Strengthening Families — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:07 pm on 8th February 2018.

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Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 3:07 pm, 8th February 2018

I understand the focus on family life, but it is acceptable to look at the effect of policing cuts. When constituents are going to their MP and pleading for support, saying they do not feel safe, we have a duty to reflect that. It is important.

The Labour Government took hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty, but research published late last year by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that the number of people living in poverty will soar to a record 5.2 million over the next five years because the Government’s social security cuts are biting deepest on households with young families. As the IFS said, the benefit freeze, the introduction of universal credit, and cuts to tax credits will mean a surge in child poverty, and the steepest increases will be in the most deprived parts of the country. That will have an impact on family cohesion and relationships.

Universal credit was introduced to smooth the transition into work and lift people out of poverty, but since 2010 work allowances and the taper rate have been cut. Today the Work and Pensions Committee report on universal credit has highlighted the Government’s inability to provide evidence that universal credit will enable more people to find work. I am talking about the full range of people: not just single unemployed people, but disabled people, single parents, carers and the self-employed, who are now claiming universal credit as the full service is rolled out. Ministers continually refer to statistics that cover only single unemployed claimants with no children; that is a strange focus if the Government are committed to supporting families.

It is important to consider the impact of the cuts to work allowances, because so many people on low incomes are in insecure work. Low pay and zero-hours contracts have an impact on the family life of hundreds of thousands of people. They make life extremely difficult for parents who have to pick up children from school or childcare, or arrange childcare in the first place. It is difficult to do that if someone is on a zero-hours contract. It is easy to highlight the importance of active fatherhood in a child’s life, as the manifesto does, but research by the TUC, published last summer, showed clearly that some employers seek to prevent fathers and mothers from taking time off for family emergencies.

I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Congleton claim that family breakdown is the biggest social problem affecting the nation today. I would suggest that there are a number of contenders for that. My personal view is that the Government’s privatisation of the national health service will lead to the biggest social crisis in this country within memory. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may groan or laugh, but that is the case. There is so much evidence. I wish that they would look at what is happening in their constituencies, to verify it. The Government are also failing to tackle the housing crisis. Young people in their 20s and 30s are reluctant to start their own families, because they cannot find anywhere to live, and still live with their parents. In addition there is the Government’s failure to tackle the scourge of low pay and insecure work.

To conclude, there have been some sensible suggestions in the debate, which I welcome, but there is a danger, in focusing on couple relationships, of ignoring the reality that there are many different types of family—and Government policy must reflect that.