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Earl Russell: I am grateful for that small mercy. I am also extremely grateful to the Minister for an even smaller but very genuine mercy. It is the first chink of light that I have seen on any amendment on this subject since 1988 and I must welcome it. I had been just about to say that I began to suspect that if I tabled an amendment to the effect that the Government should go into the next election with an advantage of 100 seats, the Government would resist it, and not for the right reasons either.
I asked the Minister not to repeat the argument about pregnant women being able to take training. That is not because I was not prepared to listen to itI have listened to that argument at least 20 times already and not one syllable has changed in it since 1988, so it does indeed need updatingbut because it was not relevant to the point at issue. The point at issue is not whether pregnant women can take youth training. Most of them can do so and, if they can get it, good luck to them. The point is that it is very difficult for them to get it. Before I decide what to do about this amendment, I should like to ask the Minister at least to address that point. I have been trying to get the Government to address that
In the case of the person whose youth training course is complete, I do not understand why the Minister does not think that severe hardship is automatic. If you have no income other than a £15 bridging allowance, I simply do not understand how it is possible not to be experiencing severe hardship. I am in genuine difficulty with that and again I should like to be helped.
A young person may be on his own. Once again I must remind the Minister that in the MORI sample 65 per cent. of 16 and 17 year-olds who were living away from home were doing so because their parents had thrown them out and they could not go back if they wanted. In the Centrepoint sample taken last year, that was true of 86 per cent. of the sample. If you are in that situation, you are completely self-supporting. You have no work and no benefit. It is no good just waiting awhile to see whether something will turn up in a few weeks. Most of us cannot live for several weeks without eating. So there has to be something available instantly and it can only be available instantly if it is a right. Again, I should be very grateful if that argument could be addressed before I decide what to do with the amendment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Earl raises a number of issues. I hope that I noted them all in order to cover them in my reply. Sometimes it is difficult to give more than a general answer. Neither of us has the young person concerned in front of him to look at all the circumstances. First of all, I do not have any evidence one way or the other on the noble Earl's question about the difficulty of a young woman obtaining youth training if she is pregnant, but I shall certainly look into that matter.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: No, I cannot guarantee that. I suspect that it is the kind of information that is quite difficult to obtain. The reason why a youngster is not on youth training may not be the kind of information that is collected centrally. We may know the numbers of those who are having trouble getting on to a youth training scheme but not the reasons. By the law of nature, a youngster in that situation who cannot get a youth training scheme may very quickly fall out of the necessity to look for one, having arrived at 11 weeks before the expected date of confinement. It might be a fairly moving target, but I shall look at itor look at the point about the resources that the young person may have.
As I have introduced some hilarity into the proceedings, perhaps I may move on from that to the point that the young person may have a partner who is still with her, as opposed to a partner who is not with her any more. That person may well have an income and, I accept, may well be on JSA, but may also be on a training scheme and so on. The youngster may have supportive parentsbut the noble Earl rather snookered
There are circumstances in which 16 year-olds are in those conditions, and those would be some of the factors that could be taken into account in deciding whether they are entitled to jobseeker's allowance.
Earl Russell: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I did not say that this was necessarily a matter of physical or sexual abuse. I said that this was a category of people whose parents had thrown them out. I did not go into the reasons. There are a great variety of them.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: If the noble Earl wants to move on, I think one has to look into the reasons why the youngster is not at home. Those are the kind of matters that are taken into account. But there has to be some reason why they are living away from homeeither they are estranged from their parents, in physical or moral danger or perhaps there is a risk to their physical or mental health. There are a number of factors. It is difficult to say without an almost dry-run case in front of us and the people who make those decisions. I like to think that I am good at some things, though the Committee may not think so. But the one thing that I know I am not is a trained employment officer; someone trained in the kind of work that is undertaken in order to make such judgments. I do my best to try to illustrate the factors that such an officer takes into account and I have indicated some of them. On that judgment he decides whether or not the youngster in front of him is in the category of either vulnerable or in severe hardship. It is on that basis that the awards outside the periods pre- and post- the confinement are given.
Lord Monkswell: Perhaps I may ask the Minister to elucidate the matter a little more. As I understand it, the amendment refers to a 16 or 17 year-old who is pregnant. Almost by definition that refers to a single female. The Minister shakes his head but I cannot imagine that men get pregnant - but never mind that.
The Minister raised the point of such a person having a partner. I can see the logic of that point of view. But, we have been talking about a single person who is pregnant. The Government have raised the issue of a partner. Am I to understand that if a 16 or 17 year-old pregnant person has a partner who is also 16 or 17 years old and unemployed, the social security system will provide for the couple?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am not sure that I was expressing surprise about the fact that the person pregnant would be female. But clearly there are three or four categories that may come into play thereafter; I can think of three. The person may be alone because the father has simply pushed off or is not known or whatever it may be; the persons may be a couple who are not married; or they may be married. So there are at least three broad categories which would be encompassed. In a way it depends in the second and third case on the partner and what the partner's
If I may revert to the question about training, I am advised that we certainly do not have any knowledge or information about any particular difficulties. A research programme is currently being conducted on early leavers which is due to produce its results in the summer. It may be that it will throw up some information on the points made by the noble Earl. I shall try to put to the back of my mind the noble Earl's interestI do not mean to say "to the back of my mind" but "in the back of my mind"in this issue so that I can draw his attention to yet another publication on this subject.
Earl Russell: I thank the Minister, especially for that concluding remark. I shall touch briefly on the point about partners. A number of them have partners. The commonest category is other 16 and 17 year-olds in exactly the same difficulties. If the Minister really wanted to do one thing to encourage family life it might be by recognising a hardship category of cohabiting or married fatherstwo 16 and 17 year-olds living together with a child. That really could be constructive.
I do not think that we shall get much further tonight. However, before we have our return fixture at the next stage, perhaps I may ask the Minister to try to familiarise himself with some of the immense wealth of learning and research on this subject which is done outside the walls of the Department of Social Security, especially on the point of difficulty of pregnant women getting training. Perhaps he will consult the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux which has a very large number of such cases. Perhaps he will also remember that if the Government really do change their policy on this point it will do a great deal to ease the pressure on parliamentary time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.