Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this instrument was laid before Parliament on 5 September 2019 and has been discussed and approved in the other place. Today, I am grateful to move this forward through your Lordships’ House.
In 2013, my department passed the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act. The Act validated sanctions and notifications issued to claimants who failed to take part in employment programmes designed to help them into work. The Court of Appeal found the Act to be an effective and valid way of achieving this but also recognised that, in a small number of very specific circumstances, some individuals had lost their right to a fair hearing under the Act.
This draft remedial order amends the Jobseekers (Back to Work schemes) Act 2013 to resolve this issue and allows the tribunals to find in favour of the claimants whose appeals were affected, where it is right to do so. It also gives my department the ability to reconsider relevant sanction decisions in these cases and to pay any affected individuals anything that they are then due. It is of fundamental importance to me that those who had appealed a sanction decision but were prevented from having a fair hearing because of the Act should have this right restored. Only a specific group of people—some 5,000 individuals—have been affected by the Act in this way. As the remedial order applies only in very particular circumstances, not all cases will lead to a payment.
My department aims to resolve these cases and make any necessary payments to these individuals as soon as it can. We anticipate that the whole process may take up to 12 months, for us to identify and pay any affected individuals. We aim to commence work on these claims in the autumn and begin reconsidering the decisions and payments. This is not just resolving this matter for the small number of claimants affected; we must also ensure that we learn the important lessons around communicating with claimants and do not create similar instances in future.
Noble Lords may be acutely aware that, in the summer, the Chancellor announced an unprecedented package of measures not only to protect jobs but to ensure that we get individuals who may have lost jobs as a result of the Covid-19 emergency back into work. I have real confidence that the digital nature of UC and its improved means of communication with our claimants via the online journal means a future Government will not find themselves in a similar situation.
The draft remedial order was laid for 60 sitting days on 28 June 2018 and then again for another 60 days last year. This was done to enable representations from Members of both Houses and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. By using a non-urgent remedial order, Parliament has been given time and the opportunity to scrutinise and consult on the order’s contents. I have considered the views of the tribunals, and this draft of the remedial order has been amended accordingly. The Joint Committee on Human Rights approved the draft remedial order earlier this year, in March, and recommended it to Parliament.
Currently, no other Bills are planned that could accommodate this specific legal objective and resolve the incompatibility. This is a way of achieving that end without repealing the Act itself, which still holds for the majority of claimants.
Although it has been a long and complex process, we have comprehensively assessed the issue and carefully considered any representations that we have received. I am keen to resolve the appeal cases for these individuals as soon as we can and to take the learnings forward as we look to support people back into work. I hope that noble Lords will support this order during its final passage through Parliament.
I am satisfied that the draft remedial order is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and I commend it to the House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this order. I have read all that there is to read on this statutory instrument and I have no objection to its content or the fact that the Government are using a remedial order rather than primary legislation. This matter has dragged on for a long time and it is right that it be settled; I do not know what has taken the Government so long to start the remedial process in the first place. Nevertheless, I want to say a few things about the circumstances surrounding the issue and about sanctions more generally.
The order puts right the previous denial of a fair trial for those who had started an appeal that is still extant; it establishes that an appeal would have been won and includes a mechanism by which the Secretary of State will revise decisions so that appeals will not have to run their course, thus not wasting any more time and money. I am presuming that benefits withheld under sanctions will be repaid several years after the event, but will there be any other compensation for the harm that may have arisen as a result of benefit sanctions? This could of course include the cost of getting into debt and the consequences of harm to mental health. These are recurring themes when it comes to benefits and about which I will say a little more later.
I am not expecting an answer in the affirmative to my latter questions as this whole exercise, from the Government side, whoever it has been, seems to have been focused on cost savings and leaves the unsatisfactory situation that the law will have been applied differently simply because one party had appealed and another had not. That leaves me with a continuing distaste for retrospective law which leads to disadvantage or, in my view, legitimises the improper, for that appears essentially to be what has been achieved by the 2013 Act.
I feel particularly strongly on this issue because the sanctions imposed could have meant withholding jobseeker benefits for a considerable period of time, up to six months. I want to use some of my time to speak about benefit sanctions more generally and draw attention to a recent report of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee on universal credit that was published on 14 July. I am a member of that committee and I note that the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is listed to speak next; he may have had a similar thought. If so, there is so much in the report that there will plenty left after I have spoken. I also wish to take this opportunity to commend the noble Lord on his leadership and willingness to tackle this and other hard subjects.
I found the evidence sessions on universal credit both harrowing and humbling. I still get choked up thinking about it. I wonder if I would have been able to navigate and withstand the difficulties experienced by many claimants, and I have enormous respect for the way that several of our witnesses not only overcame their own difficulties but took on roles helping others.
Our report found that the original objectives of universal credit are broadly correct, but that there are problems in its design and implementation that do not reflect real-life circumstances and create unpredictable incomes that are hard to manage, especially for people who do not have any savings to buffer them. If nothing else, the five-week wait makes sure that that vulnerability exists.
Although not part of the original design and in fact running contrary to their stated purpose, cuts in funding have, frankly, made the regime cruel and the cause of harm, notably in terms of child poverty and mental health. This is further exaggerated when it comes to conditionality and sanctions which, according to evidence, can end up biting in unjustified circumstances that I will paraphrase as “no real fault” of the claimant. What I found surprising was the cumulative level of sanctions that could be taken from an already inadequate income—far greater than a court would be able to apply when seeking an attachment order to a bank account, for example, and seemingly with no account being taken of what other deductions, repayment of advances or other debts had to be serviced, including those to the DWP itself. This is still going on, even though since 2017 there has been some reduction in use of sanctions and their duration. Cutbacks and sanctions have pushed people into extreme poverty, indebtedness and reliance on foodbanks. This inevitably undermines any opportunity to look for and secure work and gives rise to mental health problems, which in turn must surely rebound on society and become a drag on the public purse in other ways.
An evaluation promised by the DWP in 2013 of the impact of conditionality and sanctions on claimants’ mental health and well-being has not yet appeared, though heaven knows, the evidence is out there already from many sources. Even without sanctions, the pandemic and a more jobless environment will require new resources, so my plea to the Minister is for the department and the Government to take a more holistic view of the costs and societal effects, and of protecting mental health.
My Lords, I agree with every word just uttered by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted. She is a formidable member of the committee and has referred to our unanimous report entitled, Universal Credit isn’t working: proposals for reform.
This order is concerned with the sanctions applied to JSA claimants who lodged appeals before the 2013 Act came into force. I must say that I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, about the time it has taken to deal with this matter, but that is water under the bridge and I am grateful to the Government for bringing forward this order. However, to my mind it says something about the culture that operates in the DWP in respect of sanctions. The report of the committee, which was published just as the House went into the Summer Recess, is highly critical of the DWP regarding its use of sanctions for relatively minor breaches of rules. It makes several recommendations on the use of sanctions and reforms, and we are all looking forward to the Minister’s response to those in due course.
In my view, the Government have placed far too much emphasis on enforcing strict obligations on claimants through the threat of sanctions. The evidence seen by the committee shows that this is counterproductive and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, has pointed out, has severe implications for people’s mental health and well-being. Surely, we should try to operate a system that provides more help in coaching and training claimants to find jobs or to progress in their current roles.
We were amazed to find that the United Kingdom has some of the most punitive sanctions in the world, and the evidence on their efficacy is, to say the least, mixed and unconvincing. Harsh sanctions are being applied to claimants who are already subject to high deductions to pay back advances and historic debt. The committee heard evidence that, over recent decades, there has been increased severity of sanctions accompanied by reduced safeguards. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, pointed out, the penalties which can be imposed by the department are far more severe than anything that would be allowed by the courts. I am sure the Committee would agree that no reasonable system should impose fines which result in extreme poverty for minor offences. The system should take account of the effect on individuals, and the department should have some kind of hardship assessment before sanctions are applied.
I very much welcome the reduction in the maximum length of sanctions from six months to three months, which again the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, referred to. However, we should remember that we are talking about removing the main source of support from people, which results in them having to go to food banks, being dependent on loan sharks and being cast into extreme poverty. I therefore ask my noble friend the Minister, who I know is indefatigable and very sensitive and who has a long and distinguished record in helping some of the most vulnerable in our society, what progress has been made on introducing a written warning system before sanctions are applied.
On 2 June, giving evidence to our committee, Neil Couling said that the DWP was committed to publishing an evaluation of the effectiveness of sanctions and that it was coming
“as soon as we can.”
What does that mean? I note that my noble friend used that phrase in the context of complying with the order, where “as soon as we can” represented 12 months. It is disappointing that this was not published before the department reversed its decision on the suspension of sanctions as a result of Covid. It is very regrettable that the DWP has resumed the monitoring of conditionality requirements and will resume sanctions, when every day we have more announcements of catastrophic reductions in job numbers.
I say to my noble friend that, with the prospect of several million more unemployed, to threaten claimants with long and severe sanctions at this stage seems unfair and counterproductive. I ask her to think again about the decision to bring back the sanctions regime, given that the impact of Covid will, if anything, be worse and more difficult in the months ahead.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction to this order, and I offer my thanks to all the members of staff who have made this Committee possible with all their hard work.
Today, we are addressing an order that rights a legal wrong, and an illegality, that was committed twice by the Government. The Joint Committee on Human Rights tells us that, finally, the illegal government acts started under the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011 are righted by this order, almost a decade after the issue arose. On the narrow point of today’s debate, I can only be guided by the committee’s expertise, and I thank it for its comprehensive report. I therefore support the order.
That it has taken a decade to provide full remedy for an illegality in a regulation is, I suggest, something we might reflect on in other work around the House, from the Agriculture Bill and the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill to the immigration Bill next week, in all of which cases the Government seek to provide only a skeletal framework of their intentions, promising to fill them in later with regulation. I fear there will be decades of work in cleaning up the results.
The Minister said that she expected it would take 12 months to identify and recompense the affected individuals. I can only hope that that is delivered, given that what is happening with the Windrush scheme is not encouraging. Can she say what progress reports the House can expect over that 12 months? It would be good to have progress reports to see how this is going forward.
Today’s Committee provides a chance also to reflect on some of the broader issues, as noble Lords already have. I associate myself with the strong concerns about universal credit and sanctions expressed by both the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, and the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, in particular the five-week wait, the impact on child poverty and mental health, and the huge damage done to lives by sanctions.
It is also worth taking this opportunity to reflect on the importance of human rights legislation as a balancing force for an individual against the overweening and potentially overwhelming power of the state. Some 5,000 individuals are affected in this case, on the account of the Minister. Anyone might need to use human rights legislation; I doubt that either the young graduate or the HGV driver with whom this whole saga started ever expected to make personal use of human rights legislation, yet, in choosing to bravely stand up, this mechanism was available to them to ensure that the state was not allowed to force them into illegal temporary slavery—for workfare applied illegally can be described only as that.
Secondly, in the context of Covid-19 and the potential economic situation we face in the coming years, it is important to reflect on the damage done by forced work being imposed on people. Let us not forget that a Department for Work and Pensions analysis in 2013 found:
“There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.”
Over the past decade, we have seen many such schemes and heard horror stories such as the mandatory work activity and community work placement, and various localised trailblazer schemes for young people. They have been withdrawn. There was of course significant community backlash against companies participating in many of these schemes, but campaigners suggest that a more disguised, less visible form of workfare continues. Can the Minister inform the Committee, either now or perhaps by letter, how many people are now in work placements arranged by the Government? I do not include the word “voluntary” in that question, for we all know that there are wide degrees of voluntariness. I also ask the Minister to report to us on the use of “skills conditionality”—claimants being forced to attend a skills training provider, further education college or other adviser with potential benefit sanctions for non-participation.
These are issues that are close to my heart, because over the years I have seen so much damage done by such forced activities. In Ashton-under-Lyne, outside a jobcentre that was then known as being particularly harsh, I met a young woman who had been sanctioned for failing to complete an unpaid work placement. She suffered from agoraphobia, and would have had to take a long bus journey to the placement: she simply could not do that. She also suffered from acute uncontrolled diabetes, and she was reliant on feeding herself from a food bank. I dread to think where that young woman might be now. I think of a woman I met at a WASPI demonstration in support of women born in the 1950s affected by the increase in the pension age for women. She had been an office manager for decades, and was insulted and deeply disturbed by being forced by this system to go on a one-day course on how to write a CV.
We had companies that benefited significantly financially from these placements, and communities where large numbers of these placements meant that the income into the community from what should have been waged work was significantly reduced. As we face the potential significant rise in unemployment, it is important that we do not forget what damage was done by blaming individuals for the state of society, that we do not see any return to the disastrous and utterly appalling “strivers versus skivers” rhetoric that caused so much social division and heartache. We also need to focus on how this “job or activity at any cost” approach causes broader damage. There is lots of focus on all sides of politics on our productivity problem. I would question what we mean by productivity, particularly in the service and care sectors: when it comes to people-to-people contact, what constitutes productivity? There is also the question of people ending up in the right job, the optimum job for them and for society. Forcing people quickly into a new job that is a bad fit, with sanctions and the threat of starvation or having to seek the charity of a food bank, is in no one’s interest, yet that is the entire way our system is slanted.
That is where we come to trust: trusting individuals to know what is best for them, giving them the space, time and resources to develop their human potential, grow their experiences and find the way they can best contribute to society. It will not surprise the Minister to learn that I will briefly mention universal basic income. As a society and community, we should be helping people to find their way in the world, providing support through advice on study, careers guidance and practical support in making choices. But the best person to find the way forward, to identify the skills and experience they need, is the individual concerned. Giving them the space, time and security to do that through an unconditional payment that meets their basic needs is, I suggest, the way forward.
Removing compulsion to the dictates of the state and bureaucracy, and providing instead individual freedom and choice, is something that might find significant support even on the Government Benches.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction, and I support and welcome the order. The question that has not been fully answered is why it has taken so long for the relevant legislation to be amended in line with the court’s decision. Is this, as it appears, because over this period, DWP Ministers have strenuously resisted such action? Given her remarks about learning the lessons of communicating with claimants, does she recognise that senior politicians’ failure to listen to claimants has prevented effective evaluation of whether policies are achieving their objectives? Universal credit sanctions have caused such distress to the least well-off and most vulnerable people. The Government’s action in suspending sanctions until 30 June was welcome.
The report of the Select Committee, which has been referred to by colleagues in this debate, stresses that it regrets that the suspension was lifted so soon, and that threatening claimants with long and severe sanctions at this stage, so far from a labour market recovery, is unfair and counterproductive. What evidence supported the Government’s decision to reintroduce sanctions from 30 June? As others have said, there is ample evidence that sanctions disproportionately affect people with mental illness and that, at best, evidence on the effectiveness of sanctions is mixed. At worst, it shows them to be counterproductive.
Do the Government share the view of the Select Committee that the UK has some of the most punitive sanctions in the world? Removing people’s main source of support for extended periods risks pushing them further into poverty, indebtedness and reliance on food banks. The National Audit Office observed that the UK’s unusually severe sanctions regime compared to other countries is not grounded on a strong evidence base, nor has the department attempted to fully analyse the data it has at its disposal.
As to the impact of sanctions, 80% of sanctions challenged are overturned on appeal. Does the Minister agree with the Select Committee that the report into the efficacy of sanctions should have been made public before the decision to reintroduce them was announced, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, the chair of the committee, has said? What evidence in the review supported the decision to reintroduce sanctions and why it was not made public? Will she also say when the review will be made public, in line with the recommendations of the Select Committee, along with a statement on what action the Government propose to address the failings of the current policy?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction to the order and all noble Lords who have spoken. With apologies for length, I shall read into the record the events that brought us here today, because we have to learn from them.
In 2009, the Labour Government launched the Future Jobs Fund, which created subsidised jobs for 18 to 24 year-olds on benefits to help them avoid the risk of long-term unemployment. Official government evaluation later found this to be a highly effective programme, with participants significantly more likely to get jobs than those who did not get involved.
Sadly, the coalition Government abolished it in 2010 to save money. They also abolished Labour’s New Deal programmes and created the Work Programme. Research later found that the Work Programme was actually less effective than doing nothing, so it was itself abolished in 2015. Part of that programme was a requirement for some claimants to do unpaid work in return for their benefits. Caitlin Reilly, a graduate who had already done a paid work placement at a museum and was volunteering there to boost her chances of getting a permanent job, was told to leave that and undertake a work placement, which turned out to be working without pay in Poundland for five hours a day sweeping floors and stacking shelves. Work experience schemes have their place, but not workfare, whereby claimants are forced to act as free labour, displacing proper jobs. Reilly launched a legal challenge and the case eventually reached the Court of Appeal, which quashed the 2011 regulations on which the scheme depended, a view upheld by the Supreme Court.
Rather than reimburse those who had been unlawfully sanctioned, the Government then repealed the 2011 regulations and introduced the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013, which retrospectively made their sanctions legal. It also validated the parallel 2011 regulations. I remember that very well. I remember the 2013 Act being rushed through Parliament—I have been in my job for ever and ever—at breakneck speed, to huge protests from the Constitution Committee and from the House. I remember the Second Reading debate, when the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, faced an onslaught of criticism, including from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who pointed out that the Bill
“breaches the fundamental constitutional principle that penalties should not be imposed on persons by reason of conduct that was lawful at the time of their action”.—[Official Report, 21/3/13; col. 739.]
Occasionally, all of us in politics need to reflect that when we legislate in haste, we may repent at leisure. Reilly and others went back to court and, in a case that went right up to the Court of Appeal, the 2013 Act was in turn ruled unlawful because it had interfered with ongoing legal proceedings challenging benefits sanctions by retrospectively validating those sanctions.
In 2018, the Government laid a remedial order to fix things. Third time lucky? Alas not. As we have heard, following an intervention by a tribunal judge, that order was itself deemed to be at risk of challenge as it did not cover both sets of 2011 regulations. It was withdrawn, and last September this revised remedial order was laid.
Fourth time lucky, the Government have finally landed in the right place. We welcome this remedial order, which will restore the right to a fair hearing for all affected claimants, but there are some really important questions the Minister needs to answer. I recognise that she was not in post at the time, but the Government need somehow to explain to Parliament what they have learned from this mess.
First, can she remind us what will happen to the individuals affected by the order and how many of them there are? In the Commons, the Minister mentioned 5,000 people. I was not clear whether that is 5,000 people whose benefits were sanctioned and had appealed, and what stage that had got to. How many of those are likely to be recompensed and will DWP proactively try to locate them all?
Secondly, in the seven years it has taken to get this far, what have we learned? The Minister mentioned in her introduction a need to learn lessons about communicating better, but can she tell us whether a full lessons-learned exercise has been done on this case? Have Ministers asked what could have been done to avoid these various breaches of the law happening in the first place? What actions could have resolved it sooner? Have they reviewed whether it was right to spend so much time and public money appealing the decisions all the way, or should they have acknowledged and fixed the mistake earlier? Have they asked what drove the later errors? Was it money? Was it political intransigence or determination?
How does this play in the light of the worrying noises from the top of this Government threatening the whole principle of judicial review, misleadingly presenting it as the courts interfering with Parliament, rather than what it is—the courts upholding the requirement that the Government conduct themselves in accordance with the laws passed by Parliament?
Rather than just digging in and fighting citizens in the courts—including, in this case, by taking away the rights of others to appeal—could DWP better learn what systemic change might be needed to improve the system? What have the Government learned about how they use sanctions and their impact on claimants? I heard the very moving comments from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and others. I am very grateful to them and others on the committee for the work they are doing in this area.
We knew the problems back in 2013. At a Second Reading debate, my late and much missed friend Lady Hollis reminded the Minister that the DWP’s own research showed that between half and two-thirds of those sanctioned did not know that it could happen, and when it did, they did not know why. In some cases, because they had other deductions from benefits, they did not even realise that they were being sanctioned, so it obviously had no impact on their jobseeking behaviour. I will not say any more on this, as others have covered it, but I will be very interested in the Minister’s response to that.
That takes me to my final question: what lessons have the Government learned for employment support policy? Do they now value enablement and encouragement over punishment? Will they learn from the past?
Perhaps ironically, we are debating this order the day after the Kickstart Scheme opens to bids—a scheme offering six-month work placements to unemployed 18 to 24 year-olds on benefits. However, the Future Jobs Fund was so successful because the Labour Government got the culture right from the start and because it was collaborative. Will the Government learn lessons from the Future Jobs Fund, and from all the events we have debated today, to ensure both that Kickstart works well and that the DWP is focused less on enforcing conditionality—especially in the middle of a pandemic with enormous fallout for unemployment —and more on supporting people into long-lasting employment? I hope that is a goal we can all share. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions today. Getting people back into work and giving them the support that they need is of the utmost importance, especially at this time. My department is dedicated to doing all that we can for these individuals.
My department is constantly learning and evolving. As the Secretary of State told the House of Commons on 29 June, claimant commitments must now reflect our “new normal”, acknowledging the reality of a person’s local jobs market and personal circumstances to prepare them for getting back into work. We are managing this with a phased approach to ensure that our work coaches can deliver an effective service in a reasonable, measured and safe way, taking into account any Covid-19 restrictions.
I will move on to the many observations made about sanctions—an issue which all noble Lords have raised. We use sanctions as a consequence of people not meeting the agreed commitments that a claimant accepts to be entitled to benefits. We always apply reasonable judgment before any actions, and take into account the current circumstances of the individual. My department’s work coaches use their judgment of what are reasonable steps. Claimant commitments must be reasonable, and in this unprecedented time they will be. Sanctions are used only if a claimant does not do what they have committed to do without good reason.
Before the start of the pandemic, sanctions were used in only a small percentage of cases, and the rate of sanctions has fallen over the last year. However, we are never complacent in our ongoing commitment to ensure that our policies are fit for purpose. That is why, in November 2019, we reduced the maximum length of high-level sanction from three years to six months, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth referred to. Data from March 2020, before suspending conditionality, shows that 2.12% of UC claimants subject to conditionality at the point where the sanctions applied had a reduction taken from their UC award. This is near the lowest on record. The latest data available following the suspension of conditionality shows that 0.73% of UC claimants subject to conditionality at the point where the sanction was applied had a reduction taken from their award.
As many noble Lords have said, the department has committed to doing an evaluation of the effectiveness of universal credit sanctions in supporting claimants to search for work in response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee report on benefits sanctions. The department will look to publish in autumn.
Noble Lords asked what “as soon as we can” means. I appreciate that we want this as quickly as possible, but the department has faced unprecedented demand on services. With an increase in claimant count of nearly 600%, we are doubling our work coaches and recruiting more and more so that we can support more people. We are having to increase the DWP estate so that we can look after people safely, with social distancing, and we have turned over every stone to increase the relationships that we are making with employers to ensure that, where vacancies exist, we can get them and put people forward for them. These are tough times and we are working very hard to support the people we are in business to support.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked about progress reports. I need to take this question back to the department; I will get an answer to her and make sure that all noble Lords are apprised of it. She also talked about a person in Ashton-under-Lyne and gave some very alarming details about the case. If she could please let me have the details, I will ensure that that case is investigated. If other noble Lords have details of where things have apparently not worked out for people, I ask them to let me know; I give my word that it will be looked into.
Another point raised was about the unfairness of mandating people to go on employment programmes. We aim to provide individuals with the help they need to find work, stay in work and get better work, so I strongly refute that requiring people to attend programmes to help them into work is unfair. The Court of Appeal ruled in our favour on this point: attendance on these work programmes is not a breach of human rights.
I acknowledge that all noble Lords have raised points about sanctions and their impacts on people, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and my noble friend Lord Forsyth raised the point about sanctions leading to poverty and destitution and the use of food banks. We do not sanction people lightly. It is applied only where there is good reason. If people find themselves in hardship, hardship payments are available to eligible claimants to help them meet their essential needs.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised a point about the commitment of the department and the Government to helping people back into work. I have never known a time in my working environment when I have seen such commitment in action through our Jobcentre Plus network, our partners and, in particular, our work coaches. I must say that I take the point about forcing someone into any job, but over my life I have learned that when you have a job, it is easier to get the next one. With the work we are doing on in-work progression, I can honestly say that this is the best course of action.
The noble Baroness, Lady Janke, raised a point about sanctions for not attending unpaid work placements. We do not sanction people for not attending work experience placements. If we can have more details, I will investigate that.
On who falls in the scope of the remedial order, we estimate there to be under 5,000 individuals who may be affected by this. The remedial order affects a very specific group, and we will use the appeal records to identify those people.
The 2013 Act was introduced because of the department’s defective notifications. I was asked whether we have reviewed the notifications and letters since. We have, and we are constantly revising and improving processes on sanctions.
Another question was whether the 2013 Act was unconstitutional. The Act was not only constitutional but it was necessary. It was introduced in people’s best interest and was an effective means of achieving its policy effect.
As to when people will be paid, as I have said, during this difficult time resources have had to be elsewhere, but we will begin resolving the cases impacted by the order and paying people any amounts that they are due this year.
I am sorry, but in the time available I am never going to be able to answer all the questions. After this order is dealt with, I will go back to the department with my officials and make sure that people get answers to the questions they have raised.
I recognise the importance of resolving this incompatibility as quickly as possible. It has taken time to consider and develop the best course of action. I believe that the proposed remedial order is a reasonable and lawful approach to resolving an otherwise complex issue, and I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Human Rights for its scrutiny of the matter. The remedial order process is very rarely used, but it is an effective way of correcting incompatibilities.
Finally, the Economic Affairs Committee’s report on universal credit has been published. We thank the committee for its work. We are considering the content and recommendations, and we will report back in due course. If any noble Lord wishes to discuss that report with me, they should feel free; I am very happy to meet them.
There are no arguments now to justify delaying the process. It has already been approved in the other place. I hope that the Committee will support the remedial order during its final passage through Parliament. I commend the order to the Committee.
I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the room.