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Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend warmly for her comments. She points out the fact that the Government are changing the agenda in a way that women want--something which the previous Government failed to do.

We are modernising the system so that it goes with the grain of change--putting Beveridge's principles into practice, but in a modern setting. We are making sure that welfare works for women as well as for men, because women head the poorest families and are the lowest paid, and are also the most likely to have caring responsibilities.

We are constructing the building blocks for economic success through employment and opportunity for all, by helping people to move into work, by ensuring that work pays, and by providing help to those who cannot work.

Last year's Budget launched the biggest ever assault on worklessness and poverty, through the new deals for the young and the long-term unemployed, for lone parents and for sick and disabled people who want to work. This year's Budget goes further in helping those who want to move into work to do so, by giving more active support, by taking obstacles to work out of the system, and by making work pay.

What active support are we giving? We know that in the modern economy skills and qualifications are the key both to getting a job and to getting on in that job. That is why we are investing heavily in helping young unemployed people to improve their skills and education, through the new deal for 18 to 24-year-olds.

For lone mothers, the problem of lack of skills is even greater. Whereas the number of young unemployed people who do not have qualifications is one in five--that is serious enough--half of lone mothers have no qualifications. So today I am building on the work begun by the Select Committee on Education and Employment, for whose work I place my gratitude on the record, by announcing a new initiative to help lone parents to improve their skills and qualifications through in-work training--backed, in its original pilot phase, which will start in eight pilot areas in October, by a £10 million investment made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

We are also investing a further £25 million that is needed to enable us to respond to the demands of lone parents with children under five who, although they have

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not been invited in to the new deal for lone parents, are coming forward and asking to use our services. The extra investment is being made to meet that demand.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): Does the right hon. Lady believe that the pilot schemes for the new deal for lone parents have been a success, with only a 6 per cent. return-to-work rate?

Ms Harman: I think that I would put that question back to the hon. Gentleman, and ask whether he really thinks that we could ever go back to a time when the policy for lone parents was simply to say, "Stay on benefit until your youngest child is 16, and be written off into a life of dependence."

The pilot schemes have started, and the progress that they are making is encouraging. They are being welcomed by lone parents, and the personal advisers are responding brilliantly to the new challenge. Employers are beginning to change their shift patterns so that they can employ lone parents.

The full evaluation of the additional work gained by lone parents will be published in due course, but I must remind the hon. Gentleman that, under the Tory Government, the number of lone mothers on income support reached more than 1 million, and those mothers were bringing up more than 2 million children on income support.

As a result of the present Government's approach, and the measures that we are introducing, the number of lone mothers bringing up their children entirely dependent on benefit will start to fall--and I hope that at that stage the hon. Gentleman will have the grace to recognise that ours is a pioneering and long overdue programme.

Mr. Gibb rose--

Ms Harman: I shall not give way again, because I must make progress.

It is a measure of the success of the new deal for lone parents that it is now inconceivable that anyone would seriously say to lone mothers that they should stay on income support until their youngest child is 16. After just 10 months of Labour in Government, that approach is gone for ever.

It was not only lone mothers whose aspirations to work were ignored by the previous Government; so, too, were the aspirations and capacities of people with health problems or a disability.

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): Before the Secretary of State moves on from lone parents, may I ask her a question? I welcome the additional cash for child benefit, which lone parents will receive, but does the right hon. Lady accept that there is now an anomaly, in that this year lone parents on income support will get a fiver in family premium, and in 1999 they will get the £2.50 premium on child benefit, but in 1998-99, new lone parents will get neither? Should she not now reverse the cut for one more year, and protect people who become lone parents next year?

Ms Harman: No, because we are persisting with the principle that we have established--that it is not family formation but household income that should dictate the

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amount of benefit received. We are going forward on the basis that the amount of benefit paid for children in workless households will depend on their age, not on whether there are one or two parents in the household. Lone parents and married women with children in workless households will move forward together as they get the benefit of our new investment in the children of the poorest families.

Mr. Phil Hope (Corby): As a result of all the tax and benefit changes in the Budget, will not the poorest 20 per cent. be £500 a year better off?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is right. This Budget is investing more in opportunities while improving the circumstances of the poorest families with children.

It was not long ago that the aspirations of lone mothers were written off, as were the aspirations of the long-term sick and disabled. Some people have such serious disabilities or health problems that they will never work, and the Government will always support those people in a life of dignity and independence. However, 2 million people with disabilities do work, and over 1 million more say that they would like to work but are not working.

That is why we are investing £195 million to identify the best ways of helping disabled people who want to work to find work. We are piloting a new personal adviser service from October, and we will be working with the voluntary and private sectors to test a range of other innovative schemes. That has never been done before. Previously, such people were written off.

To make sure that welfare works for women as well as men, we are investing £60 million from the windfall tax to enable women whose partners are unemployed to gain access to employment programmes themselves for the first time, so that they can receive the help that they need to get back to work. For the under 25s, childless women who have unemployed partners will no longer be written off. They will be treated in exactly the same way as their spouses.

It is unbelievable that, in this day and age, these women--under 25 and with no children--should be treated as unemployable by virtue of the fact that they are married to an unemployed man. Women do not view themselves just as dependants of their partners, and this modernising Government will not treat them as such. Women with children whose husbands or partners are unemployed can also choose to join the welfare-to-work programme, but for them--as for lone mothers--the programme will be entirely voluntary.

In addition, we are helping people to move into work by taking benefit obstacles out of the system. New rules to link periods of benefit entitlement will mean that sick and disabled people and lone parents who want to work will no longer have to worry about any financial risk involved in taking a job which may not work out. Lone parents in receipt of income support before April 1998 will be able to take a job knowing that they will return to the same rate of benefit if it does not work out within three months. People who leave incapacity benefit to take a job will be able to return to benefit at whatever rate they were previously being paid if the job falls through within a year, avoiding the risk of possibly losing as much as £40 a week in benefit.

We will help disabled people to play a fuller role in their communities and to take a step towards paid work by abolishing the rule limiting voluntary work to 16 hours

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a week for those on incapacity benefits. As from October, disabled people who want to make a contribution to the community will no longer lose any benefit, however many hours they work on a voluntary basis.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): I very much welcome that statement from my right hon. Friend. Many of the disabled people who have come to see me have expressed the need to be able to return to benefit in the way that she has described. One of the barriers preventing the disabled from working is the fact that sometimes they cannot work within the normal patterns that the rest of us can cope with. Will these innovative programmes consider the possibility that disabled people might be able to make a contribution, but in a different way from able-bodied people?


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