The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1990Chancellor (1989-1990)

Mr Major’s Parliamentary Answer on Child Poverty – 25 October 1990

Below is the text of Mr Major’s response on Child Poverty made on 25th October 1990 in the House of Commons.

Mr. Leadbitter To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he last met representatives of the Child Poverty Action Group to discuss the effects of the Government’s policies on child poverty.

Mr. Ted Garrett To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he last met representatives of the Child Poverty Action Group to discuss the effects of the Government’s policies on child poverty.

Mr. Major I have not myself recently met representatives of the CPAG, although I am aware of their representations to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary.

Mr. Leadbitter Will the Chancellor consider that between 1979 and 1987, 1.5 million more children were living in families on half the average income; and that from 1987 child benefit was frozen, so its value in real terms this year had fallen by £1.35? Has he got his priorities right, taking into account the fact that people earning £70,000 a year have had tax cuts 200 times greater than families living on £5,000 a year?

Mr. Major There are two points in the hon. Gentleman’s remarks to which I want to refer. It is relevant that the total amount of money now available for child benefit has risen from something under £2 billion 10 years ago to something over £4½ billion this year – a substantial amount.

Of course, the missing element in the hon. Gentleman’s equation about average income is important: the extent to which average incomes generally have risen dramatically and to which the impact of direct taxation has fallen correspondingly. On the greater level – this is what lies behind the hon. Gentleman’s question about family benefits in total – expenditure has risen from well under £2 billion when we took office to well over £5 billion today.

Mr. Ralph Howell Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is no longer acceptable to take tax from people who earn less than a third of the national average wage to give child benefit to the richest people in the country? How much money would be saved if only those earning under £20,000 a year received child benefit?

Mr. Major I cannot immediately give my hon. Friend an answer. It would certainly be a substantial amount, but child benefit is recognised as a universal benefit paid to the mother, and we have no intention of changing that arrangement.

Mr. Boateng Will the Chancellor explain how it is that a Government who purport to put the family at the heart of their policies have presided over an increase by more than a half of families living on or below the poverty line, who now number 6.2 million? How does that square with the party of the family? How does he explain a situation in which targeting the first-born is seen as some sort of a substitute for coherent family policy? There may be an historical precedent for that, but it did not do Pharaoh any good and it will not do the Prime Minister any either.

Mr. Major We return to the definitional point with which we commenced Question Time. What the hon. Gentleman refers to as the poverty line is the level at which social security benefits start. Because we have extended them much more dramatically than the previous Government, more people automatically fall within the statistics.

Miss Emma Nicholson Does my right hon. Friend agree that under the Conservatives payments to the family have risen by more than a quarter while under the previous Labour Government they fell by 8 per cent?

Mr. Major I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, except that the figures are, I think, a little more favourable to the present Government than she said.