Lone Parents

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Security – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th November 1997.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

In July, the Government launched the new deal for lone parents in eight areas of the country. It will be rolled out nationally in October next year. The new deal is a pioneering programme that recognises and backs lone parents' desire to work and it is the first step in our plans to reform the welfare state around the work ethic.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Will the Secretary of State apologise for spinning a story about a one-in-four success rate in the pilot project for the new deal for lone parents whereas, as is revealed in today's The Times, the success rate was one in 20? Is she alarmed by the report from the United States that her policy is doomed to failure while that of the Minister of State is more likely to succeed?

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I shall answer the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question first and then return to the first part.

The Government's position on the new deal is clear. We are inviting lone mothers whose youngest child is five or over to come along for advice and information about seeking work. The previous Government simply told lone mothers to stay on benefit until their youngest child was 16. That policy did not work and resulted in a million lone mothers bringing up 2.2 million children on income support and never seeing the world of work. The previous Government then complained about the spiralling benefit bill. Instead of carping, the Opposition should back our approach to enabling lone mothers to be independent and return to work.

We reported the figures in our first three-months report on this pioneering and innovative programme. In the first eight areas, there is a total of 40,000 lone mothers. We did not expect all 40,000 to walk in the door on the first day. Had they done so, we could not have managed the programme. It is a phased programme and we expect to invite the 40,000 lone mothers in in the first year. Within the first three months, we have invited 8,000 to see their new deal personal advisers, told them that the advice is available and asked them to make an appointment. Within the first three months, 2,000 lone mothers have had appointments.

The response of lone mothers has been to welcome the programme. Employers, too, have welcomed the programme and are offering jobs. The previous Government's approach was simply to leave lone mothers on benefit. Of the first 2,000 women who have been interviewed, four out of five want to continue actively seeking work. The previous Government told them to stay on benefit until their youngest child was 16. Of those who have seen their personal adviser, one in four has a job. Some of those women had been on benefit for 20 years until we offered them advice and support.

That is a welfare-to-work programme in action. I would expect the Opposition to welcome the financial independence that it brings, the help that it offers the poorest children and the cut in the benefits bill.

Photo of Margaret Moran Margaret Moran Labour, Luton South

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the previous Government's abject failure to enable lone parents to return to work was to the detriment not only of those families but of the nation's purse? For example, this year's £100 million housing benefit bill has been escalating. Does she further agree that, by helping lone parents into work, the new deal will release some resources for those in greatest need?

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It was not just that the previous Government left lone mothers on benefit, written off to a life on benefit dependency; worse still, they stigmatised them and used them as scapegoats for all society's ills when they criticised them once a year at the Conservative party conference. The pioneering programme that we have established within six months of coming to office backs lone parents in their desire to work for a better standard of living for themselves and their children. They tell us that they do not want to depend on benefit but would rather work, which is why they welcome the hand up that we are giving them instead of simply a handout.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The welfare-to-work programme and the jobseeker's allowance—particularly the jobseeker's allowance, which is proving a success—have at their heart a compulsory element: they compel people to take up jobs. From recent reports in the press, we learn that that is even being considered for the new deal for lone parents. Will the right hon. Lady come to the Dispatch Box and confirm or deny those reports? Will she tell us whether compulsion will form any part of the new deal for lone parents during the lifetime of this Parliament?

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Compulsion is not the issue for the new deal for lone parents. The hon. Gentleman is muddling up two things. We are clear that when young unemployed people are offered—as they will be by this Government—a choice of high-quality training and work, they will be expected to take up those opportunities and that the option of a life of full dependence on benefit is not available to them. In respect of lone mothers, the hon. Gentleman need only read our manifesto, which says that we will invite lone mothers whose youngest child has started school to meet their new deal personal advisers. Compulsion is not the issue. Lone mothers are being invited in.

Why does the hon. Gentleman raise the issue of compulsion rather than recognise that, after the previous Government left lone mothers on income support until their youngest child was 16, he is now calling for us to go further than inviting them in? I have made it clear: compulsion is not an issue in the new deal for lone mothers. We are inviting them in and the early results are very encouraging.