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Friday, November 21, 1997 Published at 05:25 GMT

UK: Politics

Backbench pressure builds on Harman
image: [ Harriet Harman at the launch of her lone-parents employment initiative ]
Harriet Harman at the launch of her lone-parents employment initiative

Backbench hopes of a Labour U-turn over proposed cuts to the benefit of unemployed single parents have been dashed by Government spokesmen.

Downing Street and Treasury sources said there would not be a rethink despite a Parliamentary Labour Party meeting in which - according to some MPs - Social Security Secretary Harriet Harman got "a bit of a roasting" over the plans.

Some MPs had believed there was a whiff of compromise in the air and that better-than-expected economic prospects could pave the way for the Government to drop a proposal which was originally a Conservative Budget measure.

But that was comprehensively ruled out by Downing Street.

"There is a clear majority in favour of the Government's approach," a spokesman said.

[ image: Anne Cryer - prepared to vote against the Government]
Anne Cryer - prepared to vote against the Government
Anne Cryer, the Labour MP for Keighley, is just one of more than 60 Labour backbenchers who want the Government to continue paying extra child benefit and income support to single parents. She says she is prepared to vote against the Government.

"This is not what we expected. This is not what people who voted for a Labour Government expected, I'm very disappointed about it."

Those campaigning for single parents say saving 400 million on benefits over three years cannot justify the hardship caused to new claimants. Maeve Sherlock from the National Council for One Parent Families says the plans will cause distress.

[ image: Maeve Sherlock - lone parents cannot afford any benefits cut]
Maeve Sherlock - lone parents cannot afford any benefits cut
"In future lone parents will be up to 11 a week worse off ... they simply can't afford that kind of cut in income."

Harriet Harman defended the Government's policy, saying it was an example of the "hard choices" ministers had to take in keeping to departmental spending limits.

She said that MPs "enthusiastically backed" the Government's new deal to get people back to work.

"What we're doing is implementing the manifesto to help lone mothers get work and be better off and I don't think that there's anybody in the party who doesn't share our determination to tackle social exclusion.

"What I feel is the confidence of the enormous mandate we got when we got into government, that the public had had enough of social exclusion and division.

"They want people to have opportunities, they want us to tackle the problems of those who have to spend their lives written off to a life of benefit dependency by helping them into work and that's where we're taking things forward."

The Social Security Secretary said that when a lone mother is in work, she is on average 50 better off than she could ever be on benefit.

There will be a debate in the Commons before Christmas, and the rebel MPs already seem resigned to defeat with the Government's huge majority. But satisfying single parents who will lose out, and settling the unrest on the Labour backbenches may not be so easy.

Harriet Harman opposes the cut while opposition - November 1996 (25")

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