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Mr. Wilson : The Minister has confirmed my point with his figures, because 7,000 odd is a small number of young people to have claimed on grounds of severe hardship. Will the Minister join me in encouraging every 16 and 17-year-old who has had benefit taken away from him and who has been left with no means of income to appeal on grounds of severe hardship? If a person has no income, potentially he or she has severe hardship. In particular, will the Minister give a directive to every DSS office that in no circumstances must it tell or lead those youngsters to believe that they are disqualified from income support merely on the ground that they are 16 or 17-years-old?
Mr. Scott : Every 16 or 17-year-old is guaranteed the offer of a place on the youth training scheme. It is possible that some people, who have to live independently, may need to be considered under the severe hardship provisions. In those circumstances, I believe that it is right that we should look with compassion and sympathy at the circumstances that confront them. Two thirds of those who have come forward and who have asked for consideration have had a favourable response.
I am grateful for the Opposition's guarded welcome for the concessions for treating 16 and 17-year-olds that I was recently able to announce. The effect of the new clause is to give 16 and 17-year-olds who have no parents or who for a prescribed list of reasons are unable to live at home the over -25s rate of income support. The difference between us is not the treatment that should be accorded to those people, but the level of benefit to which they should be entitled. I believe that our list accords closely to the list that the hon. Member for Newport, West has in mind. Should such youngsters get the 18 to 24-year-olds rate of benefit or should they get the rate for those aged 25 and older? I shall advance a number of reasons why we should stay where we are in this regard.
First, we have only recently introduced the concessions that I was able to announce-- [Interruption.] When we introduced the reforms in April 1988 I undertook that we would carefully monitor their effect. One result of the monitoring has been the concessions that I have announced. We should wait to see how those concessions work out. I believe that the 18 to 24- year rate is appropriate for the youngsters in question.
Under-25s on income support get the personal allowance, £27.40. They also get housing benefit, 100 per cent. of their rent and 80 per cent. of their rates. I accept
Column 773that, having paid their housing costs, they are left with an amount that is not generous. I believe that it is adequate and I do not want to reach the situation where we restore the perverse incentive that existed before April 1988 for young people to leave home and seek to live independently when the vast majority of them should be given every encouragement to remain with their families.
Mr. Bill Michie : What is the difference between someone under-25 and someone over-25? The Government recognise that, at the age of 18, when called upon, one can don a uniform and die for one's country. For some strange reason, however, the Government do not recognise that person as an adult with the same problems as those over-25.
There is a difference between the under-25s and the over-25s not least in their earning capacity. Young people under-25 earn a great deal less than those over-25 and most live in other people's households rather than independently. I do not want to return to the situation where we must reintroduce the complexities and difficulties of the householder test that existed before April 1988.
I accept that the arrangements that are made are not generous, but I believe that they are sufficient. We shall extend the provisions that are made during the child benefit extension period to include those who are genuinely estranged from their families. At the end of that period it will be possible, virtually automatic, for such cases to be considered under the severe hardship provisions should a youngster say that he still needs that help. It is right that that should happen.
We shall, of course, continue to monitor the impact of our changes. Such monitoring is not a one-off exercise but a continuing process. I pay warm tribute to the voluntary organisations which have helped to monitor the changes and which have given considered judgments about the cases they have identified. In part they led us to make the changes that we have announced.
The hon. Member for Newport, West raised the cases of Wilfred and Tracy, which were highlighted by the National Childrens Bureau. The House knows that I never comment in detail on the Floor of the House on individual cases that are brought forward because the facts underlying those cases may well turn out to be inaccurate. At first glance, the examples quoted by the National Childrens Bureau seem to have some inexplicable defects, but I should like to consider them rather more carefully and study the figures. I shall then respond to the National Childrens Bureau and, if necessary, will place the letter in the Library.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) spoke to amendment No. 106. I shall read his speech, as he did, and I shall study the details that he went over rather quickly. Whereas the new clause seeks to overturn something that has existed for just over a month, he is seeking to overturn an arrangement that has existed
Column 774for three weeks. We abolished the special rates, which were a carryover from the old board and lodging supplementary benefits scheme.
I believe that the old board and lodging system really provided an incentive for claimants and landlords to behave in a quite perverse manner. We know that some landlords who provided accommodation of this type used to hang signs in their windows saying "DHSS claimants only", because they could get from claimants on the board and lodging allowance rents they could not get from people in work, and they were prepared to specialise in this type of operation. Knowing that the claimants could get a benefit, landlords could make higher charges, often providing no extra services whatever and meals which were mere tokens. Claimants knew that they could get the personal allowance as well as the eating out allowance. The result was an explosion of this sort of provision, a trebling in only two years. It was therefore right to seek to change such a provision.
In essence, in the changes to the hostels and board and lodging areas we are attempting to provide that the social security system is neutral when it relates to the type of accommodation provided. Therefore, all claimants should have their housing cost met through the housing benefits system, and other needs met through income support. The amendment that the hon. Gentleman will be able to move on another day would negate the effect desired.
I also find it very difficult to support a system that encourages local authorities to provide bed-and-breakfast accommodation for homeless families. I do not believe that it is in the interests of the homeless families or of the local authorities concerned. Many boroughs are able to get by without using that sort of provision. By using short lease or short life property, they avoid resorting to bed-and-breakfast accommodation. That is the right way to go. Of course, as we make the changes to board and lodging provisions, we are providing transitional protection for varying periods to the most vulnerable groups. I cannot ask the House to accept the amendment or the new clause.
Mr. Flynn : The Minister refers to perverse incentives for people to leave home. I recall the words of the Prime Minister who, after promising that all young people would have a YTS place to go to, when questioned about the many thousands of young people from many parts of the country who found they still had no YTS place after the bridging period, replied that places were available if they were prepared to leave home. Is that not a perverse incentive for people to leave home? The Minister should look at the Government's own regulations relating to non-dependent relatives. In such cases, a large deduction is made from the family housing benefit-- another perverse incentive for people to leave home.
When referring in my opening remarks to the malice and ignorance of some Conservative Members, I thought that I might have overstated the case, but then I heard from the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) the genuine voice of malice and ignorance that inspires the Government. The tabloid understanding of reality of Conservative Members has driven them to this extreme of using the device of poverty to force confused, unhappy, damaged young people to do the Government's bidding.
The Minister appears not to understand this clause. Many Labour Members have said that it does not go far
Column 775enough. There is a case for saying that there should not be a cut-off at the age of 25. There are no signs displayed in boarding houses stating that two rates apply to a flat--one for people older than 25, and one for younger people. In the supermarkets, there are not two prices for the groceries--one for the under-25s and one for the over-25s. The Government's policy is based on that irrationality.
We were practical and modest in framing the new clause. The people covered by it are those who will not be affected by any perverse desire to leave home and rush to the bright lights of Chelsea. They are specifically enumerated as those who have no homes to return to. They are married couples, people who have left home because of parental abuse, those who have never had a home, or have been in care for virtually all their lives, and those who are living away from the parental home for other reasons, perhaps because their parents cannot afford to support them as they are chronically sick or disabled. There is no reason for the Minister to reject the new clause. Out duty is to cherish these young people, not to punish them. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the new clause.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time :
The House divided : Ayes 168, Noes 296.
Division No. 173] [11.10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)
Beith, A. J.
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Duffy, A. E. P.
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Golding, Mrs Llin
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Home Robertson, John
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)