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Children (Clothing)

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 30 November 1982

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8.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the new arrangements whereby the responsibility for identifying children in clothing need has been passed to teaching staff.

The statutory provision for assistance with school clothing needs in Scotland is contained in section 54 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, which is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. So far as the responsibilities of this Department are concerned, single payments for children's clothing under the supplementary benefit scheme can be made only where the need arises for reasons other than normal wear and tear.

The Minister is probably unaware that some Scottish local authorities have delegated responsibility for dealing with school clothing needs to teachers and that the teachers' organisations have said that they do not possess the skills or ability to assess those needs. In those circumstances, does the Minister agree that his Department should reintroduce the scheme, under which skilled DHSS visitors can go to the house concerned and make provision for children in need?

No, I do not. The powers provided to education authorities in Scotland are appropriate, and it is not for me to tell the authorities how to interpret those powers or how to negotiate with the teachers' unions. That must be a matter for the local education authorities.

Does the Minister recognise that when this responsibility was transferred from his Department to the Scottish local authorities there was much hostility from the teaching profession and from the EIS in particular? Is he aware that if this money was properly spent by local authorities 130 additional teachers could be employed to educate children in the Strathclyde region—an area that is very much in need of employment, especially for the teaching profession?

There is no question of transferring a particular responsibility from the DHSS to Scottish education authorities. Under the regulated supplementary benefit scheme, single payments for children's clothing have been awarded more evenly across the country, and that has affected Scotland. However, as I told the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), the application of the powers of Scottish education authorities and the negotiations with the unions are matters for the Scottish education authorities themselves to sort out.

Should we not ensure that children who are genuinely in need are cared for? One is therefore at a loss to understand why teachers cannot tell whether shoes are leaking or clothes are inadequate.

I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend's opinion. He confirms my view that this is a matter for the Scottish education authorities, in conjunction with the teaching unions, parents and anyone else whom they ought to consult.