Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Earl Russell: The Minister asked me a question and I owe him an answer. He asked me whether I believe that is the way it will be in the real world. Yes, sometimes, I do. If it were one case in 10,000 I believe that that would be too many. When the Minister says "good cause", he means a cause which appears to the adjudication officer to be good. As long as the evidence available to the adjudication officer is defective, his decision cannot be any better than the evidence available to him.

We are all trying to look into a crystal ball when we ask how many times it will be like that. On the basis that I am looking into a crystal ball and that that is a highly dangerous activity, my estimate would be that it will happen in the region of 10 cases out of every 100—and that is a great deal too many.

9 p.m.

Lord Inglewood: The noble Earl has looked into his crystal ball, but I want to put on record that the kind of prognostication which the noble Earl has produced would not be acceptable to the Employment Service. Our aspirations are to do much better than that.

Earl Russell: Can the Minister tell me when my last prognostication about a government measure coming from the Department of Social Security was wrong?

Lord McCarthy: Unless the Minister wishes to reply to that, perhaps I may reply to the amendment. I do not want to curtail the debate because I am afraid that I have no alternative but to seek to withdraw the amendment. I thank all those who have participated in the debate—and all those who have participated, with, of course, the exception of the Minister, have agreed with the amendment.

I agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has an absolutely unanswerable case. If we can have "good cause" here, why can we not have "good cause" in relation to disabilities? The Government have no answer to that. All that they can do is not answer the point, which is exactly what the Minister did. Although he did not answer our case, we shall return to it.

I agree with all the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, with the exception of two. I do not agree that it is worse to have no money and to starve than to be in prison—but that is probably just something personal to me, particularly given what we know about some of Her Majesty's prisons. I would prefer to be outside looking in rather than inside looking out.

I do not believe that the amendment deals with the problem of forced labour. It is this amendment and the next one put together which relate to forced labour, and we shall be coming to that point.

Therefore, I now turn to what the Minister said. I have to say once again that we have not had an answer. We shall not continue with our arguments now because it is much better if the Minister goes away, talks to his

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1111

friends in the Box and tries to put an answer together. There must be a better answer, because the question is simple: why is it that failure to obey a jobseeker's directive by a person who has a jobseeker's agreement—let us look forward into 1996 or 1997, when the thing is up and running—does not result in an immediate cut in benefit, whereas if somebody who has a jobseeker's agreement—they will all have them in the end—is suddenly found to be not actively seeking work he will be subject to an instant cut in benefit? That is the question to which the Minister must find an answer, because we have not yet had one.

Finally, not only have we heard no answers, but the Minister has not dealt with the point that the provisions are not necessary. The Government do not like this to be mentioned, but there was a long period from sometime in the 1940s until the late 1960s or early 1970s when we had no jobseeker's agreements—people then were "unemployed", except that there were none. When there was a sufficiently high level of demand, less than 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. of our fellow citizens lay about not having a job. Everybody got jobs. I had 20 jobs in three years—

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: All at the same time?

Lord McCarthy: I got the sack from half of them. There was a time when there was a demand for labour in the economy and when we did not have to drive people into ever-increasing levels of activity—"wider still and wider shall thy availability be set, God who made the active make thee more active yet". That is what the Government believe—because there are no jobs and they have to keep driving people into further and further extremes of activity in order to pretend that there are jobs. We shall return to these issues on Report, but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brougham and Vaux): Before calling Amendment No. 151, I must advise the Committee that, if Amendment No. 151 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 152 and 152A.

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 151:


Page 14, leave out lines 13 to 19.

The noble Lord said: We come back now to forced labour. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, has tabled Amendment No. 152, with which my amendment is grouped, but, although agreeing with it, I shall leave that amendment to the noble Earl. The Government's amendment, Amendment No. 152A, is also grouped with Amendment No. 151 and, if I understand that amendment—I may not—it makes the situation marginally worse, although not significantly worse because, God knows, it is bad enough.

We are seeking to delete what I call the "compulsory training clause". The provision states that if, without good cause, you fail to avail yourself of a reasonable opportunity of a place on a training scheme, if you give up such a place, if you fail to attend or so on and so forth, you will lose your allowance. I daresay that when we get to

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1112

Report stage the Government will table an amendment to say that if you go on a course and fail to get a pass mark, you will lose your jobseeker's allowance.

Until I became involved in the Bill, I was not aware of how far this practice had gone, but we believe that quasi-compulsion has already gone a very long way. Attendance on an approved training programme is compulsory. That is all right because so far the only approved training programmes are YT and there are not many. Restart interviews are compulsory. They have been compulsory since January 1991. In other words, if you do not attend one of your compulsory Restart interviews, you lose allowance because you are not "seeking". Job plan workshops are compulsory, and have been compulsory since January 1992. Workwise and Worklink are compulsory. For some reason they have different names in Scotland and in England; God knows why. So, we already have built into the system a series of compulsory attendances. If the jobseeker does not do those things regularly as specified—as increasingly specified—he will lose his allowance. As a result, we are told that a 40 per cent. reduction in benefits is imposed on many workers who have been two years on the unemployment register, and there has been a significant increase in the number of disallowances.

In 1993-94, there were 15,699 reduced benefit disallowances. There were of course other things happening, but we believe that as a consequence of the increased compulsion, and the specification of what unemployed workers had to do, those disallowances rose to 40,438. They more than doubled in that short period. Yet the Government propose a major extension of compulsion. The Government now say that failure to go on an employment programme, which is not even necessarily training, could be a reason for disallowance. Training for work will be made compulsory. Attendance at job clubs could be compulsory. The intention is to make it compulsory.

What is the evidence that we need ever greater compulsion? What is the evidence of abuse? What is the evidence that workers, without that level of compulsion, in the 1980s and 1990s will not seek work, whereas in the 1940s, 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s they did seek work? There is no such evidence. There is no such evidence in the CBI survey, the ESRC surveys, the OPCS surveys or the Department of Employment's own 1992 Employment in Britain study. None of those surveys suggests that there is an outbreak of an unusual number of workers who do not want to be active, to be available, and who do not want to work.

If there were, we know that the Government would be quoting the evidence at us, night after night in these debates, but there is no evidence. Therefore we say that there is no case for a compulsory movement of this kind. We say that this direction, together with the direction about which we talked on the previous amendment, constitutes something close, as the noble Earl said, to a compulsory work state. That is where we have reached, and that is why I beg to move.

Lord Inglewood: I shall speak to Amendment No. 151 and government amendment No. 152A. The kind of circumstances which Amendment No. 151 seeks to

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1113

delete have long been a feature of unemployment benefit legislation under different governments. Those circumstances are currently set out in Section 28(1) of the Social Security and Benefits Act, and indeed the Government's Amendment No. 152A seeks to make the correspondence with Section 28 even clearer. Both sides of the Committee, I think we can agree, have accepted the importance of sanctions in this area.

The amendment would reduce our ability to ensure that unemployed people take appropriate steps to assist their return to employment. Jobseekers could refuse to take advantage of the help offered through employment and training programmes. The vast majority of jobseekers, of course, welcome and make full use of such assistance. Sanctions would never be applied to those people. Experience shows, however, that a small minority does persist in refusing the help offered, without taking other sensible steps. For them, of course sanctions are important.

The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, talked about the increase in disallowances. The important point is that no one need be disallowed. It is jobseekers' actions which trigger off a change in their circumstances. Job plan workshops and restart courses, for example, will both be prescribed in regulations. People who refuse to attend or complete those mandatory courses without good cause, will therefore be denied JSA for a fixed period of two weeks, rising to four weeks for subsequent refusals. The Government believe that it is right for there to be a disincentive for rejecting provision which is designed to help motivate and prepare unemployed people, especially long-term unemployed people, for their return to the labour market.

I should like to reiterate and refer to the points that I made about workfare in the previous debate. The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, referred also to employment programmes. I want to put on record that the test of an employment programme is that its predominant purpose is to assist the jobseeker to get back to work.

I shall turn now to government Amendment No. 152A which relates to the sanction that applies when people without good cause refuse or fail to apply for, or to accept, a place on a prescribed training scheme or employment programme. It is designed merely to carry forward all the circumstances relating to training schemes or employment programmes set out in Section 28(1) (f) of the Social Security and Benefits Act 1992.

It was always the intention that all the circumstances relating to schemes and programmes set out in the current legislation should be carried forward into JSA. This amendment makes that clear in relation to failure to apply for a training place.

The amendment also makes it clear that the place must be notified to an applicant by an employment officer, which brings the provision into line with Clause 16(6) (c) in relation to refusal or failure to apply for an employment opportunity. I commend that amendment to the Committee.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page