§ The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)
Benefit can be paid to pupils who have a child of their own; persons who are handicapped and have only poor work prospects, those who are orphans, or those who are estranged from their parents.
§ Mr. Marks
Does the Minister realise that because of the regulations many children will leave school at Easter, a few weeks before they are due to take their CSE examinations? What consultations have there been between her Department and the Department of Education and Science about that? Were education authorities and teachers' bodies consulted?
§ Mrs. Chalker
I am aware of the concern that has been expressed in letters to me. I assure the hon. Gentleman that about 65,000 copies of"Social Assistance", or the combined document, were issued by the Labour Government. The full report was received by educational interests, including the National Union of Teachers, the National Union of Students, the Secondary Heads Association, the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association, the National Association of Head Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, and many others. Consultations took place with the Department of Education and Science, but the Secretary of State for Education and Science and I are watching the matter most carefully.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
Does my hon. Friend agree that anyone who chooses to leave school at Easter just to receive social security benefits, if only for a few months, is ill-advised and would do much better to stay at school to take the examinations and wait until the Government re-examine the position?
§ Mrs. Chalker
I accept that people would be well advised to stay at school to take their examinations wherever possible, but I do not think that we can always say that the choice is as simple as that for many hard-pressed families.
§ Mr. Flannery
Does the Minister realise—from her last few words I think that she does—that children who leave school without taking the examinations for which the 119 entrance fee has been paid are not ill-advised? An article in The Guardian last week dealt with that subject and resulted in correspondence. Does she realise that they know that they will not get a job but are driven by poverty to miss the examinations that will help them further? Is she aware that such children have to leave school by that date, otherwise they must do without receiving social security benefits? Will she try to exert pressure on her right hon. Friend to do something about that because, as she says, all the teachers' unions are discussing the matter?
§ Mrs. Chalker
I must point out that all the teachers' unions were asked to discuss the matter. There were a limited number of objections and protests, and even in discussions on the Bill a limited amount of debate—not because of the guillotine—on this issue. I recognise the problem, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that where a family are receiving supplementary benefit there is no reduction in the financial resources during deferment. The family still get the same amount of money. It is those families with whom the hon. Gentleman is most concerned.