HL Deb 23 October 2000 vol 618 cc1-3

Baroness Massey of Darwen asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether their family policies will take account of the initiatives of Parents' Week.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, the Government completely accept the aims and initiatives of Parents' Week which is intended to raise awareness of the importance and value of parenting and of family support. The Government are delighted that the National Family and Parenting Institute, working together with a number of other family organisations, has succeeded in compiling such an excellent week of events to celebrate parenting. As part of the week, I look forward to hosting a reception in your Lordships' House tomorrow.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. This is the first Parents' Week. The National Family and Parenting Institute has produced a report as part of that week which suggests that the UK is not particularly family friendly. Can my noble friend state the top three priorities for supporting families, and how they will be implemented?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am well aware of the report to which my noble friend refers. We would all agree that there are many aspects of life where this country may not be as family friendly (to use the jargon) as others. Having spent the past weekend in southern Ireland, I can point to the example that in this country policies of individual restaurants in relation to children, for example, may not be as friendly as they might be.

However, we believe that the Government's policies overall are aimed at supporting families. If I were to refer to three, they would include ensuring that within 20 years no child lives in poverty; making it easier for those parents who wish to do so to balance their home and work priorities and responsibilities; and enabling parents to have access to advice and information on parenting. A wide range of policies will advance those aims. They will mean that by next year, 2001, households with children will be on average £850 a year better off and that 1.2 million children will already have been lifted out of poverty.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House tell us how we compare with Europe so far as concerns child poverty?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, it would be hard to give a blanket answer. My noble friend's Question related more to social policies. Individual countries have different forms of assessing child poverty. I can write giving the noble Baroness a list of those countries where we would say that children live in poverty. One of the Government's aims is to reduce the number of children living in poverty. That is why we are pleased to be able to say that by next year in this country 1.2 million children out of 3 million who were assessed to be living in poverty will no longer be doing so.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, while I warmly applaud the Minister's initiatives in this area, has the noble Baroness any plans for a grandparents' week? For some of us that might be more appropriate.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I should be happy to join in that if it were to be arranged. I believe that there is a grandparents' day. Whether it continues may be a reflection of the number of people prepared to take part. I am very willing to look into the noble Lord's suggestion which I personally would enjoy very much.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, can the Minister state what policies the Government have to deal with gypsy children? They are among the most deprived of any section of the community but are not being considered, and will not be in the future, by the Social Exclusion Unit.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as I am sure that he will admit, the noble Lord raises a question about a minority of children, but those are children living in difficult circumstances, as he describes. My right honourable and noble friends' policies in the Department for Education and Employment, for example, are designed to make it easier for children of travelling families to be able to attend school. As the noble Lord is well aware, the problem is that the parents and families who fall into this category often do not qualify for provisions such as the working families' tax credit or the childcare tax credit because of their employment record.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the research produced by the Family Policy Studies Centre entitled Cohabitation in Britain and Norway: A Childhood Perspective? It indicates that in the 1970s the rate of separation of parents in Britain was similar to that in Norway. However, in Britain the figures are now dramatically worse. By the age of four, far more children in this country can expect their parents to separate.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am not familiar with the report to which the noble Earl refers. We are concerned that a large number of children live in families where the disruption that he describes is a contributing cause of their poverty. One of the reasons that we put such emphasis on alleviating child poverty and improving children's education through programmes such as the Sure Start initiative is to make sure that children who are disadvantaged have some compensation.

Earl Russell

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is an essential constituent of a family friendly policy that parents of both sexes should be entitled on equal terms to take time off for domestic emergencies? Will the noble Baroness try to ensure that the actively-seeking-work rules are administered to make that a reality?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am not sure that it is entirely within my powers to ensure that the actively-seeking-work regulations are arranged in the way the noble Earl describes. He will acknowledge that initiatives such as the parental leave arrangements and the part-time work arrangements which have come into force during this past year make it possible for parents to share parenting in a way that the Government want to encourage.

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