HL Deb 26 October 1989 vol 511 cc1552-4

3.10 p.m.

Baroness Jeger asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the meeting to consider the benefit entitlement of 16 to 18 year-olds unable to live at home, promised by Lord Skelmersdale on July 17th during the Third Reading of the Social Security Bill (Official Report, Vol. 510, cols. 595–6) has yet taken place; and if so, who attended and what was the outcome.

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

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Faithfull met with my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Social Security and the Minister of State for Social Security on 4th October to follow up the agreement of my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale to a meeting with voluntary organisations representing homeless young people. Arrangements are being made for such a meeting which will take place shortly. There are already arrangements for regular meetings between officials of the department and other government departments and representatives of the voluntary sector.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. I am sure that many Members of your Lordships' House are looking forward to this meeting which has been promised since July. However, does he recall that in the same debate it was also promised that the situation regarding homeless young people would be monitored by the department continuously?

Further, has the Minister had time to look at the report published yesterday by Centre Point, which is one of the main organisations serving the homeless young in London, which found that there has been an increase of over 50 per cent. over the past two years in young homeless people in London alone? This was ascribed mainly to changes in social security provision for such people. Can he promise some action in the matter?

Lord Henley

My Lords, it is our practice to monitor the impact of benefit reforms on all groups of claimants, including young people of 16 and 17 years of age. Our monitoring of the situation for young people has been greatly assisted by discussions with voluntary organisations representing them. My officials in the department will continue to meet regularly with those organisations.

As regards the report from Centre Point, we feel that the social security system still enables people to secure and retain accommodation. There are many factors which contribute to homelessness. We think that it is wrong to look only at benefit arrangements.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is the Minister also aware of the excellent report by the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux entitled Income Support and 16 and 17 year-olds, which is a damning indictment of government policy? For example, is he aware that in the Norwich area there are reports of young people having to sleep rough at bus stations? Is he also aware that in the casualty wards of local hospitals this practice of sleeping rough has become so common that they have been forced to place locks on their doors in order to prevent access at night by homeless young people?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am aware of the report mentioned by the noble Lord. I believe that it contains five recommendations to which the Government have answers. I understand that my right honourable friend the Minister of State will be replying in due course to NACAB's recommendations.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, can the Minister explain the nature of this monitoring? Is it concerned with welfare, with the availability of accommodation, with both those aspects or with any other matter?

Lord Henley

My Lords, as I said earlier in an answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, it is our practice to monitor the impact of all benefit reforms. We shall continue to look at all aspects of this reform, paying particular regard to those young people of 16 and 17 years of age.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, speaking as the mover of the amendment which prompted the Minister to make the promise that there would be talks, I should say that I withdrew it on the assumption that the offer would be honoured. Therefore I am glad to hear that these talks have been initiated. However, can we know how many departments are involved in the inter-departmental discussions and with which voluntary organisations? Further, can the noble Lord say how soon these people are expected to report and when we can expect some action?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the meetings in which officials participate from time to time include those from the Department of Social Security, the Home Office and the Department of Employment, including the latter department's training agency. I have a long list of the organisations that attended a meeting with officials on the last occasion, which was on 2nd October. However, I think it would be inadvisable for me to read it out this afternoon. Nevertheless, I can certainly write to noble Lords sending them a copy of the list.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, will the noble Lord kindly see that a copy is printed in Hansard?

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, the meeting with officials was arranged by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. I am given to understand that the 19 organisations met the officials and brought forward all the problems which have been enumerated in your Lordships' House today. The organisations were satisfied and happy and felt that the officials had taken notice of what had been said. Despite the fact—

Noble Lords


Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, can the Minister say whether these organisations have let him know how grateful they are and that they will be glad to meet him again?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that we were most grateful for the meeting with those organisations. Moreover, we shall certainly be very pleased to meet them again.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, does the Minister agree that these young people are facing serious problems while we are waiting for the reports? If you have no home, you have no address and so you cannot claim social security. Further, if you do not have a home you cannot apply for a job. While we are waiting for these reports young people are being left high and dry on the pavement.

Lord Henley

My Lords, as I said earlier, I think it is wrong to look solely at benefit arrangements with regard to the problem of homelessness. Her Majesty's Government certainly recognise the problem. I believe that a report will be issued shortly by the Department of the Environment. As regards those young people between 16 and .17 years of age, it is of course open to them to take up the offer of a guaranteed YTS place.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, they cannot do that if they do not live anywhere.

Earl Russell

My Lords, although I warmly welcome the Minister's initial reply, can he say whether he will further consider two of the specific recommendations made by the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux? The first was that those who have registered for YTS may continue to receive a bridging allowance until they receive a place. The second recommendation was for a review to take place of the 16 weeks' maximum child benefit extension period for those unable to live at home.

Lord Henley

My Lords, we are aware of those two recommendations from NACAB. As I said earlier, my right honourable friend Mr. Scott will be responding to them.