HC Deb 13 March 1979 vol 964 cc251-2
6. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will list the number of full-time further education students whose local education authority grants are lower than the social security benefits which they would otherwise receive; and if she will make a statement.

Mr. Oakes

Details of the amount of grant paid to individual students by local education authorities are not collected by my Department.

Mr. Whitehead

Will my hon. Friend consider the problem of how many local education authority students are in the position of my constituent, Mr. Pheasant? His discretionary grant from the local education authority is £7 a week less than he would receive for his wife and child if he remained at home on social security. Is it not ridiculous to penalise people who wish to take educational courses in order to free themselves from the misery of the dole?

Mr. Oakes

I was advised of my hon. Friend's supplementary question only a few moments ago. My Department can find no trace of any correspondence concerning Mr. Pheasant, from the student or from the authority. If my hon. Friend writes to me, I shall look into the matter. But if it is a discretionary award, it is at the discretion of the local authority. Although my Department endorses the advice given by the local authority associations to local authorities to pay at the same level as mandatory awards, few do.

Dr. Hampson

The Minister knows that one can retain supplementary benefit if one is taking a course involving fewer than 21 hours a week, but is he aware that we regard as totally inadequate what his Department is doing to ensure that the Department of Health and Social Security and its local offices give that matter wide publicity? This provision should be used by young people to take marketable qualifications rather than some of the qualifications that these offices encourage them to take.

Mr. Oakes

We have done our best to publicise the scheme that where an unemployed youngster is available for work, and his course which is the key condition, involves fewer than 21 hours a week, he can still receive supplementary benefit.