Income support for 70% of lone parents

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The Independent Online
ONE IN nine children is being brought up in a family where the parents have separated or never lived together, while 70 per cent of lone parents are dependent on income support, according to official statistics.

But the figures also show that the social security budget is under increasing strain because of a significant rise in income support claims. Compared to the previous year, 37,000 more families, caring for 1,330,000 children, received one-parent benefit, the top-up to child benefit in 1992, bringing the total to 855,000.

The figures, contained in the 1993 Social Security Statistics, come in the wake of the Government's determination to stem the growth of single parenthood, in spite of this week's leaked Cabinet Office paper casting doubt on ministerial claims that the benefits system encourages it.

The 1992 increase in one-parent benefit is, however, lower than the 45,000 rise recorded in 1991, and the 51,000 for 1990. The benefit is claimed by single carers excluding most widows, who receive widowed mothers' allowance.

The figures show that by May 1992, 42,000 of all one-parent families were headed by single women aged 16 to 19, compared with 631,000 in the 20-34 age group. More light on the composition of the pounds 78bn a year social security budget is revealed by the figures for the jobless.

In the year to November 1992, 655,000 people received unemployment benefit, a rise of 29,000. But a further 1,664,000 unemployed people received income support compared with 1,385,000, a year earlier, a rise of 279,000.

Cutting one-parent benefit and measures to make a young mother's parents more financially responsible for her are among measures listed for consideration in the document.

Sir George Young, the housing minister, has also revealed plans to stop lone parents getting automatic priority under homelessness legislation.

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, insisted yesterday: 'The point about lone parents . . . is that raising children is a daunting task if you are on your own. We need an approach which recognises the importance both to the child, and to the parent, of support from the wider family, friends and neighbours.'

Donald Dewar, Labour's social security spokesman, said positive action rather than punishment was needed to lift lone parents off benefits. 'What is needed is investment in jobs, child care and better sex education.'

Following advice in the Cabinet Office paper that there was no evidence that single teenagers got pregnant to obtain housing, Jack Straw, shadow environment secretary, yesterday said Sir George had been 'roped in' by right-wing colleagues to suggest at last month's Tory Party conference that single parents were queue-jumping. He said any evidence should be made public.

The overall rise in all income support claimants was 601,000 in the year to May 1992, making a total of 5,088,000. The one encouraging aspect is that 119,900 more families received family credit, the top-up for working parents, making a total of 469,400.