The Conservatives in Blackpool: Lone mothers face council housing bar: Ministers believe accommodation restrictions could curb decline of the traditional family

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The Independent Online
YOUNG SINGLE mothers' rights to council homes could be severely restricted under a fundamental review of homelessness legislation to be announced today at the Conservative Party conference.

The review, to be disclosed by Sir George Young, the housing minister, reflects ministers' belief that rising numbers of young 'never-marrieds' must be discouraged from having children without weighing up the financial and social implications.

A central issue will be the definition of homeless persons, who local authorities are legally obliged to house. Ministers have been examining whether councils should have more discretion to decide whether a young mother could be adequately housed with her parents or in a hostel.

The development coincides with a signal by Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, in a radio interview, that he believes that availability of housing could be a more effective measure to discourage lone parenthood than curbing income support. In his conference speech yesterday he emphasised the social, rather than financial, cost of family breakdown.

Despite that, changing the homelessness rules could bring big savings in housing benefit payments to young single mothers.

Mr Lilley said he had decided to 'break the taboo' that it was 'politically incorrect' to uphold the traditional family as an ideal, 'to reaffirm that ideally children need two loving parents . . . that even where parents split up they remain responsible for supporting their children.'

Promising 'one stop' benefit offices for millions of genuine claimants to get the help they needed, Mr Lilley emphasised the responsibilities of absent fathers, who increasingly pay maintenance through the Child Support Agency.

'Many married couples on modest incomes have to struggle to support their own families,' he said. 'Why should they pay taxes to support the children of absent parents earning more than they do?'

Restricting housing for certain age groups is viewed as a measure that would discourage the trend of parenthood outside stable relationships or marriage, and of family breakdown. Housing groups have already warned, however, that removing rights of under-21s could conflict with duties under the Children Act to house those who have babies.

It was left to Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, on Tuesday to float the idea of copying the New Jersey scheme of capping benefit for the second and subsequent children of a single mother, although that move had been cleared in advance by Mr Lilley.

Sue Slipman, director of the National Council for One Parent Families, warned that restricting housing would see mothers and babies joining the homeless on the streets.

She said the New Jersey scheme had to be judged as part of a wider programme. Help with job training, free childcare and free medical care had been introduced five years before the capping provisions were implemented.

Mr Lilley said that he would deal with 'benefit tourism' by introducing a requirement for foreigners, including EC nationals, to live in the UK for a period of months before being able to claim benefit.

He would also close the loophole that allows visitors to claim housing benefit even though their entry to the UK was on condition that they would not be a burden to the public purse.

Other crackdowns include extending the scheme to detect stolen benefit books, incentives for councils to stop housing benefit fraud and a central register to stamp out multiple claims, a ban on income support claimants increasing their mortgages and limits on the size of loan covered by benefits.

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