HC Deb 02 June 1997 vol 295 cc14-5
14. Mr. Jim Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans she has to tackle benefit dependency. [890]

Ms Harman

Tackling benefit dependency is one of this Government's highest priorities. Lack of work is one of the greatest causes of poverty for families in Britain today, which is why tackling it is a priority.

Mr. Cunningham

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and other Ministers on their appointment. There is another dimension to child care—the role of employers and employers' associations. What are my right hon. Friend's plans, and those of other Departments, to take up with employers the very important issue of child care?

Ms Harman

We want a public-private partnership in implementing our national child care strategy because it is an important part of enabling lone mothers and, indeed, married women to work. Child care should be regarded as part of the national economic infrastructure and as important to women as the roads and railways on which they travel to work.

My hon. Friend is always concerned about the people of working age in his constituency who are out of work. He has drawn to my attention the fact that, in addition to his 3,000 constituents who are registered as unemployed, a further 27,000 people of working age in the Coventry area are not in work, and many of them are bringing up their children on benefits. Our national child care strategy is an important part of our welfare-to-work strategy for the one in five workless households.

Mr. Willetts

Will the Secretary of State put into perspective the Government's aim of taking 250,000 young people off benefit and getting them into work by confirming that last year 300,000 young people aged 18 to 24 came off benefit and went into work? Is the Government's target recognition of the fact that, under their policy for a minimum wage, they will do worse than the previous Government?

Ms Harman

The hon. Gentleman should recognise that the time for complacency about young people who are not working is over. It is unacceptable that people who should have their whole lives ahead of them have instead been thrown on the scrap heap. Hundreds of thousands of young people feel a bitter sense of disappointment that they have no future, but this Government will make them a priority. We shall invest in their future with quality training and worthwhile jobs, which our welfare-to-work programme will bring. It is one of the principal reasons why the British people voted in the new Labour Government and voted out the Conservatives.

Mr. McAllion

One of the proposals to reduce benefit dependency made at the fag end of the Tory Government was to restrict housing benefit for single claimants under 60 who rented in the private sector by denying them the right to exclusive use of a bathroom, a toilet or a kitchen. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that proposal was a disgrace, treating benefit claimants as second-class citizens? May we have an assurance that it will not figure in the proposals made by our Government?

Ms Harman

My hon. Friend raises an important point. During 18 years of Conservative government—

Madam Speaker

Order. Would the right hon. Lady address the House? She is constantly turning round. I understand the temptation to do so, but she is addressing the House, not an individual Member.

Ms Harman

My apologies, Madam Speaker.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about housing benefit. During 18 years of Conservative government, instead of £l1 billion a year being invested in housing it was invested in housing benefit, with the result that many people in high-rent areas have become trapped on housing benefit and unable to go out to work. In the absence of a proper housing policy, the previous Government responded to the increase in housing benefit simply by paring it back bit by bit. We are determined to work with the Department of the Environment and Transport in a cross-departmental initiative to ensure a sensible housing policy that enables people to have affordable housing without being trapped on benefits. We are considering the housing benefit cuts proposed by the previous Government.