HC Deb 18 December 2003 vol 415 cc1706-8
8. Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart) (Lab)

What measures his Department is taking to tackle child poverty. [144723]

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo)

As part of their commitment to tackling child poverty, the Government have improved financial support for families with children, increasing child benefit for the first child in every family by 25 per cent. in real terms since 1997, and introducing the child tax credit in April 2003. A total of 5.9 million families are already benefiting from the new tax credits. This is 98 per cent. of the total number of families expected to benefit in 2003–04.

The Chancellor announced in last week's pre-Budget report an increase in the child element of the child tax credit by £180 to £1,625 a year in April 2004, equivalent to a weekly increase of £3.50, benefiting 7.2 million children in 3.7 million families. As a result, the Government are on track to meet or to exceed their public service agreement target to reduce the number of children in low income households by a quarter by 2004–05 on a before housing costs basis.

Mr. Harris

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that, if a Labour Government are for anything, they are for the fight against poverty, particularly child poverty. Given that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation announced only this month that the latest figures have passed the notable milestone of taking income poverty lower than at any time in the 1990s, does she agree that the Government's aspiration to abolish child poverty altogether should be founded not only on one party's policies but on bipartisan consensus?

Dawn Primarolo

I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work that he does on these issues in his constituency. I agree entirely, and I hope that Opposition Members will, even at this late stage, join the Government in an all-party crusade to eradicate poverty from society, particularly among children, instead of simply complaining about the fact that people live in poverty. It is difficult, however, to see how their commitment to cuts of £80 billion would help to achieve that.

Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD)

The extra money for tackling child poverty announced by the Chancellor in the pre-Budget report is certainly welcome. Can the Minister explain, however, why the Chancellor did not have the honesty to explain in his statement that the child poverty measures were being funded by freezing other tax credits?

Dawn Primarolo

I regret the tone of the hon. Gentleman's question, which is typical of the kind of carping that goes on, rather than joining in the celebrations. As he well knows, all the elements of the child tax credit were announced on pre-Budget day, as is always the case. He is trying to make it sound as though the House was misled, but perhaps I should remind him that for the first time millions of families are receiving the payment, which he and his party have yet to confirm that they would honour.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although we have made remarkable progress and invested so much in early years and the eradication of child poverty, it is still true that the Sure Start programme is one of the most effective that we have introduced? However, a lot of children in poor homes do not live in the 20 per cent. Of wards that are the most deprived, so can she think of any way in which we can get to those poor children more quickly?

Dawn Primarolo

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I am sure that everyone in the House will want to celebrate the massive achievements of the Sure Start programme. At its centre, it involves parents in shaping their future and that of their children.

My hon. Friend will also know that the Government's commitment on children's centres is a commitment to roll out and to continue that programme. To take a much wider perspective, I am sure that he would acknowledge that in tackling poverty—particularly child poverty—the Government need to concentrate not only on the income of such families but on the full range of public services that are delivered to them.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con)

The Chancellor has said lots of times that one of the best ways to tackle child poverty is to get unemployment down. Obviously, progress is being made, but can it continue? Has the Minister had a chance to examine the recent CBI report on Britain as a place to do business? It reveals that 60 per cent. of senior managers surveyed believe that the Government are not taking seriously their concerns about red tape and regulation, and 40 per cent. said that they were thinking of offshoring£

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is far too wide of the question.

Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East) (Lab)

May I speak on child poverty? I applaud the Chancellor and the Treasury team's £1 billion pre-Budget report initiative to deal with child poverty and particularly commend the children's bond, which will give the poorest children in the country £500 immediately, with additional sums so that they will have a nest egg at 18 that they would not have dreamed of having otherwise. However, does the Minister share my sadness that the official Opposition did not go into the Lobby last week£

Mr. Speaker

Order. The first part of the question was in order.

Dawn Primarolo

It is an excellent question, Mr. Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend because I know that he has done a huge amount of work in his constituency on that matter. He highlights the commitment to the child trust fund as one of many measures that the Government are taking. It is an asset of £500 for a child over their life. It encourages the savings habit and is an example of progressive universalism. I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris). We need all-party support and determination to tackle and to eradicate child poverty—support and determination that unfortunately are seriously lacking in both Opposition parties.