Lord John Bird: Why can’t the government create a poverty prevention unit?

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird proposes the creation of a dedicated poverty prevention unit – but Conservative Baroness Buscombe declares it unnecessary

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird has asked why the government cannot put the prevention of poverty at the heart of all departments – but received a mixed response from the Under-Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

In the House of Lords today, cross-bencher Bird asked what steps the government was taking to prioritise their focus on the root causes of poverty and disadvantage.

John Bird in the House of Lords

“Could Her Majesty’s Government move inexorably towards a situation where we could put prevention right at the centre of all the work we do?” he asked. “We know that prevention pays off. We know that when money is spent on prevention, it reaps enormous benefits.

We know that when money is spent on prevention, it reaps enormous benefits

“Could Her Majesty’s Government look at the possibility of creating a Prevention Unit across both Houses and all parties? So that we could at last make sense of the need to prevent people falling into poverty, because too many people are stuck in poverty and are not getting out.”

Whilst “entirely agreeing” that the focus of tackling poverty must be on prevention, Conservative Baroness Buscombe, the DWP’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, said that the creation of a dedicated prevention unit was not required.

“We believe that the way to help people out of poverty is through employment, which is now at a record high level,” she said. “However, one in eight children across the UK still lives in a workless family, and we need to tackle that. A prevention unit is a great idea but the reality is that we can perform that function by working across government, as we are doing, on the strategy that we have now developed within work and pensions.

Baroness Buscombe continued: “New analysis carried out by the DWP shows that children living in workless families are significantly more disadvantaged and achieve poorer outcomes than other children, including those in lower-income working families. [The government policy paper] Improving Lives: Helping Workless Families, published on 4 April, provides a framework for a continued focus on improving children’s outcomes now and in the future.”

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