I do not disagree with that at all. I am merely saying that in the Bill there seems to be a lack of awareness of the moral dimension, which I believe is necessary. Furthermore, the language of the Bill is largely based on statistics and socio-economic analysis, rather than on the kind of objectives from which we all
assume that children and young people in poverty would benefit as a result of being brought up properly. It is quite simple.
The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell), who made a valuable contribution in Committee, asked how we would define the groups referred to in amendment 4. It is envisaged that those groups would be identified through careful analysis of the data on households below average income. On that basis, an assessment would be made about which groups should be examined most closely.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) made fair points about what might appear to be a Government concession on the report about the 2010 target. The amendment that we considered in Committee required that a report on the 2010 target be produced within three months of Royal Assent. That would not be possible because the data would not be available till some time after that. The amendment before us is different and it works. Nevertheless, I would not wish-to pick up one of the words frequently used so far in the debate-to be churlish about the change that has been made.
May I say to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) that there is a variety of forms of disadvantage? That is right, and one could talk about many different kinds of disadvantage that children can suffer. The Bill, however, is about child poverty, and poverty is about a lack of money. I remember times when Conservative Members would have been reluctant to talk about poverty in those terms. I welcome the progress that has been made, and the fact that across the House we are able to talk seriously about poverty and recognise that lack of money is a problem. That is what the Bill is about, and it is right that we should legislate for that in this way. I am grateful to all those who spoke.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): I welcome the change of heart on mental health. Will the Minister share with the House the rationale for the Government's change of position on that?
Mr. Timms: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the move that he made in Committee, which we did, indeed, resist. There was a good debate on the topic in the other place and, for reasons that I entirely support, my noble Friend Lord McKenzie of Luton was persuaded that it would be right to make that factor explicit in the Bill. This was one instance in which the hon. Gentleman did not overstate his case, and I am glad that we have been able to accept it.
Helen Goodman: Lords amendments 13 and 16 to 18 would make the legislative changes necessary to implement the announcement that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made in his December pre-Budget report to extend eligibility for free school meals to primary school pupils in England in working families with an income of up to £16,190 from September 2010. The extension will be phased in for up to 50 per cent. of pupils from September, with the remaining 50 per cent. of entitled pupils receiving free school meals in September 2011. Extending free school meal entitlement in that way would assist in the reduction of child poverty by supporting low-income families and improving incentives to work. Once fully implemented, it would benefit about 600,000 children and lift more than 50,000 children out of poverty.
Steve Webb: Will the Minister clarify the roll-out process? Will half of local authorities be covered? If not, which 50 per cent. of children will come first? I had not realised that the process would be undertaken in two stages, so will she clarify the phasing?
Hon. Members will have noticed that the proposed new clause is headed "Free school lunches and milk", and they may like to know that this year is the 39th anniversary of Mrs. Thatcher snatching the milk, so I feel particularly privileged to be here tonight moving an amendment that would put that strategy into reverse.
The hon. Gentleman asked why we are rolling out the process only to 50 per cent. of primary pupils in September. The reason is that some schools may need to increase their kitchen and catering capacity, and it also reflects the funding that is available: £85 million has been made available to support the roll-out from September, and further resources will be available from 2011. I accept that I have not fully responded to the hon. Gentleman, and I shall endeavour to return to that point.
Bob Spink: I support the Bill, even though I do not support what the Minister said about Mrs. Thatcher. Does the Minister agree, however, that it is even more important to provide milk and nourishment to children in nursery education? It is probably more important than providing milk to children in primary education, and it would be easy to do. Will she consider that idea at some stage?
Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman is right: the earlier we start on such programmes, the better. That is why, for example, we have introduced the health in pregnancy grant, and why milk vouchers are still available for very low-income families. However, I am anxious not to stray beyond the terms of the amendment. The proposals and the PBR announcement were welcomed in the other place, and I urge the House to agree to these Lords amendments.
The Minister might consider my first question rather underhand and technical, but I ask it at the start of my remarks just to give her time to find inspiration for the
answer. What is the position for children in middle school years 5 and 6 in relation to the proposed provisions? I am not just being technical or awkward, because the whole of Bedfordshire has the middle school system, so it is a relevant question for the county and the area that I represent, as indeed it is for children in the three-tier system, where it exists, throughout the country. I ask that question at the beginning of my remarks to give the Minister time to find an answer to it.
I am grateful to the Minister for her comments in response to the intervention by the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) about funding, but will she confirm that the funding for those free school lunches and milk would come entirely from local government? I spent some time in the Library earlier today trying to get to the bottom of exactly how the proposal would be funded, because in years gone there has been a tendency for central Government to place requests on local authorities, and a cheque has not always been attached to the second page of the letter. I am not saying that that has happened in this case, but I would be grateful if the Minister were to elaborate on that point.
It is worth putting on the record our recognition of the work of Rev. Paul Nicolson, who gave evidence to the Public Bill Committee on diet and nutrition as regards families in poverty. As Ministers will agree, he has been extremely persistent on that issue, and to good effect, too, so I am very pleased to pay tribute to him.
Has any thought been given to a possible perverse incentive of the measure, welcomed and supported as it is by the Opposition? It relates to the withdrawal of passported benefits when the incomes of parents increase. To illustrate my point, I think in particular of the single mother who came to my surgery a month or so ago, telling me that she was in work but on a fairly low income. I think that she earned about £900 a month, a very low income by any standards. When I discussed the ways in which she could try to earn a bit more, she expressed a very clear reluctance to do so, because she was worried about the withdrawal of her passported benefits.
On the basis of my constituent's own research and experience of being paid a bit more at previous times in her life, she had clearly identified, and frankly felt, that she would be worse off, so she was happier to stay on a lower income and have the free dental care and other passported benefits, of which free school meals would be a part. Although the measure is welcome, it touches on withdrawal rates in respect of such matters, so I should be grateful to know whether Ministers have given any thought to that. I repeat, however, that the Opposition welcome the measure.
Mr. Graham Stuart: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most exciting prospects for an incoming Conservative Government is to tackle the position of so many people who are stuck in poverty? They might be at a higher level than they were when this Government came to power, but none the less the poverty traps remain, and we need fundamental reform, looking very much at the way in which benefit and tax work together to disincentivise people who want to get on and improve their lives and that of their families.
As ever, my hon. Friend gets to the heart of the issue, and he makes a very important point. An urgent task for whoever forms the next Government
will be to ensure that the benefits system incentivises work smoothly at every level of low income-in a way that it does not at the moment. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue, and he has been absolutely right on so many issues throughout our consideration of the Bill.
Steve Webb: Hitherto we have debated the Schleswig-Holstein question, and tonight we have the Bedfordshire question. I hope, in anticipation of a note from the Official Reporters, that they know how to spell the former, because I certainly do not. The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) rightly asked how middle school pupils will fare. I assume that the cut-off point will be as per that for primary school pupils, but we will wait to see what the answer is.
The intervention by the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) was interesting because, in a sense, this is about a contrast between our saying, "Wouldn't it be nice if this happened?", and his being about to support, I assume, with the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire, something that makes the problem that he describes worse. That is the paradox, is it not? We all want to do more for low-waged working families, but the distinction that I would make is that between what is known in the jargon as the unemployment trap and the poverty trap. The unemployment trap says, "Is it worth working at all?" and the poverty trap says, "Once you're working, is it worth working harder?" We are improving the unemployment trap by saying "If you take a low-paid job you keep your free school meals, which you didn't get previously, so we are helping with that," but then we say, "Having got into a low-paid job we haven't incentivised you to do overtime, or to train up, or whatever." Even under a Conservative Government, those trade-offs would exist.
Steve Webb: I well recall the statistics during the 1980s, when there were rather more people who simply did not find it worth their while to work at all. A lot more has been done as regards in-work support. The unemployment trap is a lot less severe than it used to be, but the in-work poverty trap is more severe, because more help is being given to low-paid families. We are at a different point in the trade-off. The support for free school meals is therefore welcome.
I have a question about take-up. The Minister used a figure of £16,100, which I assume is the cut-off point for working tax credit, or whatever, because there is no figure in the amendments, just a concept. Of course, punters will not have the faintest idea that at £16,000 they get this thing and at £17,000 they do not; and the number will presumably change every year if the thresholds are indexed, and so on. People will say, "How do I, as a low-waged family member on working tax credit, get to know about this? If I've been in the system for a long time, I'll probably find out, but if I move from unemployment into low-paid work and come into the working tax credit system, how do I know that my child
can get free school meals under the provisions of these amendments?" With a lot of these benefits, the theory is great but the reality is that many people do not claim them. I hope that the Minister can give a flavour of the strategy that will be in place to ensure that these entirely welcome rights are actually taken up by those who will benefit from them.
The hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) asked how we were phasing in these measures, and the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) asked about the position of children in middle schools. The answer is the same to both of them. Let me explain how the amendment works. We have to make this change to primary legislation, because although it is currently possible to vary entitlement, it is not possible to do so according to the age of the child, so the amendment enables us to vary it in that way. We will introduce this for children in key stage 1 in September 2010 and for those in key stages 1 and 2 in September 2011. I hope that that satisfies both hon. Gentlemen.
The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire asked whether the money is coming from local authorities. It is new money that was announced by the Chancellor before Christmas, and the funding goes via the schools budget. I agree with what he said about Rev. Paul Nicolson, who has indeed been assiduous. He was assiduous in lobbying me before I was a member of the Government, and he is still assiduous in telling me his views, day by day, instant by instant, on the development of policy as we go forward.
What we are doing significantly improves incentives for parents. It was precisely because of constituency cases that we were experiencing, with parents coming to us and saying that they were not clear about whether they would be better off by moving into work given the loss of passported benefits when they moved from income support or income-related jobseeker's allowance, that we wanted to extend the entitlement to free school meals to parents on working tax credits. This involves quite a significant sum of money. I do not know about other hon. Members, but I find that I am giving my children £3 a day for school meals. For someone with two children, that amounts to £30 a week. These are quite chunky sums coming out of people's budgets.
Andrew Selous: I take the Minister's point-she is right that these are significant amounts of money. To use the helpful distinction made by the hon. Member for Northavon, my question was not about the employment trap but the poverty trap. Has any research been done about that within the Department or elsewhere?
Helen Goodman: The calculations that officials have done using the models that we have suggests, as I think that I have said, that this measure will reduce the number of children in child poverty by more than 50,000, so the possibility that the hon. Gentleman raises would not be the case.
The hon. Member for Northavon asked whether we had any measures in the pipeline to encourage take-up, because obviously these things are only worth while if people avail themselves of them. The Department for
Children, Schools and Families has been working with other Government Departments to develop a free school meals eligibility checking system known as "the Hub", which enables local authorities simultaneously to check data from the Department for Work and Pensions, the Home Office and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to ascertain whether a parent qualifies for free school meals. That system has significantly reduced bureaucracy. It is currently being extended to all parents to allow them to check their own eligibility and to apply online for free school meals. However, I will take away the hon. Gentleman's point to see whether there is anything further that we can do in that respect.
That the draft Child Benefit Up-rating Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 10 February, be approved. -(Mr. Blizzard.)
That the draft Guardian's Allowance Up-rating (Northern Ireland) Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 10 February, be approved. -(Mr. Blizzard.)
That the draft Guardian's Allowance Up-rating Order 2010, which was laid before this House on 10 February, be approved. -(Mr. Blizzard.)
That the draft Tax Credits Up-rating Regulations 2010, which were laid before this House on 10 February, be approved. -(Mr. Blizzard.)