HC Deb 25 June 1996 vol 280 cc139-40
5. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to alter the assistance available to 16 to 18-year-olds. [32976]

The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Alistair Burt)

We have no plans to take child benefit from young people staying on in full-time education to acquire qualifications.

Mr. Marshall

May I thank my hon. Friend for that answer? The removal of child benefit from 16 to 18-year-olds would amount to nothing other than a tax on learning. Does my hon. Friend find it surprising that some people want to give 16 to 18-year-olds the double whammy of a tax on learning and the destruction of jobs through the national minimum wage?

Mr. Burt

My hon. Friend is right. Removing child benefit from families with 16 to 18-year-old children would be highly damaging. It was noticeable in previous exchanges that no Opposition Back Benchers rallied to the cause of their Front Benchers.

Mr. Flynn

Have not the Government viciously cut the incomes of the most vulnerable group of 16 to 18-year-olds, those who emerge from care? Most of our children are expected to adapt to independent lives at the age of about 22, but young people come out of care and are denied income support. It is no wonder that many of them end up as the victims of crime—they are the Fred West generation and the majority of his victims came out of care—or go into crime and prostitution or end up in prison and mental institutions. Is not the greatest single crime of the Government to throw those young people from full-time care into full-time neglect?

Mr. Burt

The hon. Gentleman tries an elaborate smokescreen. It is noticeable that he did not defend the policy that has been adopted by his Front Benchers either. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary described earlier the success of hardship payments to vulnerable youngsters to protect them. I cannot see how the abolition of child benefit payments to 16 to 18-year-olds, which is the policy being discussed, can help in any way the group of youngsters that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Our policies offer an opportunity for training and for education, which is why we have one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe. By contrast, the Opposition's policies, which would involve the abolition of child benefit and youth training and the introduction of a minimum wage that would deny young people opportunities, are a mess and a blunder caused by rows between the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and the shadow Chancellor.