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Turning briefly to Amendment 23-although I am dealing with these amendments briefly, I mean them most sincerely-minimum income standards are something I am much more familiar with and have been arguing for over many years and in earlier incarnations. Minimum income standards are not targets-we had a very good discussion about this in Committee-nobody is suggesting that. Minimum income standards are used by many sister European countries to great effect as a tool, in real time, to calculate and demonstrate to ordinary men and women in the street the differences between what people have to live on and what they should be living on. All this technical stuff that we are fond of discussing here is very important and the Bill is important-I have already conceded that I now accept that-but minimum income standards

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characterise and demonstrate to people, in a much clearer way, exactly how the level of disadvantage is actually biting on low-income families in the United Kingdom.

Frankly, I think it is a disgrace that 1.7 million children are in this situation in 2010. Minimum income standards are a valuable and useful tool to demonstrate the extent of the disadvantage and they are much more accessible in the course of the public debate that we need to engage in to persuade people that this work is essential if we are not to deprive people of life choices and circumstances in the future.

It is against that background that I am moving Amendment 11. I think that the amendment is worth testing the opinion of the House on. I would be very interested to know who would be opposed-against the background of the Bill and the explanation that I have given-to the idea that people would be better able to understand the force of the argument if it is conducted with the information about malnutrition that would be available if we had an annual report, as Amendment 11 proposes.

I have a dual purpose here: obviously, I will listen to what colleagues have to say about this, and I hope that the amendment finds favour, but I would like to find out, just as a matter of interest, whether this is something that colleagues in the House think is important. The only way of doing that is to test the opinion of the House, but I look forward to what colleagues and the Minister have to say. I beg to move.

Lord Freud: My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with these amendments. At their heart, they demand the answer to a simple question: are the poverty targets set in the Bill the right ones? Do they do the job? In particular, do families above the poverty line, as measured by the Bill, have adequate resources for nutrition and warmth, among other necessities?

The problem is that the 60 per cent target has not been derived from any process at all, as far as I can gather, other than consensus among academics that it is about the right figure. It has certainly not been based on minimum income standards and, as we discussed in Committee, the poverty line is very considerably below the minimum income standard set by the Rowntree study-more than 15 per cent, as best I could judge.

We may find ourselves brought face to face with this conflict before too long, to judge by developments in Germany on this issue. Germany's Supreme Court has given the German Government until the end of the year to come up with benefit figures that ensure a "dignified minimum"-I am not sure what that is in German. Hans-Jürgen Papier, the president of Germany's Constitutional Court-I think that he is retired now-said that benefits must be based on "reliable figures" and "comprehensible calculations". Rough estimates, he said, are unconstitutional. Given the way that these trends develop within the EU, I would not be surprised to see academic consensus on poverty move away from relative poverty lines towards "dignified minimums" across Europe.

However, to switch horses from relative poverty to minimum income standards at this stage, would, I think, destroy the Bill in its tracks. It is an entirely different approach, so while I am sympathetic to

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Amendment 23 of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, we could not accept it as it stands, for that reason. However, the debate on child and maternal nutrition can, I think, be extracted from the general position and made a specific requirement of the Bill.

The evidence from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, in Committee was compelling in its focus on the importance of early maternal, and even pre-maternal, nutrition. The importance is amplified by recent reports that young girls have the worst diet of any group in society. So this is an issue about targeted measures and information, as well as incomes. The income element is, I anticipate, trivial against the long-term gains of healthy babies and children, and while it might be a stretch to use DEL-AME switches in a formal way in this context, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, suggested in Committee, the gains from getting this right are indeed substantial.

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Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Kirkwood raised this matter in Committee and said how important nutrition was, particularly for children at a formative age, when he moved his amendment about minimum income standards. The Minister said that minimum income standards were ruled out because different research methods tended to make different assumptions, and it was difficult to get one answer to the question of how much income was enough. I am not particularly persuaded that this was a very robust response, but that is the later amendment.

Amendment 11 concentrates on the malnutrition of children, something that just should not occur in a wealthy country at the beginning of the 21st century, yet there is clearly child malnutrition in this country. We need to find out as much about it as we can because it can lead to bad health outcomes later in life, as well as a multitude of other problems. I support my noble friend's amendment.

Amendment 18, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who does not appear to be here today, has been grouped with this amendment. As I moved a similar amendment in Committee, I thought I should say a word about this one, although I shall not be moving it in her place. I hope this is in order. Under Amendment 18, the Secretary of State would have to consider the desirability of extending eligibility for free school lunches and milk to secondary school pupils whose parents were in receipt of working families tax credit. Although there is much to commend the amendment, as I said in Committee, I was persuaded by the Minister in his reply that primary legislation was not necessary for this to be brought about as it would be done by secondary legislation.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford: My Lords, my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, spoke at Second Reading out of the Good Childhood report, which was co-written by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, for the Children's Society. It described the current fiscal policy that increases the gulf between rich and poor, and the Government that have genuinely sought to bring people out of poverty, as absurd. It urged that by 2015 the proportion of children in

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relative poverty should be reduced from the 2006-07 figure of 22 per cent to the Scandinavian level of 10 per cent. While we talk in terms of vague figures, aims, targets and so on, it is better to have vague targets than no targets at all-although obviously I would prefer accurate ones.

I shall speak particularly on Amendment 23, and I shall refer to some of the research being asked for in that amendment. Such research is already being carried out in Bradford, and some of the findings of the Born in Bradford project are due to be published in June. Born in Bradford is seeking to monitor the development of every child born in the district over a three-year period, beginning as near conception as possible and going through birth and infancy into childhood, and indeed beyond into adulthood. It is an enormous task; from memory, the number of children being studied approaches 14,000. There is something like an 80 per cent response from mothers and, in spite of what might be regarded as intrusive questions in the light of previous comments, even DNA samples of the babies are being collected-willingly.

Born in Bradford is seeking to tie together medical, social and cultural factors that affect health and well-being. The premise behind it, which came up in all the applications for funding from the project, is that what happens to us in the womb and in the first couple of years of life influences our health when we are 40, 60 and way beyond. Trying to measure social deprivation is much harder, however, in minority ethnic groups. Assuming that the amendment goes through, the Secretary of State will need to take account of that. Ninety-five per cent of white mothers know their partner's income but only 65 per cent of south Asian mothers do, and this skews the information. Born in Bradford is exploring other ways of measuring poverty, including looking at perceived poverty, but better measurements are needed.

At the heart of our concern is the fact that poor maternal nutrition, pre-conception and post-conception, substantially increases the risk of poor cognitive abilities and serious brain disorders in the lives of many children. The unemployment benefit for women aged 18 to 25 is £50.95, and if she eats according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation minimum standards, which the noble Lord, Lord Freud, has already mentioned, she will spend £43 of this on food, leaving less than £8 for fuel, clothing and other necessities. That is the reality today. The value of this unemployment benefit has not increased in real terms since 1980. There has almost certainly been an increase in the proportion of ill people since then, and it has been costing the taxpayer billions through the National Health Service, through our schools and through the administration of justice.

A few weeks ago, fortuitously, Sir Michael Marmot produced his report on health inequalities. He recommended that we give priority to prenatal and postnatal intervention that reduces adverse outcomes from pregnancy and infancy, that we establish a minimum income for the health of all people and that we reduce the social gradient in the standards of living through changes in fiscal policy. The report included a rather scary graph that showed that bright ladies who were rich and did well intellectually would continue to do well intellectually as they grew older; those who were

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less bright and poor were undeveloped mentally throughout their lives; those who were less bright but rich did better and better as they grew older, as their nutrition and other social conditions helped them to develop; and those who were bright as babies but poor gradually failed to develop in ways that they would have done if they had been rich.

I mentioned this in my maiden speech so I hope that noble Lords will bear with me, but about three years ago I visited a school that has since become an academy, thanks to the funding that is available. I was there for prize-giving. The school served a particularly socially deprived, predominantly white area of Bradford. The then head teacher said to me, "Just look at the size of these children. They are all smaller than average. They are also underdeveloped intellectually, emotionally, socially and spiritually". I could see in those people-in the girls particularly, obviously-that the future cycle of deprivation and underachievement was simply going to continue in the lives of the people of a city that has among the highest levels of social deprivation. That is why I support Amendment 23.

Lord Rea: My Lords, I am pleased to follow the right reverend Prelate because my remarks are going to cover some of the field as his. Amendment 23 asks the Government to commission research into minimum household income. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, and my noble friend are aware that considerable research on this has already been published, mainly from three sources-we are awaiting the Bradford study. Those sources are the Family Budget Unit of the University of York, the Loughborough University Centre for Research in Social Policy and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where this work was initiated by the late Professor Jerry Morris. Because they all use slightly different methods of calculating minimum income standards, the recommendations from the three units are somewhat different. However, in one respect they all agree, which is that the incomes that they recommend are well above current benefit levels, some of which are extremely low and only just above subsistence level.

It is not sufficient, as other noble Lords have said, in the 21st century, simply to use scales which cover subsistence living costs. Certain additional items are necessary for people, especially families with children, to engage in society and live healthy social lives as well as physically healthy lives. They may need items such as refrigerators, which are actually owned by 80 per cent of the population now. Of course, 50 years ago it was not an item which would be thought of to be included in minimum income. In addition there are other domestic hardware items, possibly a television, some components of travel costs, and other social necessities to help people engage in life, or lead a "dignified" life, as the noble Lord has put it, as was said in Germany.

All these matters must be taken into account, and I think the Government do that to some extent, but not in a systematic way, when setting the level of benefits. The Government should work with the existing research units to achieve a consensus level of what is required, perhaps setting up a co-ordinating unit within the

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Child Poverty Commission to assess what should be minimum income standards. As the right reverend Prelate has said, this would be particularly relevant today in the month after the publication of the Marmot report, which gives a detailed account of the persistence of inequalities in health in the UK. The important finding in all of Professor Marmot's work is that there is a continuous gradient throughout the social spectrum. A basic first step must be to ensure that support levels are more than just adequate; they must be sufficient to enable the poorest to engage in society so as to move up the poverty inequality scale.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I was particularly asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, to give her apologies for being unable to be here; she had a previous commitment to a public lecture which existed before she knew the date of Report. She hopes the House will accept her apologies.

I have just a couple of points. First, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, that my understanding is that if he moves a vote on the first amendment, Amendment 11, that also brigades with it the other two amendments; and were he to be successful and the other two amendments were to be passed as well, that would be very interesting because together they would be very high-cost. Normally where amendments are grouped, the first one is regarded as trailing to the other two, and therefore carrying the other two. I merely put that to him. He would have to make that very clear; otherwise there may be some difficulties.

The second point is to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, who quoted, very interestingly, the German supreme court or high court about a "dignified" existence.

Lord Freud: The constitutional court.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: It was the German constitutional court. The noble Lord will know that both benefits and taxes within the EU are ring-fenced and are therefore not available because, clearly, there would be huge implications for eastern Europe and everywhere else where benefit levels and so on are extremely low. What Germany is doing may be appropriate for Germany; I suspect it would have no implications at all for the rest of the EU unless individual member states choose to follow the same path, because benefits, as with taxes, are excluded from EU purview for obvious reasons.

I want to ask my noble friend a couple of questions, first, on Amendment 11. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, is correct to say that the diet of many young girls may be inadequate; they may only discover that they are pregnant quite late; and this may affect low birth weight. Traditionally, very low birth weight, below five pounds, has been associated with feeding and respiratory difficulties, vulnerability to summer diarrhoea, and so on.

6.15 pm

In Committee, I suggested to my noble friend, and I had some support for this, that it would be useful to look at the possibility of breaking the Sure Start maternity grant, which I believe is about £600 now, into stages to assist with prenatal care to ensure that,

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with help and guidance, it was diverted into good nutrition. Has my noble friend been able to do any further work on that? It seems to me that it is a nil cost budget item that could have useful implications for the dietary standards of those young women who realise, perhaps partway through their pregnancy, that they are indeed pregnant and that their diet so far has not helped ensure that they will have a normal weight child.

The second point is on the school dinners amendment, which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, would have spoken to had she been here. Again, I perfectly understand that this is a high budget item as far as my noble friend is concerned, and that the Government have made it clear that they will not go down the path of that amendment. However, in Committee, we sought to press my noble friend on the point that there are some lone parents who, as a result of the Government's own changes in the Welfare Reform Bill, will now find themselves entering the labour market not when their youngest child is 16, but when their youngest child is seven, and they may be doing work preparation even before that, from when their youngest child is three.

Particularly when their youngest child is seven, that lone parent may have two of her three children, say, above the age of primary school and in secondary school. My experience when working with lone parents in the past was that the single biggest tipping factor for lone parents trying to calculate the best-buy package of going into work or not was when they had two or probably three or more children, and some of those children were of secondary school age. The cost of school dinners, which at £10 per child, could be £30 a week or £40 a week for four children, was the tipping factor. Even though my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in the other place that anybody going in to the labour market would be at least £40 a week better off in work, that can be completely wiped out by the cost of school dinners. Therefore there need be no actual gain, particularly for a large family.

My noble friend and the department ought to be congratulated on the strides that they are making regarding children in primary school. It is right to focus there because that is where most child development will occur. It is also the place where younger children can be encouraged strenuously into taking nourishing school dinners rather than relying on the chip shop's chips and fizz for their lunches in a way that older secondary school children may not be. None the less, there will be a cohort of lone parents coming into the labour market for the first time who will be exposing their children to this situation where they have not had the advantage and will not get the advantage of free school dinners for their older children. I wonder if my noble friend can help me on that cohort for at least the first year or two, so that we can ensure that the transition into the labour market is not at the cost of the financial well-being of some of the older children because that parent is having to pay a school dinner bill that she has never before had to address; and going into work will make her worse off.

I would be grateful if my noble friend could help me on those two points-the Sure Start maternity grant, and the situation of lone parents coming in to

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the labour market for the first time because of our changes, the Government's changes, this House's changes, which we all support but which nonetheless may prove a tipping point to the lone parent's calculation of her financial advantage or otherwise of going back into the labour market, a move that we all otherwise want to support her on.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate drew attention to postnatal and antenatal services and the Marmot report. The amendments discuss the malnourishment of children. Today I attended the Westminster Health Forum, which looked at maternity services. Speaking to midwives with a great deal of experience, I was very concerned to hear from them about high levels of turnover among midwives; the lack of support for midwives; the lack of management of their case loads; and the difficulty that poses for continuity of care for parents. We know that the people who benefit most from continuity of care are those parents who are most vulnerable and in poverty.

I believe this is of relevance to what we are discussing. If there is a good relationship with the midwife, she can advise the parents on good nutrition so that the foetus can be well nourished in the womb. She can also advise them on how to continue once the baby is born. Your Lordships will want to know that there is great concern about turnover among midwives. There is a need for more consistent support for midwives and to make sure that they do not get case loads that are too large for them to manage. It is so important to support parents well around the births of their children, particularly the parents we are talking about, who are living in poverty.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments. Perhaps I can clarify what I understand to be the position should the noble Lord wish to press one of his amendments but not all those in the group. I understand that as long as he makes that clear when he does it, it will be in order. I am bound to say that I would discourage him from doing so, but-to be fair to the noble Lord-he should know what the rules are.

I start with Amendment 23. We had an interesting and wide-ranging debate in Committee on minimum income standards. As I said then, the Government welcome the research that has already been carried out on minimum income standards, such as that completed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the other research that my noble friend Lord Rea referred to. We continue to follow this research with interest. The Government consulted extensively on the most appropriate long-term measures of child poverty. Minimum income standards were ruled out because different research methods tend to make different assumptions and it is difficult to get one answer to the question, "How much is enough?". To be clear, the researchers themselves explicitly say that minimum income standards should not be treated as a poverty threshold.

The latest research by the JRF, published in 2008 and updated in July 2009, is robust and I understand that it is also planning on updating this analysis. Requiring the Government to replicate this research, as this amendment does, is not a good use of government resources, particularly at this time. However, if in the

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future the JRF chose not to continue with this research, I am sure the Government would consider whether they could take it on. However, I agree with the noble Lord that minimum income standards are relevant to the discussion on poverty and standards of living. Consideration of minimum income standards must be balanced against other equally valid and important considerations-for example, labour market incentives and long-term sustainability. Therefore, I hope the noble Lord will not press Amendment 23, at least.


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