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Lone Parents (Employment)

Volume 458: debated on Monday 12 March 2007

The lone parent employment rate now stands at 56.5 per cent.—an increase of more than 11 percentage points since 1997—and is at the highest rate since records began.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. A survey of 1,000 lone parents undertaken by One Parent Families showed that a staggering 71 per cent. of non-working lone parents cited lack of child care or of flexible working as a reason for not being in paid employment. Does not that highlight the Government’s 10-year failure to offer lone parents a real choice between employment on the one hand and dependency on the other?

No, I do not think that achieving the highest ever recorded rate of employment for lone parents can fairly or reasonably be described as a policy failure in the way that the hon. Gentleman tries to do. It is worth pointing out to him and his hon. Friends that we have made an historic investment in child care. We have introduced new legislation, for example, to allow people the right to request part-time working, which he and his hon. Friends opposed. Of all the people in the House who can lay down the law about what more needs to be done about lone parents, the hon. Gentleman is certainly not among them.

Given that child care support is a key element of getting lone parents back into the workplace, what support is being given to teachers, classroom assistants and schools to provide breakfast clubs and out-of-school clubs, which already have a huge amount of work to do? Although I applaud the Government, schools need support if those proposals are to be brought forward.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills speaks for those matters in this place, but it is true that the Government have made a significant investment of additional funds into that sector as well. That has been broadly welcomed. In relation to the point to which I think the hon. Gentleman was alluding about conditionality as an entitlement to benefit, we have to match that to the availability of child care locally so that we are not asking lone parents to do something unreasonable in taking more active steps to get back into the labour market, but if we continue the investment, I think that we will get to that point. We should now have that debate in the country as a whole.

In my constituency, the progress in the increase in employment among young people can almost be mapped against the development of the tax credit system. Is that a common feature across the country? Is there an absolute parallel? If so, is that because we have put so much into child care through that system?

A number of factors explain the significant increase in the lone parent employment rate. Obviously, the strength of the economy generally has helped; so, too, has the new deal for lone parents. The hon. Member for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson) should know that it has helped more than 400 lone parents in his constituency to get back to work—a policy that his Front-Bench team opposes. The policy of making work pay through tax credits, the national minimum wage and now the in-work credit for lone parents who come off benefit and into work has made it possible for us to increase substantially the rate of employment for lone parents. However, we need to do more. That is obviously the case. It is what Freud highlighted and it is what we are now looking to do.