All Baroness Tyler of Enfield debates involving the Department for Work and Pensions

Thu 9th September 2021
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Wed 15th July 2020
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Thu 21st May 2020
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Mon 21st January 2019
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Thu 14th December 2017
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Wed 27th January 2016
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Wed 9th December 2015
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Mon 7th December 2015
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Thu 10th January 2013
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Wed 25th January 2012
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Mon 23rd January 2012
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Mon 28th November 2011
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Mon 21st November 2011
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Tue 13th September 2011
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Universal Credit

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Thursday 9th September 2021

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what impact assessment they have made of the proposed withdrawal of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register, particularly as a member of the Financial Inclusion Commission and president of the Money Advice Trust. I very much look forward to hearing the contributions of other noble Lords, who I know feel passionately about this issue—one that goes to the heart of who we are as a nation and our moral obligations to each other. I thank the Library for its excellent briefing note setting out the context around the proposed withdrawal of the £20 uplift in universal credit.

The basic facts are as follows. In March 2020, the Chancellor announced that the standard allowances of universal credit and the basic element of working tax credit would be increased by £1,000 a year, or £20 a week, describing this very welcome uplift as a measure to “strengthen the safety net” during the pandemic. It was part of a wider package of support for family finances hit hard by Covid, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-employment Income Support Scheme. This package was generally considered to be well-judged and the right thing to do in quite extraordinary circumstances.

In March 2021, the Government announced that the uplift, initially intended to last 12 months, would be extended for a further six months. In July, the Government confirmed that they would withdraw the uplift at the end of September. What has been the impact of this and how has it been received?

Back in November 2020, the Legatum Institute reported that, although poverty had risen because of the pandemic, government policy, including the uplift to universal credit and working tax credits, “has insulated many families” from it. It estimated that the policies had protected 690,000 people from poverty in winter 2020. On the day that the withdrawal was announced, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons Liaison Committee that, as Covid-19 restrictions eased, the emphasis

“has got to be on getting people in work and getting people into jobs”.

This statement, suggesting that there was a binary choice to be made between work and benefits, completely ignored the high and rising levels of in-work poverty.

It is fair to say that the withdrawal announcement has been met with widespread criticism across the political spectrum. Among others, the Centre for Social Justice, the chairs of the relevant committees in the House of Commons and devolved assemblies, the influential Economic Affairs Committee of your Lordships’ House and, quite remarkably, six former Conservative Work and Pensions Secretaries have called upon the Chancellor to make the uplift permanent, with many calling on it to be extended to legacy benefits. Tellingly, the six former Tory Secretaries of State argued that

“work remains the best way out of poverty for those who can work, but we want to make sure that those who cannot work are supported with dignity”.

It is hard to disagree with that statement.

In September, 100 organisations, including charities, health professionals and others, called on the Government to abandon their plans to remove the uplift. They argued that the decision would

“pile unnecessary financial pressure on around 5.5 million families, both in and out of work”.

That list is not just the usual suspects; it is a much wider cross-spectrum of opinion.

Crucial to this debate, what assessment did the Government make of the impact of this highly controversial decision? There has been no shortage of calls for the Government to publish any impact assessment or analysis they have done on the effect of withdrawing the uplift. I was shocked to learn that, in response to a Written Question on 22 July, asking the Government to publish the impact assessment for the removal of the uplift, Will Quince, Minister for Welfare Delivery, said,

“no assessment has been made”.

I ask the Minister if she will explain whether such an assessment is now available and, if not, why not, when it will be published and, ideally, what it says. Is there any truth to the report in yesterday’s Financial Times that an internal Whitehall analysis says that the Government should be braced for a “catastrophic” end to the welfare uplift?

Given this gaping hole, various organisations have produced their own analysis of the potential impact, including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Citizens Advice—both highly respected organisations. Among others, these assessments have commented that 6 million low-income families will lose over £1,000 from their annual incomes; 0.5 million more people will be pulled into poverty, including 200,000 children; working families make up the majority of families who will be affected by the cut; families with children will be disproportionately impacted; and the impact of the cut will be greatest across the north of England, Wales, the West Midlands and Northern Ireland.

It is ironic to note that, according to Citizens Advice, people are 1.5 times more likely to claim universal credit in places the Government have said they want to invest in, including those areas prioritised by their levelling-up fund. Indeed, it seems that this decision will take more money out of these local economies than it would put in, which is an extraordinary case of giving with one hand, but taking—in brackets more—with the other.

I am particularly concerned about the real-life impact: heart-rending decisions that individual households will need to take on whether to put food on the table, pay the rent or pay the bills—in short, going without essentials or being forced into debt to cover the costs. According to recent research from Toynbee Hall looking at the experiences of Londoners disproportionately affected by Covid, for many, income has reduced, expenditure has increased and debt has risen.

The Financial Inclusion Commission, of which I am a member, has argued that continuing the uplift is a key measure in avoiding the future financial and human costs of unpaid bills, evictions and debt recovery. For the most financially vulnerable households there is a real danger that people will have no option other than to turn to high-cost credit or illegal lenders to meet basic costs. The charity StepChange has highlighted how the termination of this uplift will be a cliff edge for millions, pushing them into deficit budgets. Can the Minister say what plans the Government have to ask all financial services providers and utilities suppliers, as part of their vulnerable customer activity, to signpost claimants to the freely available benefits and grants information and advice provided by a wide range of charities?

On the impact on mental health, many people with severe mental illness rely solely on benefits to survive, and the uplift has provided a much-needed lifeline to people who cannot work because of their condition. According to a recent Rethink Mental Illness survey, 76% of UC claimants said that over the last 12 months, concerns about money had impacted on their mental health “a lot” and over half said that they had experienced not having enough money to pay for food.

I want to ask the Minister, who I know thinks deeply and feels passionately about these issues, the following questions. First, all of the last six Work and Pensions Secretaries have described the uplift as a vital improvement in the adequacy of social security, joining hundreds of charities and other experts who have warned that this cut will cause real hardship, rising poverty and debt. Why are the Government ignoring this warning from such a wide array of voices and taking welfare support back to inadequate levels, particularly at a time when energy bills are set to rise?

Secondly, we keep hearing the Government’s plan for jobs as the justification for this cut. However, the majority of people who will be impacted by the cut are in fact already in work, and universal credit provides vital support for families moving back into work at precisely the same time as other pandemic-related government support schemes finish. How does this add up?

Thirdly, what are the Government’s plans for families on universal credit who are unable to work due to caring or disability? Surely, we believe these families should live above the poverty line and with dignity.

Finally, what assessment have the Government made of the interaction between the ending of the uplift and Tuesday’s announcement about the rise in national insurance to fund health and social care? Will there be any overlap between universal credit recipients and those earning enough to pay national insurance, in which case is this a double whammy?

I end by making a heartfelt plea to the Government, adding my voice to so many others, urging them to keep the £20 uplift, make it permanent and extend it to legacy benefits.

Baroness Eaton Portrait Baroness Eaton (Con)
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My Lords, today’s debate is a very important one. The subject matter is understandably highly emotive and families, especially those with children, who are suffering poverty need our concern and our practical help. Unfortunately, universal credit has had naysayers from its inception. I feel it has been the unsung hero of the pandemic, with 3 million extra claimants rapidly joining the system. The old tax credit system would have let people down badly, and errors and delays would have led to massive hardship in the depths of lockdown. The book by the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said that paperwork got lost in 40% of tax credit claims.

It is clear to all of us that the days of the pandemic have been difficult for people, but they have also been difficult for government. Difficult decisions have had to be made. When the pandemic hit, the Government created a range of measures and it was always made clear that the uplift to universal credit was temporary. Can the Minister say whether the £6 billion cost of universal credit was modelled on a zero improvement in the labour market? Obviously, the economy is now revving up, so there are so many more job vacancies. Now the labour market circumstances have dramatically changed, there are more work opportunities.

The aim of and philosophy behind universal credit is to help people to escape the negativity of a life spent permanently on welfare. Attempts by previous Governments, such as tax credits, have trapped people in welfare. While the uplift is being removed, the Government are increasing the number of jobcentres and work coaches—factors to help people to find more, and better, jobs. The problem of in-work poverty is concerning. Can my noble friend the Minister inform the House about the in-work progression scheme, which, I understand, is aimed at helping with this situation?

The uplift is costing £6 billion. I believe that there can be, and must be, more and better ways for the Government to help people.

Children Living in Poverty

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Wednesday 15th July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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I assure the whole House that the Government take in-work poverty really seriously. Our plan is to build an economy that will support work, as we have said many times. Universal credit is designed to help people to move into work faster, although that can be challenging in the current circumstances. We have also set up the In-Work Progression Commission. As I have said before, people put forward ideas all the time and they are taken to the department. I assure the noble Baroness that we are taking this seriously. We might not be answering at the speed that she would like, but we are very genuine and sincere.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Social Mobility Commission recently published figures suggesting that 72% of children in poverty were in families where at least one adult was in work—a figure that has increased steadily from 44% in 1996-97. It cited mounting evidence that benefit reforms were pushing children into poverty and concluded that the intention of universal credit was to lift more families out of poverty but the DWP appeared to have done little work to ensure that it was not making child poverty worse. What precise work has the department done to assess the impact of universal credit on child poverty, and will it publish its findings?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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I come back to what I said before: as a Government, we are always looking at the points that people raise and the issues related to in-work poverty. I think that the Social Metrics Commission said that poverty had been rising but had plateaued. Virtually all the increase in poverty occurred during 2001 to 2008; since then, it has plateaued. Going back to my response to a previous question, we are well aware of the situation of lone parents and are working hard and at pace to help them.

Unemployment: Support

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Thursday 21st May 2020

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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The noble Baroness asks about converting advances into grants. I am sorry to say that the Government have no plans to do that. On the five-week period, no one has to wait five weeks for their money, but the five-week wait is an integral part of the design of universal credit. The Government are cognisant of the difficult situations that people find themselves in and are doing everything they can to support them in this difficult time.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is essential that government regulators and creditors work together to ensure that unemployed people who fall behind on essential bills and credit commitments are protected from falling into unsustainable debt by an immediate pause on all forms of collection and enforcement activity?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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I agree with the local Baroness that we must all work together to support those who are in debt. When it comes to suspending enforcement, there are very difficult questions and answers. I would like to go away and write to the noble Baroness after this Question on the specific point that she raises.

Poverty: Metrics

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Monday 21st January 2019

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, for her key role in achieving a remarkable consensus on the vexed question of poverty measurement and for her willingness to shift her own previous position. I have three points. First, one of the report’s key principles is a restatement of a relative understanding of poverty,

“related to the extent to which people have the resources to engage adequately in a life regarded as the ‘norm’ in society”.

This stands in contrast to Ministers’ repeated reference to so-called absolute poverty statistics, in denial of the increase in relative poverty as their policies have begun to bite, and despite David Cameron’s promise that,

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

Secondly, Ministers also tend to use the “before housing costs” stats, even though housing costs contribute to poverty. Where the report is truly innovative is in its measurement of total resources available, including also, as the noble Baroness said, a proxy measure of disability costs. As she said, this indicates that poverty among disabled people is seriously underestimated by conventional measures that take account of disability costs benefits but not of the disability costs these are supposed to meet. Will the Minister tell us the Government’s position on this very important point and also her response to the report’s evidence of even more extensive poverty among working-age families with children than shown in the Government’s own comparable stats?

Thirdly, the report rightly includes a measure of poverty depth—in other words, distance below the poverty line, sometimes called the poverty gap, and clearance above the line. This is really important. The experience of poverty is very different for the more than 4 million people the report estimates as living 50% or more below the poverty line and for the 1.3 million living within 5% of it. Professor Jonathan Bradshaw’s analysis of poverty gaps shows that children, on average, are living further below the poverty line than they did seven years ago. Will the Government undertake to publish regular poverty depth statistics?

In conclusion, I welcome this report and, while we may well continue to need the existing poverty measures for comparative purposes, I hope that the Government will respond positively to its recommendations.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, on securing this debate and I pay tribute to her for the way she has led the work of the Social Metrics Commission. I declare an interest as chair of the Making Every Adult Matter coalition of charities, whose director served as a commissioner.

In the very short time available, I am tempted simply to say, “What gets measured, gets done” and sit down again, but throughout my professional career and as a member of your Lordships’ House I have been struck by how central the experience of poverty is to so many of the big social issues we debate. The direct impact of poverty is felt by one in five of the population and the indirect impacts ripple further still. Furthermore, the link between poverty and multiple disadvantage is deeply entrenched. This is brought home to me regularly through my work with the Making Every Adult Matter coalition, which focuses on the multiple and complex needs of 60,000 adults experiencing a combination of homelessness, substance misuse, mental health problems and contact with the criminal justice system. For these reasons I have followed the work of the Social Metrics Commission with keen interest.

The goal of the commission was to provide a new consensus around poverty measurement that enables government to take action and improve the lives of people in poverty. In my opinion, the absence of robust and clear measures, particularly the abandonment in 2016 of the child poverty targets, has contributed to the rising tide of poverty. Indeed, the IFS predicts a continuing rise in child poverty up to 2022. The measurement of poverty has for too long been a hot potato, with too much time being given to arguing about how and whether to measure poverty and not enough time devoted to taking action to reduce it. It was therefore vital that the commission was an independent and rigorously non-partisan entity, bringing together people of all political persuasions and none. The fact that the commission has produced a measure that is backed in its entirety by all its commissioners is testament indeed to the consensual way in which it has been led by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud.

As we have heard, the commission has produced a new measure of poverty, which for the first time takes account of the total resources available to an individual, not just income. I am very pleased also to see links made between poverty and multiple disadvantage. I conclude by saying how strongly I hope that this measure is adopted by political parties and campaigners, but above all by the Government as their official measure of poverty, so that they can put in place meaningful policies to reduce poverty and address the plight of those who suffer from it. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Lord Freud Portrait Lord Freud (Con)
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My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend for securing this debate and, more significantly, for the achievement of setting up the Social Metrics Commission and for delivering this important report. Not the least of her achievements is to have assembled such an impressive group to come together to make these recommendations. The report tackles some of the problems inherent in the traditional HBAI targets, which were too one-dimensional in their approach. I was impressed by the way it looked at total net income, inescapable costs and housing, particularly overcrowding. While the total number in poverty may be similar to the overall HBAI outcome, there are some very significant differences in the people who are captured in the measure. This is important, because it should help Governments draw up better measures to tackle poverty.

One of the elements in the commission’s approach is to look at the pathways into and out of poverty. Here, I commend the approach of universal support, which was initiated in this House, to provide more coherent help for people who have particular barriers to work. Full-time work is confirmed in this report to be one of the most reliable ways out of poverty and as the employment rate has hit record levels, the people left behind need more than cajoling to find a job. They need help, often with multiple issues, before they can take and hold down a job. A person might need help with literacy, mental health issues and housing, for example, before they can work.

How best to handle these needs? The universal support structure can be expanded to tackle them. It is made up of three key elements. The first is a hub of services in main localities. I am pleased to understand that DWP is now based in about 100 local authority hubs. Secondly, there needs to be a gatekeeper or caseworker to help people navigate to the right elements of support. This is missing currently. Thirdly, there needs to be a way of sharing data, so that people do not get lost in the system. DWP already has the secondary legislation in place to do this, although it needs to consult on exactly how to run the system. My own preference would be to use electronic wallets, which would give individuals power over their own data.

Finally, I welcome the emphasis in the report on relationships. Social isolation is a debilitating shortfall for people, almost the worst type of poverty. To tackle it we need to mobilise the whole of society to provide support for the most vulnerable. I am particularly encouraged by the outcome from “grand mentoring”, a project I have talked about previously in this House, in which older people mentor children leaving care. This is an approach we could expand for many lonely, vulnerable groups. I close by thanking my noble friend Lady Stroud once again for this opportunity.

Family Relationships (Impact Assessment and Targets) Bill [HL]

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Friday 23rd February 2018

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Lord Framlingham Portrait Lord Framlingham
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, whose knowledge of this subject is second to none. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Farmer, who is a great champion of the family. We should all be extremely grateful for his tenacity and belief in what he is trying to do and what we want done.

Every speaker in the debate has said this, but it is none the less true that there is growing concern about the fabric of our society, and many of the problems can be traced back to the weakening of the family unit. Over the past few decades, Governments of all colours have made lots of huge and silly mistakes, but none has been greater than the failure to acknowledge and stand up for the importance of the family, with all the consequences which have flowed from that. Strong and stable families are absolutely essential to the maintenance of a strong and stable society, and they are vital for the safe and secure care and upbringing of our children.

Why is there this ridiculous and almost fanatical desire on the part of many in our pseudo-intellectual and supposedly opinion-forming circles to deny this? Perhaps acknowledgement of the value of the family by these people would be accompanied by the need to admit personal responsibility and guilt, not just in their own lives but for the lives of those who have been affected by the views they have held and the decisions they have taken. Even our language about families seems designed to confuse. We used to have widows and widowers and we used to have unmarried mothers. Now we have single-parent families. What does that mean? Does a family have to have a husband and wife? Of course it is not essential or for obvious reasons always possible, but history shows it to be the most stable and, for children, the most supportive system. Why should we have to justify it? It has been the same for thousands of years without dispute, so why did we decide to downgrade it? It should not be necessary to bang the drum for the family, but bang it we must.

I am sorry that the Church does not have more to say about the role of the traditional family. I do not understand its reticence. By displaying openness and tolerance to other relationships and unions, traditional marriage has perhaps been weakened by neglect. As has been referred to in the debate, over the years we have seen a huge increase in the divorce rate. Divorce is devastating for children. We are dishonest if we deny this to ourselves or to society at large. Financial arrangements may be made and plans for dividing time together put in place, but for the children concerned the effect is almost always absolutely devastating, and the damage done remains with them to a greater or lesser extent for the rest of their lives. That is true—uncomfortable, but true. Single parenthood from choice may work for the individual who chooses, but the children have not been given a choice. All the evidence shows that two parents give each other strength and support, and children of single parents start life at a disadvantage, obviously through no fault of their own.

Nothing undermines family life or parental responsibility more than the evils presented by the internet. It takes children to places where their parents cannot follow and they have absolutely no idea who their children are meeting or what they are doing. It is dangerous pernicious and has rapidly taken over the lives of many of our children for whom even rapid reform will come too late. We now have cyberbullying on a massive scale. I was devastated to find that thousands of primary school children are watching hard-core pornography. It is harder for an underage child to place a bet on a horse than to watch hard-core pornography. It is vital that the Government take the toughest possible action on this as a matter of the greatest urgency.

Sadly, just a few days ago, two young men were murdered. They were knifed to death in separate incidents within a few hours of each other just a short distance apart in the London Borough of Camden. As I drove home that evening, I happened to tune into a radio programme about it. The presenter was pleading with his listeners to phone in with their ideas and possible solutions and attempting to understand what had happened. I heard an expert on youth activities and members of the public all discussing reasons or possible solutions. They mentioned government and local government responsibility. They mentioned a lack of funding, counselling, youth organisations, youth groups and sport. One word they never mentioned in all the time that I listened was “parents”. What is the key to this problem? It is parents and parental responsibility.

The longer this debate has gone on, I have slowly come to the conclusion that what has changed more than anything else over the years as far as keeping families together is not just love, because one hopes that love is always there, but other things. The financial need to stick together has gone, although not completely. Shame has gone too. I do not know what the answer is. It is tragic to have to admit that the only way we can keep families together is to make them poor again or reintroduce shame. That is a conundrum for us all that we must try to work through. I am sure that personal and perhaps selfish choice is, in many ways, at the heart of this. To a great extent we have lost the knowledge and the joy that is brought by putting yourself second in a family context.

The thread running through so many of the problems that I am talking about is the family, and the beginning of a solution to them is, without any doubt, the protection and reinvigoration of family life. My noble friend’s Bill puts responsibility on the Government to play their part in this revival and it has my fullest support.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the powerful and compelling speech that we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on securing a Second Reading of this very important Bill and I pay tribute to his sterling and unstinting work as a champion of family policy, which is so often the Cinderella at the policy ball. I also draw attention to my declared interests in the register.

Today’s debate has been primarily about aligning the widespread concern expressed across the House to ensure we do more to strengthen family life and family relationships, with the maxim that “what gets measured gets done”. There is no doubt in my mind that we need to be doing an awful lot more to support family relationships, recognising, as I know we all do and as many across the House have emphasised, that modern families come in all shapes and sizes.

I had the privilege of being the chief executive of the charity Relate for a number of years. During that time, I came to understand the huge importance of the quality of family relationships and how much it matters. That is what I focused on and what I will focus on today. I also came to understand during that time that where family relationships are under strain it is children who are very likely to suffer the ill effects. More recently, as chair of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service for six years, I have particularly learned the adverse impact that high levels of parental conflict, as well as witnessing or, indeed, experiencing domestic abuse, has on children’s emotional and mental health and well-being. The evidence is also very clear, as we have heard this morning, that outcomes across the board for children are better for children who come from strong family backgrounds.

If we ask ourselves why all of this matters to government and whether it is not just a matter for families, the answer is very simple if one looks at some of the Government’s stated priorities, which also happen to be key policy interests of mine. When it comes to the worrying increase in childhood mental health problems, we know that family life and secure and loving relationships play an important role in the mental well-being of children.

Turning to another area, social mobility, which is known to be a personal passion of the Prime Minister—it is also passion of mine—as co-chair for a number of years of the All-Party Group on Social Mobility I was very pleased in 2015 to chair a parliamentary inquiry into parenting and social mobility. I have even brought the report with me. Two key points emerged from that inquiry after looking at all the evidence. First, the point of greatest leverage on social mobility is what happens between the ages of nought and three, particular in the home. Secondly, whatever the effort and resources the Government put into formal early education—something I hugely and strongly support—its impact will always be limited if it is not combined with a good and strong family home environment.

I will mention one other area of policy, which is the issue of the pressures of intergenerational fairness. It is a relative newcomer on the policy block but it has a lot to do with families. We have heard quite a bit about some of the housing issues and how the lack of affordable housing, and in particular the lack of the right type of housing for families, makes it a lot harder for the younger generation, particularly new families, to get their foot on to the housing ladder. These things really matter and policy needs to take account of them.

I also mention the late Jo Cox’s commission’s report on combating loneliness, which the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, also referred to. That report emphasised the value of the family test in strengthening intergenerational relationships within families and reducing the potential for animosity between generations stemming from what many consider to be real generational inequalities.

All these things matter and are big issues. They matter in their own right and they demand a serious family-based response. Yet too often family policy is the one area that is overlooked as policymakers look for the appropriate policy levers to pull. In short, the focus of policy, as we have already heard, is too often on individuals rather than on families and the communities in which they live.

Family is arguably the most homeless of political issues. Strengthening families and developing policies to support families to care for each other, including for children, older relatives or family members with long-term health issues or disabilities, is a very important social policy objective. It is critical to social care, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Our social care system, in as fragile a state as it is, would collapse completely without the contribution that family members make. Where does responsibility for family policy actually sit within government? I argue that it sits both nowhere and everywhere, and that is a real problem. As an issue, it feeds into almost every area of government policy-making—although not every single one, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, made clear—which means that a single Minister or department will never be able adequately to address the issue.

A consortium of charities and other organisations involved in family support, called the Relationships Alliance, which includes Relate, recently wrote a very thoughtful report assessing progress a year after the family test was implemented. It states the current situation well:

“The absence of a transparent mechanism to record when the Test has been applied means that it is impossible to accurately assess how successfully the Test is being incorporated into the policy making process. There is little information available to the public about a process and little accountability for implementation of the Test. Whilst the Government rightly wishes to ensure that the Test does not become a ‘tick box’ exercise, this does not preclude recording and monitoring of its use”.

It is also apparent, as we have heard, that only a very small proportion of departments have produced tailored strategy, guidance and tools to support the implementation of this. None of the departments that have not produced tailored guidance have referred to plans to do so. The work of the Department for Work and Pensions to support cross-government implementation of the test is valuable, but it is not a suitable substitute for a tailored implementation strategy within each department. Will the Minister inform the House how many departments have now produced a tailored implementation strategy? I share the concern already expressed, in the light of the inadequate responses to various Written Questions in the other place, that the Government seem to be so focused on not turning this into a tick-box exercise that they have lost sight of what it is about, which is to ensure that an assessment is actually carried out within departments of the impact of policies on families. This is not rocket science.

As things stand, it is hard to have confidence that the process is being followed from the outset of policy design, let alone at the end point when policies are being signed off across government. Imperfect though it may be, the statutory need to demonstrate compliance with the public sector equality duty, as already referred to, has helped to drive a culture of equality awareness in government, the key point being that it is statutory and not voluntary. We need a similar imperative for family impact assessments so that policymakers, Ministers and civil servants, learn to think about it so that it becomes intuitive to “think family” when policy is being designed.

I have long argued, based on my experience of working at Relate and at Cafcass, that the structure of government does not seem to recognise the fundamental importance of family relationships. There is at present no Cabinet lead for families, as was recommended in a number of important reports, both recently and less recently by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in his report following the shocking death of Victoria Climbié. To be frank, we seem to be going backwards: until 2010 there was a Cabinet Sub-Committee on Families, Children and Young People, and during the coalition years the importance of families was recognised in the Cabinet Committee on Social Justice. As far as I can see—and I am very happy to be corrected if I am wrong—this is now taken forward and co-ordinated by a junior Minister in one department. What sort of message is that sending? A Cabinet lead would really help to drive implementation of these assessments. Back in 2016 it was clear that the Cabinet Committee on Social Justice was taking that lead. So will the Minister inform us which body has taken over from that committee?

The recommendation of the Relationships Alliance, which I have already mentioned, that as decision-making is increasingly devolved to local level, the Government should carry out a cost-benefit analysis of supporting local authorities and NHS bodies to carry out equivalent tests on policies, is very well made, and I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, included it in Clause 2.

On Monday I had the privilege of visiting the Family Drug and Alcohol Court, which is working with parents who have a lot of problems, particularly with drug and alcohol dependency, and who need to turn their lives around before they can parent effectively again. Yesterday I had the real pleasure of visiting the Pause project in Hackney, which is working with mothers who have had more than one child taken away from them into local authority care, again to try to help them turn their lives around.

This sort of work is so important. I was shocked to the core, to be honest, to hear from one of the workers at the project about a case where there had been no such help or intervention for mothers in this situation and one mother had had 13 children removed from her and taken into local authority care. I know that that is an extreme example, but it shows how important family support is and the help that the various projects and initiatives that I and others have mentioned can provide. Many of these are under threat as local authorities and the NHS are really struggling with finances and having to make cuts. That is why I think it is so important, when these decisions are being made, that these tests are carried out at the local as well as national level.

Although many of us in this House, myself included, welcomed the introduction of a family test and the stronger focus on families it was meant to give to government policy-making, it is very clear from the debate today that it has not lived up to its early hype. So it is time for this House to do what it often does best: improve both legislation and policy-making as the Bill passes through the House. I strongly urge the Government to support it. I support it very strongly myself and hope that at the end of the debate we do not get the standard rejection speech from the Minister, because the support across the House has been overwhelming.

Lord McKenzie of Luton Portrait Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, and benefit from her expertise in this area. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that this has been an interesting debate. We should thank the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for introducing it. Of course, the subject has been aired at both ends in recent times and the noble Lord has been true to his word in promising a Private Member’s Bill when the Manifesto to Strengthen Families was debated in November last year. In doing so, he instanced what he saw as the inadequacy of the non-statutory family test and the potential benefit of family hubs and local one-stop shops to help disadvantaged children.

As we have heard, the family test was introduced as far back as August 2014, with the enthusiastic backing of David Cameron. But, as we now know, not all of his initiatives turn out well. The test comprises five questions that policymakers need to consider, including the impact of a policy on families, their formation and their sustainability. As the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and others have said, publication of the outcome of such tests was not mandatory and few have been published to date. This issue was the focus of attention of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, a long-standing campaigner on this matter, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who took us for a brief walk down memory lane to the days when you could get 3p on a recycled bottle—I think it was a Tizer bottle; that was the premium rate you could get.

So that we can get a better assessment of the consequences of the provisions in the Bill before us, can the Minister confirm on the record how many tests have been carried out or are under way, and precisely why the outcomes could not be published? Indeed, what is the Government’s view of the future of this test?

Although the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, has previously acknowledged that Tony Blair was there first, we know that much of the current thinking on the role of the family emanates from the Centre for Social Justice. We have heard authoritatively today from the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, who is a strong campaigner on this issue, as well as from the noble Lord himself. Their focus is on the scale of family breakdown in the UK, with the assertion that it plays a role in driving poverty and further enhancing disadvantages. It follows, they argue, that family breakdown is an issue for society itself, not just individual families, and that it is necessary to have data to begin to build a picture of this and to test policies against. I think that view was shared by many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Shinkwin and Lord Alton.

We should be clear that this is not exclusively a Conservative agenda. We on these Benches share an analysis which says that family breakdown and parental conflict can contribute to driving poverty, and that policy-making should encompass an assessment to avoid such outcomes. Where we would differ, I suggest, is in our asserting that lack of income is the fundamental cause of poverty. Research by the Tavistock Institute confirms that family separation can cause or increase family poverty and that the Government’s emphasis on improving the quality and stability of family relationships is an important anti-poverty measure to help avoid relationship breakdown, or to ensure that it is better managed when couples part. However, it says the evidence is clear that incomes matter and that poverty and lack of money is in fact a major cause of relationship breakdown, as well as a consequence of it.

The Bill’s requirements for the scope of a family impact assessment are potentially very wide and not without resource implications. Given the context of the Bill, one would have expected it to come with an impact assessment. Can the Minister say whether there is one and if not, why not? In particular, the definitions of family and families are commendably wide, including civil partners, a range of carers, children and grandparents. This begs the question of who would not be covered. Perhaps the Minister or the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, might give us a view on this.

To the extent that individuals and relationships are not included in this wide definition, we would need to be satisfied that their exclusion does not disadvantage them and that by focusing on some, others should not be allowed to slide into poverty. But we should be clear that we do not see these approaches as overriding the need to address income poverty—the fundamental issue, in our view. The Bill espouses lofty ideals of how families can be supported; at the same time, the Government have visited horrendous cuts on a range of social security provisions. The Bill is about impact assessment but we have struggled to get from government a cumulative impact assessment of a decade of cuts to social security on the incomes of families with children. How have these matters featured in the family test so far? To what extent are the “Targets for family stability” required by Clause 3 to have an income component?

The CPAG has looked at these matters and concluded that the cuts to the legacy social security system—benefits and tax credits—and the effects of universal credit will lead to alarming losses, which will damage the life chances of hundreds of thousands of children. Families already at greatest risk of poverty will lose most; I think the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, alluded to this. This is not just lone parents but families already on low incomes, larger families, families with young children and families where someone is disabled. It calculates that families with four or more children will be more than £4,000 per year worse off because of the cuts to the legacy benefit system, and more than £5,000 worse off following the cuts to universal credit.

Just consider some of the policy changes since 2010: the health in pregnancy grant abolished; child benefit frozen for three years; uprating of most working-age benefits restricted to 1%, and then frozen for four years; restrictions on the Sure Start maternity grant; the baby element of child tax credit abolished; the benefit cap introduced and then reduced; the two-child limit introduced; local housing allowances cut; and much more.

What possible countervailing policies to promote strong and stable families could wipe away the negative effects of all this? The Bill proposes that the Secretary of State must publish a report no later than six months from the coming into force of the legislation setting out the costs and benefits of extending the requirement for a family impact assessment to local authorities. Will the Minister say whether central government would be prepared to fund such engagement by local authorities should there be a decision to proceed? She will be aware that no new money was made available for public services in the recent local government settlement and that local authorities face a £5.8 billion shortfall by 2020. Of particular concern is the need for £2 billion to plug the gap in the shortfall in children’s services, again needed to support the most vulnerable.

The Bill invites the Secretary of State within nine months to set out objectives and targets for promoting strong and stable families, and proposals and policies for meeting them. Should that come to pass they should presumably be informed by a consultation exercise. My noble friend Lady Massey produced some valuable insights for us from her experience, the lesson being the need for early consultation before designing any intervention for children and families and the necessity to cross barriers if change is to be delivered. In responding, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, will share with us what he considers should feature in those objectives and targets.

On previous occasions the Government have declined to accept that family impact assessments should be put on a statutory basis. Given the passion displayed by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and others, we look forward to hearing whether the position of the Government has changed.

Poverty and Disadvantage

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Thursday 14th December 2017

(3 years, 11 months ago)

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Department for Work and Pensions
Lord Farmer Portrait Lord Farmer (Con)
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My Lords, I am pleased to follow the right reverend Prelate and fully endorse his last point as I am sure noble Lords thought I would. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for reminding us that government must address the drivers of poverty and disadvantage. There is scant time here to revisit the arguments made during stages of the Welfare Reform and Work Act, but it marked an important policy shift away from income-based poverty measures and targets because they are,

“a poor test of whether children’s lives are genuinely improving”.

It placed a new duty on the Secretary of State to report annually on the educational attainment of children in England and on the number of children in workless families.

As I reminded the House during the debate on A Manifesto to Strengthen Families, which I published with many colleagues here and in the other place, the Minister for Welfare Reform also promised that alongside statutory measures of education there would be,

“a range of non-statutory indicators to measure progress against the other root causes of child poverty, which include but are not limited to family breakdown, addiction and problem debt”.—[Official Report, 9/12/15; col. 1585.]

When I asked the Minister why the existing family stability indicator had been dropped when the new indicators were published earlier this year, he replied that the quality of relationships within a family had a greater impact on child outcomes than the structure of the family. I urge the Government not to pit family structure against relationship quality as both are important. Saying that people parenting alone, who are usually women and frequently on a low income, face disadvantages that make one of the hardest jobs much harder does not stigmatise them; rather it does credit to the challenges they face instead of minimising them.

My second point, is that Sir Martin Narey, chair of the North Yorkshire Coast Opportunity Area, told the “Today” programme yesterday that what underlies everything, and is not about money, is parental engagement. He wants to get parents, especially those of disadvantaged children, to realise how much better in life their kids can do if they have good literacy, speech and communication skills.

I went to see Ed Vainker in Reach Academy Feltham at the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Nash, when he was Schools Minister. Ed Vainker also realises that engaging parents in his school is essential for fulfilling his ambition to crash through the attainment ceiling. He is working with his local authority and other local partners to set up a family hub in the school so that parents can get any help they need with parenting skills and in other areas. The overall aim is for teachers to work in harness with them so that children enjoy the best conditions for learning at home as well as in school.

Will the Minister inform the House how opportunity areas are partnering with parents to improve their children’s learning and well-being? Strengthening families should be their first priority and the thread running through all they do. If it is not, another important initiative to help another generation of children will fail.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Bird, so eloquently said, we have a better idea than ever about the causes and consequences of poverty and disadvantage, but that leaves the huge question of what we are going to do about it. Do the Government have an overall strategy for dealing with it? That is where I want to focus my remarks today.

Disturbing data from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, as we have heard, shows that 1.25 million people are destitute, unable to afford the most basic necessities. Perhaps most alarming when looking at the reports was Living Standards, Poverty and Inequality, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which forecasts a strong risk that the UK’s proud record of reducing poverty will unravel over the next few years, with child poverty set to increase. Poverty and disadvantage affect people across the life cycle, beginning for some before birth, and all too often continuing through childhood and into adulthood.

The recent State of the Nation report from the Social Mobility Commission is essential reading for anyone trying to understand the dynamics of poverty and disadvantage and how they affect geographical areas differently. To summarise, it paints a bleak picture of a deeply divided nation, in which too many people are trapped in geographical areas with little hope of advancement. It talks about an “us and them” society, in which millions feel left behind. Specifically, the report talks about major changes to the labour market in recent decades which have left some 5 million workers, mostly women, in a low-pay trap from which few escape. The report paints a highly nuanced picture of the prospects for social mobility, highlighting places that offer good prospects for income progression and those that do not. It adds up to a real social mobility postcode lottery, with the worst problems concentrated in remote rural or coastal areas and former industrial areas.

However, intriguingly, the report also finds little correlation between the affluence of an area and its ability to sustain high levels of social mobility, citing examples of both very deprived areas which provide opportunities for people to progress and relatively affluent areas that offer very few good education and employment opportunities for their most disadvantaged residents. More encouragingly, the report finds that well-targeted local policies and initiatives adopted by local authorities and employers can buck the trend and improve outcomes for disadvantaged residents. In short, where there is a will and strong leadership, something can be done.

The report also contains a number of important recommendations aimed at both local authorities and central government. Many of those aimed at the latter are about better joining-up between government departments. In winding up, could the Minister say whether the Government’s social mobility action plan, announced today, will respond directly to these recommendations, which go far wider than education and DfE matters? Will the Government produce a national strategy for tackling the social, economic and geographical divide that the country faces with a more redistributive approach to spreading education, employment and housing prospects across the country?

It is challenging to talk about the root causes of poverty and disadvantage in three minutes, so I end by suggesting that this is an excellent area for a House of Lords Select Committee to look at.

Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for this debate. I want to make just a couple of points in the time I have.

Plenty of statistics have been bandied around today, and I can quote even more: 14 million people, by some counts, are living in poverty in this country, including 4 million children. The trouble with those and other statistics is that they hide the individual lives they represent: for example, the three men, whom many of us have seen, in sleeping bags in Westminster Tube station as I came in at 8 am yesterday morning; or Joe—not his real name—whom I met this morning in St Peter’s Street in St Albans as I went out to get my morning paper. There has been a visible increase in the number of people on our streets in places such as St Albans over recent months. I have got to know a number of them, and this morning, knowing I was coming in for this debate, I thought I had to sit and talk to Joe just for a minute. I felt I could not in all conscience come and speak on a subject such as this without actually finding out his name and just a little about his story. Of course, it was patronising even to spend five minutes with somebody like that, but as I discovered with the other two young men on the street whom I spoke to in recent weeks—it only takes five minutes just to sit next to them on the ground—the causes of poverty and reasons why they are there are many and varied. Each individual has a unique story, so there is no silver bullet to address the whole issue, but for Joe, it is to do with mental health. That is the first of the two areas I want to comment on briefly.

Statistics reveal that men and women in the least well-off fifth of the population are twice as likely to have mental health conditions as those on average incomes, which makes escaping poverty so difficult. People with severe and enduring mental health conditions have the lowest employment rate of all disability groups. Ensuring the least well-off can access good, timely and appropriate mental health provision is critical if we are going to address this problem.

Secondly, I want to say a few words about addressing poverty and deprivation in rural areas. Here, I declare my interest both as the president of the Rural Coalition and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Overall, around one-sixth of areas with the worst health and deprivation indicators are in rural or significantly rural areas, as my right reverend friend the Bishop of Carlisle has already mentioned. Nevertheless, these pockets of deprivation are frequently overlooked by official statistics, which deal in generalities. Delivering services to individuals living in poverty in rural areas is particularly challenging: the lack of bus services, poor access to the internet and closing community centres and libraries all make looking for a job, claiming benefits or learning a new skill extremely difficult. Often these individuals simply end up at the door of the local vicarage, having had nowhere else to turn. In the light of that, can the Minister assure the House that every effort will be put into ensuring that all government policies addressing poverty and disadvantage will be fully rural proofed, as we seek to care for all people in our nation?

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

(3rd reading (Minutes of Proceedings): House of Lords)
Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Tuesday 21st November 2017

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the hard work done by her and the Bill team to include the changes called for in our earlier debates on the Bill. I fully support the reworking of the sections to improve the clarity of the Bill; the adjustments are sensible and pragmatic. I also add my congratulations to the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay, Lady Hollins and Lady Coussins, on the important provision relating to vulnerable individuals. It is important that we have achieved that increased protection for them in the Bill. I again thank my noble friend and offer support for the amendment.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, I add my thanks and congratulations to all concerned in this area. We now have within the objectives the reference in paragraph (d) to,

“the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances”.

That is hugely relevant. As chair of the former Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion, I know that we spent a lot of our time looking at the problems faced by people in vulnerable circumstances. We focused particularly on the needs of people with mental health problems and disabilities and the vulnerable elderly. We received a lot of evidence on that point, and I know that many people will be very glad to see these words included.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Portrait Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope (LD)
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My Lords, I add my congratulations; this has been a very good outcome. The Minister has done a splendid job in reflecting the concerns. The Bill is now much better as a result, and she deserves some of the credit for that. I am interested particularly in Amendment 3, because vulnerable people are now much better cared for. It will put more work, pressure and responsibility in the direction of the new body. I begin to wonder whether it will be expected realistically to carry the weight of some of these new, important duties with the financial envelope that we have—we will have time to discuss that afterwards—but the shape and framework that the body now has is a lot better for serving the needs of the most vulnerable and distressed.

I hope that consideration of people with vulnerabilities will also include signposting to the official social security benefits that exist so that they are taken up—universal credit will obviously increase take-up automatically, but a lot of other residual benefits still sit outside universal credit. Signposting under Amendment 3 would add value to having the power in the Bill. I look forward to seeing how this works out. It is a much better provision than was previously the case, and the Minister deserves credit for that.

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL]

(Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords)
Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Tuesday 24th October 2017

(4 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard
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My Lords, nobody in this House would disagree with the idea that we must do as much as possible to reduce financial exclusion and promote financial inclusion, but, again, I am not sure that the amendments are practical. Normally, anything proposed by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, is of the very greatest sense; I know that from experience going back many years.

However, I worry that to amend the strategic function as proposed to strengthen further the obligation on the new body may be just a bit too much of a burden, too onerous, too open-ended and not properly defined. It is very hard to define exactly what is financial inclusion and what is financial exclusion. Obviously, the former is a good thing and the latter a bad thing, but if the strategic function is already there to support improvement in financial capability, the ability of the public to manage debt and the provision of financial education to children and young people—although I think that should probably be to everybody—the amendment duplicates that, makes it too vague, too hard to define and, potentially, too onerous.

Furthermore, I also worry about enshrining in statute the terms,

“vulnerable individuals, families and communities”,

because there is nobody in your Lordships’ House who does not recognise that vulnerable individuals need more help and support than those who are not so vulnerable. Nevertheless, it is very hard to define, and to create a different obligation for an ill-defined set of individuals and communities from the general obligation to all members of the public may be confusing and make the legislation less clear and less effective. For those reasons, although I understand the noble Lords’ objectives, I cannot support their amendments.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, I rise briefly to add my strong support for the amendments. In so doing, I apologise to the House that I have been unable, for reasons of ill-health, to participate in earlier discussion of the Bill.

As chair of the former Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion, I was very pleased when I read the amendments. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and my noble friend Lady Kramer have set out their rationale very well, and I shall not go over that ground again, but if we are setting up a new single financial guidance body, promoting financial inclusion must be clearly set out as one of its key objectives.

On the point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, it would be nice to know when we will receive the government response to the Select Committee report. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think I recall that the noble Baroness, when asked back in July, said that the government response would be available “very soon”. We are now some way off the tail end of July. If the Minister could give any clarification of when the government response will be available, that would be extremely helpful.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, the co-pilot is in charge for this leg of the journey. I take this opportunity to address the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, on the common theme of financial inclusion, and welcome the contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard, who anticipated in part some of my response.

Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, I would not disagree with what he said about the challenges that confront the Government in this area: the problems of financial numeracy and the serious issues, to use his words, that he identified as needing to be addressed. I will come to that in a moment.

As I said in Committee, we take the issue of financial exclusion very seriously and are grateful for the important work of the Financial Exclusion Select Committee in highlighting this important issue. We have considered the committee’s wide-reaching report, including its recommendations concerning government leadership and the welfare system.

In answer to the two questions about timing, the Government aim to respond to the committee’s report—here I use an option not mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie—before Third Reading. I understand noble Lords’ impatience that we did not have our response to the report available for Report, but I hope that there will be adequate time to consider it before Third Reading. I reassure noble Lords that the Government’s response will address the committee’s recommendations and will bring forward new proposals on how better to co-ordinate across government, the regulators and the wider sector on the key issue of tackling the significant issue of financial exclusion.

As was mentioned in our debate, this area has been given new prominence within the DWP ministerial team by the appointment of my honourable friend Guy Opperman. At the same time, it is important that this change is seen in the context of HM Treasury’s ongoing, government-wide policy responsibility for financial inclusion and exclusion. A key part of the Government’s approach to tackling these issues will be to require the relevant departments to work collaboratively, and the response may say something about that.

I stressed in Committee the Government’s understanding of the terms “financial inclusion” and “capability”, and I thought that we had established an element of agreement on this point. At the risk of reopening a theological discussion, financial inclusion refers to ensuring that members of the public have access to financial services. Financial capability is ensuring that the public are best able to make use of the financial services to which they have access. These terms are widely accepted by, for example, the World Bank. It is important that we build on this shared understanding of the terms so that there is clarity about the intentions for the body, which is to build financial capability among members of the public. To put this another way, the new body should not have a role to regulate the supply of financial services and products by the industry. It should, however, play a key role in helping people engage with or consume these products and services.

This does not mean that the supply of these products is not important. The point is that it is the role of the Financial Conduct Authority—not the SFGB—to ensure that appropriate action is taken when the market fails to supply useful and affordable services and products. So the omission of financial inclusion in the Bill is not an oversight; it is deliberately omitted from the body’s functions and objectives which refer to the supply of useful services such as savings, credit and insurance products. The proposed amendments would greatly expand the body’s statutory remit and are also likely to create confusion over the roles of the Treasury and the FCA, both of which have the relevant responsibilities and powers and are better placed to influence the supply of financial services and products.

In terms of financial exclusion, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, rightly observed in Committee, even more important than these definitions is the question: what will the Government do to act in a more co-ordinated way to tackle financial exclusion? I want to assure noble Lords that, following the Select Committee’s work in this area, the Government will propose, in their response, more appropriate and effective ways to address this issue than through the functions and objectives of the SFGB.

With regards to the particular issue of improving access to financial services for vulnerable people—which comes under Amendment 17—we consider that the FCA, and not the SFGB, is more appropriate to deliver that role. The FCA has already carried out a great deal of work in this area. Many Peers had a helpful meeting with the FCA last week. I hope it reassured noble Lords that the FCA takes its responsibility on consumer protection very seriously. The FCA published two pieces of in-depth research, carried out in 2015 and 2016, which supported the development of current initiatives to address access issues for vulnerable people. I came away from that meeting with a slightly different impression from that of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer.

As discussed in the meeting, issues regarding access and vulnerability are at the core of the FCA’s mission and business plan, published in April this year. To quote from the mission:

“Understanding vulnerability is central to how we make decisions. Consumers in vulnerable circumstances are more susceptible to harm and generally less able to advance their own interests”.

The FCA is due to undertake a number of further projects to understand better the concerns of vulnerable groups, not least through its forthcoming work to develop a consumer strategy by means of its consumer approach paper to be published in the next few weeks. This will provide a means for the FCA to measure outcomes for vulnerable consumers. It will work to develop vulnerability mapping so as to ensure that it has captured the needs of vulnerable consumers when finalising its business priorities.

In Committee, I mentioned the FCA’s TechSprints, so I do not need to do so again. It is also exploring issues for those living with cancer and the problems they face in gaining affordable access to travel insurance. In due course, the FCA will publish a feedback statement with its findings and the next steps in the light of responses to its call for input.

More recently, in September, the FCA published an occasional paper outlining the findings of its ageing population project. This paper reviews the policy implications of an ageing population and the resulting impact on financial services. The FCA highlights risks to older consumers who are more likely than other groups to be vulnerable—an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. To try and minimise harm, it has suggested areas where financial services firms could give greater consideration to how they treat older consumers.

Finally, even more recently, the FCA published its inaugural, annual financial lives survey—its largest tracking survey of consumers and their use of financial services. This is a huge undertaking, drawing on responses from just under 13,000 UK consumers aged 18 and over. The report tells the financial story of six different age groups to show key themes at each life stage, from those aged 18 to 24 to those aged 60 and over. The survey shows that 50% of UK adults—25 million—display one or more characteristics that signal their potential vulnerability. The FCA will use the results of the survey to prioritise its work. I hope the description of some of what the FCA is doing reassures noble Lords that it takes seriously its responsibility towards those who are vulnerable.

As a result of the FCA's work and its engagement with firms, there have been tangible developments from the industry in this area. This includes work led by the Financial Services Vulnerability Taskforce. In addition, the FCA has also seen increasing evidence that firms identify and then improve outcomes for vulnerable consumers.

To reiterate, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, the current amendments would greatly expand the remit of the body and could cause confusion over the role of different public institutions. I hope that, having heard this explanation, the noble Lord might be willing to withdraw his amendment.

Local Authorities: Relationship Support Services

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Wednesday 5th April 2017

(4 years, 8 months ago)

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they are making in assessing the bids submitted by local authorities for the Department for Work and Pensions Local Family Offer programme funding for relationship support services; and when local authorities which have submitted bids will be notified of the outcome.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as vice-president of the charity Relate.

Lord Henley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Henley) (Con)
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My Lords, 11 local authorities bid for the local family offer funding in December 2016. They were notified in January that their bids were successful. Each area has now been offered £50,000 to deliver the local family offer, including a new role as advocates, as we support more areas to integrate action to reduce parental conflict.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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I thank the Minister for his Answer and I am grateful for that explanation. Could the Minister explain how the local family rollout relates to the new programme announced by the Secretary of State yesterday of £30 million to support parents in workless households experiencing relationship distress and to the promised funding across the lifetime of this Parliament of £70 million for relationship support, which I hope will be available for everyone who needs it, not only parents in workless households?

Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley
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My Lords, the noble Baroness has highlighted three different aspects of work we are doing in the Department for Work and Pensions, but the work goes across all parts of government. She is right to highlight the different sums of money involved in the three schemes. The one we are discussing today is a small-scale scheme designed to offer a degree of help to local authorities to access expertise and evidence in order to drive forward various local strategies. I hope that will feed into all the other programmes as well but, as I say, that particular programme is a small-scale one to help those 11 local authorities.

GovCoin

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Monday 27th March 2017

(4 years, 8 months ago)

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Department for Work and Pensions
Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley
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My Lords, I give the noble Baroness that categorical assurance. The Department for Work and Pensions has absolutely no access to any such claimant information and will have no access to it in any further trials we look at. We want to keep it like that. Obviously, information will be able to Disc—which is GovCoin, referred to in the Question—but that will be protected by data protection principles. I reiterate what I said to the noble Baroness: the department and the Government will have no access to that information.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that this initiative, however welcome, is but one small step in tackling the much larger problem of financial exclusion? Could he give an assurance that the Government will carefully consider the recommendations of the Select Committee on Financial Exclusion, the report of which was published on Saturday? I had the privilege of chairing that committee. Particularly, there is the recommendation that fewer people are unbanked in the first place and so would not need this technology.

Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley
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My Lords, I wondered whether the noble Baroness would want to get in to highlight the fact that she produced the report that came out on Saturday. I think the report was embargoed until midnight on Friday and I have not yet had the opportunity to read it. I glanced at it but assure the noble Baroness that the Government will give it due consideration.

Life Chances Strategy

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Wednesday 11th May 2016

(5 years, 6 months ago)

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Department for Work and Pensions
Lord Farmer Portrait Lord Farmer
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Thank you. I will begin again. I am delighted that time has been found for such a debate this side of Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech next week. I cannot think of a better way to spend precious time in your Lordships’ House so near the end of this Session than to talk about how the Government can most effectively help the most disadvantaged people in our country.

I thank from the outset every participant in this debate, for whom the striving for better life chances is not just an agenda item but a lifestyle: a cause that gets them out of bed in the morning and wakes them up in the middle of the night.

I am sure that much personal insight will be shared today. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, has a towering reputation not only as a former chief executive of Gingerbread, which campaigns tirelessly for parents raising children on their own, but also played a crucial role in the riots commission. This body came to the very important conclusion that at least half a million families in this country were close to breaking point and has, I am sure, been a prime mover in the expansion of the troubled families programme. We are indebted to her; strong and stable families are the wellspring of good life chances and her work has obviously borne much fruit with the present Government and the previous coalition Government.

I am similarly eager to hear what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro has to say. As chair of the Children’s Society, he represents an organisation that has an impressive track record in championing all children and especially the most vulnerable. The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, will I am sure have many insights from the time when she led Relate most ably before she came into this House. She has been a leader of cross-party efforts to ensure that mental health is at the forefront of all our minds. She also chairs CAFCASS, which assists families going through contested complex court cases at that most stressful time of divorce, separation and public law proceedings. Finally, the quality of representation from my own Benches could not be higher than those who have kindly put their names down to speak at such short notice—for which I am deeply grateful.

To set the scene, the championing of life chances by our Prime Minister is the maturation of a process that has unfolded over the 10 years that he has led my party. On his first day as leader he went to London’s Eastside Young Leaders’ Academy, which nurtures and develops the leadership potential of young African and Caribbean men—often living in disadvantaged communities—and enables them to succeed. Moreover, the first policy group he set up to give him the ideas that he would need to transform Britain was the Social Justice Policy Group, led by lain Duncan Smith and charged with looking at the full range of root causes of poverty. The focus desperately needed to be shifted away from the simple redistribution of money and on to tackling the drivers of the problems that poison life chances. As soon as he became Prime Minister, he asked Frank Field MP to lead a review on poverty and life chances. This again signalled his intent not to ignore poverty—this has never been the way of one-nation Conservatism—but to address it root and branch, broadening the focus away from the income targets that had impoverished the poverty debate.

The poverty plus a pound approach can callously leave people behind if, say, alcoholic parents are deemed beyond the concern of government when a financial transfer tips them over an income line but their lives and those of their children remain unchanged. Since 2010 a deep evidence base has been laid by one review after another: for example, on the importance of early intervention and the early years. These led in turn to the establishment of several What Works centres, such as the Early Intervention Foundation, which act as guardians of effective practice to improve poor life chances.

The new life chances strategy will stand on a sure foundation of academic research and tried and tested solutions that work across the whole of people’s lives to eradicate disadvantage. Similarly, the very concept of life chances has not just been plucked from a spin doctor’s playbook. It has an unimpeachable intellectual pedigree reaching back well over a century to one of the founding fathers of sociology, the German Max Weber. His concept of Lebenschancen, or life chances, is a social science theory of the opportunities that each individual has to improve the quality of his or her life. It is a probabilistic concept concerned with how likely it is, given certain risk and protective factors, that a person’s life will turn out a certain way.

I am sure that today we will be articulating not only what these risk and protective factors are—what will likely produce bad and good outcomes for individuals and families—but also how to boost the good and counteract the bad.

Chief among protective factors is the influence of safe, stable and nurturing relationships, which are essential foundations for human flourishing. If tiny babies, children, young people and adults do not have these, it is very hard to tackle the root causes and effects of poverty, such as addictions, serious personal debt, educational failure, mental ill health and worklessness. It is also nigh on impossible for those with disabilities to thrive if they do not have supportive relationships.

As I said in my maiden speech, my own origins were filled with shame, neglect and poverty, caused by my parents’ alcoholism and bankruptcy. My father died very early but bequeathed me a contact in a London Metal Exchange company, which enabled me to start my career there, albeit at the very bottom. This relationship gave me a much-needed starting opportunity as I did not cover myself in glory at school—partly, it must be said, because my family was collapsing around me.

I therefore speak from personal experience when I say that our epidemic levels of family breakdown act against the likelihood of having people to help one through adversity. Efforts to tackle this, particularly in our poorest communities, have to be front and centre of the life chances strategy. Two-thirds of children on our poorest estates are no longer living with both their parents by the time they are 15; half of them are in this position by the time they start primary school. This is not just about money: the stability of poor couples who are married is far higher than those who are not.

For example, we have to support marriage more effectively at the poorer end of the income spectrum, where its collapse has been most extreme yet where aspirations to marry remain high. Marriage is a social justice issue because it is so much harder to overcome cultural and financial barriers to marrying for those who are poor than for those who are comfortably off. Will the Minister take back to the Treasury the proposal that we should sharply increase the marriage tax allowance for those in the poorest parts of the country, where rates of single parenthood can be as high as 75%? Ironically, the money to do this is already in the budget because of the low take-up of the current trifling tax allowance.

Yet family support has to go beyond this. I have been speaking to Ministers across government about the need to have policies to support family stability in every single government department. We have universal healthcare, universal education and policies to encourage full employment, but all these social goods and reforms will be undermined by poor family functioning and the breakdown of relationships.

Universal family support, which would mean that all struggling families have somewhere to go where someone has the answers, such as family hubs, requires cross-government buy-in. The Department for Education has a clear interest but so do the Ministry of Justice, given the need to support prisoners’ families in the community, and the Ministry of Defence, which has thousands of service families who would also benefit—to name just two. This debate will, I am sure, cover many different areas, and it is clear that there will be no lasting success in any of them without several government departments and organisations working well together. Will my noble friend the Minister lay out what is being done to make sure that this is the case?

I reiterate the potential for good that our time together today holds. One of the paramount roles of good government is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to flourish, whatever their starting point. This debate will, I am sure, brim with ideas and examples of good practice, and I look forward to seeing the trace of our passion expressed today in the life chances strategy shortly to be unveiled.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, on securing this vital debate. I declare an interest as vice-president of Relate.

When the Prime Minister spoke on life chances in January, he noted that society cannot be strong as long as there are,

“millions of people who feel locked out of it”.

With that in mind, I will argue that a life chances strategy must consider the entire life cycle and I want to highlight three prerequisites for progress. First, it cannot ignore entrenched inequality and the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. Secondly, it must focus on addressing the multiple causes of deprivation throughout people’s lives. Thirdly, it must support parents and families comprehensively if we are to help the next generation.

I strongly support the call to intervene early to ensure that all children have access to high-quality early education, as well as to ensure support for their parents. I doubly emphasise the importance of policies such as the pupil premium, which give increased support to the most disadvantaged, but must register my grave concern that their effectiveness will be diluted by the growing cuts to mainstream school budgets. However, the strategy to date is missing one important element: there can be no equality of life chances so long as entrenched inequality continues to grow.

How is that the case? Think about the child who grows up on a council estate but nevertheless manages to beat the odds and make it to Oxford. She may even think that she could be Prime Minister one day. But we have only to look at the latest research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies to understand why she still feels locked out: a rich university student from a wealthy background earns up to 20% more than a poor student who has done everything right by studying at the same university and on the same course. For a child growing up on a council estate, giving them early years education—desirable as that absolutely is—will not give them equal chances, when entrenched and inherited advantage from social networks gives access to key jobs and professions. Until we address this point head on, millions of people will continue to feel locked out.

This brings me to my second point. As well as stemming the problem for future generations, the Government must use the life chances strategy to develop a better co-ordinated, cross-government approach to supporting those adults who face a range of social problems which, to quote the PM,

“combine and reinforce each other”.

The need is pressing because there is also a close relationship between experiencing multiple needs and long-term poverty and the lack of opportunity. For example, we know that just under 60,000 people experience multiple problems of homelessness, substance abuse and contact with the criminal justice system in any given year. A staggering 40% of people with severe multiple needs ran away as children, while 25% have experienced abuse and 18% were in the care system. As a result, more than 90% of these individuals have a self-reported mental health problem and 55% have a mental health condition diagnosed by a professional. These problems can develop at any time in an adult’s life.

Some progress is being made and that is to be welcomed. Increasingly, government policy calls for a more co-ordinated approach. The Mental Health Taskforce report rightly calls for better joint working between mental health and housing, a new prevention concordat and joint commissioning. Even beyond the moral case, the economic case is clear: research from the Making Every Adult Matter coalition of charities, which I have the privilege of chairing, has shown that local areas taking a more co-ordinated approach can improve individuals’ well-being and reduce the cost of wider service use by up to 25%. Despite all this, there is still no national cross-departmental strategy to support and incentivise local areas to develop better responses for people with multiple needs, so what plans do the Government have to develop one?

This brings me to my final point: a life chances strategy must include support for strong families and relationships that in turn support the next generation. The focus in the life chances strategy on parenting is welcome. However, it is important that we do not lose sight of the central role of couple relationships in determining parenting quality. A recent evidence review by the Early Intervention Foundation, commissioned by the DWP, concluded that the quality of the interparental relationship is a “primary influence” on effective parenting and children’s long-term mental health and future life chances. So we need simultaneously to aim to improve parenting skills and relationship quality, rather than focusing on parenting skills alone.

This makes all the more vital the need for everyone to benefit from relationship support, particularly the most disadvantaged. The evidence shows that poverty puts great strain on relationships and that relationship breakdown can in turn lead to poverty. It is therefore vital that the life chances strategy addresses financial barriers to relationship support.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate. There could barely be a more significant subject for us to consider in your Lordships’ House. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Farmer on securing this debate. As we heard in his marvellous introduction, his commitment in this area is truly copper-bottomed. In the time allowed, I intend to restrict myself to comment on sport and character education, and the positive impact that they can have on life chances.

I was fortunate enough to be taught to swim at the age of two by my mum—at least when I came above the water and started to swim, that is what she claimed she was doing for me. The power of sport to transform lives is seen in every element, from the first time someone has the opportunity to dive into a swimming pool, step on to a running track or merely run around the school playground.

To give some hard statistics, according to a recent survey previously inactive young people, once involved in physical activity and sport, increased their numeracy by 29%. There were similar improvements in behaviour, clearly demonstrating that sport is not just about the physical benefits: it goes across to psychological, social and, yes, economic benefits. None of this is mutually exclusive.

For example, the Hackney Boxing Academy runs a support scheme where one of the qualified trainers takes six young people, and works with them and mentors them, helping them to have confidence in their schoolwork and to focus on their sport—the benefits could hardly be overstated. A graduate of the scheme, Dylan, said in 2012, “I’m a completely different person”. How can we say any more than that about the transformational power of sport to enable people’s life chances?

Again on boxing, when I was on the board of UK Sport, we understood that special facilities were needed for our boxers if we were to enable them to escape what life had predetermined for them. We did not just get boxers to competitions, to the national team and to internationals; we got boxers from some of the most challenging backgrounds in this country to go to the Olympic Games and bring back gold for Great Britain—transformational.

I commend my honourable friend the Sports Minister for the sports strategy which was recently published. This demonstrates how sport has to go across Whitehall, to all relevant departments. As I have said, it is about psychological, social and economic benefits. If we could truly get the inactive active, there is a £53.3 billion prize to be had for this nation. To expand on that, in light of the incredibly worrying mental health stats, what are the Government doing to address that most significant of issues? I highlight the work of great organisations, not least YoungMinds, in that area.

In a sense, all education needs to be character education, because it is character which will pull people through. As in sport, it is about getting that sense of self-belief, self-discipline and self-worth—to consider that anything could be your destiny. Yes, we need literacy and numeracy, and yes we need digital literacy, but we need character education throughout every element and all around the curriculum, including in sport, art and music—stuff that touches our hearts and souls as well as our minds.

I end where I began. Few subjects could be more significant and more profound, and have more of an impact on the individual and, through that, on our society and, yes, on our economy—again, these things are not mutually exclusive. I conclude with the words of perhaps one of our greatest Britons:

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings”.

Through government policy, through leadership and through the work of hundreds of thousands of people up and down this country working in sport—through all of that and more—let underlings be gone. Let us unleash the potential and address that most significant of issues: talent is everywhere, while opportunity is not.

Children: Parental Separation

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Wednesday 27th April 2016

(5 years, 7 months ago)

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
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My Lords, I am delighted to report that our 2012 reforms have been a huge success so far. They have incentivised separating families to make their own arrangements rather than using the statutory system as a default option, as co-operation between parents is clearly better for their children. Seventy per cent of clients using the service are choosing direct pay.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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Will the Minister set out how her department is working with the Department of Health and the Department for Education to ensure that children whose parents are separating receive the support they need both through child and adolescent mental health services and counselling in schools?

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
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My Lords, the department is working with other departments in a cross-government strategy to support children, with a lot more funding for mental health issues and co-operation between the various departments.

Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Wednesday 27th January 2016

(5 years, 10 months ago)

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Drake Portrait Baroness Drake (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 30 in the hope that the Minister has been persuaded by the arguments made in Committee that kinship carers and adopters should be exempt from the two-child limit. I also thank him for the very constructive meeting that he held with us.

We have enunciated many times the valuable contribution that kinship carers and adopters make, supporting as they do more than 200,000 children, many of whom have emotional difficulties because they have been living with parents who are drug abusers or who have abused or neglected them. They save the taxpayer the alternative cost of placing a child in care, which is £40,000 a year, and care proceedings of £25,000. The savings that 132,000 kinship carers deliver by voluntarily caring for these children runs into billions. Yet, significant costs fall directly on the carers themselves. Many have to give up work or reduce their hours—a requirement frequently set by the social worker—to settle what is often a traumatised child for a good reason. The need for such carers is not going away. The number of looked-after children has increased steadily over the last seven years, as has the number of care order applications.

The Government’s reasoning for limiting benefits to two children is set out in the impact assessment. It is to reduce welfare costs and introduce a behaviour-related measure that will encourage parents,

“to reflect carefully on their readiness to support an additional child”,

which could have,

“a positive effect on overall family stability”.

It continued that,

“people may respond to the incentives that this policy provides and may have fewer children”.

The policy is intended to deter people having more children where they cannot afford to support them.

The Minister reported in Committee:

“The average number of dependent children in families in the UK in 2012 was 1.7, so … it is fair and proportionate to limit additional support provided by the taxpayer through child tax credit and the child element of universal credit to two children”.—[Official Report, 7/12/15; col. 1328.]

Even if one were to accept that reasoning when applied to birth parents who are considering having more children—I accept that there are many in this House who do not—it is a non sequitur when applied to kinship carers and adopters. It lacks common sense. There, the need is not to get kinship carers and adopters to reflect carefully on their readiness to care for an additional vulnerable child. To the contrary: public policy needs to support carers in their readiness to do so. That is better for the children and their family stability, and secures savings for the state by not placing them in the care system.

Kinship carers and adopters are not the birth parents of the children but they voluntarily embrace them. They are not making a decision to become pregnant; they are making a decision to care for an existing vulnerable child who cannot be raised by their parents. For adopters and kinship carers, the behavioural disincentive in the two-child limit is directed at their taking on responsibility for that existing vulnerable child. Imposing the two-child limit will deter adopters or kinship carers from coming forward to take on a sibling group, or a child if they have dependent children of their own, undermine the child’s interest and potentially increase the number in care. This is inconsistent with the Government’s commitment to ensuring that families are stable and create the best possible environment for children to flourish.

The two-child limit applied to adopters and kinship carers does not even stack up in cost terms. Exempting carers from the two-child limit would cost an estimated £30 million but the limit needs to deter only 200 kinship carers from caring for three or more children in the future before the £30 million saving would be wiped out, as the taxpayer would then have to face the cost of placing a child in care—£40,000 a year—and the cost of care proceedings, which is £25,000. I asked the Minister what behavioural response the Government were seeking to achieve from potential kinship carers and adopters with the two-child limit on benefits but I never had a reply. I returned again to the impact assessment but I could find no answer there either. Indeed, I could find no assessment of the impact on potential kinship carers, adopters or the children.

For kinship carers and adopters, the choice is whether or not to embrace an existing vulnerable child—a different choice to a parent choosing to become pregnant. The Minister advised in Committee that,

“there is a difference between the voluntary and involuntary taking on of children, whether they are your own or anyone else’s. That is what our exemptions are for. We are seeking to try to draw the line between where it is involuntary, as in the case of rape, and where it is not”.—[Official Report, 7/12/15; col. 1332.]

However, taking a behavioural measure into the benefits system for one purpose, then applying it to carers of children who might otherwise enter the care system without an explanation of the behavioural response being sought and with no assessment of the negative impact on the carers or the children is not good public policy.

I hope that the Government have deliberated further on where to draw that line and that they will exempt kinship carers and adopters from the two-child limit. In doing so, they would avoid building a perverse disincentive rather than positive support into public policy on people caring for vulnerable children, avoid undermining the interests of the child and avoid failing to recognise the real savings that these kinship carers and adopters provide.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, I rise briefly to speak in support of Amendment 38 and the other amendments in this group, having spoken on the matter in Committee. In the interests of time, I will focus on two of the proposed exemptions set out in Amendment 38, but I make the point that I consider all five exemptions equally deserving.

On the issue of disabled children, which has already been set out powerfully by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Government have framed the two-child limit as being about choice, but no parent makes a conscious choice to bring a disabled child into the world—a point already made powerfully in the debate today. It is not something you plan for. If that unforeseen event happens, however, surely that child deserves our help to ensure that they can be a fully functioning member of society. Research has shown that raising a disabled child can cost three times as much as raising a non-disabled child. Surely that is part of the rationale for this exemption.

Turning to the proposed exemption when new families are being formed, in a speech last year to the Relationships Alliance the Prime Minister thanked relationship support organisations which help to keep families together and, critically, to bring new families together. I declare an interest as vice-president of the charity Relate. The Prime Minister said that,

“government should do everything possible to help support and strengthen family life in Britain today”.

In fact, he even criticised the welfare state, saying that it was,

“incentivising couples to live apart”.

How, then, can it be that the Government have brought forward a Bill which says that if two lone parents come together to raise a family—one of them having possibly suffered bereavement—their child tax credit will be cut? Surely, creating that incentive in the benefits system would accomplish exactly the opposite of what the Prime Minister wanted to achieve, as I understand it—that is, giving children the right to live in a two-parent household and providing the stability that that often achieves. In saying that, I do not mean any detriment to single-parent families, who do a very good job of raising their children. However, we know that half of all single-parent families find a new partner within five years of their previous relationship breaking up, indicating that cuts in this area could affect as many as 500,000 people. This is not an insignificant matter.

To conclude, we have heard much debate on how these proposed changes will impact vulnerable groups. I think we can all agree that it is better to be pound wise than penny foolish. As such, we need to look at changes holistically and ask whether they help individuals who can work to seek work and whether they help to ensure that the next generation is healthy and ready to contribute to society. How do we ensure that the vulnerable in our country do not start behind and get left further behind? Amendments 38 and others in this group are necessary to ensure that the vulnerable, especially children, do not start behind because of their failure to choose the right parents.

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Portrait Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to intervene briefly. I spoke in Committee about kinship carers. Therefore, I support Amendment 40, which relates to kinship carers and adopters. One reason I take such a strong interest in kinship carers is that the north-east, where I come from, has one of the highest proportions of kinship carers in the country, along with London. I meet, and have met, numerous kinship carers in the region who will be affected by this measure.

Some very powerful arguments have been made today and in our previous debates on this topic. If I were the Minister, I would want to take account of two issues. First, the best outcomes for children are undoubtedly achieved when they are with kinship carers or adopters. Secondly, the Government would show that they are on the side of taxpayers if they exempted kinship carers and adopters from these provisions. I could say a lot about the other proposed exemptions but I have concentrated on kinship carers and adopters in the past and therefore, for consistency, I shall do so again today. When we last discussed this issue, it seemed that the Minister listened to the very strong arguments that were made. My noble friend Lady Drake has reiterated many of those powerful arguments. I felt that after our previous debate the Minister was thinking about those arguments. Therefore, I hope he will have better news for us today.

Welfare Reform and Work Bill

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Wednesday 9th December 2015

(5 years, 12 months ago)

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Hollins Portrait Baroness Hollins (CB)
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My Lords, I have put my name to a number of amendments in this group and shall speak briefly to them. As my noble friend Lady Howe explained, Amendment 51 would mean that people with a mental or behavioural disorder would not be mandated to take part in inappropriate activities that might be detrimental to their mental health and that the current sanctions would no longer impact on them. It is crucial that support is tailored to the individual and that it addresses a person’s main barriers to work. For people with mental health problems, I cannot stress enough how important a good relationship between a claimant and adviser is and that people must be involved in decisions being made about them.

With respect to Amendment 52 I will restrict my comments to the provision of mental health care. This amendment would mean that anyone on ESA with a mental health problem as their primary condition—as the noble Lord, Lord Layard, explained—could be fast-tracked to IAPT for therapy. That needs to be debated, but Mind is concerned about the broader implications this could have for the many people who are already on waiting lists for talking therapy.

A survey of 2,000 people from the We Need to Talk coalition last year found that one in 10 people had to wait over a year between being referred for talking therapy and having an assessment. Waiting this long can be incredibly damaging. The findings also showed that while waiting for talking treatments, four in 10 people harmed themselves, one in six attempted to take their own life and at least 6% of people ended up being admitted to hospital.

People are already trying to get treatment, but services are just not meeting demand. We would need to know what types of treatments people with mental health problems on ESA are already receiving, are likely to be waiting for or have already received. So it is difficult to know what effect this amendment would have.

The final point to tease out of this debate is to raise caution around any suggestion of mandated treatment, although I am sure that this is not the intended effect of this amendment. I am pleased to speak to the amendment to highlight the wider issues around access to mental health services. Anything we can do to improve access to mental health services for all is absolutely a good thing. The Minister defended the proposed changes to the ESA WRAG during discussion of Amendment 34 earlier this week by saying that the Government are doing more than any previous Government to improve access to mental health services —presumably those provided by the NHS. However, mental health is still the Cinderella service in healthcare and is not just the responsibility of the NHS. If I were a Minister in the Department of Health, I would be extremely worried that these proposed DWP policies would lead to an increase in or a worsening of mental disorders for people in this group and that they would lead to additional demand and escalating costs.

I will also speak briefly on the stand part debate for Clauses 13 and 14. My noble friend Lord Rix sends his apologies. It is quite a task for him to come into the House at the moment due to his current health problems, so he chose to focus his input on his excellent Second Reading speech.

I welcome the review published by my noble friends Lord Low, Lady Meacher and Lady Grey-Thompson and I urge the Minister to look closely at it. I particularly welcome the review’s inclusion of people with a learning disability. The story of Sam Jeffries, who himself has a learning disability and whom I met yesterday at the launch of the review’s publication, where he spoke, gives a human face to the concerns that noble Lords are expressing.

Sam is a 25 year-old man who lives on the Isle of Wight with his nan. He is currently in the ESA WRAG group. He has a moderate learning disability and some joint problems, so he finds it difficult and painful to walk other than for short distances. He uses some of his personal budget to go to a Mencap day service, which he enjoys, although he would like to work. He has a support worker, who is paid partly from his personal budget and partly from his benefits. Sam says that if he were to lose another £30 a week it would make a massive difference. He would struggle to pay for everything. It would mean not going to his day service and being unable to afford the taxis he sometimes needs to get around. He would like to work part-time if he could but there are not many jobs around, and sometimes 50 people are competing for each job.

I have worked with people with a learning disability for much of my life, and they need the support to look for work and ongoing job support. This should be the Government’s focus, not cutting benefits. To do so will ruin the employment prospects of many people with a learning disability while at the same time affecting their social life, their health and their self-esteem.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, I will briefly speak to Amendment 52, to which I have put my name. In so doing I express my strong support for Amendment 51, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, which aims to improve back to work support for people with mental health problems. I also signal my strong support for the arguments that have been put forward that Clauses 13 and 14 should not stand part of the Bill.

I will briefly speak on Amendment 52. The noble Lord, Lord Layard, has already argued very powerfully that any person with a mental health problem as a primary medical condition awarded ESA in the WRAG group is immediately offered assessment and treatment in a local IAPT service. That is very important, and I will explain why I added my name to that amendment. It is about offering that treatment, not about it being compulsory—that is an important point to grab hold of, given the discussion we have had.

There is now plenty of evidence which shows that when people experience mental health problems, getting the right type of talking therapy as early as possible can make a huge difference to their recovery and their ability either to return to or enter work, and to prevent them becoming ill again. It is a very good and helpful idea that people with mental health problems in the WRAG group should get that immediate treatment. I accept that there are issues to work through here, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, drew attention, about making sure that in doing this we do not build some sort of tiered approach to mental health services, which could create difficulties.

The key point I want to underline, which was made so powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, was that an approach like this could save a very large amount of money on welfare. From listening to the debate so far, I have understood from the Government that that is what the Bill is primarily about. There is an opportunity to do that here, so we should not pass it up. I also offer my services to work with the Minister to find a way to make this amendment work, because it has great potential.

Lord Beecham Portrait Lord Beecham (Lab)
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My Lords, the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health recently published a report which suggested that the work capability assessment process might have led to the large number of 600 extra suicides. It says that its study,

“provides evidence that the policy in England of reassessing the eligibility of benefit recipients using the WCA may have unintended but serious consequences for population mental health, and there is a danger that these adverse effects outweigh any benefits that may or may not arise from moving people off disability benefits”.

It goes on to say:

“Although the explicit aim of welfare reform in the UK is to reduce ‘dependency’, it is likely that targeting the people living in the most vulnerable conditions with policies that are harmful to health, will further marginalise already excluded groups, reducing, rather than increasing, their independence”.

After reading about that report I tabled a Written Question, which produced a very prompt Answer from the Minister. I am grateful about the time it took, although the Answer was not exactly informative. The Question was:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will release data relevant to the assessment of whether Work Capability Assessment tests are connected to the incidence of suicide or mental health problems of disability benefit claimants; and if so, when”.

The reply was brief and to the point:

“The information requested is not available”.

I can understand that but surely, the issue having been raised, it is incumbent upon the Government to make inquiries into the report that the journal produced and to satisfy themselves and others that the process of the work capability assessment is not resulting in ill effects upon those undergoing the process of such assessment to any significant extent, let alone, of course, the dreadful extent of suicides resulting from it. I hope that having regard to the thrust of the amendments in this group, the Minister will indicate that the Government will again look into, or rather look into—clearly they have not looked into the possibilities here—the impact of that assessment, taking into account the report to which I refer. It is surely imperative that in recasting the system we take every opportunity to ensure that minimal harm is occasioned by the processes that are instituted to distribute the benefits in question.

Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Monday 7th December 2015

(5 years, 12 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to make a brief point in support of the powerful case that has already been made. I believe that the latest HBAI statistics showed an increase in poverty among disabled children. Can the Minister tell us his assessment of the impact of these clauses on the number of disabled children living in poverty?

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, very briefly, I lend my support to these very important amendments. We have heard some extremely powerful arguments. I want to draw attention to one point in Amendment 3, which refers to child tax credits and says that the limit should not apply,

“where one or more of the children or qualifying young persons are disabled”.

I remember vividly a meeting that I attended during the course of what became the Children and Families Act, organised by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. The very point which she was talking about was the impact on parent carers trying to bring up disabled children. One of the mothers was bringing up three disabled children. I remember that vividly because I think it brought tears to most of our eyes, including those of the Minister. Can the Minister say what the Government’s thinking is about households which have more than one child who has a disability?

Lord Freud Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for this debate and, particularly, I heard the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about how the lone parent—the mother—is so often left on her own with a disabled child. That is a very moving point and clearly rings true.

Perhaps I may look at the technical position. Amendment 3 would exempt those families who have at least one disabled child from the policy which limits support to two children. The intention of this amendment is to allow families with a disabled child to claim the child element of child tax credit for an unlimited number of children. Under Amendment 19, that intention would apply to both tax credit and universal credit. I should point out, as a matter of information, that the difference in having the child element allowed for a third child is not actually that great, if you look at the statistics. That is because the number of parents who go on to have more children is actually very few, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, will probably know, so there is not a lot of difference in the cost. I know that she will appreciate the thinking behind that point. Amendment 8, meanwhile, which goes on to the point about paying the child element, is technically a bit misdrafted, but I know that the intention of the amendment is to allow that child element to be paid.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, drew on the issue of whether a choice has been made. Clearly, we have considered the issue of disabled children carefully and looked at the challenges which these families face. We are committed to supporting those families with disabled children by paying the disability element of child tax credit and the equivalent in universal credit. That is true for all disabled children, although there are in practice rather few—I mean that there will be some, but relatively few—so, however many there are, it will be for not just the first disabled child but all of them. From what I am hearing, I think that the debate is now around the child element as well as the disability element and that that is where the differences lie in practical terms.

I acknowledge broadly the figures to which the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, drew attention in regard to the reduction without the child element. When that is in UC as a unified benefit, it will be only one part of the total payment. On the amount that the family gets, the reduction will be much less than the “down to a quarter” figure to which she was referring. On top of the disability element that we are exempting, we are exempting from the benefit freeze all those benefits which relate to the additional costs of disability, including PIP and DLA.

On Amendment 19, which would create a duty for an appeals process, I repeat the point that I made earlier: we already have comprehensive appeal arrangements and therefore do not need this amendment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, made a point about what happens to HBAI figures. As we have found out year after year, it is impossible to predict with accuracy future HBAI figures. As is customary, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has a solution to it all, but I am not convinced that the discretionary approach would be the optimum one in this area. Whatever happens, I do not think that any kind of solution would come from that.

Family and Relationship Support

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Monday 22nd June 2015

(6 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government which Minister has responsibility for family and relationship support policy; and what steps they are taking to deliver the commitment in the Conservative Party Manifesto 2015 to invest at least £7.5 million a year in relationship support.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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In asking the Question, I declare an interest as vice-president of the charity Relate.

Baroness Altmann Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Altmann) (Con)
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My Lords, I am the Minister responsible for family and relationship support policy. We are working with several organisations to develop and deliver provision. This includes preventive support, help for those experiencing difficulties, piloting relationship education in perinatal classes, and supporting local authorities to improve family relationships. I confirm that the total funding for this in 2015-16 is at least £7.5 million. We are currently planning how to make the most effective use of this funding.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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I thank the Minister for her Answer and welcome her to her new role. The last time I counted, there were five government departments with a direct interest in family relationships: indeed, six if you count the Home Office’s interest in domestic violence. Given this fragmentation and the fact that relationship breakdown is estimated to cost the country some £46 billion per year, what mechanisms will be used at Cabinet level to ensure that family policy is co-ordinated across government, and how will each department be held to account for the family test announced by the Prime Minister last year?

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I can inform the noble Baroness that the family test will be applied to all new policies that are being developed by government, and it will be strictly applied. The idea at the moment is that we transfer the Department for Education’s responsibility to the Department for Work and Pensions so that these policies are more integrated for the benefit of the families who we are trying to support.

Disability Services

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Thursday 10th January 2013

(8 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Browning Portrait Baroness Browning
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, who has brought this very important report to the Floor of the House today. At the beginning, I refer Members to my interests in the register concerning various disability charities.

The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, has outlined in his opening remarks some of the core challenges and problems identified by this report, so in the time available to me I would like to focus on some of the recommendations made by the report. I begin with the recommendations for local authority commissioners. It is suggested that there is a need to redesign commissioning contracts to facilitate collaboration between small and large organisations to allow more consistent, wide-ranging care that meets both personal and community needs. This is a most timely recommendation because of the changes that are taking place, as we debate, in commissioning.

It has been my experience that commissioning, whether it is done at a national level by government, by local authorities or through commissioning structures within the health service, almost inevitably follows a pattern. The pattern is usually one where those who are commissioned tend to be larger organisations, for the reason that they are easier to deal with. Larger organisations cover the ground more and the financial control is easier, rather than if the commissioning is based on a lot of small and more independently, but perhaps more accurately, focused and targeted providers.

That is really the challenge in this recommendation in the report. I do not expect the Minister, who will reply to this debate today, to have all these answers, but I will make this request. This is such a timely report at a time of great change for disabled people that if she does not have specific answers to these questions today, I hope she will consult colleagues—this will often need to be across government—on these various recommendations and perhaps agree to put something in writing in the Library. I think that would be very helpful to those of us who are concerned about how practically the Government are going to address the very timely and helpful suggestions in this report.

I turn now to the recommendations related to policymakers in the report. The report states that,

“BME disabled people’s needs and views have often fallen between the two areas of disability and race equality policy. Finding ways to bring these two policy fields together is extremely important for developing effective support for BME disabled people”.

It is almost self-evident that that needs to be addressed, but I think it is a little more complex than the report suggests, because among the disabled community per se there has for a long time been the big challenge of people who have co-morbidities—people with more than one disability. When you bring into that the additional challenge of a range of ages and, as this report addresses, the BME disabled community, you can see that when you look at how you could try to address the needs of those individuals, it is almost inevitable that you will end up with a generic service.

I say to my noble friend at the Dispatch Box today that it is a real challenge to target the services that policymakers produce on individual needs, which will almost certainly be complex. It is a challenge to provide the strategy through the policy as to how to address the myriad requirements of people who have not just one but often a range of disabilities, where two disabilities might mean, for example, someone with an autistic spectrum disorder who also has either a diagnosed mental health problem or a physical disability and is also part of the BME community. Then there are the age concerns to be taken into account.

Of course, when we talk about disabled people, we must think not just of the disabled people themselves but of their family situation. Siblings and the effect of having a severely disabled sibling are extremely important. When you are providing, commissioning and looking at appropriate services, you have to take a more holistic view at the family, the primary carers and, of course—particularly as far as children are concerned—siblings in the same household.

These are therefore complex issues that are not easily resolved, and they are not resolved well at present. We have to do better for this community. I say to my noble friend that in looking at policy-making, some of the recommendations in this report are absolutely critical. These include, for example, a theme throughout the report: involving disabled people themselves, along with their immediate carers, and the BME communities with experience and background in what the needs and solutions are.

Another recommendation for policymakers is the one to develop a national race equality strategy, which includes the needs of BME disabled people. The noble Lord touched on this in his opening remarks. My noble friend will, of course, reply at the end of this debate, but that recommendation was made in the light of the Government’s announcement that we are to expect a forthcoming disability strategy. If it is not the Government’s intention to develop a national race equality strategy, it would be helpful to know exactly what is being done at present—I assume it is being done at present—under the disability strategy. This would reassure the House that this community’s needs are being considered and will be included when that strategy is made public.

There are also recommendations for service providers. A person-centred emphasis is recommended, and I totally agree with that. One can look at a range of disabilities, and there will be a common purpose in the services provided and commonality in the way in which disabilities affect people and in how some particular disabilities, which might be degenerative, are likely to affect people in the future. One does have to look at the individual; no two people are the same. Service providers should look at the individual and take that holistic look at the individual and their immediate surroundings and life chances.

Employment was mentioned. The figures are appalling for people who could carry out paid work or—and I always emphasise this at this stage—voluntary work. I know this is not the flavour of the month. Everyone is going to be in paid work, but for some people with a disability—and I must emphasise this strongly for my noble friend on the Front Bench—just getting them to the stage where they can maintain independent living is a milestone that many would not have achieved without a lot of support. For some people—and it is only some people—to expect them additionally to take on paid employment could diminish their ability to maintain a standard of independent living that is both safe and acceptable.

We all want disabled people, including the BME community on which this report focuses, to have the opportunity for paid employment wherever possible. However, I am old enough to remember, as I am sure other colleagues in the House today are, when the life chances and quality of life of many disabled people meant that they often lived at home with increasingly elderly parents, the inevitability of which was that at some point there would be a crisis in their care when the parents were no longer able to look after them, so that they, as disabled people, had to face decisions about their future at a point of crisis. That is something which I hope my noble friend will consider.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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My Lords, I, too would like to congratulate both the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, for securing this timely debate, and Scope, for producing such a valuable and important report. As president of the National Children’s Bureau—a declared interest of mine—I am particularly keen to draw attention to the compounded disadvantage that children and young people with disabilities in black and minority ethnic communities, or whose parents have disabilities, face to their well-being. Not only do children in general face particular vulnerabilities to poverty, but it is also well documented that disability increases the risk of poverty. When children are additionally members of the black and minority ethnic communities, their well-being risks can soar.

I had a lot of statistics that I was going to go through, but the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, has covered them very well. However, if noble Lords will bear with me, I have one or two points I would like to underline before going on to talk about some more general issues covered in the report. It is vital—the report makes this very clear—that we understand that the disadvantages of disability can be amplified for children from within the black and minority ethnic community. The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, talked about a double whammy. However, if you look at children and young people, and the link with child poverty, as well as the links with disability and the disadvantages faced by black and minority ethnic communities—I am thinking particularly of some black or black British households and the nearly 60% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi households which, according to Barnardo’s analysis of DWP statistics, were living in poverty in 2011—we are talking about something which is more like a triple whammy for children.

Scope’s very important report, Keep Us Close, also made it very clear that the children of disabled parents within the black and minority ethnic community fare no better. We have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, about the very low employment rates for some disabled members of the BME community. Disabled women in this community, who are often the main carers, face incredibly low rates of pay. As we have heard, the median was almost half that of non-disabled adults. None of that will be made any easier with the forthcoming changes to financial support through the new disability addition to a family’s universal credit entitlement. For families receiving the current mid-rate component of disability living allowance, financial support for this group will be halved to £28 a week.

It is against that backdrop that the disabled children we are talking about today will face a range of other problems, which was highlighted well in the report. For instance, in many cases, they or their parents will face language barriers in trying to access the care that they need. Simply put, you cannot know what you do not know. For many in this community, the report has highlighted that language barriers mean that they miss out on services available to them simply because they do not know how to ask for them or what they are entitled to. Scope has also found that members of the BME community are less likely to be represented on some of the forums and committees that make decisions about public services. At these crucial moments for shaping policies and services, the needs of the black and minority ethnic community too often go unvoiced.

A concrete example of a missed opportunity in terms of support faced by disabled children with language barriers can be seen in education. Many young disabled people have a statement of special educational needs guiding their education. However, the report has shown that many black and minority ethnic parents did not know what that was or that they should have the chance to influence their child’s statement at an annual review meeting. Include Me TOO is a charity which specifically supports disabled children, young people and their families from the black and minority ethnic community. It has published a report that found that some parents did not even know their disabled child’s annual review meeting was coming up until it had already happened.

Unavailable, incomplete, or outright incorrect translation services, particularly within medical services, present another challenge to BME parents of disabled children, a point which clearly came across in the Scope report. It highlighted a particular case and asked people to imagine that they were the mother of Anita, a woman who was consulted during the writing of today’s Scope report. Her daughter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Rather than a thorough explanation of the range of MS symptoms, Anita’s mother was given a CD of translated information that merely laid out the worst-case scenario. Quite understandably, that really alarmed and upset her.

In addition to poverty and language barriers, the disabled children of black and minority ethnic communities also face a number of more subtle disadvantages of social isolation and stigma. Again, I thought that the report was very good in highlighting these issues. Perhaps I may pick up on a couple of other examples. One misconception that some members of the community face is that they will have significant family safety networks on which they can fall, although sometimes that is not the case and, indeed, the opposite can be true. The Scope report found strong evidence that social isolation can be very problematic for disabled people from black and minority ethnic communities. Most notably, it drew attention to the experience of women, who are generally the primary carers. A number of BME women who took part in the research highlighted social isolation as an acute problem that they had experienced. One female respondent to Scope’s survey said that when they ask social services for extra support, they are sometimes told, “No. You can do it yourself because you are from an Asian background”. She said that social services think that they have a close and extended family who can look after them, as well as religious leaders. Her view was that that was an excuse for social services not doing what they are supposed to do.

Parents in the BME community also voiced concerns over social stigma associated with their children’s disability. The Scope report highlights the case of a Muslim woman which demonstrates this very well. She felt constantly that she had to defend her son against her extended family’s constant judgment of him as “just a naughty boy”. She said that she was very grateful when her son was finally diagnosed with autism, which she felt gave her a sort of defence mechanism against her family’s accusations that bad parenting on her part was the root cause of her son’s problems.

As I hope I have demonstrated and as the report demonstrates very well, which is why it is so important that we are giving time to this subject today, more needs to be done to bring about a cultural shift in the perception and provision of services for all disabled children and all children of disabled parents—yes, for everyone, but particularly those from within the black and minority ethnic community. These children start well behind the starting line in the race of life from the triple vulnerabilities of youth, disability and minority community status, which then can be coupled with the higher levels of poverty, the language barriers, social isolation and stigma that I have talked about.

The question is: what can we do? We will have an opportunity to do something concrete in a Bill which will shortly be coming before your Lordships’ House. Scope has developed a “provide local principle”, which is designed to ensure that services in local areas are inclusive and accessible and, where services for disabled children do not currently exist, local authorities must guarantee their delivery and ensure that parents and families are involved in their commissioning.

Today, I ask the Government to consider including Scope’s “provide local principle” in the forthcoming children and families Bill as part of the local offer to which they have already committed. The introduction of this principle would do much to improve the services available to all disabled children, including those from BME communities. Given the will, I am sure that this can be done and I very much look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on this point.

Baroness Masham of Ilton Portrait Baroness Masham of Ilton
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My Lords, I congratulate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, on instigating this debate. It is important that this subject is being discussed today. I have spoken to several people who are involved with disability as a whole and, when I mention the services for black and minority ethnic people with disabilities, not much seems to be known. The Scope report presents some of the evidence and I am sure that your Lordships, like me, will look forward to the Minister’s response.

There are so many disabilities, many of which are complex. I want to add something to this debate which I cannot see in this report—namely, the need for prevention of disability, if possible. Disability can be a strain on families, as it can be very costly and time-consuming. Education for women who are so often the people looking after disabled people is so important.

My admiration has no bounds when I consider the bravery of the schoolgirl shot in Pakistan who was campaigning for education for girls. This outstanding girl would now be dead or disabled if it was not for the medical skill she received in Birmingham, her own hard work and will power, and the support of her family and the Government. That shows how important it is that people work together to help people with disabilities.

I mention today in this debate that the Leeds Children’s Heart Unit is fighting for its retention, as there are a high percentage of black and Asian babies born with heart defects in the area of Leeds, Bradford and West Yorkshire. The north is a special case; it needs units in both Newcastle and Leeds. I cannot understand why the consultants who perform the operations cannot travel between the two units to make the service viable. This would save stress and strain to many families with social needs, who would find long-distance travel too expensive and complicated.

Results show a range of variations between black and minority ethnic—BME—groups and white, British counterparts. Most differences are negative, which indicates that BME groups are less likely to report a positive experience. However, many areas show no difference and some show a positive difference. The research findings show that a source of dissatisfaction was that customers struggled to find out about the benefits available for a long time after they had developed their disabling condition. Many participants felt that it was very hard to find out what they were entitled to and that this applied similarly to all benefits available. Many participants felt that they could have applied for benefits and received help earlier on. This triggered some criticism of the Disability and Carers Service.

Information and forms for disability benefits are far too complicated for most disabled people, let alone black and minority ethnic groups. Language barriers often mean that BME disabled people do not know about, and cannot use, services available to others. Therefore, it is often disabled people rather than services that are perceived as hard to reach. Communication is vital in accurately translating someone’s condition or disability. Disabilities in communication can result in inaccurate or inappropriate diagnosis. A lack of information in an appropriate language can significantly hinder or prevent access to services and facilities. This is being stressed in this debate.

We must therefore take great care to send out the right information about services and impairment. This could mean simple measures such as using everyday language wherever possible, testing materials with BME disabled people, and refining these materials before publicising. Given the significance of these language and communication barriers, Scope is concerned about the proposal of the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, to cut translation services by printing official documents only in English as a way for local councils to save money, which claims that it undermines community cohesion by encouraging segregation. The withdrawal of such translation services will increase the already significant barriers faced by people from BME communities in accessing support. Can I ask the Minister if she understands that this will be most difficult for the growing elderly population of BME disabled people?

The Government have acknowledged the need to develop approaches to meet the specific needs of BME disabled people as part of the Fulfilling Potential—Next Steps paper on their approach to the forthcoming disability strategy. When will the disability strategy emerge? The report found that social isolation was particularly acute for women in BME communities. Many women who took part in Scope’s focus groups said that their impairment compounded the isolation effects on their household and children’s roles, with other family members rarely making adjustments to support the management of their condition.

The stigma attached to disabled people can be widespread and acute. It is far from limited to BME communities, yet Scope’s report found that many people in BME communities felt that it was a particular problem for them. The report also found cases where the most acute source of discrimination was from family members themselves, demonstrating the need to improve attitudes towards disabled people within BME communities. There is a lot for these communities to do to improve their attitudes towards their disabled people. It is possible to change attitudes. It has taken a long time to reach the support and enthusiasm which surrounded the 2012 Paralympics—but it happened. Therefore, I hope that better facilities will emerge for the BME population.

Welfare Reform Bill

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Wednesday 25th January 2012

(9 years, 10 months ago)

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendments 62BL and 62BM, and in doing so I draw the attention of the House to my interests, which are in the register. I am a former non-executive director of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission and a former chief executive of the National Council for One Parent Families.

I want to ask a specific point about these government amendments, which seem to be producing a new formulation that would require an applicant wanting to apply for child maintenance through the CSA to consider with the commission whether it is possible for them to make a private arrangement before being allowed to make such an application. Can the Minister please make it clear to the House just what the applicant would have to do? If I am making an application and I simply say, “I wish to make an application”, and the agency says, “Have you considered making a private application?”, and I say, “Yes, but there is no way that he is ever going to agree to it”, is that enough? Am I then allowed to proceed, or is it intended to be a bigger hurdle than that?

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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My Lords, I welcome the announcement of the additional £20 million for family support services for separating families, which is part of this package of reforms, and in doing so I must of course immediately declare a very direct interest as departing chief executive—this week—of the charity Relate. We provide help and support to separating families, to mothers, fathers and children and to wider family members. I recognise also that this is less contentious than the issues surrounding the reform of the statutory system, which we will be debating a little later, but it is worth a quick comment—not least because of the fact that each year around 350,000 children are directly affected by parental separation.

I am sure that all noble Lords across the House will agree that it is better, wherever possible, to encourage separating parents to make voluntary maintenance arrangements and to provide them with all the necessary practical help and support to do so. I am equally sure that all noble Lords recognise that this avenue will never be possible or appropriate, or even desirable, for all parents, particularly when issues of domestic violence are involved. That is what the statutory service is there to do, quite rightly, but it must be in everyone's interest that as many separating families as possible are encouraged and actively supported to make their own arrangement, not least so as not to clog up the statutory system for those who really need it most. The fact that some 50 per cent of children living in separated families have no effective child maintenance arrangements in place is surely evidence that the current system needs an overhaul. It is self-evident that any new system should be based as far as possible on reducing conflict and encouraging collaboration.

The fact that the funding announced today will allow parents to access more consistent support services as soon as possible across the country, and that it responds very directly to concerns raised by the DWP Select Committee a number of months ago, will be in everyone's interests, particularly those of children. This form of earlier intervention must be a wiser use of resources than waiting for problems to become so intractable, and for conflict to become so entrenched, that voluntary-based arrangements, frankly, become quite impossible.

As a former chair of the Kids in the Middle coalition of charities, I know that high levels of conflict in family relationships are bad for the well-being of everyone involved, particularly the children. Research makes it clear that the two most damaging issues for children when parents separate, which often make effective and enduring co-parenting far more difficult, are high levels of conflict and a lack of contact between both parents after separation. It will hardly be a surprise that the two often go hand in hand and, crucially to the debate today, that where there is contact between the child and the non-resident parent then often financial support arrangements flow as well. There is good evidence for the impact that co-ordinated services can have in this area, addressing financial, legal, housing and practical advice but also emotional support, mediation and a range of other things. I will not detain the House any longer by going through the research evidence that exists in this area, but I find it persuasive.

I stress, as I did in Committee, how detrimental it is to any child to grow up not simply without enough income and financial support but without any role model of a father—as generally the non-resident parent is—as a key figure in that child’s life, providing practical, emotional and financial support.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland Portrait Baroness Howarth of Breckland
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My Lords, I shall speak briefly, following the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, who is about to follow me as chair of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. I speak as someone who has dealt over many years with some of the families who are in greatest conflict and need. The Minister will know that, of the families who separate, 10 per cent go to court. Those 10 per cent are the most difficult families. Often they are very close to families who come through public law, which are the families who really have child protection issues. However, we find in assessment that many of the families who come through private law divorce proceedings may well have these issues.

I agree that there is some need for reform. I welcome the money being put into relationship work and hope that some of that will find its way to CAFCASS, which does a great deal of that work with those difficult families. There is a proportion of families, though, where it is clear that the level of conflict between the families is detrimental so continued contact with both parents—judges have said this—may well not be the answer for those few children.

I am interested, as the noble Baroness is, in who is going to make that assessment and at what point the mother—it is usually a mother, although occasionally it is a father—will know that she is not going to have to continue to engage with an extremely aggressive and often destructive person who has damaged not only her own relationship but that of her children, and when she will be able to bypass all those procedures and be sure that she can actually get maintenance. The likelihood of the man giving her maintenance is slim, but she needs to be able to get by the procedures.

Welfare Reform Bill

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Wednesday 25th January 2012

(9 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley
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My Lords, I support the amendment and I am very grateful to the noble Lord for bringing it forward. It is important that we do not allow this dimension not to have the necessary attention before this Bill completes its passage. Everyone accepts that mental illness is a widespread challenge and we all commit to the need for something to be done. Yet, decade after decade, we hear the same noises being made and we wonder whether progress has been achieved.

As has been said by a number of noble Lords tonight, it is not just for the benefit of the individual—clearly it is to the individual’s benefit if he or she can remain in work or get into work with the necessary intervention, help and support—as it is also clearly of benefit to society as a whole and to the economy.

Following on from the comments we have just heard about the regional dimension, I should like to add the rural dimension. It is difficult enough for those with mental illness problems in cities but it is sometimes even more difficult in rural areas where there are not the support networks within anything like reasonable distances. In any thinking that the Government may be doing on this, perhaps that also could be taken on board. Even though this proposal may not find its way into the Bill, I hope that the Minister is in a position to indicate to the House the thinking on the way that this dimension can be taken forward.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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My Lords, I, too, add my support for this amendment, which was moved very powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale. As other noble Lords have said, all we need is a little bit of joining up between some of the important work that has been taken forward by the DWP and Jobcentre Plus, the very laudable intentions of the work programme and the work being promoted by the Department of Health. I have looked at the DoH website and its work in relation to increasing access to psychological therapies. It talks about how it is now much more possible to join up the help being provided to those with mental health problems as regards their anxiety and depression, as well as helping them back into work.

One example of which I am aware involves Relate, the charity in which I have a declared interest, working closely with Mind in the Hull and East Yorkshire region and the Humber NHS foundation trust. Working together, the programme that they are providing for people with mental health problems is helping to tackle their anxiety and depression while, because they have an employment adviser on hand, helping to get them back into work and to stay in work. This is the sort of approach that we should be advocating. It just needs a little more joining up, which is exactly the spirit of this amendment. I also hope that it will be possible to have further discussions on these important bits of joining up between the welfare state and providers in the voluntary sector.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town
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My Lords, does not Davos sound interesting? I gather that the Prime Minister is there as well as the noble Lord, Lord Layard, but that Mick Jagger decided not to turn up. The advantage in one sense of the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Layard, is that we have had the privilege of hearing the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, who is second to none in his experience of working with substance abusers and those with mental health problems. It is good to have him here.

The subject of mental health is an important one and has featured a lot in our debates throughout the Bill—in discussions on where and whether conditionality is appropriately applied, in looking at the length of time for which contributory employment and support allowance should be available, and in assessing ways of dealing with the caseload for DLA and how best to introduce and assess the new PIP criteria. In all these we have been dealing with the consequences of the increasing mental problems that have been touched on. We know that the diagnosis of mental health problems has been rising. An NHS study in 2007 found that the prevalence of common psychiatric disorders severe enough to need treatment was between 6 and 9 per cent among people of working age. That means that we are talking about between one in 10 and one in 20 of our fellow citizens.

The consequences of that for the Bill and for the DWP are most obvious in the growth of the number of people eligible for DLA. Since 2002 the rise in the number of claims—which the Minister has frequently cited when making the case for reform of the benefit—has been almost entirely accounted for by those with either learning disabilities or mental health conditions. So, ensuring that employment and mental health treatment services are working closely together would have clear benefits not only—although most importantly—for claimants, but also for the department’s own efforts to reduce the number of people forced out of work through ill health. Equally vital will be an attempt to work with employers to help them better understand and equip themselves to be able to use the talents of those who, whether on an ongoing basis or for short periods, experience poor mental health.

I hope the Minister will outline in his response not only how employment-focused services, in particular for those on ESA, are working with mental health experts and ensuring that claimants receive the right treatment, but also what his department is doing to encourage employers to put the right support in place and to take a positive attitude towards workers with poor mental health. If he follows up on the excellent suggestion of a meeting, it would be particularly appropriate, along the lines set out by my noble friend Lord Winston, to include the Department of Health in it. Perhaps we will be able to encourage a bit of cross-Whitehall working on this issue.

Welfare Reform Bill

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Monday 23rd January 2012

(9 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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My Lords, I support the amendment, to which my name is also attached. We have heard a lot today about fairness. It is important that people in work feel that there is fairness in terms of how much money can be received by those out of work and on benefits, and that there is a clear incentive for all those capable of work to do so in order to r themselves and their families. I place on record that I welcome the measures being taken by the Government, such as the work programme, to give intensive help and support to people needing a lot of help to get back into the jobs market.

There is another aspect to fairness, though: fairness to children, irrespective of the circumstances of their birth. I shall run through the reasons why I feel that child benefit should be exempt from the calculation of the benefit cap. First, as we have heard, it is a non-means-tested benefit paid to all households with children. We have already heard this question posed today, but is it fair that children born into small families with earnings in excess of £80,000 a year receive child benefit while those born into larger families with a benefit income of £26,000 a year do not? I do not think that that passes any fairness test.

Secondly, child benefit is paid to assist with the costs of raising children. In my view, it is not about sending signals or penalising adults who do not work—and I add that all adults who can work should do so. Thirdly, this measure would have a disproportionate impact on children. We have heard the figures from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the right reverend Prelate, and I do not intend to go through them again. Fourthly, it is a question of a compromise solution between children in large families receiving the full current level of state support and receiving nothing at all, which I perceive to be unfair. Fifthly, reducing the impact of this policy on large families would reduce the couples penalty that is currently built into the benefit cap.

The reason why I am concerned about the current situation is the issues raised compellingly in the debate earlier by my noble friend Lady Walmsley. This is about families having to move abruptly to cheaper areas and the disruption that that will cause to children’s schooling, often halfway through a school year. It is about families feeling, rightly or wrongly, that they will have to split up because if they created two households instead of one, parents would then be entitled to £26,000 a year in benefits. That cannot be right. Experts in the field have said that there is a substantial couples penalty built into the cap that is completely at odds with my own view, and that of the Government, of the need to support strong and stable families.

I am concerned about the impact on children who might find themselves homeless, perhaps in unsuitable and expensive temporary accommodation. With children and young people’s services already very overstretched, there is a real danger of children at risk simply disappearing from view below the radar, which raises child protection and safeguarding concerns.

I will summarise by saying, as was said earlier today, that children should not be the innocent victims of this policy. The vulnerability of children is very important to people on these Benches, and I look forward to hearing what safeguards the Minister has to offer in this area. I heard him say in the previous debate that he saw the transitional issues as a second-order issue. I do not consider the welfare of children to be a second-order issue at all.

Lord Greaves Portrait Lord Greaves
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My Lords, I have not spoken in the Welfare Reform Bill debates so far and I will be brief now. On the specific issue of child benefit, the Government seem to have got it seriously wrong. What is being proposed undermines the whole principle on which child benefit—and before that, as many of us will remember, the family allowance—has been based. If the Government are going to do that, I fear that that is the beginning of a slippery slope, and they will have to explain to us very carefully why they think the basic principles no longer apply.

In illustration, I go back to the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Best, about typical, ordinary—perhaps very ordinary—accommodation in the East End. There has been lots of fancy new development in the East End in the past decade or two, but most of it is still not regarded as being the most desirable part of London. People living in other parts of London in particular usually find themselves paying a great deal more than £350 a week for an ordinary two or perhaps three-bedroom flat. According to the paper today, for a four-bedroom house in the least salubrious part of Kingston—I did not know that such places existed, but it appears that they do—£400 a week is not unusual. That is four times what you would pay for an ordinary, perfectly decent house in my part of the world, but there you go.

If as a family whose benefits are being capped you receive £500 a week, and you are paying out £400 a week for rent, that leaves you £100 for everything else. I challenge any Members of your Lordships’ House to tell us how well they would do at bringing up a family of two, three or four—or perhaps more—children, plus one or two adults in the house, on £100 a week. It can be done, and many people in many parts of the world survive on far less than that, but this country is now almost the most prosperous that it has even been, if you take away the last five years. We are still incredibly well-off. If Members of your Lordships’ House think back—most of us are getting on a bit—to our childhoods and the circumstances that we were brought up in, they will see that this country is now incredibly rich and well-off. To require families to bring children up on £100 a week for everything apart from their rent is unacceptable.

When the media are encouraged, I have to say by some politicians in this country, to rant and rave about how these people are getting £26,000 a week and that everyone ought to be able to live on that—I apologise, £26,000 a year; some people are on £26,000 a week, but they are rather different—the debate really ought to start at what you have left after your rent. The state of the private housing market, and indeed rents in the public sector, is not the fault of people who have to live in these houses. There is a scandalous situation in which commercial landlords are ripping off people—indeed, they are ripping off the state, if people are getting housing benefit—by charging ludicrously high rents that are not justified by the cost of maintaining those properties but that are what the market will bear. If the Government and the rest of us want to do something about the state of the private housing market, we should look at housing policy and perhaps at the way in which the private housing market works. But that is a different issue all together. It is not the fault of the people. To try to do this—to try to force rents down or to try to regulate the markets and move people around the country by capping the benefits of the people living in those houses so that they can no longer live there—is penalising the tenants when the people who ought to be penalised are the landlords.

I have digressed a little from child benefit. I apologise for that. Child benefit, as my noble friend and others have said, has always been a non-means-tested benefit that goes as of right to families with children. It has always been paid on a per capita, per child, basis. That is a fundamental principle. The first child gets more nowadays, then each child after that gets the same, in order to assist the work of bringing up that child. To abolish child benefit, which is what is actually being done in this Bill, for people who are at the benefit cap and who are getting other benefits that take them up and beyond that cap, as is highly likely, is a fundamental attack on the whole principle of child benefit.

This ought to be resisted. Your Lordships ought to resist it, and we really ought to ask the Government very seriously to think again on this particular issue.

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Baroness Howe of Idlicote Portrait Baroness Howe of Idlicote
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I am grateful for being put right. However, I still have differences of opinion with my noble friend Lady Flather.

However, my amendment was very much part, alas, of all the other amendments that have been debated. I have listened very carefully and, having had the benefit of being in the Chamber the entire time, I have been fully appraised before deciding which amendment to support and which not. The general impression that I have got from these debates is that there is a great feeling about families and about doing the best for children whatever household they are in. It is for that reason that I was happy to table the amendment for London—London Councils kindly provided me with the material—because London is such an obvious area where you have extremes of very expensive accommodation and fairly poor areas where it is not as easy to survive if you are living on benefits and are among some of the more disadvantaged and disabled.

All three of my amendments relate to the same issue which is why it is better to address them all together. If the Government want a benefit cap that fairly reflects average earnings, it would be logical and just for the cap to reflect geographical variations, not only in wages but in other important living costs such as those related to accommodation and childcare. The amendments would require the Secretary of State to take account of these variations: the average weekly cost of private rented accommodation, the average weekly cost of childcare and average weekly earnings.

By way of background, the most recent evidence regarding these factors shows that, as regards accommodation, London has the highest average private sector rents in the country at £222 per week. That is more than 36 per cent higher than the national average. Childcare in London and the south-east is at least 20 per cent higher than the national average. For example, a nursery place for a child costs an average of £113 per week in London and the south-east compared with the national average of £94 per week. Earnings in London are £31,935 compared with £26,133, a 20 per cent difference.

What would be the impact of the Government’s proposals on the benefit cap? Independent research by Navigant Consulting, commissioned by London Councils—I should emphasise that London Councils is a cross-party organisation speaking on behalf of all London boroughs and the City of London—has estimated that the impact on London of the proposed universal credit cap would be as follows. A total of 73,000 workless households would experience a shortfall in their benefits against living and housing costs. In aggregate, the cap would produce a loss of £8.2 million per week for workless households and more than £427 million per annum across London. There would be a significant impact on families with children and on larger families in particular. While less than 3 per cent of households without children will find their accommodation unaffordable, that rises to more than 30 per cent for families with children. The average weekly loss across London for households affected by the cap is £105.

The majority of the London boroughs are already reporting that a significant number of households are having to move home as a result of changes to housing benefit caps. That has led to an increase in the number of homeless households placed by boroughs in bed-and-breakfast temporary accommodation. The use of temporary accommodation recently reached a three-year high after 25 quarters of reduction since 2003. Now almost 1,500 families are living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in London. That effect will be replicated elsewhere and will undermine efforts to retain and build sustainable mixed communities, a point that has been made very effectively by others in other debates. There is a genuine concern that reductions in benefit entitlements for workless households may lead to an increase in child poverty and safeguarding issues. With children and young people's services already stretched, the fear is that vulnerable children might slip through the net.

The Government have argued that they need to cap household benefit entitlement in order to reduce the £20 billion deficit bill and to return fairness to the welfare state. Of course, both of those objectives are laudable and entirely understandable. However, simply fixing a national limit and attempting to apply it across all households, regardless of variation in individual circumstances, is not only unfair but it is also likely to usher in a host of unintended consequences. We have heard about many of them in previous debates so I shall not go into the detail of those.

The cost of life's essentials varies from place to place and family to family. One does not expect to pay the same to rent a two-bedroomed home as a four-bedroomed home. One does not expect to pay the same to rent a home in the south-east as one might in the north-west. If the welfare system is genuinely to support people and households, surely it is only fair that any support matches, in so far as it is possible, the scale of the challenges facing households, which, so often, through no fault of their own, find themselves in high-cost areas. I hope that the Government will agree to these very reasonable amendments.

I would like to stress that I hope that the Minister will agree to meet London Councils and go through some of its real concerns about this issue. That would reflect on whether I might wish to bring this matter back at Third Reading

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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My Lords, I would like to add some of my concerns about the impact of the benefit cap in London. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, has set out very clearly and eloquently all the facts and figures and I certainly do not wish to repeat them. I shall pick out one which is particularly relevant to me.

The level of rents in London means that families with just two children will be subject to the cap in many parts of inner London and also in some parts of outer London, including Newham, Haringey, where I live, and Hounslow. I am concerned about the impact of this on mixed communities, or looking at it the other way, one might refer to social segregation as poorer families are moved out of expensive areas. This is a very particular issue in London in terms of social cohesion. It also puts pressure on public services. I think that London Boroughs is right to be worried. The migration and concentrations of workless households in some areas will potentially have significant implications for the full range of local authority services. Boroughs with an inward migration of households are likely to face significantly increased service pressures very quickly and with very little time to plan for them in relation to unemployment, poverty, housing and so on. On the other side of the coin, boroughs that experience reduced demand for such services—again very quickly and without time for planning to adjust—will certainly face challenges and costs in adapting to different, if reduced, demands.

Families, particularly larger families, will be very much affected. In London it will also affect families with two children. I share the concerns that have already been voiced by the noble Baroness opposite. I also hope that there will be an opportunity to meet the Minister and London Councils to discuss further the sort of measures that could be put in place to mitigate some of the harsher implications that I have just set out.

Lord McKenzie of Luton Portrait Lord McKenzie of Luton
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My Lords, I start with the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. I find them confused on a number of levels. I should explain that during Second Reading—the noble Baroness referred to my comments about not wishing to hear what she said again—she said that Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities have lots of children because of the money. I objected to that and I thought I objected in about as gentle a way as one can, without being rude, and that is consistent with how we do business in this House.

The noble Baroness has just made reference to Luton and supposed problems there. I know Luton well; I live there. One of the strengths of Luton is its great diversity. We have a range of communities and—I almost called him my noble friend—the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, would attest to that as well. Having diversity brings challenges but also joy and I believe that is a great strength of Luton. I do not believe the proposition that people in any community, particularly the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, have lots of children because they believe it will be beneficial in terms of child benefit. If people had children only on the basis of a cost benefit analysis, I suppose there would be no children at all, given all the challenges that come with them. My experience of communities in Luton, particularly the Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian community, is that there is great aspiration for their children. If you sit down with people, you hear them speak with pride about their children just having qualified as a doctor, or a lawyer, or even some as an accountant, which brings particular pleasure. I honestly do not see the picture painted by the noble Baroness.

Technically, it seems to me that the amendment that she moved is flawed. As I understand it, the “relevant amount” is that which is based on estimated average earnings and effectively sets the level of the cap. It does not, therefore, specifically include amounts in respect of children. If it were based on income, rather than earnings—depending on the definitions—of course it would. It could, for example, involve child benefit, but this is not how the Government wish to proceed and it is not how they have constructed the cap.

Universal credit will be, as we have discussed, an in-and-out-of-work benefit and we still do not know what the cut-off point will be for those treated as in work. Perhaps the Minister can give us an update on that. Presumably the calculation of earnings would not include any amount of universal credit. If the noble Baroness is arguing that an award of universal credit should involve reduced amounts for third and fourth children, in terms of the cap, of course, that would clearly lessen its impact. However, the family cap of £26,000 applies regardless of the number of children in the household, so larger families are likely to be particularly affected, as we have just discussed. Estimates are that 80 per cent of the households likely to be affected by the cap will include three or more children. We know from the DWP impact assessment—certainly the original one—that children from BME groups are more likely to be disproportionately hit by the cap. It would seem that what the noble Baroness intends would drive these families further into poverty and that is not something that we could countenance or support in any way.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, introduced some interesting amendments. Certainly the issue of the impact on London, particularly of high rents, featured in our earlier discussion and that is recognised. The broader issue of whether one could have benefits constructed on a regional basis is a very wide debate—we would be unwise to tick that through tonight—although we should recognise that it is done, for example in local housing allowances done on a local basis, structured by reference to local market areas.

Welfare Reform Bill

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Monday 23rd January 2012

(9 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Drake Portrait Baroness Drake
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My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 60B, the purpose of which is to exempt from the benefit cap family and friends carers who are bringing up children whose parents cannot do so. These are children who would otherwise be in care and this community of carers is looking after a population well in excess of 200,000 children.

Family and friends carers may be disproportionately affected by the benefit cap as they are likely to be living in larger households because of taking in a sibling group, particularly if they have children of their own living at home. It is not uncommon for a kinship carer to be looking after four, five or six children. As a result these families could immediately be up against the cap. Grandparents Plus research finds that 10 per cent of kinship carer households consist of five or more people. While in most of the country carers receive benefits that are less than £500 a week, in parts of London people with larger families are already paying upwards of £400 a week in rent. The cap would leave these future kinship carers with less than £100 a week to cover all their family’s, including their new family’s, needs.

Around one in three kinship carers gives up work to care for children when they move in. Almost half of these children have emotional and behavioural problems or other special needs or disabilities. In about half of cases their parents are misusing drugs or alcohol. Bringing up someone else's children is enormously emotional and a big financial commitment, yet only a minority of carers—around a third—receive an allowance from the local authority. In the present financial climate, local authorities are even more reluctant to pay kinship carers allowances.

No one sets out in life to become a kinship carer. People do it because they do not want to see their grandchildren, their younger siblings or their nieces or nephews, or children who they know well, taken into care. Often, giving up work is not a choice for them. They are told by social workers or by other authorities that the children will be put in care or placed for adoption if they do not do this. Children who are cared for can be of any age, not just in their early years. Kinship carers are not entitled to an employment break when a child or children first move in and can face significant financial disadvantage as a result of having to give up work. If they are older, they may find it difficult subsequently to re-enter the labour market.

An unintended consequence of the benefit cap is that fewer family and friend carers may volunteer in difficult circumstances, increasing the number of children taken into care as a result. This would be more expensive from the point of view of the state and certainly not in the child's best interest. It costs £40,000 for one child to be in an independent foster care placement for one year and I understand that there is already a shortage of 10,000 foster carers.

The argument that imposing a benefit cap on larger families will discourage people from having more children has no resonance or behavioural leverage for family and friend carers, who are taking on other people's children. A benefit cap can have no positive incentive at all. Rather, it is a disincentive to kinship carers, who save the state significant amounts of money and provide a better solution for the child. Which of the three choices identified in the impact assessment do kinship carers take to mitigate the impact of the cap? Do they go to work, reduce their expenditure or move to cheaper accommodation?

Kinship carers may have to give up work as a condition of assuming responsibility for the child. Grandparents Plus has many examples of grandparents being told by social workers that unless they give up work, their grandchildren will be taken into care. They cannot mitigate the cap by going to work because they then hurt the child. Often, kinship carers want to stay in work, but this may not be an option if they want to take over the responsibility for the child. They may have their own children to support and moving to cheaper accommodation would seem to punish those who voluntarily embrace the responsibility for somebody else's children, often in difficult circumstances.

Children moving into kinship care because of serious family difficulties need stability, and if the carer has to move house to reduce housing costs that will be highly disruptive and mean that children have to change schools. It may mean that the local support networks, on which the kinship carers rely, will also be disrupted. This places further strain on carers, who are already under enormous stress because of the family difficulties that the children they are taking on have endured. Even more than for other parents, community links with families, neighbourhoods, friends, churches and community groups provide vital support to carers who are often bringing up children who may be traumatised.

The amendment covers only carers who are looking after children who would otherwise be in care and under a relevant order. There is no possibility that exempting these kinship carers would result in any sort of perverse incentive for people to go round sweeping up children in the hope of claiming that they are caring for them and accruing additional benefits.

At the risk of repeating myself, I will go back to what I said in Committee and quote the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith. If his words are compelling, as I said in Committee, why should I use alternatives? He said:

“The state has become ambivalent about the importance of family structure … the role of the extended family … in a context of growing family breakdown, it is all the more important that we continue to support … and hold together these wider relationships”.

Unless family and friends carers are exempt from the effect of the cap, the state will move from ambivalence to antipathy. In referring to exempting people from the cap, the Minister said in Committee on 23 November:

“We have … been very careful in providing exemptions and deliberately kept the list short”.—[Official Report, 23/11/11; col. GC 415.]

I simply ask that the short list includes family and friends carers. That protects the children and certainly makes fiscal sense.

I acknowledge that the Minister has recognised the valuable role that kinship carers fulfil and that he has committed to looking at a range of issues affecting this group—an important commitment that I accept and I know that he will keep to it. But it remains uncertain as to what the noble Lord intends and this may be my last chance to argue the case for this community before the Bill leaves this House. It is important that a decision on whether individual carers are exempt from the cap should not be left to local discretion. People who are thinking of taking on something as significant as the care of vulnerable children need a degree of certainty about the support that they can expect.

In response to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the Minister used words to the effect that, “Kinship carers are a special case and we need to get it right in regulations. Families need a period to adjust to looking after troubled children”. I would like to push him on that sentiment. As I said, this may be my final chance to argue the case for the valuable job that this community of carers delivers. Will he accept the amendment or agree to include an exemption from the cap for family and friends carers under regulation? Not only is the case for the carers and the children compelling, but it also makes fiscal sense to exempt them.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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My Lords, I support the amendment that has just been moved so powerfully and comprehensively by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake. Having myself moved a similar amendment in Committee, I do not wish to go over the same ground that she has, save to say that there is a powerful case for providing an exemption from the cap for grandparents, older siblings, aunts, uncles and other family members who are raising vulnerable children because of very difficult family circumstances such as parental death, alcohol or substance misuse, imprisonment, severe illness, disability, abuse or neglect—the list goes on and on. Children living in the care of family and friends are often exceptionally vulnerable and have already suffered huge disadvantages and traumas in life.

As the noble Baroness clearly put across, one consequence of the benefit cap that I am sure is unintended is that fewer family and friends may step forward as carers in these difficult circumstances, and the cost to the state, particularly if more children go into care as a result, would be considerable. To amplify that point, I shall mention a few statistics that the Family Rights Group was good enough to share with me from an internet survey that it has just conducted—the largest survey of family and friends carers in the UK—with 500 respondents. The survey’s findings show that: more than 16 per cent of respondents were raising three or more children, both kinship children and their own; 11 per cent of respondents were in private rented accommodation and 28 per cent in housing association or council rented accommodation; 29 per cent received housing benefit; 31 per cent had given up work permanently when taking on kinship children while 14 per cent had given up work temporarily; and 20 per cent of the children that they were raising had previously been in an unrelated foster care placement. I think this puts some flesh on the bones of this particular issue.

I know that my noble friend the Minister was very sympathetic in Committee to this issue and has written in very sympathetic terms to the charities which are most involved. I very much hope that he has some reassuring words to give us tonight.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town
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My Lords, rather like the amendment which we discussed earlier on carers, this amendment will, as has been spelt out, protect another unappreciated group: grandparents and other family members or friends who take on the care of children. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, has just told the House, we know that the Minister is sympathetic to this group, which includes many children who have experienced significant traumas before their move to a new caring family.

The Who Cares? Trust estimates that a quarter of these children have lived with abuse, neglect and violence, and a quarter will have been deserted by their parents, often after drug and alcohol abuse. About 60 per cent go to grandparents after family breakdown, one in 10 after a parent’s illness—often mental illness—and one in 10 after the death of a parent. Applying the benefit cap to these families may leave them facing the difficult choices, of which we have already heard, about whether they can simply afford to carry on taking care of the child or children.

As we know, the impact assessment tells us that a family will lose about £93 a week. That is a substantial chunk of income. That may not be very much to Sir, or Mr, Fred Goodwin, but it is a fortune to some of these families. Should any of them decide that they can simply no longer afford to continue looking after the child, that will, as we have heard, create significant costs for the state. With regard to kinship carer allowance, there are estimates that if just 5 per cent of those currently in the care of family or friends were in formal foster care, that alone would add £500 million a year to the cost that the Minister would have to justify to his friends in the Treasury.

The Minister has spoken many warm words about the role played by kinship carers. He has also told us that the benefit cap is primarily intended not as a deficit reduction measure but to change behaviour. Indeed, his right honourable friend the Secretary of State told the BBC that the cap was aimed at making lives better by reducing dependency. We are not talking about dependent claimants here. We are talking about dependent children, who, after some great trauma or difficulty with their own parents, desperately need the kindness, care and homes offered by these grandparents, siblings, aunts or friends. We should be very careful that the Government’s laudable desire to reduce dependency for one group does not have dire effects on the well-being of another.

Given that the cap is not about deficit reduction, so we are not sending the Minister off to arm-wrestle with Her Majesty’s Treasury, we hope that he will try to turn those warm words into concrete protection. It has been suggested earlier this evening that maybe there is a little bit of movement to come. I look forward to hearing from him.

Welfare Reform Bill

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Monday 28th November 2011

(10 years ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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My Lords, I rise to support and speak specifically to Amendment 113B, to which my name is attached. In doing so, I remind the Committee of the interests which I have in the Register, in particular that I was a non-executive director of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, having stood down from that position shortly after my introduction to the House. I am also a former chief executive of the National Council for One Parent Families, which has now merged with Gingerbread. I am very grateful to Gingerbread and other organisations for their briefing.

It is a huge disappointment to me that this issue has come at the end of the Bill because, along with the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, and many other noble Lords, this is one of my favourite subjects. Frankly, I could happily talk about child support for a very long time. However, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, is looking sternly at me, I shall limit my remarks to only one of the amendments and then speed on to allow him to offer an infinitely more informed view.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, has explained why the amendment is necessary. In particular, it would re-establish the notion of the objectives that are currently the main objectives of the commission, which will disappear as a result of its being abolished and brought back inside DWP as an executive agency. No doubt in due course these will become objectives of the Secretary of State, but I want to explain why it will be a problem if they vanish altogether from legislation.

At the moment, the commission’s main objective is to maximise the number of children who live apart from one or both of their parents for whom effective maintenance arrangements are in place. There are two subsidiary objectives, the first of which would encourage the support and the “making and keeping” by parents of voluntary maintenance arrangements. The second would support the making of and compliance with statutory arrangements. A further objective of the commission is:

“The Commission shall aim to pursue, and to have regard to, its objectives when exercising a function that is relevant to them”.

Not only must it do that but it must also have regard to those objectives in deciding how it discharges its various responsibilities.

As the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said, Maria Miller, in the House of Commons, as I may now say, has said that the Government remain committed,

“to maximising the number of effective … arrangements”.—[Official Report, Commons, Welfare Reform Bill Committee, 24/5/11; col. 1103.]

That is welcome but I should like to explain why it is not enough. When I was a member of the board, we discussed and debated the priorities of the commission, what we should do and how we should do it. We came back repeatedly to the objectives set out by Parliament. Those were very much in front of us at all times.

If we were tempted to forget them, the very able civil servants who worked for the commission and the department would remind us of them at relevant moments, which they were right to do. They carried considerable weight. In fact, they carried far more weight than the assurance of the Minister of the day—distinguished though he was, of course. It is right that the objectives set down by Parliament should carry more weight than the views of any Minister who happens to hold office on any particular day. That is what Parliament is for. There is a big diminution in weight in moving from having clear objectives set out in legislation to having simply the assurance, however welcome, of the Minister of the day.

CMEC was beginning to make some significant improvements. It was created in 2008. Last year, 970,000 children benefited from child maintenance, including more than 100,000 from private arrangements, which must be due considerably to the CMEC option service and the fact that the commission had a statutory obligation to go out and pursue private arrangements. In March 2008, the figure was 750,000, so there was quite a big jump.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, mentioned possible cost reductions of the order of 30 per cent. This is important because—I am sorry to bring this to the attention of noble Lords—there are people with suspicious minds who fear that the Government’s primary aim is to save money, rather than to move to a better system of child support. Like other noble Lords, I would not dream of having any truck with such a notion. But perhaps the Minister could help Members of the Committee to make sure that they are in a position to understand and to rebut these claims when they are made by people outside this Chamber.

It is important because, if there is no broader objective to maximise the number of effective arrangements in place, Ministers might feel that they have done their job simply by deterring people from using the statutory system of child maintenance. They do not have any obligation to make absolutely sure that those people are going elsewhere and making arrangements, rather than simply not making any arrangements at all. If the Minister were willing to accept that this is an important objective, he could reassure us all. In the absence of that, there is a very real danger that these charges will come to be seen—we will go on to discuss them in detail—not simply as a means of raising money but primarily as a means of deterring people from using the statutory system in order to save considerable amounts of money in administration to the state. Frankly, it is hard to see how savings of the order that have been described by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, can be achieved otherwise.

I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, has given the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, the opportunity to step into the breach on so important an occasion. Should the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, hear at any point someone saying, “I am right behind you”, I suggest he takes a look behind him to be sure that that is true. I am delighted to see him at the Dispatch Box on such an important occasion. Perhaps he will take the opportunity to reassure the Committee, first, on whether the Government accept the content of the amendment. Are they committed to maximising,

“the number of those children who live apart from one or both of their parents for whom effective maintenance arrangements are in place”?

Is the principle acceptable? If it is acceptable, is he happy to put this into legislation? After all, it is likely that the Official Opposition are supportive since it was their Bill which brought these words into legislation in the first place. If we are all in agreement, perhaps this happy outbreak of unanimity can be celebrated by having an amendment accepted in Grand Committee. I look forward to that. If he is not able to do that, will he explain why not, what he believes the consequences will be and how else we can go out and give assurances to the cynics in that difficult world?

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 113B. In so doing, I declare an interest. I am currently the chief executive of Relate, which provides a wide range of services to separating families. I am also part of an advisory group of people from the voluntary sector which advises DWP Ministers on what a network of integrated support services might look like. From that point of view, it is important that that is clearly stated on the record.

I want briefly to support the case that has been put forward by my noble friend Lord Kirkwood as to why it is important that we incentivise non-resident parents to engage in the gateway process, as well as parents with care. There are two points I want to make. First, the gateway and the application charge—and I know that we will come to the charge in a later grouping—bite at the moment on parents with care wishing to use the statutory child maintenance system. The aim of this is to incentivise them to try to negotiate a voluntary agreement with the other parent instead. I support that. It is right and proper, where it is practical, that incentives to do so are built in. But there is no equivalent mechanism pushing the non-resident parent actively to engage in the process of trying to reach a mutually agreeable arrangement. As the legislation is currently constructed, it is only after a parent with care has paid an application fee of £100 and a statutory calculation has been made that any incentive will be given to the non-resident parent to reach a private agreement. That is basically very unfair.

My second point is a more positive one: the gateway stage is an opportunity for meaningful conversation between both parents. It aims to explore the scope for reaching collaborative arrangements, to assess what help either or both parents might need in order to arrive at such arrangements and to signpost and refer one or both parents—and, indeed, the children involved—to suitable provision and the help that exists for separating parents and families. Non-resident parents who are responsible for paying child maintenance should, I feel, be especially involved in this process.

I conclude by saying a couple of things that come very much from my experience at Relate. It is very important to children that both parents after separation continue to be involved as co-parents of those children. The relationship between the adults may be completely and utterly at an end, and indeed new relationships may well have been formed; but for that child, the active involvement—of course, where safe—of both parents is absolutely critical, emotionally, in practical ways, financially and in a range of other ways. It is critical that these new arrangements, however they are finally constructed, put the maximum possible incentive on both parents to see how they can discharge their responsibilities to be effective co-parents after separation—a responsibility which I think that most of us think is for life.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
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My Lords, I, too, shall speak in support of Amendment 113B, although what I have to say is also relevant to Amendment 113DA in the next group. I, too, thank Gingerbread for its help.

I want to concentrate on how Clause 131 in particular, coupled with the wider government proposals to charge parents for use of the statutory child maintenance scheme, will disproportionately impact on women who, according to the Government’s own analysis, make up around 97 per cent of parents with care who are eligible for child maintenance. It seems very surprising that, at a time when the Government are worrying about the erosion of their support among women, particularly so-called C2 women, they should be proceeding with a policy on child maintenance which will unfairly impact on this group.

The Government say that the new gateway and the proposed charges are intended to drive behavioural change—yet again—yet in the brief circulated last week, the DWP acknowledges that a significant proportion of parents will not be able to collaborate and that there are circumstances where there will be no reasonable steps that they could take. Therefore, echoing a question I asked last week in relation to the benefit cap, what behavioural change are they trying to achieve in such cases? Is it really fair to subject this group to charges, particularly in the name of behavioural change?

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Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Portrait Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope
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My Lords, just for completeness I shall speak to Amendment 113E. I will be grateful if the Minister will respond to the prospect of, if everything else fails, having a waiver system for low-income families facing some of these fees. I want to know whether the Government have thought about this carefully and looked at the operational and other implementation arrangements that might be necessary. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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My Lords, I would like briefly to add a few comments to those that have been made so powerfully around this Committee. We have heard some moving quotes today, but the one I want to give is not from someone who has been part of this process as an end user but from Sir David Henshaw who, back in 2006, came up with the report that is often cited as being the genesis of the idea of charging. We have heard his name referred to on a number of occasions as his policy has been explained. Sir David Henshaw himself recognised the limits to charging when he said:

“I do not want to create a disincentive to use the service for those parents who have no other option for agreeing maintenance”.

We know, because DWP estimates tell us, that about half of all eligible families have no child maintenance arrangements at all. The danger is that even more children in poorer families will go without child maintenance as a result of the proposal to charge the parent with care. This is my final point, which I want to link to the one I made on the previous group of amendments. Not only will the children be worse off—we have heard some graphic and moving accounts of the real hardship that some children could be in—but more will grow up without a role model of a father who contributes, however modestly, to the cost of raising his own children.

Lord McKenzie of Luton Portrait Lord McKenzie of Luton
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My Lords, like all noble Lords, I am indebted to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, for tabling the amendment. His being in tandem with the noble Lord, Lord Newton, is an irresistible combination. I do not envy the Minister having to reply.

There have been some powerful and moving contributions. I should start by putting clearly on the record where we are in relation to charging. It has been suggested that what the Government are bringing forward is just based on the previous Government’s proposals, but that is not so. It is absolutely correct to say that charging is permitted under the 2008 legislation, which is supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. But that is enabling legislation like so much of this Bill. It certainly did not envisage proposals such as those advanced by the coalition Government. It should be recognised of course that there were charging arrangements under the original 1991 legislation, but I believe that that was stopped in 1995 because the CSA was not delivering.

Our position on charging is clear. It is reflected in the White Paper entitled, A New System of Child Maintenance, dated December 2006. It cites in part what the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, has just said and makes reference to Sir David Henshaw.  Paragraph 5.48 states:

“We recognise the importance of having a charging regime that does not dissuade vulnerable and low-income parents with care from seeking maintenance in the first place. Therefore, the future charging regime will be based on three clear principles. First, that the charging structure should incentivise non-resident parents to meet their responsibilities. Second, that the clear burden of charging should fall on the non-resident parent and not the parent with care. Third, that cost recovery for C-MEC should never be prioritised above payment of outstanding debt for the parent with care”.

Those provisions were not debated particularly extensively when we considered the Bill in 2008, although there was some discussion. At that time, we made it clear that it was for CMEC to advise and recommend to Ministers the detail of any charging regime but that such advice would be subject to CMEC’s overarching objective of maximising the number of children benefiting from effective maintenance arrangements, a point made by my noble friend Lady Sherlock a short while ago.

Although the clear focus on any charging should be on the non-resident parent, CMEC was not precluded from considering a small application fee to both non-resident parents and parents with care where voluntary arrangements might be more effective for them. We also made it clear that any charging structure should not commence until the service was fit for purpose and that this would not be before the launch of the new scheme then planned for 2010, which I think is now planned for 2012.

The Government have proposed a range of charges, including an upfront application fee of £100, which would be reduced for parents on benefits, and an ongoing collection charge on both non-resident parents and parents with care. The latter would be avoided for each if maintenance direct were used. However, whether maintenance direct is a secure and sustainable method of payment is wholly dependent on the non-resident parent. The Government’s proposals for charging fall foul of our criteria in a number of respects. An upfront fee of £100 is bound to act as a deterrent for lower-income households. It is payable not only in circumstances where a voluntary arrangement might be possible but in circumstances where it is not, for whatever reasons. That seems highly likely to increase the prospect of circumstances where no maintenance arrangements are entered into. Penalising parents with care with a collection charge, which depends on the NRP acting responsibly, is wholly unjust. The proposals allow for a reduction in the case of those on benefits but there is no exemption. Neither is any relief proposed for the collection charge.

That is why we are fully supportive of the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord. In short, it states that there will be no fees charged to parents with care where they have taken all reasonable steps to enter into a maintenance arrangement and it is not possible or appropriate to do so. There may be a multiplicity of reasons why it is not possible or appropriate to do so, some of which are particularised in later amendments. My noble friend Lady Sherlock has just spoken to one, as indeed has the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. In such circumstances, the only prospect of obtaining arrangements is the statutory system. There should be no charge which precludes this, which is what the noble and learned Lord’s amendment seeks to secure.

Amendment 113E, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, seeks to introduce a reduction or waiver of fees where the income of a parent falls below prescribed levels. We have already indicated why we consider an exemption to be appropriate, although we acknowledge that the scope of Clause 6 is already wide enough to accomplish this.

Amendment 113EA has been spoken to powerfully by my noble friend and sets down circumstances where voluntary arrangements would clearly be inappropriate. The Government, I am sure, will be sympathetic to this given that they already acknowledge that individuals experiencing domestic violence will by-pass their new gateway.

Government Amendment 114 prompts me to raise questions relating to issues of enforcement. Can the Minister give an update on the various measures contained in the 2008 Act, including the use of deduction-from-earnings orders; regular deductions from accounts; lump-sum deduction orders; orders preventing avoidance; administrative liability orders; disqualification for holding or obtaining travel authorisation; curfew orders; and disqualification from driving? Can he say which of these are in force? If it is about getting sensible arrangements, it is also about making sure that those people who are responsible non-resident parents meet their commitments. We put in place a raft of enforcement measures which should have facilitated that and I would be grateful for an update on their progress.

Welfare Reform Bill

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Monday 21st November 2011

(10 years ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for Work and Pensions
Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds Portrait The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds
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My Lords, as we come to the consideration of the cap on welfare benefits, the amendments in my name in the next two groupings concentrate on the needs of children. They are concerned not with the existence of the cap but with the way in which it operates for families with children.

Amendment 99ZA in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, makes families with children a specific category within Clause 93. The clause currently has no reference at all to children. The distinction that it makes is between single people and couples, yet children are most deeply affected by any restriction of benefits. My amendments are an attempt to find ways in which families with children can be helped to care for them where there is unemployment or circumstances which make the parents dependent on benefits.

I am particularly indebted to the Children’s Society for its Good Childhood report on the condition of children and the pressures on them in this country. I am also indebted to it for its work to ensure that children in deprived families are protected from the effect of capping and that the capping arrangements do not damage the needs of children and the way in which they grow up in our society. As the Bill stands, children are disproportionately affected by the cap. The Children’s Society estimates that some 210,000 children will be affected by it compared with some 70,000 adults.

The amendment promotes fairness because it compares like with like. If we are to set a cap for families with children, that should be compared with working families with children—probably those with someone working more than 16 hours a week, as suggested in Amendment 99ABB. That fits with, for example, the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s remarks at the 2010 Conservative Party conference that the cap should be at the level of the earnings of the average working family. I believe that most of us would see an average working family as meaning a family with children, whereas household earnings include those of childless single people, for example. This simple alteration in Amendment 99ZA could remove something like 25,000 children from the cap.

Linked in this group of amendments are those seeking to produce a fair definition of income. Amendment 99ABB aims to relate the cap to the income of working families rather than simply to their earnings. The principle behind the cap is that households should not be better off living on benefits than they would be in work. Income, for a family that is in work, includes, for example, child benefit or council tax benefit. If we are looking for an equitable comparison, then it is the amount that comes in to the household which is relevant, and not simply that which is on the payslip. To replace earnings by income, as Amendment 99ABB suggests, could remove some 38,000 children from the effects of the cap. Again, the concern is with provision for the growth, development and support of children as they grow up within our culture, and those who need the support of a welfare system as they grow up.

The last of the amendments in my name in this group concerns the maths by which “average” is calculated. The word “average” contains a studied ambiguity and I hope the Minister will be able to enlighten us as we look at this. At present, Clause 93(8) gives freedom to the Secretary of State to choose what he means by an average. That seems to me to be a slightly Humpty Dumpty-ish way of looking at the whole issue. It is unsatisfactory because it causes uncertainty. The mean, which is what is proposed by this amendment, is what, in my experience, is normally meant by an average. The figures are added up and then divided by the number of people concerned. It is like a cricket batting average, where the number of runs is divided by the number of dismissals to get the average. The other common so-called average is the median—the middle number. If you have a cohort of 1,000, it is number 500 in that 1,000. That is a remarkably arbitrary figure because it takes no account of the way in which there may be clustering at one end or the other of the total number of 1,000 in that particular example. However, it might well tempt future Secretaries of State, since at least, as figures are at the moment, it would be lower than the mean under current calculations. It may be that exploration could pursue a trimmed mean, which omits the highest paid 5 per cent and the lowest paid 5 per cent of working households when calculating the mean. We need some definition of average if this clause is going to make sense.

These are simple amendments, which do not challenge the basis of the benefits cap. They acknowledge the cost of bringing up children, which is at the heart of the need for family income. They recognise the struggle of parents unable to find work as they seek to care for their families. They could be crucial in helping to avoid plunging children back into poverty. I hope that the Government and the Minister will be able to explore some of these possibilities. I beg to move.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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My Lords, I should like to explain why I decided to add my name to the excellent amendments that have just been put forward by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. I, too, was indebted to the work of the Children’s Society, which did an excellent analysis in this area. I understand the rationale for a benefit cap. I am not trying to say that I am against it; I understand the arguments about promoting fairness between those in work and those receiving benefits, and indeed the need to reduce the cost of the rapidly growing benefits bill as part of the overall deficit reduction strategy. My concern, though, as I looked at the numbers, at who would be affected and at the types of families that would be affected, was the implications for some of the most vulnerable families, particularly families with children. I shall say a few more words about that.

I was very taken by the analysis of the Children’s Society that showed that children would be disproportionately affected by how the benefit cap is currently constructed. While it is estimated that some 50,000 households will have their benefits reduced at the moment by this policy, it has also been estimated that over 200,000 children will be affected and up to 80,000 of those could be made homeless.

The composition of the households that are likely to be affected is interesting. The figures are one-third couples, two-thirds single women—generally single mothers—and about half will also be disabled. Indeed, 60 per cent of the households likely to be affected live in London, where housing is more expensive, particularly people living in private rented accommodation. Various ethnic groups will also be particularly affected, when they have larger families.

The first consequences of the benefit cap, unless it is possible to look at constructing it in a different way—perhaps using one of the approaches suggested in these excellent amendments—will be families having to move very abruptly to cheaper areas. This risks children moving school in the middle of a year, thereby disrupting their education and their social networks. It also risks families splitting up, and I shall come back to that point. It could have adverse consequences on kinship carers—family and friends—which is why in the next grouping I am moving an amendment on that point. I also feel that families who will be able to continue to pay the rent will have less money left for other essentials such as food and clothes, which will therefore contribute to child poverty. For families who are not able to pay the rent, are evicted and become homeless, this will be a parlous situation. Children are a priority group for council housing so this is likely to lead to additional pressure on temporary accommodation costs, adding to the cost pressures on local authority budgets. We have heard quite a bit about this in recent months.

There is then a very real danger, which has had virtually no attention, that children at risk will simply disappear from view. This raises real child protection and safeguarding concerns for me. We all know the very tragic stories of children who have disappeared from view and what happens to them in the very worst circumstances. We must ensure that the benefit cap does not, however inadvertently, have that consequence.

Then there is the reduction in what I call mixed communities, as poorer families are forced to move out of an expensive area. As I said earlier, this is particularly the case in London. Not only will it create very undesirable ghettoisation but there will be pressure on public services in ways that different bits of different boroughs will find difficult to deal with. For example, the concentration of workless households in some areas has significant potential implications for a wide range of local authority services. Boroughs that have an inward migration of households are likely to face severely increased service pressures such as demand for school places, the impact of unemployment, poverty and poor housing conditions, whereas in contrast other boroughs will experience reduced demand for such services but will themselves face challenges and costs in adapting very quickly to these different demands.

The point that I should like to finish on, which I feel particularly passionate about—perhaps because I am chief executive of the country’s largest relationships support organisation Relate, which is a declared interest—is the inherent couple penalty currently built into the benefit cap. This has had very little attention so far, but it will affect couples substantially more than lone parents. Indeed, it has been suggested by experts in the field that the cap will introduce one of the most substantial couple penalties ever seen in the benefits system, so it could have the perverse consequence of breaking up families as well as deterring people from entering new relationships and forming new households. Surely this couple penalty is completely at odds with the Government’s, and indeed the Prime Minister’s, very clear stance on wishing to support strong and stable family relationships. I am sure that this is an unintended consequence and has not been thought through, but we need to look at this.

Finally, the impact would be particularly keen where two lone parents decide to move in together, particularly if they both had children from the previous relationship. Such couples could then find that they would be far worse off by moving in and forming one household rather than living as two separate households. I will not detain the Committee’s time any longer, but I just wanted to explain why I feel that having some in-depth discussion of an alternative way of constructing the benefit cap is so vital.

Lord McKenzie of Luton Portrait Lord McKenzie of Luton
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My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Best, wishes to speak.

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Lord Best Portrait Lord Best
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My Lords, I am speaking to Amendments 99AA, 99AB and 99D. We now return to housing matters. I have already made the point that it is high housing costs that so often will push families over the cap. High housing costs do not of course equate to housing quality. A £350-a-week two-bedroom flat in outer London can be to far lower standards than an £85-a-week three-bedroom council house with a garden in the north-east, yet the outer London family in Newham has only £150 left within the £500 cap after paying their rent while the well housed family in the north-east has £415 left to meet other needs. I have argued for the housing cost element in the benefits received to be taken out of the equation to create greater fairness. That change would render several of my amendments in this group redundant, but I turn to them none the less.

Amendment 99A calls for a period of grace for those affected by the new cap during which the claimant would remain entitled to full benefits. Only after this period—my amendment suggests 26 weeks—would the total benefit cap be applied. Without this concession, many families in private rented accommodation in the south of England will see the benefits for their housing costs cut, forcing them to look immediately for alternative housing elsewhere. Current housing benefit regulations allow for a 13-week period of grace from restrictions on the rent that they have been paying independently up to that point, so the claimant who could afford to pay the rent until they lost their job will get that rent covered in full for 13 weeks even if it breaches the maximum levels of local housing allowance. A longer period is allowed for households that have suffered bereavement. For them there is a 52-week period of grace. It seems entirely right that a proper safety net should be available to a family that faces a sudden change in circumstance to give them a chance to get back on their feet.

It is generally agreed that an important function of the benefits system is to provide such a full safety net for those suddenly hit by redundancy or relationship breakdown. If, from the very day that such a drastic change of circumstances has struck, the family has a substantial shortfall to find between their benefit for housing costs and the rent that they must pay, then a major setback becomes a real crisis. How much better to give the household some weeks to secure a new job, or indeed to move home without having to present themselves as homeless. How much more cost-effective to give people the opportunity to get back into work rather than having to move the family to another area where rents are lower and jobs likely to be scarcer, all the while accumulating rent arrears and seeing the chances of a settled life with a proper job taken from them.

If they are going to have to move to a cheaper part of the country, at least they must have time to make all those arrangements and, hopefully, secure employment in the new place. We all know that the cap is intended to reinforce the message that work pays and a life on benefits is not sustainable, but it will affect newly unemployed households that have a strong desire to work but have lost their jobs because of factors outside their control. Rather than penalise people who are doing all they can to make a swift return to employment, the arrangements should see people through a difficult period so that they can re-establish themselves for the long term.

Where relationship breakdown and the loss or desertion of the main breadwinner is the trigger for the benefit entitlement that is now to be capped—the DWP’s impact assessment shows that more than half the households affected by the cap are likely to be headed by lone parents—a precipitous application of the new limit seems likely to lead simply to homelessness. This compounds the harm and distress experienced by the children. Surely it makes more sense to allow those lone parents to look for a suitable job following separation, make arrangements for childcare—so often relying on grandparents, who themselves will need to make new arrangements—and get back on their feet in a sensible way, and to ensure that for the children the loss of a parent is not followed by the loss of a home.

At the same time, a breathing space allows those responsible for paying benefits to untangle the complexities, calculate entitlements in relation to tax credits and other exemptions and handle the administration. With local authorities continuing to look after housing benefit during the interim period before the universal credit arrives—at least six months—there is already enough opportunity for delay in handling these claims. The period of grace would help those paying the benefits as well as those receiving them. I am confident that the Minister will be able to respond positively on this one, as it seems in no one’s interests to deny families the breathing space in receiving the benefits that sees them through a bad patch, rather than forcing themselves into a crisis—into homelessness and, in all likelihood, into long-term worklessness.

My second amendment in this group, Amendment 99AB, seeks to exempt homeless households in temporary accommodation from the overall benefit cap. Again, this would be redundant if my earlier amendment to exempt all housing benefit from the cap was accepted. It is therefore a fallback amendment. It seems anomalous for those placed by their local authority in temporary accommodation, quite often outside their own borough and already in the cheapest neighbourhoods, to be penalised for paying too much for their housing. Such households have no choice over the accommodation that they occupy and therefore cannot seek to reduce their housing costs or cut their cloth to suit their means. Local authorities are already restricted in their choice of where they can put those deemed to be homeless by restrictions on the housing benefit payable for temporary accommodation. The housing benefit subsidy will not cover more than the local housing allowance, less 10 per cent, using the previous marker of the 50th percentile. Councils then charge an administrative fee of £40 a week in London or £60 elsewhere, which is added to the household’s housing benefit claim. The total rent payable in relation to the homeless household will be higher for temporary accommodation of this kind and therefore, alongside the family’s ordinary benefits, is more likely to take them over the proposed total housing benefit cap.

An additional complication is that at present the Government’s Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities prevents councils from arguing that a homeless household should use other benefits to top up the payment for their rent. This is an understandable restriction, since the state believes that the income of families for their subsistence living should not be reduced below a minimum level. This means, perfectly reasonably, that councils securing accommodation in the private rented sector for workless homeless families cannot turn to the families themselves to meet any part of the rental shortfall caused by the extra cap.

Already inner London authorities such as Westminster City Council are exporting homeless households to outer London boroughs. They will have to work within tougher constraints in future, but it is hard to see the sense of placing an overall benefit cap that reduces the benefit for housing costs for these homeless families. They are already being moved away from support networks—friends, grandparents et cetera—and penalising the family by cutting their income to the point when they cannot afford the accommodation to which they have been sent would seem to place both them and the council that sent them in an impossible position.

Is the idea that the local authority, having accepted responsibility for the homeless household, will be expected to support the family financially to stay in the temporary accommodation to which they have been sent? While such an arrangement would enable the family to remain there, the extra costs falling on the local authority would seem a very unfair transfer from the DWP to local councils. Or is the intention that the local authority must make arrangements to ship homeless families still further away, with all the logistical problems that implies?

Wherever families are sent, the costs of temporary accommodation are going to be high in relation to mainstream private renting and considerably more than social housing rents. Those placed in bed and breakfast accommodation cost an average of £325 per week back in 2008-09 across the whole of England, so moving people long distances may not achieve very great savings in these particular cases. It will certainly make it more difficult for people to find work in areas where they do not have local knowledge and contacts. The move is bound to disrupt children’s education; Shelter has found that 43 per cent of parents in temporary accommodation said that their children had missed some school and one in 10 had children who had lost out in a school place entirely. Moreover, because the maximum level does not rise according to the number of children in the family, as we have heard so clearly today, it is not clear that there is anywhere in the country to which the local authority could send a homeless family if it comprised several children. I know that the Government are planning changes to temporary accommodation funding for 2013. I hope that this presents an opportunity to overcome the incompatibility between the high cost of procuring temporary accommodation and the new overall benefit cap. Perhaps the Minister could reassure us of the position on that.

Amendment 99D in my name seeks to exempt people living in supported or sheltered housing from the extra benefit cap. This seems a fairly obvious exclusion when one thinks about it. Specialist housing for individuals and couples with support needs, usually provided by housing associations or charities, is clearly much more expensive than plain housing with no extras. Service charges will push up the total that is eligible for housing benefit. However, this housing has been created specifically to help those with particular needs in a cost-effective way. If people had to leave, it is improbable that they could be accommodated more cheaply elsewhere. No purpose would be served by imposing a cap that forced out vulnerable people who would have to be rehoused immediately at higher cost somewhere else.

This change seems an essential measure. For example, it would cover couples in sheltered housing where one person is below pension age, even if the other is well above it. It would also cover those younger people who are not eligible for disability benefits of any kind but who have experienced a range of traumas and vulnerabilities and who are being helped to seek training or employment, but who are not yet work-ready and need the continuing help of specialist supported housing for a little while longer. Once again, this small amendment would become redundant if the overarching principle was accepted that housing costs, which vary considerably from one household to another, should be taken out of the calculation of the cap.

I conclude where I began: the benefit cap is very often about cutting support for housing costs. However, housing benefit and local housing allowance have already been the subjects of serious reductions, and the imposition of the additional total benefit cap seems likely to have grave consequences. Removal of the housing component would address a good number of the unforeseen circumstances and represent a triumph of good sense. I look forward to the Minister’s response to my amendments.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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My Lords, I add my support to the two amendments in this group to which I have added my name. I shall speak to Amendment 99AAA, which stands in my name, on the issue of kinship carers.

Amendment 99ZB, already moved very cogently by the right reverend Prelate, would remove child benefit from the calculation of the cap. There is much that I should like to say on this but in her recent contribution the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, made a very powerful case about the unfairness of including child benefit in the calculation of the cap. Frankly, there is little that I can add other than to say that if the Government were to accede to this amendment, there would be not just huge applause but real consensus around this table that children should be protected, whatever happens to adults. Whatever is thought—and probably not shared—about the perceived shortcomings of adults, children should always be protected.

Amendment 99C deals with the exemptions of particular groups from the benefit cap. This is the subject of Amendment 99AAA in my name regarding kinship carers. I will be very brief but I want to say a few words about why kinship carers are so important. A kinship carer might, for example, be an uncle, aunt or grandparent who takes in children from other members of the family to avoid that child going into council care, with all the trauma and expense to the state that that creates. The purpose of this amendment, which is essentially a probing amendment, is to see whether the Government indeed intend to exempt family and friend carers from the cap. The architecture is already there; Clause 93(4) provides for the introduction of regulations to make exemptions to the cap, and the amendment would include family and friends carers among those exemptions.

Welfare Reform Bill

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Tuesday 13th September 2011

(10 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Portrait Baroness Morgan of Drefelin
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My Lords, like many in this House, I, too, support welfare reform. I accept that it is very difficult indeed and I am keen, like others today, to do what I can to promote an important debate on the Bill and to ensure that, following the passage of the Bill, there are no unintended adverse consequences for the quality of life of those that it seeks to serve. In particular, like the noble Baronesses, Lady Hollins, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, and Lady Hollis of Heigham, and, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, in his very important letter in the Times yesterday, I am very concerned about the intention to introduce a one-year time limit on contributory employment and support allowance for those in the work-related activity group and the proposed increase to a six-month qualification period for the personal independence payment, alongside an additional six-month prospective test, which is, of course, as we know, an increase on the three-month qualification period for DLA. For the record, I declare an interest as chief executive of the research charity Breast Cancer Campaign and, like many here, I have a very strong personal interest, as a carer myself, in the welfare of cancer patients.

When considered together, the introduction of a time limit on contributory ESA alongside the six-month qualification period for personal independence payment seems almost to create the perception that there is, perhaps, only a brief window of time in which disabled people not in the very tightly-drawn support group require support. This, I believe, is very far from reality. These are two vital benefits with the time limits or the requirements being either introduced or becoming more significant at different ends, time limits for which it is hard to comprehend the rationale and where there appears to be limited understanding of the implications.

On looking at the limit on contributory employment and support allowance, the Minister has said that he believes it is not appropriate for employment and support allowance to be a long-term benefit for those in the work-related activity group. As the replacement for incapacity benefit, it was intended to be so only for the most severely ill or disabled people placed in the support group, for whom work is not a viable option. I question the premise that everyone in the work-related group should be assumed after only a year either to have found employment or no longer to be in need of support. I question the premise that it is appropriate to move ESA for these people towards the approach taken to jobseeker’s allowance. I do not accept that this was the settled intention at the time when the benefit was introduced. We have to remember that access to the support group is very tightly-drawn indeed. Had it been clear when the support group was identified that this would be the endgame, there would have been great deal of distress at the time.

As we have already heard from noble Lords in all parts of the House, Macmillan has done an excellent job in setting out the barriers which people with cancer face and which impact on their ability to return to work, although, of course, many try very hard to do so. The physical and psychological effects of cancer and its treatment are well known in this House and include pain, fatigue, often nausea and fever as well as all the additional costs involved in living with cancer, such as the costs involved with treatment, attending hospital, parking, which is expensive, and transport to attend hospital to undergo radiotherapy. These costs are all well understood by noble Lords. The majority of cancer patients need continuing support beyond a year, so who will miss out in the future? Macmillan Cancer Support has said that 75 per cent of people with cancer need the support provided by ESA for longer than 12 months and that a cancer patient could lose their employment and support allowance benefit when it becomes means tested if their partner earns more than £7,500 a year. These are very worrying points.

In addition, the initial qualifying period will increase from three months under disability living allowance—many noble Lords have touched on this—to six months under the personal independence payment scheme. Are we saying to people that they will not be considered sufficiently in need of help with the extra costs arising from disability to qualify for the personal independence payment within the first six months of the need arising despite there also being a requirement to meet a six-month prospective test? What is the purpose of extending this qualifying period from three months for DLA to six months for PIP? The Government have not been very clear about that, although I will read the Minister’s speech very carefully. The Government have suggested that the rationale behind extending this six-month wait is to bring eligibility in line with the long-term definition of “disability” under the Equality Act 2010. However, if we look at the definition of “disability” under the Act and the subsequent regulations, this justification does not stand up. While it is the case that for the majority of disabled people covered by the definition of “disability” in the Act there is a need to meet a long-term test, paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 to the Act, headed “Certain Medical Conditions”, states:

“Cancer, HIV infection and multiple sclerosis are each a disability”.

That is a strict definition. This provision by which people with cancer are automatically deemed disabled in accordance with the Act is confirmed in the guidance to the Act as well. That guidance states:

“The Act states that a person who has cancer, HIV infection or multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disabled person. This means that the person is protected by the Act effectively from the point of diagnosis”.

Therefore, if the Government intend to align their provision with that in the Equality Act, this is a very poor point of comparison.

Will the Government review the eligibility for PIP for people with cancer and other sudden onset conditions? If there must be a qualifying period, at the least a move towards a three-month initial qualifying period followed by a nine-month prospective test seems more humane and more people focused. As the Minister said in his eloquent opening remarks, our aim should be to focus less on arbitrary process.

Finally, I wish to raise a concern that has been raised with me by CLIC Sargent about the impact of the disability living allowance reform on 16 to 18 year-olds. We must not lose sight of the needs of young people in this age group with cancer. Can it be right that young people in this age group are being treated as adults in the move to the personal independence payment? We need to remember that DLA is at present the only benefit available to young people with a health condition such as cancer, whatever their situation. They, of course, are much less likely to have the financial independence that adults may have. I hope that the Government will think very carefully about reviewing the position of young people with cancer.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Rix, I have many concerns about a whole host of issues covered by the Bill. I look forward very much to working with others in Committee to improve the Bill.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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My Lords, I support many of the objectives of the Bill, in particular the Government’s stated aim of simplifying the current, highly complex welfare benefits system and increasing fairness within it. I fully accept that for most people work is the best route out of poverty and that work must pay and be seen to pay. Therefore, I welcome the simplification of the system that will result from the introduction of universal credit and congratulate Ministers on the progress that they have made so far.

That said, I have a number of serious concerns about the impact on families and children of the changes to the benefits system, particularly the hardship that they will create for some of the neediest and most vulnerable. As with any changes to a hugely complex system, some of the consequences may be unintended, but—from my reading of the Bill—others are part of the policy intent. For this reform package to achieve widespread support it must both look and feel fair. I want to highlight, therefore, some areas which I think are socially unjust and seem to fly in the face of the Government’s other commitments to be family-friendly, to reduce child poverty, to tackle intergenerational disadvantage by early intervention and to promote social mobility.

There are many areas that I should like to talk about but in the limited time available I shall focus primarily on the impact of the benefit cap on children and families. This policy is designed to ensure that a household on benefits does not receive more income than the average working household. I understand the arguments for this, including the importance of creating incentives for work and promoting fairness between those in work and those receiving benefits, as well as the need to reduce the rapidly growing benefits bill. As we have already heard, the cap on benefits for out-of-work households is expected to be set at around £500 per week per household for couples and lone parents. The Government estimate that approximately 50,000 households will be affected by the cap, losing some £93 per week on average in benefits.

At the level at which the cap is currently set, there are serious risks in the policy which may not be properly understood and which have so far received too little public debate. What are the facts and figures? Of the 50,000 households whose benefits will be reduced by the policy, the majority will be families with children—often large numbers of children—and those who live in areas where housing costs are high. The Children’s Society, whose work is highly respected, recently estimated that the number of children affected could be more than 200,000, and that 80,000 children could be made homeless. Thus the cap will have a disproportionate impact on children. How can this be fair?

It is instructive to look at the nature of the households most likely to be affected. Broadly speaking, they are one-third couples and two-thirds single women—generally single mothers. Ninety per cent have children and 60 per cent will have more than four children. What type of communities will be most affected? Certainly, people living in places such as London, where housing is more expensive, will be affected, as will some religious and ethnic groups, as they tend to have larger families, and people in private rented accommodation. What is likely to happen as a result of the cap being set at this level? Families will be far more likely to have to move abruptly to cheaper areas, which risks children having to move school, possibly in the middle of the year, thereby disrupting their education and their current support networks. Families could end up splitting up—they may indeed decide to create two households instead of one, as both parents would then be entitled to up to £26,000 in benefits.

Two groups yet to be mentioned are foster carers, who perform such a socially valuable and vital role, and kinship carers, who might be an aunt or an uncle taking in a child from another member of the family to avoid the child having to go into care, with all the trauma and expense for the state that that creates. These people, too, may be disadvantaged. I understand that the Government are planning to make special provision for foster carers to recognise their unique role, and I look forward to hearing the details from my noble friend the Minister, particularly in relation to housing costs.

Families who can will continue to pay their rent, of course, but they will have less money to spend on food, clothes and other essential items. Families who will not be able to pay the rent may be evicted and become homeless. Children are a priority group for council housing, so that will lead to pressure on temporary accommodation. There is also a very real danger of at-risk children simply disappearing from the scene. That, as we all know, has real child protection and safeguarding issues. I would very much welcome hearing from Ministers what plans the Government have to ensure that that does not happen and that we do not have another tragedy as a result.

Finally, there will be a reduction in mixed communities, as poorer families are moved out of expensive areas. That is particularly likely to be the case in London. That may lead to social segregation between the rich and the poor which would be worrying in terms of social cohesion and pressures on public services in some poorer areas.

In summary, the cap as currently set impacts disproportionately on children, large families, women and various black and ethnic minorities. The last two groups, as we have already heard, are already having a tough time in a tough jobs market. A little discussed fact that has not been raised so far is that the benefit cap will affect couples substantially more than lone parents. Indeed it could damage incentives to enter into new relationships—for example, for two new lone parents thinking of living together and setting up a household—and it could risk breaking up families, a matter very close to my heart as chief executive of the charity Relate, which is a declared interest, and to the heart of the Government. Surely this couple penalty is an unintended consequence of these reforms. I welcome hearing the Minister's response on that point.

Like others, I am deeply concerned about the reduction in financial support to an estimated 100,000 disabled children under the universal credit, to young carers where a child is trying to look after a sick or disabled parent and the proposed reduction in support for childcare. There is no time for me to go into any detail. I would simply say, as other noble Lords have said, that support with childcare is a hugely important issue, particularly for those on benefits who need to enter the jobs market at this difficult time.

There are a number of ways in which we can mitigate some of the concerns that I have highlighted in relation to the benefit cap, particularly the level at which it is set. Those would include calculating the figure using average earnings of families with two or more children, various grace periods and transitional arrangements, perhaps linking the cap to levels of conditionality set out in the work-related requirements of the Bill and perhaps exempting certain benefits from the calculation of the cap. I look forward to hearing my noble friend's response to these points.

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Portrait Baroness Campbell of Surbiton
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My Lords, we have a mighty task on our hands. I apologise for not staying for the marathon of this debate and I thank the House, and especially the Minister, for letting me go home to bed early.

None of us are in any doubt that the welfare system is in need of reform, but we must do it with care. We have to do it with wisdom and, more importantly, reliable information—people’s human rights depend on it. It is my greatest hope that this noble House will do its very best to scrutinise and amend the Bill away from ill considered political demands and media pressure.

The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, has definitely demonstrated his desire to create a welfare system that enables all kinds of people to live with dignity and make their contributions to society. I believe that he wants a fairer, simplified system, which motivates more disabled people to take paid work and be active citizens. I am grateful that he has fought hard to taper benefits and to negotiate with the Treasury not to reduce the budget, especially that for access to work. Unfortunately, I fear he might have been less successful in his work on DLA, which is the area of the Bill that I will concentrate on today and in even more detail in Committee.

I should declare an interest as a DLA recipient. During the past 30 years, DLA, which in the olden days was called attendance allowance and mobility allowance, has enabled me to pass many milestones. Without it I would not have attended university. I used it to pay the cleaner to get me up in the morning and to put me to bed at night. That was the only allowance I had. I used it to get a job and to stop living with my parents—in short, to live independently. Along with millions of other disabled people, I will be affected by this Bill. The allowance was given to me for life and I am about to have my assessments again—I already have 25 other assessments. That is something to look forward to.

If disabled people are to be independent and take on responsibilities like work, they must be given an equal playing field. Equality legislation alone will not provide this. Providing financial support to disabled people to be equal citizens has been a fundamental principle demanded from successive Governments over my lifespan. It has lifted us from being passive recipients of care and welfare to independent people with life opportunities. It is a cultural shift that has resulted in fulfilling relationships, education, work and greater happiness for millions of British citizens.

Something must be desperately wrong to cause these same citizens to write so many letters and e-mails to Members of this House, begging us—yes, begging us—to reconsider the proposed replacing of DLA with personal independence payments. We reform to make people's lives better. So are they right to feel so scared? To be honest, I still do not know. There is so little detail regarding this reform.

Last week, I joined colleagues on the Joint Committee on Human Rights for a visit to Essex Coalition of Disabled People. The visit was part of our inquiry into independent living for disabled people, which will provide a good measure for this reform.

At this point, Baroness Grey-Thompson continued the speech for Baroness Campbell of Surbiton.

ECDP is a large, regional, disabled membership organisation, a centre for independent living. It has a remarkable record of involving and listening to large numbers of disabled people. It tailors its services to respond to the needs, wishes and experiences of those disabled people. One if its members, Hazel, was able to give the JCHR insight into the fears produced by the changes proposed in this Bill.

Hazel described her life as funded by a fragile construction of different benefits, a personal budget and voluntary support. She believes she is in danger of losing her higher rate DLA under the new proposals. She told us, “My life is like a house of straws. Once you remove one tiny straw, the house collapses. It's taken me years to feel independent and in control, to feel like an able-bodied person, to be human. If I lose out from the changes, I will stand to lose everything. Where's the sense in that?” All Hazel wants is for her human rights to be respected. Does PIP do this?

Let us start with the term “personal independence payment”. What does this mean? Can the Minister tell me whether his Government see independence as a medical barrier for assessment or a socioeconomic barrier? From what I have gleaned so far, the PIP assessment is largely a functional assessment of one's medical condition. It bears little relation to what many disabled people need to live independently, and largely ignores higher costs of living.

Physical or mental capability has only a small bearing on whether a disabled person is dependent or independent. For independent living to be a reality, a person needs choice and control in their life. Disabled people make choices about how to spend their DLA, demonstrating maximum control over their lives and thus becoming independent. For instance, the mobility component is not just about physically getting from A to B. The money might be used to pay for travel insurance, which can be astronomically more expensive for disabled people than for the non-disabled traveller, thereby inhibiting their mobility. Who on these Benches paid £1,500 for travel insurance to go on holiday this year? I did. That is the average extra cost that people with severe respiratory impairments must meet to go abroad. Assessing functionality can never determine economic inequality.

I ask the Minister to reconsider comments that he made during the 11 May debate on the new PIP assessment. He said that a person climbing Mount Kenya on prosthetic limbs should not be treated as disabled, for they are doing something that many of us cannot do. That is an extreme example, but it can be understood in two entirely different ways. I am sure that it was intended as a compliment and an acknowledgement of personal achievement. However, it tells us nothing about the additional costs of disability that people living with amputations must meet. Some amputees experience periods of excruciating phantom pain during which they are unable to work. Others experience extra costs in the form of transportation and housing adaptations. I am not sure whether the Minister believes that one can cease to be disabled by physical prowess alone.

Many consider appointment to this House to be evidence of accomplishment. Is that sufficient for the Minister to determine that I, too, am not disabled and therefore do not need DLA? Of course not—but that is what the assessment is in danger of leading us to. I do not wish to embarrass the Minister, but I will assure him that DLA has been, and continues to be, vital in enabling me to live independently and work towards my goals. Personal achievement must never be a yardstick against which we measure entitlement.

At this point, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton resumed.

From my mailbag, it is obvious that many disabled people expect to lose their independence. Do the Government believe that returning disabled people to levels of dependence last seen 30 years ago makes good economic sense? Disability Alliance and other notable organisations in the Disability Benefits Consortium have clearly demonstrated the knock-on costs to the Treasury in the form of increased health bills and a drop in revenue from those who will fall out of work. Will the Minister tell the House who is working on the cost-benefit analysis of the proposed changes? Where is their modelling? I ask him not to answer me by directing me to existing impact assessments. It is not there: they tell us nothing about this. Perhaps the impact assessments discussed in the Minister's opening remarks might address this. I am not confident, but I look forward to seeing them.

DLA reform, including the review, has not been co-produced with experts such as the National Centre for Independent Living. The Government have elected to revert to old forms of consultation, merely inviting contributions from such organisations rather than working together. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, expanded on this. I ask the Minister to read again the Government's independent living strategy. Disabled people know better than anyone the solutions to overcoming barriers to independent living and providing a good assessment framework. I ask the Minister to consider re-establishing the DLA/PIP advisory group that was sacrificed during the bonfire of the quangos. Noble Lords will remember the Government's disability rights task force that developed the most successful and significant disability legislation of this century: namely, the Disability Discrimination Act. Without the structure of co-production, I fear that we will be locked into arguments rather than shared solutions.

As I have run over my time, I will finish by saying that the term “personal independence payments” is disingenuous and should be discarded. It is obvious from the PIP proposals so far that the Government know very little about independent living. “Disability living allowance” describes the benefit well. It is about living. Let us keep the title—and keep living.

Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Excerpts
Thursday 23rd June 2011

(10 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in setting up the new Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission; and whether a forward work programme for the commission has been established.

Lord Freud Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, the changes required to establish the new commission are included in the Welfare Reform Bill and we will be able to discuss them during the Lords stages of that Bill. The commission will be established as soon as possible. Until then, the Government’s Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility, Alan Milburn, will incorporate child poverty into his remit. He will then serve as acting chair of the commission until a permanent chair is appointed.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield
- Hansard -

I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply. Is he aware of the OECD research published last week that shows that the UK is faring badly in international league tables in terms of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds succeeding at school against the odds? Will he give an assurance that the commission will look critically at these sorts of issues to see whether the current measures are sufficient to improve the situation?

Lord Freud Portrait Lord Freud
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Yes, my Lords. The OECD report was another useful wake-up call for us in an area in which we have not been doing as well as we should. That is precisely why we have combined our child poverty and social mobility strategies. We need to make sure not just that there are fiscal transfers to address poverty but also that the life chances of children are improved.