Thursday 22nd February 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Motion to Take Note
11:50
Moved by
Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That this House takes note of the case for aligning poverty reduction policy-making across Government.

Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, for me, this is probably one of the most important debates that I could ever be involved in, and I am glad we have managed to get time for it. This is largely because, in my opinion, poverty is the background to everything, from racism all the way through to inequality. Our prisons are full of people who never got a fair crack of the whip at birth—and I am one of them. I come from a London Irish racist, small-minded and self-harming working class in Notting Hill; I have spoken about that on many occasions.

Growing up in poverty, with self-harming, drink, violence, wife-beating and all that, what I found so interesting was that I never met an adult in that world that I came into. All I met was self-defeat and people who were harmed by poverty so abjectly that, in some ways, they could never translate themselves into being fully human. They could never savour the advantages, as I later did when I became a posh boy because every time I got arrested, I learned things in the prison system—so, by the time I was 18, I was the posh guy that noble Lords see before them. Those people never went to the National Gallery. They never knew the difference between the trecento, the quattrocento and the cinquecento—neither do some people here. The point is that they were never allowed to be fully human.

We have to embrace that. When we embrace it, we have to realise that if we seriously want to do something about it, we need to look at the way we handle poverty in government, in local authorities, in charitable work, in our thinking and in how we respond to the needs of others. The traditional way of responding to the needs of others is to feel sorry for them—to pity them, to feel guilty and that what you really need to do is give the poor more. I came into the House of Lords and was immediately overrun by people wanting me to participate in some projects that were about giving the poor more. I said, “I’m sorry. I’m here to dismantle poverty and turn the tap off. I’m not here to deal with the everyday crisis of poverty, because I have to stand above it”. Somebody has to stand above it and try to bring all the efforts together so that poverty does not continue.

Giving the poor more has been going on for thousands of years. You can go back to the Greek philosophers: people established their humanity by giving the poor more. Every religion always wants to give the poor more. When I worked in America, I was astonished at the amount of schoolchildren I knew or met who would put food into a charity dumpster so that they could give the poor more. I did not see people make much effort to say, “Hang on—what are we doing here? Are we decreasing poverty or are we responding only to the everydayness—the precious thing?”.

I am an emergencist. I started the Big Issue 32 years ago to respond to the crisis of poverty, because I was appalled at the way that people saw homeless people on the streets of London, and then on the streets of cities throughout the UK, Europe, Asia, North America and South America, so I got involved then in giving the poor more. After 10 years of that, I was interviewed by the Times, which said, “Johnny Bird, what have you been doing for the last 10 years? You’ve been doing this, but what are you going to do for the next 10 or 20 years?” I said, “Well, for the last 10 years, I’ve been mending broken clocks. For the next 10 or 20 years, I’m going to try and prevent the clocks breaking”.

I created a methodology which I called PECC: prevention, emergency, coping and cure. What it threw up to me was that, in the intervention of state Governments and charities—and personal intervention from the public—80% of all the poverty money was spent on emergency and coping, with very little spent on prevention and cure. Each Government who came through—at the age of 78, I have been through many—always said that they put the fight to defeat poverty right at the top. Yet not one of them stopped and asked, “How do we reconfigure our governance? How do we reconfigure what we’re doing so that we can do a better job and turn the tap off, rather than using a tablespoon to take the water out of the bath?”. Everybody is at it, as was I for the first 10 years of my life as the Big Issue proprietor.

When I came into the House of Lords, I said that I came here to dismantle poverty. To do that is incredibly difficult when every government department that has anything to do with social justice or social opportunity always has a number of initiatives. Whenever a Government say to me that they have an initiative, I think “It’s a cover-up”—I am not speaking against the current Government, because I have been dealing with this for 30 years—because they do a little initiative, learn something from it and then put it aside. In fact, someone should do a history of government initiatives because it would find that they have tried every damn thing. The latest one is levelling up. I do not know why they do not call it “Get rid of poverty” or something like that.

I came in, I am sorry to say, to revolutionise the House of Lords and the Government, but not to pull them apart and get upset about who is here or there. I came in to concentrate on how to get the convergence of efforts so that when we use “emergency” we do so efficiently and deeply, and bring about changes. There are people in this House and the other place who have done enormously rich and deep things for people in need. But how do you take that as part of a social apparatus and put prevention in front of it? How do you put cure at the end of it?

Forty per cent of all money spent by His Majesty’s Government is spent on poverty. I am sorry—I repeat these things often, and people say to me, “You told us that the last time”, but I am going to tell you it the next time as well. Forty per cent of the money spent by government is spent on poverty—yet, if you look at the intervention of this Government, the last Government and presumably the next Government, there will be a bit here, a bit there, and a bit here and a bit there. There is no convergence; there is no joining together the strengths that we need to defeat poverty. According to the BMA, 50% of the people who present themselves with cardiac arrests are people suffering from food poverty. The emergency work that we need to do is to respond to the emergency and, at the same time, make sure that we are not increasing it by allowing people to slip into poverty.

I have a Bill going through the House that will go nowhere—absolutely nowhere. No one is interested in it. Whenever I talk to a politician of whatever party, or to the aspirant ones who stop me in Portcullis House and talk to me kindly about what they are going to do when they get in office—I presume it was not your lot, because you are already there—they say that they are going to do all sorts of wonderful things about poverty. But if they use the same mechanisms and devices that are being used at the moment, they will not be going anywhere.

Before Tony Blair came in, I remember having discussions with him, and I thought he was one of the most impressive personal managers that I had ever met. He made me feel really important, and he told me all the wonderful things he was going to do. I am not slagging him off—this is not a party-political thing. He was going to do big things about getting rid of homelessness. What he did was to open the gates of the Treasury to lots of homeless organisations, which went from this size to that size. People built lots more temporary accommodation—hostels and all sorts of things like that—and they thought it was a wonderful thing. But, unfortunately, it was still about “them” and “us”, meaning “us” who run the system and “them” who receive our beneficence. That is one of the major problems that we need to deal with.

My Bill calls for the creation of a ministry for poverty prevention. Why does it do that? It does so because, if poverty eats into the aspirations and ambitions of virtually every government department, how can the NHS really deliver, and how can schools really deliver, when about 30% of their budget is spent on dealing with the problems of poverty that are vectored into the classroom? What can the Ministry of Justice do, other than tread water and make sure that somebody does not escape, kill themselves or kill a guard? Why do we create these ministries and then deprive them of the opportunity of supplying change, justice and social justice, because poverty eats away at and destroys their work?

In my opinion, we need a Ministry of Justice prevention. I have spoken to lots of people, and they say, “Well, we could all do with a ministry—you could have a ministry for everything”. But the thing about poverty is that it gets into our pores and, in my opinion, it makes us lost and, to some extent, dishonest. We think that, if we can just give a handout to someone, we have changed things and done our bit. Thank you very much—God bless you all.

12:05
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, follow that! I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for the opportunity not just to debate this important issue but also to say thank you to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for his tireless championing of the interests of children in poverty and also refugees and asylum seekers. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to work with him, and he will be sorely missed.

I shall focus my remarks mainly on child poverty and the need for a cross-government child poverty strategy, not least because children are disproportionately at risk of poverty. As the Association of Directors of Children’s Services reminded us this week:

“Sadly, children’s needs, their rights and outcomes have not been prioritised in recent years”.


No doubt the Minister will trot out the usual cherry-picked statistics on so-called absolute poverty, despite the promise of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, when leader of the Conservative Party, that the party

“recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty”.

I shall spare noble Lords the trading of statistics, but we cannot ignore the growing evidence of the intensification of poverty, serious hardship and indeed, as documented by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, destitution.

Last month, the Prime Minister in a radio interview said that he was sad to hear of families in poverty who reportedly were having to water down baby formula, and that he was committed to sitting down with those involved, if he were written to. Well, he would have to sit down with an awful lot of people, if he were to meet all those who are unable to afford life’s basics today. What is needed is systemic change, not individual sympathy—and that brings me to today’s Motion.

In 2010, the political parties came together to support the introduction of the Child Poverty Act, which required central, devolved and local government to produce child poverty strategies, building on the progress made on reducing child poverty over much of the previous decade. Despite that all-party support, the Act was watered down and then effectively abolished in 2016—though, thanks to the stalwart work of the right reverend Prelate, the duty to continue the measurement and publication of key poverty indicators was retained. But the upshot was that, as the Social Mobility Commission pointed out in 2021, England is now

“the only nation in the UK without a strategy to address child poverty”.

When challenged on the lack of a child poverty strategy, Ministers tend to recite a litany of various inadequate measures, but a list of measures does not constitute a strategy, with clear targets and reporting requirements. In contrast, my party has committed itself in its final National Policy Forum document, agreed by conference, to

“a bold and ambitious strategy to tackle child poverty”,

which will be cross-government and place a

“responsibility of all government departments to tackle the fundamental drivers of poverty”.

I just hope that this commitment will be set out clearly in our manifesto.

Decisions made by almost every government department have implications for children and others in poverty. For example, the Department for Education cannot ignore the impact of poverty, whether it be childcare policies, the costs of education, including school meals, the need to poverty-proof schools and, most fundamentally, the impact of poverty on the ability to learn, and its role in continued inequality of educational opportunities and outcomes.

Home Office rules have a direct impact on poverty among refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, and this is the subject of a current joint inquiry by the APPGs on Migration and on Poverty, which I co-chair. Fuel poverty is the responsibility of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero; the transition to net zero has to take account of the needs of those living in poverty as, otherwise, new research suggests that they could face what the authors call “transition poverty”.

Before I turn to the Minister’s own area of responsibility, I ask him what cross-government machinery exists to consider the impact of policies on poverty. What discussions does he have with colleagues in other departments to encourage them to think about the poverty implications of their work? The DWP’s work of course remains central to any poverty reduction strategy. At present, it seems as if its anti-poverty policy begins and ends with getting more people into paid work, regardless of the quality of the jobs on offer. I do not dispute that paid work is important and reduces the risk of poverty, but it is no panacea—witness the fact that the majority of children in poverty have at least one parent in work. Indeed, according to Action for Children, around 300,000 families with children are in poverty despite each parent being in full-time work. Much more needs to be done to break down the barriers faced, in particular by those with caring responsibilities.

Punitive sanctions have been shown to be counterproductive, pushing people into low-quality and insecure work, according to the Work Foundation and others. The evidence suggests that those struggling to get by on inadequate benefits do not make effective jobseekers, as poverty reduces psychological bandwidth and job-seeking itself can cost money.

I will say more about the inadequacy of the social security benefits that we expect our fellow citizens to survive on in next week’s uprating debate, but I make just two points now. First, in a briefing paper for the Financial Fairness Trust, my former colleague Professor Donald Hirsch concludes:

“The level of working age benefits in the UK today is denying claimants access to the most fundamental material resources needed to function day to day and have healthy lives”.


Secondly, a report from CPAG, of which I am honorary president, argues that the first step in tackling child poverty has to be the abolition of policies that are increasing it. This includes scrapping the benefit cap and the two-child limit—here, again, I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate’s indefatigable opposition to the latter; I suspect that the Minister might breathe a sigh of relief not to hear more from him about its iniquities. Underlying both points are the series of cuts made to social security since 2010. Given that many of those affected were already in poverty, we may have seen the impact less in the numbers in poverty and more in its growing depth.

A cross-government strategy must also include local government. Key here is the future of the household support fund. In his Answer to my recent Oral Question, the Minister referred to councils’ continued ability

“to use funding … to provide local welfare assistance”,—[Official Report, 30/1/24; col. 1106.]

which replaced the national Social Fund. But when I followed up with a Written Question about how many English local authorities do not run such a scheme, he responded that the Government do not have “robust data”. Why do they not? According to End Furniture Poverty, 37 authorities have closed their scheme, which means that if the household support fund is abolished as feared, there will be nothing other than charity for people in need to turn to. To their credit, a number of local authorities have developed anti-poverty strategies despite their financial pressures, but it is clear from research by Greater Manchester Poverty Action that they are hampered by the absence of a UK government strategy and by national policies that have compounded poverty.

As made clear so graphically by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, policy-making must aim to prevent poverty rather than simply reduce it after the event. I see that as one of the principles that should inform any anti-poverty strategy. Other principles include: the need to provide genuine financial security; attention to diversity, including the particular needs of racialised minorities, disabled people and women; recognition that poverty is experienced not just as a disadvantaged and insecure economic condition but as a corrosive and shameful social relation, which means that policies and their application must be dignity-promoting rather than, as is too often the case, shame-inducing; and, related to this, the involvement of people with experience of poverty, including children, in the development of anti-poverty policies—here we can learn from Scotland.

There is growing recognition of the value of the expertise of experience thanks to projects such as Changing Realities. Its recent briefing began and ended by quoting Erik, a single disabled parent. He argues:

“It is NOW that changes must be made in order for a fairer society where we can all have a reasonable standard of living, bring up our families to have the best possible start in life that is achievable”,


but, he says:

“I am starting to lose hope that anything will change for low-income families”.


Whatever Benches we sit on, we have a duty to offer people like Erik some cause for hope. He is right that change must happen now. Indeed, as public attitudes towards action against poverty appear to have softened in recent years, what better time to offer a vision of a good society in which a cross-government anti-poverty strategy has to play a central part?

12:15
Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on securing this debate, although I do not necessarily agree with all his views. I also take this opportunity to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham—Bishop Paul, as we know him—for his significant contributions to the work of this House, particularly in the area of children. I also add how much we look forward to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford’s maiden speech in this debate.

Poverty, whether relative or absolute, is difficult to understand fully unless it has been personally experienced. It means, among other things: never going to the movies; shopping only for the cheapest basics; no holidays; not being able to afford a warm winter coat or new shoes; no birthday parties for children as they cannot afford to take a present; not being able to afford bus fares; living in constant fear of the fridge breaking down; and, at the poorest end, hunger, cold and periods of destitution for those households. The consequences of such deprivation are, as we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, deep and long lasting for children, who continue throughout their lives to underperform in all development measures. Poverty affects life chances from day one.

This is a bleak picture, yet official statistics reveal that 11 million people in the UK—17%—are relatively poor and a shocking 13% live in absolute poverty. This, as we have heard, is the worst level in Europe. It is unacceptable, but is likely to get worse as the cost of living crisis continues. As of July 2023, 6.1 million people were claiming universal credit. Additional support includes energy discounts, extra pension payments and free prescriptions. It is not as if the Government are unaware or unwilling to acknowledge widespread poverty or to act to limit it. To my mind, the somewhat courageous levelling-up programme, with its four admirable missions, is one example—but it is not working. Poverty rates have not changed significantly since 2010-11.

Much is known about the causes of absolute poverty; indeed, a great deal is now known about how best to alleviate it. The following factors, for example, increase vulnerability: the two-child limit on income-related benefit, the cap on benefits, debt reductions from benefits and the five-week wait for the first payment. If you have no money and have exhausted all family and other networks for temporary financial help, five weeks is a very long time both for adults and, most especially, for young children. Overall, basic benefit rates are simply inadequate to temper the effects of the current recession.

Large numbers of households continue to fall into the gaps—gaps created in part by the plurality of government departments mandated to carry out anti-poverty programmes. Today, according to my count, there are at least eight different government departments with a particular responsibility to administer benefit programmes, from child tax credit to income support. Experience suggests that these departments too often fail to communicate and co-ordinate programmes. Most important of all is the failure to design and adhere to a comprehensive child poverty strategy that should run through all social welfare thinking and planning.

Such a programme would build on a basic acceptance that more money is necessary to underpin child benefit and make it universal, to raise the minimum wage, expand free school meals and support quality childcare costs. The key elements of a universal strategy across a broad range of policy areas, with key targets, timelines and regular reporting, need clear leadership and infrastructure. It is also essential that affected families, including children, are involved in policy development in this area and to make it as central to planning as climate change is, or is about to become.

In an average class of 30 children, nine will be living in poverty. It is a political choice whether we can, in all conscience, continue to live with this statistic.

12:21
Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho Portrait Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for his timely debate and his relentless and indefatigable championing of this issue. I declare my interests, most particularly as president of the British Chambers of Commerce and chancellor of the Open University.

I will make three brief points. The first is about business and its role in helping with this issue. I have been travelling around the country as president of the British Chambers of Commerce. I am not going to share my travel diary, but I have most recently been in Preston, Coventry, Doncaster, Poole and Glasgow, and, with the British Chambers of Commerce, I have launched bits of work that look at how we can rejuvenate our economy over the next decade—a kind of playbook for whatever shade of Government we find ourselves with later in the year. The most recent work we did was about the future of the local economy, and I will emphasise how important it feels to make sure that we do not only join up policy across central government but that we link that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned, with local government and its fundamental role in helping drive local economies that we know are so essential in providing high-quality work and fuelling the economy to enable any of the choices that we are talking about in this debate.

When the British Chambers has been doing this work, we have been trying to reinforce three key planks: we need high-quality local leadership around these issues to make sure that local economies and communities have got the best possible talent around them; we need better collaboration with business at a local level to ensure that we have got, not just the acceptable jobs or jobs that are paying, but jobs that provide the quality that my noble friend Lady D’Souza was talking about; and we need to make sure that we have enough devolution and power locally to enable these communities to build resilience.

There are examples, and I can think of many British Chambers members that are doing interesting projects to help from different angles to build that local resilience, which will help local poverty and local issues. In Old Trafford, Trafford Council is working with a company called Bruntwood; they are doing a huge redevelopment of 24,000 square feet in the area that is generating green pathways, new transport links and big infrastructure investment. But it has taken a lot of work to get to that point with that triumvirate of different groups working together and I believe deeply that we will not help with working on the prevent part of the PECC framework created by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, if we do not think about how to drive that business-led change at a local level and open up collaboration.

As I said, there are examples. There is the one in Trafford and, last week, Aviva launched a project with the British Chambers that looks at local planners, to help build high-quality jobs at a very specific level; we are really trying to find diverse people to train and become local planners. These will be high-quality jobs offered in communities that did not have those opportunities before; just 100 jobs to start with, but we hope to build and scale that over time. So the first point is that it is really important to emphasise that local co-ordination; as if the challenge of central government was not big enough, we must not forget local council integration as well.

The second point—and this is where I fear I will become a bit like the noble Lord, Lord Bird—is around digitisation. I have stood here many times and sometimes I feel like I am talking into a void. It is unacceptable that we think that 95% connectivity in this country is okay: it is not. We will never be able to connect communities that are completely outside the normal ways that we operate if we do not have the infrastructure, skills and digital ability to connect them. It is not just a question of alleviating poverty: it is a question of social justice.

Last week, I talked in a debate with the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, and her Communications and Digital Committee, on a very good report about digital exclusion, but I fear the Minister’s responses did not please many on the committee and they certainly did not please me either, unfortunately. I ask with respect how the Government are thinking about the connections between digital disconnection and exclusion, because we know that of the 2.5 million people who do not use the internet, at least 60% to 70% of them fall into the lowest socioeconomic groups. We also know that you are unable to look for work if you are not looking online; 90% of jobs are advertised only online, so you are caught in a horrible nexus. Digitisation is such an important plank of how we will address the P part of the PECC from the noble Lord, Lord Bird. Local issues and digitisation are fundamental to helping us address poverty in this country.

I will offer one moment of hope before I sit down. If I have achieved anything, I think that one of the small things that I have contributed is building GOV.UK and the government digital service. I mention that partly because it is directly related to access to information and how people can find some of the services for them, but, more importantly, because it is sometimes possible to join up government and policy. When I think back to that project from 2010 to 2015, I ask, what made it marginally successful? There were three things. The first is prime ministerial support; I cannot overemphasise how important it is that a priority comes from the top. That speaks to the point from the noble Lord, Lord Bird; we hear language, but I am not clear that it has ever been a key priority for the Prime Minister to put poverty at the heart of an action plan.

The second is political support and leadership in the Civil Service and in the department. That project was being driven by the noble Lord, Lord Maude, and we also had Civil Service leaders driving it; that took a huge amount of work and more entrepreneurial effort than I have ever had to deploy, but it is possible to join it up.

Finally, we had a clear focus and some measurements and actions at the end of it. That project was flawed, and I do not remind people of it to sound successful or blow my own trumpet—quite the opposite. But it is possible to join up policy and it needed those three things. I leave the Minister with those three things, and I would be interested in his reflections on all of them: local government and its leadership and its ability to join up with central government on these issues; digitisation and not accepting that 95% is good enough, because it is not; and, finally, how we can take those lessons from some of the successful projects in government.

12:27
Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham (Valedictory Speech)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for securing this debate on an issue of such importance and for the way that he introduced it. Also, because I have spoken on this issue repeatedly throughout my past 10 years as a Member of this House, it thus seems a fitting debate for my valedictory speech. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, for speaking straight after me. We have worked together on poverty in the north-east. I also look forward to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford’s maiden speech.

During my maiden speech, I spoke of the high levels of poverty in my region of the north-east. Sadly, poverty, particularly child poverty, remains as significant an issue today as it was 10 years ago. Only last week, the North East Child Poverty Commission released its blueprint for tackling child poverty, featuring the latest poverty stats from 2021 to 2022, along with those recorded in 2014-15—the very year I entered this House. They reveal that, in 2021-22, there were around 134,000 children living in poverty in the North East Mayoral Combined Authority—an increase of over 7% since 2014-15.

But poverty is not just about numbers. Behind each statistic are the lives of children and the impact on them is all-encompassing. Poverty means going without the basic essentials. It means not being able to concentrate in school due to an empty stomach and not getting adequate nutrition; a packet of apples costs five times the amount of a packet of biscuits. Poverty means missed opportunities. It denies the chance to develop new skills through extra-curricular activities. Poverty means growing up too soon. It means dealing with stresses and anxieties with which no child should ever be burdened. It impacts the present and its effects last a lifetime.

More fundamentally, I care about poverty because God cares about it. God is:

“Father of the fatherless and protector of widows … he leads out the prisoners to prosperity”.


God calls on leaders and Governments to

“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute”;


to

“Rescue the weak and the needy”,


not leave them there. God gives us a vision of a world where we

“let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”.

This sets our poverty in the broader context of world poverty. While tackling our own, we must maintain our commitment to the world’s poorest. We need overseas development aid to be returned to 0.7% now.

During my time in this House, the Government’s approach to poverty reduction has been promoting work as a route out of poverty. Given that the proportion of children from working families living in poverty in the north-east has risen from 56% to 67% over the last seven years, it is clear that work alone is not enough. Low pay and insecure work continue to prevent families being lifted out of poverty. Work is a successful route out of poverty only if it pays a real living wage, as well as providing secure hours and working practices. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, for her good examples, but they must be good examples for work to work. What steps will the Government take to further improve the national living wage to be at the real living wage level?

Viewing paid work as the sole route out of poverty fails to recognise the invaluable unpaid work that so many contribute. Raising children is the most important role that any parent ever undertakes. Its importance outweighs that of any paid employment and must be acknowledged by the whole of society as such. Further examples of critical unpaid work include running food banks, caring for those in need and running local sports and creative arts clubs. These are all vital to our society yet receive little recognition for their contribution. We need a different way of thinking, where those contributing critical unpaid work are valued in society and no longer faced with financial hardship as a consequence. Can the Minister say whether there is any major work on re-evaluating the great contribution made by volunteer carers and full-time parents and the wider contribution of unpaid work?

To align poverty reduction policy-making, we also need to remove the policies that continue to push more children into poverty. I highlight the two-child limit, which currently affects 1.5 million children. Its removal would lift 250,000 children out of poverty straightaway. On social security benefit levels, we need the essentials guarantee proposed by the Trussell Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Will His Majesty’s Government support this? There is no single, simple solution to poverty reduction. It is a complex issue and there is not one switch to flick to solve it, but neither will anything change if we optimistically sit back and simply hope that the situation will improve.

As we have heard, England currently has no child poverty strategy and there is no UK-wide one. We have no targets or coherent cross-departmental collaboration. I thank each Minister with whom I have constructively engaged over the years, and those from the opposition Benches. I thank in particular the present Minister, who has been wonderful to work with. My individual meetings with the DfE, DWP, DLUHC, the Home Office, DHSC and the Treasury have shown that knowledge and insight from each department is essential, yet they have also demonstrated the need for a more collaborative approach. There is still far too much silo thinking.

Of equal importance are the clear insights that local government brings from its day-to-day experience of poverty in its communities. There are also those from schools, colleges, charities and faith communities who deal with poverty every day. Small and medium-sized businesses create the essential jobs that help people out of poverty, and chambers of commerce have a very important role. They have insights into the reasons for poverty in specific local settings. Most essential is the voice of those who live with poverty themselves. We need a vision for reducing poverty and a strategy that engages all these actors. Decisions by the Treasury, too often made on short-term rather than long-term economic analysis, regularly fly in the face of the evidence presented by other government departments and those who work on a local level. There must be a fundamental shift in our national thinking. Poverty is complex. It requires not only focusing on income levels but a holistic, preventive approach. Stronger communities, better mental and physical health and improved family relationships all contribute to poverty reduction.

That is the serious bit. As I draw to a close, I thank those who have assisted me throughout my time serving in this House: the wonderful doorkeepers; the staff who serve us in hospitality; the security team; the amazing teams in the clerks’, Black Rod’s and the Lord Speaker’s offices; and all those who serve in Whips’ offices and Bill teams. They are superb. I am also deeply grateful to the Church of England’s very small parliamentary office team, Richard Chapman and Simon Stanley; the public affairs team of the Church of England; and each of my three RAMP assistants and seven parliamentary assistants and researchers from the brilliant Buxton scheme. Without them, I could never have taken part in the life of this House in the way that they have enabled me to do. I shall miss this place and the brilliant work it does in scrutinising, revising and seeking to hold the Government to account. Had there been a different flavour of Government while I was on these Benches, I promise I would have behaved in exactly the same way towards them.

Poverty is a scourge. It needs to be confronted head-on as a national emergency. Jesus warned us not to harm children. He also made it clear that all of us have to enter God’s way of living by placing a child in our midst and learning from their trust and humility. We need a clearer vision for children and for how we confront all poverty, one with determination that requires us all to work together. Only then will we see poverty be reduced. Only then will we ensure that no child in this country grows up without the basic essentials and finally end child poverty.

12:38
Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Portrait Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate, who is leaving not only this House but his job as Bishop of Durham. I value both aspects of his ministry. Today, he has again shown that he does not shy away from speaking truth to power. That is one of the things we really value him for. His work in the north-east has been tireless, tackling all of us on what we are doing about the most vulnerable, particularly children, and his work in the House on the impact of legislation has been outstanding.

The right reverend Prelate has referred to the two-child rule in universal credit. His work, attention to detail and recognition from his ministry of the challenges for families, and his determination not to let go of issues simply because they are not the issue of the day, have been a real lesson to all of us. The role of Bishops in this House is never one that lacks controversy, but he has conducted himself in an important way throughout, drawing from his faith and from his pastoral activity the lessons that we need to listen to and learn from—as he has demonstrated this morning.

I also have particular reasons to be grateful for his pastoral work. He of course lives in the traditional seat of the Bishop of Durham, Bishop Auckland. When his schedule allows, he worships at the Anglican-Methodist Church in Bishop Auckland, on Woodhouse Close Estate. He and his wife have been very active there; of course, there are members of my family who have been active in that almost since it began. The support of Bishop Paul and his wife for my sister-in-law and her family during my brother’s illness, and subsequent death last year, will never be forgotten by us. We all wish you, Bishop Paul—I am not supposed to use that language in here, but I am going to today—the very best in your retirement. You should know that you go having served this House well, but also the people of Durham and the most vulnerable in our society. Thank you.

I now turn to the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, a very important debate about poverty. As Bishop Paul has said, he and I have worked together on the North East Child Poverty Commission, whose report was published last Friday. If the Minister has not seen it, I will happily send him a copy. The commission was established to look at what had happened with our ridiculous rise in child poverty since 2014, which is bigger and deeper than anywhere else in the country.

The person running the commission and several others had thousands of conversations, roundtables and so on to hear what people had to say about poverty in the north-east. The Government’s figures show that 27% of the north-east’s children are living in material deprivation, the highest in the UK. Some 69% of north-east children are living in families with zero or little savings to shield them from economic shocks—again, the highest in the UK. Almost one in five—18%—of children in the north-east are living in families that are food insecure. Again, that is the highest in the UK.

One thing we found in our conversations that is particularly relevant to this debate is that there is a clear evidence base on the links between low income, food insecurity and inequalities for children. The report of the Child of the North All-Party Group says that:

“Research shows that children experience a range of immediate, as well as long-term and life-changing harms from a poor diet and broader experiences of food insecurity, including: lower life-expectancy, weakened immunity, poorer mental health and emotional wellbeing, poorer physical health across a range of health outcomes (including general health ratings, more emergency visits, asthma)”,


diabetes, and so on, and

“poorer educational outcomes (including lower reading and maths scores, more days absent from school)”,

and so on.

In those conversations we also discovered—or had reaffirmed—the vast amount of time, energy, capacity and resources that organisations are having to spend on dealing with the impacts of poverty. It was clear from all of our discussions that there is a vast amount of valuable time, energy, capacity and resource in our region focused every day on dealing with the impacts of poverty and hardship on a growing number of children, young people and families. This includes by organisations specifically set up to do so, like food banks, baby banks, and so on, but also those whose work is being exacerbated and made much more difficult by the impacts of life on a very low income, including social workers, health services, voluntary and community groups and local authorities, as well as some businesses. There are also those whose ability to focus on their core business is being undermined or made more challenging by poverty, such as schools, colleges, youth provision, sports groups and so on.

Beyond the immeasurable costs for individuals, we are therefore talking about a failure for whole rafts of our community and society. It is not just that it affects the individuals—we have heard enough, I hope, to make all of us ashamed about that—but it is those wider issues. It is apparent that the scale of hardship in our region is being masked because much of this work is being undertaken by individual organisations, on their own initiative, using their own increasingly limited budgets, all of which are acutely aware of the resource and capacity they are now allocating to addressing this issue. We talked to schools who are having to wash uniforms at the weekend, because families have no facilities to do so. We talked to schools who are having to give additional support because families do not have heating or food for their children. Schools are doing this from their resource and that is not why they get their money.

If this does not say that poverty affects the economy of a whole region, I do not know what does. That is essentially what today’s debate is about. The economy of our country is diminished and is not growing, largely because—in my view—of the rise of poverty and inequality. Unless we address those, we will not get the growth and development that we need in our private or public sectors. That is the challenge that I am afraid the Minister faces, and that I suspect other Ministers after the election will face. This is the worst crisis that I have known in my political career, and I hope that the Government understand and recognise that they need to take action now.

12:49
Lord Loomba Portrait Lord Loomba (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of Barnardo’s. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for bringing this important subject before the House and pay tribute to him for all he has done to bring hope to those in our society who most need it. With the Big Issue, he has shown and continues to show what can be done through charity and philanthropy to turn lives around. Indeed, there is such an important role in our country for charity, philanthropy, volunteerism and what the Foreign Secretary once dubbed the “big society”.

Important and cherished as that is, it does not take away the responsibility of government to address poverty directly, to ensure that government policy minimises unnecessary hardships and to look out for those who are unable to look after themselves. Child poverty is an entrenched problem in the UK, with more than one in four children living in poverty. Barnardo’s recently looked at one aspect of child poverty—bed poverty—and found that there are over 680,000 families in the UK with children who have had to share a bed because their family cannot afford another one. Crisis requests to local authorities for help with children’s beds and bedding have more than quadrupled in the last four years. What more does it take to shake us into realising that we must align and strengthen efforts to tackle poverty?

Let us be clear: when we talk about child poverty, we are talking about family poverty. Families, often with both parents working hard and doing all they can, are unable to provide adequately for their children. The red flag that Barnardo’s has raised is the imminent ending of the household support fund. That fund, provided by central government and renewed from year to year, is administered by local authorities. It has been a lifeline to those facing hardship, providing practical help and access to essentials.

Some 62% of funding for local welfare currently comes from the household support fund; yet, as matters stand, it will come to an end in only 39 days—at the end of March—at a time when the pressures on households who find themselves in poverty are greater, not less. Earlier this month, Barnardo’s and 120 other organisations warned the Chancellor of the devastating consequences for families if the fund is not extended beyond March. More broadly, local crisis support is a vital part of our social security system, providing timely support to those facing acute hardship.

A long-term strategy that connects the dots is desperately needed, with funding to match. Short-term rounds of funding have led councils to close their schemes and let staff go, only to reopen them at short notice. Many local authorities have closed their schemes entirely. Barnardo’s is calling for a three-year funding settlement for crisis support to embed efficiency in local welfare.

In closing, I return to the immediate issue of the household support fund, which must be an urgent priority for the Government. Can the Minister assure the House that this essential support will not be withdrawn at this critical time, and that this lifeline for households will be maintained to allow the most urgent manifestations of child poverty to be addressed?

12:54
Lord Bishop of Hereford Portrait The Lord Bishop of Hereford (Maiden Speech)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I begin by recording my grateful thanks for the welcome and encouragement I have received since my introduction to your Lordships’ House. I am especially grateful for the forbearance of the staff as they have helped me navigate the labyrinthine corridors of this place, and to my colleagues for their patience in introducing me to the various procedures and protocols that govern our business.

I became the Bishop of Hereford in early 2020, just before the start of the first lockdown. The diocese of Hereford celebrates the 1,350th anniversary of its foundation in 2026—we are a diocese that predates the foundation of England. Indeed, the earliest timbers in the episcopal residence were acorns in the year 910. I have both worthy and ignoble predecessors in this role. I have already done better than four of them, who never actually came to the diocese at all. I hope not to emulate one of my Saxon predecessors, who, angered by the burning of the cathedral by the Welsh in 1055, took up arms with some of the canons and died in battle as a result. I also hope to avoid the fate of the cousin of the bishop who was murdered in the garden in 1256 on the coat-tails of his cousin’s unpopularity.

Hereford is the smallest and most rural diocese in England. We comprise the counties of Herefordshire and the southern half of Shropshire, one parish in Worcestershire and 14 in Wales. Sustaining a diocesan infrastructure with such a small base presents its challenges. For every 800 people who live here, we have one church building, and three-quarters of them are grade 1 listed.

I am grateful to be the Bishop of Hereford, not least because of my agricultural interests. My first degree was in agriculture and forest sciences, followed by a master’s in soil and water engineering. Prior to ordination, I spent a number of happy years as an agronomist, advising farming clients in the south of England. I also married into a farming family, so the success of the agricultural sector and the health of the rural economy is a particular interest. I am probably the only Bishop on this Bench who can tell you both how to grow an excellent wheat crop and how to build a ventilated improved pit latrine.

It is therefore a privilege that I should make my maiden speech in this debate sponsored by the noble Lord, Lord Bird. It is also an honour to speak in the same debate as my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham, who has been a tireless campaigner for the economically disadvantaged across our country. Rural poverty is often hidden and can be affected by a wide variety of policy areas. It can also be concealed by statistics. Average income figures for the county of Herefordshire are unremarkable; however, they conceal a huge gulf between the wealthiest and the rest. Recent statistics show that 60% of the population were earning £1,000 a month or less. One-third of 18 year-olds leave the county never to return. There are few opportunities for a well-paid career locally.

It is said that Herefordshire is the poor man’s Cotswolds. I hope that is a model of development we will avoid. The depopulation of rural communities, to be replaced by large numbers of second homes, is not the way to create a thriving countryside. A report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, published in November 2023, highlighted what it rightly describes as a

“chronic shortage of genuinely affordable housing”

and noted the impact this has on social housing waiting lists and the ability of people to stay in their own communities—the challenge here of maintaining the social fabric of our rural communities is acute.

The disparity between rural house prices and rural wages means that the pressure on these communities is particularly severe. This is a classic example of the importance of coherence in government policy, and recent government announcements in this area are most welcome. An unregulated housing market leads, especially in attractive rural areas, to a growth in second homes, Airbnbs and holiday lets, and the pricing of local people out of the market. Such rural depopulation impoverishes community life; we cannot think of poverty simply in financial terms.

The agricultural sector in my diocese is innovative and pioneering, and is one of our largest employers, both directly and in its support industries. However, smaller farmers are struggling. The transition from basic farm payment support to environmental land management schemes post Brexit, while welcome in many of its aims, has not been seamless. The gap in funding, particularly that which occurred at the transition last summer, added to the stress. Access to these schemes is more difficult for tenant and upland farms in particular. Suicides in the farming community in my area approach one per month despite the best efforts of local charities such as We are Farming Minds. This regular tragedy reminds us of the importance of personal welfare, which includes the certainty we all need in order to plan for the future. It is essential for farmers, and essential for the rest of us as they seek to run viable and profitable businesses which produce food for all of us. This is a public good.

Competitiveness must be a level playing field. For example, the UK-Australia free trade deal, the first agreed under the UK’s independent trade policy, opens up UK agricultural markets for Australian produce, regardless of whether or not it is produced to the same standards that are required by law of UK farmers. Henry Dimbleby, who led the Government’s national food strategy, said that a failure to adopt a “core standards” approach to animal welfare and the environment in our pursuit of free trade deals risks

“exporting the cruelty and the carbon emissions abroad”.

I urge the Government to be mindful of these risks in future trade deals.

I hope I may have opportunity to speak in debates on these issues in the future. Poverty is an issue that affects all communities, but in rural areas it runs the risk of being neglected in policy because of a smaller, more dispersed population. I look forward to being a voice in your Lordships’ House for the people of the diocese of Hereford and the thriving of our rural communities.

13:03
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords it is a very great pleasure to follow the excellent maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, which demonstrates clearly his commitment to rural communities.

In fact, Hereford’s history with royalty goes back centuries. To go back in time, St Ethelbert, King of East Anglia, was murdered there by King Offa of Mercia—but I am glad there is now peace with the Welsh, and we welcome the right reverend Prelate’s input into Wales. He has important roles with our royalty. He took part in the Coronation, escorting Queen Camilla. He is head of the King’s Ecclesiastical Household and organises the royal chaplains in his role as the Clerk of the Closet. He has many interests, which include hedgehog preservation—which I am sure we all welcome—but the one that worries me is that he likes riding motorbikes. I have already spoken to him about that in my role as a doctor.

The right reverend Prelate’s background in technology and science and his long rural career are clearly bringing great insights into the problems affecting our rural communities, and we all look forward to hearing more from him.

I am glad the right reverend Prelate referred to some of his predecessors. In the 13th century, Bishop Thomas Cantilupe was excommunicated but died in Rome. His heart and bones were brought back to England, where the bones started to shed blood, and many miracles followed. The royal connection continued, as in 1349 King Edward III found himself cured on his way to the ceremony in which Thomas Cantilupe was decreed a saint.

The Mappa Mundi is of course well known. That great map of the world shows in one corner a little city sitting on the stumpy River Wye. Hereford is at once on the edge of the world and at the very heart of it, and now there sits our Bishop. As custodian of this treasure, the right reverend Prelate is working to regenerate our rural communities with clear passion. We cannot attribute to him that hurricanes hardly ever happen in Hereford, but we look forward to his further major contributions.

I turn to today’s debate, for which we must all thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for his tireless work to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves—all those who try but are not heard. I tried to map which departments should be involved in this issue. After all, we have the Prime Minister’s Office and 24 ministerial departments, and 20 non-ministerial government departments. They work with 423 government agencies and other public bodies, 11 high-profile groups and 19 public corporations, quite apart from the devolved Administrations. Going through that list was a discipline in itself, as for each, one could identify how they could influence poverty reduction.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bird, told us clearly, it is all too easy to think in terms of money, but we must not forget poverty of opportunity, poverty of aspiration and emotional poverty, all of which have profound negative outcomes in terms of life chances and life expectancy. In the missions on levelling up we heard about health and well-being, housing and crime. Crime erodes social capital, discourages investment and job creation, and increases levels of anxiety and fear within a population, who then feel insecure and easily become entrenched in poverty. Crime particularly undermines the prospects for young people. It works against the aspirations that our education system tries to instil.

I had the privilege of being a member of the Times Health Commission, which took evidence widely. We heard that people in the poorest areas are dying earlier but they are also living a greater share of their lives in ill health, often unable to work. The impact of income on health is stark: the poorest women are unhealthy for more than a third of their lives, compared with 18% for the richest, and children born into the poorest fifth of families in the UK are nearly 13 times more likely to experience poor health and educational outcomes by age 17 than the richest quintile.

Sadly, this bears out nationally. Dr Julian Tudor-Hart’s inverse care law is the principle that the availability of good medical or social care tends to vary inversely with the need of the population served. That is a key issue in the debates about health inequality, and particularly in relation to prevention of ill health. Public health measures are particularly important because, to quote Sir John Bell, who instigated UK Biobank, the origins of illness begin decades before the majority of illnesses become evident.

Less than 20% of our health is determined by medical interventions; the vast majority is driven by wider social factors, including diet, smoking, housing, alcohol, air quality, education, poverty overall and working conditions. I remind the House that Bevan had been responsible for housing as well as health when he founded the NHS. As he wrote,

“financial anxiety in time of sickness is a serious hindrance to recovery, apart from its unnecessary cruelty”.

People’s homes, their jobs and communities influence health; hence, you need a whole-system approach for a healthier, more prosperous Britain. Town plans determine housing, open spaces, transport infrastructure—all are important.

The influence of work security was clearly demonstrated by my friend and colleague Dr Norman Beale, a GP in Calne, Wiltshire. He studied the local population around the time of the complete closure of the Harris pork pie factory. As a local GP, with the nearest hospital 17 miles away, his practice was the first port of call for Harris employees and their families. Not surprisingly, he found a significant increase in morbidity in the workers made redundant when the factory closed, and a significant morbidity in their families.

A very important and unforeseen finding was that two years before closure, when it became apparent that the economic futures of the workers and their families were not secure, there was a higher morbidity. It began then. This has implications for the Department for Work and Pensions. The threat of redundancy is a stress equal to, if not greater than, the actual event. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham explained in his outstanding speech, extrapolation of Beale’s findings implies an increase in workload and cost for the National Health Service that is directly attributable to job insecurity and unemployment. That is a situation now facing our population in Port Talbot, south Wales.

Perhaps in line with my noble friend Lord Bird’s philosophy, we recently debated the Online Safety Act. I congratulate the Government on taking this forward, as there is now much to do to make the internet safer, protecting children and adults from online harms that lead to dangerous behaviours, suicide and self-harm, gambling and violence, and into poverty.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot’s extensive work on poverty has shown the devastating impact of poverty on life expectancy. For example, the gap between Stockton-on-Tees and Kensington and Chelsea exceeds 16 years—but there is hope. This has inspired some cities, such as Coventry, to become “Marmot cities” and actively tackle the multiple factors that lead to deprivation by engaging all departments across the different official and voluntary sector bodies, from local authorities to health service agencies. They are beginning to show improved outcomes. It is slow but it is reversing a trend.

We must not have poverty of ambition to improve the resilience of our population through a better start in life in physical and mental health. Our ambition must be to improve work and living conditions. We need the ambition to level up across all parts of policy and to climb out of the post-pandemic trough in which we now find ourselves.

13:12
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as the last speaker from the Back Benches, I will concentrate very much on my work on poverty. I was born in a poor country and have worked professionally as an economist on poverty for much of my career; I will not go into the details of my writing.

There is obviously a very complicated set of conditions, circumstances and consequences of poverty. Poverty is a global problem. A sociology scholar, Peter Townsend, wrote a very good book, Poverty in the United Kingdom, a fat book published by Penguin in the 1970s. He had an interesting idea. He conducted a survey asking people what sort of foods they ate: “Did you have roast beef for Sunday lunch”, things like that. People asked why he was doing it. He said, “You’re poor if you don’t feel part of the community where you live”. Something about having normal foods and things like that is very important. He conducted a very large survey with more than 2,000 observations and tried to establish that when you think about poverty, you think of people and whether they feel part of the community. It was very interesting.

A famous economist, Amartya Sen, has done a lot of work on poverty. He said, “You’re poor if you cannot develop all the potentialities that you have”. For example, it is not good enough to say that we all need a certain kind of income. If I am disabled or cannot walk, I need extra facilities and extra income to be able to do what you do. We have to think of the variety of circumstances that prevent people doing what they should be able to do.

I am going to say something fairly controversial. There is one answer. People do not like it but I have to say it. It is the only satisfactory answer that I know, and it is to have a basic income or a citizen’s income. I have been advocating that, in one way or another, for 30 or 40 years now. The idea is that just as we all have the right to vote, we should have a right to income. Some areas, such as Alaska, and some countries have implemented a basic income plan. The idea is that every adult who is eligible to vote should have a certain basic weekly or monthly income. Of course, this is a very controversial issue. People say, “Why should you pay people for not working? If they get money for not working, they will never work again and that is terrible”.

As the right reverend Prelate said, a lot of us do unpaid work, especially women. One way to think of poverty is that, at various stages of their lives, women have circumstances that force them into poverty, or at least into low-income jobs. Suppose we implement a policy I proposed in my recent book, The Poverty of Political Economy. We pay every woman who is on the electoral register £100 per weekend. I am being moderate because I do not want to frighten the horses too much. That is £5,000 per year. Let us say that there are 30 million women voters. I am making all this up, but I do not think it is impossible to finance that sort of thing. If we do that, one thing is quite certain regarding things such as child poverty, lack of heating in the house or lack of food. If the woman in the family gets an income supplement, she is going to spend it on the family as well as herself, on things such as household expenditure and heating. This has been shown in some countries that have tried it.

I know people say that income is not enough, but if you want a single policy, let us try it and let us make it universal. Rather than saying, “Let me first identify who is poor and give it only to them”, give it to everybody. Then, if you want to allow the people who are rich not to have it, they can either give it up, use it as part of a tax payment or whatever. Make it completely universal.

If you make it universal, many of the problems that families have from poverty would be tackled. Obviously, there will be problems of what to do for poor single men or elderly people, but we have pensions for the elderly. If we find that there are people who would not be helped because they are not in any of these categories, that is all right.

I am not the only person who advocates this. James Meade, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Cambridge, was another, as was a man whose name I am trying to remember—the FT’s economics correspondent, whose first name was Sam—

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, it was Sam Brittan. Sam Brittan, James Meade and I were the three people advocating a basic income back in the 1960s and 1970s. This is not a new idea; there is a whole volume called the Palgrave International Handbook of Basic Income, in which I have a contribution. The whole idea of a basic income is the most convincing way I have seen to tackle poverty.

There was a social justice commission appointed by John Smith, when he was leader of the Labour Party. I submitted evidence to it, but it came to nothing because he passed away.

I do not have any more time, but the whole idea of a basic income, paid to women on the electoral register, is something that we should explore seriously to see whether it works.

13:22
Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am quite overwhelmed by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and his very inspirational speech, and I thank him. Poverty is not a subject on which I normally speak, so this has been a real eye-opener for me and I have learned a lot. I also welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. His exposition of rural poverty bodes very well for the contribution that he will make to this House. I also bid farewell to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and thank him for all the work that he has done in this House.

I looked up definitions of poverty to try to make sure that I knew what I would be talking about. We all have an idea of what we think poverty is, and the government measures of poverty fall into several categories, but they seem to be a relative low income and an absolute low income, and they are all linked to the median income of people in our society. It rankles me that anyone can be defined by their poverty. I thought the concept from the noble Lord, Lord Desai, was very interesting, although I know that it is much more complicated than any of us wants to go into today, but it was a useful thing to say that, above this income, you cannot be defined by your poverty.

A wider definition, which I like, is from the European Commission:

“People are said to be living in poverty if their income and resources are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living considered acceptable in the society in which they live”.


I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, would heartily agree with that, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, would also be involved—I cannot refer to her without saying Martha; it is weird. She spoke very coherently and passionately about the importance of communication: if you do not have access to broadband or a mobile phone, that is very significant. How can you then participate in a world that is ruled by these communications? Most people in Britain would consider these to be essentials above the poverty line, and I totally agree.

As well as relatively low and absolutely low income, there is another category that has been discussed today, and that is destitution. It is defined by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as when people have been unable to afford two or more of the following essentials, in the past month: shelter, food, heating, lighting, clothing and footwear, basic toiletries or a net income after housing of less than £95 a week.

We have heard plenty of horror stories about the number of working poor and children in poverty. The only good-news story is that the least likely demographic to be in poverty is now pensioners, who were once the most likely. That just goes to show what government policy can achieve, given the will.

Sadly, the divide between the haves and the have-nots is getting wider, not narrower. We are in a vicious downward spiral. To transform it to a virtuous upward spiral, we need investment in the most important assets for any Government to have—their human resources. We have heard plenty of excellent suggestions in this debate, as well as stark reminders of the consequences of not implementing them.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests five key ways that the UK could tackle poverty. These are: to boost incomes and reduce costs by ending the poverty premium; to reboot universal credit to ensure that work pays and provide a stronger safety net for those people who are just about managing but are tipped over into poverty by events as simple as a broken boiler; to improve educational attainment and double investment in basic skills to ensure that 5 million more adults are literate and have basic maths skills; to overhaul the childcare system, giving children a better start in life and making work pay for their parents; to back employers and, following the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, focus on investment in the long term and not the short term.

There is also the issue of decent and affordable housing, and I would focus on health as well. My noble friend did so with great explanation, as did the noble Lord, Lord Desai. If you are sitting on a 7.5 million-long patient waiting list for treatment, how can you focus on anything else? The downward spiral in our nation will not stop until we do these kinds of things.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has calculated that the total cost of poverty is approximately £78 billion a year—about £1 in every £5 that we spend on social services. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, has a different figure, but it depends on what you add in. It is certainly one of the most important, damaging areas that we need to consider. There is an equation of investment to reward which multiplies the benefits to society exponentially, the longer that it is applied. It is so short-sighted not to invest in our people.

The downward spiral we are in today does not even take account of the social costs, which the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says are causing “widespread damage to society” and are a source of

“collective shame, social tension and anxiety”.

I do not know about noble Lords, but I do not want to live in a world like this. Unless we value our people and give them the resources and opportunities they need to be productive and to realise their potential, we are all impoverished, as the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said.

I feel that shame, in response to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bird—at how little I and so many of us in this House prioritise this issue. If we can put more emphasis on it, we can do it. We have done it with pensioners; they are not poor any more. But there are many different groups that we, and particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, have talked about. We need to work together, and I hope that this will kick-start something. We can do so much better in looking after our people, so that we live in a happier society that we can all appreciate and enjoy.

13:33
Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for securing this very important debate, for the truly magnificent work he has done over many years to alleviate poverty and homelessness, and for being a real champion of independence and dignity as that work was carried out. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham on his marvellous valedictory speech, on all the work he has done on child poverty and refugees, and on his passionate advocacy for those on the margins. I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. I am a Hertfordshire girl, and the two are always getting mixed up with each other, but I know the difference. We very much look forward to working with him—and, I hope, helping him avoid the fate of some of his more unfortunate predecessors.

Last night, I attended my last full council meeting at Stevenage after 27 years as a councillor, and I will continue to serve the last of my 17 years as a county councillor until May 2025. This is relevant to this debate because, every day on the front line, councillors see the dreadful impact of entrenched poverty. My county council division, Bedwell, contains one of the most deprived wards in the country. The inequalities there get lost because of our being situated in the middle of relatively wealthy Hertfordshire, an issue the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford referred to. But the inequalities are stark. People living in Bedwell will live seven years fewer than those in other parts of my town, and 12 years fewer than those in St Albans, which is 12 miles away. Their educational attainment will be significantly lower, and we are already seeing further dips in key stage 1 and 2 results following the pandemic. Levels of economic activity are hampered by poor physical and mental health. While those lucky enough to be in social housing fare a bit better, poor, inadequate, expensive and insecure housing in the private sector creates a multitude of issues. Almost worse than all of this is the dreadful impact poverty has on the life chances, confidence and aspirations of people who live in such difficult circumstances. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, referred to this.

J.K. Rowling once said:

“Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships.”


There can be no worse indictment of the record of the last 14 years than that levels of poverty have got worse. More people are suffering those thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Worse still, more children are living in very deep poverty or worse, and 1 million children are living in destitution, as reported in the excellent Joseph Rowntree Trust report on poverty in 2024. There are 3.8 million people, including those 1 million children, living in destitution in the UK in 2024. They cannot afford to meet their most basic physical needs—to stay warm, dry, clean and fed. This figure has doubled since 2017. It is utterly shameful.

There is a disproportionate impact on families with more than three children, lone-parent families, families with younger children and some ethnic minority groups. Shockingly, some 50% of people in Pakistani or Bangladeshi households live in poverty, compared with 19% of people of white ethnicity. The high cost of living with a disability, whether poor physical or mental health, means that the poverty rate for these groups is 12% higher than for those who are not disabled. Those who take on unpaid carer responsibilities, who we should recognise as heroes for the saving they bring to the public purse, instead face increased poverty and an average financial pay penalty of £414 a month.

The petty humiliations and hardships are bad enough: children not able to go on school trips, wear proper school uniform, have shoes that fit them or sleep in their own beds with proper bedding; and managing without adequate sanitary protection. My own one was not being able to take part in cooking lessons at school because I was not allowed to take the ingredients on the list for what we had to make. I will never forget the story of the 10-year-old who was a promising opera singer. She and her mum lived in one room, and she did her homework sitting on her mum’s bed. In 10 years, she had never had a bed to herself. When you live like that, you cannot take friends home. It eats away at your self-confidence. It batters your aspirations for the future.

The key causes of such poverty are well documented, if perhaps not so well understood. The title of the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, points to one of the key reasons why it has seemed much harder than it should be to work across government to resolve some of these generational, underlying issues.

I was astonished to discover when I first came to your Lordships’ House that the broad sweep of work that we do in local government is just not replicated by the work of DLUHC here. As the convenors of coalitions across business and the public and voluntary sectors, leaders of councils draw together many different strands to effect the change they want to see achieve outcomes for their areas. They also have key responsibilities for adult social care and children’s services, tackling climate change, driving economic development, and transport infrastructure, which in government sit in entirely different departments. These differences were referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox.

We know what would make a difference to tackling poverty, and I have no doubt that the levelling-up agenda was intended to address it, but without fundamental reform at government level, it is difficult to see how it will succeed. It was disappointing—not to say incomprehensible—that the Government refused to include tackling child poverty as one of the key levelling-up missions, in spite of the powerful case made by my noble friend Lady Lister and other noble Lords. That is why my party is proposing a mission-led Government which will see the structures determined by the outcomes, not the other way round, and a radical child poverty strategy.

It has been tragic to see the steps taken over the last 14 years that have exacerbated the situation. There is the hollowing out of the fantastically progressive Sure Start programme, the introduction of the two-child rule for benefits, the failure to address the economic activity needs of people with disabilities and poor mental health, the lack of an industrial strategy to deliver the skills we need, and the virtual abandonment of unpaid carers. It is shocking that we now have more food banks in our country than police stations. The imminent removal of the household support fund will make all of this worse.

This failure is particularly highlighted by the situation in housing, where we currently have over a million people on waiting lists, only 8,396 new social homes built last year and newly homeless families outnumbering newly built social homes by six to one. A decent, secure, affordable home is the absolute foundation stone for tackling all the other underlying causes of poverty. I grew up in a council house myself, so I speak from experience here. At a recent event in your Lordships’ House, the story of a family from one of our rural areas—they had been forced away from the area their family had lived in for generations, lived in inadequate accommodation for years and were then given the keys to their new social rented home in their own village—demonstrated yet again that housing matters.

We need to pull together the threads of tackling poverty across government. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, does not like politicians very much, but politics, like marriage, is a triumph of hope over experience. My party has a plan to tackle the causes of economic inactivity: our New Deal for Working People, childcare support through breakfast clubs in every primary school, targeted support for the over-50s and those who have left the labour market, overhauling the skills system so everyone has a chance to carve out a career and breaking down the barriers for disabled people at work, growing the economy so that we put money back into people’s pockets and make work pay, and delivering a bold new cross-government child poverty strategy.

To give people an affordable home, we need to get Britain building homes of all tenures, but particularly social homes. Labour is committed to that. We will make sure there are proper targets for delivery for every area based on housing need and bring forward new “new towns”.

Running our NHS into the ground has seen waiting lists for mental and physical health soar. We need to improve access to those healthcare systems to get people back into work. Carers UK estimates that 1.2 million carers live in poverty, so Labour will reform the NHS and ensure that both paid and unpaid carers are valued and supported. Nearly one in five pensioners—almost 2 million—now lives in poverty. The Government have failed on the uptake of help for poorer pensioners. I will take the opportunity to mention the WASPI generation, who were not adequately informed of the pension-age changes which left their financial and career planning in tatters as seven years were added to their pensionable age when they had planned to retire at 60.

Today’s debate has brought into sharp focus the scale of the challenge. But we must be in no doubt: we should measure our success as a country by the way we deliver for our most vulnerable. Surely, as a minimum, we want to see the levels of poverty and destitution we have heard about today eradicated. For me, that is the minimum we would expect of levelling up.

We should commit to a mission of tackling poverty across government, lifting the stress, anxiety and depression it causes, and removing the thousands of petty humiliations and hardships it causes. Leaving people in poverty and blaming them for their circumstances—something that is sadly endemic in the UK—can deprive the whole country of the talents, skills and potential those people have. We know it needs to be done, so even if it takes a general election to deliver that change, can we please get on with it?

13:43
Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Viscount Younger of Leckie) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am very pleased to close this important debate. It has allowed us to discuss many issues and challenges relating to poverty, with a focus on cross-government efforts to find a solution.

I will start by thanking all noble Lords for their valuable contributions today—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Bird, who has tirelessly championed vulnerable and homeless people over many years, for initiating this debate. I will say a little more because noble Lords should be in no doubt that I was very moved by his impassioned speech. He spoke about giving the poor more, mentioning it many times, and how this was not necessarily the way forward. He also spoke with great conviction about PECC—prevention, emergency, coping and cure. I listened carefully to his remarks. I am afraid that I may use the word “initiative” in some of my remarks, and I await the spears that will be thrown at me without, I have to say, any particular shield.

I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, for her long service in local government. It is appropriate to acknowledge the time she spent in local government. She now gives us the benefit of her knowledge and skills in this House, and we are all the better for that.

I have listened with great interest to many ideas promulgated today, particularly about a co-ordinated approach to tackling poverty. I would like to reassure noble Lords, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that we indeed have a co-ordinated approach. I will set out our stall in terms of what the Government have been doing. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, is right; we need to work together. That is extremely important.

I also acknowledge the outstanding maiden speech from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. I am glad, as has been said by others, that he has survived so far, given the past experiences—some rather gruesome—of his predecessors. It is especially helpful and important to have a representative from his Benches for rural issues, which is not to say that there are not other right reverend Prelates who cover rural issues. He has clearly made it his business to become steeped in many local issues in Hereford, and that bodes well, because I can tell that his style is to focus on detail, with cogent argument. The House is all the better for his presence here, and I await his further contributions—with some trepidation, if I happen to be at the Dispatch Box.

I fully recognise that poverty is a hugely complex subject and that many people who experience it often face a range of barriers that can make it difficult for them to move on with their lives. As the noble Lord, Lord Bird, acknowledged, it is incredibly difficult. I also recognise that tackling these complex underlying challenges cannot be done in isolation. This Government have a range of programmes that work across departmental boundaries to help people to address the challenges they face, so that they can take their first steps towards employment and better outcomes for themselves and their families.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, is right that it is also about dignity and promoting and upholding the dignity of those who are suffering in poverty and destitution, without patronisation, if I can put it in that way.

I want at this point to acknowledge the valedictory speech of my friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. We all wish him well for his retirement, and I personally thank him for his commitment and for raising many important issues during his time in the House. I have to say that I have appreciated his frankness in speaking truth to power—as the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, said, not about him but in other respects—and for his friendship. As many Peers have mentioned, the right reverend Prelate has consistently raised important matters relating to poverty, and this debate is certainly no different. I will be addressing many of the points he has raised, including raising the national living wage, reappraising of the value of unpaid work, the two-child limit, which is an old favourite that I shall be covering, the essentials guarantee, too much silo thinking and the need for a shift in national thinking, which was a big comment that he made. We will miss him and, if I may say so, he leaves certain important matters, including questions, ringing in my ears, and I will not forget that.

I shall set out some specific examples in a moment, but I want to start by reminding noble Lords of the significant support provided by my department to those on the lowest incomes. Before I get into detail on that, coming back to some questions that have been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in terms of a poverty strategy, while there is no written strategy, we have been clear in our approach, which I will outline throughout my speech, and I hope that she will acknowledge this, focusing on both our welfare offer and our efforts to get people into sustainable employment and progress. There is more than that. She will expect these lines to be “trotted out”, as she put it, but I hope she does not think that way too much.

The noble Baroness asked an important question about poverty measurement. She might like to know that my department is developing so-called below average resources—BAR—statistics to provide a new, additional measure of poverty based on the approach proposed by the Social Metrics Commission, led by my noble friend Lady Stroud. The new BAR approach seeks to provide a more expansive view of available resources, both savings and inescapable costs, than the income measurement adopted under the DWP’s households below average income statistics. In developing this additional poverty measure, the DWP is working closely with stakeholders, including the SMC, other government departments and subject matter experts on this important point.

A strong welfare system is at the heart of ensuring support for those who need it, and our commitment to maintaining a strong safety net is reflected in the £276 billion that we expect to spend through the welfare system in Great Britain this financial year. Having uprated in line with inflation this financial year, we have announced a further increase of 6.7% in working age benefits for 2024-25, subject to parliamentary approval. The basic and new state pensions will be uprated by 8.5%, in line with earnings, as part of the ongoing triple lock.

We are also providing cost of living support worth £104 billion over the period 2022-23 to 2024-25. This is a cross-cutting package of support built on what we learned during the Covid-19 pandemic about supporting those most in need during challenging times. In particular, my department has worked closely with HMRC, HM Treasury and the devolved Administrations to deliver cost of living payments of up to £900 to more than 8 million households across the UK on eligible, means-tested benefits this financial year. I am pleased to say that DWP and HMRC delivered the third means-tested cost of living payment of £299 to most eligible households between 6 February and 22 February 2024.

We have not been delivering this support alone. My department has worked closely with local government—to be helpful to the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and perhaps also to the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox—to deliver the household support fund. One hundred and fifty-three local authorities across England have used this funding to provide a variety of support to households to help with their essential costs. I am aware that there remains considerable interest across both Houses in the future of this fund. As with any issue, the Government continue to keep these matters under review in the usual way. As the House knows only too well, the current scheme continues to run until the end of March.

From April, we are increasing the national living wage for people aged 21 and over by 9.8% to £11.44, representing an increase of more than £1,800 to the gross annual earnings of a full-time worker on the national living wage. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham asked about low pay, particularly with regard to insecure work. I have already mentioned the national living wage, but this record cash increase of £1.20 per hour means we will hit the target for the national living wage to equal two-thirds of median earnings for those aged 21 and over in 2024. This will bring an end to the low hourly rate for this particular cohort. The new in-work progression offer is now live across all jobcentres in Great Britain and we estimate that 1.2 million low-paid claimants are eligible for work coach support to help them to increase their earnings. Progression leads are working with key partners, including local government employers and skills providers, to identify and develop local progression opportunities.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford raised the importance of housing. As he will know, the Government are supporting people in paying their rent and will invest £1.2 billion on increasing the local housing allowance rate to the 30th percentile of local market rents. That will ensure that 1.6 million private renters in receipt of housing benefit or universal credit gain on average around £800 per year in additional help towards their rental costs in 2024-25. I believe that is a significant investment, worth about £7 billion over five years.

I said earlier that we do not work in isolation, and many of the complex issues faced by vulnerable people cannot be tackled through the welfare system alone. My department continues to work in partnership with other parts of central and local government to deliver the support that people need. Alongside the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, we are committed to working with local authorities to tackle homelessness and end rough sleeping for good—which we must do, to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Bird, who is so steeped in this subject. I am proud of the progress that has been made in recent years and the continued work to meet all the commitments outlined in the cross-government rough sleeping strategy but, as I will be told by the noble Lord, there is much more to do, and I can see it myself when walking through the streets.

I turn to the important theme that was raised today of families and children. The Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Department for Education are working together to deliver the Supporting Families programme. Between April 2015 and December 2023, the programme funded local authorities to help more than 612,000 families make sustained improvements in relation to the often complex problems that led to them joining the programme in the first place. A network of 300 specialised work coaches, the Supporting Families employment advisers, support the programme by providing employment support for families that are experiencing multiple disadvantages.

The departments also work together to deliver a range of support to help ensure that children thrive, which is another key theme that has come up today. The pupil premium will ensure that targeted funding continues to help schools to support disadvantaged five to 16 year-old pupils and to close attainment caps.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, raised the importance of child poverty in an important part of her speech. I hope I can reassure her that we are taking this seriously and working across government on a range of matters to reduce child poverty. She shakes her head, so I clearly have more work to do.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham also raised the importance of child poverty and talked about the two-child policy. He asked again why the Government do not do the right thing and abolish it. We believe that families on benefits should face the same financial choices when deciding to grow their family as those supporting themselves solely through work. He will know only too well, and he has heard these lines from me before, that on 9 July the Supreme Court handed down the judicial review judgment on the two-child policy. The court found the policy lawful and not in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, no doubt we will continue to debate this matter.

In addition, there is collaboration between the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education to provide support to families through Healthy Start, the nursery milk scheme and the school fruit and vegetables scheme, which together help more than 3 million children. To reassure the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, the Government have extended the free school meals eligibility several times, as she will probably know, and to more groups of children than any other Government over the past half a century.

The issue of child poverty was raised also by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, focusing on poverty in the north-east and with particular reference to the North East Child Poverty Commission, and I listened carefully to what she said. There are some figures that I could bring out, but the most recent data shows that the proportion of children in the north-east in absolute poverty after housing costs fell by seven percentage points in the three years to 2021-22, compared with the three years up to 2009-10. Having said all that, we understand that many families are still struggling—I am the first to say that—and this is work in progress. That is why some help has been given through the comprehensive cost of living support.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Burt and Lady Armstrong, addressed the pupil premium. I emphasise, in response to the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, that the funding is on top of the £1 billion of recovery premium funding provided in the 2022-23 and 2023-24 academic years, following over £300 million delivered in 2021-22.

On our approach to poverty, while it is absolutely right that we maintain a strong welfare safety net for those in need—I emphasise that—particularly during challenging economic times, we have always believed that, for those who can, the best way to help people to improve their financial circumstances is through work. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and I alluded to this earlier, mentioned prevention and cure. That is an answer, but not the only answer. We believe that prevention and cure are possible through getting people into work and I hope he will agree with that, although, as I say, it may not provide all the answers.

Our approach is based on the clear evidence around the important role that work, especially full-time work, can play in lifting people out of poverty. This is why, with over 900,000 vacancies across the UK, our focus is firmly on helping people take their first steps into work and to progress towards financial independence. We want everyone who can to be able to find a job and to progress and thrive in work, whoever they are and wherever they live. To ensure that support meets the needs of people across the country, my department offers a national programme of welfare and employment support, delivered through the Jobcentre Plus network across Great Britain.

My department also has local teams that specialise in working in partnership with local government and other local stakeholders, including businesses and communities—to be helpful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox—to understand each area’s needs. This place-based approach is crucial in helping to address the disparities that exist between regions and underlines our commitment to spreading opportunity and unleashing potential across the UK.

Of course, we recognise the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, on the link between health and work. That includes mental health conditions, which she particularly focused on. The joint DWP/DHSC Work and Health Unit was set up in 2015 in recognition of the significant link between work and health and to reflect the shared agenda of boosting employment opportunities for disabled people and people with health conditions.

I want to cover some of the questions raised; I hope I can cover them in the remaining time. Notably, these questions were from the noble Lords, Lord Bird and Lord Loomba, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. This goes back to strategy. I think the noble Lord, Lord Bird, was probably asking the Government for a ministry of poverty, not a Ministry of Justice. I may be wrong in interpreting what he was trying to say. I hope I have shown in my speech that we saw during the pandemic the Department for Work and Pensions consistently working well across government to support the most vulnerable households.

There is a lot of work going on across government and I believe that there is joined-up thinking. In addition to Ministers meeting counterparts in other departments, officials work regularly with colleagues across government to better understand the multidimensional nature of poverty and to craft effective policy. This includes a cross-government senior officials’ group on poverty, as well as bilateral meetings and meetings with external anti-poverty stakeholders.

The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, asked about the five-week wait. It is not possible to award a universal credit payment as soon as a claim is made, as the assessment period must run its course before the award of UC can be calculated. This process ensures that claimants are paid their correct entitlement, based on verified information and actual earnings, and prevents significant overpayments from occurring.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, made an important point about digital exclusion particularly affecting lower-income households. I reassure her that we are aware of this. She is right and she is a great champion in this area. The costs of being connected online can be a barrier for low-income households. The DWP has worked with DCMS and Ofcom to influence broadband providers to support extending eligibility for new broadband social tariffs to low-income households. As a result, some broadband providers have made their new social tariffs available to all UC claimants and claimants of other means-tested benefits. The DWP has worked with Ofcom to promote awareness of these social tariffs to DWP stakeholders and work coaches throughout our Jobcentre Plus network, who can then signpost claimants to apply for broadband social tariffs.

The noble Baroness also raised the issue of chambers of commerce, and I listened carefully to what she said. I think my speech set out, as I said earlier, some emphasis on the close cross-government working with local authorities. I agree that it is vital that local authorities also work collectively to build local leadership, and I will certainly take her remarks back.

The noble Lord, Lord Loomba, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, spoke about funding for local government. I reassure them that the Government have announced additional measures for local authorities in England, worth £600 million—the noble Baroness will know that.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, spoke about mental health. I alluded to that earlier, but we recognise the challenges of those in poverty, which is why we are investing an additional £2.3 billion a year in mental health services.

I should draw my remarks to a close. There are a couple of questions, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who made interesting points about a universal basic income. I will write to the noble Lord on his interesting idea, which is not new to me. I will expand upon it and perhaps give him a full answer.

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. We look forward to working with all noble Lords across the House to continue to support those in need. This is a very important subject, and I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for once again raising it. It certainly is important for the Government.

14:06
Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister very much. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole of that debate, which was wonderful. I shall gather it all together, read it and distribute it to my friends and people who I work with, because it covered everything, including the kitchen sink.

I welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. I am surprised he did not report on the fact that, every year, hundreds and hundreds of people go to Hereford, to a little vipassana silent retreat. I was there for 10 days over the new year break and had a wonderful time in the countryside of Hereford—it is a great pleasure to go there. I have been there four times, and the only reason I can carry on in life is that I can go somewhere and be quiet for that time.

The figures I came up with on the cost of poverty are very much based on what I have been told: that 50% of the time that the NHS spends on health, for instance, is spent on trying to make the poorest among us as healthy as possible. Some 34% of the money that goes into our classrooms is spent on the damage of poverty that is brought there, and that 90% of our Ministry of Justice’s bill, and all bills for crime, are to do with poverty. If you had a ministry of poverty and could co-ordinate and bring everything together, you might be able to close down half of the NHS. You might also be able to close down the Ministry of Justice—or just call it the “Ministry of Middle-Class Justice”, for all the middle-class people who are increasingly doing wrong.

I thank all noble Lords for doing this. I was with a group last night who said to me, “The idea of creating a ministry of poverty prevention sounds very Orwellian”. I reminded these people that in 1948, when we created the National Health Service, it was described even in those early days as Orwellian. I would love everybody to look at the invention that I am hoping will happen in my lifetime: an NHS, but called a “MoP”. Let us mop up poverty and get rid of it. Let us apply everything to get rid of it, and use MoP to do it, because I cannot see it happening unless we converge all the energies that the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Burt, the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, and everybody else has talked about today. God bless and thank you.

Motion agreed.