Blair promises lottery cash to single mothers

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A welfare revolution to get single mothers back to work, partly paid for by lottery cash, will be announced by Tony Blair tomorrow in his first speech as Prime Minister. Mr Blair will outline plans to break the cycle of dependency afflicting many social security claimants and argue that, in some quarters of Tory Britain, "fatalism was as big a problem as poverty".

Just days after he discussed welfare reform with Bill Clinton during the American president's stopover in London, the Prime Minister will highlight tough proposals to get lone mothers into the workforce.

Among measures being considered by Frank Field, the social security minister charged with reforming the welfare state, is the cutting of benefits to single mothers who refuse to turn up for interviews at Job Centres. Under existing legislation, single mothers with children under 16 are exempt from any obligation to consider job offers or training.

Mr Blair will also use his speech to promise a project inspired by American "single mother clubs", where lone parents can leave their children under supervision at school, until they finish work. Under Labour's parallel proposals, "homework clubs" will be funded by pounds 150m from the National Lottery. One idea is that single mothers should be recruited to act as carers.

The Prime Minister will insist that "governments can all too easily institutionalise poverty rather than solve it". He will argue that there are limits to the powers of government in creating the one nation society he wants to see. It is, he will say, "not just a job for government. It is a task for us all".

Mr Blair's plans do not include proposals to overturn Conservative plans to freeze lone parent benefits.

Labour has promised to switch resources from social security to education in the life-time of the parliament. The plight of single mothers is seen by Harriet Harman, Secretary of State for Social Security and her deputy, Frank Field, as one of their department's top priorities.

There are around one million single parents, costing the tax-payer roughly pounds 10bn in social security benefits each year. Mr Field, who plans a series of speeches and a round of consultation on welfare reform, said yesterday: "For every one child living on income support because his or her parents are unemployed there are between five and six times that number on income support because they are part of a one-parent family. While there has been a significant increase in the number of single parents throughout Europe, in this country the distinguishing characteristic is a growing population of single mothers."

Long-term strategies to tackle it include improving school performance, because many single mothers failed at, or dropped out of, school. Another is the opening up of employment opportunities later in life. The Prime Minister's aides stressed that the Government's approach will be a unique British one, taken neither from Europe nor the US. One said: "Some of the stuff that Clinton has done on welfare reform makes your eyes water. You cannot translate that here but you can cross-fertilise ideas." In the US responsibility for welfare has been passed to the states. Often, claimants are given time limits after which cash is withdrawn.

Mr Blair's speech will also highlight the problems of truancy - with 100,000 children not attending school - and homelessness, with 150,000 people officially in that category.

The Prime Minister will add: "A divided society is both economically and morally unsustainable; economically because it loads huge costs on to the tax-payer, morally because we should always judge the state of our country by the condition of the weak as well as the strong."

Leading article, page 22

Comments