HL Deb 23 June 1994 vol 556 cc417-8

3.16 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

In the light of their written Answers of 18th April and 5th May, how long the procedures for claiming income support on grounds of unavoidable severe hardship have been under active consideration; and when they expect to be able to announce their conclusions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Viscount Astor)

My Lords, the procedures for claiming income support under the severe hardship provision have been kept under review since the inception of the policy in 1988 and a number of improvements have been introduced as a result.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that reply. Does he understand that for teenagers who have had to leave home through no fault of their own this is a matter of some urgency? Does he think that his department's response—since this problem was described by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, on 24th July 1991—shows an equivalent urgency? Would he agree that, under the principles of The Citizen's Charter, payments for severe hardship should rest on the budget of the Department of Employment, which guaranteed a youth training place for the people concerned?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the last point the noble Earl makes about the budget is an interesting suggestion which I, of course, take note of. The severe hardship provision is a safety net to help those in exceptional circumstances. There are no plans to weaken this benefit. Last year we paid about 118,000 claims and of course housing benefit may be available for those who are not at home.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, will the Minister confirm the statement made by Sir Norman Fowler earlier this month that some 76,000 16 and 17 year-olds were neither in school nor in work, nor in a training place or on benefit? In that case what connection does the Minister think this might have with the rise in street begging?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the answer to the final part of the question of the noble Baroness is "none at all". The group that she refers to, comprising 70,000 to 80,000 people, does not choose to claim or to remain in education. Those involved are not in need or they would have moved into youth training.