Councils told to `map out' lives of children in care

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The Independent Online
A BILL to protect the 50,000 children in local authority care will be announced in the Queen's Speech today. The legislation is intended to stop them from ending up on the streets and turning to crime.

It will oblige councils to produce a "route map" for every child in care on their 16th birthday, covering their housing, education and training. Local authorities will also have to provide continuing support for the 15,000 children who leave care every year, each of whom will have a personal adviser.

The Care Leavers Bill will be introduced by Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, whose decision to act is the result of a review by Sir William Utting, the former head of the Government's social services inspectorate.

There is growing evidence that children suffer serious problems after leaving care. One in five is homeless at some point within two years, and young men who have been in care make up 20 per cent of the prison population. Three out of four leave care with no educational qualifications.

A separate Social Services Bill will set up an independent inspectorate to police the nation's 30,000 homes for the elderly and 1,000 children's homes. Local authorities will no longer supervise the homes they run.

The two measures will form part of a "tough and tender" welfare theme, a key part of the heavy programme for what is likely to be the last full parliamentary year before the next general election.

A total of 28 Bills will be introduced by the Government - many more than the 17 included in last year's Queen's Speech and the 22 in Labour's first programme after the party won power in 1997.

A Child Support and Pensions Bill will include tougher sanctions on absent fathers who refuse to pay maintenance for their children. Withholding information from the Child Support Agency will become a criminal offence, and those convicted of it may lose their driving licences.

In the light of Labour MPs' criticism of cuts in benefits for the disabled, ministers will welcome Labour plans for a second state pension to top up the basic old age pension, a measure that will help the poorest people to avoid poverty in retirement. The state earnings-related pension (Serps) will be replaced by a more generous scheme for five million people earning less than pounds 9,000 a year. It will also provide help for people who care for a relative and disabled people with disrupted work records.

In a Labour Party political broadcast tonight, the Prime Minister will say Britain is now "seeing the fruits" of the tough economical decisions taken by Labour in its first two years in power. "We have got a lot done but there is a lot more to do," Tony Blair will say.

But Labour was embroiled in a new dispute over taxation last night, when Sir Peter Kemp, a former senior official at the Treasury, accused the Government of "heresies" in the way it had changed the method for calculating the tax burden.

David Davis, the Tory chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the committee might launch an investigation into what he called a "serious issue of concern to the whole House".

But the Treasury insisted that the tax burden would have been higher if Labour had not altered the spending plans it inherited from the Tories.

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