HL Deb 18 January 1989 vol 503 cc240-2

3.14 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied that financial provision for unemployed 16 to 19 year-olds who do not live in the parental home for valid reasons is adequate.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords. in addition to our own as yet incomplete monitoring, the Government have recently received a number of reports on the effects of the current level of support for young people who have valid reasons for living independently.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that when the benefit changes take place next April many of the young people in this age group will he up to £10 a week short of the amount needed to pay for their basic needs, without having any personal income whatsoever? Is he also aware that many of them are now slipping into drug addiction, drug pushing and prostitution in order to make ends meet? Does he recognise that the charities are doing as much as they possibly can to save those young people but that a great many are slipping through the net? Does he agree that it is very important that we protect them at that stage in their lives so that they do not go astray?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords, I am well aware of the concerns which the noble Countess has mentioned. That is why we are in consultation with the charities and are conducting our own monitoring of the situation. The House will remember that we said that we would monitor all the social security reforms. We are putting that particular monitoring on a fast track. Further, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has agreed to meet my noble friend Lady Faithful and representatives of a number of voluntary organisations, including Barnardo's and the National Children's Home, very shortly.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, we appreciate that the Government are showing some concern about the problem. However, can the Minister say what is happening to those young people while those talks are taking place? What instructions is he giving to social security offices about the level of help they can give to 16 to 18 year-olds while they arc unemployed? What is the advice on the average amount, and would he like to live on it?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, there is no advice as to the amount. But I am sure that the noble Baroness knows that the amount of income support for such young people would be £19.40 plus full housing benefit. The Government have given a guarantee to all young people that a YTS place will be available on demand, and that guarantee is being met in all areas of the country.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, does my noble friend not believe that everything should be done to discourage 16 year-olds from going off to live by themselves? Where there are valid reasons for them to do so does he agree that the Government should not fear to use coercion to make certain that the young people go into training rather than depend on unemployment benefit?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, in substance I agree with my noble friend. The Government believe that most parents not only should but want to provide for their children within the family unit and our policy should not discourage that.

Baroness David

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware—and he certainly would have been had he attended the Committee stage of the Children Bill yesterday—that a great many young people have no home to go to? The noble Lord who spoke last from his Benches did not seem to be aware of that fact. Children leaving care at the ages of 16, 17 or 18 are left in the most intolerable position, and YTS is not always the most suitable solution. I am quite sure that the Minister's noble and learned friend will expound on that subject to him later if he does not know enough about it already.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, of course I am aware that children with no homes to go to or who have been thrown out of the parental home present a particular challenge to the social security system. That is why we are monitoring the position and why we are engaged in consultation. We are seized of that fact.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in areas of high unemployment such as the city of Glasgow there are many more young unemployed people in this age group than there are places available for them on YTS? As a result they suffer from a loss of financial support. Should the Government not make it abundantly clear that no one should suffer if there are no places available for them on YTS?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes. We should make it clear. I believe that we have made it clear. Overall—I repeat my advice from the Department of Employment—there are plenty of YTS places available for all 16 and 17 year—olds who are able and willing to take them up. As regards young people in isolated areas—and I should not regard the city of Glasgow, which I visited earlier this week, as an isolated area, I am surprised to hear that places do not exist in Glasgow. They should go to the employment centre—in this case in Glasgow—where a place will be made available.

Earl Russell

My Lords, has the noble Lord's attention been drawn to the rapid increase in the number of young beggars in central London during the past six months? How does he explain that increase? Does he think that begging is a more efficient instrument than taxation for transferring money from my pocket to the pockets of those who need it most?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I think that we are wandering some way from the original Question. However, I can advise the House that social security offices in London have not reported an increase in applications for income support from homeless young people.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the extremely urgent problems surrounding the changeover from board and lodging payments to income support and housing benefit for those youngsters aged 16 to 19 who are living in special needs hostels? Many of those special needs hostels are urgently awaiting from his department a reply to their representations about the future financing of that scheme and an immediate assurance that there will be no worsening of the financial conditions until the department has deliberated on the representations.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, of course I am aware of the situation. I am also aware that my honourable friend the Minister of State has announced a postponement of the arrangements which were canvassed in the consultation paper. However, I can say that the Government will be making up their mind on this matter with all speed.

Forward to