Thursday, 11 June 2009.
Welfare Reform Bill
Committee (2nd Day)
It seems highly unlikely but I have to remind the Grand Committee that, if there is a Division in the Chamber, we must immediately adjourn for 10 minutes.
Clause 1 : Schemes for assisting persons to obtain employment: "work for your benefit" schemes etc.
11: Clause 1, page 2, line 24, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations may prescribe that the skills and abilities of participants can be utilised in the schemes to which they may be referred.”
My reason for tabling this amendment is that I have become aware of the increasing level of unemployment in areas where manufacturing industry has, until recently, played a dominant role. I know of towns which I used to visit when I was a union official where one large firm or enterprise was dominant—everyone worked in it. When that enterprise ceased to exist, large levels of unemployment resulted, much of it among people who were highly skilled. This has increasingly become the situation in parts of the country. Often, no alternative employment is readily available and this often has a devastating effect on some of the skilled workers left without work.
It should be appreciated that people with skills, often acquired over many years, are proud of those skills. My father was a skilled engineering worker and, fortunately for my family, he was never out of work. However, nowadays many people like him face unemployment, possibly over a very long period.
I understand that the Bill is an attempt to deal with long-term unemployment, but a skilled worker is unlikely to take kindly to work-related activity involving, for example, stacking shelves in Waitrose or Tesco. Skilled people must feel that their skills and experience count for something and that attempts will be made to ensure that they are utilised. This is important for them psychologically, and it is also important for the future of our economy because such people can be used to train others. That people’s skills are utilised wherever they possibly can be is important for all sorts of reasons, including the future economy of our country, as we cannot afford to waste skills that have been acquired over a period of time. For that reason, I have tabled this amendment and I await with interest what the Minister has to say about it. I beg to move.
I do not know whether the kind of amendment that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, has just spoken to so movingly would help but we certainly support the spirit behind it. As she said, it is easy to envisage a situation where, say, a skilled engineer who had been working for 30 years but has been unemployed for two years is placed in a completely unsuitable “work for your benefit” scheme. Many younger unemployed people may not have useful skills but nowadays huge numbers will be skilled workers and it must be right for those skills to be used.
We need to know how much flexibility there will be in the “work for your benefit” schemes. As we know, they are not to be personally tailored, but does that mean that all participants will have to do the same level of job or will a skilled person—say, an electrician—be able to use those skills? I do not know what the position would be, although I am sure that it will be very easy for the Minister to answer. Furthermore, I do not know what the insurance situation would be. If, for example, an electrician worked alongside another trained electrician on some rewiring, what would happen if the man on the scheme short-circuited the whole house? For that matter, I would also be keen to know the position regarding health and safety.
I, too, support the amendment, because it particularly brings in the over-50s, many of whom will have worked for many years in the motor industry, for example, and, as in my neck of the woods, in the carpet industry—and they have special skills. It would be a good idea if they could be mentors to younger people and pass on their skills, which take a long time to acquire. Once those are lost, they are lost for ever. I have said this about farming. You cannot learn farming overnight.
It is not surprising that the amendment has received support around the Committee, but is there not a slight misconception here? The “work for your benefit” schemes will not very often entail work per se, will they? They are aids to obtain work eventually; for example, they might involve a confidence course, a language course or even, in particular circumstances, a caring course.
However, the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, quite rightly opened up the issue of what exactly will be expected of jobseekers who are offered work. What will they be expected to agree to and on what terms and on what conditions? How much will they be paid? The noble Baroness has raised concerns that people may be compelled to undertake activities or take up employment that may be entirely inappropriate for them. This is obviously the purport of the amendment, and I agree with her that that should not happen.
I know from my time in Northern Ireland, where I toured job centres, how this can end up. I met there a man with a first-class degree in computer programming who was staffing a desk. That was a mismatch of that person’s skills and the function required by the position he held. As it happened, he held the position totally voluntarily because he wanted to be close to and look after his elderly and incapacitated mother.
However, there is a difference between being offered a job that is wholly unsuitable and being offered one that is merely not ideal. All sides would prefer ideal jobs to be matched with jobseekers, but that may not always be possible. On Tuesday, I referred to an element of retraining and reskilling which might be appropriate in the sort of areas that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, spoke about. It is sad but true—especially when there is a recession, as there is now, with the number of jobseekers swelling and the number of jobs available shrinking—that it may be too idealistic to expect ideal match-ups. Some mismatch may be inevitable.
However, I should say to the noble Baroness that this situation need not be permanent. A job where a participant’s skills and abilities are not being fully utilised could be seen as a stepping stone. After all, we are discussing a process of helping people back into the jobs market and edging them closer to being work-ready and, ultimately, employed. If no ideal job is immediately available, a related occupation may be the best stepping stone. I presume, however, that a personal adviser would in any event take into account the skills and abilities of the participant. I am sure that the Minister can confirm that.
The motor industry was given as an example. It may well be that, three or five years down the line, we will have no motor industry in this country at all, so that those who are skilled in assembling cars cannot find an ideal job that matches exactly the sort of job they are being asked to undertake. My nephew, for example, recently lost his job. He was a laser cutter for car panels in Leicester, but unfortunately the business had to contract so much that his particular shift disappeared. He immediately retrained and got a job as a care assistant. Now, none of us would regard that as being ideal, but at least it kept him in work. This, after all, is what we are trying to achieve. I am sure that for my nephew and for many other people this will be a stepping stone back to the sort of jobs that they held originally.
I start by thanking my noble friend for this amendment, because it gives us an opportunity to focus on an important issue. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rix, I should also acknowledge that I am in range of the stick and may be constrained in what I can say.
My noble friend Lady Turner referred to the structural changes that are happening in our economy, particularly in the manufacturing industry, as did the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. I think we would all acknowledge her point about skilled workers having pride in those skills and needing to be valued. This is what we are seeking to achieve in the range of proposals contained the Bill, particularly in Clause 1.
The amendment, however, raises the important issue that what is the right support for one person may not be right for another. That is the basis for the whole design of the “work for your benefit” programme. The work experience and the employment support that it provides will not be one-size-fits-all; the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, was probing on that point. Rather, it will be based on the specific needs of each individual. Providers will need to source individual work experience placements for each participant, based on their needs and aspirations. That will mean that work experience may be very different for a highly skilled participant from that for someone with no skills. It goes without saying that the advantages of work experience with regard to work habits and routines are invaluable regardless of the skill level of the claimant.
That said, though, we must also manage claimants’ expectations. The focus of the programme—the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was pressing this point—is on those who have been through the Flexible New Deal and have spent two years unemployed; that is when these proposals kick in. If a jobseeker has indeed been unemployed for two years or more, it may not be reasonable for them to expect to walk into a director’s job, even though that may be what they were doing before. It is entirely reasonable that we expect long-term unemployed people to consider occupations other than their usual one, in order to get off benefits and into the more productive and healthy environment of the open labour market.
There is no current impediment to a claimant using their existing skills or abilities in their work placement; in fact, we encourage it. We also encourage the development of new skills if necessary. There is therefore no need for the amendment, because what my noble friend is seeking is already possible within the system. With regard to professionals, we accept that the recession could result in more highly skilled people being unemployed, particularly those in the financial sectors. We believe that the support we have in place generally is flexible enough to take account of individuals, particularly support, like the Flexible New Deal, which is based entirely on an individual’s circumstances. However, from April this year professionals have also been able to access specialist job-search services from day one of their claim, support that has previously been available only later on in a claim.
A couple of points were raised about the mechanics of the arrangements and whether health and safety provisions would apply. The answer is that they would. “Work for your benefit” providers will need to ensure that all health and safety measures are in place and, in partnership with a host organisation, that all relevant insurances are in place as well.
I emphasise that there is a range of support other than the “work for your benefit” route in Clause 1. The current package available under jobseeker's allowance will help jobseekers who find themselves out of work for six months or more. The longer a person is out of work, the harder we will work for them. Everyone reaching six months unemployed from 6 April 2009 onwards will receive significant extra support from Jobcentre Plus employment advisers. That support will involve extended meetings every four weeks or so to discuss the best strategies for work and an enhanced range of work and training options, including a job supported by recruitment subsidies, support to start a business and self-employment, work-related training and voluntary work. So along the way, before we get to “work for your benefit”, we seek to offer a range of support to help everyone who finds themselves without a job, including those for whom my noble friend is particularly concerned in the amendment. I hope that she will be reassured by that.
Before the noble Baroness decides what to do with the amendment—I have no doubt what that decision will be and I do not think any other Member of the Committee has—perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. Clause 1 is predicated on the fact that the longer someone is unemployed, the longer it is likely they will continue to be unemployed. Clause 1 starts, as the Minister said, at the two-year point. Why was two years chosen? Would not one year or 18 months have been just as—I would have thought more—appropriate?
It is not only at two years, but the two-year timescale was proposed because that fits in with the Flexible New Deal, the first phase of which starts this year. The first 12 months are through the Jobcentre Plus three-stage process, then there are 12 months of Flexible New Deal. This is aimed at those individuals who, having been through that process—two years of support through those various mechanisms—are still without a connection with the labour market. That is why we chose two years: it fits in with and runs on from the Flexible New Deal.
First, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this short debate, including the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who mentioned my stick, which remains well in view on the table. I indeed thank my noble friend the Minister for his detailed response to the concerns that several of us have voiced about the problem of long-term unemployed people who nevertheless have skills, but who have become separated from the world of work. I quite understand that one of the aims of the Bill is to ensure that people do not become separated from the world of work for good—or for bad—but are engaged in a work-related environment that brings them back into the world of work. Of course, everyone has to agree with that. I was concerned about the feeling that many skilled people will be turned off from the whole scheme if they are put into a work-related environment that is well below their skills and does not utilise what they feel that they have to offer. It is important to try to ensure that people in that position are put into a work-related environment where their skills are utilised. Of course, they could be used in training in many instances. It would be very good if that was so.
I am grateful for the Minister’s detailed response. I understand that the Bill’s objectives are entirely benevolent and aimed at ensuring that people do not fall out of the work environment, which most of them have been used to all their lives until suddenly they become unemployed. If they have been unemployed for two years or more, they are likely to become alienated from work altogether. That is not a good idea at all. I am grateful for the assurances that I have been given and I shall read with interest what the Minister said. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
12: Clause 1, page 2, line 24, at end insert—
“( ) Without prejudice to any regulations made under subsection (5)(e) or (f) above, a person is to be regarded as having good cause for any act or omission for those purposes if, and to the extent that, the act or omission is attributable to any of the following circumstances—
(a) the claimant in question was suffering from some disease or bodily or mental disablement on account of which—(i) he was not able to participate in the scheme or work related activity in question;(ii) his attendance would have put at risk his health; or(iii) his attendance would have put at risk the health of other persons;(b) the claimant’s failure to participate in the scheme or activity resulted from a religious or conscientious objection sincerely held;(c) the time it took, or would normally have taken, for the claimant to travel from his home to the scheme or activity and back to his home by a route and means appropriate to his circumstances and to the scheme or activity exceeded, or would have exceeded, one hour in either direction or, where no appropriate scheme or activity is available within one hour of his home, such greater time as is necessary in the particular circumstances of the nearest appropriate scheme or activity;(d) the claimant had caring responsibilities and—(i) no close relative of the person he cared for and no other member of that person’s household was available to care for him; and(ii) in the circumstances of the case it was not practical for the claimant to make other arrangements for the care of that person;(e) the claimant was attending court as a party to any proceedings, or as a witness or as a juror;(f) the claimant was arranging or attending the funeral of a close relative or close friend;(g) the claimant was engaged in—(i) the manning or launching of a lifeboat; or(ii) the performance of duty as a part-time member of a fire brigade;(h) the claimant was required to deal with some domestic emergency; or(i) the claimant was engaged during an emergency in duties for the benefit of others.”
In moving Amendment 12, I shall speak also to Amendments 38, 76 and 87, all of which provide a definition of the concept of “good cause” in the Bill. These are probing amendments and we would do well to work on the detail of the definition of good cause between now and Report stage. The main purpose of the amendments is to argue the principle that this definition should be on the face of the Bill.
If a claimant fails to participate in a scheme or activity directed under the “work for your benefits” scheme under the new income support rules or in relation to the conditionality conditions for employment and support allowance, he may be subject to benefit sanctions. The amendments apply the same definition of good cause in each of the benefit systems covered by the Welfare Reform Bill. The definition is taken from the definition of good cause used in the Jobseeker’s Allowance Regulations 1996, Statutory Instrument No. 207, and I am aware that the matters listed in our amendment differ from those listed in the draft regulations sent to us by the Minister on 4 June. I shall return to the point in a moment.
The importance of the amendments lies in the fact that one of the fundamental safeguards in the Bill against people being punished for things outside their control is the defence of good cause. This safeguard is crucial in upholding Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and ensuring that the balance between rights and responsibilities in the welfare system is fair and effective. In fact, it is not just because of Articles 3 and 8 that I am arguing this case, but it happens that it is a key point which needs to be made.
Despite the importance of the concept of safeguarding claimants, the Welfare Reform Bill itself does not contain a definition of good cause; instead it will come in regulations. We believe that it is essential that Parliament has a full opportunity to consider permissible grounds for a person’s failure to attend the relevant schemes or activity. This ensures a fair balance in the legislation between the coercive powers and the appropriate safeguards. This view was given by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its 14th report, Legislative Scrutiny: Welfare Reform Bill, which I shall quote for the record:
“While the detailed delegated powers memorandum provided by the Government aids scrutiny of the proposals of the Bill, it is difficult to scrutinise proposed safeguards for their impact on individual human rights on this basis. We reiterate our previous recommendation that where safeguards are relevant to the Government’s view on human rights compatibility, those safeguards should be provided on the face of the Bill”.
The committee goes on say that where the Government’s view on compatibility relies on safeguards to be provided in secondary legislation,
“we recommend that draft regulations are published together with the Bill”.
We are to have draft regulations during the course of the Bill. The committee goes on:
“At the very least, the Government should describe in the explanatory material accompanying the Bill the safeguards it proposes to provide”.
I must acknowledge that the Government have met the lower-level recommendation of the Joint Committee, but I am sure that I am not the only Member of the Committee who does not find that acceptable. To have subsection (a) in the Bill is particularly important for people with mental health and other fluctuating conditions. I tend to raise the issue of these people, but they are incredibly vulnerable in the face of the benefits system and all these conditionality clauses. As we have debated on many occasions, some people experience periods of varying length of being well interspersed with episodes of illness. For others, a medication regime or other forms of treatment may produce temporary difficulties. Others may have particular anxieties associated with their illness which affect their ability to perform particular tasks. It does not help that they may be able to do all sorts of other things because if they cannot do what is required of them, they will have problems.
I am grateful to the Minister for sending us a copy of the draft regulations entitled the Employment and Support Allowance (Work-Related Activity, Action Plans and Directions) (Pilot Scheme) Regulations 2010. These regulations provide an alternative wording to that in our amendment. Can the Minister inform us whether these regulations were also available to Members of the other place when the Bill was debated there? If not, then the Government have not satisfied even the backstop demand of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
My general concern about the regulations that the Minister sent is that there is no obligation on the Secretary of State to take account of the matters listed under paragraph (5) of the regulations. The regulations are very clear that the Secretary of State may take those matters into account. Presumably that also means that he may decide not to take them into account. I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on that point. From my point of view, the principle of having them in the Bill is the main thrust of these amendments.
I also want to pick up two matters listed in the new government regulations. The first concerns transport difficulties. That issue was raised in response to an amendment in the name of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, in an earlier debate on rural areas and the time involved in travelling to and from work-related activities. Our amendment makes explicit what time would be reasonable. It makes it clear that travel taking more than one hour in either direction would not be reasonable and should be accepted as good cause if the claimant turned down an activity on those grounds. Does the Minister agree? If he does, perhaps he will ensure that, whatever regulations are devised in the future, that point is made clear.
The second point concerns childcare. In view of our detailed debate on those issues on our first day in Committee, I will not be moving Amendment 57. However, we will return to childcare in relation to Amendment 75, as it raises different issues from those discussed on Tuesday. In this context, I draw noble Lords’ attention to Regulation 11(5)(m) of the draft regulations. In my view, the wording of the sub-paragraph is very general. It says only that childcare must be “reasonably available”—or does it mean that reasonable childcare must be available? What does “childcare must be reasonably available” mean? It is not very helpful. The sub-paragraph also says that childcare must not be,
“unsuitable due to the particular needs of the claimant or the child”.
It says nothing about the quality of the childcare available or the training of the staff. I would be grateful if the Minister could give further thought to that in the light of the discussion on our first day in Committee.
I was thinking of ending with a particular example but I have probably said enough. I know that the Minister is well aware of the issues behind these amendments and I know he is sympathetic to the particular difficulties of claimants with mental health problems and other fluctuating disorders. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to congratulate the new Secretary of State at the DWP on her appointment and make the point that she, too, is very sensitive to claimants with fluctuating disorders. That gives me hope that we have achieved some progress.
On behalf of those with fluctuating disorders but also on behalf of all claimants, I hope that the Minister will agree to the principle that the definition of “good cause” should be included in the Bill and that the detail of the regulations needs to be revisited before Report in order to find a better wording. I beg to move.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, the wording of this amendment to Clause 1—with its definition of “good cause” for a failure to comply with mandatory activities and provision for a sanction—is taken directly from the Jobseeker’s Allowance Regulations 1996. All the different circumstances in the original definition must have been enumerated for a reason and are not simply an arbitrary list of excuses. However, as the phrase good cause is not defined in the Bill, I, too, would like to know whether it will follow the earlier regulations. On Monday, we received a draft of the good cause regulations for ESA. These regulations appear to be pretty comprehensive though I see that we have lost the manning of lifeboats and the fire fighters. However, we have not received any regulations for Clause 1.
On page 87 of the Peers’ information pack it states:
“The Government intends that the good cause for not participating in a Work for Your Benefit pilot scheme will be consistent with the good cause provisions currently contained in regulations relating to other employment programmes”.
Good cause considerations are set out on page 90 of the same document. At the beginning of the paragraph it states:
“It is envisaged that regulations will provide”,
but the factors that are then listed are given as examples. We do not want to be unduly suspicious but I do not think that it is asking too much for us to know exactly what “good cause” will mean in the context of this clause. This is such an important amendment because it would cover, among others, those who have a fluctuating mental health condition but who are nevertheless on JSA rather than in the employment group of ESA and therefore subject to the conditionality regime of Clause 1. It is still Clause 1 that we are talking about.
I note that one of the examples of good cause considerations given in the pack is if the physical or mental condition of the claimant makes it impossible for him or her to undertake the activity. That should cover fluctuating mental health conditions. However, I would like the Minister to reassure the Committee that that will be explicit in the regulations.
I have added my name to three of these amendments. I think that it is important to add them to the Bill because of what will happen when this law is implemented. Regulations are one thing, the law is another; it will be seen as something that you cannot avoid. I have every confidence in the Minister’s good intentions and if I thought that his clones would be running the employment advice service in jobcentres I would be quite happy. Unfortunately, I know that he will not be running it and that not everyone is as well-meaning and well-intentioned as he. We have to get real about what really happens to people with mental health issues, especially serious mental disorders, and about how and why they are treated as they are. People with serious disorders do not just have fluctuating conditions that mean that sometimes they can work and sometimes they cannot; they often also have difficulties in establishing good social relationships with the people they come into contact with on a daily basis. That includes, among others, the employment advisers and others at the centre. Barriers and anxieties quickly arise and the employment adviser will find it darned difficult to get people through these systems.
We have to take account of the relatively chaotic lives and fearsomely obsessional behaviour of some of the people with serious mental health problems. They can get into habits that are extremely difficult to break. They can have a pattern of daily life that makes it difficult for them to stop and do something else and to establish a new pattern. They do not have conditions like the one that Sarah-Jane has. Sarah-Jane, aged 35, is mentioned in the wonderful pack that the Minister provided. I am not sure whether noble Lords have read this pack yet as it arrived only today, but it contains some good descriptions. Sarah-Jane has “a mental health condition”—but it sounds a bit like a broken leg and is getting better now. It is just not like that. Noble Lords may ask why this matter is so important as regards this clause and clauses like it. It is because we must establish a specific responsibility in the law to help people who lead chaotic and difficult lives as a result of mental health problems, and to take this matter very seriously. I know that the Minister does; I just want to make sure that everybody else out there does too.
I, too, support the amendment. The Minister will recognise that it is one after my own heart. I am very concerned about people not being able to participate—their trying and then failing, and that failure being a real setback to them. If people with ME/CFS overstretch themselves that can sometimes set them back for years. If they feel compelled to undertake the activity that they are told to undertake, who is responsible if they become seriously ill? What happens as regards insurance for them?
It is important to include mothers of children who are sick and unwell but are not disabled, and children with fluctuating illnesses. Those mothers will always end up being very unpunctual, unsatisfactory workers who cannot take on most jobs. It is important also to include cultural specificities. Muslims need prayer rooms and washing rooms and places in which they can perform their daily prayer ritual. It is important to regard religion, culture and appropriate childcare as specific requirements.
I, too, strongly support these amendments, perhaps for a slightly indirect reason as well as a direct one. The direct reason was ably spelt out by my noble friend Lady Murphy; that is, the problems faced by those with mental health problems trying to cope with some of the demands that may be implicit in the Bill. I am thinking not just about people with mental health problems in the community but those held in institutions. This is where the slightly indirect implication arises. For the past three years I have been involved with the Independent Asylum Commission, looking at the treatment of asylum-seekers and immigrants, including those suffering from extreme mental health problems. We described in our report a disturbing factor that came out of all this as a culture of disbelief. This permeated officialdom and meant that it was not geared to understand, and therefore cater for, the problems which existed. One of the reasons why I am all for spelling out as much as one possibly can of what one means by “good cause”, is to help overcome that culture of disbelief, which we simply cannot afford to have spreading through a system involving people who suffer from the problems that we are discussing.
I admire the lengths to which the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has gone in her amendments to suggest what might be considered good cause for not fulfilling an obligation or duty imposed by the Bill. As has already been pointed out, she has even thought about someone being unable to fulfil their duty because they were helping to launch a lifeboat, which is not a task that I would have thought about had she not so diligently included it.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, that the devil is in the detail in all of this, although I would not be as specific as that. None the less, to be fair to the Minister—as, I hope he will agree, I sometimes am—we are beginning to pin him down on “just cause”. This amendment adds to that pressure. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, specified a number of different scenarios, including risk to health and well-being, excessive travel time, participating in a scheme or activity, or serving as a juror. I am not sure that I can find anything to criticise in those ideas, because each provides a valid excuse for someone obliged to participate in the schemes under this Bill not to do so. Indeed, suitable childcare and transport were mentioned by the Minister on Tuesday. There will be circumstances which justify an act or omission which puts the participant in breach of his obligations. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that we do not want to build a culture of suspicion—I slightly paraphrase what he said.
The Bill recognises that commonsense position by allowing for regulations to be made which will describe those circumstances in greater detail. I wonder whether we really need this level of prescription in the Bill, if only for the reason that it takes a long time to change an Act of Parliament. The Minister has pointed out several times that he requires flexibility in negative resolution orders. There is a good use for regulations, because, during the pilots, it will be found that various things need to be changed—probably quite quickly. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is shaking her head. Does she want me to give way?
No, I did not particularly want the noble Lord to give way. However, it seems to me that in something as important as the definition of “good cause”, which is the primary safeguard in the Bill, it should be possible for people to sit down and work out the absolutely essential elements of something that should last for a number of years. I cannot believe that we cannot do that. It is so important that we should.
I am afraid that we shall have to beg to differ, because I am on record many times over the years as saying that I hate shopping lists in Acts of Parliament. That is what we have in the Bill.
I was saying that there is a use for regulations, after all, and if they are sparingly used, they have a place when we are crafting legislation. However, the place for regulations might very well be in a readable document that your Lordships have had the chance to read before debating the enabling provision in Grand Committee, where, of course, most regulations are now discussed in your Lordships’ House. If the Minister is unable to elucidate further on what exactly we are expecting to see in these masses of regulation, then at the very least the need for the clarity provided by the noble Baroness’s amendment begins to seem rather a good idea, despite the fact that I dislike shopping lists—because you are bound to miss something and to include something that you do not ultimately want. Then, of course, the regulations will have to include it. I hope that we will hear an explanation from the Minister in his reply.
Amendment 75 would prevent the sanction of stopping JSA payments in cases where there was inadequate childcare. I refer to the debates we have had on childcare. It is clear to me, and I hope to the Minister, that this is one of the great sticking points. I am the first to admit that. The noble Baroness’s amendment does something slightly unusual: it places a duty on the Secretary of State to prove a negative. In this case, the lack of childcare was not responsible for the claimant behaving in a manner that would otherwise—
I thank my noble friend Lady Meacher for moving this amendment, which again has given us an opportunity to discuss an important issue. I take note of the strength of feeling on this issue, particularly about mental health, that has been expressed. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, for her kind words, but I believe that my position on this is genuinely shared across government; it is certainly shared by the new Secretary of State, and indeed by her predecessor.
This group of amendments is aimed at good cause and applies across the various benefits and conditionality regimes in the Bill. On the surface the amendments address a common theme: getting more detail about what will and will not be automatically accepted as good cause.
To pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, I shall address why this level of detail is not already in the Bill. I assure the Committee that there are no hidden agendas here; it is merely a practical consideration. As I have already outlined in earlier discussions, the detail of social security legislation changes frequently to take into account changes in operational need, learning from pilots—something that is certainly relevant to the consideration of the clauses before us—and indeed changing economic situations. We use more flexible secondary legislation as a result; that is not a deliberate attempt to frustrate scrutiny but an attempt at practicality. I should point out that this approach has been accepted by the Delegated Powers Committee and has been used successfully in social security legislation many times before.
I accept that there needs to be scrutiny and transparency about these matters, which is why the department routinely consults, as it has to, with the Social Security Advisory Committee about our regulations. Given that, the Committee might find it useful if I set out exactly how we intend to use good cause. In terms of the “work for your benefit” programme, I can confirm that we will use the same good cause provisions as already exist and have been applied in the jobseeker’s allowance. The Committee will already have seen the draft regulations for good cause provisions in the employment and support allowance—my noble friend Lady Meacher referred to these—which takes a similar tack, and we will mirror that in the regulations for parents with regard to the progression-to-work group.
One or two specific points were pressed. I confirm that these draft regulations were not available for colleagues in the other place. With regard to some of the wording in them, specifically the question of “must” or “may”, they are of course drafts; they are meant to be illustrative, and do not necessarily represent our finally agreed position. I hope, however, that they provide a helpful basis for discussion on these issues, such as indeed they have engendered today.
The draft regulations on good cause mirror those already in place for good cause in relation to work-focused interviews. The rationale behind the use of the word “may” is to give the decision-maker the maximum flexibility to take into account the individual circumstances of the customer. However, I accept the arguments in favour of replacing “may” with “must” or “shall”, as this would still allow the decision-maker the flexibility to take into account matters other than those set out in the regulations. I am willing to undertake that “must” or “shall” will be in the final version.
With regard to travelling time, we see that “reasonable” travelling time should be the test. Obviously that will depend on the circumstances of the case, and therefore we would need some convincing for a more specific provision in the regulations. This approach provides both a fixed framework for decision-making and flexibility for the decision-maker to take into account all the circumstances of any given individual.
The process for the employment and support allowance will be very similar to the existing ESA process if a claimant fails to attend or engage in a work-focused interview. In addition, the personal adviser will, before starting the initial work-focused interview, explain the progression-to-work model and what will be expected of the customer. This will of course include the work-related activity requirement and the power that the adviser has to direct a claimant to a specific work-related activity in limited circumstances.
If the personal adviser establishes that the customer has a mental health condition, learning disability or other condition affecting cognition, such as stroke or autistic spectrum disorder, they will make an additional explanation of the conditionality to ensure that the customer understands the requirements.
If a customer fails to carry out the required work-related activity, the adviser will discuss this non-compliance with the customer at the work-focused interview. This will provide the first opportunity for the customer to show the adviser that he had good cause for not complying with the work-related activity requirement. If the customer fails to show good cause at the interview, the personal adviser will hand him a letter explaining that he now has five days to show good cause for non-compliance. If a customer does not turn up to a work-focused interview, he will be posted a letter outlining the consequence of his non-compliance, and he will then have seven days to show good cause.
If the customer has a mental health condition or learning difficulties, the personal adviser will arrange for a home visit to take place. The adviser will always attempt to meet the customer before any reduction in benefit is proposed. If the customer is indeed sanctioned, he will always be able to appeal the decision. I believe that, taken together, these steps represent significant safeguards to protect vulnerable claimants.
In terms of lone parents, whom we discussed on Tuesday at length, jobseekers’ regulations already state that account must be taken of any caring responsibilities that a parent has, whether childcare is available and whether the childcare is suitable for the needs of the parent and the child. The lone parent regulations have been in place for some time, and we were not particularly proposing to change them because they seem to be effective in meeting our requirements. Nevertheless, before I seek to expand on some of the other points, I am happy to say that we will reflect on the potential benefits of being more specific in the Bill. I do not undertake that we will do so, but that point has been pressed and I think that we are, rightly, obligated to take the matter away and deal with it seriously.
The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, referred to the case studies, and the noble Countess, Lady Mar, said that none of them includes someone aged 50 or over. I should just explain that we agreed to share the case studies that we had developed but they do not necessarily reflect our final thoughts on the design of the programme. The development of our programmes will be affected by the deliberations that we have in this House and by ongoing discussions with stakeholders and providers. However, I hope that they are useful illustrations of how the proposals might work, and they were circulated with that in mind.
Perhaps I may return briefly to the issue of childcare, which I acknowledge is a matter of continuing concern for noble Lords. We are quite clear that it is the parent and the parent alone who can decide whether the services offered by a childcare provider are suitable for their child. Jobcentre Plus advisers will not be able to direct parents to a particular provider, even if that provider has vacancies that appear to meet the person’s requirements. However, if a parent claims that he or she is unable to source suitable childcare, then the adviser will need to ensure that these representations are reasonable. Therefore, if, for example, the parent simply makes an assumption that he or she will be unable to source suitable childcare, that will not pass the reasonableness test. To ensure that parents make reasonable efforts to identify options, parents who consider that they cannot comply with the conditions imposed on them because suitable childcare is not available will need to demonstrate to Jobcentre Plus that they have taken reasonable steps to secure such care. That could include contacting the children's information services, visiting local extended schools or Ofsted-registered childcare providers and identifying whether other informal care options are available to them. Jobcentre Plus advisers have good knowledge of childcare availability.
We are talking partly about administrative processes. We are talking about regulations, some of which already exist in jobseekers’ employment and support allowance. We are talking about the development of new regulations and guidance for the new provisions in the Bill. That is where they will be addressed. I see the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, ready to spring to his feet.
I am grateful to the Minister because he is addressing some of the real difficulties we were struggling with on day one in the Committee, and I appreciate his attempt. I, too, would like reassurance about where exactly that guidance will go. Of course it can go in guidance to staff in the contractors and in Jobcentre Plus who are dealing with it, but it needs to go to advisers as well. It would be better if that language was reflected in the regulations.
To clarify with a helpful note from behind me, the regulations are currently provided, and will be provided for new regulations, under the Jobseekers Act 1995 and the Welfare Reform Act. That is the basis on which the regulations will be developed. Of course, the guidance that will flow from that will be available to Jobcentre Plus advisers. I shall come on to training of Jobcentre Plus advisers, because I know that that is another issue that people feel strongly about. I hope that I have put the provisions on childcare in context, with who has the right to do what and the reasonableness test.
I am very grateful to the Minister for the assurances given on childcare provisions. In the second case given of Becky Jones, who finally found a provision that suited her, were she to object to the third possibility, would she still be considered to have reasonable rights? What would happen to her at that stage? I ask that especially as we are coming across nurseries such as the one in Plymouth, which has had to be closed because of the character of the carer. Where does reasonableness stop and unreasonableness start?
The noble Baroness presses me on a point on which it is difficult to be specific. I am sure that she would acknowledge that it will inevitably depend on the individual circumstances of the case. If a parent took up available provision—perhaps they had been alerted to it by Jobcentre Plus—but it was found not to be satisfactory and the parent wanted to withdraw from the provision, if there was good cause for that and the parent could demonstrate that that was a reasonable decision in the circumstances, that could be persuasive with the decision-maker. If it were not, there is still a second right of appeal if a sanction were to be applied.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I am in some difficulty. He said over and over again that the final decision on childcare rests with the mother. He has not made any qualification to that. He has not said “after three or four choices”; he has said it bluntly: “childcare rests with the mother”. Please can he tell us: what is the position?
I had hoped that I had been as clear as it was possible to be. Let me try again. It is for the parent, and the parent alone, to decide whether the services offered by any particular childcare provider are suitable for their child. It is the parent’s choice. Jobcentre Plus or an external provider cannot force a parent to send their child to any particular provision, but if there is a good provision in an area that is available to a parent, if a parent seeks to argue the lack of appropriate childcare as a reason for not carrying out a direction, there has to be a process for Jobcentre Plus or the decision-maker asking, “Was that reasonable in all circumstances?”. But neither the decision-maker nor the Jobcentre Plus adviser can say, “You must send your child to this particular provision”. We know that lone parents in particular are keen to access the labour market and want to use the good provision that is available. As we discussed on Tuesday, there may be some who are adamant that they will not use any form of provision as a means of not complying with the Bill and existing welfare legislation. But in the end this is about not only rights but responsibilities as well. That is the thrust of the legislation.
Let me follow up this issue because it is tremendously important. The parent says, “I cannot find any childcare”. The jobcentre says, “Oh yes you can. So and so and so and so provide it”. The parent says, “I don’t like them and I will not go to those places”. What happens next? Does the jobcentre issue a direction that the child has to be sent to one of them or will the parent be fined for not using them? This is an important point.
It depends on which benefit we are talking about, but the process would be engagement at the start of the claim and an action plan that is agreed, if we are considering jobseeker’s allowance, between the Jobcentre Plus adviser and the individual. What might flow from that at some point during the course of the programme would be a direction by Jobcentre Plus if an individual has failed to attend a work-focused interview or has not taken up an activity which they were mandated to do. The individual would be given an opportunity to say that they had good cause for not complying with the direction. The information is then passed to a decision-maker within Jobcentre Plus and that decision-maker would decide whether a sanction is to be applied to the individual. If the sanction is applied, the individual has an opportunity to appeal against it.
That is the process, but along the way there are opportunities for the individual if the original action plan and the direction that flowed from it was inappropriate because of changes in circumstances to do with childcare, travel arrangements or perhaps health issues. Opportunities are provided to revisit the issues along the way. But if someone goes through the whole process, ultimately a decision-maker would apply a sanction subject to hardship provisions which we will come on to in due course.
I apologise to my noble friend because we are all interrupting his speech, but this is a really vital point. Most of the other considerations with which sanctions are quite properly being aligned are things that are relatively objective to measure and judge. They concern reasonable and unreasonable distances to travel, the level of physical health, questions such as whether the interview will be cut across by a hospital appointment or a caring responsibility for an elderly person. It is clear that decisions cannot simply be voluntary because if that is the case, some of the hardest-to-reach people who could most benefit from being progressed to work would never be exposed to it. But the problem with childcare, as all who have had to juggle it with our professional lives will know, is that it is often a subjective judgment: will my child be happy and thrive in these circumstances? Will they relate to this person or not? Is my child particularly clingy at the moment because, say, Daddy’s work has altered or another baby has arrived? I can say from my own experience that my childcare arrangements had to be changed numerous times. Had I been under this sort of regime, I would have worried whether someone who had not had children would appreciate the essential need to match the mother’s judgment of where the children will thrive and encouraging that mother back to work. I find that hard to work out. Clearly, the lone parent cannot say, “None of this works; I’m determined to stay at home; frankly, sod off”, as that is not a way in which we can make the legislation work.
In this measure more than in anything I am aware of, there is a grey area of good faith, of subjective judgment in which there may be no meeting of minds between the personal adviser and the mother. I want to know how we can take this forward. I find it very difficult indeed. I hope it will be a tiny problem. I daresay that many parents may be unreasonable and, time and again, I have met parents who say, “I’m not going to leave my child with strangers; I will feel guilty about going back to work; I will not hold the job down; I will leave at the first possible opportunity”. If we are in that type of culture, we are in for problems. Perhaps my noble friend can help further about how we can square the circle, as it is difficult. I do not think that any of us has the right answer.
Before the noble Lord responds to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, perhaps I can say that there are times when parents choose to keep their children at home; for example, they are allowed to educate their children at home. It may be that a mother has a really strong conscientious objection to her child being put into a nursery. What is the position then?
I say to my noble friend Lady Hollis, who, as ever, expresses the dilemma very well and very clearly, that the regulations which will flow, whether or not they are embedded in whole or in part in the Bill, will set out non-exhaustive circumstances. At the moment there is, and will continue to be, flexibility for the decision-maker to take account of considerations which are not specified in the regulations. I am sure that we would all support that. At the end of the day, the test of reasonableness is a common-law test in which all considerations relevant to the decision need to be balanced in coming to a sensible judgment. That is not unique to these circumstances and I readily accept, at least at the margins, that it is difficult. Ultimately, judgments will need to be made. From applying these kinds of considerations currently, I am not aware that there is a whole host of considerations which arise where there is a challenge and the appeals process is engaged, but I will go back on some data to try to get a handle on the scale of these issues. It is a dilemma but at the end of the day there is a tried and tested process which, overwhelmingly, meets the requirements both of Jobcentre Plus but also of individuals.
The Minister is being very helpful. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that it is evident that you cannot give a parent a veto without driving a coach and horses through the legislation. The language used by the Minister was much more positive today than previously but I wonder whether he would undertake to think about this. Clause 1 is an employment programme and this is a broader problem which goes across all benefits as regards childcare provision. Would the department be able to track the sanctions referrals which flowed directly from a challenge about childcare in the early stages of the introduction of this legislation, whenever it is introduced, so that over a period of time Parliament could be advised subsequently whether this was the extent of the problem which some of us think it might be? Some 800,000 sanctions were dished out in the year to August 2008, which is a huge number. That is likely to increase because of this legislation. Some reassurance would be afforded to colleagues if there were some departmental research on that subject which could be reported back to Parliament so that we can look at it again as I suspect that there may be another welfare reform Bill along quite soon and that would give us a chance to address the matter again.
I get the impression that there is a hidden agenda here. The Bill and regulations rely on the good sense and training of the individual personal adviser. I rather wonder whether some of the worries expressed are not perhaps suspicions about the training of that personal adviser. Whether or not that is fair—and I have an amendment a little later that tries to elucidate the point—it is a general worry around the Committee.
I think that we are dealing with just one amendment now.
Perhaps I may deal with the amendments in reverse order. I say to the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Skelmersdale, and the noble Countess, Lady Mar, that training issues are of course important. They have to be addressed, and we will shortly be having a full debate on them. That applies particularly to advisers recognising people with mental health conditions, learning disabilities and fluctuating conditions. I know that that is a longstanding and challenging issue.
In response to the inquiry from the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, it is intended that these pilots or pathfinders will be fully evaluated. I certainly see part of the evaluation covering the extent to which sanctions may flow from them and the circumstances in which that will happen. In response to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and the issue of lone parents of younger children being able to choose to stay at home, let me be clear again—they can. Nothing in the Bill requires lone parents to look for work if their youngest child is younger than seven. The “work for your benefit” provisions are for those subject to the full JSA conditionality, which eventually will involve lone parents where the youngest child is as young as seven. We have not reached that yet. People in the progression-to-work group cannot be directed to work under those processes. If my memory serves me right, I think that good cause would certainly cover issues around religious objections to requirements.
We have spent some time on this amendment but it is a very important one. Perhaps I may pick up on issues around mental health. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who said he thought that there was official denial of these issues. There has been huge effort across government to examine mental health issues, and I would assert that some progress has been made. There is certainly more to be done. As the noble Lord is probably aware, a cross-government strategy is being drawn up, headed by Dame Carol Black, to look at employment and mental health. There has been progress in Jobcentre Plus, with mental health co-ordinators being embedded in the Jobcentre Plus districts. There have also been developments in IAPT—improved access to psychological therapies—with employment advisers being embedded in that approach as well. There was a recent announcement by the former Secretary of State, James Purnell, about the programmes that are known to work for those with serious mental health conditions. The employment of people in that category has not proved good and that will be evaluated, focusing particularly on some of the Sainsbury centre proposals and experience around placing people and training them, rather than training them and then seeking to place them. I recall that there are also issues about engaging with people who come through the Prison Service as well, though I do not have the detail at my fingertips.
The Government are serious about and focused on this issue. It is certainly an important issue, and certainly more progress needs to be made. Much rests on the training that Jobcentre Plus staff receive. We will have an opportunity fully to debate that in due course.
I am very grateful to the Minister for that explanation. My reference to the culture of disbelief was focused not so much on mental health as on good cause and the points surrounding reasons for not doing something. I am conscious of the work on a lot of mental health issues. I am very grateful for that and am taking part in some of it.
I am grateful for that intervention. I would like to stress one other point. In this process, it is not the adviser who makes decisions on sanctions but the decision-maker. Therefore, there are training issues relating to advisers and the approach that they take, but there are also training issues for decision-makers.
I hope that with that rather extensive consideration of a very important matter, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment, at least on this occasion. I take seriously the thrust of the comments about the potential benefits of having something more specific in the Bill.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. It has been incredibly lively and helpful. In that regard, I thank the Minister for the number of undertakings that he gave during his response. In particular, I was very grateful for his assurance about the wording of regulations—that is, that the Secretary of State must or shall take account of the definition of good cause. That is a tremendous concession, if I can call it that.
I was also very grateful for the Minister’s assurance to the Committee—perhaps it is a reality anyway—that people with mental health problems will receive a home visit before any sanction is applied. That is incredibly important and valuable for an awful lot of people. I am also pleased that the Minister has undertaken to look at the possibility of being more specific in the Bill on the definition of “good cause”. Of course, that is the whole point of the amendment, so it is a tremendous step forward and I am very grateful for that. I hope that, as well as trying to achieve it, he will be able to follow it through and actually achieve it.
Finally, the Minister’s assurance concerning a parent’s right to make a decision about specific childcare provision was also very good and helpful, and it will reassure parents up and down the country. That was a remarkably positive response to the debate and I thank him very much. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
13: Clause 1, page 2, line 28, leave out “26” and insert “13”
The two amendments in this group constitute what I hope will be a fairly quick probe. First, I seek information on sanctions. Subsection (6) seems to be a repetition of the order that I mentioned in the debate on the previous amendment. Six months for a renegade participant to be without any means of support to live is a very long time. I accept two things. The first is that hardship payments are available, although they will, I believe, be the bare minimum payment and certainly less than the £64.30 JSA, which is the current weekly amount, as otherwise there would be no sanction at all. I do not know whether the Minister can tell us what the current weekly hardship payments are.
I also accept that the 26-week period is the ultimate sanction and that the participant would have to have ignored the personal adviser’s requests on several occasions for it to operate, but how many occasions constitute “several”? Does the Minister envisage that anyone will get to this point of having very little to live on for 26 weeks? Indeed, as this penalty is already on the statute book, can he tell me whether, and when, the full 26-week sanction has ever been invoked? Does he have any case studies, or was the original objective to make the sanction so severe that it was expected never to be needed? I hope that the latter is the case.
Amendment 14 seeks to leave out lines 34 to 40 of subsection (8). The notes on Clauses say that the purpose of subsections (8) and (9) is to allow participants who are subject to a sanction to receive hardship payments. However, subsection (8) is unclear on this. It says that JSA may be payable. That is not exactly clear. The Grand Committee will note, however, that subsection (9) is much less specific. It says in paragraph (b) that the payment will be,
“payable at a prescribed rate”.
However, it may not be paid at all, so I am getting more and more confused about this. I cannot see that these two subsections of new Section 17A gel in the least. I would be grateful, therefore, if the Minister would be more explicit than the somewhat inexplicit Explanatory Notes. I beg to move.
I acknowledge that this is a probing amendment. I am grateful for the opportunity of developing the issues around sanctions and hardship. However, the amendments as they stand would dilute the powers that we have to sanction individual claimants in “work for your benefit”, and to provide hardship payments for them if we do so.
By applying a maximum of a 13-week sanction we would be applying a potentially weaker sanction to “work for your benefit” than we would to the Flexible New Deal. This would significantly undermine the programme. Part of the rationale for the new jobseekers regime, of which the Flexible New Deal and “work for your benefit” are part, is that conditionality increases over time, as does the support underpinning that conditionality. This is absolutely the right approach. Mandatory programmes are far more effective in engaging claimants than voluntary ones, and engagement becomes even more vital as claimants remain on benefit for long periods.
Sanctions are an essential part of any mandatory system. A mandatory programme without a sanction to back it up is not a mandatory scheme at all. Sanctions should be seen in this light, as an aid to engaging those who need support most, not punishing them. Of course there is a very easy way to avoid being sanctioned in the first place, which is to engage with the programme. That brings us to the nature of the sanction. We intend in “work for your benefit” to replicate existing sanctions provision for employment programmes, including the Flexible New Deal. There is no reason why this should not be the case. In fact, by watering down the sanction for “work for your benefit” through this sanction we would be sending the message that somehow it was less important than earlier stages of the support programme, which is far from the case.
I know that there have been concerns that a 26-week sanction is too long and that the fixed nature of the sanction means that there is no incentive for a claimant to re-engage with the support on offer. This is a genuine concern that in some respects we share, and we will look at ways that we can lift a 26-week sanction part-way through if the claimant re-engages with the “work for your benefit” programme. However, we cannot and should not shy away from the principle that claimants have a responsibility to take steps to get back to work, and that as the length of the claim progresses they should be doing more to achieve that aim.
It may also be helpful for me to confirm that all provisions relating to good cause and to appeals will still apply in “work for your benefit” in the same way that they do now, as we have just discussed. This is also the case with hardship provision, which we will carry forward into the new programme. The rationale for hardship payments is to ensure that where a vulnerable jobseeker is sanctioned, they, and in some cases their dependants, are not made destitute. Hardship payments provide protection for claimants with children who rely on benefit income to support them. It would, after all, be wrong to penalise children for the failures of their parents.
Hardship payments are paid at various rates depending on circumstances, typically around 60 per cent of the normal personal allowance rate. The only way for a claimant to get the full benefit rate is to avoid a benefit sanction in the first place and to take up the support on offer. That is the right thing to do. We would not accept a system where parents or those with mental health conditions were not subject to any form of sanction; that is the essence of a passive welfare state that every major economy has now rejected. These amendments would create real doubt about our ability to run a hardship system. I hope that this gives the reassurance the noble Lord is looking for.
I shall deal specifically with the amounts that will be involved. The hardship payment is paid not at the full rate of income-based JSA but at a reduced rate of the applicant’s personal allowance, which is currently £64.30 for an individual aged over 25. The reduction is either by 20 per cent or 40 per cent, depending on certain characteristics. Where the claimant, a member of the family or a member of a joint-claim couple is pregnant or seriously ill, the reduction is 20 per cent, and a 40 per cent reduction is applied if the claimant belongs to a vulnerable group. For a weekly JSA personal allowance for someone aged 25 or over, the hardship payment at the 80 per cent rate would amount to £48.40. Income-based JSA would be paid at the same rate. If it were a payment rate of 60 per cent, it would be £36.30 per week. For lone parents aged 18 or over, a similar 80 per cent rate would be £48.40 and £36.30 for the 60 per cent rate. My understanding is that only the basic rate applies and would not impact on entitlement to, for example, council tax benefit and housing benefit. I hope that that is the information the noble Lord is seeking.
I would be extremely grateful for that. It certainly is not the point of this probing amendment to make these sanctions weaker than the New Deal and I am grateful to the Minister for his comment that the system will lift sanctions for re-engagement. Whether that is an absolute guarantee or whether it depends on the individual circumstances of the case, I am not entirely sure. None the less, whichever way it is, it is helpful as far as it goes.
Of course it is wrong to penalise children for the actions of their parents, but we are not necessarily talking about parents with children in this clause. Indeed, if there are children, the income will be more than the £64.30 quoted by the Minister because of the family premium payment of £17.30 and £56.11 for each dependent child. Moreover, there may well be housing benefit, council tax benefit, family credit and so on. I am sorry, family credit would not apply in this case. However, other benefits are involved. Unless the Minister wants to come back to me, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Perhaps I may respond briefly on the specific point about lifting sanctions. We are looking at ways of lifting them part-way through. This is something we want to do in the flexible New Deal and carry forward into the “work for your benefit” provisions. It is something which is on the radar and we are trying to see how we might best achieve it.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
Amendment 14 not moved.
15: Clause 1, page 2, line 40, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations under this section must make provision to ensure providers of the schemes—
(a) submit to the Secretary of State data showing the number of participants with a disability at every stage of the scheme by impairment category; (b) are required to show how they will meet the needs of participants with particular disabilities.”
I shall speak also to Amendment 21. I thank noble Lords who have added their names—unbidden by me, I hasten to add—to these amendments. To their support I can add that of 27 other organisations from outside this Committee, including Leonard Cheshire Disability, Age Concern, the National AIDS Trust, RNID, Macmillan Cancer Support, Mind and, of course, the charity of which I am president, Mencap. I hope that at the end of this short debate, the Minister will add his name to that list as well.
In a nutshell, the effect of these amendments would be to monitor the impact of these reforms by category of disability. “Category of disability” is a rather clumsy phrase, but it is what I have been told to say. The provision of these data will allow the Government to track and evaluate how well the reforms will assist the different categories of people with disability into work. The amendments will ensure that this new benefits system works for everyone, no matter what their type of disability. It will guard against any group being left behind on the equality agenda.
Support for the aim of these amendments is not limited to the charity sector. A report from the Work and Pensions Committee, published in April this year, recommended that,
“the Government monitors progress [in employment] by physical impairment, mental illness and learning disability … to ascertain whether more progress is being made in some groups of disabled people than in others”.
This monitoring and evaluating is essential in order to assess whether the reforms are working accurately and appropriately for all different types of disability, including those furthest from the labour market, such as those with a learning disability.
The Minister’s department’s report on the disability equality duty, published in December last year, acknowledges that,
“Although there has been an overall improvement in the employment rate of disabled people, there remains a wide variation in employment rates for different impairment types. In particular, the employment rate of people with learning difficulties remains low”.
As I said at Second Reading, Mencap estimates that this employment rate for people with a learning disability is as low as 17 per cent. That compares to 49 per cent for all disabled people and 74 per cent for the population as a whole. The last decade has seen no improvement in these figures. This is despite the fact that 65 per cent of people with a learning disability want to work. With the inclusion of these amendments I have put forward today, the Bill gives the Government power truly to tackle this injustice.
Those opposed to these amendments—I cannot believe that that relates to anyone present—say that we are asking the Government to micromanage providers. They are mistaken; we are simply asking that their payment and contracts model recognises the fact that people with different impairments experience particular types of barriers to equal participation. There has been very effective progress in other fields of equality, such as race, on identifying priorities for action by focusing on sub-group categorisations. The same approach must be taken for disability.
I have every reason to think that the Minister and his colleagues in the DWP are supportive of these amendments. Indeed, at the launch of the White Paper that preceded the Bill, the then Secretary of State confirmed that this new system would monitor the impact of these reforms by category of disability. Of course, the Minister kindly organised a meeting for me with the Bill team to discuss these amendments only a few weeks ago. I was delighted to be told that they were considering putting forward an amendment on this very issue on Report. When the Minister responds, perhaps he will be able to elaborate further on his intentions. We need a commitment to this monitoring in the Bill. As we heard at Second Reading, the number of references to regulations in the Bill is already at an alarming 387, and adding yet another when this amendment can be neatly fitted into the Bill should not be considered.
The weight of demand for these amendments to stand as part of the Bill is immense. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively. I beg to move.
I am very much in sympathy with the research project that is envisaged, but will the noble Lord, Lord Rix, explain the concept of “equality” in this context? It seems to me that certain types of disability might mean that there are not enough jobs available for that category of person. How then can you have equality?
Of course there will always, regrettably, be a shortage of jobs for people with a learning disability; it is sine qua non that they have far greater trouble obtaining employment than perhaps those in any other category of impairment. However, if the Government do not monitor the response to the Bill for disabled people, and it turns out that everyone who is an amputee is being given work but people with mental health problems or learning disabilities are right at the back of the queue, it will be clear that the advisers are not doing their work properly. It is therefore essential that these numbers are judged.
I tried to explain this at Second Reading. Mencap started the pathway employment service in 1976 in Cardiff and it spread around the country. The pathway employment officer, who was the equivalent of the adviser, made sure that the person with the learning disability would fit into the job that the employer wished to offer, that they were trained specifically for that job and that when they entered that job they had a foster worker who was with them for at least six weeks to ensure that they went through all the processes correctly, including clocking on and off. I am afraid that it will probably have to work like that with this larger enterprise. It is a matter of support for individuals.
I put my name to the amendment because I agree with it in principle. I am delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that the Minister is at least in sympathy. However, I hope that he does not go quite as far as the amendment has gone. None the less, I congratulate the noble Lord on his ability to bring the problems of people with mental illnesses to our attention so early in the Bill.
I apologise. The problems are in identification. If they are self-confessed, all well and good, but if not, it depends again on someone in the jobcentre having the right sort of training. I clearly misread this amendment; I had anticipated that it referred particularly to mental illness, as opposed—
To clarify, this amendment is about all disabled people and all categories of disability. That includes learning disability and mental illness, but they are not exclusive to this amendment. The amendment covers all forms of disability: loss of sight, loss of hearing, loss of limbs and so on.
In that case, I will continue in the way that I started and intended.
As I was saying, the first problem is identification. It is easy enough when the illness is confessed—being on drugs to ameliorate that illness, and so on—but when the illness is not self-confessed, problems can occur. An example of this might be a physical illness such as some types of ME or, following surgery, depression, which might spiral down to deep depression. We have been told that personal advisers are already trained to detect mental illness, but I understand that this training amounts to a three-day course. Here I invite the Minister to correct me if I am wrong.
I thought not. My point is that only psychiatrists and psychiatric triage nurses, whose training is long and arduous, have a hope of detecting difficult cases. Therefore, it is unlikely that personal advisors will arrive at the right conclusion and that will happen, if it happens at all, even before the scheme in Clause 1 comes into operation.
If—it is a big if—the participant is correctly diagnosed for the Secretary of State’s purposes for moving him closer to, or ideally into, the job market, the next thing is to choose the scheme that is right for him. This may involve him going to a doctor for the appropriate drugs, a confidence-building course, part-time voluntary work, or possibly, if a suitable employer can be found, part-time work—all the things that we have heard about as we have progressed through the early stages of the Bill. It is hoped that all that will progress him into paid work. As the Government have acknowledged, the right support and assistance is vital in helping participants to get back into work. I agree with Rethink and its fellow travellers that it is necessary to learn from the mistakes that are inevitable in the early stages of the operation of this Bill. I will have more to say about that when we come to the issue of piloting.
For now, however, I support the idea behind this grouping introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. The Minister will, I suspect, say that the amendments go too far, but I hope that the Secretary of State will monitor what is going on. That monitoring should start in the jobcentre and continue through the scheme’s progress. The problem with the amendments as they stand—unless I have misread them—is that there must be a report on every impairment category. Is that wise? How does the noble Lord, Lord Rix, intend to break down these categories? I doubt from what he has said that he means there to be only two categories: namely, physical and mental. How would he categorise those with a physical disability, but with a mild or serious mental consequence, which I mentioned earlier? Is being in a wheelchair a category or would he break down the categories of wheelchair users into the reasons why people are in a wheelchair? I could go on but I hope I have made my point.
On the second part of the first amendment, I have a small problem regarding the issue of where monitoring is required on the contractors, who presumably will report on their subcontractors. Surely there is no point in monitoring what is going to happen. The Government need to know what has happened, so that when the piloting stage ends and the schemes are evaluated before being rolled out nationwide, the Government will have the data needed to evaluate the pilots, based on what has happened, rather than on what will, might or even could happen.
In summary, while I support the principle of these amendments, I am afraid that I cannot support them as they stand. I suspect that the Minister is in the same position.
Before the Minister responds, perhaps I may say that internationally recognised means of measurement already exist, such as those used by the World Health Organisation, including the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, and the ICD-10—the International Classification of Diseases. Furthermore, my later amendments refer to the training of personal advisers. If they are properly trained, it is their duty to recognise the various forms of disability. You do not have to carry an enormous sign saying, “I have a learning disability”. Most people with a learning disability—of whom about 600,000 of the 1.5 million in this country would like to work—probably carry identification of one form or another which shows that they are in receipt of disability allowances. That would make it clear that they have a learning disability.
I, too, support the amendments, particularly Amendment 15, because it covers the needs of participants with particular disabilities—in other words, all disabilities. I speak with the benefit, if I can call it that, of some experience, because recently I have become partially disabled due to a mobility problem. When you have a mobility problem, you sometimes feel that the whole world has been designed entirely for able-bodied people, because the resources for coping with it are poor. If you cannot move very easily, there is an enormous range of activities that you simply cannot do. This amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, seeks to cover all classes of disability. I thoroughly support it.
The outsourcing of government services to companies, charities and voluntary organisations is now commonplace, but many of us are concerned, as the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, about how these non-government bodies will be monitored in the particularly sensitive area of “work for your benefit” schemes. We are still talking about Clause 1. We are not talking about people on ESA at the moment, because that is not this part of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, there are a huge number of people with different disabilities—I am one—and we need to know how these outside bodies are performing in providing the right support for the different groups under this part of the Bill. One of the problems is that many people fall into more than one impairment category, and this would make the whole monitoring exercise difficult, not to say expensive. But without this evidence, how will we know whether these outside bodies are fulfilling their remit and not cherry-picking those easiest to place in employment? We do not know how the contracts are being drawn up, but by putting this requirement on the face of the Bill we will be reassured that progress on the employment of all jobseekers with disabilities is being monitored. It will also be very helpful to know whether the doubling of the budget of Access to Work, for example, is working. This would provide some evidence. So we strongly support the amendment. We believe that it is not beyond the wit of man to devise a good scheme for monitoring people with disabilities by impairment category.
I support the amendment. I think we have to get real about what happens in practice. What normally happens in all departments of state is that they implement a law; they do not know how it works in practice; and then they go and engage a social research unit from an important university to set about a huge research project to find out whether it worked. I have been involved in several of those projects myself. The researchers then go back to the department to get the data but the data do not exist. With the Mental Health Act legislation, for example, no information at all about its implementation in certain groups was collected for about 15 years after 1980. They had no idea about the categories of people subject to it. We know from research literature from the United States that there are certain categories of people who have not done very well with these schemes. They will probably be in the minority and will be hidden in the generality of the results produced about how many people are moving into work and work-related activity. You will not see them because they will be totally lost in the data and the statistics will not show them.
We should therefore ensure that we are collecting sufficient data which can at least be translated into information. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, that is not that difficult. Practically all the categories of people we are talking about always carry with them evidence concerning which category they fall into. It can be a very private thing but you will not be breaching medically confidential information. People will need to give this information to their employment advisers regardless. There could be some very simple categories. One might suspect from existing research that some broad categories do not do very well whereas others may do very well indeed. Losing that information in the generality would be a great shame. So I should resist the amendment from the point of view of my colleague researchers in universities who will be lumbered with trying to fathom it in 15 years’ time.
Like everyone who has spoken in this debate I fully support the sentiment behind it. I acknowledge the long experience of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, in campaigning, in dealing with these issues, and particularly in focusing on learning disabilities, although I acknowledge that this amendment is focused more widely. However, I do not necessarily agree that primary legislation is the way to achieve this aim. The amendments would require providers to monitor and report—we should focus on the fact that we are talking about “work for your benefit”, which concerns providers and not Jobcentre Plus provision—by impairment category, the number of participants with a disability at every stage of the “work for your benefit” scheme, and the amendments would require the Secretary of State to evaluate those data.
Placing a statutory duty on providers by asking for such detailed information, particularly in a programme designed for jobseekers, is, I suggest, a step too far. It would place a considerable reporting burden on providers and could divert resources away from support and into administration. A balance must be struck between seeking information that helps to inform policy-making, ensuring that the information gathered is appropriate and that it represents a responsible use of resources.
However, I reassure noble Lords that we will put in place a comprehensive evaluation of the “work for your benefit” scheme and will publish the findings. I very much take on board the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, has just made. We must seek to avoid such an evaluation 15 years after the event, when there are no data. Our approach will include looking at the experiences of jobseekers with health conditions or disabilities without placing undue burdens on organisations which are trying to deliver employment support. I certainly undertake to engage further with the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and with other noble Lords who wish to participate, when we focus on how this evaluation might proceed. We would certainly benefit from the experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy.
The amendment also requires providers to specify what support they will put in place for those with specific impairments. This change is more problematic. The entire direction of welfare reform is, quite rightly, to treat jobseekers as individuals and to determine, in partnership with them, what support they need, and not to make broad assumptions about their capabilities or barriers to work based only on what disability they have. The best people to determine exactly what support is needed are the advisers and suppliers who work with the jobseekers, after discussion with the jobseekers themselves. I believe that the amendment could seriously undermine that approach. It would also introduce a risk that providers would concentrate support on those who fell under the ambit of the amendment, possibly to the detriment of others with different barriers to employment. It is more effective to ensure that we have sufficient contractual arrangements in place whereby all jobseekers receive the support that they need, whether or not they have a disability.
I assure noble Lords that “work for your benefit” contracts will require suppliers to support the Secretary of State in her duty to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people, as well as being exemplars in meeting their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act. Not only will the DWP’s contract-management arrangements monitor delivery in this regard, but customers will have the opportunity to discuss any problems or concerns with Jobcentre Plus. Indeed, we intend that Jobcentre Plus personal advisers will review with customers their needs before they are referred to “work for your benefit”. This will ensure that providers have a clear idea of the barriers and circumstances in individual cases.
I welcome the noble Lord’s contribution to this debate, and I think that that is probably where the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, is in his approach to this issue. I am willing to speak to him further about how we can ensure that those with learning disabilities are not disadvantaged, but I do not believe that these amendments are the right way to go. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, quoted data relating to those with learning disabilities and how far away they are from the labour market in comparison with others. I am very clear that that cannot be allowed to continue. We need to understand what is getting in the way of making further improvements for such people, and I believe that, by working together through an evaluation process, we can make such improvements.
I am not an expert; I defer to colleagues who know more about this than me, but I refer to my declared interest on day one as a non-executive member of the Wise Group. We undertake contracts such as these and hope to continue to be engaged in that in future. It would be impossible to generate the data which the amendment, which I support, requires unless it was an item in the contract between Jobcentre Plus and the Wise Group, or whoever. If that contract term is missing, there is no way that we can get the data that the academics are all waiting to work on. I would like an assurance. There is an argument about money and resources, but it is essential that the contracts for providers contain a requirement to deliver, or in some way capture, the data that the amendment covers.
It is certainly important and will be part of the contractual arrangements to which providers have to have regard that they make sure that they cater for all customers referred to them under the provisions, as well as fulfilling their ongoing obligations under the DDA. Part of the approach to evaluation—there are noble Lords here who are more able and understand the issues better than me—will be to undertake qualitative research to seek to understand the journey that people have or have not made. We should recognise that we are talking initially about pilots or pathfinders, not national rollout. We envisage that evaluation will not wait for long. When we have developed the “work for your benefit” specification, we will certainly look again at what monitoring requirements ought to be in the contracts.
Perhaps I can conclude by giving assurances about the planned evaluation of our contractual arrangements as the right approach, rather than the detailed prescription of what record keeping providers have to undertake. I hang on to the point that although we have made really good progress in supporting people in moving closer to and into the labour market, for some that journey is still a long way off. That is unacceptable and we cannot allow it to continue.
I am obviously disappointed that the Minister cannot agree with me completely at the outset. I look forward to meeting him before Report, when we may consider the question of evaluation, and so on, to see whether we can come up with a different amendment that the Government can agree to at Report. It could quite simply be included in the Bill to ensure that contracts say what they mean. I thank all noble Lords, even the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for their support for the amendments.
As I said at the outset, many major charitable organisations representing all manner of disabilities are keen to have some form of evaluation in the Bill. I will be seeking their thoughts when they have had a chance to read the Minister's response. I, too, will enjoy reading the Minister's response, because I have a rather hidden disability: I suffer from tinnitus. Therefore, on these occasions, I have two boiling kettles in each ear, so it is rather difficult to hear what everyone is saying, but thank you all the same. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
16: Clause 1, page 2, leave out lines 44 and 45
For the avoidance of doubt, I am at it again—probing, that is. New Section 17A(9)(a) speaks of hardship payments being payable only if,
“prescribed requirements as to the provision of information are complied with”.
Hardship payments should be paid only to people who, for whatever reason, lose their income-based jobseeker’s allowance and have little or no other money to live on. This, we believe, is the right approach in a civilized society. However, the question arises of how detailed these prescribed requirements are to be. How, in other words, will the responsible Jobcentre Plus officer establish that hardship payments are warranted? Knowledge of the state of bank accounts and credit card statements spring to mind, but what else?
My other question is: since hardship payments already exist in legislation, as we discussed a few moments ago, why does provision have to be made for them in the Bill? I am also confused by the juxtaposition of subsection (9)(b) and subsection (6), which is why I have tabled Amendment 17. In what circumstances may the prescribed period be different in each case? I beg to move.
I endorse the line of inquiry that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, is pursuing. It would be remiss of us if we did not spend some time looking at hardship as it applies to welfare-to-work and the “work for your benefit” provisions in Clause 1.
In any case, I am worried about statutory deductions. A lot of the client group that we are talking about who may be faced with the provisions of Clause 1 are families who are already subject to such deductions. I have always been concerned about the interface between the hardship regime, which seeks to protect members of the family, and statutory deductions—for example, for repayments of loans that have come from the social fund.
Professor Gregg, who is my guru for the purposes of this Grand Committee, says that there is a risk of disengagement and dispossession in families who go completely out of the system altogether. That drags them in the direction of addiction, crime and the grey economy. That can all be foreseen, and we must try to make provision for it. Careful attention to how the hardship provisions interface with statutory deductions, disconnection from a law-abiding life and a timely return to work are proper concerns, and if the Minister can say anything to reassure us about these issues then the Grand Committee will be the better for it. I am happy to support the amendments on that basis.
These amendments, like Amendment 14, relate to hardship. Before I begin to address these specific amendments, I should repeat that we intend to replicate in “work for your benefit” the hardship provisions that currently apply in jobseeker’s allowance. These amendments would damage our ability to do that but I accept that they are probing amendments.
Amendment 16 focuses specifically on the requirement for claimants to provide information allowing decisions on hardship to be made. I think it is self-evident that the information provided by claimants about their personal circumstances is vital in determining whether they receive a hardship payment. No reasonable decision could be made without such information. I also believe it is reasonable that the onus is on the customers to demonstrate why they feel that they would suffer hardship without the payments. We are talking here about a group of jobseekers who are capable of work and will have been found, by a decision-maker, to be failing in their responsibility to engage with employment support. It should not be an onerous task to provide basic details of their own personal circumstances to facilitate a decision on hardship payment. When that is provided, the information, backed up where necessary by further verification, will be used to determine whether they qualify for a payment.
Amendment 17 would remove some clarity from the Bill surrounding the ways in which we could use the hardship regime. The wording, as it stands, makes it clear that a hardship payment would not necessarily have to last for the entire length of a sanction. We would not, for example, want a claimant to continue to get hardship payments for the length of their sanction if they were no longer in hardship due to their circumstances having changed. That would make a nonsense of the hardship regime. Although the amendment would not necessarily prevent us achieving this aim, it would introduce potential doubt about the scope of the powers. It would also make the drafting inconsistent with previous and similar powers elsewhere in social security legislation and would risk introducing unnecessary complexity and confusion into the legislation. Specific information which might be needed could include birth certificates, child benefit books, a note from a doctor, a repeat prescription, or details of someone for whom the claimant has caring responsibilities, such as award notices or bank or building society statements.
The noble Lord asked why we are taking hardship provisions in the Bill if they already exist elsewhere. Although provisions exist elsewhere, we need provision here to enable payments to be made to participants in this scheme. One reason for including these provisions is to ensure that our policy on “work for your benefit” is transparent rather than simply constructing it through regulations under existing powers. The level of information required will depend on the circumstances but decision-makers must be satisfied on the balance of probabilities.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, pressed me on a wider matter. He asked: if statutory deductions are applicable, how will that interrelate with the hardship regime? We do not envisage that there will be a change from the existing arrangements, but I shall write to him on that. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
I am, again, very grateful to the Minister. I am glad to hear that the onus is on the customer rather than on the officer to seek to prise that information out of the customer. Clearly customers will reveal their personal circumstances. Perhaps they would be a little reluctant to produce their bank statements, credit card statements or building society statements, or even a doctor’s letter or birth certificate. Surely, there must be some degree of compulsion in this requirement. The Minister has explained very well why we need to make a reference to hardship payments within the context of Clause 1. It is because the existing ones do not cover the clause as it is not yet enacted. I am also glad to hear why the prescribed period is different in each case. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.
Amendment 17 not moved.
18: Clause 1, page 2, line 48, at end insert—
“( ) The prescribed rate shall not be less than that normally paid to workers in the same employment.”
I have been contacted by the TUC on various aspects of the Bill, with particular reference to “work for your benefit” schemes. It is not surprising that the TUC contacted me, because I was for many years a member of the TUC General Council. The issue at stake for the TUC is the undesirability, in its view, of what it sees as unfree and unpaid labour. Obviously, requiring people to do work experience in return for their benefit is not as serious as extreme forms of compulsory work, but it is within the same spectrum. Equally, schemes that produce an hourly rate well below the minimum wage are not in the same class as unpaid work, but, in the view of the TUC, they are still a form of exploitation.
A separate requirement of justice to other workers requires that no compulsory or unpaid work scheme should ever cover economic work—that is, work that would otherwise be undertaken by workers with employment rights paid the rate for the job. It is felt that that is unfair to workers in employment when they face competition from workers who are paid much less than them and have inferior rights. Workers whose pay and conditions are most likely to be undermined in such a situation are often the lowest paid and most vulnerable.
In addition to being unfair, according to abstract principles of justice, mandatory unpaid work experience is, in the view of the TUC, not an effective active labour market policy. The failure to pay a proper wage in a work experience programme can undermine its effectiveness. The TUC believes that employers are often not impressed when a job applicant’s CV includes a period spent in such activity. The TUC says that the impact on a participant’s morale and motivation is unlikely to be very good.
I place these amendments before the Committee. I should be very interested to hear the response of the Minister, because this view is apparently strongly held by the TUC, and it is important that, if the scheme is to be effective, unions should at least be benevolently inclined towards it. I beg to move.
There is a lot of concern among a lot of people, not just the TUC, that it would be invidious if benefit claimants were working full time, for more than a week or two, alongside a person who was doing exactly the same job but receiving a proper wage. Under the Bill, the claimant could potentially be working alongside that fully waged person for up to six months. It is worth saying that in the other place, the honourable Member who is the successor to my noble friend as chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee thought that these people could be working for six weeks. That was what was said during the Report stage in the Commons—but it is up to six months. I should be very interested to hear what the Minister says.
I must say, especially after what we have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that I am curious to hear what the Minister has to say in response to the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, is concerned that workers under the scheme will, by being paid less than the going rate, either end up on less than the minimum wage or undercut existing workers by working essentially for free.
However, they are not working for free, are they? They are still on benefit, and that is the whole point of the exercise. There may be an argument that they are taking work away from other potential employees. I could understand that, but surely it is in the interests of the unions to obtain more members—union membership has been declining for many years—and the way they are going to get new members is by having members in employment.
The Child Poverty Action Group has described the provisions in the Bill as “workfare”, with which I disagree, but it has come up with a figure of £1.73 per hour by combining current JSA rates with a 35-hour week as the amount that some participants may get. I think the noble Baroness is also getting at this. I do not think that this is an accurate way of regarding back-to-work schemes where people are being moved into the labour market. However, I expect that the Minister will enjoy the opportunity to put the record straight by saying that the Government do not intend to undermine their own minimum-wage rules.
In that connection, in fairly recent times we have had anecdotal reports of workers being paid less than the minimum wage. Has the Minister any information on this point? If so, what are the Government doing about employers that are breaking the law in this respect? This is all part of the noble Baroness’s argument.
The amendment would entitle participants in a “work for your benefit” programme to payment of jobseeker’s allowance at a rate, fixed in regulations, at the same level as for employees doing similar work. I acknowledge the concerns that have come from the TUC and, at the same time, the sterling work that my noble friend has done over many years with the TUC and trade unions.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked about compliance with the national minimum wage generally. That is outwith my briefing.
In any event, I am delighted that the noble Lord is keen to ensure that the national minimum wage is fully enforced, as are we all. If there are any breaches, we will ensure that the systems in place to investigate and monitor come into operation. That is a key part of tackling poverty in this country, and it has made a significant contribution to it.
The amendment would fundamentally alter the nature of the programme. “Work for your benefit” is not subsidised employment; that is available in other parts of the jobseekers’ regime and at an earlier time. “Work for your benefit” is an employment programme designed to help long-term unemployed people to develop work experience and work habits, but also to provide substantial support to them to capitalise on that experience.
Regulation 12 of the National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999 specifies that a worker who is participating in a scheme,
“designed to provide him with training, work experience or temporary work, or to assist him in seeking or obtaining work … does not qualify for the national minimum wage in respect of work done … as part of that scheme”.
There are other qualifying criteria that have to be met for that exemption to operate, particularly when work trials last for longer than six weeks, but there is recognition under those regulations at the moment that there is a difference between a work experience operation and work to which the national minimum wage should apply.
The ultimate aim of the programme is to get people into the open labour market and into work. By paying benefit at wage rates, incentives to do that are diluted, particularly for those who may be experiencing a work environment for the first time in a long while. “Work for your benefit” could be seen as an alternative to work, and that is not why the scheme is designed as it is. However, I assure the Committee that “work for your benefit” will not replace existing jobs. We will make it clear to providers that any work experience placements must be in addition to existing or planned vacancies and cannot be used to replace existing workers. That will be written into contract specifications.
I believe that it is entirely reasonable for the criteria to be counted as part of the evaluation and I am reassured by the nods of assent from the Box. We are keen to work with the TUC and others as we develop plans for the pilots to ensure that proper controls are in place. We will not allow “work for your benefit” participants to take the place of fairly recruited and paid workers. I hope that that is an assurance for my noble friend and the noble Lord. The thrust of this is really to help people to get back into the labour market, particularly those who have been away from it for a long time. It will give them a chance. We all want to be in employment and to be able to look forward to a prosperous and fulfilled future.
First, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. I am glad to hear that he is fully in support of the minimum wage. I also thank the Minister for his assurances about the kind of jobs that will be included in these schemes and the undertaking that there will be consultation with the TUC and other interested parties in regard to the introduction of the pilot schemes. They will be received with some gratification by the TUC. I understand also that job evaluation is to take place to ensure that the pilots do not consist of the same sort of employment. I thank the Minister and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 18 withdrawn.
19: Clause 1, page 3, line 14, leave out “(by whatever means)”
I was tempted to table an amendment to leave out subsection (1) of new Section 17B in its entirety, but I doubt whether the Clerks in the Public Bill Office would have let me get away with it since paragraphs (c), (d) and (e) are money provisions and thus the province of another place, not your Lordships’ House. My next thought was to add yet another probing amendment to leave out paragraphs (a) and (b), which may have made it easier for the Minister to see what I was getting at. As it is, I chose just to leave out the words “by whatever means” in paragraph (b) to discover exactly what the proposal is here.
To my mind, the Secretary of State does not need to make arrangements for anyone in the department, including jobcentre personnel or their workplaces, because he already has adequate powers to do just that, as the Peers’ information pack makes clear. He already has the power to establish new providers, as in the case of the Flexible New Deal. The whole subsection must refer to contractors who are to manage people working for their benefit. The question therefore is what new powers is the Secretary of State seeking with regard to “work for your benefit” programmes that he does not have already?
I also intend to use this amendment to probe the all-important question of how the Flexible New Deal contracts are to be organised. As I said at Second Reading, and the Minister did not contradict me then, they are front-end loaded. As I understand it, the contractor gets 40 per cent originally, 30 per cent after 13 weeks and the last 30 per cent after six months. When this job lasts for only a week or two and the participant loses it, he becomes a new participant in the welfare-to-work provisions. This cannot be the right approach. First, we believe that the contract can be said to have succeeded only when the participant holds down a full-time job for six months, during which time the contractor should be guide and mentor if that is needed. Obviously, he would expect to be paid for this service, which I understand does not exist at the moment. I suggest 25 per cent for taking on the participant, 25 per cent after three months and 50 per cent when the contract can be said to be completed; that is, when the participant has held down a job for six months. Back-end loading of this nature will be a very big incentive to the contractor to concentrate more on individual participants and will remove the temptation to think that any job will do, no matter how long it lasts.
I expect that by the time the welfare-to-work provisions in Clause 1 come into operation, the current very deep recession will have run its course and the economy will be starting to revive. In that scenario, jobcentres will find it relatively easy, as they have in the past, to promote jobs for people who have been unemployed for six months. However, the problems, as we discussed a little earlier, will continue for those who have been unemployed for longer. The Minister cannot deny the fact that the longer someone is out of a job, the harder it is to get back into work. Indeed, the whole premise of welfare to work is based on that fact, and the phrase “long-term unemployed” means being out of a job for more than one year. It therefore seems logical that the longer a person is out of work, the more expensive it will be to get him back into the workforce. Will the contracts reflect that fact? If not, why should a contractor be interested? I am not asking Ministers to break commercial sensitivities here but it would be helpful if the noble Lord could give us some indicative figures because, in essence, my question is: how do Ministers see the contracts working?
Amendment 20 is also in this group. Given that paragraphs (c), (d) and (e) of new Section 17B(1) relate, as I said just now, to money, I am surprised that the Public Bill Office allowed me to table this amendment. However, given that it has, I am going to speak to it. My question is simple. We can all readily understand why fees should be payable for the purposes of paragraphs (a) and (b)—the reasons for which I have just discussed—but we on this side of the Grand Committee believe that the provision for facilities in paragraph (a) should not include physical entities such as buildings, offices and so on. Therefore, why should grants or loans, to say nothing of the wonderful word “otherwise”, which also appears, be appropriate in this context? After all, the grants or loans are open-ended. They could, for example, cover not only offices but the setting up of a totally new entity. I assume that this would cover either contractors or their third-sector sub-contractors.
It has been a long-held policy of my party that the core funding of charities is a no-no and that this should be sought by other means, such as private fundraising, private legacies and so on. The proper use of taxpayers’ money is to commission the third sector to use their good offices, which by definition already exist, to do something that the Government of the day cannot do either as well or as cheaply themselves. An example in the health service, which I was involved in for many years in the past, would be the Stroke Association, of which I was chairman, being paid—that is, the Stroke Association, not me—by primary care trusts to provide speech therapy services for aphasic sufferers. In the context of this Bill, that might mean drop-in or day-care facilities for drug users, for example. Both are fee-based services. What, then, are grants, loans or otherwise to be used for? Why, in essence, do we find them in new Section 17B(1)(a)?
I was going to leave it at that until my attention was drawn to an article in the Financial Times of about a fortnight ago which said that there was already a preferred list of bidders for these various contracts. However, on investigation in another place, I discovered that this had never been announced through government sources. Therefore, I should very much like to know what is going on. I can show the Minister the article if he wishes. It also raises other questions, such as what is almost the contradiction of the £20 million for the pilot schemes that he talked about on Tuesday and the £2 billion to which the article refers. It may of course be a misprint; I simply do not know. However, I do know that the department is slightly ahead of the news that it has released publicly. I beg to move.
These amendments would remove some clarity concerning the scope of the powers that the Secretary of State has to support providers of the “work for your benefit” programme or those who supply related facilities. It would be useful perhaps to clarify the purpose of these powers. First, there may be instances where the Secretary of State wishes to provide facilities to contractors or sub-contractors to ensure that the programme works as well as it can. For example, there may be circumstances where a sub-contractor wants to run a workshop in Jobcentre Plus premises to explain “work for your benefit” to prospective participants, or there may be times when host organisations wish to interview prospective participants and the most sensible place to do that would be in government buildings.
The department will certainly wish to give support by way of guidance and advice to suppliers. It is our intention that this programme will be delivered by private and voluntary sector contractors. We will procure this programme through an open competition. As we are encouraging, through the contracting process, creative delivery and innovation, it would be naïve of us to think that we can predict today how the Secretary of State may be asked to support a truly innovative process. It would be sad indeed if we had to stifle that innovation because there was doubt about whether we had the powers to provide such support. That is the reason why the clause is drafted in such a way. Accepting the noble Lord’s amendment would remove legal clarity, and could, I think, result in timidity in helping providers adopt new ways of helping jobseekers.
In terms of how we will pay providers, we expect that funding will be at least partly outcome-based, in line with the department’s commissioning strategy. This means that the payments could consist of a service fee and at least one type of outcome payment. However, there may be times when the Secretary of State wishes to provide alternative forms of financial support to providers delivering “work for your benefit”. This is not something we are planning, but it is not possible to foresee all the circumstances in which we may wish to provide alternative financial support for providers. During the lifetime of a contract, circumstances may change, as we have seen during the current economic downturn. It would be unfortunate for customers if we could not adopt practical solutions because there was doubt about how we were able to remunerate providers. I can assure noble Lords that these sections of the clause are in no way sinister and exist solely to ensure that we provide the best support we can to jobseekers in a range of circumstances, not all of which we can predict.
I should also point out that this section will simply replicate the legislative approach we took with the employment zones in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999. The intent is entirely benign.
The noble Lord made reference to an article in the Financial Times about a list of preferred bidders and I am advised that that preferred list is on the DWP website. There is nothing secret about it. The noble Lord made reference to the shape of the contractual arrangements for Flexible New Deal. I should stress that it does not necessarily follow that Flexible New Deal providers will be the providers who provide “work for your benefit”—they may not. I do not have before me all the details of how the Flexible New Deal contracts are structured, but they certainly have an outcome focus.
The “work for your benefit” budget is £20 million, as we discussed the other day. We are working with providers to design a funding model, so there should be some outcome funding attached to that.
The noble Lord also made reference to the Flexible New Deal and customer churn. Linking rules exist so that if a customer gets only short-term work—less than 26 weeks—they go back to the Flexible New Deal contractor. I think that that covers the points that the noble Lord was seeking information on, but I am happy to try again if not.
Once again, the Minister has been extremely helpful. I readily understand why it may be appropriate to use a government building—for example, what I used to call a social security office and is now called a jobcentre—for a provider to hold courses in, or perhaps to interview the potential or actual participant. That is straightforward. I am not sure, though, why grants and so on are required. I shall have to read what the Minister said very carefully, not least what he said about the provision replicating the provision in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act. The fact that it does so does not necessarily mean that the provision is required here, but I shall look into that.
I was just saying that that formulation of wording to cover these sorts of circumstances has already been used in a different situation. I am not saying that the provisions in the 1999 Act could be used to do what we want to here; it is simply that there is a parallel way of expressing these provisions.
I am grateful for that elucidation. Furthermore, the Minister said that the exact details of what I have described as the “loading” of the contracts are still being worked out, presumably with members on the preferred list of bidders—or is it purely an internal exercise?
I am not confusing them at all. We are dealing with Clause 1, which has nothing to do with the Flexible New Deal. I was trying to discover—the Minister did not answer this in that exchange, but perhaps he will let me know outside this Room—whether the discussions were internal or were held with members of the preferred list of providers. I do not need to know now, unless the Minister wants to reveal that.
Amendment 19 withdrawn.
Amendments 20 and 21 not moved.
22: Clause 1, page 3, line 47, at end insert—
“17C Procedure for regulations under sections 17A and 17B
(1) Before the Secretary of State makes any regulations under section 17A or 17B, he must consult such persons as appear to him to be likely to be affected by his proposals.
(2) Where those proposals affect any local authorities in Wales, the Secretary of State must also consult the Welsh Ministers.
(3) If, following consultation under the preceding provisions of this section, the Secretary of State proposes to make regulations under section 17A or 17B he must lay before each House of Parliament a document which—
(a) explains his proposals,(b) sets them out in the form of draft regulations,(c) gives details of consultation under subsection (1), and(d) where consultation has taken place under subsection (2), sets out the views of the Welsh Ministers.(4) Where a document relating to proposals is laid before Parliament under subsection (3), no draft of any regulations under section 17A or 17B to give effect to the proposals (with or without modifications) is to be laid before Parliament in accordance with subsection (8) until after the expiry of the period of sixty days beginning with the day on which the document was laid.
(5) In calculating the period mentioned in subsection (4) no account is to be taken of any time during which—
(a) Parliament is dissolved or prorogued, or(b) either House is adjourned for more than four days.(6) In preparing draft regulations the Secretary of State must consider—
(a) any representations made during the period mentioned in subsection (4),(b) any resolution of either House of Parliament, and(c) any recommendations of a committee of either House of Parliament charged with reporting on the draft regulations.(7) Draft regulations laid before Parliament in accordance with subsection (8) must be accompanied by a statement of the Secretary of State giving details of—
(a) any representations considered in accordance with subsection (6), and(b) any changes made to the proposals contained in the document laid before Parliament under subsection (3).(8) Regulations under section 17A or 17B are not to be made unless a draft of the regulations has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.””
I shall speak also to Amendments 23 and 26. These amendments would apply the super-affirmative procedure to regulations introduced for Clauses 1 and 2. This colourful-sounding procedure is not used very often but it is well precedented in other Acts. At the moment the most obvious example is the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, which allows the Government to propose legislative reform orders to amend or repeal a provision in primary legislation considered to impose a burden on business or others, as long as it could be reduced or removed without removing unnecessary protection.
When the draft order is laid before Parliament, the Minister must recommend one of three possible parliamentary procedures for dealing with it, one of which is the super-affirmative procedure, which requires the Minister to have regard to representations, House of Commons and House of Lords resolutions and committee recommendations of either House of Parliament that are made within 60 days of laying, in order to decide whether to proceed with the order and, if so, whether to do so as presented or in an amended form. If the order is to be proceeded with, both Houses debate it in the usual way. In other words, the super-affirmative procedure is really just the affirmative procedure with a few bells and whistles added.
Why am I proposing this very specific procedure for regulations made under these two clauses? After all, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee did not recommend this procedure, but that should not be a bar to anyone else putting forward an opinion. My reasoning is simple. Taking Clause 1 first, “work for your benefit” is a completely new concept which is very controversial. Whether the Minister likes it or not, it is already being compared unfavourably with the American system of workfare, which, as the Peers’ information pack note says, is a,
“largely punitive programme of work aimed at dissuading claimants from continuing their claim”.
We do not yet know how “work for your benefit” will work because we have not seen the all-important regulations, although the Minister is being helpful in giving us some clues along the way. Surely the Government cannot complain if all we are asking is for Parliament and those in the field to be able to comment on a genuinely draft order setting out how this part of the Bill will work. After all, the then Minister in the other place, Mr Tony McNulty, admitted that regulations under this part of the Bill are important and represent a significant shift in policy. The only way to change the regulations is still for the Government alone to do so. Parliament and others can suggest changes but it would be solely the Government’s decision. However, if the Government did not listen to representations, they would risk a Motion to reject the regulations which might be passed in either House of Parliament, although that is pretty unlikely.
More transparency and better scrutiny is now being advocated more than ever before in all the dark recesses of government. This call for more transparency has been made since the Bill was debated in the other place. This procedure would make sure that Parliament knew what it was giving its consent to. The Minister may say that the DWP consults stakeholders anyway, but the consultation on many issues appears to be patchy, and impact assessments are not always carried out, even on important DWP statutory instruments, as I know from my service on the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee. Furthermore, as I have said before in the House, the committee set up specifically to scrutinise statutory instruments for the DWP, the Social Security Advisory Committee, often makes recommendations which the Government then ignore—either that or they take on board only one or two suggestions out of a good many.
I believe that it is high time that this super-affirmative procedure for regulations was used more often in order for Parliament to be at the heart of law-making, rather than just a peripheral player. I beg to move.
I support the proposal for bells and whistles so eloquently proposed by my constitutionally expert noble friend. She knows more about procedure in this place than anyone else I know. I want to make a very simple point. There is a lot of scepticism—I guess that that is the best word—outside this place about exactly how the whole Bill is going to work. The Minister has been doing well so far in providing some reassurance by giving us careful statements from the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Government, which is all very useful. However, it would go a long way to increase people’s confidence if they knew that there were no hidden agendas and that this was not workfare by the back door and so on. That is all floating around in the pressure groups and communities that seek to serve the Members of this Committee and generally do so very well. If the Government said, “Yes, we will adopt the 60-day period. We will look carefully at the research work, the resolutions, Select Committee reports and other things”, that would cost the Government next to nothing but it would send a very strong signal to people who are watching the proceedings of this Grand Committee rather closely that the Government have nothing to hide.
I am profoundly unhappy with the Bill and I should like to throw it out. It gives a blank cheque for 387 regulations to be issued by the Minister, in many cases only through the negative procedure. The super-affirmative procedure in itself does not give us much control over the situation, but it would give us some. We are receiving reassurances from the Minister for which I am sure we are all most grateful, but if I give him a cheque for £1 million and then someone steals it from him in a year’s time, there is no telling in what way that money might be disposed of. In the same way, can the Minister give an assurance that any subsequent Government will abide by all the reassurances he has given us about how the regulations will be implemented?
The Liberal Democrat party clearly has a fixation on super-affirmative regulations. They have been mentioned on several occasions, which is no surprise to me, although oddly only once in connection with the Bill. I am surprised that they have not been mentioned in relation to Clause 2.
We might finish Clause 2 within the next hour, but chance would be a fine thing. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, described the procedure rather dismissively as only an affirmative process with a few bells and whistles attached. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, agreed with that and indeed repeated it.
While I congratulate the Liberal Democrats on this long and complicated amendment, I have to say that I have difficulty with all sorts of things in it, and it would surprise me very much if the Minister did not agree with me to a great extent. The difficulties start as early as proposed new subsection (1) which begins by saying:
“Before the Secretary of State makes any regulations”—
which subsection (8) says are to be made by affirmative resolution—various things have to happen which I shall come to in a moment. The Minister told us on Tuesday last that the original regulations may need to be changed relatively quickly as experience of the pathfinders develops. I take his point that certainly after the original regulation, it is appropriate to use negative regulations for doing that. I note, however, that he did not go as far as to suggest that the first regulations to be made under new Clauses 17A and 17B should be affirmative. However, that is not the proposal in this amendment, which refers to “any regulations”, and thus means each and every time orders are laid. I really cannot support that proposal.
My second concern is something that I am surprised was not picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. While something must happen before the new sections are introduced in Wales, the rest of the country is ignored. This Bill covers England, Wales and Scotland, but nowhere do we find out what is proposed, in this super-affirmative way of doing things, for Scotland. Next, the amendment calls for draft regulations to be issued after a report has been laid before Parliament giving details of the consultations held under subsection (1) and explaining the proposals. Parliament then has six sitting weeks to report and comment on it. Only then can the Secretary of State lay the final order. I really must ask the noble Baroness how long all this is expected to last; that is, up to the time when Jobcentre Plus staff can actually start to use the provisions in new Sections 17A and 17B, which to my mind are wholly beneficial.
The whole proposal seems to be a delaying tactic, which should not be necessary each time an order is made. Pilots, pathfinders or whatever, are investigations as to exactly what will work when a scheme is rolled out across the country. Of course they may need to be changed as they progress, especially as they are now to be extended to three years—and three years may subsequently become another three years or even another three years after that—according to the Bill. That is before they are introduced across the country as a whole. Incidentally, we have had an answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, about the difference between a pathfinder and a pilot. I would be grateful if the Minister could elucidate that for us. Pilots are defined in Schedule 1, but nowhere can I find reference to a pathfinder.
Lastly, I find this amendment to be rather previous. The objective of all of us in the Grand Committee is to find out exactly what are the concrete proposals hidden in this framework Bill. Although the Minister does not like it, we are trying to pin him down. As our debates on Tuesday and earlier this afternoon show, we are having some success, but only when we have finished will we know whether the long drawn-out procedure envisaged by the amendment will be necessary or appropriate. My guess is that it will not.
This has been an interesting debate. I find myself broadly having common cause with the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, on this matter and must resist the amendments proposed from the Liberal Democrat Benches—forever hereafter the party of bells and whistles. I start with the question that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked again about the difference between pathfinders and pilots. Pilots are meant to be pure tests to decide whether we want to do something; pathfinders are for when we want to do something and evaluate how best we can roll it out. That is the key distinction.
Perhaps I can also deal up front with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne: can I give him an assurance that a subsequent Government will not use the Bill in a completely different way from that intended? I am sure that he will forgive me if I do not contemplate the prospect of an alternative Government, but if I had to imagine it, my answer would be that whatever Government are in place will do whatever that Government want to do. They may need primary rather than secondary legislation to do it, but they will have their way if that is what they intend.
I appreciate the importance of the matters before us and understand the interest of noble Lords, but the amendments would provide an unprecedented level of scrutiny for social security legislation and undermine the very reasons that we seek to use secondary legislation in the first place. Drafting of the Bill follows the precedent in social security legislation by setting out the overall legislative framework in the Bill and providing for regulations and orders to set out matters of detail. That approach will not be unfamiliar to noble Lords and is one accepted by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, acknowledged that. The committee states:
“Many of the new powers conferred in Part 1 reflect existing powers already in force in relation to other benefits, and many other provisions of Part 1 amplify existing powers slightly or adapt them for modified purposes. This is particularly true of the additional provision for piloting new benefit arrangements (clause 23) and of much of the provision in clauses 1 - 6 and 17 – 26 and Schedule 1. We conclude therefore that the House can regard most of the delegations in Part 1 and their associated scrutiny procedure, as unexceptionable”.
Then the committee identifies five areas for comment, and we are seeking to bring forward amendments to address each of those points.
This approach to legislation provides the Secretary of State with the necessary flexibility to make changes in the light of operational experience, new evidence and changing circumstances. This practical approach will not be possible if the Government are required to consult, produce a report, wait for 60 days and then seek parliamentary approval of all regulations—the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, pressed this point—relating to “work for your benefit” and work-related activity for income support claimants. We have already consulted extensively on the “work for your benefit” proposals in the Green Paper published in July last year. Responses to that document were taken into account when drafting the legislation we are debating today. We are also fully committed to ongoing engagement with interested parties regarding the development of regulations.
We have already started to consult on the detail of the progression-to-work pathfinders. We issued Realising Potential: Developing Personalised Conditionality and Support: A Discussion Paper on Next Steps in Implementing the Gregg Review in January this year and have held two meetings with interested groups on parental employment issues, so that process is already under way. The department also works very constructively with the Social Security Advisory Committee which, if it thinks it is necessary, has the ability to consult on secondary legislation made more than six months after commencement of provisions. This is a significant control. Adding a further statutory duty is additional bureaucracy that risks distracting us from the delivery of these important pilots. A formal consultation could also politicise what has previously been a constructive process designed to ensure that regulations are fit for purpose. While I cannot accept the extra parliamentary scrutiny proposed in Amendments 22 and 66, I am not seeking to remove this scrutiny altogether. That is the reason I cannot agree to Amendment 23.
It is neither our intention, nor the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendation, that “work for your benefit” regulations are all subject to the affirmative procedure. Therefore, I think it is important that Parliament retains the ability to annul regulations made relating to “work for your benefit”. Given these arguments, I believe that these amendments are unnecessary and I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw them.
I thank my noble friend Lord Kirkwood and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for supporting this very modest proposal. My noble friend talked about scepticism among people outside regarding how the Bill will work. That is absolutely true. A lot of groups have expressed their unease about the way the Bill will work. How many groups responding negatively to the consultation by saying that they do not like the Bill at all will it take for the Government to think twice about how they are going to put it into practice?
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred to 387 regulations in the Bill and said that it represented a blank cheque, which is just about right. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked whether the provision would apply to Clause 2. It would indeed. I have tabled another amendment in this group to Clause 2. However, I was not surprised by the Government’s assertions. I was given some draft groupings which were marked up, probably by mistake. By this group is the remark: “reject: controversy, low”. That certainly puts me in my place.
Since the Bill was published, Parliament has undergone an earthquake. Now we are being told that Parliament must be strengthened. The Prime Minister himself has said it. Constitutional renewal has been in the air almost since the Bill’s Second Reading. I am not surprised—given the document I have—but I am saddened that I will not get anywhere with this amendment. We shall have to go on trying to tease out what the regulations will say. I hope that before any of them are published, the DWP will give us full impact assessments on all of them. Can I have that assurance? I refer not to the equality impact assessments but to the proper full financial impact assessments, which are quite often left out. If the noble Lord can give me that assurance, I shall be very glad to hear it.
Amendment 22 withdrawn.
22A: Clause 1, page 3, line 47, at end insert—
“17C Regulations pursuant to sections 17A and 17B: consideration for wellbeing of child
Regulations made pursuant to sections 17A and 17B shall be so drafted to ensure that any job seeking conditions, work-related activities, schemes, plans, sanctions or consequences referred to in those sections are applied with due consideration for the wellbeing of any child whose life may be affected by them.”
Since they came to power, this Government have put a lot of effort into addressing social and family problems in our society: school exclusions, poor school outcomes, drug and alcohol abuse, teenage violence and child poverty. Behind this Bill I see an excellent intention to reduce child poverty and, in particular, to reduce the number of children growing up in families that, from generation to generation, have not had any members in work. I congratulate the Government on these ambitions, but I fear that the Bill as drafted lays wide open the possibility, perhaps even the probability, that it may have unintended and undesirable consequences for the children and young people of parents who become subject to the plans and directions that jobcentres are going to persuade them to accept or, if necessary, to impose on them.
So far the debate has focused on children in the 0 to 6 age group, and I defer to no one in my support for family and parental care for children in those early years; it is most important. The emotional and social development of this age group depends crucially on secure attachment to caring parents or indeed to surrogate parents when appropriate. Good quality childcare and nursery education have their place, but they can never be a total substitute for the time, love and care given by parents whom the child loves and trusts.
I shall speak to all four amendments in this group. They are relevant to this early-years group only in cases where the jobcentre plan prevents the parent from giving their child the family time it needs. They are particularly relevant to parents with children over the age of six because for that age group the lone or second parent is more liable to be forced by the jobcentre out into full-time work, possibly with substantial travelling time involved as well. It could mean an eight-hour working day plus an hour at either end for travel. Children aged from seven to 10 still need a lot of parental care and a family life for their healthy development. As the child gets to the older end of that age group, more institutional childcare can progressively replace some of the family care, but stress-free time with parents—I emphasise that the time should be stress-free—remains crucial.
Then comes the transfer to secondary school, which is a particularly stressful time for children. Even teenagers need family support, boundaries and guidance, and time to talk to their parents, although often they would rather die than admit it. Time is the language of relationships, and secure relationships within the family are the key to a child’s self-esteem, confidence and social skills, both in their school career and later. I suggest that the Bill lacks balance. It gives the Secretary of State powers to make some 387 regulations that will either direct parents into full-time work, or threaten to do so, or into work-related activities. Yet nothing in the Bill requires the Secretary of State or the jobcentre to have any concern whatever for the effect of these actions on the children of parents who are subject to directions from the jobcentre.
Can this be right from a Government who believe that “every child matters”? The nearest we get to a show of concern about dependent children is in new Clause 2, on page 7, line 3, which states that a direction,
“must be reasonable, having regard to the person’s circumstances”.
We do not know what is meant by “circumstances” and there is no mention of what the Government mean by that. There is no reference to the effect on that person’s child or children. It is in the national interest that there should be such a mention.
My Amendment 22A would lay upon the Secretary of State a duty to ensure that all actions taken in relation to a jobseeker are,
“applied with due consideration for the wellbeing of any child whose life may be affected by them”.
This is an absolute minimum requirement to make the Bill respectable in the context of the Government’s policies for children, as set out in Every Child Matters and in subsequent legislation.
My Amendment 22B goes further. It borrows from the Children Act 1989 and uses the phrase,
“the best interests of the child … shall be the paramount considerations”.
Are the Government who have given us Every Child Matters prepared to accept that it is in the long-term interests of the nation as a whole that the best interests of our children should, indeed, be paramount?
Amendment 22C is a long-stop amendment that would put at least some limit on the extent to which the Secretary of State and his jobcentres could damage family life in a labour market where weekend working is often a condition of getting a job. Nearly 50 per cent of jobs involve weekend working as a mandatory condition. That is becoming a serious problem for working parents.
Finally, I regard Amendment 22D as crucial to securing an acceptable balance between the need to get jobseekers out to work and the needs of the nation’s children for parental time, nurture and family life. Unless jobcentre advisers or the person to whom the job of adviser is outsourced, or their decision-makers, understand the dynamics of the client’s family, they will be unable to make an informed judgment about the effect of any work plan on the client’s children; they will be unable to make an acceptable and balanced job plan for the child. I beg to move.
I strongly support these amendments. Our earlier debate on childcare was very helpful, and the Minister understandably focused on the issue of whether the parent or the personal adviser was the person who should make the decision on a childcare facility. We did not address looking through the telescope the other way. The child may be aged three or 10, going to senior school, settling into senior school, perhaps going through a sickness, or perhaps a teenager. They all come under different regulations and systems, which deal, one way or another, with children of different ages. The same principle, wonderfully elucidated by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is precisely right. What, at any point in time, is in the best interest of the child at age three, 10, 11, 12 or 16? We will come back to some of these issues when we debate Amendment 75.
I brought up four children, and I am very conscious that there are all sorts of stages when placing that child in some sort of childcare, even if it is moderately good, might be a disaster for that child.
In addition to the assurances that we had earlier from the Minister, for which, as I said, I was extremely grateful, to have something in the Bill that focused the mind of the personal adviser on the importance in every situation of taking account of the best interests of the child must be something that this House would support. I am not sure that the wording of either Amendment 22A or 22B is exactly right. I would not talk about whether there is a conflict between the interests of the parent and the interests of the child, but it needs to be clear, when considering these matters under any of these schemes, that the first consideration should be that whatever is decided is in the best interests of the child. I simply put that on the table and invite the Minister to consider it most carefully because, ultimately, that is what matters to the nation.
The only other point I want to make has to do with Amendment 22D, on training. The Minister will not be surprised when I again raise my concern that the whole system may well create untold misery and unforeseen consequences if the people making these decisions and giving these directions are not adequately trained in the many different disabilities and problems that human beings have. Who knows what will happen? The Minister will say that there is an appeal system, but having worked in social security many years ago, I am conscious that appeal systems can take a very long time and, in the mean time, the claimant is in a state of great anxiety and may have lost their benefit. One cannot emphasise the issue of training too strongly—once again, most particularly for people with mental health problems of various kinds. These are complex issues and complex decisions. Even in a mental health trust, where we have highly professional staff, deciding when someone is well enough to do this or that is a professional decision and we do not always get it right. I appeal to the Minister to think about what can be done to ensure that negative decisions are not made where there are questions about the competence of the personal adviser making the decision.
The Committee is most grateful to the Minister for the help that he has given us today and beforehand in the form of documents and information. In supporting the amendment, I have a question about Amendment 22D. Hidden here is a group of jobseekers who are not mentioned and are not necessarily under the DWP, but may come more under the Ministry of Justice and possibly also the Minister for Children.
I refer to jobseekers—which is what all prisoners are, if we are to believe that the rehabilitation of offenders is all about helping them, and all the talk about jobseekers’ organisations in prisons is meant to be that. What about the jobseeker in prison who has a child aged under 16? Who will help with that? Under the present system, often a prisoner is moved miles away from the home area the children aged under 16. The person responsible for dealing with him on jobseeking may have nothing to do with the children. I wonder whether there have been discussions between the Minister’s department, the Ministry of Justice and the department responsible for children about how that can be managed. I also wonder whether those who are responsible for children aged under 16 in care, as carers in the community, will have the same responsibility laid on them as on those who are parents themselves.
I have an interest in another subset of jobseekers—home-educating parents. Amendment 74 is in my name and I imagine we shall come to it in several days’ time. Today, DCSF published a long report on home education and it is quite clear that, at last, the Government will take proper cognisance of their duties to ensure that such children are properly home educated, and that parents who are home educators fulfil their duties, which will necessarily entail large amounts of time during the week spent looking after their children and educating them. That will have to be taken into account by the mechanism being set up in this Bill; otherwise the two will crash irreparably.
Many children who are being home educated have become frightened of school and schooling as a result of their experiences. They will not be exactly friendly company in a jobseeker’s interview. It is already the experience of many home educators who are placed in this situation that jobcentre staff do not understand, are unfriendly and try to pressure the parent into putting their children back into school, which, first, is not their right and, secondly, can be extremely upsetting for the child who is usually there at the time. Those matters need to be conducted properly and sensibly with the interests of the child in mind.
Amendment 22D in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, very much bears on the need for understanding and knowledge in these matters. Without wishing to go into the particular requirements of home educators, which I shall come on to on Amendment 74, I should very much like to know the Government’s general approach.
I am very happy to support the thrust of the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. It is a crucial and core element in the successful deployment of this policy. My difficulty is that if you look at the report of Professor Gregg—it is supposed to be all about that—and if you believe that the report is to be translated into operation, some of these concerns may fly off. People may say that that is a naive view, but I remind Members of the Grand Committee that the third sentence of Professor Gregg’s personal statement, which prefaces his report, states:
“In addition, and central to this Review, it should where possible give a voice to the claimant in designing support services”.
Although the report deals with very difficult issues of penalties, conditionality and so on, on page 53 it talks about encouragement, agreement and co-ownership of the policy. I suspect that if the Minister could persuade the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that those two conditions were to be fulfilled in the reality of the rollout of these programmes, he might withdraw these amendments with some degree of confidence.
However, the problem is that none of us, at heart, believes that the rest of the Bill will deliver that. I have seen for myself that children can often benefit very much from parents at work in a whole variety of ways if the circumstances are right. I have also experienced in an international context, particularly in Scandinavia and in the Netherlands, a public policy programme which makes the fundamental well-being of the child involved in any decision of this kind paramount. It is a key condition and it is built into the public policy programmes of sister European nations; so it is possible. Professor Gregg seems to be trying to get there but I do not think that this Bill does it. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, makes an absolutely valid point that there are no guarantees that we shall get to where we want to be, given the way in which the Bill is drafted. These amendments capture of all that. The only difference, although this is a trite way of putting it, is that sister European nations invest money that we cannot envisage into these systems. We have no way of knowing. There are all sorts of financial difficulties facing this country; everyone understands that.
David Freud, soon to be Lord Freud of DEL and AME—I hope he chooses his title with care; I am going to suggest that one to him—won the argument. The Government are to be congratulated on accepting the fact that you can, in certain circumstances, if you are careful, spend to save. The right to bid is already in some of the Flexible New Deal and the welfare-to-work agenda.
If you can demonstrate that by drawing down some public expenditure and investing it wisely, with the children at the heart of the investment decision, everyone benefits. The question is how you contrive the legislation to provide the confidence that the Committee is seeking. I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, regarding this area. There is work that we can yet do, in spite of the Minister’s helpful approach to proceedings in Committee. He has to think about it seriously, because we are not there yet.
Although my name does not appear on these amendments in the Marshalled List, as I got in touch with the Bill Office too late for it to be printed, I nevertheless confirm my support for the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. The amendments make the well-being of a child an essential, if not paramount, consideration when implementing new Clauses 17A and 17B. The noble Lord has defended the interests of children resolutely, and this follows on rather naturally from my opening amendment on Tuesday, to which I was pleased that so many noble Lords added their support. In this case, however, we are dealing with a much greater age range.
The issue is simple. We all accept that getting an unemployed person back into work is a priority. It is not, however, an overriding priority; it should not be enforced when to do so would cause some kind of harm to the dependants of that person. Indeed, over the past two days the Minister has made similar points. The harm that can be inflicted on children is not just financial, although the consequences of child poverty are many. A dependant is by definition reliant on the parent for all kinds of support. Many who are parents with children in their 30s, 40s and 50s would agree with me that parenting responsibility never ends. I have a 30 year-old son who at the moment is totally dependent on me, and the reason why I keep my cell phone on a buzzer is so that he can get hold of me in the Chamber, Grand Committee or wherever I am.
I do not propose for one moment that we should send out a signal that having a child is a passport to sitting back and doing nothing—quite the opposite. We have heard from many sources, including from a meeting convened by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, some weeks ago, to which, unfortunately, I was unable to go. I understand, though, that formerly unemployed people said that being able to pull yourself together and find work is an extremely boosting experience. Work engenders self-reliance, confidence and security. These benefits are as applicable, if not more so, to the families as to the individual. It is my view that a family with adults in employment is the best situation to start from. It should be our aim to help families to secure their own need. However, that must be balanced by an overall consideration for the needs of any children. A work action plan would not be worth its salt if it harmed a participant’s children in some way, through unsuitable hours or lack of suitable childcare.
I suspect that the Minister will resist these amendments by saying that of course we would expect any back-to-work plan to take into account the needs of children. If that is so, he should not be afraid to accept these amendments, or ones very similar to them, as a confirmation of that.
The amendments seek to protect the time and quality of care that parents who seek work are able to provide for their children. The justification for that is not a surprise to any of us. This is not the first time that such matters have been debated in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere; nor will this be the definitive and final debate on the subject—not, at least, while we still have the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. However, it is worth looking at some of the costly results of neglecting the well-being of children. I have seen figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families relating to children who were excluded for a fixed period from school in 2006-07, as has just been mentioned. In total, there were 425,600 fixed-period exclusions, representing 5.7 per cent of the whole school population. Of those exclusions, a rather jaw-dropping 45,730 were children at primary school. I have seen the response from the Government to a Question asked in another place on truancy. Although it seems that precise figures are not recorded, it appears that persistent absences, where a pupil misses 20 per cent or more of schooling, which I am told is the best indicator of problem absence, ran at 3.6 per cent of the school population in 2007-08. In other words, a hard core of pupils are missing at least one day a week of school—quite probably more—and the overall figures for unauthorised absences are much higher, at more than 1.7 million pupils across England, if I am reading the figures correctly.
I do not wish to overload noble Lords with statistics for fear of sounding too prime ministerial, but I have one more set to complete the picture. In 2008, there were 15,819 persistent young offenders—as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, will confirm—who, between them, committed 28,834 offences; and those are just the ones whom we know about. I raise these numbers to illustrate, in so far as broad lists of statistics can be illustrative, the dangers of neglecting our youth. One thinks of children carrying knives, which is such a current problem in our inner cities. That surely is caused by neglect of some sort.
I believe, probably like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, that these problems have their infancy in children at a very young age, under the age of seven. I do not think for a moment that the noble Lord’s amendments, if adopted, would provide a sudden and complete panacea to these ills, but their inclusion in the Bill, or something very like them, would indicate that we are prepared to take a step in the right direction.
This has been an exceptionally good debate and I thank everyone who has participated for the manner in which they have done so. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for the way in which he introduced his amendments. I think that he acknowledged the Government’s commitment to tackling and improving the well-being of children generally, and he made specific reference to Every Child Matters.
Before I move on to the amendments, I stress that, as noble Lords know, the Government have taken the bold step of committing to eradicate child poverty by 2020, and these changes are part of the strategy to achieve that goal. Moving families from worklessness and into work is the best route out of poverty and the disastrous effects that it can have on children’s well-being. Living in a household where no adult is working puts a child at a 61 per cent risk of poverty, with all the lifelong disadvantages that that often brings. Therefore, by requiring parents to take up and engage with “work for your benefit”, we will ensure that as many people as possible are able to transform their lives, improve their well-being and increase their families’ incomes.
I turn first to Amendment 22A. When requiring parents to undertake work experience, any decisions concerning their treatment or the activities that they are to undertake will be made with due consideration for the well-being, welfare and education of any child whose life may be affected by them. That must be the case.
In “work for your benefit” pilots, providers and advisers must take into account all the jobseeker’s barriers to work, not just those specified in the amendment. This will be outlined in the contract specification. In addition, before any jobseeker is referred to the “work for your benefit” programme, their case will be reviewed to ensure that it is suitable for them. Any caring responsibilities will be taken into account and any restrictions that parents have placed on their job search to take account of the caring and well-being of their children will be brought forward into “work for your benefit”. For example, if a parent has restricted their job search to part-time work on the grounds that they need to look after their children, we would expect them to be available only for the same hours under “work for your benefit”.
On Amendment 22B, I think we are all agreed that protecting the well-being of children is of fundamental importance in all that a Government do. It underpins the principle of this legislation. Clause 1 is not designed to compel parents to do work experience which is not appropriate for them or their families. Instead, we want to ensure that parents and other unemployed people are given the help and support they need to prepare for and, when appropriate, enter work.
In general, we believe that work-related activity, including the “work for your benefit” scheme, will have a beneficial impact on individual claimants and their children. Indeed, evidence shows that the benefits to children of their parents working are more far-reaching than increased income alone. Children have reported the benefits of parental employment, and parents making the move into paid work have observed positive psychological benefits in their children. For example, a study of newly working households found reduced stigma among children as a result of their parents leaving the benefits system and consequently fitting in more with their peers, and having a less stressful home life due to fewer arguments about money. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred in particular to the importance of having stress-free time with parents.
In-depth interviews with older children of working lone parents showed that they can be a good role model for their children. The children felt that their lives had improved since their mothers started work, and they were protective and supportive of their mother participating in the labour market. Increased income also meant increased access to transport, and this opened up access to a wider range of beneficial social networks and opportunities. For these children, the increased status of having a mother in paid work also provided a welcome boost to their self-esteem. Only parents who are subject to full JSA conditionality will be asked to participate in “work for your benefit”, so this will apply only to those lone parents whose youngest child is seven or older, not those with younger children who are transferred to JSA when income support is abolished. In addition, before referring anyone to the “work for your benefit” programme, an adviser will review with the jobseeker their circumstances and barriers to work to ensure that the programme is appropriate for them. This will act as a safeguard to ensure that nobody is inappropriately required to take part in the programme.
We will also incorporate safeguards to ensure that the work experience offered is suitable and relevant to the individual. For example, the restrictions specified in a parent’s jobseeker's agreement relating to the days and hours they may restrict their availability for work will be carried forward into “work for your benefit”. As I said earlier, this will mean that if a parent has agreed that they will look only for part-time work, then they will be required to undertake only part-time work experience. “Work for your benefit” providers will also have a responsibility to ensure that adequate childcare is in place to enable parents to participate fully in the programme.
I reassure noble Lords that, when making decisions about the type of work-related activity or work experience to be undertaken, Jobcentre Plus will always give paramount consideration to the well-being of any child who may be affected by them. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, asked about that in particular. But it remains the case that the surest and most sustainable way to address child poverty is to support more parents into paid work; work that pays and that enables parents to manage the careful balance between employment and family life.
Amendment 22C would also affect lone parents with older children who have existing obligations to look for work. Under the Bill, parents’ caring responsibilities will be taken into account at the very beginning of a claim for jobseeker’s allowance when the jobseeker’s agreement is set up. It sets out the type and level of work and, by extension, work experience they are required to undertake. It is up to the parent, working with Jobcentre Plus advisers, to decide the amount and the pattern of activity they are available for after considering any caring responsibilities and the availability of childcare. Amendment 22C would prevent parents having the flexibility to tailor their work experience, which in turn could restrict their future job search to their family circumstances if they so chose, and while I acknowledge concerns about family life, I believe that it is up to the individuals concerned to decide when they spend time with their children. We would not want to specify in legislation that people in work should spend at least one day at the weekend with their children, so it seems unfair and unreasonable to do so for those receiving benefits.
Amendment 22D specifically mentions a jobseeker who is the parent of a child under the age of 16. As I have already mentioned, parents with older children who are claiming jobseeker’s allowance are required to be available for work for as many hours as their caring responsibilities permit, and can limit this to 16 hours. Jobcentre Plus staff are trained in developing and understanding a claimant’s circumstances and ensuring that jobseekers’ agreements and action plans are appropriate. When making agreements with a parent, advisers will ensure that the claimant’s wishes and family circumstances are considered. They will agree with the parent the appropriateness of activities to ensure that they do not impact adversely on the welfare, well-being or education of their child. This will be detailed in guidance.
As noble Lords will be aware, if there is a failure to carry out the agreement or an activity outlined in the plan, it could lead to further action and sanctions. To consider the imposition of a sanction, an adviser will refer the evidence to an expert decision-maker who will make a decision based on the reasonableness of the activity agreed between the adviser and the parent. The evidence may relate to the welfare or education of any child involved and could include, for example, attendance at school, sickness and the availability of appropriate childcare. Jobcentre Plus advisers and decision-makers are essential to the successful delivery of these programmes. Advisers and decision-makers are already highly skilled and currently deal with complex circumstances in their discussions with parents. We will build on this by enhancing the comprehensive training package that they already undertake. Jobcentre Plus advisers and decision-makers will be suitably trained so that they can judge, in discussion with the parent, the effect which advice or directions may have on the welfare, education or care of the children involved, and will ensure that they are able to deliver the more personalised and family-focused approach we require. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, stressed the issue of proper training for our staff. It is essential and runs through the provisions of this Bill and much else. It is especially relevant when dealing with individuals and their families or those with mental health conditions.
Before implementation, staff will also receive appropriate training to ensure that safeguards are in place. We will also ensure that “work for your benefit” providers must have the knowledge and skills to take into account the range of customer circumstances, not just those specified in this agreement. This will be outlined in the contract specification.
A number of particular issues were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked about home educators. We will consider an amendment to this effect in due course, but I should say that while recognising that parents can choose to home educate their children, the funding is not provided by Government to do so. Parents in this situation do not receive their benefit based on their status as home educators. It would therefore be inconsistent with Government principles if regulations which apply to other parents did not apply to home educators. However, I am sure that we will have a chance to develop the issue when we come to the noble Lord’s amendment. One noble Lord asked about carers, and I hope I can be forgiven for forgetting who did so. They will be exempt from benefit conditionality.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, raised the issue of where a jobseeker is in prison and has children under the age of 16. If I may, I will reflect a little more and get some advice so that I can give him a considered reply rather than a glib response. Again, it is a very important issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, in support of the amendments, referred to harm being inflicted on children. Of course I do not believe that there is anything in what we are proposing that should or could lead to harm being inflicted on children. That is dependent on making sure that Jobcentre Plus providers are engaged, properly trained and alert to all the issues that have properly raised this afternoon in relation to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. He specifically referred to issues arising in infancy—children under the age of seven. Nothing in the provisions would require parents of children under the age of seven to have to take up or seek employment.
Yes, but Clause 1 applies to those who are subject to the full conditionality of the JSA regime, which does not apply to lone parents until the youngest child reaches the age of seven—in fact, that does not currently apply and will not apply until next year. As the noble Lord will know, we progressively reduce the age of the youngest child at which income support payments move into the JSA system.
Based on the assurances that I have given and the explanations that I have made, I would hope—
I am grateful to the Minister—I am aware of the passage of time. The Minister would help me enormously if he could consider using the word “well-being” rather than “welfare”. I know that the regulations are common and go across a lot of benefits, but there is a significant psychological difference between the well-being of a child, which has a psychological content and is more broadly based, and welfare, which is just about whether it is being fed, not starving. The guidance to the professionals taking those decisions should refer specifically to the well-being, not the welfare of the child.
I am most grateful to those who joined the debate for the support that they gave me and to the Minister for his very full reply. Unfortunately—perhaps inevitably—his brief anticipated what I was going to say, and I would like to make two points clear. Under no circumstances did I or would I say that it is bad for a parent to go out to work and under no circumstances would I say that it is necessarily bad for a child to go into childcare. In both cases, it depends on the balance with family life. That is what I tried to say in my introduction. My amendments are not an attempt to make any specific recommendation, they simply throw open the idea that one of the criteria in judging any issue should be the well-being of the child.
My other point is a matter of correction. In Amendment 22C, I did not state that a parent had to take one weekend, I stated that regulations pursuant to Sections 17A and 17B,
“shall be so drafted as to ensure that no jobseeker’s agreement, direction or planned for work or work related activities proposed to a jobseeker who is a parent of a child under the age of 16 are so worded as to deny the jobseeker one whole day per week”.
In other words, he can choose whether to have that day.
Time is running out. I should like to have the opportunity to read carefully what the Minister said but, at this moment, I am much encouraged by what he has said. It seems to me to make perfectly clear that the Government could not possibly have any objection to including my first amendment in the Bill, which is where I want to get it. If I may take the opportunity to visit the Minister between now and the next stage, I shall be happy to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 22A withdrawn.
Amendments 22B to 23 not moved.
Committee adjourned at 5.55 pm.