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James Purnell: I confirm that the hon. Gentleman welcomed the figures because I heard him speak at the End Child Poverty Campaign meeting last week. He said he believed that different methods of examining figures should be used. However, I am not clear from that meeting or his comments today whether he supports the child tax credit or whether he is worried about the means-testing involved, as he said last week.
Mr. Webb: If the hon. Gentleman consults the record, he will discover that I led for the Liberal Democrat party in the debate on the children's tax credit and that we voted for it. There is no ambiguity about that.
Perhaps the Secretary of State would be so kind as to record my comments as representation No. 1 in response to his consultation paper. I believe that we should have a measure of child poverty that permits headline figures, not 50 indicators. The "Opportunity for All" approach and the thick documents that the Government have produced are right to highlight the fact that poverty is multidimensional, but the political sting is taken out of it because they contain no summary of progress. Instead, we get, "This measure's gone up, that measure's gone down, this measure's unmeasurable." The latter is the most common problem with the Government's figures. We want a
The Government are right to have a poverty target that is about one's standard of living relative to society. We do not want to freeze the target in the Victorian or post-war eras. As we become more prosperous, our expectations for our children increase and any good poverty measure should provide for that. The Secretary of State will be familiar with the "Breadline Britain" studies of the 1980s and 1990s. They were not perfect, but they asked people what they needed to be a part of society.
People could grasp the basicsfor example, that children should be able to have a family holiday once a year, and new, not second-hand clothes; that parents should be able to afford to send children on school trips rather than keeping them off sick because they could not afford it. The studies surveyed the number of children who could not get those items. If we track them over time, the list changes. Fifty years ago, having a television was not a necessity, but nowadays a child whose parents cannot afford a television is probably missing out at school. The list changes but a Government who ensure that no child has to live in a damp, draughty house or miss out on a school trip and who make progress on those matters are rewarded.
The Chancellor has been accused of doing good by stealth and putting money into tax credits but hoping that nobody will notice because there is no public support for tackling poverty. However, poverty is defined obscurely. If we defined it in a populist way, many people would say that they wanted their children to have a holiday or new shoes and that therefore they wanted that for other people's children. They would sign up to the expenditure.
I support the Government's relative measure. I should like them to set out a headline measureof course, there will be reams of supporting statisticsfor which the Government can be held to account. I hope that that is a constructive response to the consultation process.
At the risk of deviating from being constructive, I want to draw to the House's attention a line in yesterday's Budget speech relating to the treatment of teenage single parents. It has not attracted a great deal of attention, but it was a rather strange line. It stated that teenage single parents who are not living with their parents should not be allowed council houses. That rang bells, and I have done some research on the matter. In 1996, The Independent referred to a speech made by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) at the Conservative party conference as long ago as 1993. It states that
The question is, what is going to happen instead? What will be the element of coercion in this proposal? Perhaps the Secretary of State, or whoever is going to wind up this debate, could respond to that question. How much coercion will there be? To what extent are existing teenage single mums in council flats going to be forced out against their will? To what extent are the incoming teenage lone parents going to be forced to live in hostel-type accommodation? Are we talking about a small number of units of good-quality, supportive accommodation that will provide a basis for work and child care, or are we talking about large institutions?
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): May I give the hon. Gentleman an example from Aberdeen? The Foyer organisation is a voluntary sector organisation working with the homeless. It takes lone parents and helps them, gives them support, and ensures that they will be able to sustain any kind of tenancy. It also assists them in the job market, helping them into work. It often has to help people to overcome a drug habit, and gives a high level of support to very disadvantaged youngsters in Aberdeen. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has visited it more than once; he complains that we keep taking him there. It is an excellent model of how we should be helping young people to come out of poverty and a dreadful lifestyle and into accommodation and work that they can sustain.
Mr. Webb: We would all agree that that is entirely desirable. Will the hon. Lady reflect, however, on whether that sort of project would work if the lone parents in question had been forced to go there? Presumably they go there of their own free will at present, because they are attracted by what is on offer. The key question is whether lone parents in this position will be enticed by what these schemes have to offer. If so, they will probably be queueing up.
If the schemes are as good as the hon. Lady suggests, if they are to be extended nationwide, and if the money is going to be put in to them, great. People will not need forcing, because the schemes will be an attractive alternative to being left to rot in a council flat. My suspicion, however, is that that is not exactly what is
Mr. Willetts: I might be able to help the hon. Gentleman with the history of this idea. He has referred to discussions that took place on it pre-1997. He omitted to say that the Prime Minister made great play of it in 1998 in one of the Labour Government's classic welfare crackdowns. We get those every few months. At that time, there was a welfare crackdown story on the front page of the Daily Mail, with a signed piece by the Prime Minister, which stated that teenage lone parents should not have houses of their own and that they should all go into hostels. He spun that idea for a week in 1998. Nothing happened then, and we have no reason to believe that anything will happen this time.
Mr. Webb: I am not sure whether I welcome the idea that nothing will happen this time. We have been reflecting on what the Conservatives might have done, had they been allowed to continue. Perhaps they would have taken action on this front; perhaps that is where they were heading. They have not needed to do anything, however, because the present Government have taken up that agenda.