§ 6. Mr. McKelvey
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security in how many cases of which he has knowledge 16 and 17-year-olds have ceased to receive income support without taking up a job or employment training place at the most recent date.
§ 11. Mr. Allen Adams
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security in how many cases of which he has knowledge those aged 16 and 17 years have ceased to receive income support without taking up a job or employment training places at the most recent date.
§ Mr. McKelvey
I thank the Minister for that reply. I am intrigued to know why figures are not available. Today in Kilmarnock, despite assurances by Scottish Ministers, 120 16 and 17-year-olds are looking for employment training programmes and only 50 programmes are available, so there must he a shortfall. The local DSS does not keep figures for young people who are denied benefit. How are we to know how large is this vast and growing army of young destitutes—Oliver Twists who come to London, for instance—looking for jobs and wandering the country, if there are no precise figures? That is a disgrace; the Minister should be ashamed to admit that he does not have the figures on these young people.
§ Mr. Scott
I am considering whether we need to collect these figures in future. As I have said, they are not available at the moment. The 3,000 hardship cases nationwide show the impact in this area. As I have undertaken on a number of occasions, we are carefully monitoring the impact of the new system on 16 and 17-year-olds and we have had evidence and representations from a variety of sources which we are carefully considering.
§ Mr. Frank Field
Does the Minister accept that his answer is totally unsatisfactory? I support the Government's strategy of saying to young people that they should either be in school or at work on YTS. Will he give an undertaking that when he next appears at Question 590 Time he will be able to provide us with figures for the number of people who are now drifting around and on the streets because they are not able to claim benefit?
§ Mr. Baldry
Does my hon. Friend agree that people who are unskilled, unqualified and unemployed at the age of 16 or 17 will almost certainly be unskilled, unqualified or unemployed at 20 or 25 years of age? The whole thrust of our policies must be to make sure that every 16 or 17-year-old has every incentive to get skills, qualifications and further education. Any culture that encourages young people to become dependent on income benefits as early as 16 or 17 is a disgrace.
§ Mrs. Beckett
It is four years since the Government were warned of the dangers of cutting benefits to youngsters who cannot live at home, and a year since the Government went ahead and did that. Why are they still studying the inevitable results? How many more thousands of youngsters will have to disappear from sight while the Government hunt for an excuse for a climbdown?
§ Mr. Scott
We made special provision in regulations for the most vulnerable groups. We recognised that however carefully regulations were drawn some cases would always fall outside them. For that reason we introduced the severe hardship provisions and the use of discretion. We have had serious representations, not just rhetoric, about the impact on other groups of youngsters and we are carefully considering those.