New bill commits to eradication of child poverty by 2020

July 21, 2009 at 4:49 pm 1 comment

Yvette Cooper introduced legislation in the Commons yesterday that puts the government’s commitment to end child poverty by 2020 on a statutory basis.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions told MPs:

“I believe it is one of the most radical Bill we have debated in this Parliament.

“It sets out a vision of a fairer society that is bold and ambitious—a vision of equality and opportunity for our children that goes further than any other European country currently achieves.

“It entrenches that vision in our legislation for the long term.

“We know that no law alone can end child poverty, but the Bill will help to hold the Government’s feet to the flames in pursuit of a fairer Britain.

“It will demand of Governments, now and in the future, determined action to cut child poverty and to stop children being left behind.

“Those are bold ambitions, but they are the right ambitions.

“The Bill does more than simply set out targets; it embeds a set of values in our primary legislation.

“For a start, it is the chance for Parliament to make it clear that children in the 21st century should not grow up suffering deprivation, and that they should not grow up lacking the necessities that most of us take for granted, and which allow them to participate fully in society—things such as keeping the house warm, being able to go on a week’s holiday or being able to afford a bike to get out and about with friends.

“We are setting a clear target to cut the number of children growing up in low-income and material deprivation.”

The Child Poverty Bill would provide a statutory basis to the commitment made by the Government in 1999 to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

It aims to define success in eradicating child poverty and create a framework to monitor progress at a national and local level.

It places a duty on the Secretary of State to meet four United Kingdom-wide income poverty targets by the end of the financial year 2020 and publish a child poverty strategy evaluating progress towards the four income targets and setting out future action.

The strategy, which is to be revised every three years, may make reference to measures that the devolved administrations propose to take to tackle child poverty.

“The number of children in absolute poverty has halved since 1997 and the number in relative poverty has dropped by 500,000,” Ms Cooper told MPs.

“We expect the measures that were recently introduced, including increases in the child tax credit, to lift a further 500,000 out of relative poverty.

“More than 600,000 more lone parents are in work, while the minimum wage has helped to tackle poverty pay.

“Some 3,000 Sure Start children’s centres are helping 2.4 million young children and their families, while £20 billion of support for families is being provided through the tax credit system—measure after measure sadly opposed by the Conservatives.

“Yet if we had not done that—if we had followed the Conservative approach and simply uprated the tax and benefit system by inflation each year since 1997—2.1 million more children would be in poverty today.”

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Theresa May said eradicating child poverty “is an ambitious but important aspiration for any Government of this country.”

“Not only is it an economic imperative, as no advanced economy can afford to waste the potential of so many of its citizens; more importantly it is a moral imperative, as no decent society should allow children to grow up in poverty,” she said.

“Let us be clear that poverty exists in 21st century Britain, and for some communities it is the norm and not the exception.

“That situation is shameful and destructive. Some 10 years ago, the Government made a commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020.

“We can disagree about the approach that has been taken and the lack of progress that has been made, but we should all recognise the importance of setting out that ambition.”

Ms May said child poverty is rising.

“Since 2004-05, it has risen by 400,000 after housing costs, meaning that there are 4 million children still living in poverty in the UK,” she told MPs.

“The number of children falling below thresholds of low income and material deprivation rose by 200,000 in the last year for which figures are available.

“In fact, incomes for the poorest 20 per cent. of families fell in the past year, and have fallen in every year since 2004. All that means that across a range of indicators, income inequality is rising.”

She said the Bill “represents one of the last acts of a tired Government.

“It ties a future Government to the targets that the current Government have failed to achieve.

“The Secretary of State may believe that that is clever party politics, but I say to her that such cynical positioning is undignified and belittles the important issues that the Bill should raise.”

Ms May said that improvements in education and encouraging marriage and family life would be more effective.

“I do not believe that simply legislating to end child poverty will make that happen,” she told MPs.

“Reaching for the statute book has been this Government’s modus operandi since they were elected, and we have precious little to show for all the laws and regulations that they have passed.

“Numerous elements must be considered as part of a broad, holistic approach to child poverty—debt, addictions, health care, housing and the criminal justice system—and we will press the Government on those issues during the remaining stages of the Bill’s passage. It would be a wasted opportunity if they ignored them.”

Labour MP Jamie Reed said he was “dismayed by the hollow and poor understanding, the poor grasp of the facts, and the real lack of compassion displayed by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May).”

He welcomed the bill.

“Each and every one of us in the House should be plagued by the presence of child poverty in our country of wealth and abundance,” he said.

“It should haunt our sleep and terrorise our waking moments, because child poverty is not a choice, and nowhere in the country is it inexorable or unavoidable.

“Child poverty is a consequence of our actions. It is an illustration of our failings, and for members of my party its defeat is a cause worth devoting the rest of our lives to.”

Lib Dem Work and Pensions spokesman Steve Webb said he also welcomed the bill.

“I sometimes tend to be slightly churlish in response to Government Bills, but I unreservedly welcome the fact that this one contains a commitment to tackling child poverty,” he told MPs.

“The needs of children in poverty are complex and the policies for tackling them will be expensive; for example, complex issues arise for children in families with disabilities or for children living in care.

“My understanding is that children in care do not count in the figures because they do not live in households, and surveys are based on households I have no idea what the number of children in care is, although I ought to know—[Hon. Members: “Sixty thousand.”]

“Although there are 60,000 children living in care, could we declare the problem of child poverty solved because the children are not in the survey?

“Is there some way of grafting them on? I appreciate that mixing and matching is tricky, but it would be an omission if we excluded children living in local authority care.”

Tory MP Gary Streeter argued for more emphasis on marriage.

“If we had a tax system that favoured marriage, or at least did away with the penalty on couples, that could give a wider choice to people who have chosen not to get married, and who could then opt into that system,” he said.

“Although we cannot pass a Bill to create stability, we could nudge people by sending a strong signal that we want to underpin stability for families; that would create the right mood music.

“I want to see much more early intervention in the lives of children who are clearly in difficulty—not only those who are at risk but those who are in danger of growing up under-achieving and in poverty.”

Independent MP Dai Davies said he was concerned that in some respects the statutory sector sees the voluntary sector as a threat.

“The Bill concentrates quite a lot on targets and statistics,” he said.

“I worry about targets and statistics.

“We can make statistics say anything we like. If targets are not realistic, they work as a disincentive to people to achieve; we need targets that can be achieved. That is a problem with the Bill.

“A promise of delivery in terms of ending child poverty is one thing, but just passing a Bill through the House will not achieve that. I am seeing services being cut in my constituency.”

Winding up for the government, Stephen Timms, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said:

“Our vision of a fairer society in which no child is left behind, and every child has the chance to flourish, is one that I hope the whole House will embrace.

” Too many families are still on the edge of coping.

“There should not be, but there are, families who cannot afford to eat properly, keep their home warm or pay for basics such as school uniform or outings, let alone buy presents for birthday parties, as we have heard.

“Children who grow up in poverty lack experiences and opportunities that others take for granted, and the exclusion that results can last for a lifetime. We can change that, and we must.

“The Bill is a key step, and I look forward to the detailed debates after the recess. I commend the Bill to the House.”

MPs and Lords will discuss the legislation in detail when they return from the summer recess in November.



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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Ipswich Unemployed Action  |  July 21, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    It would be hilarious if it didn’t amount to child abuse (which poverty is)!!

    What has happened is, the Government is under extreme pressures as they failed to reach previous targets, therefore they are under pressure to buy time. Yes, it wont get debated until November! It also is a tickbox running up to the General Election.

    Remember, Labour is brining in a £250 million Housing Allowance cut from April next year which will have a SEVERE impact on people, including families… that includes children!!


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