Labour slants homes policy against the single parent: Blunkett talks of changing council waiting list system to reward 'responsible' couples. Colin Brown reports

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Indy Politics
THE POINTS system for council housing waiting lists should be changed to reward responsible couples who have a stable relationship before having children, David Blunkett, the Labour spokesman on health, said last night.

Coming on the eve of a controversial speech by Tom Sackville, the junior health minister, about the need to curb the rising numbers of illegitimate births, his remarks are likely to upset some Labour supporters, hostile to any criticism of single mothers. He told the Independent: 'We need to transform the housing service so we have more appropriate housing, readily available, and a housing waiting list structure that positively rewards those who have tried their best to take responsibility and have some order in their lives . . . a stable relationship prior to having children. We need to encourage them rather than punish other people. They need to know it's worth waiting.' His remarks are part of an effort by Labour leaders to redefine socialism by reclaiming the initiative from the Tories on policies on the family, which they believe Labour voters are waiting to hear.

While carefully avoiding criticising single mothers, Mr Blunkett attacked the Government for hypocrisy, accusing health ministers of cutting family planning clinics and housing funds. The Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside said two areas in his constituency, Shirebrook and Parsons Cross, amounted to the biggest council estate in Europe, equivalent in size to Shrewsbury. 'People there are not fools. If you can't get a house by waiting on the list, you present the maximum number of reasons why you should receive priority. That is not encouraging people to accept responsibility in their own lives and society. What is worse - and this is crucial - is that we are reinforcing under- achievement and deprivation.

'That is why I am speaking not against single parents, and not to victimise them, but in favour of recognising that deep disadvantage is being reinforced, one generation to another, so that it is passed on.

'We see a woman in Bath with nine children and different fathers. What chance do those children have in circumstances of total instability?

'We have to be aware of what we do to each other. That to me is democratic socialism. We have to be aware that if we behave in an anti-social fashion, we undermine the very thing we are trying to sustain, a sense of community and neighbourliness.'

Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, supports placing single mothers in council hostels, rather than houses. John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment, is reviewing the policy.

Charles Hendry, the Tory joint chairman of an all-party group on homelessness, last night wrote Mr Gummer opposing the idea of housing single mothers in hostels. He said they should be actively discouraged by changes in policy from leaving home.