New Clause 1 — Jobseeker's allowance
Food Labelling Regulations (Amendment)
James Clappison (Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions; Hertsmere, Conservative)
Such places may be available, but the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform conceded in Committee that such places were not available throughout the whole country. The Government looked into the issue themselves and published a Green Paper, which I adverted to earlier following a helpful intervention. In that Green Paper of July 2008, the Government said that they were
"considering whether we could introduce extra activity, as appropriate, when a lone parent's youngest child becomes five and goes to school full time so that preparation for work becomes a natural progression rather than a sudden step up."
The Government's Green Paper thus seemed to view the age of five—the age at which a child starts school—as the natural age to support for these purposes. It was only when the Government moved from that position that we began to look further at the question ourselves. Our amendment legitimately asks whether the balance is being correctly struck. The proposals to require lone parents to carry out work-related activity are right in principle, but is the balance being struck in the right place and is the age appropriate to the requirements? I believe that Government Members should think long and hard about that in the light of the full history that I have set out and particularly when they consider the nature of the regime to which single parents with children as young as three will be subject.
Let me make it clear again that we do not demur from the general principle of conditionality for single parents, or from the proposition that work is beneficial for both parent and child. However, there has to be a question of age appropriateness. We believe, quite simply, that in all the circumstances it would be more sensible if the age of the youngest child for these purposes were set at five, which is, after all, the age for starting school. We think that the Government have not got the balance right; if they press ahead on this, we would have to consider our position.
We will be seeking your leave, Mr. Speaker, to vote on this matter when we have had the opportunity to hear what the Minister has to say. I do not know whether, at this late stage, he is prepared to accept our amendment, but if not we will certainly press it to a vote because we consider that the Government have not got this issue right. It may be that they have wider objectives in mind; I do not know. They may wish to say, as has been implied, that because we do not agree with the Government's original proposals on the appropriate age of the single parent's child, we are opposing the whole of the Bill. If they want to say that, let them; but we are not. We support the Bill in principle, as we have indicated.