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Swindon is a thriving sports town. When researching all the different sports other than my main passion, football, I was surprised to find the following names that have all been adopted by local sports teams-I shall be testing hon. Members later. We have Swindon Wildcats, Flames, Sonics, St George, Supermarine, Robins
and, of course, Swindon Town football club, which two weeks ago I was delighted to have the opportunity to cheer on at Wembley. I am afraid, however, that we did not quite overcome the final hurdle and make it into the championship, as we lost the play-off final, but I am sure that we have good foundations for next season. As a diehard blue Conservative, it is the only time people will catch me shouting, "Come on you reds!"
Turning from Swindon to the poverty debate with a rather tenuous link, I am concerned about the long-term quality-of-life issues arising from new build development. In the 10 years in which I was a councillor, I represented a predominantly new build area. When I was first elected in 2000, we had just 3,000 houses-I was very grateful when it took me just a few hours to deliver leaflets to all of them-but when I stood down, there were nearly 10,000 houses, and it took many weeks to deliver leaflets. I saw lots of examples of good development-I live in the area myself-but there were examples, too, of things that were not good, and we are storing up problems for the future, predominantly arising from the increasingly high density of new developments.
The first area of concern stems from the lack of open spaces and parks. That was partly down to the changing classification. Green space was taken into account, but it included hedges and heritage spaces-basically, places where people could not put down jumpers for goal posts. I have a great fear that future generations will miss out on the inspiration of sport. When I was young and Wimbledon was on for a fortnight, we would play tennis. When the Tour de France was on, out came the bikes. When the World and FA cups were on, out came the football. When the Ashes cricket was on, out came the cricket bats, and I was proud to emulate the failings often of some or our national sporting icons.
Without those open spaces, it is no surprise that child obesity has increased. Too often, we look at improving leisure centres, which is a commendable thing, but the lion's share of sporting activity takes place in open spaces. I am concerned that the lack of such space will fuel antisocial behaviour, as young people's endless, enthusiastic energy will not be burnt off.
Parking provision is another problem. It is understandable that the then Government should try to encourage residents to transfer to public transport-I support that principle-but local residents are far more creative than that and would find parking spaces on pavements and roundabouts, causing all sorts of problems, particularly for parents with pushchairs trying to get to local schools, as they had to go on to the road. All too often, emergency vehicles could not get access to roads, which was a serious concern.
The size of household gardens has shrunk by a third since 1960. In fact, 3.3 million people do not have access to their own private garden, so it is no wonder that the amount of time that children spend in their back garden under parental supervision has halved since the 1960s, fuelling child obesity. I enjoyed the outdoors, but too often children nowadays miss out on that.
I am concerned about unbalanced development. In theory, all developments are supposed to have a mix of family homes, private homes, affordable homes and retirement homes, but in my ward I kept seeing developers targeting family homes. We had a high concentration of young children, but despite the fact that every single primary school had expanded to the maximum capacity
that the land would allow-and often beyond that-we still could not provide sufficient places in the most popular schools. We need a better mix of development so we can spread the burden on local infrastructure and services.
I sometimes question developer conduct-I certainly never received a Christmas card from developers in the ward that I represented, and I was quite proud of that-for two reasons. The first is their inability to adopt roads-I notice there is an Adjournment debate on the issue later-and the fact that they take far too long to do so. In particular, the moment the last house is sold, all too often maintenance falls away, much to the frustration of residents who are still paying council tax. Secondly, I am concerned about developers who create storage sites, which become an eyesore for local residents.
Sometimes in politics there is an element of luck. As I prepared my speech over breakfast the other day, I turned on the news only to see that the Government had announced that they were going to scrap minimum density targets and increase the power to protect back gardens. I was delighted to hear that and, as the Member for North Swindon, I will be a strong supporter of those proposals, and I will do all that I can to make sure that in future we have better developments that enhance the quality of life of people living on them.
Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): It is a pleasure, Madam Deputy Speaker, to see you in the Chair. It has also been a pleasure this afternoon to listen to so many eloquent maiden speeches. I made my maiden speech two days ago, and it is amazing how quickly one can feel like an old timer in this House.
I am delighted that we are having a debate so early in this new Parliament about the vital issue of poverty in this country. I think that there is agreement across the House about the damage that poverty does in blighting lives, the harm that it does to our community and the waste of potential that poverty amounts to.
I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for the tremendous work that he has done, and with and through the Centre for Social Justice, in drawing attention to the impact of poverty and the way in which it has destroyed and damaged so many lives. I pay tribute to the way in which he and colleagues have raised our awareness of the complexity of factors that contribute to poverty. I am pleased to welcome him and other Ministers who have a strong identity with the cause to their roles today.
It is important that we take care to disentangle the causes and consequences of poverty, and some of what I have heard from those on the Government Benches suggests a little confusion on that front. It is certainly true that lone parents face an exceptionally high risk of poverty, but it is also the case that poverty and the stress of trying to make ends meet can contribute to family and relationship breakdown. It is important that we help to sustain relationships and keep families together, and ensure that they have adequate resources to remove that stress and concern.
It is also important that we note who faces a particular risk of poverty, and why-disabled people and people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds; where
one lives; unequal access to the labour market; and unequal access to and experience within the labour market. Those are the structural drivers of poverty that it is important public policy addresses.
I think we are all agreed that it is important to make work pay if work is to be a secure route out of poverty for as many people as possible. However, we do not make work incentives by making those out of work even worse off. The way to make work pay is to move to higher wages, and I particularly endorse the call of my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) for a move towards the living wage. We make work pay by ensuring that the support is in place to enable people to get into work and then to progress and upskill to improve their prospects at work. We make work pay by improving incentives, and I welcome the attention that the Government offer to pay to addressing the high marginal deduction rates faced by some people as they move into or increase hours of work on low pay.
However, it is also important that we acknowledge that life for those out of work and on benefits is not a life of luxury. I challenge all hon. Members to consider how any of us would manage on a disposable income of £65.45 a week. It is not just my contention that benefits in this country and the relative poverty line at 60% of median income force people into a lifestyle that is beyond sustainable; it is the contention of the research of the highly respected Joseph Rowntree Foundation and its work on minimum income standards, which reflects the wide public perception of what individuals and families need to live. That perception and the work on minimum income standards show clearly that in setting our aspiration at a relative poverty line of 60% of median income, we fall some way short of what the public themselves believe is adequate in order to raise a family and make ends meet.
I also say to Government Members that when evolving policy it is important that we learn from what has and has not worked. I am sure that they will want to do that. During the 1980s and 1990s child poverty doubled, but since 1999 the number of children in poverty has been reduced by 500,000, and that is not by accident. Child poverty has gone down in the years in which Governments have invested in family incomes, through benefits and tax credits, and it has increased in the years in which Governments have not made that investment. The Labour Government's policy of seeking to reduce poverty through increases in tax credits and benefits is not a failed policy; on the contrary, if we had had more of it we might have been further ahead than we are today.
I therefore caution Ministers to consider carefully what the evidence tells them, and to take careful account of the significant expertise that exists outside the House. I was pleased by the almost entirely cross-party support that the Child Poverty Bill secured during its passage through the previous Parliament. The Child Poverty Act 2010, as it became, put in place a recognition of the need to sustain the poverty targets, confirmed the importance of the relative income poverty target and set it once more at the 60% median line. Picking up a point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) made earlier, I note that the Act also acknowledged that, in seeking to set a realistic target, we should take account of what our European and international neighbours are able to achieve. Some of
us who were not Members at the time ventured to suggest that the target could have been a little more ambitious, but we have a realistic and achievable target. We know that, because other countries are able to achieve it, and we must do so, too.
I look forward to the creation of the child poverty commission, for which the Act has made provision, and to the strategy that the Government have committed to bring forward by March next year in order to demonstrate the progress that they intend to make so that they can bring about the achievement of those targets. That strategy must focus on good jobs, holistic support and adequate incomes for all. We have learned enough to know that those are the ingredients of a successful anti-poverty strategy, and I look forward to the proposals that the Government bring to the House.
Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I join all colleagues who have spoken this afternoon in welcoming you to your new position? I also congratulate those colleagues who have made their maiden speeches-and some excellent maiden speeches there have been, too. I just hope that mine continues in the same vein.
I represent the wonderful and stunningly beautiful Calder Valley, which at more than 22 miles long has just five small but incredibly diverse townships, Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Ripponden, Elland and, where I live, Brighouse. They are complemented by a cluster of villages, all nestled on some of Yorkshire's finest moorland.
The constituency was established at the 1983 general election, and since then it has had only two MPs. Some of our older, established Members will remember the first one, Sir Donald Thompson, for his wit and good old Yorkshire charm. As a Member for more than 18 years, he was a hard-working constituency MP whom most people still talk about today when one knocks on doors. Sir Donald, as he was affectionately known, was a solid, stout, no-nonsense Yorkshireman, who worked his way up through the Whips Office before joining the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as a junior Minister. Sadly, he passed away in 2005, but he is and always will be fondly remembered by the people of Calder Valley.
Chris McCafferty, who had been the MP for the past 13 years, was also known as a good constituency MP. She was a member of the Procedure Committee and the International Development Committee. More importantly, since 1999 she has been a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and she has won a great deal of respect for her commitment to overseas development, sexual health and, most important, the rights of women.
Those were two good, strong local MPs, who, in the true spirit of Calder Valley, excelled in many ways, like so many more of the local people who were born there. In Brighouse and Rastrick, for example, we have the world-famous brass band who, in 1977, stayed at No. 2 in the singles charts for nine whole weeks with their version of "The Floral Dance". Even today, they are considered to be the best public subscription band in the country.
Hebden Bridge saw the birth of Sir Bernard Ingham, who was Margaret Thatcher's press secretary and a newspaper columnist. Mytholmroyd saw the birth of
Ted Hughes, the late poet laureate, who passed away in 1998. His first wife, Sylvia Plath, is buried in our hilltop gem of a village, Heptonstall. Earlier this afternoon, two colleagues mentioned John Wesley. In Heptonstall, we have the oldest Methodist chapel in continuous use not only in Britain, but in the whole world. I am incredibly proud to say that it is also a place where my three beautiful children all went to Sunday school.
Who could forget the town of Todmorden, which has had more Nobel prize winners than 28 countries? It also has the same number of Nobel prize winners as a further 10 countries; and the country of New Zealand as a whole boasts only one more prize winner than Todmorden. Sir John Cockcroft won the physics prize for splitting the nucleus of the atom, and Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson pioneered inorganic chemistry and transition metal catalysts. The amazing thing about these two men is that despite their being a 24-year gap between them, they were both taught at Todmorden grammar school by the very same science teacher, one Mr Luke Sutcliffe-an amazing teacher who taught two amazing students.
That brings me nicely to another amazing group of students. I want to talk about the educational attainment levels of looked-after children in our country. This is about poverty on an amazing scale-educational poverty. Incredibly, Sir Donald Thompson, in his own maiden speech some 31 years ago, talked about the attainment levels of children through education back then. Although the percentage of year 11 looked-after children who achieve five A* to C grades at GCSE has doubled in the past 10 years, it is incredibly sad that that number still only accounts for 14% of them. Nationally, more than 13% of our looked-after children still miss more than 25 days of schooling, sometimes because of exclusions. A third of previously looked-after children are not in education, employment or training at the age of 19. A total of 22% of persistent young offenders were being looked after by social services, and a staggering further 27% had been looked after previously.
Earlier, a colleague talked about aspiration. In 2005, a research report by the Frank Buttle Trust showed that only one care leaver in every 100 children goes to university-a staggering 1%. In 2008, "Care Matters", the ministerial stock-take report by the then Department of Children, Schools and Families, showed that 7% of care leavers went to university. Whatever the current figure is-whether it is 1% or 7%-it compares with 43% of all other children. Frankly, that is not good enough.
In Calderdale, where I have spent the past three years as lead member for children's services, I am glad to say that our looked-after children do significantly better than the national picture. Sadly, however, it is still not good enough. We have a fabulous team in Calderdale who strive for excellence in attainment for our looked-after children. I am incredibly proud of two of the last things that I did as lead member before coming to this House. First, I secured money to fund a virtual head teacher for our looked-after children in Calderdale. In itself that is not unusual, but it is an important and significant step forward for those children. Secondly, under the superb leadership of Councillor Stephen Baines, the Conservative leader of Calderdale council, last year we became only the second authority in the United Kingdom, after Rotherham, to introduce a virtual library so that every child under the age of five gets a free book monthly. That is unusual in itself, but in conjunction with the
facilities at Sure Start children's centres, where parents who cannot read are also taught to do so, it is a perfect way of starting to break the cycle of poverty.
I am proud also to say today that I have written to several prominent local people from Calder Valley to ask whether they will sit on my MP's charity, which will be established purely to consider what value we can add to driving the attainment levels of looked-after children. That is intended not to replace what the local authority does but to add value and raise awareness of the need to support our looked-after children and help break the poverty cycle.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today in this historic Chamber in a debate on poverty, a subject about which I feel strongly. I listened with interest to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) as he spoke with real passion about his constituency and about poverty.
Most importantly, I thank the people of Brentford and Isleworth constituency for giving me the privilege of representing them. I follow in the footsteps of distinguished politicians including Sir Harold Paton Mitchell, Lord Hayhoe and Nirj Deva. I should today like to acknowledge the work of my recent predecessor Ann Keen, who served Brentford and Isleworth for the past 13 years. She was a well-known MP, had the support of many constituents and was well regarded for her experience in health care. I am also very grateful to the many people who helped me along the way since I first stood for Parliament in 1997. Many who have helped me over the years are in the Chamber today, and I thank them for their support and guidance during my long journey to make it here.
I was delighted to be selected for the constituency of Brentford and Isleworth, because London is not only my birthplace-just across the river at St Thomas's hospital-but has been my home for the past 20 years. It is a creative, successful, diverse and stimulating place. It is, and will remain, a city of opportunity and dreams.
My constituency is just up-river from Westminster, in a beautiful part of west London. It starts at Chiswick and continues north of the river to Hounslow, winding through the historic towns of Brentford, Isleworth, Osterley and Syon. The constituency is an important crossroads for London, as it is where the River Brent meets the River Thames and where the Great West road meets the North and South circular roads. In ancient history, it was the meeting place for ancient British tribes, and it was where Caesar forded the river on his approach to London. We have more green parks than anywhere else in London, and we are also fortunate enough to have five heritage houses in the constituency.
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