HC Deb 10 July 1984 vol 63 cc866-7
6. Mr. Bell

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will reverse the decision to stop payment of child-minding benefit to trainees on TOPS courses.

Dr. Boyson

The Supplementary Benefit (Resources) Regulations have never provided for payment of child-minding expenses to trainees on training opportunities scheme courses. The law in this respect has been the same since the regulated supplementary benefit scheme was brought in in 1980, and we have no proposals to change it.

Mr. Bell

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Women who are using this service will be pleased to hear it, and will refer back to their benefit offices to ensure that the rules are applied.

Dr. Boyson

I do not think that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) for whom I have the highest regard, fully understood what I said. I am glad that he has welcomed my reply, but I should not wish him to form the wrong impression.

My Department has never provided for the payment of child-minding expenses to trainees on TOPS courses. It has been considered that, like lodging and travel allowances, this is a matter for the Manpower Services Commission. Child-minding expenses would not be taken into consideration against supplementary benefit.

Mrs. Beckett

Is the Minister aware that a matter of definition is involved? In the London area and elsewhere, people have taken what are effectively TOPS courses, where charities have provided training opportunities for people on benefit. Because the local offices have decided to redefine the way in which they regard these courses, people are losing up to £21 a week in benefit. They are precisely the people whom the Minister constantly urges to help themselves. The actions of his Department are preventing them from doing so. As the Minister seems to have been unaware of the situation, will he now take action to reverse it?

Dr. Boyson

I am always delighted when bright lights are shone into dark corners of which I am not aware. No payments have been made under the regulations to people on TOPS courses. I appreciate that there is a desire for certain people to have a child-minding allowance. Several hundred one-parent families are involved every year. As I told the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davies) in a letter last year, if the MSC made an allowance for child-minding, the supplementary benefit regulations would permit it to be disregarded to the same extent. We feel that it is the responsibility of the MSC.