Child benefit for rich 'indefensible'

19th December 1997, 12:00am


Child benefit for rich 'indefensible'
Paying child benefit to the wealthy parents of sixth-form students was condemned as indefensible by the chairman of the Government's working group on student grants this week.

Graham Lane, whose working group on student support met for the first time this week, spoke out after it emerged that Labour was to review its pre-election plans to axe child benefit for 16 to 19-year-olds in full-time education.

"I don't see why the parents of people at Eton sixth form are receiving child benefit while the parents of sons and daughters on the dole receive nothing," he said.

Plans published before the general election proposed using the potential savings to give grants to encourage teenagers to stay on at school or college.

It emerged this week the plans were being reviewed - amid controversy surrounding benefits for single mothers and disabled people.

A Government source confirmed child benefit was part of a wide-ranging review. The source said: "The whole issue is something that is under review. No decision has yet been made."

Mr Lane, who is also education chairman of the Local Government Association, had seen child benefit as a possible source of funding for maintenance grants for 16 to 19-year-olds in education.

He said: "I do not think you can defend child benefit for 16 to 19-year-olds with some of the richest parents in the country as something that can never be touched."

He predicted that benefits - about #163;10 per child per week - would yield cash for other services.

Mr Lane's small working group - made up of councillors, college leaders, local government officers, and funding council officials - is due to report by the end of March.

Mr Lane said he wanted to establish an entitlement to support for all 16 to 19-year-olds. He insisted his role was to draw up a student support scheme, not to find the money.

But he said a grant of #163;300 a year towards maintenance would cost the Treasury around #163;100 million, well short of the cost of child benefits for that age group.

Education ministers are keen to stress they do not expect additional funding for schools to come from cuts to disability benefits. Neither health nor education departments want their budgets quoted to justify reductions for the long-term sick and disabled.

lThirty-three more secondary schools have been awarded specialist status by the Government. Eighteen become technology colleges; six, sport; six, arts; three, languages.

This brings the number up to 305, said Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Technology Colleges Trust. By 2001 there should be 450- one in seven schools in England, he said. The trust aimed to have at least one specialist school in each education authority by the end of 1998 and hoped that the new education action zones, envisaged in the new Education Act, would also have one.

Under the scheme, the Government matches the #163;100,000 raised by the school in sponsorship with a capital grant, then awards an annual grant of #163;100 per pupil for three years.

lSchools are to receive #163;922 million in credit and grants for building works next year, writes Dorothy Lepkowska.

The capital allocations, announced by the Government this week, include the second phase of the New Deal for Schools - which will give schools #163;2 billion extra capital spending by 2002.

The bulk is made up of credit approvals of #163;443m to local authorities for work in county and voluntary-controlled schools, #163;102m to voluntary-aided schools and #163;127m to the grant-maintained sector.

A further #163;250m is to be allocated in the new year under the New Deal for Schools, announced in the Budget in July. Ministers have already made #163;83m available.

Local government groups welcomed the announcement, claiming the Government was now moving some way towards clearing the #163;4 billion backlog of repairs and maintenance work. However, they said, the bids were between three and four times the amount allocated.

About #163;10m is ear-marked to replace condemned buildings and #163;17m is for special needs provision.

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