Helen Goodman: The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire asked whether we have adequate statistics at a local level to enable local authorities to take forward
The current data set for children in families that are in receipt of out-of-work benefits is used as a proxy to measure child poverty at local level. The fact that it is a proxy does not mean that it is not a helpful measure for local authorities, or that they cannot make an effective contribution to tackling child poverty. The targets that we set are national, not local. It is important that local authorities have the data set to inform their needs assessment and the work that they do at local level.
Steve Webb: The national target on material deprivation is children having a bedroom to themselves once they are 11 if they are of different sex. If the local authority is being measured on a proxy that has nothing to do with any of that, where is the impetus on the local authority to deliver the national targets? Where is the connecting rod? It is not in the figures.
Helen Goodman: I was going on to say that the current data set is the basis for indicator 116, which is used by local government. A revised indicator is currently being developed to measure child poverty at local level, and that will include those children who live in low-income, working families, as well as those in workless families. The revised indicator will be the proportion of children living in families that are in receipt of out-of-work benefits, or working families whose income is below 60 per cent. of median income. That will provide information on both in-work and out-of-work poverty in the local area. I anticipate that the data will be available at both local authority and, significantly, ward level, and that they will be produced annually. Data will shortly be available for 2006-07.
Work is under way at the moment with Her Majestys Revenue and Customs on revising that indicator. When it is finalised, it will be put on the Department for Communities and Local Government website. I have not got an exact date, but I assure members of the Committee that it will be before Royal Assent. Therefore, before the duties on local authorities come into effect, we will have the data.
Steve Webb: With the greatest respect, I simply do not believe what the Minister has said. The data in the Bill are based on household income. That is not the unit that claims benefit, but everybody under the same roof. The data available to HMRC are on the income of the benefit unitthe narrower definition of income. The Minister said that the data would be available at ward level. The sample used by the family resources survey is one household in 1,000, so a ward of 3,000 households would have three or four people in a sample. How can it possibly be true that data on 60 per cent. of median household income will be available, when data on household income are not collected for benefit purposes? Will the samples be big enough to have ward-level data relative to the national targets, which are on household data based on sample surveys?
Helen Goodman: For relative low income, the local measure is NI 116. It is available at local authority and lower super output area level. On material deprivation, the local measure is the index of multiple deprivation and the income deprivation affecting children index. As for absolute low income, local partners can consider that as part of their needs assessment. The hon. Gentleman is taking us into an extremely technical area, and that is not good use of the Committees time.
Andrew Selous: I hear what the Minister says. We have some sympathy for the hon. Lady because we are putting her on the spot with some technical issues, perhaps at an unexpected point in the Bill. However, the issues are vital. Part 2 is an important part of the Bill, one that I very much welcome in general. Local authorities bring something important to the table but, if we are not clear about the measurement criteria, if they are not fair, are not accurate and not reasonably all-embracing, we will get into a muddle. Will the hon. Lady write a further note to the Committee on the matter? We need a little more clarity and perhaps even more work on top of the excellent work to which she alluded, so that we know the basis on which local authorities will have to be judged.
Helen Goodman: Of course the hon. Gentleman can ask for that. When I said that our discussion was technical, I was not arguing that it was not important. However, such matters are better handled in writing, and I shall be happy to write to the Committee about them.
The hon. Member for Henley talked about the duties being placed on local authorities. The purpose of the Bill is to reduce and mitigate the effects of child poverty. That means that the partnership must tackle the causes of child poverty and mitigate the effects of child poverty. No one could object to that. It is the correct approach. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that local government is already doing a lot, but the important thing is that the Bill provides a framework to ensure that action is taken in all areas.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that such issues form only part of central Governments relationship with local government, not the whole of it. He might not be satisfied by my assurances, but I remind him of the evidence that we heard from the local authorities on 20 October. Catherine Fitt said that
the reason for having the Bill is to ensure consistency across the country...We are very aware that it is no good solving the problem in just one part of the country, because whether a childs needs are met should not be dependent on where they live.
Richard Kemp said that
enhancing the duty of our partners to co-operate with us around a specific thing would
Kevin Collins said:
What I find exciting is the idea that we are looking towards a collective effort on the issue...It must be a collective effort. It must be about how well people are doing to create the conditions that will reduce levels of child poverty...It is not about passing the buck to local government; it is about collective effort.[Official Report, Child Poverty Public Bill Committee, 20 October 2009; c. 50-51, Q121-134.]
Mr. Stuart: May I take the Minister back to the regional issue? If we looked at child poverty on a regional basis as opposed to a national basis, there would be a very different picture in London, which must impact on quite a few members of the Committee. Will the hon. Lady comment on the rationale for looking at the national picture as opposed to the regional picture? For example, local government in London will be dealing with child poverty figures based on a national assessment when, in fact, if it were assessed on a London-only basis, a much greater percentage would be seen to be in relative poverty. Is there a risk that a national picture would do less as a result?
Helen Goodman: I do not believe so. We have introduced the Bill to tackle child poverty throughout the whole country, and we make it clear in part 2 that we do not believe that central Government have all the answers. We want a partnership with local authorities, where they can do best. We have made it clear in clause 20 that in specific cases local authorities can co-opt further partners, such as those suggested by the hon. Gentleman. I hope that, with those reassurances, hon. Members will agree to the clause.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 20 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Local child poverty needs assessment
Andrew Selous: I beg to move amendment 7, in clause 21, page 12, line 26, after assessment, insert including an assessment of
(i) job creation, and
(ii) family resilience.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 72, in clause 21, page 12, line 26, at end insert
including the levels of benefit and tax credit take up among the eligible populations.
Andrew Selous: Clause 21 is an important clause; it deals with the local child poverty needs assessment. I shall speak first to amendment 7, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friends the Members for South-West Hertfordshire and for Billericay, and then touch on amendment 72, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Regents Park and Kensington, North.
I want to focus, in relation to amendment 7, on the issues of job creation and family resilience. I shall not repeat what I said when I tabled an amendment to clause 8 along the same lines, with respect to economic enterprise, which my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness has drawn attention to. When local authority leaders and chief executives spoke in our witness sessions about dealing with child poverty, the first thing on which they all alighted was an increase in economic activity in their areas. If I were to sum up what we need to do above all to beat child poverty, I would put it in four wordsmore and better jobs. In other words, more people in work, and more people in higher-paid work.
I understand, of course, issues such as barriers to work, child care, flexible and part-time working, and acquiring the skills to get into jobs, but when we boil things down, those issue bring us to the heart of the Billthe balance between what we think the benefits system will do through out-of-work benefits, and so on, and the part that we expect enterprise and wealth creation to play in defeating child poverty. This is my second attempt to have that aspect of the matter included in the Bill. I make no apologies for that.
In my experience, local economic regeneration does not get the attention that it deserves in local authoritieseven in local authorities that recognise its importance and take it seriouslybecause it is not regarded as a core or key public service, in the way that education, social care, housing or transport are. Everyone is very clear that those are the things that the council does. It provides housing, mends potholes in the roads, looks after your granny when she gets ill, and educates your children. We all know that, but what is the role of the council in attracting new businesses to the area or helping the businesses already there to expand and grow?
I consider regeneration to be incredibly important. It will be vital in helping to drag the country out of the terrible, horrible recession that we are going through. The Government, of course, have a role to play in that, but local authorities have an important role. I have for months been vocal as unemployment in my area has, sadly, risen, and have said that local economic regeneration should be at the top of the councils priorities.
The sustainable communities plan that has been imposed on certain parts of the country in relation to the need for extra housing growth includes targets for the creation of extra dwellings and jobs, but the emphasisthe drive from the Government officesseems to be on housing targets. I hear relatively little about what is being done to create the jobs needed for a genuinely sustainable community, so that the people in the new houses also have work. That is an incredibly important area that needs the help and focus of a mention in the Bill. The Government should make it clear to local authorities that the Bill is not just about public services, vital as they are in getting people out of poverty and helping parents to do better, but about good old-fashioned wealth creation, building bigger businesses, providing more and better jobs and enabling people to get into them.
I am aware that the challenge of getting into work from being out of work is huge. The move from not working and being on benefits into full-time work is an
When getting people off a life on benefitsif they remain on benefits, we know that their children will live in povertythese mini-jobs are an important way to help people into work. They may be very local with little need to travel and may be provided by community organisations, as proposed in the excellent community allowance document.
One other matter that is relevant to amendment 7 in the interaction of the benefits system with people in work is the informal economy. People may be in work but are not captured by data and do not have any involvement with the benefits system. The Financial Secretary will be familiar with an organisation called Community Links, and its national arm Links UK, which is actively involved in his constituency. I was struck when I met its representatives recently and they told me of a meeting they had in Salford with 30 young people aged between 15 and 25, who were not in education, employment or training. Some 23 out of 30 were involved in the informal economy and not receiving any benefits. We need to look at the community allowance proposals, mini-jobs and what is happening outside the benefits system, working tax credit, child tax credit and so on. Why are so many of our young people23 out of those 30 young people in Salfordworking in the informal economy?
The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).
Adjourned till this day at Four oclock.
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