The Children Act 1989 gives local authorities a duty to provide accommodation for any child under 16 who requires accommodation because no person has parental responsibility for him or her. This is defined as being looked after by that local authority. Local authorities have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children whom they look after. For those aged 16 to 19, my Department provides financial support to ensure that finance is not a barrier to learning. Support for living costs for this age group is provided through the benefits system.
The Minister is aware of my constituent Kirsty Oldfield, who tragically lost both her parents in quick succession and ended up being unable to afford to stay on in education. As the Government are preparing to spend millions of pounds providing education for people who do not want it, should not people who find themselves in Kirsty’s situation be given direct support by his Department, rather than having to navigate the complicated benefits system, being advised to get pregnant, or relying on the generosity of the general public to fund their education?
I suspect that there are not many things on which the hon. Gentleman and I agree—but one of them is that if his constituent has been advised as has been reported, that is completely and utterly unprofessional and unacceptable.
We are looking at ways of reviewing the support for young people in the position of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent—and I extend my sympathies to her for the personal circumstances in which she has found herself. Of course, during the process of developing the extension of the education leaving age from 16 to 19, we will be looking even more closely at how we can do that.