New Deal (Lone Parents)

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 12th November 2001.

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley 2:30 pm, 12th November 2001

If he will make a statement on the effectiveness of the new deal for lone parents.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Nearly 250,000 lone parents have joined the new deal for lone parents and so far more than one in three participants—just over 100,000—have found work.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and I welcome what the new deal is trying to do, alongside sure start, of which I am a board member locally. What measures is my right hon. Friend considering to assist those lone parents who have been on benefit for some time, perhaps 10 years, and those whose youngest child is of secondary school age?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend knows that the new deal for lone parents has been very successful. The problem has been that there are still too many lone parents who, because the scheme was voluntary, did not come and find out what was on offer. Therefore, the Government have introduced regulations that will progressively require lone parents, beginning with those with older children and moving on to those with children of down to the age of five, to come in for interview and to find out what options are available to them under the new deal. If people live in one of the areas covered by one of the new Jobcentre Plus offices, they must go in to receive advice as a condition of receiving benefit and will therefore know what the new deal has to offer.

The more people who know about the new deal for lone parents, the easier it will be to get people into work. I remind the House that the number of lone parents on benefit has steadily fallen in the past five years. Our job is to ensure that we move progressively towards our target of 70 per cent. of lone parents in work.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Liberal Democrat, Romsey

I hope that the Secretary of State is aware of the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics that show that the percentage of people finding work after joining the new deal for lone parents is falling. Is that a sign that the system is failing, and what will he do to reverse the trend?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I have just said that the problem with the new deal for lone parents is essentially that it was voluntary and that too many people, perhaps for too many years, did not know that initiatives such as the new deal, the working families tax credit and others would help them into work. That is why we have decided to make it a condition of receiving benefit that lone parents will have to come and find out what is on offer. Once people know that they can get help with child care, for example, or that the working families tax credit will increase the amount of pay that can be taken home, many more—who showed little interest until then in finding work—show much more interest. It is just a pity that the party of which the hon. Lady is a member opposed the new deal in the first place.

Photo of Anthony D Wright Anthony D Wright Labour, Great Yarmouth

How many people have entered work through the new deal since May 1997.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Minister (Department for Work and Pensions) (Work)

Well over 500,000 people have been helped into work since we began introducing our programme of new deals in 1997.

Photo of Anthony D Wright Anthony D Wright Labour, Great Yarmouth

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. However, some areas of the country experience unemployment far in excess of the national average. I have had discussions with my local employment office staff and they suggest that the new deal could be more flexible. For example, the six-month waiting time for unemployed people could be reduced to three months. That would have a dramatic effect in constituencies such as Great Yarmouth in reducing the unemployment figures even further.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Minister (Department for Work and Pensions) (Work)

I thank my hon. Friend for the consistent support that he has given to the new deal. As he knows, we keep the matter under review and the regulations governing the different new deals—for young people and for 25-plus—are slightly different, but all the regimes make provision to get those people who need help the most on to the schemes before the normal waiting period.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Following the Secretary of State's earlier argument, does the Minister agree that many of those entering the new deal would have removed themselves from the jobless register anyway, and that the vast majority of effort should be put into the over-50s and the long-term unemployed?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Minister (Department for Work and Pensions) (Work)

I do not accept the argument. All the evidence is that the new deal for the under-25s has meant that around twice as many people have found work as would otherwise have done so.

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition, instead of constantly undervaluing the new deal, should recognise its success? Does he also agree that hon. Members could lead by example by employing new deal workers when they are suitable?

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Minister (Department for Work and Pensions) (Work)

All support for the new deal is welcome. As my hon. Friend has said, it is worth pausing to think about the alternative: under the Conservative Government, about 3 million people were unemployed.