HC Deb 12 January 2004 vol 416 cc525-7
13. Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of how progress in tackling child poverty in the UK compares with developments in other European Union member states. [146794]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith)

In 1997, the UK had a higher proportion of children living in low-income households than any other EU member state. Since then the UK has made substantial progress, narrowing the gap between the UK and EU averages from 8 percentage points in 1997 to 5 percentage points in 2001, and moving up the EU league table. The extra spending announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his pre-Budget report will enable us to achieve still more as we tackle child poverty.

Chris Bryant

As my right hon. Friend will know, everyone is delighted that we have stopped languishing at the bottom of the league, but we are still only 11th: we are still falling behind the whole of Scandinavia, France, Germany and Greece. There is much on the agenda that will change that, but do we still need to learn lessons from our European Union colleagues?

Mr. Smith

As I have said, we had already made good progress by 2001, and I am confident that the other steps we have taken—not least the increase of £3.50 a week in the child element of the tax credit, benefiting more than 7 million poor children—will enable us to make further progress.

Of course we can learn from other European countries, just as they have much to learn from us about labour market flexibility. Social solidarity and fellow feeling for all citizens in our country—the feeling that poverty, particularly child poverty, is an evil that must be eliminated—should mobilise public opinion not just among those who support our party, but among those who support all parties in the House.

16. Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of progress in reducing child poverty. [146797]

17. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab)

What progress the Government has made in reducing the number of children living in poverty; and what measures it will take to reduce it further. [146799]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond)

As a result of our policies, there are now half a million fewer children living on relatively low incomes than in 1997. Had we done nothing, a million and a half more children would have been in poverty. We are on course to meet our target to reduce the number of children in low-income households by a quarter by 2004–05.

Ms Stuart

Can the Minister give us some idea of how many parents with care will benefit from the child maintenance premium?

Mr. Pond

As my hon. Friend knows, our child support reforms have led to a considerable increase in the number of parents with care who receive the premium. The figures are available in the Library—[Interruption]—but no, not in my briefing.

My hon. Friend also knows that the purpose of the reforms is to make a real contribution to the meeting of our target for dealing with child poverty.

Hugh Bayley

When does the Department intend to spend the extra £1 billion announced in the pre-Budget report on measures to reduce child poverty? What impact does he think those extra measures will have in reducing the number of children living in poverty?

Mr. Pond

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already mentioned the £3.50 increase in the child element of the tax credit, which will benefit more than 7 million children. That means that total spending on financial support for children will have increased by £10 billion in real terms since 1997, which we expect to help us achieve our public service agreement target of reducing the number of children in low-income households by a quarter by 2004–05.

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