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Clause 28 : Extent

Amendment 81

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

81: Clause 28, page 16, line 8, leave out "extends" and insert "and section (Free school lunches and milk) extend"

Amendment 81 agreed.

Clause 28, as amended, agreed.

Clause 29 : Commencement

Amendments 81A and 82

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

81A: Clause 29, page 16, line 10, after "2" insert "and section (Free school lunches and milk)"

82: Clause 29, page 16, line 11, leave out "comes" and insert "and section (Free school lunches and milk) come"

Amendments 81A and 82 agreed.

Clause 29, as amended, agreed.

Clause 30 : Short title

Amendment 83

Moved by Lord Northbourne

83: Clause 30, page 16, line 14, after "the" insert "Household Income and"

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, the evening is young and I will move this amendment briefly. The Minister has explained again and again in the course of this Committee that the Government think it is not a good idea to include in the Bill anything that they can avoid including which is not about household income. They would really like-and it is perfectly possible-the Bill to be simply about household income and the amounts of it that are to be guaranteed under the agreement. That being the case, the argument for not putting "household income" in the title of the Bill is weak. The argument for using the title "child poverty" has become stronger as the noble Lord and his colleagues have decided to accept one or two amendments relating to what one might call non-income-focused aspects of child poverty. The balance of the Bill is still about household income rather than child poverty.

I have said this before so I will not go into detail, but I think your Lordships would all agree that household income is very different from what filters down to the child. First, the quantum of the income depends on decisions made by the parents. Secondly, the amount that filters down to the child is also the decision of the parents. There are various other policy decisions that the parents can make, including the decision to take a large quantity of alcohol or drugs which can seriously affect the poverty and economic disadvantage of the child. Therefore, the words "household income" should be substituted for "child poverty" in the title of the Bill but, guessing that the noble Lord will not accept that, I have suggested that they should be additional to it. I beg to move.

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Lord Freud: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is quite right to table an amendment to the Short Title and I support him entirely. We have had long discussions about the difference the Bill will make to children suffering from deprivation and at several points the Minister has stated that it is only a small part of the arsenal of legislation that relates to child poverty. He is quite right. The vast majority of powers, duties and obligations that fall on the Government in relation to the welfare of children continue unchanged.

Added to this is the undeniable fact that the first six clauses of the Bill are not directly related to child poverty. The targets measure household income as a proxy and, although there might be some correlation between the experience of a child and the level of household income, in many cases it is not a perfect proxy. The Government's research shows that some children living in low-income households are not materially deprived and, for many reasons, that there are children who experience worrying levels of deprivation, neglect and abuse despite their parents being in receipt of much higher levels of income. The noble Lord's amendment is therefore to be commended on the grounds of accuracy. The Bill is drafted around financial targets, but those targets do not measure child poverty, they measure household income.

I hope that the commission, the UK strategy and the new requirements on local authorities will all contribute to greater levels of co-ordination in an area of policy that should always be a very high priority, but does the Minister think that this improvement in the behaviour of government will be the result of the four targets? Does he think that Clauses 7 to 30 will be ineffective without Clauses 1 to 6? Either he believes that statutory targets significantly change government behaviour and priorities-in which case I am concerned about the distortion that solely financial targets will have on government policy-or he believes that the meat of the Bill lies in the later provisions, in which case exactly what will the four targets, all of which are already measured, achieve?

The four statutory targets measuring household income will not be what motivates a significant improvement in child poverty levels over the next 10 years, and we will be doing a great disservice to those struggling every day to find and help children suffering from deprivation if we pretend that they will.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thought we were going to end on a note of consensus, but seemingly not. Noble Lords may be aware that the title was discussed in the other place where honourable Members sought to change the name of the Bill to include family poverty. I do not deny that the measure of household income is key to the targets in Clauses 1 to 6, but I do not accept the assertion that they do not relate to child poverty, although we accept that the proxy is not absolute. On that point, at various stages during the course of our Committee deliberations we sought to understand the noble Lord's position in relation to those targets. At one stage he chided me because I suggested that he was not committed to them and that that misrepresented his view. However, we have heard subsequently in a number of debates a

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loosening of what I thought to be at that earlier stage a commitment to the targets set out in the Bill. That is by way of an aside.

Lord Freud: It is important at this stage to clarify this because you never know what will appear in the Guardian the next day. I always endeavour to tell the truth. We are committed to financial targets as measures but we believe that tackling child poverty needs a different approach in tackling the causes of poverty. We are additive not subtractive in our strategy.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Again, I take it that there is support for targets but some equivocation about whether the targets set down in the Bill-whatever else noble Lords might wish to add-are, in the noble Lord's view, sacrosanct, in particular the 60 per cent of median income.

Lord Freud: As we have just discussed, it is not yet clear to me, nor I think to the Liberal Democrat Benches, exactly what a statutory target is in this context. Indeed, the noble Lord has committed to informing us what the case law implications of the statutory target really are. If we go to the actual figures, we have spent a lot of time discussing how random some of them are. I accept of course that one has to fix on figures in the end, but to call a random figure sacrosanct, or to argue that a figure that is necessarily subject to many random elements must be sacrosanct, would seem to stretch any policy beyond the levels of commitment. I hope that I am making myself clear.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am completely confused by the noble Lord's position and it is getting worse as we go on. At the beginning, the noble Lord was clear that he accepted the figure of 60 per cent and so on, and we argued why people below 40 per cent or 50 per cent had a gap between declared income and apparent expenditure, but he made it clear that he was not in any sense taking on the propriety of the figures.

Does the noble Lord accept that the propriety of the figures as targets has absolutely nothing to do with whether they are justiciable under common law through case law? They are government targets. Either the noble Lord subscribes to the targets or, as he has increasingly done, particularly today, he is trying to give himself more and more wriggle room.

This leaves some of us concerned that what the noble Lord will try to do, should he be in the position to take my noble friend's place, is to put himself in a position where he can say that what really matters are the causes of poverty-addiction, alcohol abuse, worklessness, failure to get an education, poor parenting and so on-and, therefore, essentially, as those are the causes, the target of 60 per cent as a consequence matters far less. As a result, we can only tackle the causes-that is all that matters-and, lo and behold, these are all about the lack of moral fortitude on the part of parents; therefore we will morally re-educate the parent population. As a result-bingo-we will be free from the problem of transferring income or waiting for a recession to do it for us. The noble Lord has

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moved three, four or five steps in the course of the Bill and where he has ended up is far less satisfactory than where he started.

Lord Freud: I have to respond to the noble Baroness. I do not accept in any way that trying to tackle the causes of poverty suddenly becomes some kind of moral crusade, although I do not think that the noble Baroness said that. It is not a matter of morality. If the positions are reversed, as the noble Baroness suggested was a possibility and which is where we want to get to, the commission will be of great value in helping us to understand the causes of poverty. We will need a lot of help in order for us to address the funds, which will be limited under any government over the next decade, or certainly in the early part of it.

My earlier amendments, which we may come back to later, are attempts based on my understanding of the current state of research into some of the main drivers of poverty-possibly the main drivers-although I am prepared to be corrected by better research as it emerges.

These are not just targets; they are statutory targets, which are something rather different from a target. We have had a target up to now but we are now going to have a statutory target. I do not understand that and I look forward to hearing from the Minister exactly what the difference is in practice between a target and a statutory target.

The Bill is halfway through and we have had a series of amendments where we have shown our line of thinking. We want a solid emphasis on tackling the causes of poverty and the Minister would misjudge and unkindly misrepresent us if he said that we were looking to do anything other than tackle this problem at its heart.

6.45 pm

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The noble Lord's line seems to be that he would do everything short of any actual redistribution of income from rich to poor to achieve any of his aims.

Lord Freud: I thank the noble Baroness, but in this case I am baffled by how she could ever accuse me of saying that there should be no transfer from rich to poor. There are already massive transfers from rich to poor, and you could argue for more. The fascinating book The Spirit Level, which I am sure the noble Baroness has studied from cover to cover, as have I, makes the argument that it does not matter how you balance incomes in the economy, whether through redistribution or through natural means. There are a lot of different approaches here but we have never said that there should be no redistribution, and it is inappropriate of the noble Baroness to suggest it.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, perhaps I can return to responding to the amendment. That exchange was illuminating; it is clearly on the record, and doubtless we will return to that from time to time.

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The Committee will be aware from the debate so far that the targets relate primarily to the household below-average income data series, which presents income collected from the Family Resources Survey. Household income is equivalised according to the number of adults and number and age of children in each household. That has been the established measurement for child poverty since the Measuring Child Poverty consultation in 2003, which found that low income is central to people's perceptions of poverty.

As we have argued a number of times in Committee, the targets set out in the Bill are a means for measuring success in tackling child poverty. However, that does not mean that our approach to addressing the barriers to child poverty will focus solely on income transfers or financial support. Clause 8 makes clear our intention to develop a sustainable approach to tackling child poverty, one that looks at the range of policy areas set out in Clause 8(5) and that seeks to ensure that we not only meet the child poverty targets by 2020 but maintain these target levels beyond that date, as required by Schedule 2. Relying exclusively on financial support measures will not ensure in the long term that children do not experience socio-economic disadvantage, nor will it address the intergenerational cycles of poverty in the way that the Bill seeks to do.

The Bill enshrines in law the Government's commitment to end child poverty by 2020. It defines success in meeting that goal and establishes an accountability framework to drive progress towards it at both national and local levels. The Bill is clearly about tackling child poverty, as the Long Title makes clear, and I see no reason why the Short Title should not reflect that. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I have not suggested in my amendment that the title of the Bill should not reflect child poverty; I have left the words "child poverty" in there. What I have done to produce a title that slightly more realistically represents the balance of the Bill is put "household income" before "child poverty", but I would be happy to put it the other way around if the Minister preferred. Why is he not prepared to accept the fact that the Bill is about household income?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, in a phrase, this Bill is about child poverty-that is its framework, that is what it is directed towards, that is the whole thrust of the debate that we have had. It is about child poverty; that should be clearly stated and be the title of the Bill.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, for the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 83 withdrawn.

Clause 30 agreed.

Bill reported with amendments.

Committee adjourned at 6.50 pm.

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