HL Deb 24 July 1991 vol 531 cc838-65

6.53 p.m.

Earl Russell rose to move to resolve, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to amend the Income Support (General) Regulations (S.I. 1987, No. 1967) to extend the eligibility for income support until the age of 18 to 16 and 17 year-olds who have completed, or are available for, and actively seeking, training under the youth training scheme, or for whom such training is not available by reason of their age; who are pregnant; or who are registered people living away from their parents, or from any person acting in place of their parents, and are doing so for the purposes of seeking work or training, or were in the care of a local authority or in custody immediately before reaching the age of 16.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

This is an established procedure, but I owe the House a word or two of explanation since not all noble Lords are familiar with it. It has been used a number of times recently, by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, in 1986, among others. It was described in paragraph 11 of the first report of the Procedure Committee this Session: a motion or amendment may be moved calling upon the Government to take some specific action. In particular, such motions have been used to invite the Government to amend subordinate legislation, thereby obviating the need to divide on such legislation itself. If carried, the effect of such a motion is to invite amendment of the subordinate legislation in question". In other words, the effect is not mandatory.

Nevertheless, as a matter of good form, government have complied with such Motions when they have been carried. The last one carried in this place was a Motion moved in 1977 by Lord Duncan-Sandys against putting motorways through national parks. The Government withdrew the regulations and brought them back amended as the noble Lord suggested. So, were this Motion to be carried, the House might have a certain cautious optimism that as a matter of good form what was asked might be done.

On matters of good form there are few noble Lords who carry more weight than the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I should like, with his permission, to quote what he said on 2nd July last year on this subject. He said: If noble Lords desire to alter the provisions of a regulation they can table a Motion in the ordinary way requesting the Government to amend the regulation. If noble Lords can persuade the House to carry that Motion most governments will be inclined to respond. If governments do not respond they will get themselves into considerable difficulties and trouble. Surely that is the practical way of proceeiling".—[Official Report, 2/7/90; col. 1906.] The noble Lord was addressing that advice to me, among others, on this subject. I have listened to it and I have taken it.

The Government's policy with which we are now dealing is that those aged 16 and 17 should be in education, work or youth training. They are to be denied the option of benefit. The Motion does not challenge the principle of that policy. My noble kinsman will concede that, by the use of this procedure, it is impossible to challenge a principle of government policy. This procedure can only amend what is contained in regulations. My noble kinsman has told the House many times that the general principles of Government policy are spelt out in statute, which this procedure cannot touch. Therefore, the procedure can deal only with the details, which is what I am attempting to do.

Since that policy came into effect in 1988 there has been a swelling chorus of complaint about the hardship it has caused. We have had innumerable small surveys. I shall mention only, among others, those conducted by Centrepoint, Barnados, Professor Sinfield for the University of Edinburgh, the Children's Society report Fit for Nothing, the Scottish Council for Single Homeless, and a succession of large briefings from citizens advice bureaux. We have also had briefings from such bodies as Shelter, Maternity Alliance, Youth Aid, and today, by coincidence, from Church Action on Poverty, on which I believe my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley intends to speak.

Those have been met by a series of very small responses. Rather than using my own words I shall use those of the Scottish Council for Single Homeless: The Government has tinkered with the edges of the problem by introducing a series of minor amendments over the past two years".

By coincidence, a number of those amendments have been introduced immediately in front of votes in this House. If my noble kinsman intends to run true to form tonight, there may be another. If so, I shall bear in mind that those which have been offered to us previously have been very little ones and the chorus of reports of hardship have not diminished after them.

In addition to all of those reports we have the MORI report commissioned by the Department of Social Security dealing with the severe hardship provision on which the Government rely. That is a very valuable report but its authors have themselves admitted that it is limited by its own method. It deals only with those who have already submitted applications for the severe hardship provision. It does that well but it leaves out the lower part of the iceberg, those who have lost touch with the system altogether. Therefore, in order to get a full picture it needs to be used in context with one of the reports dealing with that part of our sample; such as, for example, the Centrepoint survey of some two years ago.

The categories that I have selected for this Motion have been chosen from an innumerable collection of briefing papers that have come to me over the past three years. First, I have been looking for a particular type of hardship that seems to me to have recurred over and over again; and, secondly, cases where that hardship has occurred as a result of the application of a principle that seems to me likely to recur, and likely, by its very nature, to create further hardship.

The Government sometimes refer to a category of 16 and 17 year-olds who simply are not willing to take youth training places. Those create desperately difficult issues. We may discuss them on some other occasion, but they are not on our agenda today. My Motion is not addressed to them. It is addressed only to those who are willing to take youth training places and who are, in the words of the Motion, "actively seeking" a youth training place. Those are words that the Government must find familiar. If the Government stick to their argument that the guarantee of a youth training place for every 16 and 17 year-old is effective, they should not object to those words because they should believe that that would cost them nothing.

There is a real problem here. Youth training has a dual purpose. It has a welfare purpose that demands universality, but it is also provided by private employers who have a legitimate interest in having the freedom to take on only those whom they are willing to employ. MORI, for example, found that 5 per cent. of those who had been turned down by employers for youth training had a criminal record. I can see the employers' point here, but it did not stop those people needing to eat.

One can only check this question of the guarantee by looking at a short parallel report issued by the Department of Employment on 17th July this year. It deals with 120 people discovered by MORI who were willing to take a youth training place and could not get one. They had a follow-up action on that after four weeks. For 16 of them they said that placing action was continuing. I must stress that during those four weeks, unless they were successful under the severe hardship provisions, which not all of them were, they had no right to any subsistence whatever; 12 three of them had disappeared, and if that does not concern the Government it concerns me; 12 of them were no longer eligible because they were over 18. That figure is double, by statistical average, what it should have been.

It seems in fact that those aged 17 and 11 months suffered particular difficulties because employers will not take them on for youth training because they cannot complete the course, and from the employers' point of view that is perfectly legitimate. Four weeks is quite a long time to go without any subsistence. I have here details of 77 cases in which no youth training place was made available and in which the severe hardship provisions did not operate. All that has been provided by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, and all, I assure my noble kinsman, have arisen since we last debated this subject in July 1990.

One other major category of hardship to which this Motion applies is those who have completed a youth training course. It seems to me that they have done everything that government policy requires of them. As the period we are dealing with is two years and the vast majority of youth training courses last under six months, and some of them a great deal less, a great many people have completed a youth training course and regrettably in the present climate cannot get a job. They are told that they are expected to live on a bridging allowance of £15 a week, which lasts for eight weeks, and after that nothing.

This Motion would restore an entitlement to income support to those who have taken a youth training place, who have completed the course and who are looking for work in the normal way. It would deal also with cases of pregnancy. I have information on 37 such cases with me. Those of us who are parents will know that one pregnancy is not like another, and one person's reaction to a pregnancy is not like another's. We have regularly heard cases like the one I have here of the waitress who was dismissed for suffering from morning sickness. One also thinks of toxemia.

The reaction of employers to pregnancy may vary sharply; particularly in the middle stages of pregnancy employers, perfectly legitimately in their own interest, have a reluctance to take on for youth training those who cannot complete the course. That accounts for a vast number of hardship cases, and I cannot believe that the dietary implications are anything other than harmful for the children.

We also have cases of those who are estranged from their parents. This is the category where probably some of the greatest hardships happen. A number of those who have no benefit were found to be living off parents, friends, or relatives; I was dismayed to find that 5 per cent. were living off their social workers, who are not the richest section of our community. But some of those who have been thrown out—and that is 242 in MORI's sample of 551—had no such contacts. Indeed, some of them, especially those who have been abused, are often particularly friendless people. They account for a high proportion of the considerable sample who have been found sleeping rough, and also of the considerable sample—58 per cent. of those who have slept rough—who have been pushed to make a living by illegal means.

Twenty one per cent. of MORI's sample admitted to having made money by stealing, but I should be surprised if that were the complete figure; 6 per cent. admitted to having made a living by begging; 2 per cent admitted to having made a living by selling drugs. None of them admitted to living by prostitution. Here again one needs as a control the Centre-point survey, which asked the answerable and shrewdly worded question whether they had ever been approached to sell sex. The answer was "yes" for 20 per cent. of both sexes. That is the sort of thing that I mean by severe hardship, and that is the sort of thing with which this Motion is intended to deal. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to amend the Income Support (General) Regulations (S.I. 1987, No. 1967) to extend the eligibility for income support until the age of 18 to 16 and 17 year-olds who have completed, or are available for, and actively seeking, training under the youth training scheme, or for whom such training is not available by reason of their age; who are pregnant; or who are registered people living away from their parents, or from any person acting in place of their parents, and are doing so for the purposes of seeking work or training, or were in the care of a local authority or in custody immediately before reaching the age of 16.—(Earl Russell.)

7.9 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I rise to support the Motion in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. The noble Earl has explained the procedural considerations; he has also explained the situation that has arisen since 1988 when the benefit conditions for young teenagers were amended by the Government. A number of us expressed deep concern at the time. We thought that the move would lead to further impoverishment of a number of vulnerable young people. Unfortunately our fears appear to have been justified.

The Government's assumption was, and apparently still is, that most young people should continue to live at home. That view is held despite the evidence of broken homes, of young teenagers as well as children suffering abuse—sometimes sexual abuse—and of children growing up in households where there is a great deal of domestic tension and sometimes violence. Such young people want to get away from that atmosphere and to live independently. Sometimes they are thrown out of the home. In the MORI research, of the 79 per cent. who were living away from home, half said that they had been thrown out.

The Government said that there would be a guarantee of a YT place so that all young people should have the opportunity of proper training and of some income while it proceeded. As we know now, that is not happening. In the South-East in particular there are now waiting lists for YT places. Yet Ministers apparently continue to believe that there is no need for 16 and 17 year-olds to be without an income and that they can either be in a job—although there is very high unemployment in some areas—or they can remain in education or take a YT place.

It is estimated that the Government have saved money as a result of the benefit changes. How much is not c ear, but estimates vary between £88 million and £200 million a year. That is not a lot, one would have thought. Certainly, if the benefit changes contribute to the creation of poverty, homelessness and crime, it is simply not worth it.

Another aspect of the benefit changes has been that young people, along with some other groups, cease to feature as part of the unemployment statistics. In response to a Question from my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington, we were told this week that the figure of unemployed is now 2.3 million—despite the numerous changes made in the way in which the statistics are compiled. The changes always result in a downward reassessment of the figures. If unemployed claimants in the 16 to 17 year-old category were still counted, I am advised that there would be around 77,000 added to that figure, 55,000 of whom have no benefit at all. At least 14,000 of those unemployed are in the South-East.

We are now all familiar with the homelessness which is such a distressing feature of London streets and those of some other large cities. Many of those sleeping rough are young. It has been fashionable to assert that the poor have always been with us, but I cannot recollect homelessness and begging as a feature of London streets some 10 or 12 years ago. It is a relatively new phenomenon. In my view it is directly attributable to some of the policies of the Government. It has become worse in the past 12 months. It is now quite common to be approached on tube stations by people who are openly begging. Many of them are young women and some have babies with them. I simply do not believe that anyone would choose to sleep rough and beg on the streets if there were any other solution. Clearly, for many there is not.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Russell, I too am aware of a number of cases reported by the Citizens Advice Bureaux. For example, there was the case of a 17 year-old pregnant girl who was evicted from her previous home. The DSS had refused her benefit. The London CAB to which she reported said that she had absolutely no money at all. There were other instances of under-nutrition and shoplifting by young people who saw no other way to feed themselves. Perhaps the Government can tell us the number of young people who are homeless. A recent report alleges that 150,000 16 to 17 year-olds experience homelessness at some time or other every year. Benefits for young people in board and lodging changed in 1989, with the result that they lost money. Some hostels and hotels no longer accommodate young people.

The Minister will no doubt refer to the statement recently made in the other place based on the MORI research which they commissioned. Additional steps are to be taken to alleviate the situation. These have been brought about because of the pressure and lobbying conducted by concerned organisations and individuals, notably some Members of your Lordships' House and in particular, if I may say so, the noble Earl, who is responsible for this Motion. But the steps proposed are largely administrative and, although they are to be welcomed, they do not go far enough.

It is necessary to ensure that the DSS officials who deal with young people have adequate training and are thus able to deal sensitively and in a sympathetic way with their problems. Measures to improve YT placements are also to be welcomed, as are plans to ensure priority for those with particular problems: those who are sleeping rough, those who have just left care, pregnant young women, the disabled and so on.

But those measures do not address the main problem, which is that young people, particularly those who somehow have lost contact with the system, as the noble Earl explained, frequently have no money at all or access to it. But they cannot obtain accommodation of any kind without it. If they are sleeping rough, they are unlikely to be able to get jobs, even if they are available. It costs money to make oneself presentable enough to get employment or perhaps a YT place. Young people in that situation frequently have no supportive background and no supporting family. To be young, lonely, hungry and penniless in a big city is a frightening experience. In such circumstances it is not surprising that some young people turn to petty crime and that young women and some young men, having nothing else to sell and seeing no other way to make a living, fall easy prey to those who would exploit them sexually.

The noble Earl who tabled this Motion has in my view performed a humane and valuable service. I very much appreciate that he has given us the opportunity to debate this sad and unacceptable state of affairs. I commend his Motion to your Lordships.

7.16 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I too should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for having introduced this subject. We are discussing young people who find themselves in a gap for which there is no provision. I am sure that the Government regret that as much as anyone. Perhaps, however, we can produce some examples of how the situation could be improved.

I am advised by the Coalition on Young People and Social Security, which includes in its membership the Children's Society. I address your Lordships at the request of my noble friend Lady Faithfull who sadly is not able to be present. I am sure that, with her great knowledge as an ex-director of social services, she would have given your Lordships a much better picture than I shall be able to do.

References have been made to the MORI research. I also shall make some reference to it. It has not been easy in the time available to take more than a superficial look at the findings. That being the case, I may be accused of being selective in the examples that I have chosen. The fact is that some are so horrifying, in the sense that people seem to be very much in the dark, notwithstanding the administrative system to which they can refer, that I think it is reasonable to give them.

We are talking of the 16 to 17 year-olds. These young people may have to deal with five different agencies. I have a grandson who is 16 coming on 17. I like to think that he is highly intelligent; of course I would say that about my grandson. However, although he would hate me for saying it publicly, I suspect that even he would find it difficult to pick out which of the five agencies he should approach. He might have to go to the careers service to find work and training, to the employment service to register as unemployed, and to the social security office, which I believe is now called the benefits office, to claim income support. If he wants severe hardship allowance, he has to claim it from a unit in a remote part of the kingdom, centred in Glasgow. And he might have to go to the TEC to uphold his youth training guarantee. Those are five bodies. As made clear by both the noble Earl and the noble Baroness, he might well turn to the citizens advice bureaux, though that is not what one might call an obligatory service to which to turn. However, he probably would do so.

In the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Wight Youth Trust was set up by a very splendid and dedicated lady doctor to cope with the problems of young people, particularly in the age bracket of those who have just left school and up to about 23, who take drugs, who are thrown out of their homes by their parents, or who take to playing fruit machines, drinking alcohol or indulging in any kind of habit forming activity. The Trust encompasses all the people about whom we are talking. We have to struggle to receive backing from many sources—sponsorships, government, we try them all, and keep going. However, we need the trust because the official system—the social services department and so on —has not covered those gaps.

I hope that my noble friend will take this point on board. I am advised that it would be much better if one of the compulsory agencies were to co-ordinate any application so that young people did not have to hunt around all the other bodies that I have mentioned, many of which are in different parts of the country. Those who advise me suggest the careers service. The MORI research indicates that 46 per cent. of the sample considered that the information provided by the local social security offices was poor; 48 per cent. said that the social security staff were not good at explaining what could be claimed; and 73 per cent. said that the social security people failed to mention other sources of income such as bridging allowance, housing benefit or crisis loans from the Social Fund. On the other hand, 98 per cent. of the MORI sample had been to their careers service; 71 per cent. had seen someone from the careers service before leaving school; and 72 per cent. of those who had been to the careers service found it helpful.

I am sure that it would be difficult, given our funny government system in which we have rival departments of state, like autonomous republics, to hand the matter over to the careers service. However, if that body were to be the centre for applications, it might be a good solution. It would help young people. They know of the careers service before they leave school.

Another problem is that the severe hardship arrangements are not working smoothly. The MORI research makes that clear. The severe hardship claims unit is located in Glasgow. Local social security offices have to refer cases to it for decision. As a result, 20 per cent. of those whose claim was unsuccessful thought that it had been successful; 21 per cent. of those who were successful thought that they had been unsuccessful; and 29 per cent. of those who said that their severe hardship claim was unsuccessful stated that they had received no explanation for refusal. I appreciate that that is one factor that the Government have picked up.

It is questionable whether youth training is sufficiently relevant and useful in finding and holding a job. The MORI research indicated that only 36 per cent. of the people in YT placements thought that the training they had received was useful. I do not believe that 36 per cent. is a good figure.

The evidence of the citizens advice bureaux confirms that the guarantee of a training place for every young person who needs one has failed. The bureaux continue to be approached by young people who are unable to find youth training places. Many have exhausted their eight weeks' entitlement to the £15 bridging allowance and will have no income unless they manage exceptionally to obtain the discretionary severe hardship payment—and that is difficult enough. The citizens advice bureaux give examples, but I shall not waste your Lordships' time on them.

In a statement in another place, the Government said that they would take additional steps. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, referred to them. Perhaps I may ask the Government some questions. They say that they will have a specific manager in benefits districts to handle the 16 to 17 year-olds. Does that mean one manager in each office? If not, will not the difficulties that I have recounted of the severe hardship decisions being made remotely in some strange place repeat themselves in the offices if the expert is in only one place? The Government talk about training, which I welcome, as did the noble Baroness. One cannot give too much training on how to handle those young people. I believe that there is need for a specific manager in each office.

The Government talk of staff training in handling 16 to 17 year-olds and refer to private interviews and priority handling. Will such training cover all offices? The Government state that they will review the leaflets for 16 to 17 year-olds. Will copies of those leaflets be available to the careers service offices, the employment service offices, the TEC and the citizens advice bureaux? Will the Government have someone write the leaflets who understands how 16 to 17 year-olds think rather than an official, or possibly a journalist?

With regard to sleeping rough in London, the Government say that the Department of Employment have earmarked hostel beds in London. Will my noble friend say whether that will be extended to other major cities? We might require some in the Isle of Wight and there are larger areas in the country which could benefit from that too.

We are having an interesting debate. It is important to raise these points and to have the subject clearly on the record. However, I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, will not feel that he has to take the matter to a Division. As the noble Earl explained, if he wins a Division it will not achieve immediate executive action. The Government will have to proceed as they think right. I hope that the noble Earl will not press us into corner. The important factor is the debate; and that should be enough.

When my noble friend the Minister replies I hope that he will give us more information about what the Government may do and will indicate that he has grasped the seriousness of the problem which applies to a relatively small number of vulnerable 16 to 17 year-olds.

7.38 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester

My Lords, I was glad to see the Motion on the Order Paper. The noble Earl has done us all a service by giving us an opportunity to discuss this vital matter. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that, whether or not it is taken to a Division, it is important that the subject should be aired because it is grave. The mover of the Motion spoke of a chorus of reports of severe hardship among young people aged 16 and 17 years. I back that up from the experience that we have had in the Greater Manchester area.

The most obvious manifestation of hardship is the increase in the number of people begging and sleeping rough. That matter was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. However, there are other angles to the issue. As regards begging, one used to be able to say in this country that it was not good to give money to people who asked one for it in the street. The advice given to clergy in vicarages was that when people come knocking at the door, as they frequently do, they should offer them a cup of coffee and a sandwich but certainly not give them money. I find that a little harder these days because the evidence of growing poverty is so strong. We are discussing only one aspect of that growing poverty among a certain group of young people.

The issue of crime has already been referred to. Anything that increases the escalating level of crime is to be deplored. I align myself with the noble Earl's comments about the number of representations that have been received from different bodies which study these matters. There is ample evidence of individual cases in which such hardship has led to crime, in particular theft. One of the most disturbing issues about the increasing level of crime in our older industrial areas is that the age of people engaged in such crime has dropped steadily year by year. Perhaps that point is not strictly relevant to the Motion but the issues are connected. Today many children are engaged in serious crime and it is extraordinarily difficult to know how to deal with that.

The changes in the benefit provisions have resulted in increased hardship for 16 and 17 year-olds and that matter should be addressed urgently. Recently a presentation was made to our diocesan synod by someone working in pastoral care in a college of further education in Bolton. He described the severe depravation even in students who are fortunate enough to have college places. They are simply unable to make ends meet and are not looking after themselves properly. They are driven towards illegal ways of keeping themselves going.

I and all noble Lords appreciate the many problems which face the Government when enormous demands for resources are made on them from every quarter. We know that money is limited and that there are many competing claims on public resources. None of us should talk as though resources are unlimited. On the other hand, if we agree that severe damage is being done, the problem of resources must be addressed. We must take the view that one does not establish absolute limits on what can be afforded, in particular by taxation policies.

I wish to quote from evidence given by the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility when the whole matter was under review in 1985. It stated: As Christians it is imperative that we challenge any policies which keep people poor. The values and assumptions about society implicit in the present Review of Supplementary Benefits disturb us deeply. We cannot accept the basic premise that whatever evidence is presented about needs, social security expenditure must be kept within its present limits. There is well-founded evidence … that large numbers of people in our society are not receiving enough money to maintain the health and morale of themselves and their children. A Christian understanding of responsible government implies that all citizens should be enabled to share adequately in the life of society. To allow a large section of the population to be excluded by lack of resources is morally unacceptable to us". The Board for Social Responsibility was referring to the emergence of what has been called Britain's "under class". We are now dealing with one aspect of that; those aged 16 and 17.

Part of the idea behind the change in the benefit rules was that people of that age should remain in their families and that nothing should be done to encourage them to leave. Perhaps I may quote from a letter written last year by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, to the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. He stated: It is clearly not in the best interests of young people, their families, or the nation as a whole that young people move straight into the benefit culture on leaving school. The social security system should not provide an incentive for the vast majority of them to leave the family home which is the best environment for them". However, the family home is not the best environment for a large number of the young people about whom we are now speaking. Obviously we should all prefer the family to remain undivided and give protection to young people of this age until they are fit to be fully independent. But life is not like that. We must realise the facts that lead families to break up and young people of that age to separate from their parents to try to be independent somewhere else, even on the streets of London.

There is a similar argument in relation to divorce. Obviously we should prefer husband and wife to stay together whatever the pressures. Yet the reality of the situation in respect of divorce has led more of us to appreciate that in certain circumstances that simply cannot happen. So it is, surely, with young people who leave their families, go elsewhere and find themselves on our streets.

When last week I saw the headline in a newspaper stating that teenage benefit rules were to be eased my heart was lifted because I believed that this Motion might be unnecessary. However, the headline referred to the fact that the Government have acted to ease restrictions on social security claims made by teenagers of this age who have been in council care. We should be grateful that the Government have listened to those in that situation but the changes do not go far enough. We shall listen with interest to the Minister's reply and shall look for encouragement in the Government going further to try to meet the pressing needs which have been so well outlined this evening.

As regards places on YTS schemes the evidence is abundant. Although according to the overall national picture the situation may appear to be satisfactory, it varies from one area to another. It is not true that there are sufficient places in further education, on YTS schemes or in employment to deal with young people of this age.

Accommodation must be a major worry. There is a lack of affordable accommodation for young people and they may be unable to pay for bedsit or other accommodation. The assumption that somehow people of this age do not need as much money to sustain themselves as do the over-25s is not borne out by the facts. The case is argued on the grounds that one cannot expect youth wages to come up to adult wages. However, we are not concerned about wages but about basic needs. Surely the basic needs of youngsters of this age are as great as the needs of those who are older.

I conclude by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, on speaking so eloquently about the complexities of claiming benefits. That is a major problem now facing us and it goes wider than this debate. The more the attempt is made to target benefits, the more complex becomes the claiming of those benefits. For many people, especially the youngsters about whom we are talking, claiming benefits has become very complex, very difficult and drives them into further hardship. I hope that we shall hear encouraging words from the Minister.

7.40 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to follow the right reverend Prelate on this subject because I wish to underline the fact that this is a matter on which the Christian conscience of this country is properly exercised. I know that that phrase could be misused and has been misused in the past. However, I have two reasons for believing that that is true. First, in the parishes which I have served in the past five years from the comfortable suburban part of southern England, the pews are full of people of all persuasions who have highly troubled consciences about what we are doing to help those involved in the underpart of society. That is one reason.

The second is that for quite a long time I have been involved in the organisation Church Action on Poverty. That is an ecumenical organisation originally formed by a number of diocesan social responsibility officers of the Church of England. I have been associated with that body for some seven or eight years since about a year after it was formed. It has furnished me with some interesting figures which are referred to in a news item in this morning's Independent.

Those figures refer to the claims for bridging allowance—the payment available to those between training schemes. They show a 50 per cent. increase in those applying for loans and those receiving them as between April 1990 and April 1991. Such figures may not appear interesting let alone damaging to your Lordships at first hearing. However, they measure the progressive breakdown in the availability of training places and, therefore, a breakdown in the whole scheme on which the Government have been depending. In some cases the figures are even worse. For example, in Coventry the increase is 75 per cent.

Bridging loans last for eight weeks. After that, although there are one or two areas in which extreme distress applications can be made, it is quite likely—and the statistics support this—that a young person drops out of the system altogether. That must inevitably lead to an increase in crime, among other things.

There are one or two marginal changes which can and should be made even if this Motion is not adopted. If the Government are to continue tinkering with the situation I hope that they will make the changes. First, the bridging allowance of £15 per week has been unchanged since 1988 and it should be increased to take account of inflation. Secondly, the length of entitlement for a bridging loan should be at least doubled from eight to 16 weeks. It is clear from the figures which I have given to your Lordships that eight weeks does not cover the problem. The situation should be realistic.

My noble friend mentioned case histories provided by the citizens advice bureaux. They tell of individual cases and there are pages of them. They are heartrending. It is possible to put up a barrier of indignation as to how it is the fault of the youths that they are in such a situation; how it is the fault of the families; how it is the fault of the "lefties" who educate them, and so on. If that is pushed aside—and it must be pushed aside—one reaches a degree of individual misery for youths finding themselves without resources, without families and in some cases without food or any money at all. One is therefore building a small part of a generation which will have received many horrible lessons. The most horrible is that it appears that society does not care at all about what happens to those youths.

We know that the Government care. They have taken a number of steps which will try to put right the situation. Nevertheless, we must go further than that. Two of the speeches which I have heard in this debate, which I appreciated, enjoyed and admired, stated something which I thought was not quite right; namely, that it is important that the subject should be aired. My Lords, the important thing is that something should be done.

7.45 p.m.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, there is little more to be said on this subject that has not already been said in the past three or four years. However, I am grateful to the noble Earl for once again bringing the subject to your Lordships' attention for it is clear that Her Majesty's Government are behaving like the proverbial ostrich. How many young people are to have their lives destroyed before the Government step in with positive action?

As any parent will know, children reared in a secure environment do not voluntarily leave home unless they are able to provide for themselves an equally secure environment. In fact, many young people who are perfectly capable of fending for themselves will remain in the parental home until they marry.

There can be no doubt that all the young men and women who fall within the ambit of this Motion have problems. Their inability to cope with the demands math by our society may have external causes. We are all aware of abused children, of children who leave care without adequate provision being made for them, and of children of feckless parents who cannot wait until the child reaches the age of 16 when their legal responsibility to provide a home for the child ends.

I believe that Her Majesty's Government have failed totally to comprehend the problems encountered and the sometimes drastic solutions resorted to by another group of young people. They have been variously described as those with behavioural problems, low achievers and slow learners and have been given numerous other labels over the years. Whatever their difficulties, they find themselves approaching their majority ill equipped for the demands of this modern self-seeking society.

A young girl who has been deprived of love and attention as a child will subconsciously yearn for someone upon whom she can shower her repressed emotions, perhaps hoping that the object of her love will love her in return. She may have little comprehension of the immense responsibility she should be assuming when she deliberately or carelessly conceives a child.

I have my doubts that many girls set out to get themselves pregnant in order to obtain housing and social security benefits. Whatever moral judgment we may make upon the girl, we should see that she has the income—earned or in the form of benefits—to ensure that she is adequately nourished, housed and clothed throughout the pregnancy (not just during the last 11 weeks) in order to protect her child.

A number of young people are more than willing to work and are capable of some kind of work but because they may have learning difficulties they find it almost impossible to sustain a job for any length of time. It may be that they have a poor concept of timekeeping, that they are clumsy or that they have challenging behavioural problems. They may well present themselves as suitable to an employer initially and their unsuitability does not emerge for some time. In that case, the bridging allowance of eight weeks within a continuous period of 52 weeks is not by any means adequate. It may well take several weeks for young people to find a YTS place only to discover that it is unsuitable. As time goes on, placement becomes increasingly difficult.

There is no doubt that such young people are genuinely seeking work and that they are willing to work. In many cases they are being supported by social workers and voluntary organisations such as MENCAP work officers and local authority social education centres in their search for work. The same group may well have attended special schools and left later than the term of their sixteenth birthday. They become hard to place on YTS because they may not be able to complete the scheme before their eighteenth birthday.

Social workers working with young people with gross behavioural problems are increasingly aware of the likelihood that they will turn to crime in order to support themselves. Indeed, as the noble Earl and several others have said, the recent MORI survey of 16 and 17 year-old applicants for severe hardship payments found that 21 per cent. of those questioned admitted that they had supported themselves by theft. What advice would the Minister give to social workers trying to guide such young people? It truly is a terrible dilemma.

Is the extra cost of treating bridging allowances and special hardship claims as an entitlement rather than a discretionary payment, and providing it for as long as it is needed instead of for eight in 52 weeks, greater than the cost of the destruction of those young lives? There would no longer be the need for the special hardship claims unit in Glasgow; so savings could be made there.

I wholeheartedly support the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in his Motion. I agree that it should be taken to a Division if the Minister cannot provide a sufficiently encouraging reply.

7.51 p.m.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, one of the advantages of being the last Back Bench speaker is that the other speakers will have painted the picture and the House will be aware of it. I shall therefore content myself, in the couple of minutes I shall use, with an appeal to the Government to accept the Motion.

Noble Lords will remember our debates in 1988. It was after a long battle that we eventually persuaded the Government to agree to add severe hardship to the list of conditions under which 16 and 17 year-olds would be able to obtain income support. Today's Motion spells out more cases of severe hardship.

There are others but at least what the Motion proposes is a step forward in setting out certain conditions under which help should be given.

Noble Lords will remember also in the debate last year that I tried to have pregnancy included among the conditions for which young people could obtain support. I did not succeed. There are all sorts of difficulties from which these young people suffer. We who are in London and involved with them, as I was at Shelter, see homeless young people who should not be homeless. There are hostels which would take them but the payment needs to be guaranteed. All those problems are unnecessary.

The Government want to turn young people away from their dependence on benefit. I understand that. What is more, I understand that they want to say to the kids, "Until you are 18 you are the responsibility of your parents. You should be at home and the only reason you should be away from home is if you are working or pregnant." I understand all that. Nothing is wrong with that save that it could be achieved more successfully using a carrot rather than a stick. The Government are determined to use a stick and we see the consequences.

Many people fall through the net. Therefore we must pick them up. I am grateful to the noble Earl; at least he is picking up some. There are many more.

I do not want to waste the time of the House. I want to appeal to the Minister to accept the Motion as a step forward. We all want—including, I am sure, the Government—to prevent unnecessary hardship befalling these youngsters. We continue to insist that they should be at home. Many do not have a home to go to. In some instances it is not that they have left home but that home has left them. We ought to be facing up to our responsibilities. We are responsible for those young people and should face up to that.

Our approach to the issue of problem youngsters is wrong. I plead with the Government on this occasion to move quietly, at least one stage. I ask them to accept the Motion and allow a number of young people to receive the allowance and not simply specify a vague severe hardship group. I hope that when the Minister replies he will say that he accepts the Motion.

7.55 p.m.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, with the leave of the House perhaps I may intervene briefly. I requested permission from both my noble friend Lord Henley and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and also the noble Earl, Lord Russell.

I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for bringing the Motion before the House. I should first like to say that I fully understand the general principle of the Government and I think that most noble Lords have accepted that there is a perfectly reasonable case for young people of 16 not to receive income support. In this wealthy country they can continue with full education up to the age of 18 and they have that choice before them. At 16 they have the choice, if they wish, to obtain a job. That is more difficult in a period of high unemployment.

There is a third option, which is to take part in a youth training scheme. It is perhaps more difficult to find youth training opportunities today in a period of recession. We hope that the situation is changing but in the South-East it is not easy to find firms who will offer opportunities for youth training or courses which are relevant to the needs of the area in which these children live.

I totally accept and support the general principle of the regulations and I think that the Government have been perfectly reasonable in their attitude. However, we are dealing with what I might call a series of special cases. Noble Lords have described cases of young people who fall into special categories. That makes it difficult for the Government to produce a blanket solution. There is no blanket solution to these problems. The situation calls for adaptability. The Government must turn their minds to examining how they can resolve these many special cases. It is totally unacceptable that in one of the wealthiest countries of the world we should have to debate this problem in this House tonight.

As a trustee of the Caldecote Community I wish to make a special plea, because I believe that there are special cases. We take care of severely disturbed children up to the age of 18. Almost all of them have no home because they have usually been attacked, assaulted or harmed by their family or their family has split up. Those children are certainly not in a position to take part in youth training schemes in the area. Their education often has to cease at 16 because they do not have the potential to carry on in the local schools or indeed in the special education unit that the community provides.

We have the most dedicated workers who devote their whole time to the children, some of whom are very seriously disturbed. They are aged from around three upwards. At the age of 16 it is inconceivable that we should request the children to leave the community and go out into the world with no home, no money and no opportunity either to work or train. It is for that section of society that I make my plea. There are not many, but young people between the ages of 16 and 17 in certain homes do need income support. That would come from government sources. Many charities provide financial support to the community for which the community is extremely grateful.

I hope that the Minister will look carefully at the specific category where financial resources are needed and which were deprived by the amendments to the Social Security Act 1988. I know that my noble friend the Minister, under that rigorous appearance, has a very soft heart. I join with others in hoping and requesting that he will look carefully and closely at the speeches made tonight. I hope that he will take into account the fact that the Government are depriving these young people of the opportunity of ever becoming decent citizens if they are not helped at this particular age. They are so vulnerable in their own formation and in the kind of society which, regrettably, we find in this country today.

8 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for tabling this Motion and for enabling us to debate the subject. It is not the first time that he has brought it to our attention. In the Motion the noble Earl is not attempting to amend the regulations but calling on the Government to do so, which is obviously a very different matter. There are a number of precedents for that procedure.

The debate has clearly identified the need for the changes which are set out in the Motion. Therefore, I can be brief. The problem is increasing. The press and the radio this morning mentioned the report referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, which has been prepared by Church Action on Poverty. It reveals the severe difficulties faced by a large number of 16 and 17 year-olds.

The recent improvement for youngsters who have been in care has been mentioned. I understand that that improvement will benefit only about 300 young people. Can the Minister confirm that figure when he replies? A number of references have been made to the MOB I report and research commissioned by the Government. That research was restricted to the 16 and 17 year-olds who were claiming under the severe hardship provisions. I wish to know the reasons for that restriction. Can the Minister say why MORI was not asked to examine the whole problem of that age group who are eligible for benefit and who have the kinds of problems that we have been discussing today?

However restricted in its research, the report revealed a very worrying situation which has been made extremely clear during the debate. A number of statistics have been quoted from the report, though one could mention some that were not. Almost half of the claimants who took part in the survey said that they had slept rough; 59 per cent. said that they were in debt; 16 per cent. had no money when they claimed and one-in-four of the girls was pregnant. One-third of the boys admitted that they had engaged in at least one of the activities of stealing, begging or selling drugs in order to get money.

The rationale of the policy of the Government rests on the guarantee of a training place. That was a point made by a number of your Lordships. We know that the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux reports that the Government's guarantee of a training place for every young person who needs one has failed When the Minister replies to the debate can he give tie figures for the number of young people who have been unable to find a training place? We have to recognise the failure of the guarantee to provide adequate youth training places and the hardship among young pregnant women. We also have to recognise the hardship among vulnerable young people who are estranged from their parents; the failure of the scheme for severe hardship payments to provide an adequate safety net and the difficulties which are caused by the complexity of the benefits. Those are points which have also been borne out by MORI research.

My noble friend Lady Turner referred to £88 million to £200 million a year as the saving to the Government arising from the restriction of access to benefit for young people. Can the Minister give the House the Government's estimate of the saving to Government funds resulting from the changes that have been made since 1988 in the access to benefits for young people? It will be interesting to learn how the Government react to the estimates that have been made.

I do not wish to repeat the arguments that have been deployed so convincingly by all speakers this evening and therefore, as I said, I can be brief in winding up. Not unusually on these occasions, I believe that the Minister will find himself the only speaker who is willing to defend the Government.

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

My Lords, that is not so.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, spoke in support. She was critical and although she understood the problems of the Government she was not all that impressed by the solutions to them. Can the Minister therefore also tell the House why unemployed 16 to 17 year-olds are treated differently, why are they paid less; and why it is assumed that living independently costs less if you are young?

A number of references have been made to the MORI Report which the Government commissioned. However, recently there was another MORI Report called The Changing Nature of Deprivation in Britain—The Inner Cities Perspective. It is a survey which evaluates the nature and extent of poverty in Britain and compares them with the results of a similar survey conducted in 1983. The report states: It provides readers with insight into social change under the premiership of Mrs. Thatcher, based on an original survey methodology". The report applies to poverty in our society as a whole and not just to young people. It is a damning indictment of the Government's social policy since 1979. There is one statistic in the report which is very relevant when considering the attitude of the public towards the Government and their policies which have led to the problems that we have been discussing concerning 16 and 17 year-olds. One has the feeling that at times the whole of the Government's social policy towards the family since the mid-1980s has been based on the ideal of the model family living in Grantham, circa 1930. The reality is very different.

The survey asks a question similar to that asked by the EC in 1976 and by similar surveys in 1983 and 1990. The question was: Why in your opinion are there people who live in need? Four answers were suggested and the respondents had to choose. The first response suggested was: Because there is much injustice in our society". That was given as a reason why people live in need. In 1976 the number of people who replied that that was the reason for living in need was 16 per cent. In 1983 the figure was 32 per cent. and in 1990 it was 40 per cent. Therefore, in the 14 years from 1976 to 1990 the number of people who thought that the reason for living in need is because there is "much injustice in our society" had more than doubled.

The second response was: Because of laziness and lack of will-power". In 1976 the percentage of people who gave that reply was 43 per cent. In 1983 the figure was 22 per cent. and in 1990 it was 19 per cent. The number of people who thought that the reason for living in need was the increase in injustice in society had more than doubled in the 14 years. The number of those who thought the reason was laziness and lack of willpower had more than halved.

In my view, that reveals a very marked change in social attitudes and the realisation by the public of the Government's direct responsibility for many of our social ills, not least those we have been discussing this evening. The categories for the extension of eligibility for income support in the Motion are clearly drawn. The Motion is procedurally correct. If the noble Earl decides to divide the House on the Motion I shall give him my own support and I shall encourage my colleagues to do the same.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, my noble kinsman Earl Russell claims that this is an accepted procedure. I make no bones about that. I see nothing wrong with the House debating these matters. I should point out to the noble Earl that debating this matter is one thing, but pressing it to a Division and carrying a Motion to the effect that the House agrees with the Motion that the noble Earl has moved, is another. Obviously this is a matter for another place. It may very well be a breach of its privilege. That is entirely a matter for another place. These issues affect financial matters and it could affect the privilege of the other Chamber. I refer my noble kinsman to Halsbury's Laws of England and the entry under Parliament, paragraph 10.21. Perhaps at some point he might like to look at that.

I now move on to the Motion itself. When the Government withdrew the automatic entitlement for all 16 and 17 year-olds to income support, they did so to promote a positive alternative. In passing, perhaps I may say that we have not heard much in the way of positive alternatives from the two parties opposite. That positive alternative was training for young people. This Government believe most firmly in the value of education and training. The latest figures show that currently some six out of 10 16 year-olds are staying on in full-time education, compared with a mere four out of 10 in 1979.

For those people who decide to leave the education system at 16, we are committed to the provision of high quality vocational training, under the youth training scheme. The considerable resources we are devoting to training enable us to guarantee—and I repeat this guarantee—a youth training place to every 16 or 17 year-old who wants one. The latest available figures show that more than 260,000 young people in England and Wales were taking advantage of youth training to enhance their employment prospects. It is simply not true to say, as the noble Earl said in his article in the Independent today, that there is failure to meet the guarantee in 9.25 per cent. of occasions. Research recently published by the Department of Employment found no cases where an active seeker after work was not given an offer of a YT place. I give way to my noble kinsman.

Earl Russell

My Lords, that is the very piece of research I was quoting. I am very surprised by my noble kinsman's reading of it.

Lord Henley

My Lords, my noble kinsman is incorrect. I am saying that the research found that no active seeker was not given an offer of a YT place. Of course, youth training is a voluntary option—we accept that—as is staying at school or getting a job. The only option we are not continuing to offer is to leave it open to fit young people. I stress the word "fit" because, as noble Lords will know, those who are disabled or incapable of work are still entitled to income support. The option is no longer available for those people who have been unemployed and in receipt of benefit. I am sure that the House will agree that the acquisition of vocational skills represents a much sounder preparation for a life of productive work.

Perhaps I may also say in passing that the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, that those who live away from home are not entitled to income support is not true. If young people have to live away from home by reason of abuse or violence then obviously they will be entitled to income support for a limited period of time, as the noble Baroness well knows.

In his Motion my noble kinsman seeks to restore benefit entitlement to five groups of young people. These five groups are those 16 and 17 year-olds who are, first, those who have completed or who are available for and actively seeking training under the youth training scheme; secondly, 16 and 17 year-olds for whom such training is not available by reason of their age; thirdly, those who are pregnant; fourthly, registered people living away from their parents, or any person acting in place of their parents, and are doing so for the purpose of seeking work or training; fifthly, those who were in care of the local authority or in custody immediately before reaching the age of 16. As I said, current legislation provides for groups of young people such as these and others—lone parents, the long-term sick and the handicapped—to receive special treatment under the benefit regulations. As has also been said and as the House will know, there is also a further safety net procedure by which benefits can be paid to youngsters who do not normally qualify. The severe hardship payment system provides a flexible and fair means of directing payment of income support to any young person in severe and immediate need regardless of their entitlement under the normal rules.

I believe that the present policy framework strikes the correct balance between creating an environment of positive —I stress the word "positive" because, as I said, we did not hear anything positive from noble Lords on the Opposition Benches—opportunities for young people and meeting our obligations towards those young people in genuine need.

Much has been made of the MORI Report which I announced we had commissioned a year ago. Much of what the MORI Report has to say is very positive. Briefly, 21 per cent. of claimants were living with their parents at the time of their claim, and, of those, 69 per cent. successfully claimed for severe hardship allowance. The policy is, therefore, effective for those young people at home even where there is the risk of severe hardship. Sixty three per cent. said that the time working on YT was very or fairly useful. Seventy five per cent. of all claims were successful. Ninety six per cent. of all claims of those with no fixed address were successful.

The latest figure I have on the success rate is over 80 per cent. There is no discrimination influencing the outcome of claims and there are no significant differences in success rates by age, sex, pregnancy or reason. Fifty six per cent. felt that the staff of my department were understanding of the claimants' problems, and 78 per cent. felt that the staff who interviewed them were polite. Further, 51 per cent. of claimants left home before their 16th birthday. On this occasion I do not think the homelessness problem can be blamed on the income support policy as operated by my department.

The findings show that severe hardship payments are going to those young people seeking youth training places who are most at risk, most notably to those at risk of homelessness or the break-up of the family. They also, as intended, enabled the Government to identify a number of positive steps which we announced last week—and I shall mention one of them later on in the debate—whereby we could further improve our policies and their delivery. But to say, as my noble kinsman said in his article in the Independent today, that the Government were merely blaming the alleged shortcomings of our policy on the staff is, as my noble kinsman knows, quite palpable nonsense. We in the department have utmost faith in the staff in our local offices but obviously it is our duty to see that all the procedures adopted by them are improved as much as possible to deliver a fit and proper service.

Perhaps I may at this point comment on the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Mottistone on improving the liaison arrangements between the various agencies that young people have to deal with. The Government fully recognise the importance of effective liaison arrangements between the various agencies involved and have emphasised that to all our local offices. Business education partnerships are being set up by the TECs and local authorities to ensure that the maximum effort is made to meet the needs of young people in the locality. The employment services liaise closely with the careers and benefits agency and guarantee liaison officers have proved very successful in finding places for those young people who have proved difficult to place. My noble friend also asked whether there would be an expert in each local office. I can answer him quite simply by saying, yes, that will be the case.

I should stress that the number of young people claiming income support under the severe hardship provisions should be kept in perspective. For example, the Iffiest information available suggests that there are almost 785,000 16 and 17 year-olds in employment. There are some 725,000 16 and 17 year-olds in full-time education. As I said earlier, in April 1991 there were some 260,000 young people on youth training in England and Wales compared to the 11,000 young people who claimed under the severe hardship provisions on one or more occasion in the period between October 1990 and April 1991.

I shall now deal with the five groups that my noble kinsman sets out in his Motion. In the first group the noble Earl proposes to extend eligibility for benefits to all 16 and 17 year-olds who have applied for and are awaiting, or actively seeking, placement on a training course. The cost to the taxpayer of that proposal would be considerable and I do not believe that it would be justifiable. I am sure the whole House will agree—though possibly not the right reverend Prelate—that targeting of benefits is an important principle when framing social security legislation to ensure that help reaches those in need while money is not misdirected to those who do not require assistance. Most people awaiting a youth training placement are living in the parental home, and I do not believe that all require income support during that period. Most parents are able to, expect to, and indeed have a legal responsibility to support their children until they reach the age of 18.

Moreover, just as child benefit is available to parents of young people who remain in education, so too is it available, for a period of up to 16 weeks, to all parents of young people who have applied for and are awaiting a youth training place. During this child benefit extension period, income support is also available to young people awaiting placement who have no living parent or guardian or who have good cause to be living away from the parental or family home. Even if they are living in the parental or family home, they can still apply for severe hardship payments. In some 69 per cent. of cases, according to the MORI report, they are successful; that is, in cases where the parents themselves might be on income support.

There is also provision for a bridging allowance to be paid to people who for one reason or another have left one period of youth training and are awaiting another placement, or for the under 18s, who have lost their jobs and are awaiting a placement. I shall deal with the bridging allowance later. The current provisions successfully protect people who need financial support while awaiting a youth training placement. Extending access of benefits to all people awaiting placement, regardless of their personal circumstances, would represent a poor use of taxpayers' money.

I turn to the second group identified by my noble kinsman. Young people who are near to, but not, 18, who are not employed and who are not in full time education, are still covered by the guarantee of a suitable YT place. If not already on YT, they should be offered a full YT course right up to level 2 standard in the vast majority of cases with suitable length of training. Such young people will not be offered just a few scrappy days or weeks of training even if they have been in YT before. If the near 18s are finishing their YT courses before they are 18, under the TEC contract they should still have a further suitable YT offered to them for a period up to at least their 18th birthday and if they do not have employment status. If for any reason that is not available to them, they will leave their training provider but then they can fall back into that guarantee group and can get another offer of YT training by that route.

I turn now to the third group specified by my noble kinsman. He called on the Government to extend eligibility to all pregnant young girls. As he will be aware, income support is available to expectant mothers who are within 11 weeks of their expected date of confinement, or earlier if they suffer from a medical condition related to their pregnancy. It is important to stress that point. Pregnancy itself is not an incapacity. I see no reason why benefit should automatically be available merely by reason of pregnancy. However, if there is a medical condition related to that pregnancy, income support will be available 11 weeks before the expected date of confinement. Young women in the earlier stages of pregnancy are included in the Government's guarantee of a YT placement.

In March this year my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment announced measures to improve access to appropriate provision specifically for this group, including the provision of short care-related courses where that is the best option. For those young women who wish to resume training after the birth of their babies, part-time training can be arranged if the resumption of full-time training proves too onerous a proposition. Last week we announced further initiatives intended specifically to help groups, such as young pregnant girls, who have a special requirement for rapid training placements.

The aim of the current system is to provide training which is relevant to the needs of young pregnant women—for example, through a care-related course—and which can develop into more dedicated occupational training as time goes on, while of course providing financial support and assistance when it is most required. I do not believe that it would be responsible for the Government to provide incentives —even though my noble kinsman will not accept them as incentives—to young women to give up training in the early stages of pregnancy when they are still capable of training or work.

My noble kinsman also seeks to extend benefit entitlement to young people who are living away from home for the purposes of seeking work or training. Almost all youth training is locally based, and most young people do not have to leave home due to a training placement. For those few who incur lodging costs or travel expenses, provision already exists for them to receive extra financial support from training and enterprise councils to help cover those expenses. Current policy in this area is designed to recognise the greater needs of young people who are forced to live away from home, while not providing an incentive to do so, as we believe that in the vast majority of cases the home is the best environment in which young people can live. The proposed amendment would encourage, whatever my noble kinsman says, more young people to leave home unnecessarily at an early age and become dependent on state benefits, which is not in their interests.

Perhaps I may make one brief mention of the allegations made by my noble kinsman and by the right reverend Prelate that our policy in this field is leading to a rise in crime. My noble kinsman quoted the fact that, according to the MORI research, some 21 per cent. of the group were supporting themselves by theft, 6 per cent. by begging and 2 per cent. by selling drugs. Severe hardship claims come from a very small proportion of 16 and 17 year-olds. Some are, it must be accepted, on the fringes of criminality. To put those figures into perspective, one should remember that 31 per cent. of all claimants of severe hardship allowance had been in trouble with the police before leaving school. Half of the claimants had also played truant from school. Therefore one simply cannot argue that income support provisions in this field are driving young people into a life of crime.

The final group mentioned by my noble kinsman are those to whom we can offer some comfort, as he will know from our announcement last week concerning the extension of entitlement to those 16 and 17 year-olds who are just leaving local authority care or custody. He will, I am sure, know that a young person released from prison or detention and registered for a job or youth training who has a good reason for living independently from his parents is already eligible, for a limited period, for income support. We announced last week that we intend to extend that provision to young people leaving care so as to enable them to receive benefit for up to eight weeks without the uncertainty caused by having to prove either estrangement or hardship. That will be brought forward by secondary legislation as soon as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked me to confirm the figure of 300. I am quite happy to confirm that it is a figure of around 300. The noble Lord will no doubt say that that is a small number and that the Government are not making a concession. We have all accepted that we are talking about small numbers of young people. As the noble Lord well knows, the vast majority of those with whom we are concerned are in education, training or work. We are talking about a very small number.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the change will affect 300 out of 11,000. Is that correct? The change will help 300 of those coming under the severe hardship provisions.

Lord Henley

My Lords, 11,000 people successfully claimed severe hardship allowance last year. The change will help another 300. That is true. We are talking about very small numbers. The Government are showing flexibility and an ability to meet demand. I do not think that noble Lords have put forward any case for extending benefits universally to all 16 and 17 year-olds, whether or not they are seeking work.

I could go on for much longer. I understand that there are further points with which I should deal. However, in view of the time that I have spent thus far, I believe that it would not be right at this stage for me to answer all the points which were raised. I shall of course write, so far as I can, to noble Lords on specific points.

We believe that our record in providing for young people is an impressive one. Record numbers of people are now staying on in education and taking advantage of training opportunities, as I said at the beginning of my speech. Opportunities now exist in youth training for those who decide to leave school at the age of 16. Moreover, thanks to the Government's youth training guarantee, no young person need be lacking in financial support.

Those who are able are rightly expected to take advantage of the offer of vocational training, while income support remains available to help people who are unable, for good reasons, to participate. Too often, income support to all 16 and 17 year-olds would not be a kindness.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but the noble Earl's Motion does not ask for benefits to be handed out to all 16 and 17 year-olds; he specified certain groups. I fear that the Minister is misleading the House.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am not misleading the House. I understand that the noble Earl's Motion deals with five specific groups. I have dealt with five specific groups. However, there have been general accusations of government meanness in this field and claims that, by this policy, we have been saving money. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, categorically made that remark. Moreover, the right reverend Prelate—correctly, if I may say so—stated that obviously resources are limited and therefore must be directed to those most in need.

However, this is not a question of saving money: the YT guarantee will cost the Government and the taxpayer £844 million in the current year. Restoring entitlement to income support for all young people would actually save the taxpayer money. YT is not a cheap option; it is a considerable investment by the taxpayer in young people and in the future health of the economy. We do not think that it would be right to provide, as noble Lords opposite would wish, a continued, perverse incentive to leave home, to drift to London and become dependent permanently upon state 13enefit. That would mean losing out on all the advantages which come from taking part in training as offered. It would also mean falling into the very way of life of petty crime and homelessness which noble Lords opposite have blamed on us, and which the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, quite rightly condemned. For those reasons, I urge the House to reject the Motion.

8.32 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble kinsman for that reply. I should also like to thank all those who have taken part in the debate. I have never seen the House so unanimous: noble Lords, spiritual and temporal, of all parties and of none, have spoken with a single voice. The last time I heard this House so unanimous was when it approved the Loyal Address for the 90th birthday of Her Majesty the Queen Mother—God bless her!

However, when my noble kinsman rose to speak, the unanimity disappeared. I shall not take too much of the time of the House. I wish to make just a few points. On the propriety of what I am doing, I listened to his advice; but I found that of his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter more persuasive. As regards the guarantee, I was relying upon paragraph 11 of the report of the Department of Employment to which my noble kinsman referred. That refers to the outcome after four weeks of looking for a placement. It reads: For 16 placing action was continuing. 23 could not be traced and a further 12 had turned 18 years of age". Four weeks with no legal means of support! To me that means that the guarantee has failed.

I shall refer to just one other point made by my noble kinsman. He said that home was the best place for these young people to be. But 65 per cent. of those who left home had been thrown out. Politics is the art of the possible. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, but I must commend the Motion to the House.

8.35 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Motion be agreed to?

* Their Lordships divided: Contents, 44; Not-Contents, 67.

Division No. 1
Airedale, L. McGregor of Durris, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Alport, L. McNair, L.
Avebury, L. Manchester, Bp.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Mar, C.
Brain, L. Mayhew, L.
Carter, L. Monkswell, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Ogmore, L.
Ezra, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Falkland, V. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Gladwyn, L. Robson of Kiddington, B
Graham of Edmonton, L. Rochester, L.
Grey, E. Russell, E. [Teller.]
Hampton, L. St. John of Bletso, L.
Hamwee, B. Seear, B.
Hanworth, V. Sefton of Garston, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Hooson, L. Tordoff, L. [Teller.]
Hunt, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Whaddon, L.
Judd, L. White, B.
Lawrence, L. Wigoder, L.
Ampthill, L. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Arran, E. Elton, L.
Ashbourne, L. Ferrers, E.
Astor, V. Fisher, L.
Auckland, L. Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Barber, L. Gisborough, L.
Blatch, B. Greenway, L.
Blyth, L. Gridley, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Cavendish of Furness, L. Hemphill, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Henley, L.
Crickhowell, L. Hertford, M.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Hesketh, L. [Teller.]
Denham, L. Holderness, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Hooper, B.
Dudley, E.. Howe, E.
Huntly, M. Pender, L.
Jeffreys, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Rankeillour, L.
Kimball, L. Reay, L.
Long, V. Renton, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Rochdale, V.
McAlpine of West Green, L. Savile, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. Seccombe, B.
Marlesford, L. Strathclyde, L.
Merrivale, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L
Mersey, V. Torphichen, L.
Milverton, L. Tryon, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V. Ullswater, V.
Morris, L. Vinson, L.
Mountevans, L. Waddington, L.
Moyne, L. Wedgwood, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Wynford, L.
Oxfuird, V.

* The Tellers for the Not-Contents reported 67 names. The Clerks recorded 68 names.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.