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Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 111:

Page 47, line 20, at end insert ("so however that the rate at which child benefit is paid to a lone parent shall not be lower than the rate at which it is paid in any other case.").

The noble Earl said: Amendment No. 111 was put down to enable the Minister to put into the record an extremely welcome concession which she made at the preliminary briefing meeting in the Moses Room. So, in optimism, I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The drafting of Clause 70 is clearly causing some concern which we need to lay to rest. I am therefore happy on behalf of the Government to accept Amendment No. 111 in principle. It is not our intention to do anything other than align the rates of child benefit paid to lone parents and couples.

I should like to ask the draftsman to consider the most appropriate form of words to allay the concerns that Clause 70(1)(b) is causing, and I shall come back to the

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matter on Report. With equal optimism, therefore, I hope that the noble Earl will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Earl Russell: The Minister's optimism is abundantly justified. She said everything I hoped and rather more. I thank her warmly and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 112:

Page 47, line 20, at end insert--
("( ) Regulations under this section may not be introduced until there is evidence from a systematic independent study of relative costs, incomes and expenditures of lone parent and two parent families on benefit and in work which conclusively demonstrates that one and two parent families should be treated equally by the tax and benefit system.").

The noble Earl said: I move this amendment with not quite so much optimism. In moving it, I shall speak also to Clause 70 stand part.

Amendment No. 112 is designed to ensure that regulations under Clause 70 should not be introduced,

    "until there is evidence from a systematic independent study of relative costs, incomes and expenditures of lone parent and two parent families ... which conclusively demonstrates that one and two parent families should be treated equally by the tax and benefit system".
The Minister, as I do, respects research. I hope therefore that she will be prepared to rise to this specific challenge. If not, I have up my sleeve a further amendment that Clause 70 should not stand part. That would take out altogether the attempt to destroy the lone-parent premium in child benefit.

It has already been explained by my noble friend Lady Maddock that stopping the child benefit premium which benefits only those in work is a particularly curious way of encouraging lone parents to go into work. In fact, the long and roundabout scheme which the Government introduced instead to encourage people to go into work by paying money to a much larger number of people is a curious attempt at robbing Peter to pay Paul. As usually happens when we rob Peter to pay Paul, the "fence" ends up getting most of it.

The Government are using an extremely untargeted approach. They are paying money to practically everybody rather than targeting it on the group which is clearly, on a large body of research, in the greatest amount of hardship. In fact, it is an extremely expensive bow to the editor of the Daily Mail.

The key question behind this is whether there should be any specific benefit for single parents. We on these Benches say that there should. We are in this House, among the Front-Benches, alone in saying so. We are not ashamed of that. But if we put it in a slightly wider context than just the parties in this country and this Parliament, the picture comes out rather different. If we put it in the context of centuries, we are far from alone.

The principle that there should be separate payment for lone parents can be traced through other centuries about as far back as one can go. I found it in the Book of Exodus and even in Tudor and Stuart England, when

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the treatment of single parents was about as harsh as it has ever been. Single parenthood at that time was initiated by whipping them until their backs were bloody--the ideal treatment for post-natal depression. Even then there was a separate element of payment specifically for being a single parent.

We can look at the matter in a geographical rather than a chronological context. If we look again at the Bradshaw 20-country study, there is a separate element of benefit for being a single parent--benefit under the benefit or tax system--in Denmark, Finland and Norway. Before noble Lords say, "Just the Scandinavians again", it occurs also in France, Australia, Japan and the USA. That raises a question as to who is in the minority. It suggests that the case that we from these Benches are arguing is a great deal less lonely than it appears in the rather parochial context of the adversarial politics of the Front Benches of this Chamber.

The reasons why there might be separate costs for being a single parent were extremely well outlined by my noble friend Lady Maddock: the cost of heating, because there are the same number of rooms whether there is a single or a double bed in the bedroom; the cost of housing; the cost of time. The National Consumer Council study of the cost of food shows that it may be up to 20 per cent. higher if one cannot travel around and go to the supermarket where goods are cheaper. Single parents incur more paid childcare when there is not another person to share the childcare with. And, as I remember the few days while our second child was being born and I was caring for the first on my own, they incur perpetual travel, in my case between central London, Wimbledon and St. Thomas' Hospital; and perpetual travel comes rather expensive.

I am well aware that that is all disputed and the Minister, I am sure, will dispute it at great length. It seems worth checking whether it is in fact so by looking at the spending measures of poverty; looking at which people are short of which things. The Rowntree study, Small Fortunes, by Sue Middleton and others (I know perfectly well the Minister is familiar with it) tackled the problem of poverty by taking a series of indicators of things which parents were generally agreed children need. They classified those who were short of three indicators as poor and those who were short of five as severely poor.

Though not particularly fancy indicators, the ones that do not involve food are things like one warm coat and one waterproof pair of shoes. I do not think there can be much argument as to whether they are necessary. The study found that single parents who were not working were 7.5 times more likely to count as poor than couples who were also not working. There is therefore a cost attached to singleness. It found that all the children without all three of the food items were children of single parents; that 25 per cent. of children of single parents not working and 8 per cent. of children of couples who were not working were short of one food item. Even where there is a common employment status therefore the children of the single parent were three times as likely to be going short of meals.

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Work did not turn out to be a panacea. One-third of single parents in full-time work were lacking one of the three items; 24 per cent. of the children of parents in part-time work were lacking one food item. Those are the figures for the children. The situation for the mothers is far worse. It is commonly agreed in such situations that the mothers regularly go short of food in order to make sure that the children have enough. Malnutrition is extremely expensive.

I could multiply those indicators; in fact I could go on multiplying them for a long time. But the pattern is consistent. If single parents are not worse off than couple parents on the same income, I should like to know how the Minister explains those findings. I beg to move.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: The noble Earl says that he and my noble friend the Minister respect research. Nobody in his right mind would dispute that proposition. I notice that the noble Earl quoted research in support of his case and it is possible that my noble friend will quote research in support of a different case. However, regardless of conflicting research, I have no doubt whatever that the extra costs follow one-parent families. Academics and Ministers can say anything, but it is nonsense to suggest that a single-parent family does not bear heavier costs than a two-parent family.

I am from a one-parent family because my father died when I was five. I watched my mother bring up three children in the grim 1920s and 1930s. I have taken a special interest in this subject and I have seen single parent families suffering. It does not matter what the century is or the time is--the noble Earl referred back to the Book of Exodus--single parent families really suffer.

I do not propose to add to the many examples quoted by the noble Earl and by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, who spoke to a previous amendment on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, except to offer two additional points. The first concerns the lack of mobility of single parent families. Because the children are there they cannot shop around. That is a real problem. The second point is this: you can bet your life that unscrupulous shopkeepers will tend to palm off the bad food behind the display to the vulnerable, harassed single parent, who is usually a woman. That adds to the costs of the single parent family.

We all hope that welfare-to-work will be successful and that lone parents will benefit if they want to work. However, if it is not successful, if the jobs are not found, and if the tax credit benefits do not flow, one parent families will need every penny they can get.

I conclude by saying that the case of the Social Security Advisory Committee is that the argument for one parent families being no worse off than two parent families is "not proven." It suggests that the Government should not proceed until the evidence is absolutely clear, forthcoming and concrete. It puts that reasonable proposition which I hope will be taken on board by the Government. I should like an assurance from my noble friend that the Government will ensure that this research does take place.

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4.30 p.m.

Lord Higgins: The Question whether Clause 70 shall stand part of the Bill has been grouped appropriately with this amendment. Therefore, I should like to say a few words about it, although there are subsequent amendments in my name to the clause which appear between the debate on it and when it will actually be voted on, if indeed there is a Division.

The noble Earl and the Liberal Democrats have been entirely consistent in the attitude they have taken with regard to lone parents; namely, that there is a case for their having a differential set of benefits to account for the fact that they are lone parents rather than parents in a two parent family. The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, who spoke a moment or two ago, has equally been consistent. And so have we on these Benches. We took the view in government that there ought not to be differentials. The party which has not taken a consistent view on the subject is the party opposite. Instead of arguing, as it did in opposition, that there should be a differential for lone parents, it is arguing now that there should be no such differential.

Will the noble Baroness make it absolutely clear whether there are any groups which she feels deserve preferential treatment, or is it her view now that there is no reason why lone parents should have preferential treatment in any circumstances? Perhaps she will be kind enough to indicate whether that is so.

In our earlier exchanges the noble Baroness sought to justify the Government's position, and the change in her own position, by arguing that there have been measures in the Budget and that the whole thing should be taken as a package. At the risk of being rather partisan, it is perhaps not irrelevant to point out that the change and the arrival of the package happened after the rebellion in the other place. While it is true that this means that lone parents as such, subject to the debate we had earlier about the fall in benefits before they are restored, will not permanently lose, nonetheless they no longer have the differential advantages--I stress the words "differential advantages"--which they previously enjoyed. My understanding is that despite the Budget some 60,000 lone parents will still lose an average of £2 a week and will not benefit sufficiently from the Budget for that to be offset.

Having said all that, I believe that the attitude we previously took in government was right and therefore I do not oppose the view which the Government have now taken. I listened with interest to the points made by the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, about the need for further research. If, indeed, that produces some new evidence, no doubt all of your Lordships will wish to consider it carefully.

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