Third Reading (Continued)
My Lords, before we proceed with Third Reading, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and to the House, for so rudely interrupting him on the matter of affirmative instruments. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, who unfortunately is not here, for putting matters right. I offer my sincere apologies.
Clause 15 : Work-focused interview requirement
Amendment 2 not moved.
Clause 32 : Power to make supplementary and consequential provision etc
3: Clause 32, page 15, line 34, leave out subsection (3)
My Lords, on 22 December last year, the Scottish Parliament voted on a legislative consent Motion to the Bill. Legislative consent was given in relation to several provisions. However, the Scottish Parliament did not give consent in respect of the provisions of the Bill that give Scottish Ministers the power to make consequential, supplementary, incidental or transitional provisions by regulation in relation to universal credit and the personal independence payment. I indicated on Report that I intended to bring forward these amendments, removing the relevant provisions from the Bill, to ensure that the UK Government adhere to the principles of the Sewel convention. As social security is a reserved matter, it will not have an impact on the introduction of universal credit or the personal independence payment. Scottish Ministers will still need to make changes to legislation within the competence of the Scottish Parliament—for example, to add references to these benefits to legislation for housing, health and education, and to remove references to existing benefits that will be abolished in due course. Where necessary, they will do this through a Bill in the Scottish Parliament instead of through regulations. I beg to move.
My Lords, I do not believe that we have a problem with the amendments in this group, but perhaps the noble Lord will clarify something. If we are removing the power of Scottish Ministers to deal with consequential amendments, where does the power lie—or is the Minister saying that there is no need for the power?
No, my Lords, I am saying the opposite. The Scottish Parliament has decided that it wants to make the consequential amendments and not rely on us making them. If Scottish Ministers want to do it that way round, that is a matter for them. We were trying to make life more convenient for them.
Amendment 3 agreed.
Clause 40 : Interpretation of Part 1
My Lords, before we move on to Amendment 4, I shall inform noble Lords that there has been an error in the printing of the amendment. It should read:
“Page 18, line 40, leave out ‘work has such meaning as may be prescribed’ and insert ‘work’, ‘better paid work’ and ‘more paid work’ shall have such meaning as may be prescribed in regulations subject to the affirmative resolution procedure”.
4: Clause 40, page 18, line 40, leave out “work has such meaning as may be prescribed” and insert ““better paid work” and “more paid work” shall have such meaning as may be prescribed in regulations subject to the affirmative resolution procedure”
My Lords, one issue that lacks clarity at present concerns “work”, “better paid work” and “more work”. We are using the opportunity of Third Reading to elicit further information on this important matter. The amendment seeks to ensure that not only “work” must be defined for the purposes of universal credit, but that there should be clarity on “more paid work” and “better paid work”, and on how the requirements would be applied. The definition of work is relevant to the current benefit system as well as to universal credit. It is relevant for the application of the benefit cap—or cliff edge—on one side of which one is free and, on the other, one is within its grasp. For the benefit cap, we know that initially receipt of working tax credit will be sufficient to take somebody out of its grasp. Perhaps the Minister will say whether there is any further news on what the threshold for work will be in these circumstances in the world of universal credit.
The amendment is principally focused on getting an update on how in-work conditionality will work. It is some three months since we debated this in Committee, when the development of how things would work in practice was pretty sketchy. What appeared to be settled was that in-work conditionality would cease when somebody was earning the equivalent of 35 hours at the national minimum wage: approximately £11,000. The threshold for a couple may be double that of an individual, and the threshold for a lone parent may be lower. It is accepted that having a universal benefit that removes the distinction between in-work and out-of-work benefits raises the issue of in-work conditionality. Universal credit claimants will have an entitlement regardless of the hours they work, up to a limit. Before we leave the Bill, or it leaves us, we seek an update on the latest thinking. Presumably, for universal credit to be effective, this is not an optional extra.
On 26 October in Grand Committee, the noble Lord told us that there were a range of complicated issues to work through. He said:
“Critically, we will need to build our understanding of what can help claimants progress—when we should require claimants to look for more work and what role other interventions, such as skills assessments or careers advice sessions, can play … We are not rushing in here ... We recognise that we need to tread carefully in this new area”.—[Official Report, 26/10/11. cols. GC295-96.]
That was fine, but is there any progress to report? My noble friend Lady Drake put the issue very succinctly in the Committee debate. She referred to the significant discretion that the Government would have under the new arrangements: a discretion that would potentially impact on a sizeable section of the workforce and on existing in-work relationships, and would require Jobcentre Plus or outside providers to engage with a large number of companies.
In Committee there was vagueness also in respect of the roles of Jobcentre Plus staff and external providers, and on issues of capacity. In particular, there was no clarity on how this would fit in with the work programme. We know that remuneration for providers under the work programme will come in three ways: an attachment payment, a job outcome payment and a sustainment payment. The latter will be the biggest element of the fees in each of the eight claimant groups. How will in-work conditionality interrelate with the work programme? Will sustainable payments be due only when providers have not only helped somebody into work and sustained them in work, but sustained them in work at a level that meets the requirements of in-work conditionality? Presumably this was not effectively factored into contract negotiations ab initio because of the vagueness around these concepts. Do the work outcomes for which providers are paid align with the in-work conditionality that is proposed, and include the claimant commitment on a case-by-case basis?
In Committee, there was a hint that in-work conditionality might be applied only when somebody has left the work programme. The Minister said:
“Once claimants have left the work programme, we could then look to continue working with them to help them progress”.—[Official Report, 26/10/11; cols. GC 295-96.]
There was also a hint that there might be a future work programme to which individuals would migrate. What is happening on that? If one is to be developed, can we be assured that the lessons of the first work programme and the comments of the National Audit Office are taken fully into account, especially on compiling a business case before a decision is taken to proceed and on going live before the IT is in place?
The definition of “work” and, especially, new issues around “more paid work” and “better paid work” are important to how universal credit is to operate. This is an opportunity to provide up-to-date information to noble Lords at this last stage of our deliberations. I invite the Minister to do so. I beg to move.
My Lords, before I start on the specific matter, I shall take a short period to thank the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for her remarks a few minutes ago which I appreciate.
This amendment relates to the definitions of “better paid work” and “more paid work” and would require the regulations to be subject to the affirmative procedure. The first point I want to make is that it is not necessary to define these terms. They have their natural meaning: working for more hours, increasing your pay and so on. To that extent, we cannot accept the amendment, but I understand that it is a way of looking for information and I am very happy to have the opportunity to provide it.
These phrases are important. Their inclusion in Clauses 15 to 18 allows us to impose work-related requirements on claimants who are already in work. We are currently able to impose requirements on existing JSA claimants who are in some work and we need to retain this capability. Obviously, we are interested in doing more and extending conditionality to claimants who are in relatively substantive levels of work but who are nevertheless capable of working more. A conditionality regime can play an important role in encouraging such claimants to progress towards more self-sufficiency and to raise their standard of living and general status. Clearly, I understand noble Lords’ concerns about the extension of conditionality in this way. It is new and it is a difficult area. I also understand the way that noble Lords want to stay in touch with developments as they progress, so let me reiterate and perhaps expand on the remarks I made on Report.
At the launch of universal credit, we will not be imposing conditionality on claimants in substantive employment. In other words, there will be no conditionality for claimants with income or earnings which would, broadly speaking, have taken them over the cut-off point for current out-of-work benefits. We will retain our emphasis on those claimants who would be eligible for JSA, ESA or income support now. The existing system, in that sense, will continue.
As a general point about how we are going to introduce universal credit, we are trying to be incremental and to lock in gradually the opportunities that it represents. Before we extend conditionality to claimants with earnings above this level, we will run pilots. We want to gather views on the approaches that could be taken in these pilots and we will therefore be consulting widely. Depending on the design, we expect such pilots to require regulations. They will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and therefore to debate in Parliament. I think we have had enough discussion about what that means. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on that point. I have committed to publishing details of any pilots, to monitoring the results of the pilots, in particular, the outcomes for claimants, and to making those results available for scrutiny. We will reflect on this before adopting any national approach. I remind noble Lords that we considered and passed an amendment that I tabled earlier to allow us to test every aspect of universal credit to see how it would change. This is clearly one area where we could do a lot of testing about how different things work.
Picking up the point on the relationship with the work programme, if we look at the timetable of the introduction and at what we are doing, noble Lords who can picture calendars years in advance will see that there is a point at which we are going to go to round two of the work programme, which works rather neatly with the timing of bringing in some of the results and outcomes. One of the options we will have at that stage is to look at encouraging work programme providers in a much more sophisticated way not just to get people into work and keep them in work, which are the main criteria today, but to get them into work and to progress in work. That is attractive as an option to be explored because we will start to pull together even more than we are now the work first strategies, which have been the historic drive of the DWP, and the training and upskilling strategies, which in the past have been far too separate. If we have a progression target, we will start to pull in training in a tougher way. It is beginning to be pulled together with the effort to keep people in work, but noble Lords will know that one of my ambitions is to pull those two aspects much closer together through the structures. That is one of the things that I will be looking at very closely as we look at designing these pilots.
I hope that what I am saying is interesting and reassuring. We are giving a clear undertaking that we will proceed carefully, consult widely and make our proposals open for scrutiny. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his interesting amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Clause 43 : Regulations: procedure
Amendments 5 and 6
5: Clause 43, page 20, line 21, leave out from “Regulations” to “are” in line 22 and insert “under this Part”
6: Clause 43, page 21, line 19, leave out subsection (8)
Amendments 5 and 6 agreed.
Clause 46 : Sanctions
7: Clause 46, page 25, line 7, at end insert—
“(c) the grounds on which such sanctions may be terminated, prior to the period specified in paragraph (b), including the compliance of the claimant to such conditions as may be imposed.”
My Lords, this amendment seeks clarification on the issue of what the Minister called “the prodigal son” when he referred to it in earlier discussions. I think that takes government paternalism perhaps a little too far. It relates to the situation of a jobseeker who has received a three-year sanction for a failure to comply with the requirements imposed by this legislation and the circumstances in which that sanction may be removed. This is important because in order to change behaviour, which we know is one of the great motivators behind the Bill, there really must be some carrots as well as sticks.
The three-year sanction is the stick, but the carrot has to be that people who start co-operating and fulfilling the work-search conditions should be able to work towards lifting that sanction. Their behaviour may well change because something in their own life has changed—the death of a parent they were looking after; the birth of a child; a marriage or a break-up; dealing with their own substance misuse; or simply, maybe late in life, growing up—or it may change as a result of the three-year sanction. For whatever reason, it must be possible for the sanction to be lifted, and this amendment requires that the grounds on which the sanction could be lifted should, first, be prescribed in regulations and, secondly, should include the claimant’s compliance with the work-search conditions.
On Report, the Minister told us that he had accepted this principle on ending the sanction and we very much welcomed his words on that. He said that it was,
“a lot better than where we were”.—[Official Report, 14/12/11; col. 1387.]
However, he also said that the department had decided that the proof of the prodigal son’s return was to be in work for six months. Of course, it partly depends on the definition of work, to which my noble friend has just alluded—going for just one hour a week is probably not what the Minister had in mind—so regulations will have to deal with that. Whatever the definition is going to be, we think it means that at that point the sanction will be removed. However, without our amendment, we are not absolutely clear that the three-year sanction can be lifted before the three years are up. It appeared so from the Minister’s words at Report but perhaps he could clarify that the Bill allows not just for a lower sanction to be set at the beginning but for the lifting of a sanction before its end. Clause 27(5)(a) allows for the lifting of the other sanctions but the Bill appears to be silent on the lifting of these higher sanctions.
However, assuming that the Bill does allow for such higher-level sanctions to be ended early, we nevertheless do not believe that having to be in work for a full six months is the right hurdle. First, it gives very little incentive for the claimant to engage with the jobcentre and to meet the conditions set, which would help that person to find employment through all that will be offered by Jobcentre Plus or other providers. Secondly, it would mean that the possibility of having the sanction lifted will depend not only on factors within the claimant’s own control, such as looking for work, but on factors well outside his or her control such as local and indeed national economic conditions.
I do not need to remind the House that there are 5.8 unemployed people looking for every job. A claimant who happens to be one of the 4.8 unlucky ones who, despite everything they do to try to find a job, cannot get work—perhaps because they live in Merthyr Tydfil, which I think was the example given on Report—will continue to receive a sanction through no fault of their own. This turns the sanctions regime into a punishment for previous failures rather than a useful tool to encourage engagement with the jobcentre and the work programme providers.
Our amendment leaves the exact formula for compliance open to regulations, as we know the noble Lord will listen to arguments made in the drawing-up of those, and it will give the Minister and his department a chance to think through the best way to ensure that the sanctions regime provides suitable incentives to engage with the system rather than cutting people off altogether. One obvious suggestion might be to lift the sanction after a period of compliance with the work-search conditions, but the detail could be left to the department as it also struggles with the definition of work.
Without our amendment, the Bill risks driving people further from the labour market rather than moving them towards work by engaging with the process and fulfilling the work-search criteria. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to accept the amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment moved by my noble friend. Throughout Committee and Report, the Minister has regularly made clear that he is concerned to make work pay and attractive, and to get behavioural change. I do not think that we on this side disagree with him at all on this. However, it subverts the value, virtue and continuity of behavioural change if sanctions that were applied before that behavioural change had taken place continue. Therefore, he is effectively defeating his own policy.
I was trying to think of an example. On page 33 of the Bill, proposed new Section 6J, “Higher-level sanctions”, which my noble friend referred to, says in subsection (2)(a) that a failure is sanctionable if a claimant,
“fails for no good reason to comply with a requirement imposed by the Secretary of State under a work preparation requirement to undertake a work placement of a prescribed description”.
A couple of weeks ago we had the story of a young woman, a graduate, who had been doing voluntary work in a local museum and was hoping that this would count as appropriate work experience to lead her to a job in that field. The work requirement placement that the local office came up with was that she should do a fortnight in Poundland, filling shelves, even though she had substantive previous retail experience; in other words, it was a very misguided imposition by the decision-makers in the local benefit office—from the outside, it looked as if she was much better off where she was. If she had refused that placement in Poundland, she would have fallen foul of 6J(2)(a) and she could have had three years’ worth of sanctions imposed on her, even if she had subsequently accepted a further placement, which would have been—in her view, and most people’s views—more realistic.
The Minister is stuck with the position that she would have been pulled out of something appropriate to do something less appropriate on the decision of a local decision-maker, and had she resisted that she could have been subjected to sanctions that would have continued for three years, even if she had made it clear that she was willing to accept further and more appropriate work placements that would help her with her career. It must be sensible for the Government to have a way back for people who have resisted—for good reason or bad—an original work placement offer but then go on to respect that imposition, whether appropriate or not. If there is no way back, how can the Minister expect people to respect that law?
Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, could turn over to page 34 of the Bill. New Section 6J(7)(c) talks about,
“the termination or suspension of a reduction under this section”.
That sounds like exactly the sort of principle that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has enunciated in moving this amendment. I that hope my noble friend will be able to confirm that.
My Lords, let me cut straight to the chase. We have the powers in regulation to do whatever we or any future Government want to do to raise sanctions, so I can provide reassurance to that extent. I will go into a little detail about our plans and what we intend to do, but first I pay tribute to noble Lords because some really interesting and useful ideas were expressed in Committee that we took on board, although I do not think that we took them on board quite as much as some noble Lords would want. We moved a long way and thought about this again more specifically, so I thank noble Lords a lot for that.
We are trying to create a sanctions regime to provide at one level—probably the most important—a deterrent against behaviour that damages a claimant’s and indeed others’ employment prospects. Ending sanctions when a claimant complies with requirements can clearly play a role in incentivising sanctioned claimants to do the right thing. That is why we are moving in the direction of open-ended sanctions for lower-level failures, such as the failure to participate in training or to attend work-focused interviews. In essence, these sanctions apply only until the claimant re-complies, with a short fixed period of a week or a few weeks.
This amendment is about the higher-level sanctions: sanctions imposed for failing to comply with the most important requirements. These are employment-related failures, such as the failure to apply for a job when specifically asked to do so, the failure to accept a job offer, or the failure to leave employment voluntarily. By failing to do these things for no good reason, a claimant is fundamentally breaking the agreement that sits at the heart of jobseeker’s allowance: that they do everything possible to find work in order to be able to support themselves. That is why we believe it is vital that there are clear consequences for such failures. Fixed, substantive sanctions reinforce the message that these requirements absolutely must be met.
As I said on Report, we propose to wipe the slate clean by terminating any outstanding sanctions once a claimant has moved into employment for six months, but we believe that going further and ending these critical sanctions after a few weeks or months of compliance would undermine the clarity of our message and the effectiveness of the sanctions regime. It is worth noting that in the current system sanctions can be imposed for up to six months and are typically not lifted at all on re-compliance.
As I said at the beginning of this debate, we have the powers to end sanctions following re-compliance—we have defined the levels of re-compliance—so if, after a period of live running, we or future Governments wish to change the position, we have the powers to do so. Indeed, this is one area in which it might be very interesting to do some piloting work on how incentives and deterrents actually work.
Just to be techie about this, the powers that I mentioned are in this Bill and in the Jobseekers Act 1995. Clause 19(4)(b) provides a broad regulation-making power to set the duration of a sanction. Existing Section 36 of the Jobseekers Act allows for any regulations made under that Act to be subject to particular exceptions. I am not absolutely surprised that no one could piece that together.
I thank the Minister for the techie stuff, but what happens to someone who has been subject to a sanction, goes into paid work, through no fault of their own loses that job before the six months is up, then assiduously looks for work daily, just as they are supposed to do?
My Lords, under this construct, they will have to do the six months to wipe off the sanctions. Let us not forget that the sanctions that we are talking about do not involve the full amount of support but the equivalent of the JSA—£63-odd. There will be a very strong incentive on that person to take absolutely anything to fill in the rest of the time.
As I said, this is a very interesting area of deterrence and compliance and how we influence behaviour, which is exactly why I wanted to have the powers to pilot all these things. This is our starting point. Noble Lords have influenced us into making the lift at the six-month level, and it is clearly our best view today on what the reasonable balance is. No one can know yet as we have not done the live testing, but we will do it and we will be able to look at this and get the balance absolutely right. It might need to be milder, it might need to be tougher, but noble Lords will appreciate that if we pilot and test and look at these things in the way that I am describing, we will start to get answers on what works and move away from some of the rather more excited commentary and pressures from some of the media in this area. It could be of great interest to noble Lords if we start to move this into a social science area where we know the answer as opposed to an area where everyone has an opinion.
With those thoughts, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for passing the test on the regulations—obviously I knew; I was just testing him—and finding that out, which I had obviously failed to do.
As I said earlier, we welcome the fact that the Government have undoubtedly accepted that the three-year sanctions need to be lifted in certain circumstances. However, questions remain, some of which could be dealt with in regulations. For example, people need to know what the carrot is and what they have to do to get sanctions lifted. There is still the problem of defining work, particularly for someone who has childcare responsibilities and the job offer simply does not fit in with their responsibilities.
I am sure the Minister did not mean this, but I also worry about the idea of an incentive to take anything that is offered. Would that not allow certain rogue employers to exploit people on benefits because they know that if there are sanctions they can offer pretty thankless and underpaid jobs? Similarly, I also worry about people leaving a job. There is the problem of the strength of an employer, but those worries are by the by. The biggest thing to say about this is that the idea that you have to get a job to come off sanctions, even if you live in an area where there are simply no jobs available, remains a problem. However, I welcome the Minister’s commitment to pilot and test this. If it proved to be a big stumbling block, I assume that he could come back with regulations to allow for that. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
Clause 70 : Housing benefit: determination of appropriate maximum
8: Clause 70, page 54, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) After subsection (7) insert—
“(7A) In relation to a dwelling of which the landlord is a local housing authority or a registered provider of social housing, and no alternative accommodation (as defined in regulations to be made under this section, and provided by any such provider) is available, regulations under this section shall not permit the AMHB to be less than the actual amount of the liability in a case where a household has no more than one spare bedroom.””
My Lords, Amendment 8 gives effect to an amendment which was in my name on Report and to an amendment to my amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, at that stage. These amendments, which addressed the cuts to housing benefit and universal credit for those deemed to have a spare room, were declared to be consequential amendments to two earlier amendments approved by your Lordships on 14 December and now incorporated in Clause 11.
However, the consequential amendments were not moved formally. They should have been. I fear that the complexities of consequential amendments and of amendments to amendments meant that this amendment is now required. With apologies, I beg to move the amendment formally.
My Lords, I accept that Amendment 8 from the noble Lord, Lord Best, is a duplicate of previous Amendments 49 and 49A, which related to Clause 68 and should have been formally moved during Report stage. We find the veil and draw it as to why they were not. The Government acknowledge that it was the view of the House, following the vote on the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, on 14 December, to have those amendments made. Essentially Amendment 8, which is a duplicate of Amendments 49 and 49A, would mean that a reduction is not possible where the tenant has no more than one spare bedroom unless suitable alternative accommodation, which is to be defined in regulations, provided by a local housing authority or registered provider of social housing is available. I am clear that to complete that picture Amendments 49 and 49A should also have been made.
The Government regret that the House reached such a conclusion on the social sector size criteria. While I do not intend to oppose these amendments now, I should make it clear to this House that this is not an indication that the Government agree with the overall principle of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Best. It is now for another place to consider this when the Bill returns there.
Amendment 8 agreed.
Clause 93 : Power to make supplementary and consequential provision
Amendments 9 and 10
9: Clause 93, page 62, line 21, leave out “The Secretary of State may by regulations” and insert “Regulations may”
10: Clause 93, page 62, line 24, leave out subsections (2) and (3)
Amendments 9 and 10 agreed.
Clause 95 : Regulations
Amendments 11 to 13
11: Clause 95, page 63, line 8, leave out “unless otherwise provided”
12: Clause 95, page 63, line 21, leave out from “Regulations” to “are” and insert “under this Part”
13: Clause 95, page 63, line 34, leave out subsection (8)
Amendments 11 to 13 agreed.
Clause 146 : UK child poverty strategies
14: Clause 146, page 109, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) Nothing in subsections (1) to (5) have the effect of changing the requirement in the Child Poverty Act 2010 for the Secretary of State to publish and lay before Parliament a UK Child Poverty Strategy and to describe the progress that he considers necessary—
(a) to meet each of the targets in sections 3 to 6 of that Act in order to reach these targets by the end of the target year; and(b) the progress he intends to make in the period covered by the Strategy to ensure that so far as possible children do not experience socio-economic disadvantage.”
My Lords, Amendment 14 seeks further clarification about the purpose of the changes that the Government introduced to the Child Poverty Act on Report. These altered the description of what the Government would do to achieve the target to end child poverty by 2020, as set out in the Act, from making progress to taking measures. Having reviewed the text after Report stage, we are concerned that this alters the substance of the Act to require the Government’s child poverty strategy only to set out what they propose to do rather than the progress they intend to make; that is, to remove the duty on the Government to make progress towards the targets.
The amendment was laid at the end of our deliberations and proceedings on the last day of Report. We probed this a little on Report, when the Minister reassured me that the amendment was intended to clarify the Child Poverty Act and not to change the substance or to affect the law. Stephen Timms, the Minister responsible for that Act in the Commons at the time, stated that “Clause 8”, which has subsequently become Section 9,
“requires the Secretary of State to publish a strategy every three years, to set out the progress intended over that three-year period in each of the policy areas specified in subsection (5), and to describe the progress needed over that period to meet the 2020 targets. In that way, the strategy will set milestones to 2020”.—[Official Report, Commons, Child Poverty Bill Committee, 27/10/09; col. 142.]
Will the Minister confirm that this is the function that the strategies will still play; that is, that they will both set out the progress that the Government intend to make and the progress needed to meet the 2020 target?
Our amendment would ensure that this substance of the original Child Poverty Act would remain the substance of the current version. If the Minister does not feel able to accept it, will he describe for us the difference between what he proposes should now be in the Act and the original version, so that we can have a second chance to assess the merits of each? I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment. It is important that there has not been a change in meaning. I know that the Government have their doubts about targets and so forth but they are very important in terms of accountability. I talked a lot last week about accountability in relation to the Social Fund. This is accountability in terms of organisations which are very concerned about what is happening as regards child poverty and enabling them to know what progress the Government are making and are intending to make. I know that certain voluntary organisations are very concerned about child poverty and that there has been a slight shifting here in meaning that could make their job that much harder.
My Lords, Amendment 14 is designed to place a caveat on the amendment to Section 9 of the Child Poverty Act which is already included in the Welfare Reform Bill. As I discussed on Report last week, the amendment to Section 9 is a clarification which confirms the Government’s existing understanding that the requirement in Section 9(7) of the Child Poverty Act for a UK strategy to describe progress can be met with a description of progress in narrative or policy terms, rather than in numerical or statistical terms.
This amendment appears to seek clarification that the changes already agreed by the House will not undermine three requirements on the Secretary of State which are included in Section 9 of the Child Poverty Act; namely, first, that he must publish and lay before Parliament a child poverty strategy; secondly, that he must describe in that strategy the progress that he considers necessary to meet the four child poverty targets by the target year of 2020-21; and, thirdly, that he must describe in that strategy the progress he intends to make over the period of the strategy to reduce socioeconomic disadvantage as far as possible.
I can state clearly on the record that our amendment to Section 9 is not designed to remove the requirement on the Secretary of State to do any of those things. The Secretary of State will continue to have a duty to produce a strategy every three years which sets out the measures that will be taken, and the progress that needs to be achieved, in that period in order to meet the targets by the target year and reduce socioeconomic disadvantage as far as possible. The purpose of our amendment to Section 9 is not to change the substance or effect of the law. The amendments simply clarify how progress can be described—in particular, that it can be described in policy or narrative terms rather than statistical or numerical terms if the Secretary of State so wishes.
I discussed on Report the reasons why we think that this clarification is important. We believe that a requirement to set out the progress required in statistical terms is equivalent to a requirement for interim targets on child poverty towards the 2020 target. Interim targets incentivise the short-term, income-transfer approach that we have seen in the past. That approach has not worked and completely fails to address the underlying problems. This can lead therefore to small amounts of money being given to families just to lift them over the poverty line.
The Government remain committed to eradicating child poverty and improving social mobility. We do not believe, however, that the right way to achieve these aims is by using income transfers to move people above an arbitrary line, so we must focus on tackling the root causes of poverty and changing behaviour. In the long term, those with the lowest level of income can only improve their life chances by keeping pace with those at the top. This is why we must take long-term sustainable measures to improve skills, abilities and aspirations. An income-transfer approach does not work because it is unsustainable and does not deal with or address the underlying causes of long-term deprivation. We will continue to monitor progress through the annual publication of the Household Below Average Income Statistics, the beloved HBAI. However, we think it is very important to clarify that the law does not require the child poverty strategies to set out interim income targets. It is because of this that we cannot accept the amendment. By reintroducing the wording of the original Child Poverty Act, in effect it would remove the clarification that we introduced using the amendment to Section 9.
I emphasise that we remain fully committed to eradicating child poverty, and that amendment does not alter current government policy. We will continue to be required to produce a strategy every three years which sets out the measures that will be taken and the progress that needs to be achieved over the period. This amendment is unnecessary and unhelpful. The requirements it seeks to place on the Secretary of State already exist. All it will do is reintroduce lack of clarity regarding how progress is to be described, and I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw it.
From what the noble Lord has just said, it seems that what the Government did on Report sought to change the import of what is set out in the Child Poverty Act. If it removes what the noble Lord thought might be the need to have interim targets along the way, surely that is a change, otherwise what is the clarification about? Part of the strategy is to hit some very clear targets by the end of 2020, and I presume the noble Lord is not seeking to change that requirement, but what is it about the current wording that has been changed? I am sorry that I am not being very clear on this, but the Minister has said that there is no change and it is all the same as before and this is just a clarification. However, I thought he said when explaining it that it obviated the prospect of having to put in interim targets when the strategy is developed along the way towards 2020. If that is the case and the requirement for those interim targets is removed, that is a change. It may be that that is what the Minister and the Government want, but it is a change. If it is not a change, can the Minister have another go at explaining why not?
My Lords, what I hoped that I had explained, although I failed to do so adequately, was this. As currently written, the Act is somewhat ambiguous. We and, I imagine, the previous Government have always interpreted this as needing to describe the progress we are making in policy terms in a way that does not require interim targets because such targets, when set every year, become absolutely tyrannical. They are particularly tyrannical when you are trying to change people’s lives and behaviours in a fundamental way. If you are worrying about interim targets every year, your efforts are undermined. This is a clarification to make it crystal clear that our understanding of the Act, and to be honest what I think was the previous Government’s understanding of the Act—the noble Lord and I spent many happy hours going over every word of it, although I am still not sure that I understand the word “socioeconomic” in it, but let us put that to one side—is that we can progress in the way we think is best, which is pursuing fundamental change for people, without the tyranny of interim targets. The previous Government did not want them and we do not want them. We want to be able to describe our progress towards the main target. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that that is the desirable way to go with this.
It is not an easy thing to do. Dealing with child poverty is really tough. The noble Lord knows it and I know it, as do we all. Let us not mess about with it, but try to do the fundamentals, and this is what we need for that. We need to be absolutely clear that this approach will work.
My Lords, it is a pity that this came up at the end of the Report stage and that we do not have another chance to review the record. I am minded not to press the matter this evening, but frankly I am not sure whether colleagues in another place or we in another situation might not wish to re-engage on the issue. The key issue along the way is what the Government will be prepared to commit to and how progress towards the 2020 objective is going to be measured. That, to my mind, is what is missing from what we have just heard from the Minister. However, I do not think it would be productive to test the opinion of the House on what is quite a narrow debate, so we must try to find another way of clarifying this. I accept the assurance given by the Minister. He has put it clearly on the record that this is not meant to change the law or the duty on the Government, and it is not meant to change the obligation that the Government have. On that basis, I will withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
Schedule 1 : Universal credit: supplementary regulation-making powers
15: Schedule 1, page 113, line 3, at end insert—
“Work-related requirements6A Regulations may provide that a claimant who—
(a) has a right to reside in the United Kingdom under the EU Treaties, and(b) would otherwise fall within section 19, 20 or 21,is to be treated as not falling within that section.”
My Lords, we have brought forward this amendment to ensure that where we have an obligation under EU treaties to allow the free movement of workers, those who have a right to reside here under EU treaties, particularly as jobseekers, may be subject to the full work-related conditionality requirements of universal credit. This amendment enables us to make regulations so that EU migrants cannot fall into groups which are not subject to the work search and work availability requirements. We must meet the UK’s obligations under EU law while ensuring that, when people come here, they do not take inappropriate advantage of our benefit system. We must maintain protections against non-active migrants who travel for the purpose of accessing state support.
We have always maintained that non-active migrants who want to come to the UK should be self-sufficient, and EU law supports this. The amendment will allow us to make sure that jobseekers who exercise their EU treaty right to come to the UK are in fact searching and available for work, as is the case now. I beg to move.
My Lords, we support the thrust of this amendment. Perhaps I may ask one question. We had a helpful briefing note from the Box which reads as follows: “This amendment therefore is designed through this regulation-making power to enable the Secretary of State, so far as possible within the unified structure of universal credit, to maintain the current position in relation to the obligation placed on EU jobseekers”. The phrase “so far as possible” seems to be a qualification on what the Government are seeking to achieve here, and I wonder if the Minister might just expand on what that qualification amounts to.
While the Minister is being helpful, perhaps I may seek the indulgence of the House for just a moment. I want to apologise for not having been able to get in to move my amendment because of the crowds leaving the Chamber after the EU Council Statement, but I want to thank the Minister for the telephone conversation I had with him earlier today when he agreed to work with me and with others on monitoring very closely the changes to the work capability assessment for cancer patients.
I do not know whether this is the right place in the debate in which to do it because it is the first time that I have had the opportunity, but I want to place on record our thanks to the Bill team and my noble friend the Minister for the way in which they have handled the Bill all the way through. The way in which access to civil servants has been granted and the openness with which the Minister has provided information has been a revelation. I am most grateful, as I am sure are my colleagues on these Benches.
My Lords, since this opportunity is being taken to say thank you, perhaps I may from our Benches—I am sure that others will want to do likewise—thank the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for the courteous and happy way in which they have handled the Bill. The Minister has always had a smile on his face despite the fact that there have been occasions when I am sure he felt otherwise. He has always been eager and helpful in responding to inquiries. There is a danger that he will become known in the House as “the latter-day Lord Newton”; in other words, the person who the disability lobby knows is really on its side but whose hands are sometimes tied. There can be worse tributes than that. We are very grateful for all the time and consideration that he has given during the past few weeks.
Before the Minister answers the question that I posed earlier, perhaps I may take the opportunity to add our thanks. The Minister’s enthusiasm for universal credit and his commitment to evidence-based policy have been evident to all of us. He has borne a very heavy load in bringing the Bill through your Lordships' House and has done so, as has just been said, with good humour throughout our proceedings. The fact that noble Lords have sought to beg to differ on a number of provisions does not lessen our respect for him or for the determination that he brings to his role. He has of course been ably supported by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, and other colleagues. Our thanks go also to the Bill team for their extensive briefings and provision of information, and the helpful way in which they have engaged. I have seen the operation of a Bill team as a Minister and am aware that we see just part of a huge operation which underpins the calm presence that we see in the Box. The scope, the size and the innovative context of the Bill will have added to this challenge. Of course, I thank my team on these Benches for their expertise, passion and support. As I have said previously, I would not have wished to face such a battery when I was a Minister.
The important changes that we have made to the Bill do not belong to us; they are the result of the voices, votes, knowledge, experience and compassion on all Benches in your Lordships' House. I have no doubt that what we send back to the other place is a much better Bill but also one which does not fundamentally undermine universal credit. It remains to be seen what returns in due course. Thus far, I have no doubt that your Lordships' House has done its job in holding the Government to account. What we are dealing with in this Bill touches the lives of millions, including many of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our country. Our duty to them is not yet concluded.
My Lords, before I say a few words of my own, I have to admit that the very last question from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, was a tribute to him. It is quite difficult to answer; it is in a tricky area. We are pretty confident that we can maintain the position whereby it is only EU jobseekers whom we have to support and not others. As the noble Lord will know, we are moving from providing particular support in JSA to providing general support. That is where the protection is. We are hopeful that, by and large, we can maintain it, but there may be some shadowing of that position.
It is a shame that the crowds trying to get out of our deliberations earlier on slowed down the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan. I can clarify that we had a useful conversation on monitoring cancer patients and I said that the statistics which come out quarterly would become national statistics. I committed to look at what they would show in order to assess how the face-to-face process and other issues were dealt with. She very kindly said that she would help me with that after the consultation. Although we did not debate it, the position is now sufficiently clear on the record.
I do not think that we have seen the last of this Bill, but we have passed a significant point at Third Reading. Perhaps I may use this opportunity to place on record my thanks to noble Lords right around the House for the way in which they have been so constructive, have thought through the issues and been absolutely on the point. I have seen in other Bills a lot of grabbing of the wrong end of the stick and waving it about vigorously, but we have not had that here. Our deliberations have been outstanding. I shall not name all the contributors because it would take all evening—and I would forget someone, which would be invidious.
I was going to say how pleased I was that we had got universal credit through unchanged, but I cannot say that any more. Had it not been for today, we would have had it through. I know that what we are trying to do with universal credit has been understood. The complexity of universal credit is such that, if noble Lords had not appreciated it, it could have been cut to shreds and rendered completely unworkable and basically a disaster. I really appreciate the fact that it has not happened, except on one occasion.
This is my speech.
I need to thank my noble friend Lady Garden for her support on the Front Bench, and my noble friend Lord De Mauley for his proficiency in covering a number of clauses. He drew one of the short straws, but he did it manfully.
I need to thank also the Bill team—a few of them are in the Box—who have been absolutely stunning in supporting me all the way through. As some of your Lordships have said, they have supported a lot of noble Lords in this process. The access and one-to-one contact that they offered were probably why the wrong end of the stick was not waggled quite so vigorously as it could have been. I hope that the whole House will join me in thanking them for their phenomenal support.
Amendment 15 agreed.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.