HC Deb 15 December 1997 vol 303 cc1-3
1. Mr. Hancock

How many lone parents she estimates will be in receipt of income support in each of the next three financial years. [19057]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Keith Bradley)

The new deal for lone parents will enable lone mothers to be independent and return to work. New estimates of the number of lone parents in receipt of income support are expected to be available in spring 1998. Present estimates, not taking into account the new deal for lone parents, for the next three financial years are £1.054 million in 1997–98, £1.044 million in 1998–99 and £1.054 million in 1999–2000.

Mr. Hancock

I am grateful for the Minister's reply. If those figures are not reduced by at least 50 per cent., will not his welfare-to-work programme for single parents, by his own admission, have failed miserably? Why on earth take the benefit away from nearly 1 million single parents who will be sadly disadvantaged by his actions?

Mr. Bradley

It is clearly not acceptable that more than 1 million lone mothers have to rely on income support. The new deal will help them to return to work with the support of personal advisers, job search, education and training throughout the process of moving from benefit into work. As a result, we hope that more than 2 million children will be better off.

Mr. Fallon

Why are Social Security Ministers so defensive about this Treasury-driven cost cutting? If they really are new Labour, why do they not take a pride in the new compulsion?

Mr. Bradley

It is not a cost-cutting measure driven by the Treasury: it is positive support for lone parents to help them to return to work. The new deal will give help through the personal adviser to ensure that lone parents get full support in all matters to overcome the barriers that are stopping them returning to work.

Ms Abbott

The Minister will be aware that the published information about the new deal for lone parents says that, in the test areas, more than 8,000 lone parents were written to, but only 331 have found jobs. Is he certain that the programme will put more lone parents into jobs than might otherwise have been the case?

Mr. Bradley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I am confident that the new deal for lone parents will enable them to find the employment that they are seeking and that the personal advisers will help them to overcome the barriers to work. As the national scheme rolls out in April, many more lone parents will enjoy the benefits of the new deal.

Mr. Duncan Smith

The Minister has produced some figures and the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) has pointed out the huge gap between those contacted and those who have found work—and we do not know why they have found work. Many people on the new deal have not taken up the offer or even replied to the original letter. The other day, the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) asked the Secretary of State for Social Security a specific question to which she got no real answer. She asked whether the Government have considered introducing compulsion in the new deal, in line with the welfare-to-work proposals, given that there is a problem in the new deal for lone parents and that the extra child benefit for lone parents has been cut. Without any platitudes or nonsense from the Minister that, "It is not our intention" or, "It is not the real issue," I want to know, and the House needs to know—once and for all—whether the Government will introduce compulsion.

Mr. Bradley

We have made it clear that compulsion is not the issue, because the new deal for lone parents will benefit lone parents. It will help them to overcome the barriers to work and ensure that they gain proper employment to provide a better standard of living for themselves and their children.

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