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Welfare Reform

Volume 703: debated on Monday 21 July 2008

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place on the Government’s Green Paper, No One Written Off: Reforming Welfare to Reward Responsibility. The Statement is as follows:

“The welfare state is a vital part of the fabric of our country. We take pride in it. It is how we come together as a nation to support those who are vulnerable and in need of help. But our welfare system has not always kept pace with the changes in our society. In preserving some of the structures inherited from its founders, we have neglected their principles.

“William Beveridge’s contract for welfare had three founding ideas: first, that revolutionary times called for revolution, not patching, and, secondly, that welfare was about more than just income. He wanted to topple not just want, but the other four giants of disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. These became the defining issues for the Attlee Government and inspired that Administration’s creation of the welfare state.

“But perhaps, over time, Beveridge’s third principle was lost. He was emphatically clear that the system of social security should not stifle incentive, opportunity and responsibility. The purpose of the welfare state was to help people in need today so that they could reduce their need tomorrow. From the 1960s onwards that third principle was eroded. The nadir came in the 1980s when all conditions were removed from unemployment benefit and unemployment rose to more than 3 million, much further than it needed to have done.

“In 1997, we inherited an essentially passive welfare state. Since then, we have been turning it into an active one. This Green Paper completes that transformation. It is based on the marriage of two simple ideas: more support and more responsibility, the root of a fair system for claimants and the taxpayer, and it aims to meet five main goals.

“The first is to end the idea that there is a choice between claiming and working. Instead, the longer people claim, the more we will expect in return. At three months and six months, claimants will intensify their job search and have to comply with a back to work action plan. After a year, they will be transferred to an outside provider who will be paid by results. Claimants will have to work for their benefits for at least four weeks, and longer if the provider requires it. For the 2 per cent who we anticipate to be still out of work after two years, we will explore mandatory full-time work programmes and other approaches such as daily signing. We will give our advisers the power to use full-time work as a sanction at any stage of a claim for those who are abusing the system. We will improve treatment for those who have a problem with crack cocaine and opiates, but require them to take up that treatment.

“We know our support works, but we also know that conditionality works. By getting more people to take up this support, we can increase employment and reduce poverty. When we introduced the New Deal, we started to end the idea that people could claim benefits indefinitely when there was work available. As long-term youth claimant unemployment fell by nearly 80 per cent, we extended that principle to other workers. As a result, we now have more people in work than ever before. Claimant unemployment has been nearly halved, saving £5 billion a year. Nine out of 10 people leave jobseeker’s allowance within 12 months of claiming. Work works, and it is only fair that we make sure a life on benefits is not an option.

“The second goal is to ensure that no one is written off. In 1979, there were around 700,000 people on incapacity benefits. By 1997, the total had risen to 2.5 million, and was going up by 50,000 every year. We have reversed that trend and the number on IB is now the lowest it has been for eight years. Annually, nearly 400,000 fewer people are flowing on to incapacity benefit compared with 1997. We have created the Pathways to Work programme which helps people to improve their health, adapt to their condition, rebuild their confidence and look for work. We know that it works and have made it mandatory for all new claimants. We have legislated to abolish incapacity benefit and replace it with the employment and support allowance. This new benefit treats people as individuals. It looks to see what people can do, not what they cannot.

“Today, I am announcing that we will migrate everyone from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance between 2010 and 2013, with personalised support based on our successful pathways programme. We will review the medical test to ensure that it reflects the latest evidence that work is generally good for people’s well-being and we will reassess all existing claimants to ensure that they are on the right benefit for them. Those who are ready to work will move on to jobseeker’s allowance. Those with the greatest needs will get a higher benefit rate, up from £86.35 to £102.10, and will be able to volunteer for Pathways to Work. We will increase funding for our specialist training programmes and for supported employment. Everyone else will get personalised help based on the pathways programme to get them back to health and back to work, but they will be required to take up this help and look for work where a doctor recommends it. These changes will mean that for the first time ever, no one will be abandoned to their fate just to get by on benefits. For the vast majority, ESA will be a temporary benefit, not a permanent snare.

“Our third goal is to transform the rights of disabled people. Disabled people do not want to be told that they cannot work. Instead, they want society to remove the discrimination that makes it harder for them to work. So, we will double the Access to Work budget, paying for sign language interpreters, specialised IT or help with mobility. Our aspiration is that everyone who could benefit should be able to do so. We will consult on a new right to control. We know that individual budgets work, and I want to give disabled people the right to know how much the state is spending on them, and request that money be given to them as a budget that they control. We want to put disabled people in control, not under the control of others.

“The fourth goal is to strengthen parental responsibility. We have lifted 600,000 children out of poverty, and following the £1 billion invested in the Budget are set to help another 500,000. But we need to strengthen family life too. So, for the first time, we will allow parents on benefits to keep all their maintenance payments and we will require both parents to register the birth of their child. Together with our changes to lone parent benefits, we estimate that these welfare reforms will lift 200,000 children out of poverty.

“Finally, we propose to devolve power so that services can be personalised to the needs of the individual. We want a triple devolution: to our advisers, to our providers, and to local communities. Jobcentre Plus is recognised as one of the best back-to-work agencies in the world. Its staff have unrivalled knowledge of their customers and their needs, so we will give our advisers greater flexibility over how much time they spend with each client. We will offer our providers the right to bid for any part of our services they think they could do better and we will give local communities the chance to shape how back-to-work services are delivered in their area.

“And most of all, we will implement all the reforms in the Freud report, the report which inspires this Green Paper. We will release the creative energy of the private, public and voluntary sectors. By paying them out of the benefit savings that they generate, we will free our providers to help even more of our customers back into work.

“And, as David Freud recommended, we will simplify the bewildering complexity of the benefits system. We propose to abolish income support and move current customers on to JSA, as resources allow. The result will be a dual system of working age benefits. ESA will offer the right help for sick and disabled people, and JSA will do the same for those actively seeking work or with caring responsibilities. The conditionality regime would be appropriate to each and would not change for carers or parents of younger children.

“Today's publication marks the beginning of the consultation process. We want these proposals to be shaped by the opinions of the public and the expertise of charities, providers and academics. In the past, people were able, in many cases encouraged, to spend a lifetime on benefits. Once they had signed on, the welfare system all too often switched off. There was no expectation that anything should change, and precious little support to make it happen. This Green Paper ends all that. It puts us on the road to our ambition of an 80 per cent employment rate, with a million people off incapacity benefit by 2015, the eradication of child poverty by 2020, and equality for disabled people by 2025.

“And it will restore Beveridge's third principle, the principle of incentive, opportunity and responsibility to where it should always have been: at the centre of the welfare state. For that reason, it will transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. I commend this Green Paper to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. However, I was disappointed, although not particularly surprised, that the Government chose, once again, to make the Statement first of all to the press rather than to Parliament. Indeed, they engaged with the press and TV so much over the weekend that the Secretary of State for Works and Pensions was able to adjust his second round of articles for the media in response to the criticism levied in the first.

The Minister may think that I am being slightly unfair. After all, it is possible that the Secretary of State always intended his article in the Guardian this morning carefully to avoid any mention of increased individual responsibility, in contrast to that in the Mail on Sunday, which stated it loud and clear. Either way, it is not unfair to ask whether the Minister really believes that the Government take the role of Parliament seriously in the light of the premature appearance of the Green Paper on Friday and the extent of the Government’s subsequent briefing of the press.

Even to someone who had not read the media coverage, the Statement would not contain many surprises. So many policies have been lifted by the Government from my own party over the past year, from inheritance tax to policies on crime, that they are too numerous to list in full here—but the Statement adds a large handful more. It will therefore come as no shock to the Minister or your Lordships that we support the Government in what they are trying to achieve. I am glad that they have looked again at our suggested changes to the benefit system, and have decided that schemes such as work programmes for those out of work for a long time are not as unworkable as they claimed in January when we first announced them.

A few of the policies go back even further than that. We have always supported the recommendations that David Freud made in his report last year, and we are glad that he appears to be back in favour after it became clear that the previous Prime Minister’s understanding and support of Freud’s recommendations were not matched by that of his successor. I can repeat here the promise of my honourable friend in another place, Chris Grayling, that we on these Benches will support any government legislation that is needed to implement these proposals.

As the Statement says, some of the legislative framework is in place already. Your Lordships will no doubt remember the Welfare Reform Act 2007 where, before Freud’s report fell from favour, the necessary provisions for the implementation of the employment and support allowance were passed with the full support of my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale. The Government have taken a year to answer the question we posed then of when they will actually implement those provisions and complete the transfer from incapacity benefit, but it is all the more welcome for the delay.

Will the Government need more legislation in order to implement the other goals laid out in the Statement? Are the Government fully committed this time to implementing these reforms so that we do not have the sort of stop-start enthusiasm that has dogged welfare reform for the past decade? For example, has the Minister’s department cleared with the Treasury the necessary funding to ensure that support programmes necessary to help those currently out of work and on benefits are going to be properly resourced?

With the economy starting to feel the effects of the Prime Minister’s years of mismanagement, it will not be easy for many who have never been on benefits to keep their jobs, let alone for those who are working to overcome disability to find new ones. I hope the Government will not perform yet another U-turn when they realise that they cannot implement our proposals only halfway but must fully commit to ensuring properly resourced support infrastructure before any savings on benefits can actually be appreciated.

I should like to press the Minister on the Government’s future intentions. The Government have accepted in this Green Paper what we have said for a long time: that ensuring that children are not brought up in workless families is one of the most effective ways to ensure that children are not brought up in poverty. Today we have heard the extremely welcome news that the Government have finally accepted that family life needs to be strengthened, and that this, too, is a critical route to ending child poverty. Does that mean that the Government will accept the Conservative policy to end the couple penalty in the tax credit system?

My Lords, I am pleased to respond to the Statement and I am happy to give the proposals a cautious welcome. The Green Paper is ambitious, but lots of it is aspirational and tentative and we will need to wait and see how the detail works out. For me, what has changed in the past few years about this whole subject area, which is an important part of public policy, is Dame Carol Black’s important work that suggests that sustainable, worthwhile work is actually good for people’s health. That principle is now well accepted, and in so far as the Green Paper takes the principle forward, it is welcome—but the work has to be worth while and sustainable.

I have three sets of questions for the Minister. The Statement, however welcome, may cause some apprehension among those who have intermittent health conditions. Will he give the House an assurance that the new work capability assessments that will be introduced in the autumn will feature more of the psychosocial side of the assessment as well as the medical, so that claimants can be given some comfort that their proper circumstances will be taken into account in a holistic way? That is an important part of the bargain that the Green Paper offers.

Secondly, I am very pleased to hear that decentralisation and discretion will be devolved to a local level; that is an important part of the proposals. There is a world of difference between the labour markets in Norfolk and in Greater Manchester. If conditionality is a part of the package, then sanctioning people where there are no jobs would be completely contrary to natural justice. We need some reassurance about that.

Finally, the Minister said with a flourish—if that is the right word—that he was doubling access to work. Access to work is an essential plank in getting employers the support they need to play their part; if they do not come to the table with jobs, none of this will work. We are spending £69 million in 2008-09, as I think the Minister will confirm, which currently helps 24,000 people. Doubling that figure to roughly £140 million in the fiscal year 2009-10 would merely—if I can put it that way—help 48,000 people. The extent to which employers need support to get worthwhile sustainable work must not be underestimated by the Government because if they do, they risk failing. That would be a shame because the people who would suffer most would be those who most need help from the benefits that could flow from the Statement if it is implemented sensitively and properly.

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for what I take to be support for the thrust of the Green Paper. Let me first deal with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. He asked whether the Government take the role of Parliament seriously in all this. Of course they do. I do not know who was involved in leaking what to the press over the weekend or before. The reality is that issues surrounding welfare reform have been debated in the public arena for a long while. It is important that these matters are properly dealt with through Parliament; hence the Statement today.

The noble Lord said that these proposals were lifted from Conservative policies and claimed Freud as justification for that. It was this Government who commissioned the Freud report in the sense that it was part of the analysis that we sought to undertake.

The noble Lord asked about further legislation. A number of the proposals in the Green Paper would require primary legislation and a Bill would be brought forward at the first opportunity. He asked whether everything will be implemented. This is a Green Paper: we want to consult on the proposals, some of which are more advanced and entrenched in the thinking than others. It is important that we get a wide input from a range of stakeholders, which has traditionally been the way we have engaged in welfare reform. Noble Lords who were involved in the proceedings of what is now the Welfare Reform Act 2007 will attest to the fact that that is very much part of the Government’s approach.

The noble Lord asked whether HMT has signed off the proposals. All the proposals in the Green Paper have been agreed by the Treasury. He also asked whether the Government will support the end of the couple penalty in tax credits. The tax credits system is a matter for the Treasury and outside the scope of the Green Paper. However, the Green Paper contains proposals for additional work support for partners of benefit claimants; we know how important it is with regard to child poverty to have both members of a couple working. That is one way forward.

I do not think that either noble Lord commented on the fact that there is an unlimited disregard for child maintenance. We debated that during the proceedings of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill quite recently and I hope that it will also be welcomed.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, talked about Dame Carol Black’s report. It is ground-breaking and we are hoping to respond to it across government in October. We have already announced some aspects of it that we will support—in particular, the fit-for-work service and the piloting around that. It is a central part of these reforms to recognise that work is generally good for people’s health and well-being and is the best route out of poverty. That is a cornerstone of these reforms and of the active welfare state.

The noble Lord asked about intermittent health conditions and whether the work capability assessment would take account of them. The answer is yes. We touched on that in part in our welfare reform debates last year; it is not a snapshot—it takes account of the effects of the person’s condition over time.

The noble Lord talked about decentralisation. Again, that is absolutely right. Clearly, job advisers should not be pursuing sanctions if there are no jobs available. Notwithstanding the challenging economic climate, the job market has been pretty buoyant. I am not sure what the current vacancies are across the country—I think that it is about 650,000. Part of the decentralisation is to work through city strategies so that you have local partnerships with people who really know what is happening on the ground and are best placed to help to pursue some of these ideas.

As the noble Lord identified, we are doubling the budget to Access to Work, which will be a major expansion of the support that we can offer to disabled people to help them to get and sustain employment. Our estimate is that it will expand the programme’s capacity to around 48,000 people by 2013-14. There is a gradual increase in the budget starting in 2009-10, through to 2013.

I hope that that has dealt with the points that the noble Lords raised and thank them again for their support for this Green Paper.

My Lords, following the point made by my noble friend, it is clear that these proposals were leaked in advance. Frankly, the Minister’s reply carries no credibility; the Government should just admit that that is the case.

On the substance, the Minister talks of a back-to-work action plan and says that claimants after a year will be transferred to an outside provider, who will be paid by results. If changes such as that are so deeply obvious to the present Government, why was it that throughout the 1980s and the 1990s official spokesmen of the party opposite did everything in their power to oppose any steps in the direction that they now propose? The Minister says that in 1997 the present Government inherited a passive welfare state, whatever that may mean, but is not the real position that Ministers have only now woken up to what we were describing more than a decade ago?

My Lords, I am bound to say that I find that contribution quite extraordinary. In terms of inheriting a passive welfare state, that is exactly the position: the numbers of people on incapacity benefit—and I gave them when I gave the Statement—had grown inexorably over two decades. They continued to grow after 1997 for a while, until we were able to reverse that trend. That was all focused, originally, on trying to get people off the unemployment statistics, because of the two recessions that the noble Lord’s party was responsible for, when it was in government. But it did nothing to help those people. We are still now having to deal with those challenges; people were put on incapacity benefit, paid a bit more if they had been on it for a year and effectively consigned to the scrap heap; they were given no support to move back towards the labour market. Many of them, irrespective of their health conditions, were perfectly able to move towards the labour market and to go into work. We have transformed that situation.

There is more to do—and the Statement is very much focused on what more there is to do. But it is bizarre for the noble Lord to challenge us and ask why we have just woken up to these things. We have been engaged with these things since 1997 and the new deal.

My Lords, I welcome the broad thrust of the Statement. I entirely agree with my noble friend about the well-being that comes from work. The section “Work for your benefit” includes a section on lone parents, but of course lone parents are working for their benefit. They are bringing up children; they are just not engaged in waged work.

I am obviously delighted about the full maintenance disregard—a sort of privatised tax credit as long as the money actually flows—but I have two questions for my noble friend about the proposal for lone parents. When their youngest child is seven, they are expected to be available for the labour market. Given that a seven year-old is too small to walk to school alone, it means that the lone parent must seek work, for the most part, within the hours of 10 am and 2 pm. Such jobs, particularly in rural areas, are like gold dust. What work is my noble friend doing with employers to ensure that lone parents have such hours of work available to them?

Secondly, so that they do not then drop out at every half term, lone parents will need childcare that is not only flexible but trusted. In rural areas, that is more likely to be care from grandparents than from any other body. I accept that it is probably too costly at present to go for a childcare tax credit payment to grandparents who do significant caring, but would my noble friend take back to the department the proposal that, at the very least, a grandparent caring for, say, 20 hours a week should get a national insurance credit towards the basic state pension, so that as a result of helping her daughter to work, that grandparent does not herself lose her own pension rights?

My Lords, my noble friend touches on an important area. First, the proposed flexible new deal makes sure that the individual circumstances of claimants can be taken into account. It is not “one size fits all”. Certainly, for parents with young children, recognising the support that those young children need in getting to and from school should be reflected in the sort of work that an individual is encouraged to do. This proposal also fits alongside a considerable expansion in childcare provision—by 2010, wraparound childcare at school between 8 am and 6 pm all year round.

On the role of employers, again, my noble friend is absolutely right. One of the roles of local employment partnerships is to help people who have been away from the labour market for some time and build flexibility into the arrangements. It is focused on people with disabilities and lone parents. That has to be part of the equation. My noble friend bowled a fast ball in terms of grandparents and national insurance contributions. The best that I can say is that we will take the issue back and discuss it further.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on these measures, which are very bold and rather bolder than anything any previous Conservative Government thought to introduce. Perhaps that was because of the vehemence of opposition from the Labour Party at that time.

I have a question about the withdrawal of benefit. What happens to a single person who is not in receipt of any other benefit who then has his jobseeker's allowance taken away? Will anything be done to stop that person starving on the street? Will the Government consider bringing in food vouchers as has been done in the United States?

No, my Lords, that is not part of our proposals. Benefit sanctions are not new. They exist at the moment and people cope. Evidence shows that once someone has been sanctioned, overwhelmingly they tend not to be sanctioned a second time. It is an important issue. Withdrawal of benefit should be done only on the basis of clear guidelines and a clear understanding of what the system requires and what the conditionality is. Some of the evidence is that that is not always well understood, so part of what we must be about is to make sure that there is good communication about the rights, responsibilities and boundaries of the system.

My Lords, there are a number of things to welcome about the Green Paper, which is the subject of the Statement repeated by the noble Lord. I warmly welcome the doubling of the Access to Work budget, which will be able to do a great deal more not only to enable disabled people to get into work, but to prevent those at risk of losing their job when they become disabled from falling out of the workforce.

Conditionality depends very much on the adequacy of support to enable people who are far from the labour market to get closer to it. We shall monitor that very closely. I was disappointed that the Green Paper contained no reference to removing the anomaly whereby registered blind people are not eligible for the higher rate of the mobility component of disability living allowance. Constructive discussions have taken place between the RNIB and the Government about the removal of this anomaly. I declare an interest as chairman of the RNIB. I understood that the Government felt they were not in a position to fund the removal of this anomaly at present. However, during the discussions going right up to the publication of the Green Paper today, I understood that the Government were committed to remove the anomaly at the earliest possible date. I apologise to the noble Lord that I missed the first few minutes of his repetition of the Statement; I was listening to the discussion of it in the other place. The Secretary of State was asked about the removal of the anomaly. All he could say was that he was not against its removal in principle and would continue to work to deliver that. That does not seem to me to be in the spirit of the constructive discussions between the RNIB and the Government to which I referred.

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord any greater comfort than did the Secretary of State in another place. We are sympathetic to the RNIB’s proposals and are aware of the public and parliamentary support for them. While we acknowledge that severely sight-impaired people may have mobility difficulties, especially as regards helping them to enter or remain in paid employment, we are not able to commit to any changes in the mobility component of DLA at this time. We certainly believe that enabling all disabled people, including those with visual impairments, into employment through increased provision for access to work should remain our priority. That is why the Green Paper commits us to provide additional funding on the basis that we just discussed.

We are very grateful for the time and effort given by the RNIB in pressing its case. This effort has not been wasted. We hope that we can continue to work collaboratively during the Green Paper consultation period to ensure that our programme of welfare reform adequately meets the needs of blind people. I am conscious that is not the statement the noble Lord hoped for, but it is as far as I can go this afternoon.

My Lords, as president of the National Training Federation for Wales, I offer a rather different view on the Freud report. Given that in the past week we have seen the fiasco of a large American company hopelessly fail effectively to deliver SATs results, why does my noble friend believe that large American manpower companies will be able to deliver the welfare-to-work programmes more efficiently and more effectively than local providers, who know their communities and those communities’ needs, because that will be the consequence of implementing Freud?

My Lords, it does not necessarily follow that we will end up with large US multinational providers. We already have private sector providers doing a good job. What is important is how we go about the contracting arrangements, particularly how we hold private sector providers to account. However, this is about not only private sector providers but also the public and voluntary sectors. Over the past 18 months I have had the opportunity to visit interesting schemes in which the voluntary sector is providing huge support to people to get them back to work. Someone who was out of work for 15 years was helped back into employment, which transformed that person’s life. So good work is going on. However, my noble friend makes a fair point. We need to be careful to ensure that we do not end up in the situation to which he referred.

My Lords, I wonder whether I may follow up a point made by my noble friend Lady Hollis. Other parts of government are most concerned with the importance of the family as a factor in reducing the irresponsible, anti-social behaviour particularly of teenagers. How can the Minister reconcile that with the idea of making a single woman on benefit go to work if one of her children is merely seven years old? Surely, if she does work—as the only adult in the family—she will not be available to care for and mentor her child as he approaches the teenage years and in the teenage years? What does that mean for the significance and availability of the family to those young people, which other parts of the Government seem to think is so important?

My Lords, that does not necessarily follow, and I do not fully agree with my noble friend. Obviously, many lone parents—something like 1 million—are currently in work. It comes back, in part, to the need for there to be flexibility around the arrangements for lone parents. I would hang on to the point that not only is work generally good for someone’s health and self-esteem, it is invariably the best route out of poverty. In terms of support for the family, helping people into and helping them to sustain work is also supportive of families.

My Lords, I very much welcome the increased resources and funding for Access to Work, which is so important. Will the noble Lord make sure that it is properly publicised? When I spoke on the Welfare Reform Act last year, I said that it was one of the least known about aspects of getting disabled people back into work, but it is very useful. This announcement is extremely welcome, but it needs to be well publicised among disabled people and employers.

My Lords, I am very grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, who made a good point. Access to Work is not known about widely enough, by either employers or employees. We need to make sure that the message gets out there, because it is already making a real difference to many people’s lives, and it could do so much more.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for explaining the Government’s intentions with all his customary care and clarity. We hear much about the overclaiming of benefits, but nothing about underclaiming by frail, elderly or disabled people who are afraid of being accused of abusing the system. Has the department made any estimate of the extent of underclaiming, which often relates to frail, elderly people living alone, whose benefits go unclaimed?

My Lords, there are estimates of underclaim, particularly around the claiming of pension credit, but I am afraid that I do not have them in front of me. I am happy to write to the noble Lord. Again, the department has done a lot of work in campaigns to make people aware and to target people who might be entitled to benefit but who are not claiming.

In relation to overclaiming of benefits and fraud, that data hit the headlines. I think it is now at an all-time low. I have forgotten the percentage, but I think it is around 0.6 per cent of the total benefits bill. There have been considerable improvements in tackling fraud, but we need to keep up the pressure. We also need to make it easier for people to claim. Work is being done to enable people to claim pension credit, housing benefit and council tax benefit at the same time, as one claim, to make it easier to claim. In the Pensions Bill, on which we have had interesting debates in recent weeks, there is provision for not needing to update claims. When someone reaches the age of 75, the information that is locked in the system continues. Work is being done on the important point raised by my noble friend.

My Lords, I warmly welcome the thinking underlying this Green Paper. Does the Minister agree that it reflects a simple political maxim: it is immoral for any Government to hand out benefits to those who do not need them at the expense of those who do? Does he recognise that in the looming public sector cash crisis it will be necessary to follow up this Green Paper with vigour and rigour, and as rapidly as possible, to ensure that those who need help get it? Finally, will he send a copy of the Green Paper to President Sarkozy, because it might give him some ideas on how to deal with the much more intractable problem of the much more unsustainable welfare system in France?

My Lords, on the last point, I think that I shall pass: it is outwith my responsibility. The noble Lord is right; rights and responsibilities are at the heart of these proposals. The state has an obligation to help people into work, if they are able to work, and to support them in doing so, but it is not right that people who could engage do not engage and live a life on benefits. That is very clear; I touched on that in the Statement. There is a balance in all of this. It is very important that in the current age we clearly set down those boundaries and help people to understand that there are rights but that there are responsibilities as well.

My Lords, how far have the Government gone in their discussions with employers’ organisations about providing jobs? We know from the days of the Manpower Services Commission, in which I was involved many years ago, that it is not at all easy to provide jobs for people who are being made to work compulsorily. A great many jobs will be needed and they will have to be motivating and interesting. How far have the Government gone on this issue, or have they not yet begun to consult?

No, my Lords, a lot of work has gone on. I referred earlier to local employment partnerships. I am not quite sure how many companies have signed up to them, but many have done. The deal is that the Government help to make sure that people have the skills and are equipped to undertake the jobs that are on offer. Companies that have signed up to the agreement do what they can to give those people an opportunity to take up those jobs. That is happening at a national level. Many other initiatives are happening via the city strategies and local strategic partnerships, whereby local councils in conjunction with the DWP and other agencies are working to help people who have been disadvantaged and away from the job market move towards it. That applies particularly to people with mental health conditions. A lot of work is going on, but a lot more needs to be done, particularly around mental health and unemployment. A working party led by Dame Carol Black has produced its first report and is moving on to further challenges and to see what further policy prescriptions are needed.