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Section 3 of the Children Act 1989 clearly sets out what is meant by parental responsibility. Parental responsibility means all the rights, responsibilities and authority that a parent of a child has. The concept encapsulates all the legal duties and powers that exist to enable a parent to care for a child and to act on his behalf. These include the duties and powers relating to material needs and healthcare, the manner of a child's education, his religious upbringing and the administration of his property. Some of the specific responsibilities covered by the section are providing a home for the child, having contact with the child, protecting and maintaining the child, disciplining the child, and determining and providing for the child's education.
We are also clear that these responsibilities apply to fathers as well as to mothers. All evidence demonstrates that their involvement in the lives of their children is vital, whether or not they live with them. We have sought to promote the responsibilities of fathers in several ways and enable them to perform those responsibilities better, from paid paternity leave to the right to request flexible working for parents of disabled children and children under six. The assumption that mothers are the primary carers needs to be updated in
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The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, asked why we cannot issue guidance to parents. We are issuing guidance on parental responsibility to local authorities, not to parents. We cannot issue it to each individual; parents have different roles and different views.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, said that we had just woken up to the issue of parents, and that this was all some sort of pre-election gimmick. Let me take him back a few years. We published guidance in 2006 to encourage local authorities to develop a parenting strategy that should set out their intention to plan, to develop, to commission and to deliver parenting and family support that is based on the needs of parents and families locally. The work that we have done includes: the National Academy for Parenting Practitioners, which was established in November 2007 to train and support the practitioners to whom parents turn for advice, training and information on parenting skills so that they can ensure that their work is based on research evidence of what really works; and the Parenting Early Intervention Programme, which aims to support parents of eight to 13 year-olds who are at risk of negative outcomes and to ensure that they receive an earlier co-ordinated package of parenting support and increased parenting provision through the delivery of evidence-based parenting programmes.
While measures may have been taken on families in the interim, what the Government are admitting in this statement is that there has not been an overall strategic look at the issue within the process of a Green Paper, a White Paper and legislation since the beginning of their time in office. The Secretary of State, Ed Balls, admits that he feels that the Government have dropped the ball about families in the mean time.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: To suggest that nothing has happened since the last Green Paper simply is not right. In the past 12 years, the Government have introduced new legislation, developed groundbreaking new policies on children and families and invested very significant public funds in improving support. I mention, for example, that leave entitlements for parents have been transformed and many more families now have access to high-quality childcare. The Every Child Matters programme has been embraced in every area across government.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, talked about the importance of education. I agree with that. The Government believe that all young people should receive a comprehensive programme of sex and relationships education. The provision of SRE should be a partnership between parents and schools, with parents leading on instilling values in their children. However, schools
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Baroness Meacher: Perhaps I may make a brief intervention to say that the point that we are trying to make is that an understanding of good parenting is absolutely critical to child poverty and, therefore, it is valid to make some reference to it in the Bill. We understand that there are lots of other laws and provisions, but that is the point that I hope the Minister will take into account when he concludes his remarks.
Lord Northbourne: I should point out to the noble Lord that the references in that paragraph relate only to parents as financial animals. It is about getting them into work and how much money should be given to them. It is not about engaging them.
If those service areas do not encompass parents, I am not sure what would. As in so many of our debates, no one is saying that these issues are not important to the development of the strategy; the issue is whether the structure of the Bill requires them to be specifically stated. We would say that that is not necessary because they are otherwise encompassed.
I hope that I have shown that the Government are committed to continuing to promote increased parental engagement. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and my noble friend Lady Hollis pointed out on Monday that we need to be careful that we continue to focus on the primary aim of the Bill, which is to provide a framework for tackling child poverty. We must try in our debates in Committee not to lose focus. As I have outlined, there are other pieces of legislation, strategies and programmes of work that look at the important issues raised by this amendment. For those reasons, I urge the noble Lord not to press his amendment. I know that he would not do that in the Moses Room, but I hope that he will accept that we are in agreement with the thrust of what he is seeking to achieve.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am terribly sorry to disappoint the Minister but, if I may say not unkindly, his reply shows a complete failure to grasp the essential nature of the amendments that I tabled. That is undoubtedly my fault for not setting them down right. Perhaps I had better briefly explain what I was trying to do and what I shall try to do on Report. I have had a good deal of trouble getting notes about this, but I shall try to encapsulate what I am trying to say.
I recognise that the Government are doing lots of things to parents and for parents. They are supporting them and there are initiatives and so on. However, if we want this child poverty thing to work, we have to work with parents as partners. That is what is lacking in the Bill. There is a small amount about what the
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The Minister referred to health education, childcare and social services. That is fine-the Government are doing wonderful things-but that is not saying to parents, "We have to work together on this child poverty business". Neither the Government nor parents can do it alone. If we are working with someone else, we have to show them a bit of respect. To fail entirely to show respect to parents is a grave error. That is why I have moved this amendment and will move others coming up. That is all that I have to say. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to have a meeting when we can try to cobble something together that says what I mean and what might be acceptable to the Government. We are not getting anywhere on this argument.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: I am always happy to meet the noble Lord, but I must stress that this is not only about doing things to parents but about doing things with parents. We understand and share that aspiration. I do not believe that it needs to be expressed in those terms in the Bill, but let us have a meeting to see who can convince whom on that.
Lord Northbourne: That is where we differ. I shall see what I think as we proceed. The Minister made an interesting and important point on the question of the responsibilities of parents. He said that the Government expect all parents to do this and that-I was unable to get it down. Where is it written in simple form where parents can see it, understand it, ask questions and get advice? That is what I like about the Scottish legislation, which is clear and can be quoted.
I have taken a lot of trouble with the Children Act, as the Minister can imagine, as I have been working on this for more than two years. The Minister quoted several sentences but, when we get down to it, it depends on case law. I tabled a Question about a year ago to the relevant Minister when I asked whether the Government could give me the necessary references to the case law. The Answer was that it was far too complicated and it would be far too expensive. If that is the case, it would be unfair to argue that the position is entirely clear for the ordinary parent to understand. I want something that they can understand. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Freud: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to prevent the targets creating perverse effects through the economy. There are already signs of this beginning to happen. The issue is that if disproportionate resources are concentrated on families with children, it may be at the expense of other groups such as single people, childless couples and pensioners, many of whom will be equally vulnerable. However, these groups will not have the benefit of the protection of a statutory target, whereas households with children will.
It is worth pointing out that many single people and childless couples will go on to have children. There are two issues around that. We discussed one, which is that women in poverty who do not have adequate nutrition because they are too poor may pass on poor effects to their foetuses at a very early stage of their development. As we heard on Monday from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, support must go in very early in pregnancy: it is no good having it later.
The second impact of this is that if the single people and childless couples have been allowed to remain in poverty until that point, it is likely that the child will be significantly disadvantaged, because one does not eradicate years of poverty with a sudden wave of the fiscal-or indeed any other-wand. This is the weakness of conflating two concepts into one, in order to conjure up the snappy concept of child poverty: poverty in general, as it affects everyone in the economy, and child well-being, which we discussed earlier in the week. There are already worrying signs of distortion in the support system as a result of the Government's strategies to meet the targets over the past decade. I would not be surprised to learn that recent measures will stretch the figures still more, when we have had the chance to examine their effect in the round.
In 2007-08, the minimum support for a childless couple was 32 per cent below the poverty definition used in the Bill-which, as noble Lords know, is 60 per cent of the median income. This compares with a figure of 4 per cent for households of a lone parent with one child. A single individual would stand at 22 per cent below the poverty line on the same basis, while a couple with two children would do somewhat better at only 15 per cent below the line. I am using the revised figures prepared by the House of Commons Library.
It is noteworthy that independent commentators are saying that we are coming to the end of this process of stretching. The Rowntree report entitled Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2009 asked how much further the Government can go with their policy of increasing child tax credit and child benefit well in excess of inflation. It found that the rises in child tax credit and child benefit have,
This year, the maximum income support for two children is about £130 per week-£30 more than for a working-age couple. Ten years ago, two children would have got only 81 per cent of the couple's figure. The report finds that,
"As far as we can tell, the argument for the much bigger rises in child benefits acknowledges no external point of reference other than the need to progress towards the child poverty goal as 'cheaply' as possible".
Given the historically unprecedented differential between child and adult benefits that now prevails, this is no longer enough. Instead, we must look at the system of social security benefits in the round and decide how their values should stand in relation to one another. This is the issue that my amendment seeks to address. I beg to move.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I shall speak briefly to this amendment, which requires that in preparing the UK strategy, the Secretary of State must consider the impact that any measure taken will have on "other groups" in poverty. It is assumed that by "other groups", the amendment is intended to cover groups such as childless households and pensioners.
It cannot be the remit of the child poverty strategy itself to consider the impact of any proposed measures on other groups that may be living in poverty. However, the Secretary of State will not be able to take policy and spending decisions on measures to prevent and tackle child poverty in isolation. Such decisions will be taken in the round and through prioritisation at key fiscal events, including the Pre-Budget and Budget Reports and departmental spending reviews. In addition, Clause 15 requires the likely impact of any measure on the economy and fiscal circumstances, and the likely impact of implementing any proposed measure on taxation, public spending and public borrowing, to be taken into account by the Secretary of State when preparing a UK strategy and by the commission when considering any advice to be given to the Secretary of State or the devolved Administrations. The effect would be to require the commission and UK, Scottish and Northern Ireland Ministers to have regard to budgetary constraints and value for money in developing and advising on strategies. This will necessarily need to balance the impact of any measures on other policy areas and priority groups. I hope that the noble Lord is reassured by this.
This is the Child Poverty Bill and is about helping children out of poverty. As to distortions, I think he was almost referring to distortions within child poverty groups. Under this Bill, we have to meet all the targets, as the noble Lord is aware. If the issue is whether there will be distortion of those groups in aggregate with other groups in society, the way to settle that is through the normal budgetary discussions on the PBR and at the Budget where the implications of resources are properly analysed and debated.
Lord Freud: I thank the Minister for giving way. I just want to make clear what I am worrying about here. I am concerned about a process that says we have got to hit our child poverty targets. That is pushed to the extent that it is done through income transfers towards child benefit and so on, and thus to households with children. That leaves singles such as NEETs, who we are very worried about and who have just been children, to come out and be plunged to 22 per cent below the poverty line, whereas if they have a single
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Lord McKenzie of Luton: I understand the point being made by the noble Lord, but I would say that seeking to address what might be said to be the potential distortions of an approach of tackling child poverty in the Child Poverty Bill is not appropriate. This Bill is focused on child poverty and how we tackle it within the context of Clause 15 and clearly within the context of all the decisions the Government have to make about resources and the impact of the application of those resources across society as a whole.
Lord Freud: I thank the noble Lord for giving way again. That is not an appropriate response. I do not mean that it is inappropriate; I mean that it is not the correct response. I do not know which is the more rude. I shall stop digging; I shall find some turf and stand on it. Where there is a statutory target in the Bill, it would seem appropriate to put the defences against abuse of that statutory target or distortions created by it into the Bill, not into other legislation that may or may not exist. There ought not to be another law which says, "By the way, we must look after singles". That is where the problem could arise and where the protections should be.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: I simply disagree with that position. I do not see how you could possibly, in drawing up a strategy, have regard to, within that strategy, all the consequences that the allocation of resources to meet those targets would have elsewhere in government. It is the job of the Government to balance those calls on resources and the implications of the allocation of resources. It is also a requirement under the strategies to make sure that they are sustainable, so that any distortions-to use the noble Lord's term-that might seem to be short-term fixes et cetera are outwith the concept and thrust of this Bill.
Lord Freud: I thank the Minister for that response, which of course disappoints me. As I said in the last discussion, the purpose is not to allow distortions to develop, but it seems on the surface, given the figures that we have, that we already have significant distortions among the poor, probably because of the child poverty targets and the attempts to get as close to reaching them as possible. I do not understand where the protection from the continuation of that invidious process of distortion would be if it was not here. Therefore, I am disappointed that this has had such short shrift from the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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