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Baroness Masham of Ilton: There are so many people who do not want to carry on with education, particularly those from care for the reasons that have been said. It is bad for their self-esteem to be turned down. For that girl not to have been able to take her examination is bad for her self-esteem. The Secretary of State for Education--I watched his recent programme on television--spoke strongly about giving these people education. The matter is very important. The local authorities need a big push.

The Earl of Listowel: When young people--they have dropped out, failed, and have been told by their teachers that they are hopeless--take their A-level later in life, it is like climbing Everest. For them it is the stamp that they have turned the corner and started to make something of their lives. It is important, and I am sure the Minister will give an interesting and satisfactory answer to it.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Noble Lords are always inviting me to commit extra resources. How I wish I

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could wave the magic wand! I accept that education and training are the best way of helping these young people secure the life chance that they need and that we wish to give them. I have no doubt about that, and I could not disagree with the Prime Minister's words.

We understand the frustration and concerns that many noble Lords have about the current record of local authorities in this area. We certainly would wish local authorities to use these new powers and duties to assist care leavers in education and training wherever appropriate. I can reassure noble Lords that the inspection and review processes that we shall be instituting will look very closely at the education and employment outcomes of care leavers up to the age of 21 and beyond.

I shall be happy to consider the matter further. However, I must say that just as with the parallel discussion on the general duty to assist care leavers beyond the age of 18 there would be some financial burdens. It clearly would be unreasonable to take steps to make this a duty on local authorities without providing the resources with which to meet it. As I have said, I am willing to consider the matter further.

Earl Howe: That is a helpful reply. I thank the Minister for it, because I know all too well that an amendment of this kind presents difficulties for the Government in terms of funding. I welcome his undertaking to look at the issue again. He will know the strong feeling of the Committee on this matter--and not just in the Committee, but more widely. I hope that something can be done. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 24:

    Page 8, line 4, at end insert (", Primary Care Trust").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5 [Representations]:

[Amendments No. 25 and 26 not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Exclusion from benefits]:

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 27:

    Page 8, line 39, at end insert--

("( ) This section does not apply to a person who falls within subsection (2)(a) or (b) where that person is estranged from his responsible local authority.").

The noble Earl said: The amendment picks up an issue raised by several noble Lords, including myself, at Second Reading. Its purpose is to ensure that young care leavers who do not have or who do not want contact with their local authority--who are estranged from their local authority--will continue to have the safety net of the right to claim income support of some kind.

I support the proposal that local authorities should have primary responsibility for the financial support of young people leaving care. The proposal that temporary emergency support will be available when

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things go wrong is also one that I welcome. However, I feel that a blanket exclusion from benefits could leave the most vulnerable young people without any source of financial support. In the small minority of cases where young people are irrevocably estranged from their corporate parents, I believe that young people should continue to have the discretionary right to support from the benefits system via the severe hardship allowance.

Failure to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable young people will mean only one thing: that the Bill will weaken the level of protection offered to young people leaving care. That cannot be right. Research has shown that many young people who have experienced the care system are highly suspicious of local authority social work services, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, pointed out earlier, and they do not make use of through and after-care services, even when they exist.

I have already said today that young people previously looked after by local authorities are particularly vulnerable to homelessness. Research shows that between one-fifth and one-half of young homeless people have been in care, while 26 per cent. of rough sleeper initiative service users have a care background.

There is a distinct risk that scrapping entitlement to benefit in its entirety will increase the threat of homelessness for some young people leaving care. I believe that we should do all we can to avoid that eventuality. I beg to move.

Lord Clement-Jones: I rise briefly to support the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Howe. By and large, we accept the general principles laid down by the Bill. In this case, however, unless there is a safety valve, there could be injustices. This matter was raised at Second Reading by a number of noble Lords and it is a matter of considerable concern. The wording does not let a coach and horses through. It is a specific set of circumstances, and I urge the Minister to consider it carefully.

The Earl of Listowel: I remember having a case described to me of a young girl who went into prostitution, or clipping, which is to offer a man sex and take the money, then to run away without providing a service. That might be one destination for a young person who had no money and was completely estranged from her local authority. I hope that the Minister will give the amendment serious consideration.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: These are the most at-risk people because if they have fallen out with their local authority it might well be because they have been abused. Why else would they fall out with the local authority unless with a breakdown in relationships with social workers? It might be something serious like that and the only option then would be to do something like go on the streets.

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7.30 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: We return to a discussion that we had at Second Reading and I understand the concerns of noble Lords. The problem with the solution being put forward is that there are some real practical difficulties and, ironically, it might provide perverse incentives for local authorities to give up on disaffected young people. In that sense, it could undermine the principle of the Bill as it now stands.

We are, of course, concerned with some very vulnerable young people and we try in the Bill to put arrangements together that are robust and straightforward and which will inspire confidence in the young people whom it is designed to help. The important element here is removing the perverse incentives that have driven local authorities to discharge people from care before they are ready and able to do so. That is why we are replacing the current arrangements with a duty to assess and meet the needs of all eligible and relevant people.

We are deliberately taking this group of young people out of reliance on the benefit system in order to simplify the arrangements for supporting them. The duties on local authorities include supporting and maintaining them until they are 18 in order to guarantee that they receive what they need and we have introduced the concept of a responsible authority so that it is quite clear about which authority is there to support the individual young person. In doing so, we want local authorities to behave more like responsible parents towards these children.

The problem is that if disaffected young people are still able to claim benefits what is to encourage local authorities to continue to work with the difficult and most vulnerable when they might have a back-door through which to push them?

There are also other issues. This particular group of young people are likely to be especially vulnerable, alone on the streets. I wonder whether their interests are best served through the financial help offered by benefits. Surely the experience we have seen in the past few years suggests not.

I recognise that, in certain circumstances, emergency support will be required. Under Section 17 local authorities can provide that support and these young people will be able to claim support. Local authorities also offer out-of-hours services, as so many people needing emergency support do so at night or at weekends. That is why we have been at such pains to introduce flexibility into the system. We have tried to take account of the fact that some young people will want nothing at all to do with their responsible authority or, indeed, any other authority. Young people are mobile but, again, they need support and stability just as they would expect from a good parent. That is why the responsible authority will provide support wherever the young person moves and it is why we are setting up a system whereby the only contact a young person need have to receive his support is with the young person's adviser. I have already referred in earlier debates about the various backgrounds from which young persons' advisers can

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come. I have also made it clear that, in circumstances where the young person is unhappy with a young person's adviser, it will be possible for another adviser to be appointed.

When one thinks about the estrangement of a young person from a statutory authority, all the young person has to do is keep in touch with the young person's adviser and that young person will have, if he or she wishes, very little contact at all with the statutory local authority.

I recognise the strength with which noble Lords have expressed their concerns on this matter, but I do not believe it will be helpful to make separate benefit rules for disaffected young people. The best way forward is the way that we have chosen, with the availability of emergency support in certain circumstances.

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