HC Deb 17 November 1997 vol 301 cc10-1
7. Mr. David Heath

What estimate she has made of the number of new claims by lone parents for income support in financial years (a) 1997–98 and (b) 1998–99. [14636]

The Minister for Welfare Reform (Mr. Frank Field)

The Department estimates that there will be 350,000 awards in both years.

Mr. Heath

I am grateful for that reply. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Minister for Public Health, who claimed that many poor women smoke because they feel that their lives are hopeless? Does he believe that the many lone parents who are unable to find work will feel more or less hopeless when their benefits are cut?

Mr. Field

I am sure that all of them will feel more hopeful because this Government have a positive, proactive policy that is helping them back to work—unlike the previous regime.

Helen Jones

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways in which to reduce the number of lone parents who are forced to claim income support is to provide available and affordable child care? What plans does he have to improve that provision as part of the new deal?

Mr. Field

The Government are developing a national child care strategy, which will be implemented during the life of this Parliament. Each of the single parents coming forward for interviews is seeking that information and being given it.

Mr. Burns

Can I press the Minister to confirm that, notwithstanding what the Secretary of State said, of the 8,600 letters that went out in the pilot scheme, 75 per cent. —about 6,600—of the people who received them did not bother to reply; and that, of the 1,600 people who went to see a personal adviser, only 433 have gone into a job, which is about 5 per cent. of all those who were contacted?

I am particularly pleased that the Minister is here. Does he agree with Professor Lawrence Mead that there has to be a ground of compulsion for the new deal for lone parents to work? Does the Minister agree that, if there is no compulsion, it will be a failure? Given that the jobseeker's allowance and welfare to work for young people rests on compulsion, are the Government preparing a U-turn to bring in compulsion for the new deal for lone parents? That is a question that the Secretary of State studiously refused to answer.

Mr. Field

The answer to the first of a series of questions is that the hon. Gentleman's figures are wrong. Of the people who were invited to attend, three quarters responded and, of those who responded, a quarter are already in work. I thought that the Opposition would support that. My views vis-a-vis Lawrence Mead are made very plain in the document that the hon. Gentleman is holding.