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Column 759or housing association tenants and there will be different rent rebates for council tenants. Housing benefit will cover only eligible rent and rates, so that some charges included in rents will be excluded when calculating benefit. These charges must be met from the weekly income support. As if these housing benefit changes were not enough, the ineligible charges also include 20 per cent. poll tax charges and 20 per cent. general rate and water rate charges. These changes in the housing benefit allowances and rebates will have a severe effect. In addition, local authorities must make weekly deductions for meals when paying rent allowances or rebates. For members of the household aged over 16, deductions of £12.50 have to be made. For those aged under 16, the deduction is £6.25. Is addition, there are fuel deductions. If one room is occupied, £4.20 has to be deducted for heating, hot water and lighting, and for more than one room the sum is £7. In addition, there are other services, the most common being those for cleaning and laundry, for which deductions will be made.
When we examine how the changes will affect the income of boarders, we have to examine the effect that the changes will have when the boarders are split into those who are receiving either rent allowances or rent rebates. In the former group, claimants who move into bed-and-breakfast accommodation after 10 April will be referred to the rent officer, who will assess whether they are paying an unreasonably high rent for housing benefit subsidy purposes and also whether the accommodation is too large.
The space standards applied by rent officers are fairly restrictive-- children of the same sex may have to share a bedroom. Local authorities will receive no subsidy for housing benefit paid out above the rent officer's assessment. Some local authorities will therefore be unable or will refuse to pay housing benefit on rent at that level, and boarders will be left to meet the difference themselves. I understand that a 50 per cent. subsidy is payable in some circumstances when some of the housing benefit regulations apply.
Rent rebate claimants will not be referred to the rent officer in that way. It must be noted that the DSS has confirmed that housing benefit claims from homeless families that are placed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation by local authorities will legally be treated as rent rebates. That is to say that, as with council tenants, rents will be paid by homeless families to a local authority, which will be entitled to make a reasonable charge for accommodation. These cases cannot be referred to the rent officer as can those involving private tenants, but the DSS has announced that subsidy limits are to be imposed by using the rent threshold limits which were brought into force in 1988. They will continue to apply to tenancies which commence before this April. When a local authority places a family in bed- and-breakfast accommodation outside its area, the threshold that applies is that of the placing authority. Authorities will receive maximum subsidies up to the rent threshold and thereafter only a 25 per cent. subsidy.
Sir William Clark rose--
Mr. Kirkwood : The hon. Gentleman need not bother to interrupt to say that I am reading and to complain. He can make his own speech. I make absolutely no apology for ensuring that some of the details of these changes are put on the record accurately.
Sir William Clark : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it not a tradition of the House that, although a Back Bencher can refer to notes, he should not read his speech verbatim? The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for some time and he has been reading. Has the tradition been changed?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : The hon. Gentleman knows that there is no Standing Order that governs speeches. I have noticed that the hon, Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) has been making copious use of his notes which, according to tradition, is not done in the House. If, however, he insists on making copious use of his notes, there is nothing that the Chair can do about it. I hope that he will bring his remarks to a speedy conclusion.
Mr. Kirkwood : Of course I shall respond to that, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have three other points to make. I hope that the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark) will listen carefully. A couple with two children--I am reading, carefully--aged nine and seven will lose £31.90 a week as a result of the changes of a fortnight ago. Secondly, a couple with four children aged three, seven, 11 and 12 will lose £51.20--carefully read from the notes--and, thirdly, a person aged 19 will lose £4.60 a week under the new system. That also is carefully read from the notes. I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands the effect that the changes will have on such people.
Mrs. Rosie Barnes (Greenwich) : I want to be brief. The case for new clause 6 and amendment No. 106 has been made very eloquently. Many young people aged 16 and 17, through no fault of their own, cannot live with their parents, because they do not have parents, because they have parents who have not acknowledged them for many years or because they have been rejected by a step-parent on remarriage. An increasing number of marriages break down. Remarriages take place and young people are rejected by step- parents. Very often, the dominant male insists that a young person leaves home. Such young people are very vulnerable.
I read the figures very carefully and found them quite convincing. Many young people simply do not have enough to live on. They do not have enough to feed themselves and they certainly do not have enough to clothe themselves or buy their own toiletries. Let us not mince words. Young people, particularly girls, have to provide certain essential toiletries. We are not talking about perfume behind the ears, although I believe that 16 to 17-year-olds are entitled to a little luxury.
As the mother of teenage children, I know how much they spend on hamburgers, tapes and detailed accessories when their food, accommodation, hot water and home comforts are provided. We have to examine seriously the amounts of money being made available to young people. I welcome the changes which have already been made, but, looking carefully at case studies which have been sent to us by various responsible bodies, we have to acknowledge that young people will be short of basic essentials,
Column 761including food. Unless we do something, those young people will get into serious trouble. They will have to turn to crime or prostitution to make ends meet. If they go to work, on the amount that they receive at present, they will not have enough money to pay their fares for the whole week, they will become poor employees and stand to lose their jobs through no fault of their own. We have to take the matter very seriously. It is our duty to address the situation and remedy the financial problems faced by many young people.
Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley) : I shall not read copiously from my notes because for most of the time I cannot read my own handwriting. I have also put my finger on my glasses and cannot see out of them.
We are discussing a very serious subject, which I am sure most hon. Members have encountered in their surgery--the most vulnerable group of people in Britain today. To say that those young people have homes, accommodation or other support is nonsense. For any Administration to ignore the experience that has been drawn to their attention in the past few years, and the fact that those young people are vulnerable and independent in the sense that they are living in isolation and then to assume that they can get care, attention and resources from other sources is tantamount to criminality. All right hon. and hon. Members must at some time have come face to face with cases which have been created by recent legislation. People say that the poor are with us all the time. Of course they are, but, unfortunately, various social security Bills in the past few years have created a new poverty for young people. All the voluntary groups and most local authorities have given chapter and verse to the suffering that continues today. Sometimes accommodation can be found. I am sure that we have all had cases for whom we have been delighted to find accommodation. At one time that would have been the end of the problem, but nowadays it is only the start. Often, those people are provided with four walls, a roof and a door, but nothing else. Many single payments have been abolished and other resources are no longer available.
We have all heard reports about key money, deposits and so on. In my constituency this morning a young man told me that he had found accommodation--I will check this with the Minister in writing--but that even the electricity board is asking for a deposit because he has never before been registered as a consumer and it wants some form of guarantee. That is yet another burden for people who are already in a mess.
It is wrong to assume that, because of their age, young people can find income or resources from some other source. I do not think that new clause 6 goes far enough, but obviously we will support it. Whether young or old, people living independently and with no resources should receive equal treatment. Whether one is 16 or 30, the price of food and electricity is the same. To assume that for some strange reason a young person who has even less experience of how to manage can make do with fewer resources is beyond comprehension. In fact, it should be the other way round. Young people with no experience need extra support. They should not be fined or penalised because of their age.
Column 762There is a case in my constituency--I shall not dwell on it--of a 16 or 17-year-old girl who is pregnant. She was found accommodation--it is not very good, but it is better than nothing. Her general practitioner and the doctor dealing with her at the hospital insisted that she leave her previous house because she had been subjected to sexual abuse year after year. It is an impossible situation. However, just removing that young person from that house does not solve her problems. If anything, it creates more problems. Because of her young age, she does not qualify for the benefits that older people would receive automatically.
Last Wednesday, thanks to the Methodist Church, I had the privilege--if that is the right term--of visiting some London hostels. It was traumatic in many ways. The Methodist Church is doing a good job within its limitations. It wanted Members of Parliament from all parties to visit the hostels and I spent most of my time in Lambeth. Despite the love and care that the ordinary authorities and charitable organisations provide, there is no way that they can resolve all the problems. They are basically keeping the young people's heads just above water. The legislation is making matters worse. The plight of those people is desperate and I am sure that anyone who is aware of it, no matter how hard-hearted they may be, must be touched by it. They are the most vulnerable people in our society.
No one can deny that, although the caring services do a good job for such people, they do not have the necessary resources and should not have the ultimate responsibility. The legislation passed by the Government has been partly responsible for the problems and only the Government can change that. New clause 6 attempts to go some way along that road, but not as far as most of us would like. It is an extremely modest clause and I hope that the Government will read, understand and accept it. They should listen not just to me and my colleagues but to the voluntary organisations and other groups that have been pleading for months for some change which will help those in desperate need. We cannot justify passing legislation that allows young people to continue to exist in a living hell.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : It is significant that all we heard from Conservative Members was a point of pedantry rather than anything to do with the substance of these serious matters. I support new clause 6, which was eloquently moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). I shall focus especially on the problems faced by 16 and 17-year-olds who have been robbed of every penny of income by the Government.
Mr. Favell : I have never heard so much rubbish. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that a 16 or 17-year-old should be able to live in semi-luxury without training or trying to find a job? The Opposition, by encouraging this idleness, are not doing young people any favours whatever.
Mr. Wilson : I am delighted that I allowed the hon. Gentleman to intervene. I am reminded of the old maxim, "All you expect from a pig is a grunt." The hon. Gentleman eloquently gave the true views of Tory Members, and I hope that in the days and weeks before the county council elections his words will be well trailed around England and Wales. There spoke the true voice of Toryism. We shall hear later from the Minister for Social Security, the polite face of Toryism. It will be interesting to
Column 763see whether he dissociates himself from those remarks. It will be interesting to hear whether the Minister for Social Security, who trails his wet reputation round the dinner tables of Kensington and Chelsea, shares his hon. Friend's views of 16 and 17-year- olds living in semi-luxury.
The Government have made a modest retreat on the treatment of some 16 and 17-year-olds. When I raised the subject in an Adjournment debate last December there was no evidence of any Government awareness of the need to retreat. On the contrary, the strong impression given by the Minister was that he was doing the 16 and 17-year-olds from whom he had robbed every penny of income a favour. He told the House that there was
"nothing more debilitating for the mass of youngsters leaving education and entering the adult world than to have automatically to depend on state benefits."
We were not talking then, and we are not now, about the mass of youngsters. By national standards, we are talking of relatively few youngsters. It is more debilitating for 16 and 17-year-old youngsters leaving education and entering the adult world to have no state benefit, no job, no training and not a penny of legal income on which to depend than a few pathetic pounds of state benefit on which to subsist.
The philanthropist Minister, who was saying that he was doing youngsters a favour, continued :
"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."
The Minister is a positive salvationist, but I tell him that there is one bigger danger than having to live on state benefit in inner-London facing moral dangers--to live on no state benefit in inner-London or other big cities facing moral dangers.
Mr. Favell : Is the hon. Gentleman honestly suggesting that an able- bodied person of 16 or 17 cannot get a job in central London? I could find that person a job within five minutes if he really wanted one.
Mr. Battle : Conservative Members seem to think that youngsters have a life of semi-luxury on the streets of London. My hon. Friend may care to remind the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) of what happens. I bumped into a youngster and asked him why he was sleeping out in London. He said that he had a job but one reason why he had to live out was that he could not even raise the deposit to rent a flat. He had to work for eight weeks before he could get the income to rent a flat. Perhaps Conservative Members do not reflect on what is happening in our society.
On 5 December the Minister went on very much in the same vein as the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell). He declared : "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."--[ Official Report, 5 December 1988 ; Vol. 143, c. 146-47.]
Column 764That was and is a lie of Goebbelian proportions. In many parts of the country there is no option of work or training. The youngsters who have been robbed of every penny of their income and forced into dire circumstances have been treated callously. It is almost beyond belief that any society could treat its youngest and most vulnerable members in that way as they enter the adult world.
The consequences are all around us to be seen. Unfortunately, we cannot get statistics. Part of the Government's trick is that by depriving youngsters of a legal existence and making them ineligible for benefit, those people no longer have to be counted. It is a double benefit from the Government's point of view. Tens of thousands of youngsters who lost all entitlement to income when these measures were introduced no longer feature in the unemployment count. Every month we hear that unemployment has fallen by so many thousands, but, especially when there is a new wave of school leavers, the figures include many youngsters who have lost entitlement to benefit because they are 16 or 17. The Minister is responsible for that.
What is the position of 16 or 17-year-olds who find themselves without a penny of income? They seek advice, thinking that surely this cannot happen to them. Nine times out of 10, social security offices and others tell them that because they are 16 or 17 they have no means of appeal and no entitlement. In rare cases they are given the correct advice, which is that any 16 or 17-year-old can appeal on the ground of severe hardship. They will not normally get that advice from the offices for which the Minister is responsible. Those youngsters are presented with a 15-page form to fill in. I know of several youngsters who have made eloquent testimony of their circumstances and have described the poverty, misery and hopelessness in which they live, but, because they have failed to use the magic words "severe hardship", their applications are automatically rejected. That is a splendid trick for the Minister to pull on these 16 and 17-year-olds. Even if youngsters get through that 15-page form, the likelihood of their getting beyond that form is remote. The Government cynically count on that.
I urge all 16 and 17-year-olds who have been robbed by the Minister of every penny of their legal income to get the necessary information to lodge appeals on the ground of severe hardship. When, for some spurious reason, their appeals are turned down, as they will be, they should seek legal advice to challenge the grounds on which the decision was taken. Perhaps the trick can be turned back on the Minister : because those youngsters have been left without a penny of legal income, by definition they will qualify for legal aid. They should take their case to the courts and large numbers should challenge the Minister on his Department's actions. I hope that that piece of practical advice will go out to 16 and 17-year-olds. 10.30 pm
The vast majority of Conservative Members, unaware of what is happening in large parts of the areas that they represent and among large social groupings in those areas, will be unaware, too, of cases that have arisen. I want to cite one example from my constituency, to make the Minister aware of what his handiwork has meant in human terms. It concerns a 16-year-old who left school last August. He lived--as many do--in very poor circumstances. He came from a low-income, single-parent family struggling to make ends meet. He lived in an area
Column 765in which there are no YTS places and no pretence of YTS places so when the bridging allowance ran out he was not offered a YTS place, but he was disqualified from benefit. He became one of the tens of thousands of youngsters in Britain who are left without a penny of income.
After being disqualified from benefits, he made a mistake. The House will agree that 16-year-olds sometimes make mistakes and that they should pay for them with rather less harsh penalties than my constituent paid. When 16 -year-olds at public school make mistakes, they are called jolly japes. This lad's mistake was to pilfer from his mother's purse. Perhaps 16-year- olds with no money and no access to money sometimes do things like that. He was put out of his family home in the extreme circumstances that I have described. He then lived rough-- [Interruption.] I hear sniggers from the Tory Benches. He lived rough for several weeks--in hedgerows and in haylofts. He became involved with a family of experienced criminals. He was then used, Fagin-like, to steal for his keep. That was in December and January. A few weeks ago, he was united with his mother and is back in the family home, still without a penny of income. He has now paid the price for his activities in December and January : he was taken to court and sentenced to three months' detention for the petty thieving offences from which, as the court recognised, he gained no personal benefit. He stole for his keep because he had no money and had no home. It was the Government who put him in that position. All of that was utterly predictable. Any fool can see--and the Minister can see--that if one condemns tens of thousands of youngsters to living without a penny of income, many of them will, as night follows day, find themselves in circumstances that are a threat to their morals and to their well-being, but, above all, to the possibility of their ever having a decent life.
In the name of any humanity that may exist in Britain, give us an assurance tonight that no 16 or 17-year-old will be left in the streets or the hedgerows or the haylofts without a penny of income.
Mr. Corbyn : Tonight in London it is an ordinary wet miserable night. Earlier this evening I went to a meeting at the London School of Economics. On my way back, I counted the number of people getting ready to spend the night on the pavement in Arundel place, just in sight of the Savoy hotel, where a room costs £400 a night. Just before 9 o'clock there were already 12 people getting ready to spend the night in sight of the Savoy and just near the law courts. When I go home there will be more than a dozen people begging for money outside Finsbury Park station near to where I live. There will be young people begging so that they can exist in this city. Tomorrow, at a convent near my home, a pathetic stream of half a dozen or a dozen--it is sometimes more--will be asking the nuns for a cup of tea and a piece of bread and butter. That is a normal night and a normal day in this city at this time.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Savoy hotel. Some years ago, I was the chairman of a welfare committee in Camden. As such, I was in charge of a common lodging house in Parker street.
Column 766The deputy head chef of the Savoy was one who went there from choice. He could certainly have chosen to go elsewhere.
Mr. Corbyn : I am not quite sure what that intervention adds to the sum total of human knowledge. The hon. Lady was not in her place earlier in the discussion. I was not talking about the chef at the Savoy. I was making a comparison between the poor people who sleep in the streets and the people who walk past them to spend £400 for one night in the Savoy hotel. If the hon. Lady does not understand the difference between what I was saying and what she is thinking, heaven help us all.
We have an appalling problem of homelessness and destitution among young people in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) spoke about the plight of young people being forced into crime and all sorts of indignities to make ends meet. That is happening all the time in London. They are young people--some from London, some from outside London, some from institutions, and some from what one would call normal family homes. Eventually, the disputes with parents become worse and worse, because the flat is overcrowded, and because a younger child wants the bedroom. All the pressures and tensions build up, and we end up with young people out on the streets.
If they are out on the streets, sleeping rough and looking dishevelled, it is difficult for them to get a job. It is difficult to get a job if they have no address and they cannot say where they live in the first place. They get into a cycle of despair. The ways out of that cycle of despair are often crime, drugs, prostitution, and so on. That is happening now in this city. Complacent Conservative Members choose to ignore it, to wish it away, and to decide that it is the problem of a few feckless youths who are trying to fiddle the social security system. They are creating a crisis of unimaginable proportions.
If Conservative Members bother tonight to go to Waterloo station or Charing Cross and to walk around, they will not find that only old tramps sleep there. Often quite young people are there. They should go to Crisis at Christmas. They will find that every year a growing proportion of people there are under the age of 25. These are signs of a real crisis in our society.
What is the Government's response? They say that under 25-year-olds should be partly dependent on their parents and that, if they are trying to live independently, they should get less than those over the age of 25. The same Government are making large cuts by closing long-stay institutions of various sorts. In some ways, some of us welcome closures of long-stay institutions, provided that they are compensated for by real spending on real community care that gives real support, and provided that we do not ignore people and leave them to try to fend for themselves, often in a vulnerable situation.
Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck) : Is my hon. Friend aware that, last year, Centrepoint, a charity in Soho in London, said that its research showed that, each year, 30,000 young people from the north of England come to London simply because there are no jobs in the north? They are trapped into lower-paid jobs in London where they cannot pay for their accommodation.
Column 767to get jobs in the north or other parts of the country--not through any fault or lack of effort on their part. Often, they have tried hard at school and at any educational opportunities that are offered to them.
Young people cannot get work so, not unreasonably, they come to London. Even if they can find jobs, which is difficult, they cannot find anywhere to live. They then go to Centrepoint where they are told that there are thousands like them and they cannot be helped. They traipse around advice bureaux, crisis centres and Members' surgeries. At every turn they are told "No".
All the London local authorities have appalling housing crises. On average every London borough has a waiting list of between 5,000 and 10,000. Those young people are not eligible to be rehoused under the homeless persons legislation unless they can be judged to be totally vulnerable, which many of them are. It is often claimed that they are intentionally homeless when they seek rehousing. Those young people either have to go back home to a part of the country where there is no work and where the family is often in such a tight spot that it cannot cope with the young person's return, or they end up trying to fend for themselves on the streets of London.
This Government are creating a generation of criminals by forcing people into crime because of the social conditions that prevail in this country. Conservative Members should consider what they are doing in relation to this particularly nasty piece of social security legislation which builds on something which was even nastier two years ago.
There is no shortage of money in this country. There is no shortage of resources to ensure that everyone has a roof over their heads and that every unemployed and homeless person has sufficient income to keep body and soul together. There is a political will not to provide it. That is the problem.
With regard to independent living, the 1985 Green Paper entitled "Reform of Social Security" states :
"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 the age 25 are In 1983 nearly 90 per cent. of all claimants over 25 were getting the higher household 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."
If ever there were a self-fulfilling prophecy that is it. Of course the majority of young people are living in someone else's household--they cannot afford to live anywhere else. Sometimes they are more or less sleeping on floors. The Government have decided that the age of 25 should represent entitlement to a lower benefit level than that available to those over 25.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie). The new clause is limited because it does not go as far as I would like. There should be equality of payment for all people adjudged to be living independently, whether they be over 25 or under.
I conclude by considering the question of income support for young people aged 19 who are trying to complete secondary education, but are estranged from their parents and receive no income support and are therefore unable to continue their education.
I have received a letter from the Minister about a constituent of mine whose name I will not refer to because that would be unfair to her. The Minister wrote :
Column 768"Thank you for your letter about a nineteen year old student estranged from her parents and is no longer entitled to Income Support.
I sympathise with her position but I am afraid that extra-statutory payments can be made only where claimants are deprived of all or part of their entitlement in a way not foreseen or intended when the law was drawn up. This is not the case here, so a payment would not be in order."
Of course it could not have been foreseen when the law was drawn up that this particular young person would reach such a pass in her relationship with her parents that they would throw her out. However, it falls on the social security system to support her now that she has been thrown out, to allow her to complete her education and develop her abilities to the full. The same does not apply to the children of very wealthy parents who do not get thrown out. They do not get into those disputes or have those problems. They have a family safety-net. There is no such safety-net for people like my constituent.
I hope that for once the House will recognise that many of the social problems facing young people today have been created by the social security legislation which deliberately ignores them. I hope that hon. Members will at least support the new clause as going some way towards alleviating the misery of those young people as it gives them the support, resources and recognition by society that they crave and which we should give them.
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : Until I heard the intervention of the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) I had not intended to contribute to this debate. The hon. Gentleman's inspired prejudice will have touched many hon. Members very deeply--in such a way, indeed, that they may have second thoughts about their intentions in relation to the new clause.
The acid test of the maturity of any society in the world is the way in which it looks after those who are most vulnerable--by definition, surely, the aged and those who are not fully come of age. Since time began, there has never been a decade--indeed, there has never been a century--when young people did not find themselves in the type of situation that hon. Members have cited tonight. I will not tabulate cases ; suffice it is say that we can all cast our minds back to the story of the prodigal son, from which there is a lesson to be learnt. The choice facing that father was whether to allow his son to continue on the prodigal road or to bring him back into society by adopting a humanitarian attitude such as we are not seeing here tonight.
It is a characteristic not of this generation or of this decade, but of the human condition, that young people will always find themselves in a position of vulnerability, wanting to assert their independence. There are three groups of such young people. First, there are those who have to leave home because of various circumstances there, some of which have been mentioned by hon. Members--child abuse, alienation from parents, or whatever. In any case, it is imperative that they leave home because they have no control over the circumstances. Very often young people, in order to protect what society cannot protect for them, find themselves with no alternative to taking steps that will make them homeless. Society owes a debt to those young people. They are entitled to the protection of society because they are at
Column 769risk, and if society does not give them that protection it is demonstrating the callousness that this legislation represents. The second vulnerable group of young people are those who wish to assert their independence. I am sure that there is not in this House a parent who has not seen a child take the tent into the garden to show that he can stand on his own feet. Such people will come back into society if society helps them back. But they are at a crossroads ; they can either turn towards the type of life that hon. Members have illustrated, or return to society, more mature from the experience of having lived away from home.
The third vulnerable group must surely be those who are physically, emotionally or psychologically scarred by experiences at school, within the family, or otherwise in their own environment. We cannot allow those people to go unaided. Staying in their situation of vulnerability can only lead to further problems.
I realise that in the cause of people like the hon. Member for Stockport I will not be able to appeal to humanitarian considerations, so perhaps I should appeal to the calculating machines that sometimes masquerade as their minds. What is the net cost of this attitude? What is the cost of recycling the problems from one decade to the next? What is the cost in terms of keeping people in prison and other institutions, of keeping people on the verge between being law-abiding citizens and being law breakers? The net cost of such an approach is quantifiable and is something that the hon. Member for Stockport might understand.
The recycling effect is very serious indeed--not just for the young people, not just for others affected by their lives, not just for the parents, not just for the immediate environment, but for the whole of society, which adopts the faulty premise that if people are left on the dunghill the height of the dunghill will somehow be lessened. A serious principle is at stake. It is based on the choice of the type of society that we want to create and sustain. Is it a society which will honour its commitments and responsibility to the most vulnerable or one that will work on a false premise? There is a false premise in the legislation. It is the notion that leaving people to stand on
Column 770their own two feet, cold baths, bodily exercise and a little starvation will put the matter right. It does not. We have centuries of experience to show that it does not. It simply exacerbates the problem and recycles the difficulties that our young people are facing now.
Those young people in every city and in rural areas could well be guided into productive lives if a humanitarian approach were adopted by the caring services and in this legislation. If we have this cold, callous heartlessness in our legislation, it must reflect a cold, callous heartlessness in our legislators. We are the legislators. Is that the type of condition that we want to recycle for further generations?
Mr. Favell : I shall be brief, but I must reply to that attack. I have nothing against young people standing on their own two feet. My objection is to encouraging young people to stand on the state's two feet. That is precisely what the Opposition have been trying to encourage for years. For a long time the Labour party encouraged young people to think that they could leave school at 16, go immediately into accommodation provided by the state and live on the state, rather than look for a job or even train for one. That was not in the long-term interests of young people.
I remember early after my election a lady coming to my surgery and saying, "Mr. Favell, I have a daughter of 16. She is being encouraged into idleness and immorality by the state. She has left a perfectly good home and set up home with a young man who is also 16. She is living in luxury and has no intention of getting a job. What is the state doing?" I have heard that story over and over again. I am glad that the Government have grasped the nettle and are insisting that young people find a job, if possible, and are not encouraged to think that they can live on the state for ever and a day.
In many areas young women have illegitimate children and those children are condemned to the same cycle of deprivation as their mothers. That should be discouraged. My hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security is doing exactly the right thing in discouraging such behaviour.
The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Nicholas Scott) : I must take issue with the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). He cited the parable of the prodigal son, but he seemed to get it on its head. The prodigal son left with plenty of capital, blew the lot and went back to the bosom of his family where he was welcomed back. He certainly did not have the opportunity to live on state benefits when he was away from home.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we seek to ensure that, whatever changes we make in the provision for young people, the most vulnerable are given special protection. I hope that I can persuade the House that that is exactly what the Government are doing. I am absolutely certain--I echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell)--that the state should not be seen to encourage or give a perverse incentive to young people to leave home.
Mr. Scott : Perhaps the hon. Lady would allow me to develop the argument before she decides whether what I shall say is disgraceful. I represent part of London which under Conservative and Labour Governments has seen the problems of young people. They come to London and chance their luck, and I have seen the dangers and difficulties with which they can be confronted.
Mrs. Dunwoody : Does the Minister ever ask why those children come to London? It was clear from a survey that I carried out on homosexuality and on the use of small boys for male prostitution that many of those children were driven out of existing homes by the conditions and the abuses that they there suffered. Will the Minister not use as an excuse the suggestion that all those who come to London are driven here by some extraordinary greed for the future? Will he not accept that many of them are driven out by things that none of us would accept for our children or for anyone else's?
Mr. Scott : I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Lady. I hope that I shall be able to persuade the House that we have taken special account of young people who find themselves in the situation that the hon. Lady has described.
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) did not speak to the new clause, but launched into a violent attack on the broad thrust of the Government's policy for 16 and 17-year-olds. I do not blame him for doing that, but I am confident that the broad thrust of the Government's policy is right. Many of his arguments during his passionate address to the House were based on emotion and prejudice rather than on the facts of the case. He talked about the lack of places on YTS. At the end of February there were virtually 144,000 unfilled places on YTS throughout the country, and an excess of places over demand in every region.
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North spoke as though young people, when they asked for consideration under the severe hardship provisions, were inevitably turned down. From 12 September 1988--when the new system came into existence--up to 21 April, there were 7,464 decisions on severe hardship, and 4,839 of those were favourable, which is some 65 per cent. Those decisions are, therefore, taken on a fair and rational basis.
Mr. Wilson rose
Mr. Scott : The hon. Gentleman had his say. He gave the impresson that young people who came forward and pleaded severe hardship inevitably had their cases rejected out of hand. That is not true. Some two thirds of those who came forward were given a favourable decision.