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Lone-Parent Families

Volume 75: debated on Tuesday 12 March 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Security if he has estimated the increase in demand on personal social services which is caused by the increase in the number of lone-parent families.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Services
(Mr. John Patten)

The Government's plans for expenditure on local authority services take account of pressures on the personal social services, including the effects of increasing numbers of lone-parent families. For individual local authorities the grant related expenditure assessments are calculated using the latest available estimates of numbers of lone-parent families.

Does the Minister accept the view of the National Council for One Parent Families that the GREA levels do not reflect the real needs of one-parent families? What extra help will he provide for those 13 inner London boroughs which have the highest proportion of one-parent families in Britain? In particular, what extra help will he give to Hackney, which, in order to get down to the GREA levels for the under-fives, would have to reduce expenditure by 43 per cent?

I recognise the particular problems of Hackney, which, I understand, has the highest proportion of lone parents of any London borough or any other part of the country. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern for it, but he must ask himself why other London boroughs with almost as high a number of lone-parent families, such as Hammersmith and Fulham, manage well without rate capping and his authority cannot.

In assessing the extra needs of lone-parent families, will my hon. Friend examine the other benefits given to them, particularly milk tokens, which are subject to considerable abuse. Will he consider altering that system? A monetary payment might be the right answer to tokens abuse.

We shall certainly be looking at that in the course of my right hon. Friend's social security review. My hon. Friend referred to other sums and benefits available to lone parents. Let me point out that, for example, benefit for one-parent families has gone up by 112 per cent. since the Government took office, well ahead of the rate of inflation.

Does the Minister not recognise that it is not only the increasing number of lone parents that increases demands on social services, but the increasing number of unemployed and the very old? If so, why are the Government using rate capping and other rate penalties to reduce spending to inadequate levels as set by the grant related expenditure assessment? Do they not want provision to be by businesses to those who can afford it, while those who cannot afford it will have to rely on charities or, worse still, have no service?

Local authorities throughout Britain have increased their expenditure on personal social services by some 18 per cent. in the past five years. They must set their own priorities. The hon. Lady could better spend her time pointing out good practice to boroughs, such as her own, which sometimes have rather bad practice.