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Jobseeker’s Allowance

Volume 521: debated on Monday 10 January 2011

3. What sanctions will be applied to jobseeker’s allowance claimants who fail to find work within the period set by his Department. (32644)

There is no time limit on entitlement to income-based jobseeker’s allowance. I remind the hon. Lady that the conditions that pertain to withdrawal of benefit are that individuals must be available for work and seeking work, and they have to sign up to an agreement. If they continually refuse to do any of that, that is when the sanctions come in.

I am aware that those sanctions will be applied after a decision by the independent decision maker. What reassurances can the Minister give me about the role of the independent decision maker and the criteria that will be used? I am particularly concerned about the appeal process, because, as one can imagine, mistakes can be made and there should be a right of appeal. I am keen that that right is open to anybody who is sanctioned in that way.

We will strengthen the role of the independent decision maker to ensure that decisions are made for the right reasons. The hon. Lady can rest assured that we will ensure that is the case. If she has any concerns, she should raise them with us, and if she has any thoughts, we are open to dispute.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one implication of this question is that jobs are not available in the marketplace? Just before Christmas, we conducted a survey in my constituency, where there were more than 700 job vacancies. People from Swansea are as welcome to take up those job vacancies as people from anywhere else in the country.

My hon. Friend is right. Over the past nine months, we have seen a huge increase in part-time work with more than 400,000 new jobs. [Interruption.] The answer to Labour Members is that jobs are being created even though we are coming out of a recession, which was brought on by their policies.

The Secretary of State’s colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey), has said of the Government’s plans for the long-term unemployed:

“You have been unemployed for 12 months, you are passing the actively seeking work test…we are/the Government is saying that your housing benefit will be cut by 10% just because you have been unemployed for 12 months. I don’t understand why. You are on the breadline, you’ve been trying to look for work, you’re passing all the Government tests and you’re suddenly going to have your rent, which is your highest cost—your help with that—taken down by 10%. No logic behind that whatsoever.”

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House with which part of that statement he disagrees?

The reality is that the coalition—I emphasise coalition—position is that we will withdraw some of that money, 10%, before the 12 month point. The point about the 12-month stage is that more than 90% of all those seeking work will be in work by that point. That gives us an opportunity to make sure that those who are having the greatest difficulty can be properly reassessed, and if there are particular problems, they can be dealt with. It also acts as a spur and incentive to others who are not exactly playing the game in line with the question asked by the hon. Member for Swansea East (Mrs James). On balance, I think the coalition will find that the policy will work very well.

I listened with care to that answer, but given that the number of people who have been unemployed for more than 12 months, on the broader measure, went up by 41,000 in the most recent figures, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Business Minister is the only member of the coalition who thinks that the present proposals are “unsupportable”?

That is like my asking whether the right hon. Gentleman’s leader and his shadow Chancellor agree on everything, which I do not think they do. The coalition has a clear statement of policy and that policy exists. The reality of that policy is exactly as he has been debating and I would not trouble him to find out exactly what he agrees with his leader about after this morning’s statement that his side apparently now agree with most of the changes we are making.