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This Government and our local partners remain committed to ensuring that these vulnerable groups are looked after. Perhaps I can use this opportunity to alert noble Lords to the fact that we are considering moving a government amendment on Report, which will be relevant to both this amendment and the amendment that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, is
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Lord Freud: I thank the Minister for saying towards the close of his remarks that the Government will look at how to help the most disadvantaged children. Clearly, that lies behind the amendment and, I suspect, the amendment from the Liberal Democrats, which is due to follow. As the Minister said at the beginning, it is not the intention in the Bill to prioritise the children who are easier to help. The amendment has been tabled because there are disturbing signs that, in the past five or six years, that is precisely what has happened. With some of the hardest children to help, we have seen the levels of severe poverty apparently growing, according to Save the Children and the IFS. An amendment on those lines would be most helpful. I am extremely pleased that the Government are going to draw up something that captures the spirit of our amendment and, on that basis, I am on this occasion very pleased to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) In preparing a UK strategy, the Secretary of State must consider and report upon the potential impact on the eradication of child poverty and socio-economic disadvantage of a requirement on all registrars of birth, deaths and marriages to provide information to parents registering the birth of their child on-
(a) the parenting needs of children;
(b) marriage and the benefits to a child of strong and supportive family relationships; and
(c) child welcoming and naming ceremonies, and other forms of commitment ceremonies."
Lord Northbourne: This is clearly a probing amendment. It raises a rather specific issue on which I seek the opinion of the Minister and Members of the Committee. I shall not need to speak to it at great length, but I hope that I shall get some responses.
For those who want to make a formal commitment to one another or to their child, there is today really only one option, which is marriage. My purpose this afternoon is to draw attention to the case for one or more alternative kinds of formal commitment that parents could make. Many couples are scared of marriage-sadly, sometimes because of their experience of the family in which they grew up. Is there not a case for a formula of commitment that would be less scary than marriage but which would none the less help to
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In 2004, the right honourable Frank Field, who has already been mentioned today in another context, introduced a Private Member's Bill in another place proposing that a welcoming and naming ceremony be made available to all parents. In that ceremony would be an option for one or both parents to make a commitment to their child. It might be an absolute commitment or even, by choice, a "promise to do my best" kind of commitment. Amendment 40 suggests that, at the time of registration of the birth of a child, the registrar be required to hand to each parent information as to their responsibilities as parents and to draw to their attention the possibility of holding a welcoming and naming ceremony. Might this alternative to making no commitment at all find favour with some of those parents who are not yet ready for the much greater commitment of marriage? Having just celebrated the 50th anniversary of my wedding, I am conscious both of the obligation and of the joy and privilege of having a marriage. In so far as what I suggest was successful in causing the parents to stop and think, it would surely make a substantial contribution to reducing the risk both of child poverty and of economic disadvantage for the child. I beg to move.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I have enormous sympathy with the intentions and objectives of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to his attempt to include parent consultation in the Bill. However, on this amendment, although I support the noble Lord's objectives to a great extent, I am not quite sure that a public official such as the registrar of births, deaths and marriages is the most appropriate person to provide this information. His proposed paragraph (a) is on the parenting needs of children. We should start teaching people about that as teenagers in PSHE lessons at school. Moreover, a local authority's children's information service-in better local authorities, I think that it is called a "family information service"-can provide quite a lot of information for parents about the support services available to them and groups and classes that will help them with their parental responsibilities and bringing up their children well.
On the noble Lord's new paragraph (b), it is not for the state to promote marriage or to brief against it. However, I certainly agree with his suggestion that strong and supportive family relationships are good for children. That, too, can be taught to young people before they ever become parents, which is highly desirable.
Proposed new paragraph (c) relates to child welcoming and naming ceremonies. Again, I am not sure that the registrar is the person to provide that information. People are already doing it: I have been to a number of such ceremonies for the children of people who are not religious and who therefore do not want a baptism. I absolutely support the noble Lord's objective in that he believes that such ceremonies would help to secure the commitment of the father to a continuing relationship with the child even where the parents are not married or are cohabiting. That is highly desirable. However, I
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Lord Freud: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, makes some important points with his amendment. I am pleased to see that, unlike many in the Government, he agrees with us in identifying a strong and stable partnership between the parents as a fundamental pillar in bringing up a child in a happy household. He is absolutely right to identify the ongoing problem of delivering support and resources to those who need it most. I am sure that many of us are aware of good intentions gone largely to waste in many areas because of low take-up by the target population.
As any parent in this Room will know, any baby brings with it sleepless nights, added expense and enormous responsibilities. These invariably put a strain on the healthiest, happiest and richest of relationships. Providing useful information and putting hesitant parents into contact with bodies, whether governmental or not, that can provide ongoing advice and support could make all the difference to whether a relationship survives the appearance of a child.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on his 50th wedding anniversary-no mean achievement. The noble Lord's amendment would require the Secretary of State to consider and report on the potential impact on child poverty of placing a requirement on registrars to give parents a range of information when they register the birth. In particular, registrars would need to provide information on the parenting needs of children, marriage and the benefits to a child of strong family relationships, and commitment ceremonies, such as child welcoming and naming ceremonies.
I support the noble Lord's aims in tabling this amendment. We know that early parental acknowledgement of a child can set the scene for an ongoing positive relationship. That is why, for example, we are introducing new provisions that will make joint birth registration the norm for unmarried couples. I do not disagree with the noble Lord that the areas that he has highlighted are important. However, I do not agree that it is appropriate or necessary for registrars to be required to provide advice to parents on such complex matters.
Registrars have a very specific role, which is to record information given to them for entry in official registers. They do not have the capacity to take on responsibility for advising on policy issues. In any
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Each local authority in England is under a statutory duty to offer an information service to parents. These local family information services offer expert information, advice and assistance to parents on a range of issues, such as childcare, availability of local parenting support and other services, facilities and publications that would be of help to them. These services should ensure that information for parents is made available through a wide range of outlets that parents are likely to visit. These include Sure Start children's centres, GP surgeries, libraries, community centres, post offices and schools-and maybe women's magazines as well. There are currently over 3,000 children's centres for the families of children aged nought to five providing information and services for parents. Therefore, we suggest, it is not appropriate for registrars to take on additional responsibility for doing so.
Perhaps at this juncture I might alert noble Lords, while reminding them that Christmas was some time back, that the Government are intending to move another amendment to add to the list of policy areas to be considered under the child poverty strategy a fifth building block in Clause 8, which would cover the provision of information, advice and assistance to parents. This chimes with the noble Lord's amendment and other debates and discussions that we have had. I hope that that will ease the pain of his withdrawing the amendment, if he is able to do so.
We recognise the importance of naming ceremonies, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to, whether a religious event, a means to welcome the child into the wider circle of family or friends or an opportunity to reaffirm the responsibilities of parents. The vast majority of councils already offer this service, so we do not believe that it would be helpful to increase or mandate this provision. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I would like to deal first with the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I have two points in connection with what she said. I should explain that my concern is really for what are called the hard-to-reach families. It is all very well to say that they are going to get this education at school but, as like as not, they have never been to school or they have not been listening to what was going on there. Many people would agree that prenatal and postnatal services can make a major contribution to the dissemination of information about parenting, which is what I had in mind.
With regard to the registrar, my impression is that all the wonderful things that the Government are doing and making accessible are accessed by intelligent middle-class parents, while perhaps less intelligent middle-class parents-perhaps not only middle-class parents, but the hard-to-reach parents, too-are not necessarily getting these messages.
Since the Government have introduced joint registration-they seem to have in mind an increased emphasis on its importance, with which I wholly agree-perhaps one could build on that with great caution as a point of contact, maybe one of the few points of contact, that the state will have with those parents. I was not really thinking of the registrar giving a lecture to the parents, but I thought that they might hand out something like a pamphlet about joint registration, as well as one on the availability of naming ceremonies. I was glad to hear from the Minister that such ceremonies exist in many local authority areas, but I wonder to what extent they are being used and made available to the hard-to-reach parents. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) economic status and family type;
(b) number of children in the household;
(c) disability and receipt of disability benefits;
(d) ethnic group;
(e) age of youngest child in the family;
(f) other household types as determined by the Secretary of State to be at risk of poverty; and
(g) any other definitions as the Secretary of State may determine."
Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, the Minister has probably just shot my fox. However, in view of the fact that we will enter an uncertain period in the next few weeks, I am going to move my amendment, albeit as briefly as I can. I will not expect the Minister to provide a very full answer if he is going to come back on Report with something that will cover these points. I just want to ensure that we will get to Report stage. Who knows what will happen? Maybe if we can finish today, we might.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that measures in the child poverty strategies will be assessed against the impact that they will have on children and parents by household type. All the categories in the amendment are within the HBAI. The analysis will allow decisions to be made on the basis of whether they would help those most at risk of poverty in the long term and drive real progress in lifting these groups out of poverty. It will also ensure that resources and efforts across different policy areas impact those in greatest need, in addition to those who will fall just under the target income levels. We have discussed this at some length in Committee.
The amendment was suggested by the End Child Poverty campaign, which rightly, in our view, believes that the Secretary of State must consider how measures taken in each of the building blocks impact on different
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My amendment would ensure that the analysis of winners and losers under each measure was considered and would pinpoint where help was most needed. This is particularly important following the recent report from the National Equality Panel which shows that the inequality gap has widened even further from the 1980s to the present day. The week before last, during our debates on Clause 6, I spoke about families with either a disabled child or a disabled adult. The figures show that, after housing costs, 44 per cent of children in households where there is disability are in poverty compared with only 28 per cent where no one in the family has a disability.
It costs three times as much to bring up a disabled child as it does to bring up a non-disabled child, and current levels of disability benefits do not reflect the full costs of raising a disabled child. I believe that there is a lot of misunderstanding about this. The non-disabled world thinks that a lot more money and organised help is available than there really is. Many parents of disabled children simply do not complain about a lack of money or help because they are too busy or too tired to do so. Disability living allowances-I declare an interest-are terrific benefits, but with a severely disabled child they only go so far. A severely disabled child might go to a special school, but what happens in the holidays? It is very difficult indeed to get appropriate childcare for an older disabled child, so the parent has to be available in the holidays. It is little wonder that many parents work only intermittently or, at best, have low-paid jobs.
As I have said before, only 16 per cent of mothers with disabled children work compared with over 60 per cent of those with non-disabled children. I take the point the Minister made in his response the week before last to my amendment about the local needs assessment picking up information about the need for childcare for older disabled children. I doubt, however, that there are enough carers with this specialised skill throughout the country and I just hope that more are being trained.
The next category in the amendment refers to ethnic groups. In 2007-08, children from certain black and minority ethnic groups, such as children in Pakistani or Bangladeshi households, were more than twice as likely to be living in poverty as the average child. Some groups also underachieve educationally and the employment rate among some ethnic minorities is 60 per cent compared with 75 per cent for all working age adults.
would require the impact to be shown for lone parents who work part time, full time and not at all, as well as couple households ranging from both parents in full-time work to neither in full-time work. I believe this is what the Minister said the fifth building block might show. Existing evidence from the HBAI datasets demonstrates
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The amendment allows both aspects to be considered in developing the strategy. Over time, those most at risk of poverty may well change and current measures for HBAI do not capture all children. We do not want to exclude groups who might be more at risk in the future and it is important for datasets to be developed to include as many children as possible. As the British Household Panel Survey is being expanded to include more households, this is a good opportunity for the Government to build a much more rigorous evidence base on those families and children most at risk of poverty. I beg to move.
Lord Freud: As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, has indicated, she suspects that her fox may have been shot. We are in sympathy with the direction of the amendment. It tries to isolate particular groups of children who are at risk of deprivation as a way of balancing out the financial targets, which, as noble Lords are aware, is our concern with the Bill. I hope that the amendment mentioned by the Minister can satisfy this concern and I will be looking closely at it when it comes.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, for the amendment. As she anticipated, I will truncate what I have to say because I covered the issue in responding to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Freud.
The amendment would require the Secretary of State to consider the likely impact of the measures in the strategy on certain household types as defined in regulations. The household types listed in the amendment are considered to be particularly vulnerable or particularly likely to suffer from poverty. The noble Baroness speaks with great authority on these issues and highlights the challenges that we still face. In the interests of expediency, I shall not repeat everything I said earlier. I appreciate that in tabling the amendment the noble Baroness has included a list that would be set out in regulations rather than in the Bill. However, just as it is technically difficult to definitively state in the Bill which groups should be specific, the same practical problems would arise in drafting regulations; the issue would simply be deferred to a later date.
While we acknowledge that regulations would introduce slightly more flexibility than the prescribed list in Amendment 39, we also consider that having regulations identify specific groups for consideration is not appropriate for a strategy which is non-legislative and is intended to be flexible in its approach. Underpinning a strategy with formal requirements set out in secondary legislation would reduce the flexibility that is essential for an effective strategy to tackle child poverty. Additionally, I am sure noble Lords will appreciate the need to limit
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We have listened to this debate and to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, with interest. We appreciate the concern of noble Lords that the needs of the most vulnerable groups should be addressed more explicitly in the Bill. As I indicated earlier, I am prepared to consider a government amendment that would require the Secretary of State when developing the strategy to consider-I stress this is not another of the building blocks-which groups of children appear to be disproportionately affected by socio-economic disadvantage and the likely impact of each measure on children within each of those groups. With that reassurance, I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Thomas of Winchester: I thank the Minister for that reply and the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for his contribution. I look forward to reading the government amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) the matters on which the Commission is to give advice, and
(b) any matters to which the Commission must have regard when giving advice.
Lord Freud: My Lords, the amendment follows on from the interesting debates we had on 21 January on the appointment of the chair of the commission, and on the question that we discussed on 25 January about the circumstances under which the chair could be removed. I would be grateful if the Minister could expand a little more on some points that were raised then as to the focus and parameters of the research that the commission is expected to undertake and the advice it is expected to give.
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