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Lone Parents

Volume 483: debated on Monday 24 November 2008

7. What assistance his Department gives to lone parents to enable them to (a) return to and (b) remain in work. (237968)

Lone parents have access to a comprehensive package of in-work and out-of-work support and advice via the new deal for lone parents, which has, to date helped more than 600,000 people into work nationally, including 560 in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. With more people losing their jobs and fewer jobs becoming available, can she reassure me that lone parents on benefits, who are already among the very poorest, who cannot find good child care or suitable work will not have their benefit sanctioned?

The lack of availability and the high cost of child care are two reasons why it is difficult for lone parents, particularly parents of younger children, to return to work. What is the Minister’s Department doing to encourage greater access to child care and will she comment on the lower number of child minders over recent months?

The number of child care places has doubled under this Government. The hon. Lady mentions child minders. The proposals that we are introducing—they start today and will be rolled out over the next two years—apply to parents whose youngest child is seven and who will therefore be in full-time education. We have also introduced extra flexibilities to ensure that the regulations do not apply where neither appropriate child care nor the right kind of work for someone with such responsibilities is available. However, with the new duty on local authorities in England and the introduction of extended schools throughout the country by 2020, we do not think that that problem will be widespread.

Can my hon. Friend give me an assurance that where we encourage parents to look for work under the new regime, in which the age for single parent benefit has been reduced, the system will be one not of coercion, but of encouragement? Will she also look into the types of work that people are encouraged to go into, to ensure that the jobs that they are offered are sustainable?

We want to extend the support that has been available through the new deal for lone parents—and which has been shown to work—to single mums and dads of a much broader age range of children. However, as I said in response to an earlier question, if the job on offer is simply impossible to do because of that family unit’s circumstances, the parent will not be sanctioned for not taking it up. Similarly, appropriate child care must be available. Crucially, however, that is not a decision for a Minister to make; it is part of a conversation that takes place between an experienced professional adviser and the parent in question.

Lone parents are still saying that one of the biggest barriers to moving into work is that they may lose money as a result. That point has been made quite a bit over the weekend, in light of the changes taking place today and the new obligations on lone parents whose child has reached the age of 12. Can my hon. Friend please assure me that lone parents who are moving from benefit into work will always be better off?