Harman in 'Full Monty' bid to lure women into work

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HARRIET HARMAN, Secretary of State for Social Security and minister for women, tried to recruit Full Monty director Peter Cattaneo to make a series of hard-hitting television advertisements in which real women sound off about their lack of resources, and the failure of former husbands and lovers to maintain their children.

It is understood the tight timetable for making the advertisements, due to be shown on national television from 1 June, ruled out Mr Cattaneo, the hero of whose award-winning film turns to stripping in order to pay his share of his son's maintenance.

The advertisements - likely to cause controversy due to their "realistic" tone reflecting the genuine anger of many women about men - are now being produced by advertising agents Bates Dorland.

They form part of a pounds 2m campaign which aims to persuade lone mothers to take up the counselling and training opportunities in the Government's "new deal" for lone parents. The new deal was launched in eight pilot areas in July 1997 and has been available to all lone parents making new Income Support claims from the beginning of April. The programme will be available to all lone parents on Income Support from October.

In one advertisement, a woman bemoans her fate after being left stranded with children. A voiceover tells how her life became easier thanks to the government initiative.

Fathers' rights groups may take issue with the advertisements, which contain implicit criticism of the Government's own Child Support Agency, which is supposed to be ensuring that absent fathers make a proper contribution to their children's upbringing.

The advertisements, on radio as well as television, will be followed up next month by a letter addressed to 500,000 lone mothers with children aged five and older detailing the ways in which they would be better off in work. Ms Harman - conscious of how official documents put people off - has insisted that the mailshot is "woman-friendly".

Entitled "Working Benefits", the Department of Social Security campaign is intended to persuade the unemployed that there is now a great array of "in work" benefits and support for childcare. Research has shown that getting a job is a key to escaping hardship but also that people are deeply ignorant about benefits, especially Family Credit which is paid as supplementary income to those in low-paid jobs.

The Government recently announced that recipients of Family Credit could spend more on childcare without seeing their benefit reduced; next year a tax credit for all parents with young child is introduced. A National Childcare Strategy will be introduced by the Department for Education and Employment in a fortnight.

Work done for the Department of Social Security by market researchers Cronk Dromgoole found that many people - especially lone mothers - have no idea about the array of rent and childcare benefits at present available, let alone those now being introduced.

This finding convinced Ms Harman that "realistic woman-to-woman" advertising would work best though the department has found it politically expedient to tone down some of the scripts.