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Judy Mallaber: With which institutions, organisations, employers and so on would a trainee placement be eligible for such support? If I give my right hon. Friend the details, will she examine my local sports development programme, which enables some of the participants to access further trainingfor example, to become sports coaches?
Dawn Primarolo: The schemes eligible will be the formally sponsored Government projects and schemes. I do not recollect whether the one that my hon. Friend mentions is among them, but I am more than happy for her to send me the details and I will certainly consider them.
The longer-term vision is for a coherent system of financial support. Other Government measures will need to reflect that. For example, much work is being done to determine whether volunteering as a way of acquiring a skill could be included in the scheme in the long run, although that is not covered by the Bill. As far as I am aware, all 80,000 unwaged trainees mentioned by the hon. Gentleman would be eligible for the scheme. There is no question of some being in and some being out.
I am grateful; the Paymaster General's generosity is exemplary. The Bill is short, but I hope that
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she will understand when I say that my brow furrowed when she referred to the regulations that are to come. Will they be subject to the negative procedure of the House, or to its affirmative counterpart?
Dawn Primarolo: The hon. Gentleman may not have had an opportunity to obtain a copy of the draft regulations that were made available at the beginning of the week to assist hon. Members in the debate, and which I am sure will answer many questions that he might have. The regulations will be subject to the negative procedure, as with all other regulations in this category.
The Government believe that young people should be able to choose the learning route most appropriate for them, rather than basing their decision on the amount of financial support available. The Child Benefit Bill is therefore important, because it is the first step in removing the distinction between education and unwaged training with regard to child benefit and tax benefits. Corresponding amendments will also be made to income support and other benefits to ensure that unwaged trainees who cannot live in the family home also benefit from the new arrangements. Those changes will strengthen young people's choices between the academic and vocational learning routes, and are very much in line with the proposals of the working group on 14-to-19 curriculum reform. They will bring about additional investment in financial support for unwaged trainees of around £100 million a year, delivering more money for tens of thousands of young learners, especially those from low-income families and those who are unable to live in the family home.
The Bill will also enable us to remove another damaging anomaly in the financial support system identified by the reviewthe cut-off at the age of 19, to which I have already referred. Child benefit rules are based on the assumption that post-16 participation comprises two years of A-level study at school or college, completed before the young person's 19th birthday. But this model of post-16 education does not match the pathways and experiences of many young people continuing in learning today. Each year thousands of young people reach the age of 19 while still studying for non-advanced qualifications. Most of these young people will be in this situation because their education has been disrupted for some reason, including vulnerable groups such as care leavers, young offenders and those who are homeless and have been estranged from their family.
Under the current rules, child benefit and tax credits cease on the young person's 19th birthday, irrespective of whether they are still studying. Young people from low-income households may be forced to leave their course before achieving their qualification, and that cannot be right. The situation is even worse for young people who cannot live in the family home, as their
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entitlement to income support may cease and they must instead claim jobseeker's allowance, which by requiring them to be available for work stops them from studying full-time. The loss of income support also triggers the loss of housing benefit, often making it impossible for them to continue on their course without losing their home or running up rent arrears.
The personal testimonies that we received during the review revealed the distress and frustration caused by these rules. The young people affected had overcome previous obstacles to engage in education, but then at 19 faced severe hardship and debt if they wanted to complete their course. There was a real sense among the respondents that although they were seeking extended support in the short term, in the long term they would contribute much more to society if they completed their studies.
It is a wasted investment both for the Government and for the young people if they drop out before achieving their qualifications. This is why we propose to reform the rules for child benefit, child tax credit and income support, so that young people who reach 19 while still studying for non-advanced qualifications are supported until they complete their course. The Government are committed to ensuring that all young people are supported to achieve their potential.
Dawn Primarolo: I said that I would not give way again. I have now been speaking for a long time, and the hon. Gentleman is about to make his own speech. I am sure that he will be able to make his point then, and my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary will be able to reply. Forgive me, but I have tried the patience of the House too much again.
Having set out the context and background to the Bill, I want to explain briefly its provisions and how these will be used to achieve the reforms. The Bill will restructure the existing definition of a "child" in child benefit by introducing a new concept of a "qualifying young person". A child will be defined as a person who has not reached the age of 16, which I can reassure hon. Members means that the Bill will have no impact on the payment of child benefit for under-16s. The Bill enables the Government to lay regulations prescribing the circumstances in which someone aged 16 and over is defined as a qualifying young person. That replicates the approach already used in the legislation for the child tax credit, ensuring greater consistency in the criteria for the two streams of support.
As I announced in my written statement to the House, we published draft regulations on 10 January to demonstrate how we intend to use the powers provided by the Bill. In addition to the existing entitlement for 16 to 18-year-olds in full-time education, the regulations show how we propose to extend support to unwaged trainees on specific training programmes arranged by the Government. The regulations also confirm that we will extend support to 19-year-olds until they complete their course, up to an age limit of 20. We intend to implement both the reforms in April 2006, along with the corresponding changes to the child tax credit and income support, which will be made via separate amending regulations.
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The April 2006 launch date will represent a major milestone on the way to our long-term vision of a radically simplified system of financial support for young people in learning. It is worth pointing out that one of the benefits of using regulations to define eligibility for child benefit for 16 to 19-year-olds is that it provides us with greater flexibility to respond readily to the long-term curriculum changes and policy developments. This change has been too long in the making. Regulations enable us to respond more speedily. We must ensure that the financial support system reflects the diverse range of learning opportunities available to young people today and in the future.
We know there are innumerable barriers to education and training for all those over 16 years of age. Financial support should not be one of them. The Bill starts the process of ensuring that it is not, and I commend it to the House.
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