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Northern Ireland has had Lifetime Opportunities, an anti-poverty strategy which was in draft for some years and was ratified last year by the Northern Ireland Executive. However, this has not seen any clear and consistent action really to begin to address child poverty. The lack of targets and associated programmes of action within the strategy has meant that it has had little or no effect. It is also a strategy that has had no associated resources, but relied on individual departments to undertake and resource actions for moving it forward; this has not worked. We have not seen the kind of significant programmes that would address child poverty where it is located in concentrated pockets. Some communities in Northern Ireland have rates of child poverty of over 90 per cent, a staggering figure, and any serious anti-poverty strategy must address it.
My understanding is that the NI Executive has agreed that the Child Poverty Bill should place a duty to produce a child poverty strategy on the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister and, importantly, should place an equivalent duty on all Northern Ireland departments to contribute to the strategy. It is then to be reviewed and progress monitored. This I welcome as vital if we are to make any real headway in addressing the underlying causes of child poverty. I also think it is crucial that the Northern Ireland Executive should demonstrate that all parties can work together on what is one of the most significant issues for children, families and communities. Clause 8 sets out a clear duty on the Secretary of State, when producing a child poverty strategy, to take account of the employment of parents, the development of the skills of parents, the provision of financial support, health education,
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One example of why this is so important is that currently in Northern Ireland 47,000 young people aged 16 to 24 are not in education, employment or training. This represents around 20 per cent of that population group, which is higher than the United Kingdom average. A significant number of these young people are currently parents, or will go on to become parents in the next few years. However, in Northern Ireland we do not have a strategy to address the problem of getting them back into employment and training whereas England, Scotland and Wales all have such strategies already in place. We have yet to begin a pilot of the Future Jobs Fund that has been put in place for young people in Britain, where 95,000 jobs have been allocated for creation. In Northern Ireland, the Department for Employment and Learning is suggesting a 50-job pilot later in the month. We are clearly lagging behind on a significant issue linked to child poverty.
This illustrates why it is so important that the full range of duties under this legislation linked to the strategy and its actions are included for Northern Ireland. My understanding is that this amendment has been agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive and I look forward to considering it more closely.
Finally, I wish to address the issue of resourcing. We cannot address child poverty without putting in place programmes and actions that are resourced to reduce the underlying causes. What is required is support for employment, access to affordable childcare, intensive family support, programmes that address school readiness or support children from disadvantaged areas to do much better at school, combined with measures that build communities and address the fragmentation that many disadvantaged communities experience.
We have heard a great deal of talk today about poverty and what it is, about family life and so on. For me, poverty is explained in the letters of the word: it is about powerlessness; it is about having no opportunities to do anything; it is about having no voice-everyone talks for you but not to you; it is about having low attainment in education; it is about having trust in no one; it is about having no resources. And the last and most important letter in the word poverty is "y", which is about yourself; it is a very lonely place to be.
This Bill must be resourced. Without adequate resourcing it will not make a significant difference; with resourcing it may begin to reduce child poverty levels across the United Kingdom. On that basis, it is to be welcomed.
Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I support many aspects of the Bill as a means of addressing the injustice of child poverty in our communities. We have a moral duty to bring the issue of child poverty to the fore while ensuring that the remedies to this endemic problem
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Clause 7 makes provision for the Child Poverty Commission and Schedule 1 elaborates on the components of the new body. It is important that we ensure that the organisation which is established is not only independent but also fully accountable to all layers of society. There is a genuine concern that the new organisation should not contribute to the bureaucratic burden of those in the voluntary sector and local communities in their work to tackle poverty among young people. The commission should give credence to the multi-faceted approach that is desperately needed successfully to reverse the unacceptable levels of deprivation among our children.
Clause 8 makes it incumbent on the Secretary of State to create a nationwide strategy to address the issue of child poverty. I support subsection (5)(a) as it ensures that due consideration will be given to the employment status and skills of parents when producing the scheme. Children quite often inherit poverty from their parents and, therefore, adult poverty and its causes are of equal importance in adequately addressing child poverty.
At present, 5 million adults are illiterate and 17 million struggle with basic literacy. A significant number of these adults are parents to some of the poorest children in our communities. As a result, the lack of opportunities these children face extends beyond economic poverty and affects their education and future employment prospects. Children who live in households where adults do not engage in any form of employment are not only the most deprived in our society but are more likely to follow this example once they leave compulsory education. This generational cycle of unemployment is a key factor in the rising levels of welfare dependency and deprivation.
However, a number of these parents who are in employment are typically in receipt of low incomes. The incomes of the poorest 20 per cent of families have consistently fallen every year since 2004. This inequality will not be rectified but in fact will be compounded by the Government's proposal in the Pre-Budget report to increase national insurance contributions by 0.5 per cent for all workers who earn £20,000 or in excess of this figure. There will be families who earn this amount or slightly more who will fall into this bracket. One of the reasons commonly given as to why people on low incomes leave full-time employment is that they believe there is little financial incentive to work. One can argue that the rise in unemployment will have an undesirable effect on child poverty. There is a connection between adult
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Clause 9(4) gives details of the relevant groups that the Secretary of State should consult when preparing the child poverty strategy. I am concerned about subsection (4)(c) as it implies that it is optional for the Secretary of State to consult children in regard to the strategy. The strategy can only benefit from the input of children who have experienced deprivation. If this clause remains elective rather than mandatory, the legitimacy of any future strategy may be compromised. Furthermore, it can be argued that failing to consult children could breach their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that young people have a right to be represented irrespective of the context. The contribution that children can make to future policy could be vital to measuring its impact. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the matter of the involvement of children will receive further consideration.
Clause 20 promotes collaboration among local agencies in tackling child poverty through providing local authorities with a duty to liaise with relevant bodies. I welcome this clause as it will promote greater dialogue between these groups when implementing the child poverty strategy to ensure the best outcomes for young individuals.
Child poverty is a complex issue. A multifaceted approach to tackling this problem is necessary, as there are divergent components which add to this injustice. Local authorities and agencies play a vital role in ensuring that children and the most vulnerable members of society receive the support that they need. It is only fair that they receive adequate training and resources to enable them to continue to fulfil these duties. Local authorities must be given the freedom and flexibility to address deprivation among young people without additional layers of bureaucracy. Levels of child poverty are higher among the black and Asian communities at 31 per cent and 42 per cent respectively, as compared with their white counterparts where it stands at 20 per cent. That situation concerns me.
Does the Minister agree that areas where child poverty is prevalent should be given extra resources in order effectively to implement the proposed child poverty strategy? Conversely, the offending rate among Muslim youth is rising. Can the Minister explain to your Lordships' House what steps the Government will take to address this situation?
One glaring omission from the Bill is the failure to recognise the relationship between family breakdown and child poverty. Research suggests that children from broken families are 75 per cent more likely to fail academically; 70 per cent more likely to engage in drug abuse and 35 per cent more likely to experience long-term unemployment and become reliant on state benefits. Approximately 1 million children live in homes where adults engage in alcohol abuse, whereas close to 350,000 young people have parents who struggle with drug addiction. Does the Minister agree that fixing our broken society will result in reducing the number of children living in poverty? Does he agree that we need to do more to combat alcohol and drug addiction as part of a child poverty strategy?
In 1999, the former Prime Minister made a pledge to end child poverty within 20 years. Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that the Government will fail to meet their target of halving child poverty this year by 600,000 children. To call this situation disappointing would be a gross understatement.
Child poverty is not just about money. It encompasses access to education, healthcare and suitable housing. Education can provide a route out of deprivation. As a former visiting lecturer, I attach a great deal of importance to the power of education as a means to enhance the opportunities of young people irrespective of their background. I should like to see admission to tertiary education become a plausible aspiration for all young people who live in poverty.
The failure to make progress in this area reflects the narrow approach of the tax credits system. We cannot afford to waste the potential of our young people. We have both a civic and an economic duty to deal with the prevalence of child poverty in our society. The lack of success in dealing with this predicament calls for us to adopt a bold approach to ensuring that we eliminate this problem in the immediate future.
Lord Giddens: My Lords, as the last speaker in this section of the debate, I should say how much I have enjoyed the contributions of other noble Lords and profited from them. However, I disagree with at least some of the things that have been said. I was there when Tony Blair stated Labour's intention to abolish child poverty by 2020. A sort of frisson went through the audience, because no one expected anything so far reaching at the time. It was announced in the William Beveridge lecture that Tony Blair gave in March 1999. William Beveridge was one of my predecessors as director of the London School of Economics, and of course is widely acknowledged as the founder of the modern welfare state. Blair deployed one of my favourite quotations from Beveridge in what he had to say. When he was 80, Beveridge wrote:
Blair was not quite 80 at that particular point, but he took as his theme the inspiration that mountains can be moved, and in that speech also affirmed Labour's intention to introduce a minimum wage. The whole point of the speech was to say that the welfare system and the welfare state have to be radically revised because of the fundamental transformations happening in the wider social and economic order. That is an imperative that we still have to sustain today.
Child poverty was the right thing to be radical about. Other noble Lords have explained why-because of its pervasive nature and the massive impact that it has on all aspects of the wider life of society. Moreover, one should remember that at that time the country was faring spectacularly badly compared to other EU countries; depending on how you measure child poverty, it ranked 14 out of 15 EU countries. However, radicalism of intent has not been matched by radicalism of achievement. The mountain has proved extremely hard to move. It is an achievement, of course, to have lifted half a million children out of relative poverty. However,
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The current Bill reaffirms seriousness of intent. For that reason, I am happy to support it. It is worth recognising that accompanying the Bill has been a flurry of documentation produced by the Government which has been very valuable-for example, Ending Child Poverty and Making it Happen and about five other major documents. These were supposed to initiate a debate with child poverty agencies, and this they have done. The responses from child poverty groups to the initial formulation of this Bill have been very valuable and I shall allude to one or two of them.
I want to make four points. I should like my noble friend the Minister to consider commenting at least on the first three, while the final one is for the opposition Front Bench. As an academic and a social scientist, I believe that a far more comparative analysis is needed than has so far informed the Government's approach. We must do a lot more to learn from best practice elsewhere. In the documentation to which I referred, there are allusions to other countries, especially in respect to what should count as abolishing child poverty, but no systematic comparisons-only superficial comparisons are made. It is essential, in dealing with an entrenched problematic issue such as child poverty, that we scour the world and look at best practice. To my mind, that has not really been done.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, said that his triangle was the closest thing to an iron law in the social sciences. As a practising social scientist for many years, I have heard all that before, but there are no iron laws in the social sciences, nor is there anything approaching one. I would counsel not too much reliance on that aspect of what he said.
When you look at different industrial countries in comparative terms, you find that some of the countries that have the lowest rates of marriage and the highest rates of single-parent households also have the lowest rates of child poverty. I have in mind the Scandinavian countries in that connection. We should beware these specious statements about marriage and the family unless they are backed up with detailed comparative research.
Incidentally, it is not true that child poverty as such is not discussed in continental countries. I started working on the issue with social scientists in many countries 15 years or so ago, when it was certainly discussed. I made several trips to Scandinavia and the United States at that time, and of course the European Union enshrines a good deal of this in its own programmes.
Secondly, and this is aimed more directly at the Minister and the Government: you do not move a mountain simply by removing the topsoil. You have to have serious earth-moving equipment in order to do that, and my question is: where is it? It is common knowledge that the best study recently of child poverty, produced by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, says that something like £4.3 billion a year is needed if the
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As someone who has been working for the past year on climate change, I support what the Government are doing but it seems to be similar. We now have the most robust forward-looking framework for countering climate change, but our actual achievements are pretty minimal. We have only about 1 per cent of the total energy mix coming from renewable sources, compared with 40 per cent in Sweden. Funding will be necessary, whoever is in government, and it will to be substantial and regularised. I do not quite see where that is at the moment.
Thirdly, we will need to be much more radical at the level of policy innovation. I do not agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said in his address, but he is right that we have to be innovative, and he has tried to show this in the work that he has carried out in this area.
The existing strategy of depending on tax credits has been valuable, and I was pleased to hear that a Tory Government would sustain that, although I am not sure what the actual quantity would be. However, we know that it has its limits, and after the scenario I have described, these limits have been fairly well explored. We know that there is a lot of in-work poverty; something like 50 per cent of children who live in poverty are living in a family where at least one parent is in work.
All parties need more radical thinking at this point. If Beveridge could say, "I am still a radical at 80", and mean it and still produce radical thinking, that is what we should be doing. We have to be a lot more innovative than current policy suggests. However, I do not support some of the things that noble Lords have said about the specific nature of the Child Poverty Bill not looking at rounded notions of children's well-being. After all, the Government have put an enormous amount of effort into fostering child well-being; there have been many initiatives, beginning with Sure Start, which has been mostly successful, through to the Children Plan. Many other aspects of children's well-being have certainly been the concern of the Government. You might say that it has not all worked as it should, but the kind of criticism I am referring to is misplaced.
I address my fourth point to the Tory Front Bench. I was pleased to hear the Conservative Party's commitment to getting somewhere close to eradicating child poverty or making a serious dent in it. I was glad to hear, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said, that the party now accepts that poverty is a relative phenomenon. In other words, we are living in a society that is much too unequal. To me, countering child poverty is the main lever for potentially radically reducing overall inequality in our society.
I should like to hear a bit more from the Tory Front Bench about this, though. If targets are going to be abolished, for example, what will replace them? To eliminate child poverty is, of course, a target. You could define it as 5 per cent, as 10 per cent or, as the
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I agree with other noble Lords who say that this should be a cross-party endeavour, without political point-making but with serious debate. If the parties indeed work together, we can start to move the mountain.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, because his experience is valuable and he made an interesting speech, which I am sure will repay careful study. I absolutely agree with his final point about co-operating across parties to try to achieve this end. There is no purpose in point-scoring; it is too serious a subject for that. I will say two other things about his speech. First, he was interested in moving mountains. It is a long time since 1999 and we are still floundering in the foothills. Expectations have been dashed. It was a brave vision and the then Prime Minister was probably right to set out that vision, but we still have a long way to go. What worries me more than anything else about that is that the earliest reductions are the easiest to achieve. The hardest bit is yet to come. The last 10 years will be harder than the first 10 years. I think everybody understands that.
Against a background of climate change, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer making statements yesterday about how growth will be devoted to fiscal consolidation, it is not surprising that people are worried about where resources will come from. He made a powerful point about the need for extra resources, and I agree with that. He also made an important point about best practice. Actually, we have been too dependent in the past on American practice. We should be looking much more to our sister European countries for some of the ideas that we might need to innovate in the 10 years remaining if we are to be successful.
People are right to be less than enthusiastic about where we are. The Minister probably has the argument on points, but I would not put it any higher than that. The debate has been interesting and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, that it is always massively instructive to listen to colleagues because there is such a range of experience and different points of view. I will respond to some of them from my own perspective.
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