Lone Parents: New Deal Interviews

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 1st December 1999.

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Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 2:45 pm, 1st December 1999

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have any plans to call young single mothers with children under four years old for interview under the New Deal, and, if so, whether pressure or inducements will be used to persuade them to go out to work.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Social Security

My Lords, letters inviting lone parents to contact a personal adviser are currently sent to those whose youngest child is over five. The Government have announced that invitation letters will also be sent to lone parents with three and four year-olds. The New Deal for Lone Parents is a voluntary programme. Lone parents are not pressured into looking for work, but many realise that measures introduced by the Government mean that work pays and offers the best route out of poverty for them and their children. Parents with younger children are knocking on our door to come into the New Deal. That is why we are responding as we are.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that helpful Answer. Does she agree that many mothers will be relieved to hear that they will not be forced or encouraged to go out to work? Does she further agree that the interviews might form an appropriate point of contact at which young mothers could be given information about support services for parents and parenting which are available in their locality? Will she consider instructing her department and jobcentres to keep in close contact with the Government's new National Parenting Institute and with the Parenting Forum so that such information can be disseminated in that way?

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Social Security

Yes, my Lords. On the first part of the supplementary question, about 44 per cent of young lone parents who come forward and who come on to the New Deal have children under the age of five. We are responding to that pressure.

The noble Lord is right as regards the second part of the question. I was happy to be present at the launch of the National Parenting Institute yesterday. Research shows that one in two people thinks Britain does not encourage parenting skills. One in three parents would not know where to go for help with family problems. That is why we are launching the National Parenting Institute and following the path suggested by the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Astor of Hever Lord Astor of Hever Conservative

My Lords, what direct evidence do the Government have for their claim that the New Deal is responsible for helping lone parents to work rather than the strong economy inherited from the previous Conservative administration?

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Social Security

My Lords, the lone parents on the New Deal tell us that the New Deal has turned their life around. Of those who come for interview, about 85 to 90 per cent join the programme. One quarter of those have already gone into unsubsidised jobs; others are on training programmes. New lone parents tell us that the New Deal matches their needs. I suggest to the noble Lord that his question is a bit rich, coming from a party which would apparently require lone parents, with children from the age of 11, to go into work or lose benefit, a party opposed to the New Deal, which offers training support, opposed to the minimum wage, which offers a decent return, opposed to the working families' tax credit, which would make work pay, and opposed to the national children's strategy. Perhaps, in the light of that, the noble Lord would like to revise his question.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister take note of a scheme pioneered by voluntary bodies within the City of Westminster? Through it, unsupported mothers can bring their children to a creche while they learn childcare skills which will make them employable. Could that scheme be multiplied throughout the country?

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Social Security

My Lords, any lone parent who comes into the New Deal not only has a personal adviser but access to training up to NVQ1 and NVQ2. NVQ2 is approximately equivalent to A-level. While they are in the New Deal and receive training across local government they are entitled to free child care and access to those courses. Therefore, the City of Westminster scheme is broadly replicated across the country.