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Lord Swinfen: My noble friend may care to reflect on the fact that, if the Committee agrees the amendment, there will be 12 occurrences in this clause alone of the expressions "without good cause" or "without just cause", 11 of which he himself has drafted.

I strongly support the amendment, bearing in mind the current idea of moving people out of hospital as quickly as possible. Very often a relation at home may have to leave work in order to care for the person

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discharged. He or she may need care for some weeks. Once the period of caring is over, the individual will wish to return to work.

For instance, a schizophrenic, or someone who has a debilitating or disabling disease which occurs from time to time with greater or lesser severity, may need imtermittent care. Again, the carer may find that he has to move in and out of work to care for that relation. Another individual may have to care at home for a terminally ill relation, perhaps for an unknown period. It may be wiser to give up the job; alternatively, the firm for which the individual works may not wish him to continue on permanent unpaid leave and may have to get someone else in. The amendment, or some similarly worded provision, is essential.

Lord Inglewood: I appreciate the purpose underlying the amendment, but I can assure the noble Baroness that the amendment is not necessary.

The concepts of good cause and just cause in relation to sanctions are well established. No sanction applies to refusing employment if the claimant had good cause for doing so, and no sanction applies to leaving a job voluntarily if the claimant had just cause for doing so.

The amendment would enable regulations under Clause 16(8) to prescribe circumstances in which a claimant has good cause for leaving employment to take up caring responsibilities. As the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, pointed out, and it is worth reminding the Committee, in leaving voluntarily cases the claimant has to show just cause, rather than good cause, in order to escape a sanction. This has always been a tougher test under Governments from both sides of this House.

It may be sensible to refer only to just cause here. Guidance on just cause is at present contained in case law and the chief adjudication officer's guidance to adjudication officers. Claimants should avoid unnecessarily becoming a charge on the national insurance fund, and should normally seek to secure new employment before leaving their existing job. It has, however, long been recognised that a person's personal or domestic circumstances may become so urgent as to provide just cause for leaving without any regard to the question of other employment. That can, of course, include a sudden need to care for a close relation where there is no one else in the household to undertake the duty. An adjudication officer should consider each case on its merits, but case law already makes it clear that caring responsibilities can constitute just cause for leaving a job. When they do so, the claimant is not subject to a benefit sanction for leaving.

It is important that I point out that those responsibilities may in themselves cause doubts about the claimant's availability for work. People who are not available at all or who have substantial caring commitments are of course not in the labour market and cannot be eligible for JSA; the appropriate benefit for them will be invalid care allowance. There will, however, be other people whose caring responsibilities cause them to restrict the number of hours of work that they can do, but who can still play an effective part in the labour market.

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The present rules on restricted availability make no special provision for people in this position. I am, however, pleased to say that for JSA we shall allow people with caring responsibilities to restrict the number of hours for which they are available to less than the normal expectation of a minimum of 40 per week.

Given that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Carter: Before I do so, the Minister used the phrase that the adjudication officer has to be satisfied that,


    "there is no one else in the household to undertake the duty",

of care and responsibility. There were cases referred to in another place. Indeed, there was a television programme about the large number of children who act as carers. The responsibilities that they carry at times are quite horrifying.

Will the Minister confirm that the phrase "no one else in the household" will not be taken to mean that if there is a child of 10 or 12 in the household—and there are carers as young as that—the person should lose JSA?

Lord Inglewood: Under those circumstances they would not be included in the household.

Lord Carter: That is extremely helpful. We have it on the record. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 156:


Page 15, line 3, leave out subsection (9).

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 156 and 156A are grouped together, the first is ours and the second is in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I shall have to comment on both because in a sense they could be said to go in different directions, although both could go together.

Our Amendment No. 156 is to leave out subsection (9) which states:


    "Subject to any regulations under subsection (8), in determining whether a person has, or does not have, good cause or (as the case may be) just cause for any act or omission, any matter relating to the level of remuneration in the employment in question shall be disregarded".

In other words, no applicant or would-be beneficiary could refuse the job on the grounds that the money is too low, however low it may be. We wish to take that out, it is quite unnecessary and I shall say why in a moment.

Presumably the noble Earl's amendment leaves that in and I am not sure what would happen if we were able to omit the subsection. The legislation provides that,


    "the level of remuneration in the employment in question shall be disregarded".

Nevertheless, the noble Earl's amendment proposes that:


    "regard shall be given, in the light of employment opportunities, to the person's education, training and experience".

I am happy to accept Amendment No. 156A if the Government reject Amendment No. 156, with which I am dealing. If subsection (9) were left in the Bill, as I understand it there is no limit to the kind of offer which could be made to an unemployed person, a jobseeker,

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which he could turn down on the grounds of the rate of pay and I accept that it is beyond the prescribed period. However, that cannot be right. It must be wrong to say that a person cannot turn down a job with an hourly rate below that of the JSA or lower than the hourly rate of the hardship allowance, if we work it out, or the lowest rate of income support, or any rate at all. What about a rate of 5p an hour? That cannot be right. Surely the Government do not mean that the level of remuneration after the prescribed period can be totally disregarded in deciding whether or not the offer of a job is reasonable. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: In calling Amendment No. 156 I should have reminded the Committee that if that amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 156A or 157.

Earl Russell: I hasten to reassure the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, that it is purely a matter of inadvertence that my name is not to his amendment. I intend to support it now. I do not intend to move Amendment No. 156A which I believe we agree is simply appalling.

Amendment No. 156 has got it right. First, the Government frequently tell us that they believe in a free market, but if there is to be any kind of free market one cannot have captive labour. That is what we have here. If labour is to be forced to take jobs at wages however low the employers choose to put them, we are preventing a free market from operating. That seems to me rather a mistake. If there is to be a lack of freedom in the market, it ought to apply to both sides, not just one.

Secondly, the Government are pickling a financial rod for their own back. We have a system of in-work benefits which is right, but it creates an incentive for the employer to push wages lower and lower in the hope that in-work benefits will make up the difference. It creates an invitation for the employer to free-load on the state. In a competitive world, people are subject to these pressures and may occasionally respond to them. The Government may find that this provision costs them a great deal more than they think it will. That is rather unwise.

Finally, even if the Minister cannot go any further, I hope that he can give us an assurance that people will not be required to take jobs which pay commission only. If you are looking for a job and you find work in, let us say, telesales, you may be under a very heavy pressure of commission incentive payments. One really ought not to force people to sweat their hearts out for a return of, if they are lucky, £1 or £2 a week, in a country which prides itself on some sort of freedom, both economic and political. I hope to hear that the Minister agrees.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I speak from knowledge of a part of the country, Lancashire, where there is a very high incidence of low pay. Low pay is determined by government in terms of the need to supplement people's incomes.

In coastal resorts such as Blackpool advertisements are frequently seen for jobs in which, for a 40-hour week, people are offered less than £100. A case was

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cited today at a council meeting of a job requiring a mature person with experience, for a 40-hour week, offering £70. This sort of instance is bound to multiply if people are forced into such jobs.

I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that there comes a point where such jobs amount to slave labour. If the Minister argues that that will not be the case, he must then indicate what safeguard there is, what financial hurdle there is below which the jobseeker cannot be required to go.

In a reply at Question Time the other day, the Minister said (I believe these were his words) that there was no relationship between the income that people obtain from the jobs that are available and their ability to sustain their specific family circumstances. But surely it is essential that employers do not exploit people. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, the situation is that people are now being forced into employment. In some parts of the country people will be particularly vulnerable. Sections of people are unemployed through no fault of their own but because the industry in which they work is one that has not yet recovered from the recession. An example is the construction industry. I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate that the Government accept the level that is set within this amendment as an absolute minimum.


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