Financial support for full-time students is properly the responsibility of the education maintenance system, which has been considerably enhanced in the current financial year.
The Minister has ignored my question, which was about the assistance available to students who cannot obtain casual employment during the vacation and who, with their families, will therefore face hardship. I am asking whether the Minister is prepared to give those students some assistance, either through income support or in some other way, when they find that the requests that they make to employers for casual employment are met with the answer, "No, we cannot help you." Will those students be given some assistance for the summer vacation? Can we have a direct answer?
The hon. Gentleman referred to students and their families. Those in vulnerable groups, such as lone parents, student couples with children, and disabled students, will be entitled to access to the benefit system. The role for supporting other students lies with the access funds set up by the Department of Education and Science. To make provision also through the benefit system would be to make double provision. The institutions are aware that access funds should be available not only during term time but during vacations.
Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that many of his colleagues were students in the past? Is it not better to target the available money to the genuinely less well off in society rather than to students who, when they have completed their training, will have the opportunity to earn considerable sums of money as a result of their privileged opportunity to become highly qualified?
I do not dissent from that for one moment. It must be recognised that provision for supporting students has been substantially improved during the current academic year and students in difficulty can fall back on access funds.
Will the Minister acknowledge that the Government's ending of all entitlement to benefit for 16 to 17-year-olds, and the imposition of a lower rate of benefit for 18 to 25-year-olds have pushed more young people, including students, into poverty than ever before? Is he aware that the link between poverty and inadequate diet, ill health and low educational achievement has been conclusively demonstrated in a series of research studies published in the past month? When will the Minister and his colleagues apologise to the House, not just for the fact that poverty has more than doubled in the past 12 years but for the fact that it is now conclusively shown that the main cause of the growth in poverty is the Government's policies?
First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity in bringing 16 and 17-year-olds into an argument about full-time students, which manifestly they are not. Secondly, I deny absolutely that there has been a growth in poverty under this Government. Labour Members' tendentious use of statistics seeking to prove that case has been absolutely refuted by statistics which have been widely available for some time. We are monitoring carefully the impact of the changes on 16 and 17-year-olds, but I still believe that it was bad for society for youngsters to be leaving school and going directly on to benefit.