Labour plans to put teen mothers in hostels

TEENAGE MOTHERS face being housed in specialist hostels, equipped with creches and job-training facilities, under plans being considered by Downing Street.

Tony Blair's "social exclusion unit" is examining controversial proposals to encourage young women with babies to live together in blocks, attached to job clubs and healthcare facilities, as part of its investigation into teenage pregnancy. The plans will infuriate some Labour MPs who will see them as a return to Victorian houses for "fallen women". They follow the row over Home Secretary Jack Straw's call for teenage mothers who cannot cope to give their children up for adoption.

However, the Prime Minister's advisers believe the creation of hostel- based communities would tackle the problem of isolation felt by many young mothers and help them move from benefit into work as their children grow up. They also hope hostels would be cheaper than housing women in council flats or b&bs in the long term.

The unit has discussed the benefits of the scheme with the Foyer Federation, a charity which runs hostels providing accommodation and training for young homeless and unemployed people. Advisers will tomorrow visit its Birmingham hostel, Edmond's Court, which specialises in housing teenage mothers.

The proposal is part of a wide-ranging inquiry into teenage pregnancy, which is expected to report in the spring. Mr Blair ordered the investigation because Britain has the highest rate in Western Europe - double Germany's, four times France's and seven times that of the Netherlands.

According to senior Government sources, housing is one of the main problems being considered by the unit, which believes that girls with babies are soon alienated from their peers.

Mr Blair's advisers want to encourage, but not force, teenage mothers to live in hostels in order to help re-integrate them into society. There could be financial incentives - such as benefit perks - for joining the scheme. "Housing is an important part of the package," one unit member said. "Having somebody living by themselves with their baby is unlikely to make either the mother or child prosper."

Ministers are also considering how to create an integrated funding package for the hostels, which would allow them to get money from different departmental budgets.

But Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative health spokeswoman, warned that teenage girls would be better off with their parents. "Foyers have been successful for young homeless people and could be extended but the most important thing of all for teenage mothers is family support."

The Government has backed away from the US model of tackling teenage pregnancy by cutting benefits more for each child a mother has.