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Geneva Conventions (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for the amendment of the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 to enable effect to be given to certain international protocols done on the 10th day of June 1977, additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.—(Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Criminal Appeal Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Jobseekers Bill

3.40 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

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Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 9 [Income and capital: general]:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 111:


Page 8, line 40, at end insert:
("( ) Where a person or the partner of a person is in receipt of earnings of a prescribed description, regulations under subsection (1) shall make provision—
(a) for a minimum weekly amount of those earnings to be disregarded in respect of the person and any partner of his ("the disregard"); and
(b) for the minimum disregard to be applied either weekly (as £10 per week in respect of a person or £20 per week in respect of a couple if both partners have earnings) or quarterly (as £130 per quarter in respect of a person or £260 per quarter in respect of a couple if both partners have earnings).").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 111 I speak also to Amendment No. 171 with which it is grouped.

These are probing amendments which seek to increase the disregard on part-time earnings which may be retained by someone on income support. At present a single person may retain £5 if he or she is on income support; and for a couple the sum is £10. The amendment seeks to explore the implications of raising that disregard from £5 to £10 for a single person and from £10 to £20 for a couple as recommended by the Government's social security advisory committee last year.

We are talking about those in part-time work. I refer to people who work for less than 24 hours a week who also receive income support. Their part-time earnings are deducted pound for pound but they are allowed to retain a modest element—at present £5 or £10. They then go on to income support. Obviously those with children who work more than 24 hours a week are entitled to family credit as an in-work benefit.

We all agree, as we stated in earlier discussions, that part-time work is a valuable way of remaining within the labour market. If we are honest, I believe that we would also agree that £5 for a single person or £10 for a couple is an inadequate incentive for a person on income support to go to work, with the additional costs of travel, clothing, perhaps bought food, and so on.

The Government—we give credit to them—have recognised that lack of incentive by rolling up a proportion of those part-time earnings into a back-to-work bonus when one moves off income support. That is obviously welcome. It will be much appreciated at the time. It comes into play if one moves off income support at 16 hours a week. However, we believe that that scheme is too far into the future and will not operate as the psychological carrot the Government believe that it will.

Our perspective is the same as that of the Government. We wish to encourage people to move into and stay in part-time work. We have the same goals as the Government. However, we believe that the right way to encourage people to do that is to increase the disregard

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while in part-time work. That is a simple but straightforward proposal. The principle is well established.

Our first argument is that in order to meet the Government's objective of encouraging those on income support to move into part-time work, we should increase the disregard that people can retain before having their net earnings reduced pound for pound.

The second argument is that the proposal is long overdue. In November 1975 the figure was £4. It was not up-rated to £5 until 1988. If the figure of £4 had remained, and had simply been inflation proofed, it would now be worth £16 a week. The £5 figure of November 1988 would now be worth between £7 and £8 a week. Both figures are a more realistic contribution to the additional cost of being in work.

It is the same as with capital rules. If the Government do not inflation proof, and therefore increase, the disregards each and every year, it amounts effectively to a cut. We say that government should rectify that anomaly and thereafter "RPI" it so that a disregard which government intended to be worth £5 in 1988 retains its value. Otherwise the figure will not act as the incentive for work for which we all hope. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: The noble Baroness is quite right about disregards. The Minister knows well my arguments about the matter; I shall not rehearse them again. The noble Baroness is also right about the need for up-rating. Up-rating of capital sums, disregards and savings limits, is done on an irregular basis. Since up-rating is almost of necessity done by regulation, it is extremely difficult for this Chamber to find an appropriate moment to address the issue. If the Minister does not want the general concern about regulations to become more intense, I hope that we shall see some of those capital limits up-rated in the next up-rating statement.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The jobseeker's allowance will have common rules for contribution-based and income-based claimants. We have made clear that most claimants will have a £5 weekly disregard, while couples will benefit from a new £10 disregard.

The noble Baroness described the amendment as probing. I understand the attractions of the proposal. Indeed, I put it in the form of a probing amendment to the officials of the Department of Social Security when I joined, as I thought full of fresh ideas, discovering (to no one's surprise, I am sure) that most of the ideas had already been considered.

However, the problem with the proposal is that the costs are considerable. I shall come to them in a moment. It is difficult to quantify how many more people one would encourage—additional to those who are already doing some work while unemployed; and, of course, they do not need additional encouragement.

Increases in the disregard are costly and in incentive terms —because of the point that I have made about what is rather inelegantly called "dead weight"—they are a poor use of resources. It would be difficult not to align the disregard across JSA, housing benefit and council tax benefit. If the amount is raised by £5 per week the cost for that total disregard would be something like £90 million. If it were for JSA alone, the cost would be £25 million. I

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believe that there are better ways of spending that kind of money, if it were available, than the specific way that we are invited to consider.

We have looked at how to attract and encourage people back to work. One of the ways that we have chosen—the noble Baroness rightly referred to it—is the back-to-work bonus scheme. Through that scheme there will be clear water between out of work benefits and the financial advantage of full-time work. We believe that at least 150,000 people a year will receive payments under the scheme once the scheme is up and running. We shall come to that scheme later. Essentially, above the £5 disregard which anyone is allowed to earn while they are unemployed, half will be rolled up and retained up to a value of £1,000 so that when they go back to work they will receive that back-to-work bonus to help them. We shall discuss that scheme in a little while; I do not wish to go into more detail. However, I believe that that is an important add-on to the straightforward £5 disregard. We have already debated raising the hours which a partner can work from 16 to 24 without removing the entitlement to benefit.

I return to the point that I made in the middle of my remarks. The cost is quite considerable. For JSA only, the sum is £25 million. That would be quite difficult to hold to. One would have to align it across the system, which would cost £90 million. When I made the suggestion, I wondered whether that was the best use we could make of the £90 million. The £5 disregard strikes a balance in providing an incentive to do some work and the back-to-work bonus adds to the incentive without creating a disincentive to take full-time work. I hope that with that explanation the noble Baroness will realise, like me a few months ago, that what sounds a good idea involves problems of an expensive nature. The amount of up to £90 million could be better spent in other ways.

Earl Russell: I understand the Minister's difficulties with quantification. Quantifying the effects of the amendment would quickly sort the optimists from the pessimists, but the pessimists are not always right. Will the Minister try to improve his methods of quantification? While he is doing so, will he agree that the appropriate way to keep his options open is to up-rate in line with inflation?


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