Gay jail visitors could get cash

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The Independent Online
HOMOSEXUAL partners of people in jail could become eligible for state financial help in meeting the cost of prison visits. It was revealed yesterday that ministers are considering an extension of the prison visits scheme - which helps low-income families and heterosexual partners - to include gay couples.

The means-tested scheme costs pounds 2m a year. Any extension of qualification for assistance will increase the overall cost.

The move, disclosed as Parliament prepares to consider reducing the homosexual age of consent, would mark a significant shift in official government attitudes towards gay partnerships.

However, any extension of the scheme to include gays is likely to be opposed by a vocal section of right-wing opinion in the Tory party. Within a month, the Commons is expected to vote on a reduction in the homosexual age of consent to 16, in line with consent levels for heterosexuals. Gay rights groups and about 200 MPs have expressed support for an amendment put down by Edwina Currie to lower the age of consent from 21 to 16.

Peter Lloyd, Minister of State at the Home Office, said in a Commons written answer yesterday that the scheme, which applies only to 'spouses, children, siblings and partners' of prisoners does not apply to homosexual prisoners at present.

Partners are defined under the scheme as a person of the opposite sex who was living with the prisoner for at least four months after imprisonment, or who has a child by the relationship.

Mr Lloyd said in his answer to David Hanson, Labour MP for Delyn, that 'consideration is being given to whether the scheme should be extended'.

Under the scheme, visitors can apply for help with travel and, 'if necessary', overnight accommodation to cover one prison visit per month. There are about 80,000 applications a year.