HC Deb 23 February 1998 vol 307 cc13-4
13. Mr. David Davis

What the targets are for the number of lone parents who will obtain work through the new deal for lone parents. [29086]

Ms Harman

The new deal for lone parents is already up and running in eight areas. It will be extended nationally to new claimants in April and to existing claimants in October. About 500,000 lone parents with children over five are bringing up their children on income support.

Mr. Davis

What is the full cost of the scheme per lone parent? Perhaps more important, what is the full cost of the scheme for each lone parent placed in a job?

Ms Harman

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made available some £200 million to finance the new deal for lone parents over the next five years. The cost of more than 1 million lone parents bringing up 2 million children on income support at the end of the previous Government's term of office was about £10 billion. People think it inconceivable that the only Government message to lone parents on income support was, "Stay on it until your youngest child is 16." We are confident that our measures will help lone mothers to get into work and will begin to reduce the number of lone parents on income support.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the £50 a week better off figure that has been mentioned does not include the cost of child care? In my constituency, wages are so low that even with the benefit of the minimum wage, for single parents to be better off it would be necessary to make substantial changes to in-work benefits. Are such changes proposed?

Ms Harman

We are concerned to take all the steps we can to ensure that lone mothers do not have to bring up their children on income support but can get work and make it pay. The minimum wage and the working family tax credit will help low-paid families, the overwhelming majority of whom are lone parents. The cost of child care is an important factor for lone parents. For the first time in this country, we shall have a national child care strategy and in his Budget my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will make further announcements about further help with the cost of child care through the tax system.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Does the Secretary of State agree that after she launched the programme last year she said that it was a major success and claimed a 20 per cent. success rate? It was discovered that the actual rate of those going into work was 5 per cent. She told everybody to wait because some people still had not had a chance to act on the letters and that the scheme would be much more successful as the months went by. The success rate is now 6 per cent. Is not the reality that the programme is floundering and is not getting people into work? Most of those who are going into work are likely to have obtained jobs without that help. What is the right hon. Lady prepared to do to put the programme back on an even keel and make certain that it is a success rather than the failure that it is now?

Ms Harman

I think that the hon. Gentleman is saying, "Why do we need a new deal for lone parents because they would all get jobs anyway?" As that is not true, do I take it that he is backing the new deal for lone parents? If he is, that is very welcome. In the eight pilot areas, more than half the lone parents have been contacted. That is in stark contrast with what happened under the previous Government, who told them to stay on income support until their youngest child was 16. So far, one in five lone parents who have been asked to attend for interview have attended. That is in contrast with what happened under the previous Government, who never invited them. Of those who have attended, one in three are in jobs.

This is a pioneering approach. The hon. Gentleman left lone mothers on income support. We will help them to become better off, for themselves and for their families, by getting into work.

Caroline Flint

I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments on the new deal for lone parents, who agree with her statements. They are being treated as visible rather than invisible women, which is how they were treated for 18 years under the previous Government. However, many lone parents cannot go to work because they lack education and training. I would welcome my right hon. Friend's comments on how we can get the new deal to work for them, so that they are encouraged to go into education and training. Could we consider opening up to lone parents the new deal education and training option presently available for 18 to 24-year-olds?

Ms Harman

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We want not only to help lone parents get into work, so that they can be better off than they are on benefits, but to ensure that they get opportunities for further education and training. Several hon. Members have raised that matter with me. We are examining whether the new deal can offer lone mothers additional opportunities by providing them with education and training, so that they can not only get a job, but get on in their job.

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