hon. Member for Ilford North highlighted.

I hope that the Committee enjoyed, as I did—how sharper than a serpent’s tooth—the moment when the hon. Member for Ilford North turned on his erstwhile partner and highlighted some of the weaknesses in the Scottish National party Government’s own activity. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central said that the Scottish Government will do everything they can to take action in this area. They now have a significant amount of devolved power, through the tax system and other means, and we will look at what impact they make on the issue. How they exercise that responsibility will be a very interesting matter for further scrutiny.

Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Financial Secretary)

The Scottish Government announced a £10 per week child benefit supplement for the poorest families in Scotland, which is expected to lift 30,000 children out of poverty by 2023-2024. Will the Minister’s Government do the same?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

We will look at the effects of that and at whether it will be adequate to meet the challenge the Scottish Government have laid down for themselves.

We have now reached the end of this process. I have found it very exciting, and I thank all colleagues for the work that they have done. With that in mind, I reject the new clauses.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 13 Finance Bill — Impact of provisions of the Act on child poverty

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

On a point of order, Mr Rosindell. On behalf of the Exchequer Secretary and myself, I thank you and your co-Chair, the excellent folks at Hansard, our Whips, our Parliamentary Private Secretaries and the officials who have supported us throughout the Committee. Of course, they wrote this note, so I hope they will be aware of the generous terms in which I single out, in particular, Edward Ferguson and Charlie Grainger; our Bill team at the Treasury, consisting of Kate O’Donoghue, the Bill manager, as well as Helena Forrest, Nye Williams-Renouf and Samuel Fenn; and a host of other people. The Opposition do not have access to the same level of resources; it would be astonishing if they could replicate the expertise to which we have access, and I am profoundly grateful for that expertise.

I thank all the members of Committees, on both sides of the Chamber, for making this such an energised and productive Committee, especially considering the great difficulties under which it has had to operate.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Further to that point of order, Mr Rosindell. I would also like to put on record my thanks to you and Ms McDonagh for being so fair and generous in allowing us to speak at some length about our concerns on the Finance Bill. You were exceptionally generous—at times, and arguably today, a little too generous—when it came to some of the wider conversations we had around interesting and irrelevant matters around Scottish separatism. Doubtless we will return to that at a later stage.

I put on record our thanks to the Clerks for all the help that they have offered us, particularly around amendments and the order of proceedings—their expertise at this time is particularly appreciated by us—and to the Hansard reporters.

This is the first opportunity I have had to lead on the Finance Bill in Committee. It has been made much easier thanks to the wonderful support of Members on the Opposition side, not least our wonderful Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington.

I thank all members of the Committee for their contributions. I am sure the Financial Secretary has enjoyed talking to more technical aspects of the Bill, although he did particularly relish opportunities to elucidate on Adam Smith and Edmund Burke, and on the transcendental nature of what might be regarded as temporary, or otherwise, when pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham.

I also thank those individuals and stakeholders who have been very generous in providing advice and information to the Opposition, and, of course, the House of Commons Library, whose staff are, as ever, very prompt and professional in their response to all research requests.

Although this is a small Finance Bill, compared with some recent efforts, I thank my staff and those in the office of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North for their dedication and hard work, and for allowing us to hold the Government to account. We have had a wide-ranging debate, and I look forward to returning to some of these issues on Report.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Further to that point of order, Mr Rosindell. I echo others in thanking you and Ms McDonagh for your excellent chairing; the Clerks for all they have done to keep things moving smoothly; my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South for signing up to come and do the Finance Bill with me, which was much appreciated; and our small research team, Scott Taylor and Jonathan Kiehlmann, who have worked incredibly hard to bring a range of amendments and new clauses to the Committee, and who have had even more pressure than the other parties and the Government have had. I am incredibly grateful to them.

Finally, on independence, as long as we are here in this House—hopefully it will not be too much longer—we will press our cause if we can. I am sure all hon. Members will miss us once we have independence.

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

Does the hon. Member for Glasgow Central wish to move any of her remaining clauses?

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

Does the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South wish to move new clause 23?