HC Deb 21 May 1996 vol 278 cc82-3
2. Mr. Mackinlay

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to meet Church leaders to discuss the impact and extent of family poverty in the United Kingdom. [28804]

The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Alistair Burt)

Ministers regularly meet representatives from a wide variety of organisations, including Church leaders.

Mr. Mackinlay

Is the Minister aware that the Christian Churches are concerned about the growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots in society, increasing family poverty and growing deprivation? If he agrees with that analysis, what is he doing about it? If he disagrees, will he explain why to the people who complement their spiritual work with pastoral care in the community, and who daily witness the consequences of the selfish society that has been created during the past 17 years?

Mr. Burt

Until his final throw-away remark, I thought the hon. Gentleman's question was important. The point about poverty and how we deal with it concerns us all. The hon. Gentleman asked what we are doing about it. We have introduced a variety of measures to encourage people into work, as we know that work is the best answer to low income and poverty. I agree, however, that poverty is not just about material things—it includes spiritual matters as well. In my work with the single regeneration budget and city challenge, I see what the Government have done to bring about the right spirit in many poor communities. Indeed, Easterhouse, where Prince Charles and Jacques Chirac were last week, is an object lesson in what can be achieved. If the hon. Gentleman agrees that work is one of the answers, I am sure that he will welcome the drop in unemployment in his constituency in the past few years and, if he does, I cannot see how a minimum wage would help him to help people keep their jobs.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Does my hon. Friend agree that many people welcome the assistance that the Government gave 10 years ago to the "Faith in the City" report? Many were present when our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke at Southwark cathedral on such issues, years before he took over the Department. I am glad that the Government have followed many of the recommendations of that report in so far as they are directed to the nation, because trying to change people's lives in inner-city areas and to give them freedom from poverty is one of the main responsibilities of people in politics.

Mr. Burt

I entirely agree. Several initiatives were created in response to "Faith in the City" and the Church urban fund has a number of projects. I was interested to learn that a new chief executive has been appointed to the fund, who also believes that it is important that the advance into material well-being is accompanied by a change in people's spiritual attitudes. That is what the work of the Church is about. We have followed that line in a number of projects throughout the country. By restoring power to people as tenants and through education, the Government's policies have helped to stimulate the very changes that people need.