Administration and expenditure of the Chancellor's departments, 2008-09 - Treasury Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 387)



  Q380  Ms Keeble: If you look at the numbers they have remained static. You cannot give an answer for the progress on the most recent measures around housing benefit which were supposed to lift children out of poverty; you cannot comment on the measures that have been taken that would tend to increase child poverty, for example rent allowances; you do not know about the child care vouchers; and you have not told us about any ways in which you are to tackle material deprivation. If you look at the number of children in combined low income and material deprivation it is 2.2 million and that number has remained static since 2004-05. Why are you not dealing with those means of measurement and delivering?

  Sir Nicholas Macpherson: I regret that I have not been able to answer your questions in as detailed a way as you would like.

  Q381  Ms Keeble: They are not very detailed.

  Sir Nicholas Macpherson: There are still a good number of people in the Treasury working on this agenda. Inevitably, from a personal perspective I have had less time to devote to the details of this agenda as in previous years because I have had to spend much of the year dealing with the banks and the implications of the recession in terms of monetary and fiscal policy. It does not mean that it is not important; it is.

  Q382  Ms Keeble: The recession would tend to make it worse.

  Sir Nicholas Macpherson: All I can tell you is that in terms of my personal time I must prioritise; otherwise, I would never get any sleep at all.

  Q383  John McFall: You will be aware that the Sub-Committee has focused on child poverty for a number of years and tried to move it up the agenda. I asked you a question about the shortfall. In the intervening half-hour did you get any whispers from behind?

  Sir Nicholas Macpherson: No.

  Q384  John McFall: Is your department mute?

  Sir Nicholas Macpherson: It is mute as of this minute. All I know is that in the past two years we have made no progress in terms of the child poverty numbers. As I believe I replied to Jim Cousins earlier, we have taken a lot of measures designed to reduce child poverty. All of those will come through in the data for 2008-09 and so on which are yet to be published, but I am slightly suspicious, in part because of experience over the past few years, that they may not fully feed through to the statistics. I can remember saying in previous years that measures would have such an effect and yet after quite a good period in the early part of the decade we find it far more difficult to make progress.

  Q385  John McFall: What I gather from page 79 is that you have taken about 2.7 million children out of poverty, whether that is absolute low income households, relative low income households or relative low income households and material deprivation. Taking the first two categories in particular, you have taken out 2.7 million but given it is a flagship policy to halve the number of children in poverty by 2010-11 it is important that we get a precise measure of the shortfall. We went through this before when Mr Mudie was on the Committee; we chipped away at this issue and obtained different figures. I understand the stress that the Treasury has experienced over the past year, but if it can provide us with a memo it will give us a handle on it.

  Sir Nicholas Macpherson: I am very happy to do that. I do not want you to go away from this meeting thinking that we have either given up on child poverty or do not take it seriously.[7]

  Q386  John McFall: In the past two years it has been difficult for what reason? Is it due to increased unemployment among parents and different things?

  Sir Nicholas Macpherson: I think so. Some of this is due to the effect of globalisation. There are huge forces at work in our society that tend to stretch the income distribution. Relative measures of poverty are based on median incomes. If you look at what has happened, despite the minimum wage and other interventions at the lower end of the income distribution wages do not appear to have been rising, certainly not in real terms. You can put more government money into it, but if the labour market is moving against you you just do not make progress. I believe that is the fundamental challenge in our economy.

  Q387  Chairman: We shall leave it there. You have promised us a great deal of information. We must have it in good time before the minister appears so we need it by 30 November, if that is possible. Can you also include in it an update on the line of sight programme about which we have not heard for a while?

  Sir Nicholas Macpherson: Certainly.

  Chairman: In the mean time, thank you very much for your attendance.

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