HC Deb 15 December 1997 vol 303 cc5-6
3. Mr. Keith Simpson

What representations she has received on her proposals to assist lone parents to move from welfare into work. [19059]

Ms Harman

Our new deal, which offers a real opportunity for lone parents, has been widely welcomed outside the House. It has been welcomed by lone parents themselves; by the organisations that represent them, such as Gingerbread and the National Council for One Parent Families; and by the employers, such Total Oil, W. H. Smith and Safeway, who are offering lone parents work. Our £300 million investment in child care has also been welcomed by women throughout the country.

Mr. Simpson

I congratulate the Secretary of State on reading that brief so well, but does she believe in the principle behind what she has just said?

Ms Harman

Of course I agree with the principle that I set out. I have always argued for the concerns of lone parents who have had no choice and have been written off to a life of dependence on benefit. I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new-found and, I am sure, heartfelt concern about lone parents; but lone parents will remember that, when his party was in government all they got was criticism and a life of dependence on benefit, whereas under the new Government they will get child care and opportunities that they never had before.

Mr. Llew Smith

How many people who have visited my right hon. Friend at her surgery have insisted that the Government stick to the Tory spending plans?

Ms Harman

People who visited me at my surgery were desperately concerned that Labour should come into government after so many years in the wilderness and out of office. Those people recognise that we have a mandate to tackle poverty and social exclusion, but to do so by extending opportunities. Many in my constituency would work if they had the chance, the opportunities and the right support. People who have been written off to a life of dependence on benefits are the first to argue that they want support to help them into independence so that they can support themselves and their families instead of having a continuous life on benefits.

Mr. Ian Bruce

As the Secretary of State will know, I used to run an employment agency. [Interruption.] I know that the Labour party does not really care about single mums going back to work, but let me give the Secretary of State some practical experience. Single mums often used to take temporary work to get their skills back together. Am I right in thinking that, under the new proposals, after they have worked a single week in a temporary work, they will have to go back to a benefit that does not include the single mother premium?

Ms Harman

The hon. Gentleman will know that we recognise that lone parents often need help to improve their skills and training is very much part of the new deal. Therefore, there will be help for them to be better off than they can be on benefit. Certainly, if they take work and subsequently lose it, they will go back on to the same rate of benefit for their eldest child that a married woman in a jobless household would receive for that child. They will have opportunities that they would never have had before because of the extension of child care and the new deal for lone parents.