Fresh Lords defeat for government over child poverty measures

Upper chamber pushes for income-related measures to be retained

By Josh May

26 Jan 2016

The House of Lords has defied the government and backed a proposal that ministers should have to report on the incomes of families in poverty.

Last year, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that it would change its measure of child poverty to concentrate on "drivers" of the problem, like worklessness and educational outcomes. That included abandoning Labour’s benchmark of relative poverty as being in a family whose income was 60% or less of the national median.

But, in the House of Lords, the Bishop of Durham tabled an amendment to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill that required ministers to include the benchmarks in an annual report to parliament. The bishop said income-related measures were “a crucial matter that must be recognised and reported on adequately”.

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He had the backing of the Labour frontbench. 

Shadow work and pensions spokesperson Baroness Sherlock said that at a time when ministers were making so many other changes that affected families in poverty, “they should be willing to stand up and account for it”.

Work and pensions minister Lord Freud said adding income figures to the report would be a “symbol of the old world”.

“This is of huge importance to us as we want to move away from these types of drivers and instead focus on the right type of actions,” he added.

The amendment was passed 290 votes to 198 – a majority of 92 – and the Commons now has the opportunity to overturn the Lords’ decision.

The latest defeat in the upper chamber, where Labour and Liberal Democrat peers outnumber the Conservatives, follows a u-turn by chancellor George Osborne last year on his plan to implement major cuts to tax credits, prompted by action in the House of Lords.

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