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Child Poverty in Scotland — [Sir David Crausby in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:46 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Will Quince Will Quince The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 3:46 pm, 30th October 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate Hugh Gaffney on securing this important debate. There is no doubt that he is a passionate campaigner on this issue, and he knows me well enough to know that I share his passion for tackling poverty in all its forms.

The hon. Gentleman said that there are too many children living in poverty. I agree entirely—in my view, one child in poverty is one child too many. It is absolutely a priority for me, as it is for this Government. As he will know, I have not been in this role for very long—and, who knows, in six weeks’ time I may not be a Member of Parliament, let alone a Work and Pensions Minister—but I stress that I have made this a priority from day one in the Department, and I have been looking at all sorts of options that we could take up to tackle child poverty.

Hon. Members across this Chamber will recognise that very few of the figures that cross my desk end with an “m”; they end with a “bn”. They tend to be very expensive measures indeed, requiring a fiscal event, but I hope that hon. Members will rest assured, knowing me as they do, that I have been exploring those options and making submissions to the Treasury accordingly.

A number of issues have been raised, and I am conscious that, as always with these debates, we have very little time to address them in the level of detail and granularity that I would like. However, I stress to colleagues that—subject to my being back here in six weeks’ time—as I have always said, my door is always open and I am happy to discuss these matters with a group or on an individual basis. The hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill raised topics including in-work poverty, universal credit, food insecurity and food banks, housing and temporary accommodation, and homelessness; I will try to address as many of those issues as possible in a very short period of time.

On the question of housing, I kindly ask the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill to make representations elsewhere. Although I have responsibility for the housing benefit budget, which is some £23.5 billion—with regard to his representations to me, he is largely pushing against an open door when he raises the need for more affordable housing and homes for social rent—I encourage him and hon. Members across the House to make such representations to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and to the Treasury, because in my view secure and stable housing plays an important part in tackling poverty at its root.

We also heard powerful contributions from the hon. Members for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), whom I have huge respect for and have worked with on a number of other issues. I take their representations very seriously indeed. I do not agree with every point that they made—they would be surprised if I did—but I thank them for the constructive nature of their contributions.

As the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill said, we all have the same objective: to tackle child poverty and wider poverty at its root causes. We do not want to see any children in poverty. We have different ideas about the journey and how to get there but, ultimately, we all want the same thing. I am absolutely determined to work as closely as I can with the Scottish Government, working hand in hand where we can and learning from each other about the different measures that we try, to ensure that we have the best approach to truly tackling child poverty. I will talk about that a little bit.

Delivering a sustainable, long-term solution to all forms of poverty remains a priority for me and the Government. Our welfare reforms are driven by our firm conviction that the benefits system must work with the tax system and the labour market to support employment and higher pay, so that everyone has the chance to succeed and to share in the benefits of a strong economy. Supporting employment is also key to ensuring better long-term outcomes for disadvantaged children, because we know that children in working households do better at every stage of their education.

We are proud, as a Government, of the progress that we have made. We now have a near record-breaking labour market, with more than 3.6 million more people in work across the UK compared with 2010. The unemployment rate has more than halved since 2010.