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Mr. Holland : We have conventions in the House and I agreed not to conclude for the Opposition. What the Paymaster General said is not the case. It can be true only in nominal terms. The impression given is wholly misleading. Marshall aid was a major programme whereas the structural funds are a minor programme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East asked a series of questions. The revenue figures in the budget documents, including the PDB, the draft budget and the amending letter, show the yield from customs duties in detail, but again perhaps we may engage in correspondence. He said that nothing was being done about stocks, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) said, stocks have been reduced substantially in certain areas. Community stocks of butter fell by 85 per
Column 142cent. between January 1987 and November 1988 and of skimmed milk powder by 99 per cent. over the same period.
My hon. Friend asked for our estimate of the United Kingdom's net payments to the Community institutions in 1989. He and I know from frequent cross- examination of the difficulty of comparing a calendar year for the Community with a fiscal year in which we report our public expenditure. He knows our forecast for public expenditure of £1,970 million in 1989-90 and £1,950 million in 1990-91, and I look forward to his comparison. I stress that the proportion of GDP represented by our net contribution is lower than it was in the late 1970s.
My hon. Friend intervened in my speech to make a point about advances. To have peace between us, advances are a legitimate means of dealing with cash flow problems. They do not facilitate higher spending. On the other hand, delayed payments require a proposal from the Commission. The present drift of the budget is away from delayed payments. Thus we have the substantial provision for stock depreciation.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) made an admirable speech, in part of which he referred to research and development. I hope that he will acknowledge as a result of the British Government's efforts that the difference between good and bad research has emerged. I am making a similar point on his speech to that which my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon made about the effectiveness and efficiency in the structural funds. In response to my hon. Friends the Members for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) and for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), I recognise the Government's responsibility to watch new areas of production carefully. I will investigate the European Movement's alleged support of federalism, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston would always wish to have a worthy opponent when he fought the opposite cause in order to improve his argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) raised the subject of the European Parliament's role. It has been valuable for agriculture and I shall return to the telephone matter, although without commitment. My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham added considerably to the tone of the debate on agriculture and my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) joined in with my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon on the subject of the use of the funds.
Finally, I hope that if some of the things which we think might come to pass do come to pass my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East will have the generosity in due course to acknowledge that they have.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 7271/88 and 7758/88 on the preliminary Draft Budget for 1989, 7908/88 on the Draft Budget for 1989, 8996/88 on Letter of Amendment No. 1 to the preliminary Draft Budget for 1989 and 9286/88 on the European Parliament's proposed Amendments and modifications to the Draft Budget for 1989.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Alan Howarth.]
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : We move in one step from the politics of gross profligacy to the politics of gross parsimony. I am grateful for the opportunity of this Adjournment debate to draw specific attention to what I regard as an act of wickedness perpetrated by this Government. I use those words advisedly to describe the cynical decision to cut off all legal sources of income from thousands of vulnerable youngsters in the full knowledge that many of them would be left without money, homes or hopes. Charitable organisations and social services departments around the country are now anxiously awaiting the inevitable consequences of last year's social security legislation affecting the under-18s. The director of social work for the National Children's Home has written to express his grave concern about the implications for young people with no family support to fall back on when this Government deprive them of all income despite being unable to offer them jobs or youth training scheme places.
The Central London Society Security Advisers Forum concludes from the early workings of the legislation :
"If you are young and anything better than really quite ill you can be left to sleep out."
That was based on the guidance offered by the Minister for Social Security who is to reply to the debate.
The social work chairman of Strathclyde region, the Rev. David Lane, has pointed out in stark and compassionate terms the moral danger into which the Government are pushing thousands of young people who now have no income from legal sources. He is not, of course, talking about the majority of youngsters who have been stripped of all their income because in many, probably most cases, families will succeed in protecting the youngsters from the fates to which I have alluded and to which that highly selective creature, the Tory conscience, is so wretchedly indifferent. However, when we are legislating about the very means of survival for 16 and 17-year- olds, is there not a binding moral obligation to consider the large number of exceptions, rather than hide behind the generality that most of them, one way or another, will manage to put hand to mouth?
This national scandal is based on a lie of Goebellian proportions from the Government. Since I cannot attribute an act of studied mendacity to individuals in this House or even to Lord Young of Graffham, I shall have to quote instead from the press release made parallel to statements in this House which was issued by the Department of Employment on 27 October 1987, confirming the effect of the Employment Act 1988. That press release stated without equivocation :
"This Bill, together with the social security changes, will give effect to our manifesto commitments to 16 and 17-year-olds. Every unemployed school leaver in this age group is guaranteed a place on the youth training scheme. No one who is able to take up a place on the YTS needs to live on benefit."
We knew, and said then, that that was a lie. We know now that it is a lie. In many parts of the country the guarantee of a YTS place has not been fulfilled, yet on the
Column 144basis of that fraudulent prospectus and without regard to the consequences on individual young lives, the Government proceeded to take away all means of support.
Opposition Members disagree philosophically with the conscription of younsters on to youth training schemes of variable quality on pain of losing all benefits. However, in constituencies such as mine, that is not the issue. The issue is that the Government guaranteed YTS places but failed to deliver them and yet have proceeded to withdraw all benefit. I reckon that throughout the country at least 20,000 youngsters have no legal income tonight. The figure may be much higher and it will certainly be much higher after the next wave of school leavers who will not even qualify for the eight weeks' bridging allowance in the absence of jobs or YTS places, but who will straight away face having no income.
The case was put more eloquently by a young constituent who wrote to me, saying :
"How do young people survive after the bridging allowance? Has Mrs. Thatcher abdicated all responsibility for the younger generation? Before this legislation I received £19.20 per week. On bridging this has been cut to £15. After bridging allowance I will receive nothing. What hope is there for people like myself--no work, no money! I did not see this in the Conservative manifesto."
Perhaps the Minister will answer some of that young woman's questions. What price does he place on the value of a young life? I fear that it is not very high. I recently asked two questions of the Secretary of State for Social Security. I asked him to state how many YTS vacancies exist in each region of the country, which he did. I asked him to state also the number of people looking for YTS places in each region of the country--the other necessary half of the equation--which he refused to do, on the ground that the information could not be obtained "except at disproportionate cost".
Today, I received answers to parallel questions, not about the whole of the United Kingdom--I understand that it is beyond the means of the public purse to supply the information on a nationwide basis--but about the Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway area. Once again, the answer about the number of vacancies was given and, once again, an answer about the number of applicants was refused on the grounds of disproportionate cost. Behind such deceits Ministers shelter, but the victims are the young people of that area and of the country. Tonight we shall hear about youngsters who are left bereft of income, but who can appeal on grounds of severe hardship. We know from our own areas, however, how harshly the criteria are being applied, presumably on the Minister's instructions. I have to hand a letter from the Scottish Education Department to principal careers officers in which it is made clear that they have no say in assessing severe hardship in individual cases. That is the unique function of a small central unit within the DHSS working on ministerial instructions. There is nothing to suggest that it is a liberal regime or that it will be so.
The only urgent answer is to restore income support to youngsters who do not have jobs or YTS places, at least until some semi-humane scheme, based on a far less broad-brush approach and which takes account of the human tragedy that is unfolding throughout the country among youngsters of whom we know little and about whom the Minister cares little, is put in place. If the Minister cannot do that in the name of humanity, I hope, at least, that he will spare us any festive cant about Christian society or suffering little children. To treat 16
Column 145and 17-year-olds in this way reveals the darkest side of a society that cares very little for young life or human dignity.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : I wish to associate myself with the criticisms that my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) has just made. I am conscious of the time restrictions in half -hour Adjournment debates and I shall restrict myself to asking the Minister to investigate a single case, which is symptomatic of many others.
Will the Minister assure me that his Department will investigate the case of 17-year-old Terry Flowers of Freeman street in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Hughes)? Last Friday, Terry was interviewed on the television programme "Central Weekend". Terry is 17 and his birthday is at Christmas. Nobody will have him on YTS for a month when they can have a 16-year-old for a full two years. He has had no money from the DHSS for one month. His mam is on income support and he has no prospect of any money before Christmas as a result of the Social Security Act 1988.
The only advice that has been given to him by the local office of the DHSS is that he should "Try the Salvation Army." Is that the face of caring capitalism that the Minister discussed with me when we sat on opposite sides of the fence on the Committee that considered the clauses and schedules that became part of the Social Security Act 1988? What can the Minister say tonight to the Terrys of this country about the future?
Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley) : This is an important debate even though it is taking place late at night. I want to raise one issue that supplements what my hon. Friends the Members for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) and for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) have said. It relates to young people who have come out of care and who cannot rely on families once they reach the age of 17 or 18. Once those young people come out of the care of local authorities, which are themselves subject to financial constraint, they find themselves in difficulty.
The one example that I shall quote, also by coincidence, relates to a 17- year-old boy. He had been in care for three years after a family breakdown and he went into voluntary care. In July 1988 he left care and was working on a YTS placement. He received £28.50 from that scheme and out of that he had to pay £10.74 in rent and rates. That left him with £17.76 per week, out of which he had to pay for gas, electricity, food, household needs, clothing, fares to work, and so on.
In the second year, that youngster's pay increased to about £35, but the new housing benefit rules meant that he had to pay about £16 in rent and rates, leaving him £19 a week to pay for gas, electricity, clothes and fares. The position is much worse than it was before April 1988, when in the first year he would have been £7.74 better off and in the second year £11 better off.
I have intervened in the debate because I believe that those young people have had enough trauma in life. They do not have a loving family and have had to be brought up by the local authority, which does its best. At the age of 18
Column 146they are forced into circumstances in which they could not afford to take council accommodation even if it were offered to them. Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) rose--
I associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson). It is a pity that the Minister for Social Security must answer for a policy that is widely regarded in the west of Scotland as malicious, wicked and totally evil. I hope that the Minister will not argue that there are guaranteed places for young people on YTS and that my hon. Friend's points are invalid. There is a big difference between the statistical promise of a place on YTS and the places available for young people.
The social work department of Strathclyde regional council, which is not given to extremist statements or statements without validity, has said during the past month that thousands of people in the west of Scotland-- many of them in Glasgow--cannot find places on YTS and are, therefore, under this Government's policies, penniless. The social work department points out that many of those young people come from the most vulnerable sections of our society which for the past 10 to 12 years have been under enormous pressure from rising unemployment and family breakdown. How is it possible to justify making young people penniless? That is the effect of the Government's policy. 12.32 am
The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Nicholas Scott) : I have taken note of the points made by the hon. Members for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) and for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson). What I cannot accept for one moment is that the underlying thrust of the policy concerning the cases that have been mentioned this evening is wicked or unreasonable-- .
Mr. Scott : I hope that hon. Gentlemen will listen with some care to what I have to say. They know as well as I do that all hon. Members have a real concern for people of that age group who may be vulnerable-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North doubts that. I shall have a word to say later in the debate about some of the allegations that he has made, not surprisingly in the Morning Star, which is the most appropriate place for him to make such allegations.
Column 147The point that we are trying to make in the new provisions is that, at the age of 16 or 17, young people are at the stage of transition from childhood to the young adult world. We must all be careful about the provision that we make for them. I hope that I can show the limited number of hon. Members in the House that the Government have been careful in that regard. I am convinced that it would be healthy neither for society nor for those young people if they could move straight from education into dependence upon state benefits as a normal stage in their transfer to adult life. I can think of nothing more debilitating for the mass of youngsters leaving education and entering the adult world than to have automatically to depend on state benefits. That is why from September we implemented the manifesto commitment that those under 18 who choose to remain unemployed should not be eligible for benefit. I shall later defend that assertion. However, at the same time, through our regulations I think that we have made sure that vulnerable young people will still be protected. We linked these measures with the guarantee of an offer of a place on the youth training scheme for every school leaver under 18 who applies for one and who is not in work or full time education.
I say not just in terms of my ministerial responsibility but as the Member of Parliament for Chelsea in central London and representing Earl's Court that I can think of no greater danger than for young people to be attracted to leave home and have the opportunity to live on state benefits and come into some sort of life in inner London or any of our other big cities and be exposed to the dangers, moral and otherwise, that can confront them. We are determined to ensure that that is not an easy option open to young people.
Mr. Wilson rose --
I know that some Opposition Members have doubts about the training opportunities that we are offering to young people. They have doubts about the extent and quality of the training that will be available for young people. I maintain with certainty that the youth training scheme is a real and high quality opportunity for those who leave school without a job to make a sound start in their adult lives. Modern skills and qualifications will be essential to enable young people to get the jobs that Britain needs if it is to compete internationally in future.
Mr. Bill Michie rose --
Mr. Scott : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would listen for a moment. Seventy-four per cent. of young people who leave the YTS go into jobs, further education or other opportunities for training. Eighty per cent. of people who have completed YTS schemes say that they have benefited from them. Of course, once young people are on the youth training scheme, income support is available to top up the training allowance, if appropriate. That is paid if, for example, the young person has a board and lodging charge to meet.
Column 148Those are the arguments about why it is right for the young people themselves to have an opportunity to take part in the youth training scheme. This country is moving steadily into a climate in which we will experience a shortage of skills and manpower. The best thing that we can do for the economy as a whole and for our young people is to make sure that they are trained and have opportunities to participate in what will be an increasingly tight employment market in the next five to 10 years. I have no hesitation in commending this as being important to young people and to our economic development. I appreciate that some young people will still require the protection of benefit. Many of them, through no fault of their own, find themselves in unfortunate circumstances. The regulations provide for such people so that benefits will still be available for them between the ages of 16 and 18. Lone parents looking after children, the severely disabled, the long-term sick and girls within 11 weeks of giving birth to a child will not be affected by the new arrangements. Many thousands of young people will come within those groups.
For those school leavers who can go on to YTS and who are living at home, child benefit is now available until the end of the year, by which time the offer of a YTS place will have been made. For those who can go on to YTS but who cannot live at home--either because they have no home or because they would be at risk of physical or sexual abuse if they did--income support is available for the same period. Again the offer of a YTS place is guaranteed. Therefore, we have gone to not inconsiderable lengths to protect young people who are most in need. [Interruption.] I can hear rumbles on the Opposition Benches, and no doubt hon. Members are saying that this is not enough. My answer to that is that it is not possible to regulate for every particular circumstance in which it would be unreasonable to refuse benefit to somebody under 18. That is why we expressly took the power to enable income support still to be paid to somebody under 18 who would otherwise suffer severe hardship, and this is a power that we have used.
In the 12 weeks since the new provisions took effect, 1,688 applications under the severe hardship provision have been received. In 1,139 cases, a direction resulted and in 549 a direction was refused. Each case has been considered on its merits. Examples of the factors that are taken into account include the young persons' health and vulnerability--for example, the risk of being led into crime, the risk of eviction and subsequent homelessness as a result of inability to meet accommodation costs, the availability of any income which would normally fall to be disregarded, the availability of any savings, the prospect of a speedy entry into YTS, the prospects of getting casual work, the young person's financial commitments and prospects for postponing payment, and whether the young person has any friends or relatives who could help. We gave a commitment to give decisions on these cases of severe hardship within 24 hours, and I am glad to say that that commitment has been met.
A point has been made about the places available on YTS. It has been suggested in some parts of the media that the restrictions on the availability of benefits for young people have been a way for the Government to save money, but the money that we have been spending on the expansion of the YTS has been far in excess of any savings that we could have had on the income support scheme. The
Column 149hon. Member for Coventry, South-East will remember the debates that we had in Committee about this, and the practice has borne out the arguments that I made then.
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North talked about 20,000 young people across the country who have not been offered places. There are 120,000 vacancies available in the YTS scheme today. In Scotland, there are 13,000 places, in Strathclyde, 5,000 and in Cunninghame 267 places.
Mr. Scott : There are 20,000. The hon. Gentleman claimed in the Morning Star this morning that there is a shortage of 20,000 places, so he must believe that there are that many applicants. There are 120,000 places- -six times as many places as he claimed were
unfilled--available now to young people if they come forward and claim them. These are not young people left without a YTS place. We know that, of these people, many made no effort to seek a place during the eight weeks that they received a bridging payment. That was a payment specifically designed to bridge them through to the point at which they could take a YTS place.
Some of those who are said not to have achieved a place may by now have got a job. Other YTS places that were waiting for them may have been taken up. Some will have returned to full-time education. The careers service has not reported that it has been inundated with young people seeking places once their bridging allowance has run out. The places are there for them if they want them, and the figures that I have given to the House make that clear beyond peradventure. It will be clear in due course whether what I am saying is true or whether what hon. Gentlemen have said is true, but there is now an excess of places available over and above the number of young people who say that they have not been able to get such a place.
Mr. Wilson : If what the Minister says is right, will he explain why the cost is disproportionate to identify the number of applicants in each area? Whatever the global number, there are many areas in which there is a shortfall of places. The information that the Minister gave us earlier about the quality of youth training schemes is not germane to the debate. We are talking about those who have not been offered YTS places or jobs. They have had their supply of benefit cut off. They have not "enjoyed" any of the intermediate steps that the Minister has described. They have lived in poverty, or at least hardship, unless someone has taken up their cases. If the Minister believes that these cases do not exist in large numbers, he lives in a different world from the rest of us.
Mr. Scott : My departmental colleagues and I watch these matters carefully. If hon. Members can present clear and specific examples of young people in certain regions who are willing to accept YTS places, who have used the time while they are in receipt of bridging allowance to seek such places, who have not refused to accept a moderate journey from their locality to take up their places, and who still cannot find YTS places, I am sure that my departmental colleagues will take serious note. I am advised by them, however, and the careers service that there is no such picture arising across the country. There are places in excess of the number of young people who claim that they have not received an offer.
Mr. Nellist : The Minister has said that it is not healthy to move directly from education to state benefit dependence. How healthy is it for people such as Terry Flowers to be without any help for eight weeks--there are hundreds like him--before his 18th birthday?
Mr. Scott : The hon. Gentleman will know that it is unwise to raise individual examples unless he is prepared to write to me, or to my departmental colleagues, to present specific examples. If he is prepared to do that, we shall respond in detail, having investigated the specific circumstances of individuals, irrespective of whether they have received YTS offers. I shall ensure that the specific case to which he has referred is investigated. I know that he has a deep concern, as I have. I do not want to see youngsters deprived of benefit or left without benefit.
I am determined, however, that those who fall within the age group that we are discussing--I think that I carry many with me on this issue--do not have the easy option of moving from education into dependence on state benefit when training opportunities are available to them. I am sure that those opportunities will be of considerable benefit to them, to society and to the country as a whole. All that young people have lost as a result of the implementation of the new arrangements is the option of doing nothing at the public's expense. We have sought to encourage them to take up worthwhile options in employment, education or training. If they take them up, they will be provided with a sound foundation for their adult life. It is easy to raise the individual hard case--we examine such instances with care, and the action that we have taken under the exceptional hardship provisions demonstrates how seriously we have done so--but I believe that on principle the Government are on sound ground. I make no apologies for the steps that we have taken. Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twelve minutes to One o'clock.
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