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Therefore, we have a situation here where there will be an attempt, as far as we can see, to make it more difficult for people to qualify for benefit for which they have already paid. Obviously it meansindeed, it is stated in the Billthat if there is a failure to enter into the jobseeker's agreement, in all probability the claimant will not get the jobseeker's allowance.
The agreement itself seems rather a one-sided affair. There is no commitment on the face of the Bill to ensure that the Government and their agencies do everything possible to find a job for the claimantthat is, a job that is appropriate to his or her skills, education and trainingor to provide the necessary training (should that be required) to enable the claimant to compete successfully in the jobs market. All the emphasis seems to be on making it as difficult as possible to obtain the jobseeker's allowanceand to maintain it once entitlement has been established.
Here we should say something about training. We have often in this House raised complaints about TECssome of which do a good job, but not, I fear, all, and most suffer from inadequate resourcing. The Minister referred to training, but a Bill that was genuinely concerned with jobseeking, rather than with simply cutting benefits and saving money, would have devoted much more attention to training and to instituting a more effective system for providing training, both on and off the job. Sadly, the Bill does not do so.
It has, however, perpetuated one of the injustices of the present income support system. I refer to the reduced amount to be payable to the under 25s. I do not understand why this should be so, and the Minister did not explain it. Many young people under 25 have partners and children. Why should a 24 year-old receive £9.70 a week less than a 25 year-old? It simply does not make any sense.
I note the reference in the Bill to young people under the age of 18. The Government seem to have come belatedly to the view that something has to be done to alleviate hardship among such young people since the general entitlement to benefit for 16 and 17 year-olds was withdrawn in 1988. We share the view, which has often been expressed by the Government and which was stated again this afternoon, that young people in that age group should not really be in the workforce at all, but should be either still in full-time education or receiving training. Unfortunately, however, the guarantee of a youth training place has not been entirely fulfilled. There were 15,670 young people on careers service waiting lists in October 1994, of whom 1,060 had been waiting six months or longer. The result has been homelessness and destitution for far too many young and vulnerable people. We shall have to test out in Committee just how far the provisions of the Bill will go to alleviate the distress that clearly exists.
Then there may well be a problem of interface with other benefitsnotably incapacity benefitand there is the position of those who have been carers, mostly women but some men, who have been looking after elderly or infirm relatives in what is known as care in the community. Such people, as we know, save public funds a very large amount of money and they are entitled to have their needs properly safeguarded. I was glad to hear from the Minister that that point has at least
Being disabled is also a costly business, and those extra costs must be taken into account, particularly when disabled unemployed people are engaged in jobseeking. It is much more costly for people with a mobility problem actively to seek employment.
So, when taken altogether, it is not a Bill that we on this side of the House can welcome. I feel bound to tell the Government that the unions catering for the staff whose task it will be to administer the Bill are not happy either. There are already benefit offices in some parts of the country where screens have had to be erected to protect the staff from the wrath of occasionally disappointed claimants. There are likely to be far more disappointed claimants once this Bill is on the statute book, and the staff quite rightly fear that there may be an increase in violence at the places where they work and where they will be expected to administer the provisions of the Bill. I have no doubt that such staff are all now on systems of performance-related pay. Is that to be assessed on the basis of the numbers who have been refused JSA and other social benefits? It will be interesting to hear.
Clearly, the main purpose of the Bill is to save money. The Government expect the introduction of JSA to reduce public expenditure by £140 million in the first year and by about £270 million in the next year. The introduction of the back-to-work bonus is said to be cost-neutral. Those savings are to be made at the expense of the unemployednotably, the longer-term unemployed. These are people who are the victims of 15 years of Conservative policies which have robbed them of employment and often of the prospects of it, and at the same time have gradually eroded public provision of all kinds. Moreover, the collective job protection that was once available via a strong trade union movement has also been deliberately eroded by a Government who see people as a commodity like any other, disposable when no longer profitable.
No: we do not like this Bill. It has been passed in the other place and we must therefore do our best in this House to seek to ameliorate the unacceptable conditions it contains. Had it not been the tradition of your Lordships' House that we do not oppose Bills on Second Reading which have already been through the other place, I would feel strongly inclined to say that we could not accept the Bill.
Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps the Minister will forgive a moment of levity before we get down to the serious business. When I was listening to him explain that some people in 1995 have succeeded in finding a job I was irresistibly reminded of the line from Beyond the Fringe:
I admit that unemployment is falling and, like the Minister, I welcome that, but I hope that the Minister appreciates that it is an urgent fiscal necessity that it has to fall a very great deal further than it has yet.
I do not know whether the Minister was listening last Friday night to Any Questions, which was broadcast from Babbacombe in Devon. Sir George Young said very much what the Minister has just said, and it produced such a ribald wave of laughter from the audience that he was barely able to complete what he was saying. He was telling the truth, but it is like saying, "You're only going to be shot six times instead of seven"; it does not give one very much comfort.
I owe the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, an apology for making an improper intervention in her speech. However, perhaps I may say, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, once said on a similar occasion:
Earl Russell: My Lords, the noble Baroness went on to say one thing with which I disagree. She said that this Government are as unpopular as it is possible to be. Once the Bill is brought into effect, I think that the noble Baroness will find that she was mistaken on that point.
Having said that this is a very bad Bill indeedone of the worst two or three with which I can remember dealing in this HouseI must, to be fair, extend a welcome to two clauses. I welcome, first, Clause 24 which deals with a national insurance holiday for those taking on the long-term unemployed. I welcome that doubly because it is our own party policy that has now been adopted. I welcome also Clause 25 on expediting the payment of housing benefit and council tax benefit. That clause was desperately needed. I hope it works. There is common good will, and if we can do anything to help to improve it I hope that we can get together as necessary.
I am interested in the financial memorandum to the Bill; in particular, how the figures have been arrived at. I can well understand how the savings in the cutback on unemployment benefit have been arrived at. As to that, I say only that I agree with the noble Baroness that that is the one bad change in this Bill which is brought in by primary legislation. Therefore, it can be addressed in Committee, and I intend to do so. For today, I will concentrate on the other measures.
In the memorandum the estimated savings are given as £140 million in the first year and £270 million in the second year, of which £70 million in the first year and £220 million in the second year are, according to Mr. Roger Evans in a Written Answer on 24th November, attributable to the change in unemployment benefit. That leaves £70 million in the first year and £50 in the second year to be saved at the expense of the allegedly work-shy. I should like to know how those figures have been arrived at. Is the expectation that the savings will be made by putting people into work or disentitling them to benefit? How are the Government able to know in advance of the Bill how many work-shy there are and what they will do when pressure is put upon them? For
This forecast has a suspicious resemblance to a target. In that context, I ask for an assurance that the employment officers who administer the Bill will not be on performance-related pay. We intend to put down an amendment in Committee that no employment officer administering this Bill shall have a financial interest in any decision that he takes. Should that amendment not be successful, I have already referred the issue of performance-related pay to the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life which will take up a second round of issues after its first report. It is possible that it may also take interest in this point.
The Bill appears to be a long succession of regulation-making powers. I did not count themthe night was not long enough. I mention only a few of the more important ones: Clause 3(2), which deals with regulations to prescribe conditions of eligibility for contributory JSA; Clause 4(1), which deals with contributory JSA (the amounts to be determined by regulation); and Clause 4(3), which deals with income-based JSA (the premiums to be determined by regulation). In this context, does the Minister deny the story, reported under the byline of Donald Macintyre in Friday's Independent, that the Government intend to cut back the single period premium? Can he deny that there is any risk of single parents being required to make themselves available for work? It ought not to be possible to bring in these kinds of measures by regulation.
Clause 6 is nothing but a mass of regulation-making powers: conditions of eligibility and disentitlement and what shall be "good cause" for non-compliance. Clause 7 deals with the jobseeker's agreement. Here we have something more than the ordinary delegation of powers to Ministers. This appears to be suspiciously close to a delegation of the regulation-making power right down the line to the employment officer. I know that the Minister said that the jobseeker's agreement is not a condition, but it looks remarkably like one. If the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, can convince me when he replies that this is not a condition I will be very relieved indeed. I very much hope that there is no prospect of market testing under that clause. If there were, I believe that there would be market testing of the power to make law. I would find that a bit rich coming from a government which regularly say that they are dedicated to defending parliamentary sovereignty.
I leave out quite a few clauses because there are too many to mention here. I refer to Clause 16 and jobseeker's direction. The length of disentitlement may be fixed by regulation at anywhere between one and 26 weeks. That is an enormous variation to leave to discretion. It does not say that at the end of 26 weeks it will not be done again. It refers to a disentitlement for failure to carry out the directions of the employment officer. In another place Mr. Alan Howarth described that as a profoundly illiberal power. We on these
These are not merely powers that are likely to have a harmful effect on us. They are provisions which create powers to exercise real cruelty. I am sure that the Minister will say that the Government have no plans to do so, but that is not enough. This Government will not be in office for ever. They will leave those powers on the statute book for anybody to make use ofperhaps years hence. It is like leaving unexploded bombs around. Some of the things that may be done are quite startling. For example, I refer to the regulations under Clause 6 dealing with appearance. That is like giving the employment officer the power to say that he does not like somebody's face.
The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, will undoubtedly tell me that all will be referred to the adjudication officer to determine whether or not it is reasonable. I do not see how it is possible to have a test of reasonableness on the exercise of an inherently unreasonable power. I believe that we severely underrate the gravity of the penalty of disentitlement to benefit. It is the next thing to a sentence of imprisonment. I have sometimes wondered whether I would rather be sent to prison than be disentitled to benefit. My noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich will undoubtedly tell me later this evening that that will depend on the prison to which I am sent. I will accept that proviso, but I ask the House to consider the question as an open one.
The Minister may perhaps be familiar with the suicide of Rachel Cain who was denied benefit, wrongly as it turned out. She had already committed suicide before that was discovered. I do not believe that anyone will advocate suicide as a solution. However, I ask both Ministers the following question. If somebody comes to them who has been disentitled to benefit for 26 weeks and asks how he is to make a living, what answer will they give? If the answer is that the person should find a job perhaps I may be told how he can actively seek work when he has no money to pay fares. To actively seek work regularly involves travel. The next stepwhich is not far beyond thisis the creation of criminal offences by regulation.
The Minister said a great deal about 16 and 17 year-olds. What he did not appear to realise was that what he said has been made out of date by his own Bill. He referred to the danger of benefit dependency, but if the Bill does not remove the danger of benefit dependency then the Bill is being passed altogether in vain, and might as well be withdrawn.
The Bill is intended to stop benefit dependency, so if it does not succeed in doing that, it is useless. That means that the justification, which Ministers have trotted out more times than I care to count, is removed. I know that they keep on repeating it automatically. For that, I must take some share of the responsibility, and I am sorry for it. They should think again, and consider, before they talk about 16 and 17 year-olds living at home, that under the 1991 census, of people aged from 18 to 24, 1,116,000 were living away from home, very often upon the insistence of their parents. That ignores the fact we all know, that in that census there was
Clause 27, and the effect on the homeless, I shall leave to Committee. But we have to think about the powers under Clause 16arguably the most arbitrary clause in the Bill of giving the unemployment officer the degree of power he has to decide whether refusal of work is with good cause. Take a case that I have here: a woman of 31, working in a bakery, became incapable of work because of tenosinovitis (an upper limb disorderrestriction of the wrist movement). She was finally found capable of work, though receiving the lowest component of the DLA. She was offered a job as a nude model. She was unwilling to do that because she felt embarrassed and upset at the prospect of sitting nude in front of art students. The Jobcentre staff said to her, "Are you saying that you are not available to work?" They threatened to withdraw her benefit if she refused. Under the old law, she was able to complain to her MP and obtain an apology. Under the new law, the jobseeker's direction will have the force of law.
I know again the Minister will claim referral to the adjudication officer. According to the latest report of the Chief Adjudication Officer, 40 per cent. of adjudication officers' decisions were found to be unsatisfactory; 92 per cent. of cases on refusal of benefit were found to be unsatisfactory. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, whether he can tell me, when he replies, how far it can be said that adjudication officers enjoy judicial independence. The question is of importance.
We have in the Bill a series of regulation-making powers. We need to look at what the noble Lord, Lord Rippon of Hexham, said in the Hansard Society report Making the Law. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work that the noble Lord has done as chairman of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, and to wish him good health and a speedy return to the House. What that report had to say was:
It was, once, in the Education Act 1993, but thanks to the courage and integrity of Government Back Benchers and the distinguished skills of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, the offending provisions were thrown out. I hope that will happen this time. If it does not, I cannot consent to the Bill.
I am not threatening to vote against the Second Reading. I would not do anything so futile. I do not want to be the one noble Lord who murmurs, "Not Content" and looks very relieved when the Lord Chairman does not hear him. I am not throwing a tantrum, I am making a technical statement. There is no procedure in the Bill whereby my consent to its most offensive provisions can be expressed or withheld. I warned the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal, when the Bill was published, that it risks putting the convention that we do not vote against
Lord Rix: My Lords, others in your Lordships' House will be dealing with physical and sensory disabilities in relation to the Jobseekers Bill. Indeed, I have received excellent briefs from the Disability Alliance and the Association of Disabled Professionals, which will, no doubt, help a number of your Lordships through this labyrinthine Bill. However, I shall try to wend my way through the problems facing people with a learning disability.
It is a little difficult to object to the principles that those who receive benefit for being incapable of work should be incapable of work; and that those who receive benefit because they cannot work, should be looking for work. The problems lie not with the principles, but with the law and with the practice that stems from the law. The worry is that disabled people who stand little chance of working may not satisfy the new tests of incapacity for work, while disabled people who are pushed towards the new unemployment benefit arrangements may have difficulty in establishing their eligibility for what used to be called unemployment benefits.
However, it is left to MENCAP and its Pathway Employment Service to speak on behalf of people with possibly the most complex problemthose with a learning disability. Our task is made no easier by the drafting of the Bill, apparently employing spirit-writing from the other side through the medium of the long dead Sir William Schwenck Gilbert. In "Ruddigore" we find the following wordsand I shall not abuse your Lordships by singing:
Unfortunately, that arcane drafting persists throughout the Bill, and one can envisage enormous additional savings being made by the department and its éminence grise (the Treasury) savings being one of the main objects of the Bill, anyway just because jobseekers and employment officers alike will be quite incapable of reaching an understanding of the rules and regulations laid before themeven if placed, as we have heard, on one application form, which I imagine will be longer than the Roll of the Lordsthus denying allowances to thousands of would-be applicants.
People with a learning disability fall smartly into that trap. I have been assured by Ministers on earlier occasions no doubt with the firm intention of being both helpful and honestthat people with a learning disability are not the target of the changes, and should not experience any problems. It is pointed out that
Perhaps I may stress that MENCAP'S Pathway Employment Service has discerned a number of facts which contradict those gloomy assumptions. To begin with, we have more than 5,000 people in open employmentor in job training, leading to full employmentand often the nature of their disability is not always self-evident. Secondly, some people with very severe and, indeed, multiple disabilities can and do work for a modest living, thus proving that they will not always fit neatly into the boxes assigned to them. I am therefore extremely anxious to ensure that when they appear in the wrong box or move between boxes they suffer as little hardship as possible.
I suspect that in your Lordships' House there will be attempts to improve the Bill in a number of relevant aspects. But perhaps in this early stage in the proceedings I may seek to be helpful by asking four questions. If the Minister is unable to respond today, I would be happynay, relievedto receive an explanatory note a little later. I am all too conscious of the fact that even those whose daily business is social security find it a rather complicated subject. If I had the choice, I should rather have a considered reply than an immediate onequite apart from the fact that I should then have time to understand the Ouija board messages conveyed by Sir William, or his spiritualist medium in the department.
Question No. 1 is: how does the department propose to monitor what happens to people with severe disabilities who seem to be disadvantaged by the new distinctions between incapacitated and unemployed?
If the aim is to encourage employers to take on board people who have not had a foothold in employment for a long timeor indeed everand to encourage those people to get on board, it seems to me not to be a matter of any great relevance whether they are unemployed or disabled when it comes to the point of actual employment.
I have already hinted that one of the objectives of the Bill may be to save money. It also seems to have another prime objectivethat is, the need to reduce the numbers on the unemployment register. However, the department
I shall ask my fourth and final question and then I am finishedfor the time being, anyway. I hope that I am not straying too far from the relevance of this Second Reading debate in asking for an assurance that charging employers for access-to-work provisions will not be introduced, for that would negate any improved incentives provided by the Bill, including those for disabled people who are searching for a job as well as those who have been offered a job. I am sure that we all share common ground in believing that disabled people need effective support while not working, and effective support to help them find and retain jobs so that they can be seen to be working in ever greater numbers.
I am sure too that we all share common ground in believing that it is contrary to the interests of disabled people, and to common sense and common decency, to complicate their lives and impede their progress by artificial obstacles. At a recent MENCAP conference, a young woman with a severe learning disability put it very clearly. She said, "I want a job; and I need money to live on". I am certain that your Lordships will agree that those are not unreasonable ambitions.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I welcome the provisions of the Bill. I enjoyed the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, who referred to the popularity of Her Majesty's Government. It is not fair to say that this Government are the most unpopular ever. I remember that in 1978 the then government appeared to be extraordinarily unpopular; and so it subsequently proved the case when the electorate were given an opportunity to choose.
Be that as it may, the Bill is warmly to be supported. The arrangements surrounding the payment of unemployment benefit, and all that goes with them, are ripe for overhaul. The Bill does exactly that. The jobseeker's allowance is clearly about improving incentives to work, removing the barriers which stop people leaving benefit and focusing the efforts of jobseekers on looking for work. The allowance will operate a simplified and more individually tailored approach to jobsearch and more incentives to find work. Surely that is greatly to be welcomed.
The existing two-tier system is wholly out of date and the introduction of a new single benefit will be simpler and easier to understand and to administer. Therefore, the unemployed will received a better service, financial support and back-to-work advice, generally provided in a single, one-stop service. That will be much to their benefit. As a result of a streamlined administration and closer targeting, the allowance will improve the operation of the labour market by helping people in their search for work, enabling them to secure better value for money for themselves and, above all, for the taxpayers and by providing a better service to unemployed people.
Much has been made of the Bill's effect on the so-called work-shy; those reluctant to look for work with any kind of vigour or enthusiasm. It is right that the taxpayers should have some protection from those who have no intention of looking for work and who put every obstacle in the path of those who are seeking to help them. Surely taxpayers and national insurance contributors have the right to be protected from those who are not genuinely available for or searching for employment. In that regard, the rules will be clearer and fairer to claimants and to taxpayers.
That will be achieved by the two routes that will be available to the new benefit; that is, the contributory route and the income-based route. As we heard from my noble friend the Minister, those who have worked and made contributions in the relevant tax years will be entitled to benefit, regardless of means, for six months. Surely that is right. Those who remain unemployed after six months will not qualify for a contributory benefit but will become eligible for a means-based benefit. I am certain that that too is right.
I also greatly welcome the introduction of the jobseeker's agreement which will set out the jobseeker's planned jobsearch and activity and the support and guidance which the Employment Service will be able to provide. In return for benefit and advice on finding work, the claimant will be expected to make every effort to find a job. Those provisions too are very much to be welcomed.
I turn more seriously to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. She referred to the importance of training and I agree with her. Indeed, I must declare an interest because I am chairman of the Engineering Training Authority, which will have a role to play in these matters. I am not certain that the Bill is the right vehicle for the provision of the various training schemes now in place, and nor does it provide for that. However, I wish to sound a note of warning. There is a risk that we become involved in training merely for the sake of training and as an alternative to gainful employment. It is important that training is tailored to the needs of employers as well as employees. Recently, there has been the risk of many people attending training courses simply as a means of finding something to do but with little hope of being better off at the end of the courses. To send young people on training courses of that kind is a delusion and I hope that there will not be too much of that. My own authority is obliged and concerned to ensure that the training provided relates as closely as possible to the needs of employers. I hope that that thought will continue to be in the Government's mind as they develop training courses now and in the future.
I do not believe that the Bill is an appropriate vehicle for those measures or for other matters relating to training activity. I welcome the provisions in the Bill and hope that it will find its way swiftly onto the statute book.
I suggest that the Bill has not been introduced out of concern for the unemployed. Indeed, I believe that it is a cruel, mean-minded measure which, whether or not it is intended by the Government, will stigmatise the victims of unemployment and their families. It will not stop there. It will impoverish the unemployed, and young people who have not even started their working lives will be included in that impoverishment and stigmatisation. It will have an impact on the sick, people with disabilities and carers. They will all be caught up in the Bill, which is supposedly a mere simplification. In fact, it is estimated that it will remove from benefits something like a quarter of a million people, with 90,000 people losing benefits altogether. Indeed, the savings on the face of the Bill show that the projected savings for 1996-97 will be £140 million and in the second year, £272 million. I suggest that the Bill does not take us forward as regards the extremely grave problem of unemployment.
Indeed, it takes away from those who have paid their national insurance contributionsinsurance against being unemployed. People have paid for those benefits and recently have paid for them at an increased cost.
I believe that there is cross-party acceptance of the fact that unemployment is too high. I question whether Ministers really understand what it means to be unemployed. Have they seen the impact on families? Have they seen the despair, the lack of hope and the loss of self-esteem which unemployment brings with it? If one looks at the statistics in relation to people who are ill and the suicide rate, in the centre of that are large numbers of unemployed people.
I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, about protecting against people who are work-shy, but this is not the way to achieve that. It is not correct to imply and I do not suggest that the noble Lord did sothat the majority of unemployed people are work-shy. They are not. I believe that the number of such people is so small that it cannot even be quantified.
The benefit cut from 12 months to six months is not a simplification. That is taking away money that has already been paid. In the first year of unemployment a couple over 25 years of age, where one partner is out of work, will lose over £1,100 in benefits. Their income will be cut by that amount in 12 months.
Part-time employment in Britain has been growing. There is a large increase in the number of men within that group. They are men who cannot find full-time employment. It is acceptedI believe that even the Government accept itthat part-time employment can be a bridge to full-time employment. But what do we find? The Jobseekers Bill will do absolutely nothing to help those people because all money over the first £5 will be taken away from them. It is no good saying that the compensation is the back-to-work bonus, because
The issue of training always arises when we talk about unemployment. It is not just a case of training for training's sake. The fact is that 38 per cent. of the long-term unemployed in Britain todaythat is, those who have been unemployed for over a yearhave no qualifications. We need a better trained and more highly skilled workforce to compete in the world economy. At present Britain is 21st out of 22 countries in the World Economic Forum league table. That is nothing to be proud of.
What should we do? We should help people to train out of unemployment. But what do we do? In the past five years the Government have cut their training budget by 40 per cent. They have cut 55,000 places in the training-for-work programme. And yet there is still a skills shortage which tells us that we need to train people. In 1993 there was a 6 per cent. skills shortage when we were still in the depths of recession. Last year that increased by nearly 100 per cent.it increased from 6 per cent. to 11 per cent. What will be the skills shortage this year? We desperately need to do something about training, and the Bill does nothing.
Indeed, I suggest that it penalises people who try to educate themselves out of unemployment because of the change from the 21-hour rule to the 16-hour rule. That will have an immediate impact by removing 6,000 students from benefits. Indeed, a recent CBI report called for a balancing of the skills shortage and the skills needed.
I turn quickly to the jobseeker's agreement. That is a misuse of the word "agreement". The Bill condemns people to poverty in the sense that the agreement requires them to be looking for work. It is right that unemployed people should look for work. But what does the Bill condemn them to? The abolition of the wages councils has meant that today in Britain just under one third of a million people are earning less than £1.50 per hour and more than 1 million earn less than £2.50 per hour. We are telling people that if they breach the jobseeker's agreement by refusing to seek any work which is regarded as reasonable by the officer, they will lose their unemployment benefit.
A recent Equal Opportunities Commission report established to look at compulsory competitive tendering, which is the Government's policy, identified the fact that that policy had driven forward the number of people in unemployment. Not only has it done that, but it has also driven down the level of wages which people were being paid.
Perhaps I may deal briefly with the position of carers. I should declare an interest in that I am patron of the carers association on the Fylde coast area of Britain. The savings which carers bring to the taxpayer are absolutely phenomenal. It is important that we do not penalise
The Government say that the Bill has been introduced to help the unemployed. I do not accept that that is a reasonable assessment of the position. I was concerned to read of the reservations expressed by staff in benefit offices. I was also concerned to read a leaked internal departmental report about the changes which would be necessary within those offices to meet the reaction of claimants. The unions have said that they are anxious about the safety of their members because they know that the measures within the Bill will be neither perceived nor accepted as intended to work for the welfare of claimants. I would suggest that that view was accepted in the internal report which was leaked in the Financial Times. The advice in the report said that the department needed to ensure that anything which could be seen as a weapon in the benefits office is kept away from the public; that additional private interview rooms with safety measuresI do not know what they are, whether they are cages, alarm bells or two-way mirrorsshould be installed; that there should be provision of closed-circuit TV, personal alarms and also of security guards.
The report also said that Jobcentre managers should have training, that clear escape routes for the employees should be provided and that they should be trained in customer aggression. We are not talking about prisons; we are talking about Jobcentres, where, under the provisions of the Bill, unemployed people will go for assistance to help them get back into work. That is the impact that the Bill will have. That was certainly the view of those who produced the report.
The Bill has many drawbacks. In overall terms, I would suggest that it does nothing in most of its areas of provisions to assist the unemployed get back into work. The unemployed need work, training to apply for such work and counselling and assistance from experienced people who are doing the work, on the basis of a joint agreement; that is, one which is real and not a one-sided agreement.
Lord Dean of Harptree: My Lords, I like the idea of a jobseeker's allowance. It seems to be much more positive than unemployment benefit. It recognises that most people who are out of work want a job and that they should be given every assistance to get one. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that it must be right to improve incentives to work and remove barriers to people coming off of benefit and going back into work.
I am glad that the Bill proposes one allowance instead of two. Unemployment benefit and income support were run off different engines; indeed, they did not dovetail very effectively. I believe that the new arrangements will prove to be simpler and clearer to operate for everyone concerned. I also welcome the fact that the
It seems to me that there is much in the principle of the Bill to commend it. I also welcome the financial incentives in the Bill, and elsewhere, to assist people to return to work. I refer to the back-to-work bonus; the improved provisions for working partners where one member of the household is on benefit; the jobfinder's grant; the job clubs; the national insurance credit improvements and the national insurance contribution holiday for employers who take on someone who has been out of work for two years. Individually, they may be comparatively small improvements, but, taken together, they should provide substantial, additional incentives and ease the passage back to work. Of course, they must also be considered against the background of the £600 million package of work incentives which was announced last autumn in the Budget. I very much welcome those provisions.
I also hope that the new arrangements will help to deal with the abuses involved in the black economy. I am not talking about moonlightingsomeone who has two jobs. Such people are very often the most enterprising members of the community and, perhaps, have two jobs for a variety of reasons. For example, such a person may have two qualifications and wish to "keep his hand in" in both of them. Alternatively, in order to earn a better living for their families, such people are often prepared to work unsocial hours and undertake jobs which other people will not do. That is to be commended, provided those people declare their earnings and pay the appropriate level of tax and national insurance contributions.
The black economy is very different. It involves cheating and, sometimes, also lying. There are two aspects to it. The first is working and drawing social security benefits at the same time. Of course, that is fraud on the social security system and the taxpayers who provide the money for the system. The second aspect is that earnings are not normally declared. Therefore, no tax or national insurance contributions are paid. I hope that the new arrangements will make it somewhat easier to deal with those abuses of the black economy.
I turn now to finance, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. I thought that the new model Labour Party was very keen on trying to find savings in the social security system. However, I was surprised that we did not hear anything like that this afternoon. As my noble friend the Minister mentioned, there will be modest savings in expenditure as a result of the Bill. It surely must be right that Her Majesty's Governmentindeed, any governmentshould look out for justifiable savings in the social security budget which, after all, is very large. It is a budget which grows year by year and this month's uprating will add no less than £1.5 billion to the cost of pensions and benefits. I am one of the lucky ones who will draw a little of that by an increase in pension, for which I am suitably grateful.
I suggest that we must take into account the fact that the total cost of the social security budget this year will be no less than £84 billion and that that will cost every working person £15 per working day. In the light of those huge and growing figures, it surely must be right for the Government to ensure that the burden on present and future working and taxpaying members of the community is not insupportable.
I note that the main saving is the payment of contributory benefit of six months instead of one year. That seems to me to be sensible when we take into account that two-thirds of those who lose their jobs return to work within six months. However, the reduction of the period of benefit as of right to six months emphasises the need for adequate support for those who are still unemployed after six months, especially those in the vulnerable groups. Concern has been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and other speakers that some people might fall through the net after the six-month period is over. There are two obvious groups which come to mind. The first group is the disabled, who have already been mentioned in today's debate, and includes those who will not be eligible for the new incapacity benefit which starts this month.
As has already been mentioned, disabled workers are renowned for being very conscientious and good at their jobs. They often struggle greatly to hold down a job. We have another welcome feature in the Disability Discrimination Bill which has just had its First Reading in this House and which one hopes, again, will assist in that regard. However, if disabled people or those who are not in robust health are still unemployed after six months it is most important that support for them should be adequate. It is equally important that the staff who will be trying to help them understand the particular problems that they have and the difficulties that they face which are not faced by those who are able bodied. I hope that when my noble friend Lord Inglewood replies to the debate he will be able to give the House some reassurance with regard to the disabled.
The second group that I should like to mention is one which, again, has been referred to by several speakers in today's debate. I have in mind the carers; that is, those who are caring for elderly people, sick people or children. They also have special problems and needs. I welcome the big increase in expenditure on various carers' social security benefits in recent years, but it would be helpful if, again, my noble friend could give an assurance that the special needs of carers are adequately catered for in this Bill. With those reservations, this Bill seems to me sensible and practical and I support it.
Baroness David: My Lords, I am going to speak on education and training. I hope that we can start from the premise that it is far better for an unemployed person to be encouraged and supported in his wish to study and acquire knowledge and skills he has not already acquired, and thus make a positive contribution to the needs of the country for a better qualified workforce, than it is for him to be idle or to be pulled out of a good
The National Institute for Adult and Continuing Educationan organisation for which I have the greatest respectsuggested in a briefing paper last year that the jobseeker's allowance legislation offered an opportunity to clarify the position, to resolve anomalies, and to change the whole atmosphere in which unemployed people seek to learn and reposition themselves in a rapidly changing economy and labour market. What I want to try to do today is to look at what seem to be the Government's plans and ask the Minister how reasonable, co-operative and flexible they are going to be in framing the regulations and monitoring them; and I hope he will have some positive replies when he winds up.
No one is arguing that full-time students should be eligible for benefit support while studying, nor that part-time study should be an alternative to suitable employment. Most unemployed people do not want or expect such treatment. The existence of a tiny minority seeking to use study as a means of avoiding work
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