§ 9. Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
What further measures he proposes to reduce family poverty in the next decade. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Bayley)
We are committed to eradicating child poverty in 20 years, and we expect to make substantial further progress towards that goal over the next decade. For most families, the best way out of poverty is through work. Measures in the last two Budgets will mean that the poorest families with children will gain more than £1,000 a year.
§ Mr. Mackinlay
Is my hon. Friend the Minister aware that I share his pride in Labour's objective of eliminating child poverty in 20 years, and that I also recognise the wretched situation that the Government inherited after the growth in the disparity of incomes and the considerable growth in poverty during the Thatcher-Major years?
15 Does my hon. Friend acknowledge, however, that studies from the London school of economics and the Child Poverty Action Group show that the laudable objective of eliminating child poverty in 20 years will not be achieved unless there is an accelerated initiative by the Government in their existing programmes and more resources are allocated to the objective, and that if there is no change we will have eliminated only two thirds of the existing poverty? To demonstrate the scale of that situation, I point out that child poverty will be at the same level as it was when Labour left office in 1979. Will the Minister tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer that Labour Members want more resources allocated to achieving that important policy objective?
§ Mr. Bayley
I reassure my hon. Friend that our policies are already making a difference. As a result of tax and benefits measures, the families of 800,000 children who were living in poverty have been raised above the poverty line, and that is just the start. We have set an extremely challenging objective, which is why it will take 20 years of work to achieve it, but the Government are determined to do so.
We have further measures in the pipeline, such as the new child tax credit which will be introduced next April, and the changes to disability living allowance which will increase the incomes of families with severely disabled three and four-year-olds. That is a long-term project, and we acknowledge that it will be difficult to achieve. We are putting large sums towards it—by the end of this Parliament we will have provided an additional £6 billion. The goal can be achieved if we are single-minded in our purpose, and we are.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that there is real, if sometimes hidden, poverty in rural areas, as confirmed by a study last week? Contrary to the Prime Minister's rather rosy view, poorer families in rural areas face difficulties in accessing services and they have additional costs. Will the Minister make sure that his policies directly address that problem?
§ Mr. Bayley
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is indeed poverty in rural as well as urban areas. Hon. Friends from constituencies throughout the country, including my hon. Friends the Members for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn) and for Castle Point (Mrs. Butler), make that point. The Government's policies to attack poverty apply equally in rural areas as in urban areas.
The key reason why poverty trebled when the Conservatives were in power was a trebling of the number of workless households with children. The key policy to attack worklessness is the working families tax credit, which applies in all constituencies, urban and rural. The problem is not confined to the inner cities; it is a nationwide problem that is the legacy of 18 years of Conservative policy, and we have the policies to tackle and reverse it with our strategy to eliminate child poverty.
§ Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)
Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is tremendous support among Labour Members for the Government's objective of countering child poverty? Will he further confirm that, in achieving 16 that objective, the higher that the Government feel it safe to set the statutory minimum wage, the lower will be the cost to taxpayers of the working families tax credit?
§ Mr. Bayley
We have made it clear from the start that the rate of the national minimum wage will be kept under review, and indeed it will.
§ Mr. David Willetts (Havant)
I welcome back the Minister from his visit to the Ceredigion by-election, where Labour went from second to fourth place. I hope that he will be paying many more such visits around the country. I have a simple question for him. Will he give the House a cast-iron promise that the working families tax credit will be delivered through the pay packet from April, as planned?