HC Deb 06 March 1989 vol 148 cc589-90
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. Scott

Precise information is not available, but it is perhaps relevant that in the period 12 September 1988 to 24 February 1989 there were more than 3,000 directions under the discretionary powers covering severe hardship.

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 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. Scott

There is considerable difficulty in assembling those figures with any precision. As I say, I am considering whether we can get more information than we have at the moment.

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.

Mr. Scott

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. I can think of no worse start to life than to begin it on benefit. When the last Labour Government were in office 65,000 youngsters began their adult career in that way.

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.

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