Child Poverty - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords am 7:53 pm ar 29 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 7:53, 29 Ebrill 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to address the root causes of child poverty across the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, as dinner break business is now the last business of the day, the allocation of time is now 90 minutes. Therefore, the Back-Bench speaking time has increased from four minutes to eight minutes.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench

I welcome the chance to sort out the problems of poverty in an hour and a half. I welcome the idea that, in such a short amount of time, we can sort out the problem that a third of all our children are in or around poverty—that is 4 million children in the United Kingdom.

I alert people to my belief that, in the seven or eight years I have been in the House of Lords, I have never come to a debate or discussion where the root causes of things are dealt with. I believe strongly that one of the main problems we have is that Governments, Oppositions and people who have worked for many years in and around poverty are always dealing with the effects of poverty; they do not deal with the root causes of poverty. So when I proposed this small debate, I was actually trying to be revolutionary. I was trying to move the House of Lords—and, I hope, the House of Commons—towards the idea that instead of continuously dealing with the effects of poverty, we move the argument towards the root causes of poverty.

Throughout the world—it is not just the United Kingdom—in the region of about 80% of all money spent on social intervention is spent on dealing with the emergency and problems of coping with poverty. There is very little money spent on prevention or cure—the two opposites. Since the time I came into the House, I have been like a scratched record; I have gone on, again and again, asking when we are going to spend our time on eradicating poverty rather than ameliorating it and trying to accommodate it. That has been my real argument.

I think that His Majesty’s Government and His Majesty’s Opposition, and the previous Governments and Oppositions, have always dealt with the terrible reality poverty throws up. Tonight, I want to be a revolutionary and ask why we do not all look at something quite real. Why is it that, for all our efforts over decades—my decades go back to the end of the Second World War—we have always tried to deal with the obnoxiousness that is thrown up by poverty but we have never done a scientific analysis of the root causes of poverty? We have never had a Government or an Opposition, or an argument within our universities and charities, or among those who get involved in the struggles of the poorest among us, ask when we are going to do something about eradicating poverty.

I am sorry if I sound a bit Joan of Arc. I came into the House of Lords with one strict instruction from the people who encouraged me to come here, which was to help to dismantle and get rid of poverty, not to shift the deckchairs on the Atlantic. My instruction was not to make the poor more comfortable but to actually get rid of the concept of poor people.

I come from poverty, and maybe that is what drives me on. I come from people who came from poverty, who came from poverty and who came from poverty. The interesting thing is that when I grew up, I realised that they were surrounded by poverty; they could not get away from it. The mind-forged manacles that go with poverty meant that they perpetuated it. I have done my best within the lives of my own children to get rid of poverty in their futures, but the larger part of my family is still perpetuating poverty. Why? Because the root causes of poverty were never dealt with in the course of their lives.

To me, the big problem with poverty is the inheritance of poverty. In the United Kingdom, about 4 million children—a third of our children—are in poverty. It is interesting that a third of our children are in and around the problems of poverty, and in spite of all our efforts they remain so. What are we, the Church, the charities or the political parties going to do about it? Will they wake up one day and say, “Actually, we’re getting no nearer”? We know that in the last year, 100,000 more children have arrived in poverty.

We need an enormous mind shift, but I do not see it happening. I do not see anybody building the intellectual appliances or the university courses to find out why we are always trying to address the problems of poverty as if a bit more to the poor will actually change anything.

I came into the House of Lords and was astonished at the number of people who wanted me to get involved in agitating to give poor people more. I was determined, however much it would damage my reputation, not to do that. If the only thing you inherit is poverty, how do we break that situation so that you do not inherit it?

Can I just check: if we have more time, does this mean I can speak for another five minutes?

Photo of Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Ceidwadwyr

Speak for ever, as long as you let me speak for ever too.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench

God bless you, because I was running out of time.

Photo of Lord Evans of Rainow Lord Evans of Rainow Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I announced at the beginning of the debate that rather than an hour, we have an hour and a half. That extends Back-Bench speeches, but the noble Lord may have a few more moments above the 10 minutes for which he has spoken now. He can carry on.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench

I love democracy.

I was born in the London Irish slums of Notting Hill, but we moved to Fulham. On my road, I fell into being a friend of a guy whose family, like mine, came from Ireland. His father had accumulated a number of jobs. He was a very clever guy, even though, like my family, he was ill educated. He became very wealthy and bought his house, so he had a house in Fulham Broadway at a time when my family were living around the corner in social housing—what was called council housing. He became very prosperous and employed 20, 30, then 50 Irish people to make money for him, so that he could buy a house, then a bigger one. There were two kinds of poverty. That guy did not inherit poverty, but my family inherited it and made damn sure that we and other members of my family inherited poverty and the mind-forged manacles that go with it.

What do we actually do to break that situation so that people in poverty are given something—a “je ne sais quoi”, a little thing—that will mean they do not imitate the inherited poverty of their own family? To me, that is the big issue: Patrick Crowell and his mum and dad built a business, made money and became middle class and prosperous, but my family remained in poverty. Their children and their children’s children are still in poverty and stuck in social housing, having all sorts of problems.

I want to know how the House of Lords and the House of Commons, with all their great brains, can help us dismantle the mind-forged manacles that come with poverty and its inheritance. That is my passion. Over the next few months, as we move towards a general election, I will be campaigning through my work in the Big Issue, and in Parliament in general, for a reinvention of social housing.

Do noble Lords know that there are so many people in this world who are defenders of social housing? These people absolutely love it and think it is absolutely brilliant. But do noble Lords know that the children of people who live in social housing rarely finish school, get their qualifications, get skilled and move out of poverty? Do noble Lords know that a fraction, an infinitesimal number of people in social housing, ever get to university or college so that they can then start living a fuller life away from poverty? Do noble Lords know that in housing associations, on average 70% of people are unemployed? I do not want to be interpreted as rude or insensitive, but if you really wanted to condemn somebody to poverty for the next 100 years, you would give them social housing.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench

Forgive me—I am now going to stop—but I wanted to move on to say that this is why I am campaigning to change the way we deal with poverty. We have a situation in which eight government departments are dealing with poverty, but we do not have a convergence to dismantle it. Some 40% of government expenditure is spent on poverty; we really need to change it. I am calling for the creation of a ministry of poverty prevention. I thank noble Lords very much for their time.

Photo of The Earl of Effingham The Earl of Effingham Ceidwadwyr 8:09, 29 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for securing this important debate.

As we have heard, by the Government’s own estimate there are 4.3 million children—or to put it another way, 30% of all children in the UK—living in relative low-income housing, after housing costs. That is clearly a most alarming statistic. I truly believe that by addressing child and parental ill health, in addition to child and parental qualifications, we have the ability to solve long-term worklessness and low earnings.

The key to solving child poverty is to get people into work, and the data backs this up. Children living in workless households are more than six times more likely to be in absolute poverty, after housing costs, than those in households in which adults work.

Step one would be to empower children and parents to make the right food choices, which is the building block to eradicating child poverty. Many of your Lordships will be familiar with the phrases “gut instinct” and “you are what you eat”. What we put into our bodies is what drives us. If we put unhealthy food that is high in calories and saturated fat into our system, it is highly likely that we will be overweight, feel ill and lack motivation, positivity and the will to succeed. We have to find a way to educate both children and their parents on healthy eating. Fortunately, there are charities such as Chefs in Schools, whose mission is to help

“schools serve up generation-powering, mind-opening, society-changing food and food education that fuels the future—all within school budgets”.

We can go much further. Feeling good is roughly 70% diet and 30% exercise. We have to encourage both parents and children to take exercise. Physical exercise and sport make a hugely positive contribution to society, to the extent that for every £1 spent on sport and physical activity, around £4 is generated in return across health and well-being, strengthening communities and the economy. “PE With Joe”—Joe Wicks—transmitted during the pandemic, proved that you do not need to go to the local sports centre to stay fit and healthy. It can be done in your flat or in the local park, and it costs no more than a pair of trainers and shorts, and a t-shirt. It is essential to get the message out about the importance of physical exercise.

To drill down on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, about inherited poverty, my third area of focus is that we can eradicate child poverty, particularly generational poverty, through financial education. Assuming that families can find success with food education and physical education, they will be back in work, feeling good and able to save even just small amounts of money. Financial education is now crucial, because it is possible to grow those small amounts into life-changing sums. Using tax-free allowances, it is feasible to turn £10 per week into £160,000, using a medium rate of return over a 50-year timeframe. That £160,000 could be enough to take the next generation of a family out of poverty and into home ownership, mortgage free. Saving £20 per week at a slightly higher rate of return can produce £645,000.

My Lords, four minutes was a narrow window; I could speak in much more detail, but please let me finish by asking the Minister what the Government will do to address food education, physical education and financial education for both children and parents currently living in poverty.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur 8:14, 29 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for securing this debate.

While individual circumstances and actions may represent proximate contributary causes, the root causes of child poverty are systemic and as such are amenable to government action. Unfortunately, for the most part, over the past decade or so, government actions, particularly with regard to social security, have served not to prevent or alleviate child poverty but to worsen and even deepen it.

No doubt the Minister will refer to this month’s benefits uprating to defend his Government’s record; we hear about it constantly from Ministers. While it is welcome that, this year, the Government are doing the right thing, it has to be understood in the context of the significant cut in the real value of working-age and children’s benefits since 2010. The recent Work and Pensions Committee report on benefit levels referred to the wide range of evidence received which suggests they are “too low”, and called for the development of a framework of principles, following consultation with stakeholders—and here I would include social security recipients themselves—to inform proper consideration of the adequacy of benefits.

The impact of overall cuts in real value has been aggravated by the imposition of what the Resolution Foundation described as the “catastrophic caps” of the two-child limit and benefit cap, which have been identified as key drivers of child poverty today. As such, any child poverty strategy will be strangled at birth so long as they continue.

While I welcome the six-month reprieve for the household support fund, could we not use that time to design a longer-term statutory programme that combined the fund with the existing discretionary local welfare assistance scheme—which, at the last count, 37 local authorities no longer run—so as to ensure a proper safety net at local authority level?

In the last poverty debate, led so successfully by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, the Minister reminded us that the Government’s approach is based on the importance of the role of paid work in lifting people out of poverty, which was echoed today by the noble Earl, Lord Effingham. While there is general agreement that access to paid work is important, it has to be good work and have proper regard to caring responsibilities, and it should not be imposed through the use of punitive mechanisms. Unfortunately, none of those conditions applies at present.

Moreover, when two-thirds of children in poverty are in families with at least one parent in paid work, it can only be a partial solution. In response to a recent Oral Question, the Minister responded to my call for a comprehensive cross-government child poverty strategy with the rather tired argument that it could drive action that simply moves the incomes of those “just in poverty” across the poverty line,

“while doing nothing to help those on the very lowest incomes or to improve children’s future prospects

Yet incomes are important and have been shown to make a real difference to children’s life chances. Depth of poverty indicators could, and indeed should, be included in any future targets, but the point of a comprehensive cross-government strategy—local as well as central— is that it would address the many facets of poverty that blight both childhood and children’s life chances. It would include all children, including those of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, whose poverty is the focus of a joint report to be published tomorrow by the APPG on Poverty and the APPG on Migration.

In conclusion, last week we lost a valiant crusader against child poverty, Lord Field of Birkenhead. It is shameful that the situation is worse today than it was when he and I worked at the Child Poverty Action Group in the 1970s.

Photo of Baroness Janke Baroness Janke Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 8:19, 29 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, the share of children living in absolute poverty has risen by its highest rate in 30 years. DWP figures show that that increase was the largest since records began in 1994-95. As the Library briefing tells us, UN findings show that the UK is an outlier compared to other countries, but it is clear from those reports that, with political will, child poverty can be significantly reduced. For example, Poland, Slovenia, Latvia and Lithuania have reduced poverty by more than 30%. In contrast, five countries—France, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom—saw increases in poverty of at least 10%; for the United Kingdom, the increase was actually 20%. Perhaps we need to look more closely at what others do as part of our strategy for eradicating poverty.

In the UK, we see disadvantaged groups becoming even more disadvantaged and deprived. Some 40% of children in Asian and British Asian families were in poverty as well as 51% of children in Black/African/Caribbean and Black British families, and 24% of children in white families. Some 44% of children in lone-parent families were in poverty—they are doubly disadvantaged, having only one parent—and 34% of children living in families where someone has a disability were in poverty.

The noble Lord, Lord Bird, said that he knows what the experience of poverty is, so he wants to look more at the causes. As far as I am concerned, the urgency of the situation needs to be appreciated, including how difficult it is for so many. As a former teacher, I have seen the situation for parents, for whom anxiety about how to feed their families, choices about paying for heating or food, and depending on free school meals and food banks to feed their families all contribute to intense stress. Yet 69% of children in poverty are in working families. This is not just about unemployment and what we hear about universal credit being about making people work; those in work are also suffering intense poverty.

Benefit rates take no account of the cost of a healthy diet for children who are growing and developing. A poor-quality diet based on cheapness often results in obesity, poor health and future lifelong health problems. The Government guide to a healthy diet would cost a family on benefit around 70% of its non-housing income.

Children may be directly disadvantaged in their development through a lack of equipment, such as IT to do schoolwork and homework, and by not attending educational visits and trips. Many experience a lack of confidence through social isolation, which can continue through life, affecting levels of ambition. Not surprisingly, areas of high poverty are also the areas with lowest attainment and educational outcomes.

Hunger is debilitating: insufficient food on a continual basis affects mental and physical health, as well as the capacity to learn. The economic cost of poverty is also high, as poor children become poor adults, needing more support from public services. The Child Poverty Action Group puts the cost of that at £39 billion a year.

Many of the root causes of poverty, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said, lie with the benefits system, which, as she said, actually worsens the situation for many families. The notorious two-child limit has been the subject of much research, most recently carried out by Nesta. It shows that, by 2035, 750,000 families will be affected by this policy. The two-child limit has hugely increased pressure on and mental health problems for parents and has a detrimental effect on children’s development. Ending the two-child limit would take 500,000 children out of poverty.

A long-term strategy to tackle child poverty must address this as well as the inadequately financed benefit system. Public spending on families is only 60% of what it was in 2010. The strategy must also address low-paid work with zero-hours contracts, no sick pay and the lack of affordable childcare. Parents with children as young as three, even lone parents, are required to look for work. I support the aspirations of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and thank him for his campaigning work on poverty and for securing today’s debate. Sadly, there are lots of questions and although his passion is very clear, we are still seeking the solutions. I do not think that any of us has a magic cure, but we would all be willing to join him in his campaign.

Photo of Lord Sikka Lord Sikka Llafur 8:25, 29 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for facilitating this much-needed debate. In a country boasting a record number of billionaires and where the top 1% has more wealth than 70% of the population combined, condemning 4.3 million children to poverty is really a political choice. There is no economic necessity for it whatever. Governments have bailed out banks and energy companies and handed billions in subsidies to rail, oil, gas, auto, steel and internet companies. They can eradicate child poverty too, if there is appropriate political will. Rescuing people from poverty will also stimulate the economy because poor people tend to spend more in the local economy, which has a considerable multiplier effect.

This Government have accelerated poverty by cutting real wages. The average real wage is now lower than in 2008. Austerity, unchecked profiteering, and the two-child benefit cap, accompanied by regressive tax policies, have deepened poverty. The poorest pay a higher proportion of their income in taxes than the richest. The richest fifth of households pay 31% of gross household income in direct taxes, compared with 14% by the poorest fifth. The richest fifth pay 9% of their disposable income in indirect taxes, compared with 28% by the poorest fifth. Can the Minister explain why the Government have not reduced indirect taxes, which would help the poorest households?

The Government actually have numerous policy options. They can reform corporate governance. For example, evidence shows that having worker-elected directors on the boards of large companies helps to secure equitable distribution of income and to lift families and children out of poverty. Since 2010, the Government have handed £695 billion of quantitative easing to capital market speculators. Will the Minister also support a call for QE to alleviate poverty? Why not?

The Government can also remove the two-child benefit cap and inflation-proof benefits by eliminating anomalies and the tax perks of the rich. For example, they can cap tax relief on charitable donations for donors at 20%. At the moment, the rich get tax relief at 40% and 45%. By capping this tax relief, the Government could generate £740 million a year extra, which could easily fund free school meals for children. By taxing capital gains at the same rates as wages, another £12 billion a year of extra revenue could be raised. Similarly, by taxing dividends at the same rate as wages, another £4 billion to £5 billion a year could be raised in revenue. By capping tax relief on pension contributions to 20% for all, the Government could generate an additional £14.5 billion a year of revenues. These are just some examples of how the Government could generate resources to alleviate child poverty, and, of course, I could offer up further options, if the Minister so wishes, either in this House or even privately. I hope the Minister will consider these things.

Finally, will the Minister acknowledge that child poverty is a political choice by the Government and not an economic necessity?

Photo of The Bishop of Lincoln The Bishop of Lincoln Bishop 8:29, 29 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for securing this debate and for his passion and his challenge. Like the noble Lord, I come from a poor London Irish family, but from south of the river, if that is allowed. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, about the causes of child poverty and that they are systemic, and about the potential for changing them—not by exceptionalism, as may have applied in our cases.

As the Bishop of Lincoln, I am very conscious that in greater Lincolnshire I see vibrant resilient communities but, in the midst of a commendable spirit, there are considerable challenges. The effects of deep poverty feel widespread and tangible in a way that I have not seen since I began as a priest in the mid-1980s. Damp, low-quality accommodation, particularly in the private rented sector, has an impact felt particularly by children at crucial stages of their development. In response to this, the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community set out five values for good housing: it should be safe, sociable, sustainable, satisfying and secure. Failure to deliver this only serves to entrench child poverty.

I worry particularly about the impact of intergenerational poverty. In many of our communities, the lack of employment and social opportunities is apparent. The industries that used to sustain towns such as Grimsby have changed. We have a fishing plant but no longer a resident fishing fleet. That affects employment prospects and a sense of pride in place. Children are profoundly affected by that context as they grow up.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies recently published a report to mark the 25th anniversary of the introduction of Sure Start centres, highlighting the extraordinary difference that these made to the educational outcomes of children who engaged with them or even those who lived near them. This second aspect explains why children living in poverty in rural areas in other parts of Lincolnshire and elsewhere did not benefit as much as those in urban areas. It is simply because those living in the countryside did not have the same access.

Partly this is a question of infrastructure—the transport links to ensure that services can be accessed. However, I wonder whether it is also a question of priorities of government and others. The recent Hidden Hardship report noted that disadvantaged young people in remote rural areas are 50% less likely to gain two or more A-levels or enter university than those living in major cities. A similarly ambitious approach to child poverty 25 years on from Sure Start must always keep in mind the rural context. What assessment is being made of the particular needs of rural communities as the Government assess the root causes of child poverty?

The noble Lord, Lord Bird, issued a challenge to the Church in relation to doing away with poverty, particularly child poverty. There is a crisis of capacity in the voluntary sector. Churches will continue to run toddler groups and open warm spaces where they are needed. Yet churches do not have an endless supply of volunteers. The real challenge for all of us is to think about what facilities we can make not just for children’s physical and food education, not only for their access to services and schools, but to think about what access they have to relationship-building and hope. A generation of hope is one of the most important things in this—giving children the possibility of confidence. One of the hidden areas of poverty in terms of relationships is the number of children who are child carers, looking after their single and sick parent. This is not being acknowledged much at all publicly. Often, one child is responsible for all their younger siblings.

One of the most impressive places which I visited recently, having done so several times, is the St John St Stephen & Shalom youth centre in Grimsby, in East Marsh, which has been celebrating its 50th anniversary. I never witnessed this before, but there is a plaque on the wall outside commemorating those former members of the centre who have been murdered or have died through drug-related incidents. This is the place where, over 50 years, 5,000-plus children and young people have been offered hope and the chance to build successful relationships with safe adults outside of their immediate family. I applaud this and hope that examples such as St John St Stephen & Shalom youth centre give us an incentive and hope not to give up on these children but to work with them and for them, in that way to transform our whole society.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 8:34, 29 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for securing this debate and for introducing it in his typically powerful, inimitable style. However, I am afraid that I have to disagree with him that poverty is a characteristic of individuals, families or communities. It is a condition imposed on individuals, communities, families, cities and countries by an economic system that directs large amounts of resources to the few and denies them to the many. People are robbed of the shared resources that have been created by past generations and maintained by the labour of the current generation, many of whom are now living in poverty.

If we think back to the Covid pandemic, there was a focus on essential workers such as delivery drivers, supermarket shelf stackers, and care workers, and many of their children are those who are living in poverty. I also have to disagree with the noble Lord about social housing. Decent housing is a human right. It should be an essential service provided by our society. We have almost forgotten that back in 1979 almost half the British population lived in social housing. Back then, the rate of poverty was 13.7%; in 2023, the figure was 22%. The destruction of social housing is a significant factor in that.

I want to address the term “child poverty”. We have become used to “poverty” coming with a qualifier. We often talk about food poverty, energy poverty, period poverty and hygiene poverty. There is a risk with those qualifiers that we lose sight of the essential situation. We have a society that is riven with poverty, with lives right across the age groups blighted by the inability to access the basics of a decent life.

The State of Ageing report released last November showed that 20% of retired people do not have enough income to meet their basic needs and 25% of people aged 60 to 64 are living in poverty. That pretty well matches the figures that have already been cited for children. One in five—2.6 million in total—are living in absolute poverty before housing costs, with one in four—3.6 million—in poverty after housing costs.

Many in this House if asked to define a successful economy would use that hoary old chestnut, gross domestic product, and point to the growth from 2010 when the current governing party came to power. In 2010, the GDP was £1.87 trillion; in 2023, it was £2.27 trillion. Apparently, that is a sign of progress and success. Yet, I and the Green Party say that the job of our economy and our society is to meet everybody’s basic needs, while caring for the environment on which all our lives and “the economy” depend. If we use that as a judgment, what a failure that growth has been.

Why is that the case? The noble Lord, Lord Bird, challenged us with the “why”. I am going to use the “D” word—distribution. We have a society that profoundly misdistributes our resources, not to mention destroys our environment. Growth over decades has benefited the few, while the lives of the many have gone backwards. The root cause of child poverty—and poverty—is our failure to distribute fairly the goods and services of which our society has plenty. Our current economic system and our benefits system have failed. We have failed to maintain and support the basic physical and social infrastructure of our communities.

There are, however, many reasons why child poverty is a particular tragedy. Anyone now under the age of 18—a child—has had no part in creating the system they have to live in. Anyone under the age of 22 has had no say in our Westminster politics, yet they live every day with the consequences. They suffer not just from poverty and a lack of access to resources but from a lack of access to power.

That poverty is defining the shape of those children’s bodies and of their lives. As the head of an education trust in east Yorkshire, Jonny Uttley of the Education Alliance, reported, what does child poverty mean? It means regularly going to school hungry. It means not having the money for lunch. It means not being able to wash your sports kit. It means being unable to sleep at night because of cold, and how do you study the next day if you have not been able to sleep?

It is important to draw on the work of the Centre for Cities, acknowledging how this maldistribution is regional as well as by household. It found that the cities where the child poverty figures are the worst are overwhelmingly concentrated in the north of England and the Midlands. A child in Burnley is four times as likely to be in absolute poverty as a child in Cambridge, and a child in Manchester is twice as likely to be in absolute poverty as a child in London—yet we have had lots of growth.

We need a plan to tackle child poverty. We need first to acknowledge a failure of our economy, the failure of our society and, at its base, the failure of our politics, not just over the last 14 years but over decades. Power and resources are concentrated here in Westminster; Westminster has failed. The politics and the ideology since the Second World War have failed. We need a new kind of politics and a new political system.

Given I have a minute more, I will focus on one issue that a number of noble Lords have already raised, which is the two-child benefit cap. Six out of 10 families affected by that have at least one member in work. Almost half are single parents. If we continue with the current plan, half of families with three or more children will be in poverty by 2028-29. That is up from a third in 2013-14, when the policy was introduced. I give as a case study Frances, who lives in London. Her third child was a baby when her relationship broke down. She now has children aged 11, six and three. She had to leave her job because she could not afford childcare. She was a business administrator. She was not in any way a classic person in poverty, yet the two-child benefit limit is putting her in poverty. The Minister has already been challenged on this and I am afraid I am going to challenge the Labour Front Bench: surely Labour will have to abolish the two-child benefit cap in government.

Photo of Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Ceidwadwyr 8:42, 29 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I am delighted to be able to speak in the gap, because, like the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Meacher, and many others, I worked for Frank Field for four years. I was paid a poverty wage—£12 a week. I was not born in poverty, but I spent 10 years of my life immersing myself in the issues of poverty at the CPAG, encouraging families below the poverty level to keep expenditure diaries. That revealed that if you do not know where the next penny is coming from then you cannot possibly spend economically. Of course, you can budget carefully if you have a stable income, but if you have no idea when you are going to be in work or out of work, in your house, with your partner or without your partner, and maybe you have not had the best education, it is really difficult.

Interestingly, I will remember for ever a West Indian woman working below the poverty level who budgeted and fed her children nutritiously, but she had been brought up understanding about poverty in the West Indies. She came from a culture of poverty that could cope, unlike so many others. It is an interesting point about how you can give people the equipment to manage and to cope.

This was a time of working poor. Keith Joseph, later Lord Joseph, who basically made me a Tory, introduced family income support. It was a time when the trade unions were not at all keen on family benefit. I went to the T&G with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, to try to persuade that union to support child benefit going to the woman—a stable income. It was very reluctant because it liked supporting income for the man, and all the trade unions then were really male dominated. The world has changed.

There were three people in my life who really cared about poverty. Lord Keith Joseph was the first to talk about the cycle of deprivation. I was at the Pre-school Playgroups Association AGM in Church House when he made his speech about the cycle of deprivation—leaving school early, having no qualifications, having your first child early, and a vicious cycle of poverty. He was criticised for it, but I think few would doubt it now.

The next person who cared about poverty was the late Lord Frank Field. He did not talk only about benefits. My noble friend—sorry, the noble Baroness; she is my friend, but I should not refer to her like that—knows all there is to know about benefits; she has a forensic knowledge. But Lord Field had a wider view. He used to talk about being a five-star parent. He felt strongly about parenting and about families.

The third person is the noble Lord, Lord Bird. Now, I do not agree with a word he says, but I absolutely agree with his passion. To say there are no university departments that take poverty seriously is daft—go to Hull, to LSE, to Essex. To say that the Resolution Foundation, the Child Poverty Action Group and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation do not know all about poverty—they do, and they are very knowledgeable. But what the noble Lord is so right about is that he is passionate, and he is not going to give up.

Now, remember the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bird. He talked about his probation officer, who basically told him to get a grip and get a job. He talked about Baroness Wootton, a great heroine of mine and juvenile court chairman. My concern is that we can be very patronising and dismissive about poverty, but why do some people get through? Last week, I was with Alan Johnson, who certainly ought to be Lord Johnson; why has the Labour Party not put Alan Johnson in the House of Lords? Please do so, urgently. He is now the Chancellor of the University of Hull, where I was for 17 years. His upbringing was appalling: he was brought up by his mother, who died very young, and then by his sister. How has he become such a success? Some of this relates to the individual, and the ability of people to get through.

I will ask the Minister two questions, because I know I have gone on for too long. A lot of this is about parental conflict, and he leads the department’s Reducing Parental Conflict programme. What can the Minister tell us about reducing parental conflict? I want him to tell us about child maintenance developments, and the childcare programme.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and when he grows up, I hope he will become as good as Lord Field.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 8:47, 29 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, we should all congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on enabling us to have this debate, because it is timely, in view of the fact that within a few months, we will have had a general election and there will be a new Government. In my view, that Government must see that reducing child poverty should be a very high priority. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, said, the root causes of child poverty are systemic. She is right.

The debate has been extremely interesting, in that it has thrown out a range of ideas that we might look at. The noble Earl, Lord Effingham, for example, said a number of things about school, diet and finance that could be explored further.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley of Nettlestone, talked about Lord Joseph, who knew that we had to do something about the cycle of deprivation. The problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said, is that we still have that, in that we have the inheritance of poverty. We have the inheritance of wealth on the one hand, but the inheritance of poverty on the other. How do we break out of that? Given that 10% of our young people aged 16 to 24 are not in education, employment or training, you have to intervene at an individual level to assist those who want to be in work, education or training, but who cannot be, for a variety of reasons. I would like to think that one might have individual work coaches for those not participating in the opportunities available to them.

I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bird, about social housing. I understand the point he is making, but children need a secure, decent home, and for many that will only be—

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench

I agree with the noble Lord. Children do need a secure home, but the real problem is that all the conditions that lead you to need social housing mean that you never have a full life. I say to anybody in this House: try living in social housing, and then try to get to university or into a skilled job. That very rarely happens; that is the only problem. For me, the problem is not that social housing is not one of the most beautiful things in creation. The question is: what are we going to do to make social housing the foundation for a growth away from poverty and need?

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

I take the noble Lord’s point, and I understand. Perhaps that is why we need a broader, longer discussion. From my perspective, housing waiting lists are so long, and the quality of so many homes in the private rented sector is so poor, that the need to build decent homes within the sector for social rent seems imperative. Without that we will never solve the housing crisis.

Social housing providers can have a responsibility for providing wider support services, particularly for getting people into work and for giving help and advice to those who suffer from ill health. Estate officers can often do things to assist families or individuals that they would not be able to do if it were not for social housing. Maybe we need to have that longer debate.

I understand totally what the noble Lord was saying about a ministry of poverty prevention. Of course, all Whitehall departments are supposed to be doing things to reduce poverty, but the main one is the Treasury. It is about persuading the Treasury to invest more in things such as social housing that might help to reduce poverty.

There is an issue around income disparity. The first thing that has to be done to reduce poverty is reducing income disparity. That is why we have to deal with low pay, and make every effort to increase the minimum wage and the living wage above the rate of inflation so that those in lower pay brackets have more.

Mention has been made of absolute poverty and relative poverty. The truth is that too many children are being brought up in households with very low incomes. That is always poverty, whether it is absolute, relative or deep. We have heard the figures of 4.3 million children living in relatively low-income households and 2.9 million children in deep poverty—a household where income after housing costs is below 50% of median income.

All those tests are based on income, whereas child poverty derives from long-term unemployment, low qualifications, ill health, poverty of aspiration and poverty of opportunity. All those need tackling by the different Whitehall departments that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, talked about.

If levelling up is to be a success for the Government, child poverty needs to be addressed. The point is that levelling up is about people, not places. It is about individual children, and hence the two-child limit seems wrong. It was introduced in 2017, seven years ago. The Resolution Foundation has told us that it increased poverty, particularly for families with three or more children. It should cease, as it is increasing poverty in poor households. All the organisations that one can think of—the National Association of Head Teachers, the Church of England, Save the Children, the Child Poverty Action Group and Barnardo’s—say that it should cease.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln reminded us, Sure Start was a success. It was introduced in 1999 to improve child development. Some 250 projects were created, concentrated in places where high numbers of children under five were living in poverty. Those centres helped with play, learning, health and childcare. I recall that, when I was leader of Newcastle City Council, we had a major success with our Sure Start centres. It is about aspiration and addressing some of the issues that the noble Earl, Lord Effingham, reminded us of.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said in a recent report that the programme of Sure Start paid for itself with better GCSE results, improved skills in literacy and numeracy, personal development, and fewer interactions with the police and criminal justice system. It is a means of achieving what the noble Lord, Lord Bird, set out asking us to do, which is to spend more money on prevention rather than on solving the problems that poverty has created. There was too short a judgment in 2010, when there was a change of Government and an end to Sure Start. Too many people thought that it had not proved itself but, if a longer timescale had been taken, they would have known that it had.

Something needs to be created in a new Government. It may be called Sure Start or something else, but we need something like that, which intervenes with those who live in poor households.

Photo of Baroness Sherlock Baroness Sherlock Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 8:57, 29 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for securing this debate and all noble Lords who have spoken. Before I say anything more, I add my reflection to those of my noble friend Lady Lister and the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, in memory of Lord Field. He was an example to all of us of what it means to take a whole lifetime and yet, at the end, never cease to be outraged by the level of child poverty in a rich country. We all owe him a debt.

Tonight’s debate has highlighted the multifaceted nature of poverty. Whenever we have debates on poverty, there is always a temptation for some people to say that it is not about money and other people to say that it is only about money. Manifestly neither is correct. It is not just about money but it is not not about money either. The noble Baroness, Lady Janke, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln and other noble Lords made a very clear point of explaining what happens when you simply do not have enough money. If that is the case, all the strategies and all the preventive work in the world does not help you feed your kids that night; you simply cannot afford to do it.

On the basic level of access to resources, Britain is not in a good place. Over a fifth of our population lives in relative poverty. I know that the Government prefer absolute poverty as a measure, probably because it normally falls as real incomes rise, but, in the latest statistics in the document Households Below Average Income, we learned that the share of people living in absolute poverty is going up again, as the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, pointed out. There are 600,000 more people, half of them children, living in absolute poverty, in what is still one of the richest countries in the world by global standards. We should not be in this space.

Look at how this cashes out. The IFS has been pointing out that the number in material deprivation rose by 3 million in the three years to last year. In that same time, the proportion of those who could not adequately heat their homes jumped from just 4% to 11%. I must say to the Minister that, although the Government chose to give people cost of living support, they gave the same amount of money to everybody, whether a single person living in a studio flat or somebody with a family living in a larger house. As a result, the official statistics said:

“Incomes for those with children reduced the most. This reflects the flat nature of the cost of living and additional support payments, meaning for larger households they are split between more household members”.

Have the Government reflected on the best way to support people in these circumstances?

I fully accept that it is about not just incomes but support and opportunity. But child poverty has combined with the impact of 14 years of public service neglect, frankly, and the differential impacts of the pandemic to produce an attainment gap between children who experienced deprivation and their peers, with a lifelong impact on their life chances.

What should happen now? The last Labour Government lifted 2 million children and pensioners out of poverty. I know the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said at the start that he thinks, essentially, “A plague on all your houses. None of you has done anything”, but I am proud that the last Labour Government introduced Sure Start. As the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, pointed out, not only did it have an effect at the time but children had better GCSEs later as a result of having been part of Sure Start back then. I had a privilege of being part of the Treasury team working with Gordon Brown on questions of poverty when Sure Start was being introduced.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench

I just want to say that I used Sure Start. In spite of appearances, I was a very young father, and it was the most wonderful thing. I lived on the largest housing estate in south London and Sure Start was absolutely brilliant, so I am 100% behind it.

Photo of Baroness Sherlock Baroness Sherlock Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I am grateful to the noble Lord for clarifying that. One of the most depressing points of my career, frankly, was coming into the Lords in 2010 and having to sit on the Opposition Benches watching everything that I had worked on introducing being dismantled stage by stage in the name of austerity. However, we are where we are.

What should happen now? If the British people were to trust Labour again in an election—and obviously I hope they will—then we would want to introduce a mission-driven Government, and one of our five key missions would be to break down the barriers to opportunity for every child at every stage, with a strategy to tackle child poverty. It would be the responsibility of all government departments to tackle the fundamental drivers of poverty. We would address that by having cross-departmental mission boards looking at exactly how that was being driven across departments.

We would focus on increasing the number of young people in education, employment or training. We would look to reform childcare and early years support, introduce free breakfast clubs, and improve school standards. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Effingham, about the importance of the nutritional content of school food and of access to sports.

On financial education, I am split. I agree with the noble Earl about the importance of financial education. However, recently I have met people who work for charities that traditionally have given debt advice. They told me in the past they would bring people in, sit them down, look at all the sources of income and all their outgoings, and help them to manage their budgets. They are now saying that more and more—sometimes most—of the people they come across literally do not have enough money to do it. Their budgets cannot be balanced; even the charity workers cannot balance them, with all their skills in financial education and management. So we have something of a crisis here. We need people who can manage to be taught how to manage well, while those who simply cannot manage it, however good they are, need to be helped to find a way through that. We would therefore want to support our social security system, strengthen rights to representation at work, improve social security and extend sick pay. We would boost wages by removing the minimum wage bands and expanding the remit of the Low Pay Commission.

We would want to tackle the housing crisis by retrofitting homes, strengthening renters’ rights and building more social and affordable housing. I take the underlying point that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, is making: decent, affordable and safe housing is a necessary but not sufficient condition to enable people to move out of poverty. It is both of those things. It is necessary because many of the people who would not be in social housing would otherwise be in bed and breakfasts, insecurely housed or, even worse, out on the streets.

We need nothing short of national renewal in this country. It will not happen overnight and will not be easy, but it should surely be the priority of any Government to guarantee opportunity to all our children. That is something I think we can all get behind.

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 9:03, 29 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I am pleased to close this important debate on addressing the root causes of child poverty. It will be interesting to check with Hansard on whether this is indeed a first, as the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said, in focusing on root causes as a subject.

I thank all noble Lords for their valuable contributions and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, in particular, for securing this debate, as well as the debate on a similar topic in February. Once again, his s=-peech was a tour de force, reminding us why the noble Lord is in this House. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Bottomley for giving us a historical perspective on this subject, with a few namechecks that went back, I think it is fair to say, several decades.

I echo the words of several Peers about Lord Field of Birkenhead. The first line of the statement given out by his family, which was issued by his parliamentary office, was interesting:

“Frank was an extraordinary individual who spent his life fighting poverty, injustice and environmental destruction”— that is rather telling. As Sir Tony Blair said in his statement, he was an “independent thinker”, and we must applaud that. I would like to say that he was a thoroughly decent man and, crucially, one of our country’s great influencers. That is an important point to make.

As I said earlier, this is an important topic, and I believe we all recognise that child poverty is a complex issue that can be associated with a range of factors, including worklessness, poor educational attainment, inadequate housing, parental conflict and poor mental health. Many people who experience poverty face a range of barriers, which can make it difficult for them to manage and move on with their lives. I will say more about this later in my speech, and I acknowledge the different reasons for poverty that have been spoken to.

I will mention the annual statistics published last month. On the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I doubt we will ever agree, but I took note of what she said. None of us wants to see child poverty increasing, and I share the concern expressed about this. The latest statistics cover 2022-23—please note that period—when global supply chain pressures, partly linked to the war in Ukraine, led to high rates of inflation, averaging 10% over the year, and food price inflation that reached a high of 19.1% in March 2023, which is not so long ago. These factors are reflected in the latest statistics.

In response, the Government provided unprecedented cost of living support worth £96 billion over the period 2022-23 and 2023-24, including £20 billion for two rounds of cost of living payments. This additional support prevented 1.3 million people, including 300,000 children, falling into absolute poverty—our measure—after housing costs in 2022-23. Since then, we have taken further action to support those on low incomes, including uprating benefits and pensions by 10.1% last year. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, may not like the fact that I am reminding her of this, as she said. The latest statistics show that 1.1 million fewer people were in absolute poverty after housing costs in 2022-23 than in 2009-10, including 100,000 fewer children. I will stick with those statistics.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Janke, and the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, who is not in his place, asked about the two-child policy. We believe that those on benefits should face the same financial choices when deciding to grow their families as those supporting themselves solely through work. On 9 July 2021 the Supreme Court handed down the judicial review judgment on the two-child policy, finding that it was lawful and not in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

I question the point about making a choice about having a child. People fall into poverty and need benefits after they have had a child. What do they do then?

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Of course, and the noble Baroness will know that I have spoken at length on this matter and that there are a number of exceptions to this particular policy. But I stick to our view that there is a balance to be struck between helping those people in the way that we do, not having the two-child policy and, equally, being fair to the taxpayer. I know that the noble Baroness will never agree to that.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur

Does the Minister accept that many of these families are taxpayers and in paid work?

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Absolutely. As I have said before, I do not think that we will agree at all on this—but, as I say, we are not minded to move on this policy. Both noble Baronesses will be well aware of our position on this.

There are encouraging signs that the economy has now turned a corner. Inflation has more than halved from its peak, delivering on the Prime Minister’s pledge, and is forecast to fall below 2% in 2024-25. Food price inflation is at its lowest since January 2022, at 4%, and wages are rising in real terms. We remain committed to a strong welfare system for those families who need it, and have uprated working-age benefits by a further 6.7% from this month and raised the local housing allowance to the 30th percentile of local rents, benefiting 1.6 million private renters in 2024-25.

Some questions were raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln and also alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, about social housing, which is an important subject. Their questions were linked to items of damp and mould; they asked what the Government were going to do about this. The Government have now introduced Awaab’s law through the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023, which gives the Secretary of State powers to set out new requirements for social landlords to address hazards such as damp and mould in social homes within fixed time periods. We are now analysing the responses to the consultation, and then we will publish a response setting out findings and bringing for secondary legislation as soon as possible.

What I should say, which think was alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, is that everyone has a right to a safe and decent home. Since 2001, the decent homes standard, the so-called DHS, has played a key role in providing a minimum quality standard that social homes should meet. We are currently reviewing the DHS to ensure that it sets the right requirements for decency, and we will publish a consultation on a proposed new standard soon.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench

I am not against social housing—I am for social housing—but I want to break out of the situation whereby, if you get into social housing, you tend to fall behind everybody else. On what the Minister is saying about how they are going to change the requirements on social landlords, social landlords should be turning their tenants into people who can have a larger life and can get out of poverty. For most of them, even if they get into work, it is always in the low-wage economy, and they stay there. What are the Government doing about breaking the low-wage economy that many people in poverty find themselves in, who are often in social housing?

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Indeed, I will allude to the cross-government work that is going on. It may be that it requires a letter to write on that point, but I shall allude to it later, if I have the time.

Altogether this year we will have spent £306 billion through the welfare system in Great Britain, including around £138 billion on people of working age and children. This includes additional support to ensure the best start in life for children. For example, we have extended free school meal eligibility several times and to more groups of children than any other Government over the past half century. They are now claimed by more than 2 million of the most disadvantaged pupils. In addition, healthy food schemes provide a nutritional safety net for more than 3 million children. For those who need extra help with essentials, as inflation continues to fall, we are providing an additional £500 million for the extension of the household support fund in England, for a further six months, including funding for the devolved Administrations.

While it is right that we maintain a strong welfare safety net, we know that having parents who work, particularly full-time, plays a key role in reducing the risk of child poverty. My noble friend Lord Effingham mentioned this. In 2022-23, children living in workless households were more than six times more likely to be in absolute poverty after housing costs than those where all adults work. This is clear evidence of why, with more than 900,000 vacancies across the UK, our focus is firmly on ensuring that parents get the right support to find work and succeed in work. Our policies include: our generous universal credit childcare offer for working parents; our in-work progression offer; further increases to the national living wage to £11.44 an hour; and national insurance cuts.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked about making the housing support fund permanent. The HSF is not the only way we are supporting people on lower incomes. April’s benefit uprating of 6.7% will see an average increase in universal credit of £470. Raising the national living wage will deliver an increase of over £1,800 to the gross annual earnings of someone working full-time on that wage. Uplifting the local housing allowance to the 30th percentile of local rents, as mentioned earlier, will benefit 1.6 million private renters by an average of £800 per year.

The noble Lord, Lord Bird, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Bennett, asked whether we accepted that a strategy was now needed. I did promise to try to answer this. We have consistently set out a sustainable long-term approach to tackling child poverty, based on evidence about the important role of work in substantially reducing the risk of child poverty. I am very aware of the interest that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, takes in this, and I reassure the House that Ministers continue to work across and beyond departmental boundaries to ensure that we take a co-ordinated approach to supporting vulnerable and low-income households. This includes a cross-government senior officials group on poverty, as well as bilaterals and meetings with external anti-poverty stakeholders. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is right that Treasury input to this is vital.

I return to the question of childcare raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley. She asked what extra support we are providing to parents. The Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education work closely together to ensure that there is a comprehensive childcare offer that reflects different family circumstances, covering children over a range of ages.

Earlier, I mentioned some of the problems families in poverty face which mean that they can struggle to move into work and improve their financial circumstances. This Government offer a range of programmes to help people address these complex underlying challenges, so that they can take their first steps towards securing better outcomes for their families.

I applaud my noble friend Lord Effingham for making a number of interesting points. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, put it well when he said that they were interesting contributions to the debate. I agree with many of the points that he made.

The pupil premium funds schools to help improve educational outcomes and close attainment gaps for disadvantaged children in state-funded schools in England. Funding for this is increasing to over £2.9 billion in the year 2024-25. That is £80 million more than last year.

We are taking significant action to improve children’s health, which is another important point. This includes dramatically reducing sugar in children’s food, investing over £600 million to improve the quality of sport for children, and encouraging healthy diets for lower-income families through schemes such as Healthy Start. We are also investing £2.3 billion a year in mental health services.

The Money and Pensions Service’s UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing is a 10-year framework to help everyone make the most of their money. It has set out five goals to be achieved by 2030, including to see 2 million more children and young people receiving meaningful financial education.

One example of the support that we are giving is the Supporting Families programme, which is now the responsibility of DfE. This has funded local authorities to help almost 637,000 families experiencing multiple disadvantages to make sustained improvements with their problems.

A network of 300 supporting families employment advisers, specialist DWP work coaches, work with the programme, providing employment support that is helping almost 10,000 families, resulting in around 200 job starts every month.

My noble friend Lady Bottomley mentioned Reducing Parental Conflict. This is very close to my heart—I am directly responsible for it in government—and we have £33 million-worth of funding available from 2022 up until next year, 2025. This programme has enabled local authorities to support couples to address conflict in their relationship, which has helped to deliver positive impacts for children over no less than three major evaluations at the end of last year. We are also looking to see how we can ingrain that in the Child Maintenance Service, which again is my responsibility. I feel very passionate about it, and the work we do, by the way, helps to take 160,000 children out of poverty each year, and there is always more to be done.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Janke and Lady Bennett, spoke about childcare, and I want to give a quick response. The department is aware that, for some universal credit claimants, childcare costs present challenges to entering employment. To support people to become financially resilient by moving into work and progressing in work, eligible UC claimants can claim back up to 85% of their registered childcare costs each month, regardless of the number of hours that they work, compared to 70% in tax credits.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln is not in his place, and I am not sure why. I think I will write to him rather than answer him when he is not in his place. He asked about rural communities.

I shall conclude, given the hour, by reassuring the House again of the importance we place on this matter. The early years, as I am sure the noble Lord will agree, are vital to securing good outcomes for children, and that is why we continue to work across government to ensure the best start for all children, including through our early years childcare provision and funding for school breakfast clubs. We understand that many families still face challenges, we are not shying away from that, and we will continue to work to ensure that the welfare system supports families who need it. To conclude, with inflation falling towards target and the economy beginning to turn a corner—perhaps green shoots; I do hope so—it is right that we continue to support parents to meet their responsibilities towards their children by seeking employment opportunities wherever that is possible.

House adjourned at 9.21 pm.