§ 7. Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)
What action the Government have taken to help lone parents on income support get into work. 
§ The Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women (Ms Harriet Harman)
We have established the new deal for lone parents to help them get off income support and into work so that they and their children can have a better standard of living than they could have on benefits. The early results of the new deal have been encouraging. More parents are going into work and lone parents and their children are better off by, on average, £39 a week and the taxpayer is better off by, on average, £42 a week.
§ Mr. McNulty
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, despite all the blather, under the new deal lone parents are significantly better off than they ever were under the Tories? At the same time, will she join me to condemn the intolerant and extremist language used at the weekend about lone parents by the shadow Secretary of State for Health?
§ Ms Harman
Our concern is to help lone parents do what they want to do, which is to provide a better standard of living for themselves and their children. Ours is not to judge how it came to be a lone parent family. Such families arise through many different circumstances and many parents never set out to be lone parents. What is encouraging is that, in the past three months, 30,000 fewer lone mothers have been on income support than previously. That shows that they are moving into work, combining their work and family responsibilities. They are then better off; we have discovered that, on average, they are better off by £39 a week, which is more than they could ever have been paid on benefits.
§ Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)
I welcome any efforts that the Government may make to encourage 696 opportunities for lone parents to get back into work where they wish to do so. However, is there not a problem for lone parents who have children under five and who may wish to choose not to go into work? Given the benefit cuts for lone parents—partly offset, admittedly, by child benefit increases—what further effort does the Secretary of State intend to make to allow such lone parents a real choice of whether to go back to work?
§ Ms Harman
The problem in the past was not that lone parents did not have the choice to stay at home—more than 1 million of them stayed at home on income support, bringing up 2 million children—but that too few lone parents were able to go out to work. The Government's policies of giving advice and support to help them into work, ensuring help with the costs of child care and ensuring that quality child care is available, provide the choice that was previously not available. The new deal for lone parents is directed at those with children over five. If the hon. Member examines the figures, he will find that more than half the number of married mothers with children under five go out to work. No one is forcing them to do so. They have the choice, and they are taking the opportunities. We are making sure that lone parents can do the same, be better off and save the taxpayer money.
§ Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)
As the Secretary of State has invited the House to consider the figures, will she, too, consider them carefully? Will she express concern that 75 per cent. of lone mothers who receive a letter calling them for an interview totally disregard the invitation? Does she recognise that, of the 6 per cent. of lone mothers who are getting jobs, 15 per cent. fall back into unemployment and on to state benefits in the first three months? To help to offset those statistics, will she consider bringing in a compulsory element for lone mothers to attend the first interview, although I do not suggest a compulsory element, a la Wisconsin, for the whole scheme? Will she accept that that would help to prevent her baby—her brainchild since 1 May 1997—from becoming an expensive, failed soundbite?
§ Ms Harman
The problem that we have had with the new deal for lone parents—although the early results have been encouraging—is that we have had to phase the roll-out, and do it slowly and at a measured pace to keep up with demand from lone parents for the advice, information and support that we are offering. The hon. Gentleman has it wrong: the problem is not that we have personal advisers aplenty, specially trained but drumming their fingers as they wait for lone parents to come in, but that a great number of lone parents who have never before been offered a service want to take it up.
§ Ms Harman
We are well on target toward meeting our expectations and costings. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that his Government never recognised that lone mothers wanted to work. If lone mothers did struggle into work, it was despite, rather than because of, that Government. The new deal is welcomed by lone parents and employers, and it is making a difference. Our interim findings show that more lone parents than would otherwise have got into work are going into work as a result of the new deal.