|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Amendment 11 would require the commission to produce a report in respect of each calendar year, stating the number of malnourished children in the United Kingdom and an assessment of how the level of child poverty has influenced the number of malnourished children. The terms "malnourished" and "level of child poverty" are not defined in the amendment or the Bill, so it is not clear how the commission would go about assessing these levels. It is also not clear what the commission is to do with the report once it is drafted. Leaving these matters aside, like other noble Lords I have sympathy with the noble Lord's intention. The Government are clear that everyone should be able to choose and have reliable access to affordable, healthy and safe food. The barriers to accessing a healthy, sustainable diet are complex, but through initiatives like Healthy Start we are making sure that those on the lowest incomes can access healthy, nutritious food. As I said in Committee, there are other government programmes aimed at improving maternal nutrition, such as the health in pregnancy grant and the Sure Start maternity grant.
I think we dropped my noble friend Lady Hollis a line in response to her inquiry. The answer is that it is not possible to split the grant for the reasons that were set out in that letter, which I cannot immediately bring to mind. I will follow up and write to my noble friend.
The Marmot review, to which several noble Lords referred, considered these matters in some detail and the Government are now considering their response. Until that is set out, it is not appropriate to set out legislative duties in the Bill on issues of nutrition or minimum incomes. However, we support the necessity to consider diet and healthy eating in any effort to tackle child poverty. Health is a key building block that the Secretary of State is required to consider when developing the strategy, under Clause 8(5). Officials in the child poverty unit are working with colleagues across Whitehall, including those from the Department of Health, to explore the links between health inequalities and poverty as part of the work underpinning the child poverty strategy.
In considering Amendment 11 it is also important to note that inadequate income is one likely contributing factor to poor diets, but it is not the only one, since parents' spending decisions, knowledge about nutrition
9 Mar 2010 : Column 188
Returning to the amendment, I am not aware of a dataset that explicitly links child poverty to child nutrition. I do not know if the noble Lord, Lord Freud, with his great knowledge of these things, is aware of one; the Government certainly are not. It is likely that substantial further survey work would be needed to fulfil this amendment. This would be expensive and time-consuming for the commission to formulate and carry out, particularly on an annual basis. This would also significantly impinge on its independence. It might also divert the commission's limited time and financial resources away from other matters that it may wish to investigate and provide advice to the Secretary of State on. I am also not persuaded that elevating one issue over another is the right approach. If the amendment were made, there is a strong risk that the commission would have neither the time nor the resources available to look into matters other than child malnutrition. I do not think we want the commission to be tied down in this way.
Furthermore, if child poverty is seen as the major cause of malnutrition, as the amendment presumes, then the solution is surely to tackle child poverty and monitor and report on poverty levels annually, which is what the Bill sets out to do. This is not to say that the commission will not wish to consider these matters. Indeed, the Bill allows the commission to pursue an independent research agenda, but it should be for the commission to decide where to focus its research and analytical efforts. I hope I have demonstrated that overprescribing what the commission should do is not the best way forward and that the noble Lord will not press that amendment.
Finally, I turn to Amendment 18. I recognise that several noble Lords have spoken to it, even though the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is unable to move it formally herself. The Government announced in the Pre-Budget Report in December that they would extend free school meals to primary school pupils in working families with an income of up to £16,190 in England from September 2010. Clause 25 was added to the Bill during Grand Committee. Although the Secretary of State proposes to make an order extending eligibility to children of primary school age, starting with those at key stage 1 or younger from September 2010 and rolling out to those at key stages 2 and 3 from September 2011, it would be possible to make further orders at some point in the future to extend eligibility to secondary school-age children, if it was felt appropriate. As my noble friend has acknowledged, this would not require further primary legislation.
As set out in the Pre-Budget Report, the Government chose to focus the available resources on primary school children rather than secondary school children. This is consistent with the strategy of early intervention having more impact on encouraging healthy eating habits, which are more likely to be carried on independently at secondary school. While I am sympathetic to the result that this amendment is seeking,
9 Mar 2010 : Column 189
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said that he was going to speak with all the passion he could muster and indeed he did; we know that he can muster considerable passion. He referred to Marmot, whose first recommendation was to give every child the best start in life. What happens during the early years, starting in the womb, has lifelong effects on many aspects of health and well-being from obesity, heart disease and mental health to educational achievement and economic status. A number of noble Lords, particularly the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford, covered that in their contributions, and we agree.
The right reverend Prelate spoke about the Born in Bradford work and research and, in a sense, endorsed the thrust of the Marmot recommendations. I make it clear to him that we want to challenge child poverty through a range of routes and specific targets, which the Secretary of State has a duty to meet over four areas, including material deprivation, which I will come back to. There is also the obligation to produce strategies, making sure that-so far as is practical-people do not suffer socio-economic disadvantage. I am sure that we are going to define that at a later stage.
A range of 21 issues in all, which academics have tried to identify as the dividing line between poor and non-poor families, determine how to look at material deprivation. This includes holidays away from home for at least one week, having family or friends around for a drink or meal at least once a month, two pairs of all-weather shoes for each adult, enough money to keep your home in a decent state of decoration, household contents insurance and a whole range of other things. If we are looking to make sure that we channel and tackle material deprivation then we are not just looking at subsistence levels of income for people; we are very clear about that.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about midwives. The Government have been involved in a very substantial programme of training midwives. I am happy to write to him about that. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, pressed on the extension of eligibility for free school meals in the first years of secondary school. As I said a moment ago, the primary legislation will allow orders to be made to cover secondary school children. Also, given the lone-parent obligations-we are down to the youngest child being seven by October of this year-and the first tranche of the additional free-school meals support for primary schools kicking in in September, there is an alignment at least for those younger children in primary school. I understand the point that my noble friend makes.
A number of noble Lords touched upon the Marmot review. We are working through that at the moment and considering how best to take forward its
9 Mar 2010 : Column 190
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, I am very grateful to colleagues and everyone who has taken part. It has been a high-quality debate. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. I tabled Amendment 11 at the close of business on Friday. There was some confusion about how it relates to Amendment 23. Amendment 23 is not consequential on Amendment 11; I should have made that clear at the beginning and maybe tabled the amendment earlier.
I understand that Amendment 23 is a bridge too far for the Government; Amendment 11 is not a bridge too far for anybody. It is a serious mistake. Over the next 10 years, Marmot and all that will indicate that malnutrition and low-weight intergenerational transmission of poverty will become a much bigger factor than it is today. I am confidant about that. People outside this place often wonder, if you make speeches with passion, what the devil it means merely to withdraw the amendment on the basis of the debate. We have won the argument this afternoon. I am prepared to take my chances in the Lobbies. I beg to move.
"( ) For the purposes of this Part, the definition of "socio-economic disadvantage" is not limited to financial considerations and must, in particular, have regard to international definitions of child well-being."
Lord Freud: My Lords, we are now venturing into a Dadaesque land of the absurd. There are two Bills before the House using the expression "socio-economic disadvantage". Unfortunately, neither defines the term and the responsible Ministers in both Houses have made a virtue of this fact. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said:
"It is partly about basic inequality-that is straight poverty-but it is also about the lack of aspirations and expectations and about the complex interplay of factors such as health, housing, education and family background that so often combine to keep people in poverty and limit their chances of upward ... mobility".-[Official Report, 11/1/10; col. 328.]
Let us say that I am a local official on whom the duty of ensuring that children do not suffer socio-economic disadvantage is imposed. What do I do? I know that I will be reading guidance notes until the end of time because the guide warns me to expect that, but how do I defend myself against the accusation of dereliction? Can I say that I thought that I had reduced socio-economic disadvantage enough-but what is enough? How do I set the duty of reduction against other priorities that might be pressing on me, such as getting a piece of infrastructure built to time and budget? How many forms will I have to fill in to make sure that the buck does not stop with me? How many boxes should I tick? How much case law will I have to study to see how the courts interpret "socio-economic" in the common-sense manner that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, is so confident that they will? I have noticed that one man's common sense is often another's madness.
Therefore, in this amendment I am seeking to pin down what we mean by "socio-economic disadvantage". It seems to me that we are developing a body of indicators about child well-being that may serve the function very well. These are the UNICEF measures of well-being. If we use these as a base, we can assess whether child well-being in the widest possible sense is improving. We can measure our performance and we can target specific actions to improve that performance.
If we combine poverty and child well-being measures, as this amendment suggests, we will really start to get a handle on the problem. This is particularly important because, according to Professor Jonathan Bradshaw of the University of York, we are simply not getting the outcomes in terms of child well-being that our relatively high expenditure on children should obtain. In simple words, we seem to be wasting a lot of the money devoted to our children. The combination
9 Mar 2010 : Column 193
The sad truth is that we do not seem to be doing well on these measures of well-being. The Government may be reluctant to accept the UNICEF-style well-being assessment because they have done so badly on this measure-as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, reminded us earlier this evening. Though the Minister defended the Government's record by arguing that the data were old, the 2007 UNICEF table of 21 rich countries makes sorry reading. We are not half way down these tables; we seem to come out bottom on virtually every measure, including family and peer relationships, behaviours and risk, and subjective well-being. That means our kids feel more miserable than anyone else's. We are only just off the bottom-18th-in education and material well-being.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I want to add a word to what the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said. I too am somewhat concerned about the meaning of "socio-economic disadvantage", particularly because it does not appear in the interpretation in Clause 17-that is, page 10 of the Bill-where a lot of phrases are interpreted.
It worries me that it is not at all clear what "socio-economic disadvantage" means. It seems it means something to do with the deprivation of those matters under Clause 8(5). I respectfully recommend that the Minister at least considers putting in the phrase "socio-economic disadvantage" as part of the interpretation of Part 1 and possibly in Part 2. Then at least those who work with this Bill when it becomes law know what it is they have to target.
Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, we intend to reach the poorest in our society yet we use language they will not understand. What does "socio-economic disadvantage" mean? If someone said to me that children in the United Kingdom should not experience poverty and disadvantage then I would understand what the legislation meant. The people in my previous constituency would understand that.
We have a tendency in this House and the other place of using jargon. For example, when the financial crisis came up, everybody spoke about "sub-prime lending". If they had just said "bad debt", everybody would have known. The dogs in the street would have known but we do not say that. It seems we have in-words so that we can understand. We know what we are talking about but no one else does. If we are trying to reach the poorest of the poor in our communities then we had best use language that is understood, or how can they know that they are the ones we are trying to help?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, to start with, I would never suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, was mad-far from it. On the point of the noble Lord, Lord Martin, and the need to talk to people in language that they understand, he is absolutely right about engaging with people in their terms. We are dealing here with a specific term in a piece of legislation. Not many people are going to go back to the source of the primary legislation. The fact that one wants to and should engage with people in their terms is not of itself inconsistent with having legalese or particular provisions in a piece of legislation.
We debated at length in Committee the use of "socio-economic disadvantage" as it appears in Clause 8(2)(b). Frankly, I thought I made a good attempt then to clarify what we understood the term to mean and why putting more specific wording in the Bill was not helpful. Clearly I have not been wholly successful in doing that so will try again this afternoon.
In doing this, I refer noble Lords to the discussion on the Equality Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Freud, referred. In Committee on that Bill, a similar amendment was tabled that sought to compel a definition of socio-economic disadvantage to be placed in the Bill. My noble friend Lady Royall explained in Committee what the Government meant by the term. My script says I should repeat her words. Given that the noble Lord has pre-empted me on that I do not propose to do so but what my noble friend said on that Bill holds true for this one. Although noble Lords will appreciate the slight difference in context, the concept is clear.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|