HC Deb 17 June 1963 vol 679 cc8-10
8. Dame Irene Ward

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will make a statement on continuing the widowed mother's allowance in respect of children remaining at the age of 18 years at school awaiting their university places.

15. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he is aware of the hardship imposed on widowed mothers of children of 18 years of age awaiting university places by the present regulation relating to mother's allowance in such cases; and if he will now take steps to remove this hardship.

Mrs. Thatcher

My right hon. Friend replied to a similar Question on 20th May, and I have nothing to add to that reply.

Dame Irene Ward

Is my hon. Friend aware that the reply to the Question on 20th May was that the Minister could not give an answer? Would my hon. Friend be kind enough to let me know when the Minister's representations to the Cabinet have received an answer and when I may put down a Question so that we may know that action is being taken?

Mrs. Thatcher

I will naturally do all in my power to help my hon. Friend. Perhaps it will assist her to know that her representations made earlier in the year have made a profound impression upon us.

Mr. Brockway

Is the hon. Lady aware that a very large number of boys and girls are now staying on at school till they are 19 years of age, among other purposes to sit for university examinations, and in these circumstances will she not do something to help their widowed mothers who have great difficulty in maintaining them during that period?

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Gentleman knows that in most cases education maintenance grants are available after the age of 18 and are assessed according to the income of the widow. The scheme which we have to operate gives allowances regardless of means, and at the moment we think the education maintenance grant is a more suitable vehicle.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Minister not realise that it is not the fault of either the mother or the child that they are poor and that they should not be penalised for their poverty? Steps should be taken to ensure that they are not so penalised and that the child is given a proper opportunity for education.

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. and learned Gentleman's Question refers only to those staying at school awaiting university places. A number of other children are also affected. Further, there are amongst recipients of the widowed mother's allowance people whose personal circumstances vary very widely. I could not therefore, agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman's sweeping generalisation.

Miss Herbison

Surely the Minister ought to give some regard to the children of widowed mothers? Is she aware that to draw our attention to the maintenance grants that are paid is of no help at all, since these maintenance grants are decided, at the beginning of the year and if a student becomes 18 before the end of the school year the grants are not received. No National Assistance is paid and no unemployment benefit can be paid until the student leaves school and registers as an unemployed person. Surely something could be done to help people in these circumstances?

Mrs. Thatcher

A great deal has been done by this Government to help widowed mothers. Indeed, the widowed mother's allowance has gone up in the last twelve years from 40s. to 97s. 6d.