HC Deb 05 July 1993 vol 228 cc11-2
10. Mr. Riddick

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how much was provided by his Department in benefits to single mothers in 1975, 1980 and the last year for which figures are available.

Mr. Burt

Although changes in the benefits system mean that figures for 1975 and 1980 are not available, expenditure on benefits for all lone parents has increased from £2.4 billion in 1981–82 to £6 billion in 1991–92 at constant prices.

Mr. Riddick

Those are pretty incredible figures. Does my hon. Friend agree that, when the welfare system encourages young women to have babies out of wedlock so that they can qualify for council houses and benefits, perhaps the system has gone too far? Will he confirm that the Government will take action to extend and encourage parental responsibility, particularly paternal responsibility?

Mr. Burt

There are many reasons why there has been a greater number of single parents in the past 20 years or so, including a greater tendency to divorce and separate, as well as a rising number of single, never-married young mothers. The responsibility of social security is that, whatever the relationship between parents may have become, a child has a right to be financially protected: in the first instance, by its natural parents, and the Child Support Agency will reinforce that; secondly, by providing what incentives we can for mothers to go back to work, where appropriate, because all the evidence that we have shows that the majority of single mothers want to get back to work; and, thirdly, where children are left vulnerable, they must be protected by the rest of society.

Ms Glenda Jackson

Will the Minister take this opportunity to condemn unreservedly not only the question put by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) but the speech made by the Secretary of State for Wales over the weekend, which quite outrageously alleged that young women deliberately make themselves pregnant to benefit from housing and social security benefits, when the Minister knows, as do Conservative Members, that there is absolutely no evidence whatever to support those scurrilous allegations? Will he further assure the House and the country that no woman and her children will be denied benefit because she will not name, or the Government cannot find, the father?

Mr. Burt

It was clear this weekend that the issue of single parenthood has now been raised, and a variety of sensible comments have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned the quote from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett).

In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment said that Britain had moved on, quite rightly, from the unacceptable situation where single mothers were ostracised but as a society we have to think seriously about how we try to help single mothers and I am not at all sure that putting them on their own with their children is the best way. The hon. Member for Croydon North-West (Mr. Wicks) wrote an interesting article on single-parent policy, which appeared in The Guardian today. The issues have now been raised and, provided they are discussed sensibly and in a straightforward way, some of the problems that affect single parents, and therefore society, can now be sensibly considered.

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