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Column 752Steen, Anthony
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Stokes, Sir John
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Waldegrave, Hon William
Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Walters, Sir Dennis
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Young, Sir George (Acton)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Mr. Tony Durant.
Question accordingly negatived.
"(1) In paragraph 1 of Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987, after the words (applicable amounts and polygamous marriages)' there shall be inserted the words except that, for this purpose, any person aged less than 25 to whom any paragraph in Part II of Schedule 1A applies or would apply if he were aged 16 and had not reached the relevant date determined under regulation 13A(3)(b) shall be treated as if he were aged 25'.
(2) In paragraph 1 of Part I of Schedule 2 to the Housing Benefit (General) Regulations 1987, after the words 17(a) and (b)' there shall be inserted the words except that, for this purpose, any person aged less than 25 to whom any paragraph in Part II of Schedule 1A to the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987 applies, or would apply if he were aged 16, claiming income support and had not reached the relevant date determined under regulation 13A(3)(b) of those regulations, shall be treated as if he were aged 25'.".-- [Mr. Flynn.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
"(3) In section 22 of the 1986 Act (income related benefits) after subsection (8) there shall be inserted--
(9) In relation to income support and housing benefit the applicable amount for a person in board and lodging accommodation shall include an amount in respect of his being a person in board and lodging accommodation.
(10) For the purposes of this section "board and lodging" accommodation means--
(a) accommodation provided to the claimant or, if he is a member of a family, to him or any other members of his family, for a charge which is inclusive of the provision of that accommodation and at least some cooked or prepared meals which are both prepared and consumed in that accommodation or associated premises : or (
(b) accommodation provided in a hotel, guest-house, lodging-house or other similar establishment ; or where facilities for the preparation of food are inadequate to the needs of that person. (11) Regulations may prescribe the circumstances in which the facilities for the preparation of food are deemed to be inadequate.'.".
This issue raised the most passionate feelings in Committee, when we heard heartbreaking stories of young people who were suffering as a result of the social security changes. The purpose of new clause 6 is to remove some of the worst excesses of the Government's calamitous changes, which have made tens of thousands of the most vulnerable young people into outcasts of the social security system. Last week, we generously and gratefully acknowledged the speed with which the Government had moved. They promised in Committee that they would put some improvements on the fast track, and, in fact, they delivered some improvements within a few days of the final Committee sitting. However, while we are happy about the speed of the Government's action, we are less happy about the substance of the changes, which are not adequate to meet the problem.
A large group of young people in this country are gratuitously exposed to poverty. The object of the new clause is very modest. What we seek to do is to extend the rates of income support and housing benefit for the over-25s to people under 25 in the following categories : those who are married ; those who were previously in care and are not living with their parents or anyone acting in the place of their parents ; those who are living away from the parental home, in accommodation that they entered as part of a programme of rehabilitation or resettlement, to avoid physical or sexual abuse, or because of mental or physical handicap or illness ; and those living away from the parental home because the parents cannot afford to support them as they are chronically sick or disabled, or because they are in prison or prohibited from entering the country. In short, these are the very young people who are married, who do not have a parental home to which they can safely return, and who therefore are obliged to pay for their own accommodation, whether as boarders or as householders.
At present, the existence of this group of people is recognised only to the extent of allowing those aged 16 to 17 in these categories to receive income support during the three months child benefit extension period.
As a result of the great pressures that have been exerted on the Government by the Opposition, many organisations, local authorities and hon. Members on both sides of the Standing Committee on the Bill, the small concessions announced by the Minister on 13 March came into effect. Again, these affect only those aged 16 to 17. From next July, if they happen to qualify for income support--which most of them do not--they will get the rate that is applicable to those between 18 and 24. In other words, they will receive £27.50 a week instead of only £20.80. That is still £7.40 below the normal rate of £34.90 payable to people 25 or older.
We must question the basis of having separate rates for young people and it is worth looking at the Government's justification for it. When they introduced the lower rate of income support for under-25s, the grounds were explained in the 1985 Green Paper, "Reform of Social Security". It stated :
"it is clear that at the age of 18 the majority of claimants are not fully independent and that the great majority of claimants above age 25 are In 1983 nearly 90 per cent. of all claimants over 25 were getting the higher householder rate. By contrast the clear majority of claimants under 25 were living in someone else's household. The Government have concluded that an appropriate dividing line is age 25."
Column 754The Minister nods. It is simplicity which the Government seek but, unfortunately, there are casualties of simplicity. The young people involved, like all other categories forced into simplified little boxes, do not fit neatly into them. The fact that many claimants under 25 were independent householders, whether through choice or necessity, was ignored altogether. All under-25s were to get a lower rate of benefit, regardless of their circumstances. Boarders under 25, as well as householders, were affected and until this month they were subjected to time limits which meant that their board and lodging charges were met for only a few weeks, after which they received only the basic under-25 income support rate. Under the new arrangements introduced this month, income support no longer covers board and lodging charges and the under-25 rate applies from the start of the claim. Despite the abolition of the time limits, board and lodging accommodation will remain out of reach of most claimants in this age group. They will no longer be able to afford it, even temporarily. Amendment No. 106, which is coupled with the new clause, deals with that.
The aim of new clause 6 is specifically modest. It aims to be practical and acceptable to the Government. It does not seek to abolish the under-25 benefit rate entirely, as we should like, although there is a strong case for doing that. It does not even seek to abolish it for all young people who are living independently, for which an even stronger case can be made. The new clause concentrates exclusively on those who set up home because they are married or do not have parental homes to which to return, even if they wish to do so. There is no justification for paying a lower rate of benefit to people in those circumstances simply because they are under 25. We heard a great deal in Committee about care leavers. Each year approximately 8,000 young people leave care. The majority of them have no suitable parental home. Usually they have not lived in a parental home for many years. Research shows that about 70 per cent. of our young care leavers live on their own compared with less than 1 per cent. of the general population of the same age. Successive surveys also show that young people who have left care are over-represented among the homeless.
Centre Point in London estimated that 25 per cent. of the homeless that it looks after and knows of previously came from care. A Government report has suggested that the figure is 33 per cent. Several local authorities have recently noted that they are having to keep young people in care longer or, on occasions, readmitting them into care--sometimes into inappropriate placements.
There has been a deluge of submissions from local authorities and local authority associations pointing out that there is an increasing problem. Some social services departments are now reporting that young people over 16 are seeking their assistance because they cannot return home, often as a result of abuse within their families. Many of them have waited until their 16th birthdays to leave home. The social services departments are reporting that most of those youngsters were unknown to them previously.
Since the changes were announced on 13 March, we have received dozens of examples from Barnardos, the Association of Directors of Social Services, and the bodies representing local authorities. We have a wide choice of cases from which to choose. We could choose some
Column 755spectacular ones or some sad ones, often the result of mistakes and inefficiency, where young people have been left without any income at all. I will not quote those cases, but I shall cite the cases of two youngsters from the prosperous area of Canterbury, who have come to the attention of a small charity called Rented Accommodation for Teenagers. RAFT has cited two cases and told us how they will be affected. The cases are typical of the position of young people and they show what will happen to them after July.
The first case is Wilfred, who is 17 years old. He was thrown out of home by his unemployed stepfather last year after months of hostility that had threatened to break up his mother's marriage. After sleeping on friends' floors he went to RAFT, because his stepfather was adamant that he could not return and Wilfred believed that it was not safe to do so. After eight months with a family, under the supervision of the charity, Wilfred has progressed well and is ready for a place of his own.
The charity is negotiating with the city council to manage a few small units of accommodation to sublet to young people, whom it will continue to support. The rent and rates bill is £36.41 a week and Wilfred receives a training allowance of £28.50. He gets £23.02 housing benefit, leaving him with £15.11 for total weekly outgoings. He pays his first £3 travel costs to work, so that leaves £12.11 for food, electricity and clothes.
Following the Minister's announcement on 13 March, Wilfred will look forward to receiving £15.66 from July. That is a totally inadequate amount to meet all his needs.
The second example that the charity provides is that of Tracy and, sadly, is a case that is typical of many others that we heard about in Committee and in a very moving press conference that was held afterwards.
Tracy was 16 years old when she went to RAFT as an alternative to going into care, which she did not want, partly because that would have disrupted her last year of school. She had alleged sexual assault by her father. She had been staying with a family, which was involved with the charity, while hoping to get back to her mother if her father was put in prison for the offence.
Following the transfer of board and lodging payments from the Department of Social Security to housing benefits at the city council, Tracy, being on a YTS placement, has £2.20 a week to pay for her fares to work, her clothing, her toiletries and her entertainment. As she has to pay the first £3 of her fares, she has minus 80p for all personal expenses. Her mother, who--again not unusually in these circumstances--blames Tracy in part for the family tensions, gives her no money.
Following the announcement on 13 March, from July Tracy should receive the princely sum of £2.50 a week for toiletries, for clothing and for entertainment.
Those figures have been verified. Those income levels are punitive to those young people who have been victims for long periods. It is worth comparing the benefits received by those young people with the average pocket money enjoyed by children in families where everything is found, including food, accommodation and clothing. The average pocket money for a 12-year-old, according to a survey conducted by the Halifax building society, is £2.30 a week while for a 16-year-old it is £8.99. Therefore, the average 12-year-old receives in pocket money more than Tracy does after a full week's work on YTS. The new clause
Column 756covers those who, in the Government's view, are essentially, necessarily and without any possible escape, living away from their parental homes.
The Government should consider the sobering example of what is happening in the United States--reference has already been made to that country. The changes that have taken place in Britain in the past few years parallel those that have occurred in the United States, which is suffering a peculiar anguish of 3 million tent people, homeless, itinerant street dwellers who have been rejected by the state and who are despised by society. Many of those people started life in care and many suffer from all kinds of inadequacies, especially from forms of mental illness. President Bush has said that they represent the nation's shame. There are 3 million of them. They are the walking wounded, the casualties of a social security system that has been wrecked by the same mean-spirited forces of malice and ignorance and neglect that have corrupted the judgment of the Government. Visitors to the United States ask how unimaginable wealth can live as a close neighbour to such poverty.
Earlier today, the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) asked what would happen if someone from another planet came to study our social security system. A year ago someone from another world, the Third world, came to London. Mother Theresa wept on the streets of our capital. In a society where the average family is as rich, or has command over as many resources, as a Tudor monarch, we consciously fail our more susceptible young people. They are the very people who have been spurned by their parents from early childhood, as well as those who have endured the long, hideous nightmare of parental abuse. From birth, many of them have been cheated by nature or short-changed by life. They are the embittered, bewildered, frightened victims of society who deserve better than the Hobson's choice that we give them of poverty, or drugs, begging, crime and prostitution.
I appeal to the Government and to the House to listen to the voices of good people who are crying out to us to stop adding to the physical and emotional turmoil of adolescence the cruel, ugly and unnecessary burden of destitution.
Mr. Kirkwood : I support the new clause that has been ably moved by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). I wish to address my remarks to amendment No. 106 which stands in my name and which deals with a slightly different but related topic--the financial plight of people who must live in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The amendment seeks to provide a special level of income support for people living in such accommodation and similar lodgings. In consultation with housing pressure groups, particularly Shelter, I am extremely worried that the changes for boarders introduced a fortnight ago on 10 April could have a potentially disastrous effect on the health and well-being of homeless families.
The changes effectively abolish the so-called "eating out" allowances which families in bed-and-breakfast have relied upon to supplement their incomes. Many families in such accommodation have totally inadequate cooking facilities and are forced to exist on take-away food which, as we all know, is extremely expensive. It is right that the House should spend some time considering the changes with a view to putting right some of the anticipated difficulties before they cause more
Column 757trouble than they already have. On 10 April, housing costs for boarders--those living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, hotels, in lodgings and in so-called "supportive lodgings"-- were switched away from income support to housing benefit. Residents of hostel accommodation will be transferred to that new regime in October. These changes have been designed to rationalise the situation and to place boarders on the same footing as people in self-contained and permanent accommodation. Until April and under the old system boarders received a higher rate of income support, including a payment for meals or the eating out allowance to which I referred earlier. That was designed to compensate for the lack of proper cooking facilities in many bed-and-breakfast establishments. Eating out allowances have now been abolished, so boarders receive the same rates of income support and personal allowances as all other claimants and they may also have to meet certain amenity charges out of their own income support that are not catered for by housing benefits.
It is worth considering the definition of "boarder". For social security purposes, the term "boarder" is not related to security of tenure or to the occupation of any particular type of accommodation. For example, there are circumstances in which an assured or an assured shorthold English tenant, as well as licensees, can all be considered as boarders and accordingly get support. Income support regulations state that a boarder is a person who does not live with a close relative and pays an exclusive charge for accommodation and some meals or lives in a hotel, guest house, lodging house or similar establishment. Essentially the test is commercial.
Mr. Kirkwood : The hon. Gentleman says that I am reading a brief. I am reading very carefully the representations put forward by Shelter because they are technical and difficult to understand. I make no apology for doing that, because these changes will have serious financial effects. Many people have to live in this sort of accommodation. I am therefore anxious for the House to hear about the details of the old system and of the new system.
Mr. Corbyn : Would it not be helpful for Conservative Members who are making half-baked remarks to read the details of the Bill so that they might realise how horrific it is for young people who are seeking to live independently rather than being put in danger of risk by this proposal?
Mr. Kirkwood : I believe that that would be a considerable advance, but I do not think it is likely to happen. I was saying that the test of who and who is not a boarder is essentially commercial. Two of the clauses in my proposed amendment No. 106 seek to rearrange the definition of a boarder. I refer particularly to the definition of "supportive lodgings". As I can find no definition of that term in the regulations, I should be obliged if the Minister of State could supply information on that. For example, the Department of Social Security intends to embrace adult care placements. The case of someone placed with an ordinary family which provides a degree of personal care and assistance is to be included in that category. I do not believe that such schemes have to be
Column 758registered by the local authorities, and I am worried about this aspect. I may be wrong, and I hope that the Minister will clarify the situation.
The changes that affect people's incomes which were introduced on 10 April altered the previous situation which allowed a weekly income support payment to be paid to a boarder made up of three basic elements : an accommodation charge ; a meals eating out allowance ; and a personal allowance. Under the old system, the accommodation charge covered the weekly cost of board and lodgings. The meals allowance covered the cost of extra meals not included in the weekly charges, and that was made up either of the cost of the meals or the daily charges set out--£1.10 for breakfast, £1.55 for lunch, and £1.55 for an evening meal. A total weekly allowance, excluding breakfast, amounted to £21.70. That is a substantial sum on which people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation substantially relied.
In addition, there are personal allowances. That for a single person is £10.30, and that was doubled for a couple and less for dependent children. Any person who satisfied the conditions for income support premium would have received the full sum of £11.50 for a personal allowance. The personal allowances for those in bed-and-breakfast accommodation were smaller.
On top of that there were ceilings on board and lodging charges and accommodation charge and meals allowance were subject to regional maximums. In my constituency, it was £55 and in London it is £70 for a single person. The sums for those under 25 were subject to time limits and that caused all sorts of legal difficulties and the Government kept having to change the rules of the game. Boarders were not eligible to receive additional income support payments. It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned .
Ordered , That at this day's sitting, the Social Security Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]
As amended (in the Standing Committee), again considered . Question again proposed , That the clause be read a Second time.
Mr. Kirkwood : From 10 April, boarders will receive an income support personal allowance and housing benefit. That will lead to a substantial drop in income for most boarders, particularly homeless families in bed and breakfast. Under income support, personal allowances are flat rate and are paid regardless of differences in personal circumstances. The premiums will be paid where appropriate, but will not be adequate to compensate for the loss of eating out allowance. Income could be further reduced if families are expected to pay any immediate amenity charges to their hotel.
The new rate of income support personal allowance is £20.80 for a single person aged under 18. There are higher rates for those between 18 and 24 and a rate of £34.90 for those aged 25 or over. The lone parent is expected to live on £20.80, a couple both aged under 18 on £41.60 and a couple with at least one over-18-year-old £54.80, with additions for children or young people.
I understand that the time limit for boarders under 25 has been abolished. Income support changes are severe enough but, taken together with housing benefit changes, they are worse. There are two kinds of housing benefit changes. First, the rent allowance will be applied to private