Former Labour minister Frank Field dies aged 81 after cancer battle

Former Labour minister and crossbench peer Frank Field has died aged 81, his family has announced.

Lord Field had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

A statement from Lord Field of Birkenhead’s family, issued by his Parliamentary office, said: “Frank Field (Rt Hon Lord Field of Birkenhead, CH) has died at the age of 81 following a period of illness.

“Frank was director of the Child Poverty Action Group between 1969 and 1979, and the Member of Parliament for Birkenhead between 1979 and 2019.

Former Labour minister and crossbench peer Frank Field has died at the age of 81 (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)
Former Labour minister and crossbench peer Frank Field has died at the age of 81 (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)

“During that time, he served as a Minister for Welfare Reform and led the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances. He also chaired the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee (and its predecessor Committee on Social Services and Social Security) as well as the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill.

“In 2020, Frank entered the House of Lords as the Rt Hon the Lord Field of Birkenhead, was appointed Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in the 2022 New Year Honours and continued to serve on the boards of Cool Earth, Feeding Britain and the Frank Field Education Trust.

“Frank is survived by two brothers.

“He will be mourned by admirers across politics but above all he will be greatly missed by those lucky enough to have enjoyed his laughter and friendship.”

His death comes two and a half years after he revealed he was terminally ill after spending time in a hospice . At the time, he came out in support of an assisted dying bill being debated in the House of Lords, though he was not well enough to participate in the debate.

Frank Field was the Labour MP for Birkenhead for almost 40 years’ (REUTERS)
Frank Field was the Labour MP for Birkenhead for almost 40 years’ (REUTERS)

Lord Field was the Labour MP for Birkenhead for almost 40 years before resigning the party whip over the antisemitism crisis under Jeremy Corbyn. He formed his own party, the Birkenhead Social Justice Party, before losing his seat at the 2019 general election.

Lord Field took his seat in the upper chamber in October 2020 after being elected 10 times to represent Birkenhead between 1979 and 2019.

He served as welfare reform minister in Tony Blair’s first government in 1997 and went on to chair the work and pensions select committee.

The veteran politician was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in the 2022 New Year Honours, describing it at the time as a “terrific privilege”.

The acknowledgement of Lord Field’s public and political service followed a career in which he showed support for causes including pensions reform, ending child poverty and stamping out modern slavery.

He served on the boards of the charities Cool Earth and Feeding Britain, as well as the Frank Field Education Trust.

In a moving moment in the House of Lords last year, Lord Field appeared in the chamber of the House of Lords in a wheelchair to pledge his allegiance to the King.

The former minister waved to colleagues who then shouted “hear, hear” in support of him. He had previously spoken about his determination to take the oath to the King, which all peers are required to do after the death of a monarch.

Tributes poured in for Lord Field from across the political spectrum including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and prime minister Rishi Sunak.

Sir Keir said his death was a “profound loss to politics and to our nation”. “Frank was principled, courageous and independent-minded,” Sir Keir said.

He added: “He cared about the people he served, thought deeply about the issues he championed, and worked entirely for the good of the people of Birkenhead as their MP for 40 years.”

Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said Lord Field “was a formidable colleague and former minister who will be sorely missed”. “He was neither cowed by the establishment or whips - which made his campaigns against hunger and food poverty, for climate change and for the church, even more effective,” Sir Lindsay added.

Former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said: “At Frank’s core was the conviction that poverty was never to be accepted and could be ended. Clever, persistent and caring, he held that argument high across decades RIP.”

Labour former minister Dame Angela Eagle added: “Very sad news. Always supportive of me as his Parliamentary neighbour, brimming with ideas to make society better - a great champion of his Birkenhead constituents: RIP Frank”

Mr Sunak said: “Frank Field was a decent, moral, and thoughtful man.

“He was a great parliamentarian, he made our politics better and raised the level of national debate in this country. My thoughts and prayers are with his family today”.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Frank was a steadfast, highly successful and diligent campaigner against child poverty.

“It is largely down to Frank that we have child benefit today – a truly towering achievement. He gained support and respect from across the political spectrum and defined the concept of the ‘poverty trap’ - now commonly used to describe the difficulties for working people of getting better off while claiming means-tested benefits because of the high rate at which benefits are withdrawn as earnings rise. As CPAG director, Frank also helped pave the way for the minimum wage, free school meals and rent allowances for low-income families, all fundamental social protections .

“Frank was a true champion for children and low-income families and with child poverty at a record high today, families need his like as never before. He will be greatly missed. Our deep sympathy and condolences to those closest to him.”