Select Committee on Work and Pensions Second Report

1  The Inquiry

1. Although the Committee's predecessor in the previous Parliament had considered undertaking an inquiry into child poverty, it was not until the current Parliament that the timing was deemed to be right. The Government had announced its intention to eradicate child poverty in 20 years, to halve it by 2010 and to reduce it by a quarter by 2004. The first stage in this challenging target would be reached in the current Parliament and if the momentum was to be maintained towards the later, even more demanding, targets, additional money would almost certainly be required. The additional expenditure would need to be agreed in the Spending Review currently being undertaken by the Government. The Committee hopes that its inquiry and this report will influence and assist those discussions as well as informing the House.

2. The Committee agreed its terms of reference as: "to examine the extent of child poverty in the UK and the effectiveness of the Government's strategy to eradicate it". The inquiry was announced on 25 June 2003 and the Press Notice listed the following issues as likely to be included:

  • The measurement of child poverty and the Government's annual poverty report, Opportunity For All.
  • The extent of child poverty in Britain and the causes of it.
  • The impact of child poverty on children and families are specific groups particularly affected?
  • The extent and causes of regional variations in child poverty.
  • The effectiveness of the Government's strategies to reduce child poverty and whether the child poverty targets will be met. Is enough being done across Government and are further initiatives needed?
  • Comparisons between child poverty within the UK and other countries.

3. Following the receipt of written evidence[1], the Committee decided its programme of oral evidence, which was taken at eight sessions of the Committee between 19 November 2003 and 25 February 2004[2]. The Committee took oral evidence from a wide range of witnesses including voluntary organisations, academics, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), organisations representing local authorities, Treasury officials, the Minister for Children and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Minister and officials.

4. In addition to the formal evidence the Committee visited Paris, Copenhagen and Belfast.[3] We have drawn heavily on our experiences during those visits which, although the deliberations are not "on the record", have greatly assisted the Committee in preparing this report and will be referred to throughout. We were conscious, during our visit to Belfast, of the uncertainties of the current political situation during the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly. At times it was difficult to determine who had actual responsibility for the various policies concerning child poverty and their implementation and whether that would change once the Assembly is re-instated. We are grateful to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, which has formal responsibility for scrutiny of the Northern Ireland Executive during suspension, for supporting our inquiry. We were also aware that other Government Departments had responsibility for policy areas which affect child poverty and its eradication. However, since our report is to the House and the eventual reply will be from the Government we have taken the view that it will be for the Government to respond on behalf of all Departments concerned and for agreed recommendations to be implemented by those who have the relevant responsibility.

5. The Committee depends very heavily on the evidence, oral, written and informal, for the successful conduct of its inquiry. As usual we have been pleased by the response to our call for evidence in this inquiry, for the willingness of witnesses to give oral evidence, sometimes at some personal inconvenience, to the Committee and we are grateful to the many people who helped us before and during our visits. We record our thanks to all those who have contributed to the inquiry.

6. We are especially grateful for additional research undertaken on our behalf by Holly Sutherland of the Microsimulation Unit, University of Cambridge, Professor Mike Noble of the Social Disadvantage Research Centre, University of Oxford and Mr Mike Brewer of the IFS. Throughout the inquiry the Committee had the extremely valuable assistance, as Specialist Advisers, of Professor Jonathan Bradshaw of the Social Policy Research Unit, University of York and Professor David Piachaud of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, the London School of Economics. We greatly appreciate and value the contribution made by them to our work.

1   A list of the written evidence is at p107 Back

2   For a list of witnesses see p106 The oral evidence is published as Volume III  Back

3   The notes of the visits are at Annex 3 and Annex 4 respectively Back

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