Back after a brief, Budget-induced absence…
On Monday I ended up speaking four times in Parliament. I raised a point of order asking the Government where its Child Poverty Strategy, which it’s required by law to produce by the end of this month, has got to (rumour is that it’s not going to be revealed till Tuesday April 5th, conveniently on the day Parliament adjourns for the three week Easter recess). I also did frontbench duties in a Delegated Legislation Committee, on the annual uprating of Tax Credits and Guardians Allowances. I spoke in the Budget debate (more on that in the next post) and I asked a question at DWP questions. Here it is…
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller): All parents have a responsibility to support their families, but we will make it as easy as possible for families to adapt their own working arrangements. The structure of disregards and tapers in the universal credit will make it easier for parents to move into financially rewarding work that they can balance with their child care needs. When the child is very young-pre-school age-one of the parents can always choose to stay at home or to work and, where parents are meeting their responsibilities by working to support themselves and their children, they will have the freedom to decide whether one of them should stay at home.
Mr Burrowes: Does the move towards a single-tier retirement pension that recognises the contribution of stay-at-home mothers signal the value the Government place on the choice of women to give up careers and care for their children?
Maria Miller: As my hon. Friend will know, at the moment parents caring for their children can claim credits for the basic pension, but the credit for the second pension is more limited and has only come in since 2002. Our proposals to put in place a single-tier pension would have the advantage of making one year of caring worth the same as a year of working.
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Obviously, the Minister will be aware that it is not just women who bring up children, and it is often not just the parents, either. I have been speaking recently to groups such as Kinship Carers about the situation that arises when grandparents or older siblings are left with the responsibility of bringing up a child, often having to give up work as a result. What support is available for people in such a situation?
Maria Miller: Obviously, we support the very idea of kinship care. It is an important way in which children can remain in family care when their own parents are unable to look after them. I believe that in April we will bring in some support to help them with their pensions, too.
N.B. David Burrowes’ Q appeared on the Order Paper – I came in on a supplementary, getting a murmur of approval for my opening little sideswipe at him. I think I’m right in saying that Mr Burrowes has six children and presumably a wife who stays at home looking after them while he’s out doing man’s work.
On kinship carers, I think this is an increasingly important issue… there are a lot of grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, out there, bringing up children and struggling with some of the bureaucracy. It can take ages, for example, for them to get child benefit paid over to them, or to be recognised by schools and the NHS as someone with responsibility for the child.
I heard this really moving account on, I think, Radio 4’s MidWeek, last week about a man in his early twenties, who was trying to bring up his younger siblings. I think one parent had disappeared, and the other had died. He’d had to give up work, and basically put his life on hold. Suddenly Social Services swooped, without any explanation, and took the younger children into foster care. They were shifted from one place to another, which was obviously incredibly traumatic after the family circumstances they’d already had to endure. Eventually, after a year of him pleading his case, officialdom recognised that the older brother was in fact perfectly capable of looking after the kids and was the best person to do so…
Of course kids have to be protected, but in this case it seemed there was no evidence at all that they were at risk – just suspicion on the part of the authorities that a young black man was able to take on the role. (I’ve no idea if his race had anything to do with it, but I suspect it was a combination of being young, black and poor that made his job of convincing the authorities more difficult).