HC Deb 15 December 1997 vol 303 cc7-9
6. Mr. John M. Taylor

If she will make it her policy that lone parents who participate in the new deal for lone parents scheme will be paid the minimum wage under the scheme. [19062]

Mr. Keith Bradley

The new deal for lone parents is a pioneering programme that recognises and backs lone parents' desire to work. Those taking jobs with the assistance of the new deal for lone parents will benefit from the national minimum wage.

Mr. Taylor

Will disabled people on the scheme, who work rather than participate in some form of education, be paid the full national minimum wage?

Mr. Bradley

As I have just made clear, those people who participate in the new deal will benefit from the national minimum wage.

Mr. Pike

While I obviously welcome the fact that those people will benefit from the national minimum wage, which is crucial in low-pay areas such as mine, will my hon. Friend assure me that the Department will fully support the Chancellor in the need to remove the anomalies in benefit that at present lead to people losing by getting into work, which is stupid?

Mr. Bradley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he knows, the Chancellor has commissioned a review under Mr. Taylor to look into the tax and benefits systems and the barriers between the two, which are a disincentive for people to remain in work. The report should be produced in the near future. I hope that it will deal with the issue that my hon. Friend identified.

7. Mr. Baker

What assessment she has made of the effect on the poorest 10 per cent. of the population of the withdrawal of lone-parent benefit. [19063]

Mr. Keith Bradley

Lone parents are over-represented in the bottom end of the income distribution because they are excluded from work. The best way to help lone parents out of poverty is to address the barriers that stop them working. The Government are addressing those barriers through our new deal for lone parents and our national child care strategy.

Mr. Baker

The poorest 10 per cent. will not be impressed by that answer, because it does not deal with those who are unable to find work—a point consistently made last week. Those who voted Labour on 1 May expecting a tilt towards Robin Hood have a tilt towards the sheriff of Nottingham instead. I ask the Minister a straight question: will he condemn unreservedly the outrageous attempt by Labour spin doctors to intimidate the BBC and insult a respected journalist, John Humphrys? Is it not time that, rather than shooting the messenger, the Government changed the message?

Mr. Bradley

I am sure that the BBC can well look after itself and does not need the help of the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Lynne Jones

Speaking as someone to whom the welfare state gave a great deal of opportunity, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he considers £77 a week adequate for a lone parent of, say, a baby or toddler who needs her at home, to keep herself and her child fed, clothed and warm, when there is a wealth of evidence that the current rate of income support—£82—is inadequate for basic needs? In view of the Government's determination to press ahead with those cuts, what confidence can we have in the Prime Minister's statement this weekend that the Government will look after those in need?

Mr. Bradley

Obviously, there is always concern about the level of income through benefits. That is exactly why the national child care strategy and the new deal for lone parents will help people to get back into work and be significantly better off. The Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that we shall not take away benefits from those who need it. I am happy to give that reassurance today.

Mr. Leigh

When did the Minister change his mind?

Mr. Bradley

I have not changed my mind.

Mr. Swinney

Does the Minister not understand the frustration and anger that is felt by many people on benefits whose circumstances do not change but whose benefits decline? What confidence can he give the general public that, under the comprehensive spending review, we are not simply seeing another means of changing the goalposts to deny legitimate benefits to people who deserve them?

Mr. Bradley

The purpose is to ensure that everyone has opportunities. The welfare state has been failing people; we want to help them, and the changes that we make will ensure that people enjoy the opportunities that we on the Government Benches are determined to let them have.

Ms Hewitt

Does my hon. Friend agree that, wherever possible, children in a lone-parent family should also receive financial and practical support from the nonresident parent? Will he confirm that the Government's new deal will help many non-resident fathers into employment? Will he assure the House that the review of the Child Support Act 1991 now taking place will consider the possible introduction of a maintenance disregard for lone parents now receiving income support?

Mr. Bradley

My hon. Friend raises two very important points. The new deal for the young unemployed and the long-term unemployed should help them get back into work and enable them to make a proper contribution to their families. Secondly, in the comprehensive review of the Child Support Agency that is under way, we shall certainly consider the matter that my hon. Friend has brought to our attention this afternoon.

Mr. Streeter

How will the new deal proposals help any lone parent who wishes to stay at home and raise her pre-school children herself?

Mr. Bradley

A lone parent will have the choice—she can participate in the new deal or remain at home to look after her children.