Select Committee on Work and Pensions Second Report

12  Mainstreaming child poverty

265. Much of this inquiry has focussed on the extent to which income poverty targets will be met. To that end we heard evidence from the two Departments most concerned with transfers - the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Treasury. However the Committee recognised from the outset that other central government departments, the devolved administrations and local government all had an important part to play if the target of eradicating child poverty in a generation is to be achieved. We therefore heard oral evidence from the Minister for Children, Young People and Families from the local government associations and visited Northern Ireland to find out how the anti-poverty strategy was being implemented there. We were aware of the Child Poverty Task Group in Wales, which has been established by the Welsh Assembly Government to help it to develop a child poverty strategy in Wales and to undertake an audit of existing Welsh Assembly policies and programmes impacting upon child poverty. We are also aware of the report on Cross-Cutting Expenditure in relation to Children in Poverty produced by the Scottish Parliament Finance Committee which found

  • "significant increases in core local government, health and housing programmes over the period 1999-2002, but at a lower rate than the Scottish Budget as a whole…
  • the total planned increases for these core services is below the Scottish average increase in programme expenditure for the next three years, while some of the targeted programmes will simply stand still…
  • that the Executive has made progress in reducing the level of child poverty, but that a step-change in its approach is needed if the ambitious targets are to be met." [253]

266. The Committee also wrote to government departments asking them what contribution they were making to the child poverty strategy and their responses are outlined in paragraphs 280-287.

Reasons for concern

267. There are three reasons to be concerned with the extent to which the child poverty strategy is mainstreamed.

268. First, the Government has always recognised that, as well as employment and transfers, the strategy involves services. Thus, for example, the Secretary of State in his foreword to the latest Opportunity For All report said:

269. To that end the indicators used to monitor progress in child poverty, in addition to employment and income poverty, cover education, health and housing. The National Action Plan for Social Inclusion also includes a wide range of tertiary indicators and targets based on Public Service Agreements across central government, the devolved administrations and local government.

270. Second, the Committee recognises that while employment and transfer policies are vital to the achievement of specific income poverty goals in the short and intermediate term, the long term part of the strategy depends on the performance of services in preventing future child poverty as well as in mitigating the consequences of material deprivation now.[255]

271. Third, an important part of the strategy is focussed on people in deprived areas. But, while child poverty is heavily concentrated, many poor children do not live in poor neighbourhoods.[256] The only way they are going to be helped is by mainstream services being sensitive to their needs.

272. Thus the idea of mainstreaming raises two questions: is the anti-poverty strategy being mainstreamed within the provision of services? Is the anti-poverty strategy part of the work of mainstream services - in addition to targeted services?

273. We found that the written and oral evidence available to help us answer these questions was much thinner than we really needed. It is significant that in the 2003 Budget the Chancellor announced:

    "for the next Budget and the next Spending Review I have asked for a report on both the public service and welfare reforms we need to reach our goal of a 50% cut in child poverty by 2010 on the road to the abolition of child poverty in a generation".

274. The seminars that resulted from this announcement have been taking place in HM Treasury while this Inquiry was in progress. Budget 2004 reported that emerging themes from the Child Poverty Review included: the importance of providing appropriate, responsive support for children at different stages of their development; the need for additional support for minority ethnic families and families with disabled children; the crucial role played by local authorities and the voluntary and community sectors; and the need for policy to work across traditional boundaries.

275. NSPCC called for a National Strategy on Child Poverty:

    "In order to reduce and eradicate child poverty, covering its responsibility to UK children in all jurisdictions… a national Strategy would help to bring together policies across the four nations and ensure child poverty is addressed throughout the UK, whilst acknowledging the different constitutional arrangements."[257]

276. In Northern Ireland the Committee saw for itself how the New Targetting Social Need (New TSN) policy was developing and was particularly impressed by the approach to mainstreaming child poverty across different departments. But it is notable that apart from tax and benefit policies it appears that a UK perspective on child poverty only emerges in relation to the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion - part of an EU initiative. The Committee's visit to Northern Ireland, and the oral evidence from the Minister for Children demonstrated the differences in a policy such as Sure Start, which has varying national budgets, operates very differently in each country and has apparently little co-ordination at the UK level.[258]

277. HM Treasury and the DWP are in the lead on the strategy but the eradication of child poverty is a government-wide target. Indeed, child poverty policy is inextricably linked to family policy, which is the responsibility for the Education Department. The internal review of family policy which that department is currently undertaking will contribute, in the Minister's words, "to the parenting strand of the Child Poverty Review currently being conducted by HM Treasury. Here, joined up policy-making is essential. Shelter argued that delivering on the commitment to eradicate child poverty:

    "…should underpin the work of departments across Whitehall - policies should be "proofed" against child poverty objectives and should not be implemented if they undermine efforts to tackle it. …More broadly, government structures and processes tend to encourage departments to pursue their own objectives rather than promoting a strategic focus on major cross-cutting priorities."[259]

278. The End Child Poverty Coalition also proposed:

    "A mechanism to ensure that policies devised by all government departments, while not necessarily working towards the strategy do not work against the strategy or the target to end child poverty - 'child poverty proofing'."[260]

Departmental progress on mainstreaming

279. The Committee wrote to central government departments other than DWP and HM Treasury that might contribute to the eradication of child poverty. Their responses are summarised below and are in Volume III.

280. The Minister for Children, Young People and Families stated:

281. The letter also referred to: the contribution of Sure Start; the investment in schools in Excellence in Cities areas covering 1,500 secondary and 3,000 primary schools, which is being extended to 15 more LEAs in September 2004; the efforts the DfES is making to encourage the take-up of free school meals and their nutritional adequacy; and the guidance to LEAs to take into account the costs of school uniforms.

282. The Parliamentary Under Secretary for Health referred to the health inequality target: "Starting with children under one year, by 2010 to reduce the gap in mortality by at least 10% between 'routine and manual' groups and the population as a whole." He acknowledged that the gap had been widening since the target was established and the target "remains very challenging". Among the measures to combat health inequalities he mentioned: the Acheson Report published in 1998; making health inequalities fundamental to the NHS Plan; 3000 personal medical schemes to retain and recruit GPs in deprived communities; new formula for allocating NHS resources with better measures of deprivation and unmet need; £1 billion investment through the LIFT programme in primary care; and the Children's National Service Framework designed to improve standards.[262]

283. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said :

    "My Department does not deliver services focussed upon child poverty. However I am confident that the work we have underway in a variety of areas will disproportionately assist children in poverty stricken households."[263]

284. The letter also referred to: progress in increasing the minimum wage; the action of OFCOM in regulating advertising directed at children and promoting media literacy; the measures to promote work-life balance and new laws covering the right for parents to request flexible working hours; improved maternity pay and the lengthening of maternity leave; and fathers' right to paternity leave and equivalent adoptive parents rights. Reference was also made to initiatives tackling debt problems and the proposals in the Consumer Credit White Paper to control unfair credit transactions and to improve the support for those who have fallen into debt and improve the free debt advice available. Government policy on over-indebtedness is being reviewed by a Ministerial group which will report in Spring 2004.

285. The Home Office also have a contribution to make to the eradication of child poverty, as they recognise in their written evidence, which states:

    "Child poverty is not only about financial deprivation. It is also about poverty of opportunity - children who are denied the chances that others take for granted, and whose adults lives can be blighted by their experience of childhood. Children who grow up in poverty run an increased risk of suffering a range of negative outcomes. For example, they may be at greater risk of becoming involved in anti-social behaviour, offending, or substance abuse - there is strong evidence that children in poverty are exposed to more of the risk factors that can lead to these outcomes. Exposure to these risk factors, and involvement in crime or drugs itself, can have a devastating effect on children's prospects as adults. Children of prisoners are a particularly vulnerable group…Children from deprived backgrounds are also likely to have been a victim of crime. This too can have serious consequences for a child's long-term development and prospects. We know, in particular, that involvement in domestic violence can have a serious effect not just on a family's financial situation, but also a child's emotional and psychological development."

286. Their written evidence goes on to state that delivering race equality is one of their key targets; that they have worked closely with DfES on the consultation paper Every Child Matters and on the Children Bill; and they have been actively involved in the Treasury's Child Poverty Review. Other key policy initiatives include: a Community Cohesion Unit which is working to embed community cohesion in deprived neighbourhoods into mainstream policy; an Anti-Social Behaviour Unit which published a consultation paper, an action plan[264] and the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (November 2003); Youth Inclusion Programmes targetting the most 'at risk' teenagers to prevent them from offending; parenting programmes working in partnership with Youth Offending Teams and parents of young people engaged in or at risk of anti-social behaviour; and a range of measures to help children in asylum-seeking families and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

287. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) also has an important part to play. The work of the Social Exclusion Unit is important in delivering joined up policies; the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit is responsible for delivering the neighbourhood strategy; and the ODPM is responsible for housing policy and homelessness and the fact that the number of children living in bed and breakfast accommodation is currently at record levels. Shelter in their oral evidence said

    "…we would argue that housing is absolutely critical. If you are serious about lifting ….., people out of child poverty, then you have to do something to tackle housing conditions on a structural level. It would be nice to see some signs coming out of the ODPM that they understood their role in delivery against the child poverty agenda. It is not a noise that we hear coming out of the ODPM at all."[265]

288. Programmes delivered by local councils, regeneration agencies or variously configured partnerships are offering services to children which can impact importantly on their quality of life and on the quality of life in poor neighbourhoods generally. A great deal of good work is being done with a number of different objectives - from reducing offending to raising minimum standards of service across a cluster of wards. Yet funding sources are frequently complex and there are differences in criteria and longevity between them. The Committee heard, for example, about the problems which hit the Children Fund this year - which impacted on the ground on hundreds if not thousands of local initiatives delivering holiday and after-school activities targeting on the neediest children.

289. The Committee recommends that, as part of the policy of mainstreaming child poverty, the Government aims to create coherence and consistency between local funding streams from all government departments which are directed towards children and young people.

290. The Committee recommends that a key feature of the national strategy should include poverty proofing of all departmental policies across Whitehall and the devolved administrations.

The distribution of expenditure on (poor) children

291. Save the Children (UK) gave us access to a very interesting analysis of public expenditure on children undertaken by Tom Sefton covering education, health, social security, social care and housing.[266] His conclusions on these areas are summarised in annex 2. The overall conclusion of the Sefton analysis is that overall spending on children has grown by 17-19% in real terms between 1996/97 and 2001/02 and that this is more than the growth in expenditure on pensioners and working adults. He estimates that the spending on poor children (those in families receiving either Income Support or income-related JSA) is on average twice as great as on non-poor children. For individual services, in education, spending on poor children is between 1.06 to 1.35 times non poor children; 1.03 to 1.43 times more in health; 1.22 to 4.10 times more in social care and 6.8 to 7.03 more in housing; and 3.66 to 3.75 times more in social security. The analysis also shows that overall spending has become more pro-poor. For example, on average, the difference in spending per child on education between the 10% most deprived authorities and the 10% least deprived authorities has increased from 16% in 1997/98 to 24% in 2003/04.

292. While these results are interesting they are very sensitive to how central allocations to local authorities and health trusts are actually spent on the ground and evidence on this is very thin. There is some evidence that the gearing to poverty in central allocations is not being reflected in the expenditure patterns of local authorities and health trusts. The Committee recommends that during the course of the next 3 year spending round all departments should monitor the extent to which their central allocations are being used to target child poverty effectively at local level. The Minister for Children argued that local authorities had to be left with the discretion to use their resources as they thought best:

    "…in the end local authorities have to take their own decisions on the money that we allocate to them, and that is again an element in our democratic infrastructure. So if your local authority decides to use its money in a particular way, it is very difficult for us to intervene at the centre. I am not sure it would be right for us to do so. They have to take that decision locally. What we can, and do, do is ensure that the outcomes that we look to for local authorities act as a lever to encourage them to invest appropriately in those children or schools of greatest need…It is partly how you set the targets, partly how you inspect. We do not control it through inputs. We try and control it through outcomes."[267]

293. However, this does not mean that we should ignore the distributional consequences of their expenditure.

294. Most of the Sefton analysis covers a period before the period covered by the spending review,[268] which covers expenditure in the three-year period 2003/4 to 2005/6. In the period up to 2001 spending on health and education grew in real terms, but fell as a proportion of GDP. The new spending plans envisaged an overall increase of 3.3% per year in real terms over the period and public expenditure as a proportion of GDP will rise from 39.9% in 2002/03 to 41.9 percent in 2005/6. This increase in spending is concentrated on education (7.7% growth), health (7.3% growth) and transport (12.1% growth). Between 2000/1 and 2005/6, education spending will rise from 4.6 to 5.6% of GDP. By 2007/8, it is envisaged that UK health spending will reach 9.4% of GDP - above the current EU average of 8%. While this increase in spending is likely to benefit poor children, it is not necessarily so. For example, the priorities identified for the increased spending on health are mainly concerned with adult health and could result in a relative shift in the gearing of health expenditure away from children.

295. There is also a concern about whether the extra allocated by central government in respect of poverty is enough. Tom Sefton says:

    "The outcomes for the poorest children are still very much worse than for children from better off families. Although spending is skewed towards poorer children, more clearly needs to be done to reduce inequalities in income, and in educational, health, and other outcomes. Arguably spending is still not sufficiently skewed towards children with the greatest needs, whilst recognising that higher spending is not the only answer to many problems."[269]

296. The Opportunity For All health indicators illustrate some of these concerns. For example, the ratio of infant mortality rates per 1000 live births in England and Wales of routine and manual groups is widening not narrowing. The smoking rates among children from 11 to 15 are static. The proportion of teenage parents who are not in education, employment or training increased in 2003 and while the under-18 conception rate fell between 1998 and 2001 it rose in 2002 on the basis of provisional figures. The rate of decline is presently too slow to meet the target (to reduce by 50% the 1998 England under-18 conception rate by 2010, or the interim target of a 15% reduction by 2004). The second Wanless Report published in February 2004 emphasised the need "to shift emphasis from a national sickness service which treats disease to a health service which focuses on preventing it." [270]

297. As we have seen in the 2002 Spending Review the transport budget was provided with the largest increase in expenditure. Transport has recently been the subject of a Social Exclusion Unit report[271] and is relevant to poverty and social exclusion because those without the use of a car have difficulty accessing employment, education, health and other services, food shops, sporting leisure and cultural activities. People without cars mainly rely on buses. Poor people face physical barriers in accessing buses. In addition, there are problems of frequency, reliability, coverage and cost - bus fares have risen by 30% in the last 20 years and are some of the highest in the EU. Spending on bus route subsidies has fallen by two-thirds since 1985. Overall transport spending is highly regressive, with better-off road and rail users receiving much more of the benefit of subsidies than worse-off bus users. The SEU report estimated that the lowest income quintile will gain 12% of the total spend of the Government's recent 10-Year Transport Plan, while the highest quintile will gain 38%. Thus transport is an example of the potential for 'poverty-proofing' wider areas of policy, but also the need to follow it through with changes if this is to be meaningful.

298. It would appear, therefore, that the Government has made progress on reducing inequalities in income, education, health and other outcomes for children but needs to do more to skew spending towards children with the greatest needs. There appear to be many relevant, but segmented, activities relating to child poverty within Government that require bringing together to form a coherent strategy. The Committee recommends that the Government devotes more analytical and organisational effort to coordinate the most relevant activities necessary for the child poverty goals to be achieved.

253   Finance Committee 2nd Report 2003 (Session 2) Report on Cross-Cutting Expenditure in relation to Children in Poverty SP Paper 4 Session 2 (2003). Back

254   DWP (2003) Opportunities for All: Fifth Annual report. Cm5956, HMSO. Pg vii Back

255   Ev 34, 62-68, 126, 165 Back

256   See paras 233 Back

257   Ev 82 Back

258   Annex 4, Qq 383-389 Back

259   Ev 136 Back

260   Ev 74 Back

261   Ev 174 (vol III) Back

262   Ev 184 (vol III) Back

263   Ev 172 (vol III) Back

264   Home Office, Respect and Responsibility: Taking a stand against anti-social behaviour, March 2003; Together - Tackling Anti-Social Behaviour: the Government's Action Plan on Anti-Social Behaviour, October 2003 Back

265   Q 138 Back

266   Sefton T (forthcoming 2004) A Fair Share of Welfare: Public Spending on Children in England. London: Save the Children and the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion Back

267   Q 431 Back

268   HM Treasury, Opportunity and Security for All, 2002. See also for Scotland: Scottish Executive, Closing the Opportunity Gap: the Scottish Budget for 2003-2006, Edinburgh: Scottish Executive, Social Inclusion Division, 2002. Back

269   Sefton , T. (forthcoming 2004) Executive Summary Back

270   Wanless, D. (2004) Securing good health for the whole population: Final report, HM Treasury/ Department of Health. Para 9.1 Back

271   Social Exclusion Unit, Making the Connections: Transport and social exclusion, 2003. Back

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