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New Deal for Lone Parents

8. Mrs. Brinton: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment she has made of the impact of the welfare-to-work proposals as they affect single parents.[9035]

Ms Harman: The new deal for lone parents offers help to every lone parent with school-age children to give them support and advice to help them off benefit and into work. Following the launch on Monday in the first eight areas of our new deal, we shall monitor progress in those eight areas and report back to the House.

Mrs. Brinton: I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply. Is she aware that, in my constituency of Peterborough, 22 per cent. of families with dependent children are single parent or lone-parent families? Does she, like me, deplore the comments of Conservative Members, especially those of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who has tended to blame single parents for all the evils in society rather than the disastrous policies of the previous Government? Will she be prepared at some time in the future to visit my constituency so that she can tell lone parents how Labour's policies will benefit them?

Ms Harman: I shall certainly visit my hon. Friend's constituency and talk to the personal advisers who are working with lone mothers there. She is right to remind the House that the previous Government simply blamed lone parents. They left 1 million on income support, bringing up 2 million children, which left those families with a low standard of living and the taxpayer with a high bill. That is why we have a welfare-to-work programme to improve the standard of living for lone mothers and their children.

Mr. Baldry: Will the Secretary of State confirm that the best way in which to deal with differentials in income in our society, as identified by the Institute for Fiscal Studies today, is not by increasing rates of taxation or introducing penal rates of taxation but by helping people who are not in work to get back into work?

Ms Harman: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The best way to deal with inequality in income is through

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education and work opportunities. Those are the findings of the Institute for Fiscal Studies report and are two key planks of the Government's policy.

Income Support

9. Kali Mountford: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment she has made of the reasons why pensioners do not claim income support.[9036]

Mr. Denham: Our review of pensions is looking at the central areas of pensions insecurity for elderly people. Pensions are of key importance to people's lives and it is vital to build a sustainable consensus on the way forward so that everyone can look forward to a secure and dignified retirement.

We are committed to examining ways of helping up to 1 million pensioners who are entitled to income support but do not claim it. We are commissioning research to establish why they do not take up their benefit entitlement.

Kali Mountford: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that an estimated 1,150 pensioners in my constituency do not take up pensions? When I contacted my local DSS office, I was told that it had no strategy to encourage the take-up of pensions. Is it not the case that pensioners have no choice, contrary to what the Conservatives claimed when they were in power, and that we need a strategy to ensure that people who feel that a stigma is attached to means-tested benefits are encouraged to take up their entitlement?

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend is right. The previous Administration took the view that the only explanation for non-take-up was choice by poor elderly pensioners. The figures that she has given from her constituency show why it is so important that we understand the obstacles that those pensioners face in claiming the benefit so that we can examine ways forward.

Mr. Yeo: Does the Minister understand that the main reason why pensioners do not claim income support is that they are not eligible for it because they receive a second pension? Therefore, will he confirm, as a matter of simple fact, that the value of the pensions--which millions of personal pension plan holders looked forward to receiving--were substantially devalued by the Chancellor's smash-and-grab raid on 2 July?

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman is wrong in both assertions. Pensioners who are entitled to income support but who do not claim it do not have a second pension or, if they do, it is not enough to take them above income support level. The hon. Gentleman would do better to express some concern about why that situation exists, as we are doing.

Mr. Coaker: Does my hon. Friend agree that some pensioners do not claim the benefits to which they are entitled because the Conservative party created a culture in which people believe that anyone who claims benefit is a scrounger? What we need to do is to persuade

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pensioners that, far from scrounging, they are claiming something for which they have paid all their lives and on which they have a legitimate claim.

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend is right. One of the problems that we have to overcome is the legacy of 18 years in which everybody who claimed any benefit was labelled a scrounger. That is one of the reasons why proud elderly people are reluctant to claim the benefits to which they are entitled.

Mr. Burns: The Government's aim is to encourage pensioners to claim the benefits to which they are entitled. How does that square with the nasty and vindictive clause 70 in the Social Security Bill which will reduce the back-dating claim time from three months to one month? If more pensions are claimed, what assessment has been made by his Department of the amount of public money available and how much has been set aside to meet those claims?

Mr. Denham: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already set out, in last week's debate on social security, why we intend to have a social security system that operates efficiently and effectively in the interests of those who use it. That is what we shall do.

Minster for Women

10. Mr. Bayley: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if she will make a statement about the priorities of the Minister for Women.[9037]

Ms Harman: My priorities as Minister for Women are to open a new dialogue between Government and women, and to deliver the Government's commitments to women. We have already established a powerful Cabinet sub-committee for women, which will meet for the first time this afternoon and will put women's concerns at the heart of the Government. The sub-committee will ensure an effective cross-departmental approach to issues of concern to women.

Mr. Bayley: Does my right hon. Friend agree that many women feel more disconnected from politics and government than men do? At the election, 101 Labour women Members of Parliament were elected, compared with 13 Tory women and three Liberal Democrats. What will my right hon. Friend do to build on the opportunity of by far the largest representation in the House that women have ever had to make politics and government more relevant to women?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is right. Women feel more disconnected and alienated from the work of political parties and Government than men do. Now that we have the opportunity provided by the presence of an unprecedented number of female Labour Members of Parliament, it is our responsibility to establish a new dialogue with women. We can do that in two ways: through better communications with women's organisations and by reaching out to women across the country by new means--deliberative opinion polls, citizens' juries and representative people's panels. Many women see no reflection of their views in the House of

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Commons, and no connection between their lives and Government. The new Labour Administration will put that right.

Mr. St. Aubyn: Where in the priorities of the Minister for Women will come the case of the child carer in my constituency who tells me that, as a result of the changes in the Budget, she will now have to contribute an extra £20 a month to a personal pension scheme?

Ms Harman: Many people who took out personal pensions were hard done by at the hands of the last Government, whose policy allowed people to be encouraged to opt out of good occupational pension schemes and to be mis-sold personal pensions. Many of those people have not even been compensated for their loss of income in retirement. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is really concerned about increasing the connection between the work of Government and women in his constituency.

Mr. Gray: Is the Minister for Women aware that, at the last general election, more public schoolboys than women stood as Labour candidates? What steps will she take to increase the number of women Members on the Government Benches?

Ms Harman: The last general election was a great step forward in terms of women's representation. We have an unprecedented number of women Members. We still have further to go, however. We want to ensure that women understand that their views are listened to in Government. I am not referring just to women on the inside track, or women involved in organisations, but to all women. For 18 years, we had a Government who thought that women's demands were there to be resisted and ridiculed, but all that has now changed. Opposition Members should recognise that the tide of opinion has moved past them on this as well as many other issues.


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