HC Deb 17 March 2003 vol 401 cc616-7
7. Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield)

If he will make a statement on the number of lone parent workless households. [102951]

The Minister for Work (Mr. Nicholas Brown)

In autumn 2002, there were 707,000 workless lone parent households in the UK. Since 1997, the lone parent employment rate has increased by almost one fifth. For the first time, it is over 50 per cent. Recent independent evaluation by the National Centre for Social Research has shown that the new deal for lone parents more than doubles lone parents' chances of finding a job.

Mr. Mitchell

Why does the Minister not come clean with the House and admit that, over the past year, there has been an increase of 55,000 in the number of children in workless households? Is that not a savage indictment of the Government's failure to tackle poverty in the way that they promised—quite apart from being a breach of the solemn undertakings that were given by his party at the general election?

Mr. Brown

No, it is not. I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's interest in these matters and I know that he serves on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions. However, he has a pretty grudging way of looking at the issues. By far and away the best way in which to help the poorest households is to ensure that a member of such households gets into work that pays and that the jobs are available. That is the direction in which we are moving and, frankly, the results speak for themselves.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to confirm that 250,000 fewer children are in workless households than in 1997? Indeed, will he confirm that up to 1 million children stand to benefit from the changes to child maintenance premium to the tune of up to £10 per week as a result of the Government's recent initiative?

Mr. Brown

Of course, my hon. Friend is right. One would pay more attention to the representations of the Opposition if they could set out their alternative policies clearly. Do they want to go back to 3 million unemployed, and the 15 per cent. interest rates and 10 per cent. inflation rates that they visited on the country? People very quickly forget what happened.