HC Deb 16 July 1991 vol 195 cc134-6W
Mr. Wilson

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security, pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) of 26 July 1990,Official Report, columns 494–95, when he now expects to be able to publish the results of the research into the way in which benefit provision for 16 and 17-year-olds is working.

Mr. Jack

[pursuant to the reply, 30 April, column 161]: I have today placed a copy of the report on 16 and 17-year-old applicants for severe hardship payments in the Library. The research focuses on the very small proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds, 0.4 per cent., who are not in full-time education, work, or youth training and who claim income support under the severe hardship provision.

The research was commissioned in July 1990 by the DSS to gather more data on young people who claim under the severe hardship provision, their understanding of and attitudes towards the benefit system and their experience of training and the labour market.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is also publishing today a report "Finding Youth Training Places for 16 and 17 Year Old Applicants for Severe Hardship Payment".

Almost two thirds of those interviewed during the MORI research said that they found youth training useful. The report also shows that severe hardship payments are, as intended, going to those young people seeking YT places who are most at risk: and in particular that the system provides a safety net both for those who have to live independently and to those at risk of homelessness or the break-up of the family.

The research coupled with the Department's own monitoring has been taken into account in putting in hand further improvements in the arrangements for dealing with claims from young people, which build on those already announced in November 1989 and March 1990. Accordingly the Government are implementing the following measures:

  1. (1) The service to 16 and 17-year-olds in Benefits Agency offices is being improved by:
    • Making a specific assistant manager in each district personally responsible for service to 16 and 17-year-olds.
    • Further staff training to reinforce the importance of 16 and 17-year-olds being handled positively and sympathetically both at reception and in the course of their personal interview.
    • Ensuring that interviews with young people are conducted in private, wherever possible.
    • Introducing priority handling for claims and strengthened procedural guidance.
    • A review of the leaflets and other information available to 16 and 17-year-olds.
  2. (2) Measures have already been taken to improve the procedures for arranging YT placements, including the introduction of guarantee liaison arrangements in each TEC, with contractual obligations on TECs to investigate individual cases. All those in receipt of severe hardship payments for more than eight weeks are now automatically referred to the TEC under the liaison arrangements. This procedure is to be further strengthened by referring at an earlier stage those young people whose personal circumstances make it particularly important to find a place quickly: care leavers, rough sleepers, pregnant girls.
  3. (3) The Employment Service will improve the guidance to unemployment benefit offices on handling claims for income support.

The Children Act 1989, which comes into force with effect from October 1991, makes clear the duty on local authorities to prepare children for the time when they leave their care and simplifies the existing powers and duties of local authorities to care for children formerly in their care. These provisions recognise the importance of helping children to become established in the community.

However, concern has been expressed about some children leaving care who claim income support under the severe hardship provisions: this creates an uncertainty which can cause difficulty in making positive plans for the future. Accordingly we intend to introduce legislation to give eligibility for income support to all those 16 and 17-year-olds who live independently on leaving care while continuing in full-time non-advanced education. And we further intend to make income support available for a period of up to eight weeks to all 16 and 17-year-olds leaving care who have to live independently and who are registered for work and YT.

Those 16 and 17-year-olds who have been sleeping rough in London will already have benefited from and will continue to benefit from the bed spaces being made available by the Department of the Environment under its rough sleepers initiative. Of these, 180 hostel bed spaces are specifically earmarked for young people.

These measures, taken with the improvements already made, will ensure the effective operation of the safety net that the severe hardship provision provides to those most at risk while seeking a YT place without detracting from the positive options of education, work or training which are pursued by the vast majority of young people in this age group.

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