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Lord Inglewood: It seems to us that the amendment is based on the belief that the Bill is designed to force people into work that would leave them worse off than staying unemployed. In fact, as I described before, the Bill simply carries forward the current provisions under Section 28(5) of the Benefits Act which I have already mentioned.

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We have heard a considerable amount of hypothesis from the noble Baroness opposite. I wish to reiterate what I said during the debate on the previous amendment that the 1994 IFS study showed no evidence that family credit influences wage levels. That is important because it cuts at the basis of a very great deal of what the noble Baroness argued for. Equally—

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The reason that family credit affects wage levels is that the person with children may very well be in competition with someone who can turn to income support. At present where that is not the case their wages will be pushed down and family credit will have to pick up the strain.

Lord Inglewood: I do not accept that. Let us have some economics from our side of the Committee. If we are to pay people they have to earn it and that can only be done with competitive business. That is the key to ensuring that we get a decent standard of living throughout the country which is as high as we can possibly make it. When one considers take-home pay in this country and the cost of living is taken into account, take-home pay in the United Kingdom is among the highest in Europe. The take-home pay for the bottom 10 per cent. of full-time wage distribution is now 23 per cent. higher in real terms for a single man than in 1979. It fell by 1 per cent. under Labour. The important point here is that we must have an effective labour market.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: What about the bottom 10 per cent.?

Lord Inglewood: Perhaps I may continue. We must have an effective labour market because that is what will achieve the desired improvement in our economic performance. That is one of the fundamental principles behind the Bill. Let us not forget that we have to go back and look at the context in which this matter is set. We are talking about Clause 16(9). A great deal of what has been referred to by Members of the Committee in talking about pay flows much wider than pay and goes to the very heart of the job itself. If the circumstances described are sufficiently severe to fall within the scope of good cause and just cause, then it is perfectly reasonable for the person concerned to refuse the job.

As I said earlier, one cannot expect to continue looking indefinitely for a job doing the kind of thing originally wanted, at the level of pay desired. One must widen the job search.

Lord McCarthy: Is the noble Lord saying that, despite what is on the face of the Bill about totally disregarding pay after the permitted period, somehow he has found somewhere in the Bill where one can say, "I shall not take a job because the money is too low"?

Lord Inglewood: No. The kinds of things which were being described went much further than that, did they not? If it is unreasonable for someone to take that job then the good cause/just cause provisions come into play.

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Lord McCarthy: This whole arrangement, which is insupportable, must be an arrangement which does not include pay because pay has been taken out. But there cannot be a whole arrangement if pay has been taken out.

Lord Inglewood: Pay is the amount of money that we are talking about, but there are also the terms and conditions of the job. Some of the examples that have been given may have had a bearing on pay, such as if someone is working on a commission-only basis, but it is not merely a question of pay. Other matters are involved—

Lord McCarthy: So is the noble Lord saying that you can refuse a job because it is too dark and too smelly and because you cannot get your bike in, but you cannot refuse a job because the pay is bad?

Lord Inglewood: No. The noble Lord seems deliberately to be misunderstanding the point that I was making. As I made clear in responding to the previous amendment, the Employment Service will not set out to offer people inappropriate jobs. If the job is inappropriate, it is perfectly in order for the person concerned to refuse it.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Will the Minister clarify one point? If you are a single person or a couple without children and therefore do not qualify for family credit and no in-work additional top-up will be available, is it appropriate to refuse a job which pays you less than you are currently living on when on JSA? Yes or no?

Lord Inglewood: No, I am not going to give a straight answer to that—

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: We bet you're not!

Lord Inglewood: —because a whole variety of other circumstances have a bearing on the matter.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: What other circumstances would have a bearing on a pay level which is below income support?

Lord Inglewood: The noble Baroness refers to a series of hypothetical situations and is giving incomplete examples—

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: No!

Lord Inglewood: Yes you are! Like the amendments that we have just been discussing, this amendment ignores the effect of in-work benefits and the safeguards that are contained in the Bill which I have already described at some length. For that reason, I urge your Lordships to oppose it.

Earl Russell: Now that the Minister has sat down, this is a point of considerable importance and I think that we are entitled to ask for clarification. The Minister said that the Employment Service will not make people take inappropriate jobs. That must mean jobs which appear to the Employment Service to be inappropriate. The Employment Service, like the rest of us, is not infallible. If the Employment Service is going to judge appropriateness, we need to understand the criteria that

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it will use. Is it or is it not the case that one could refuse to take a job because the pay is too low or, in a commission-only case, because there is no pay at all?

I should like to ask the Minister one other question which would enable me not to speak to my other amendment. It relates to part-time work. A person may be required to take a job which lasts for fewer than 40 hours a week. How many fewer? I understand that the present law specifies 24 hours. Is that going to remain the case or is it not?

I have another point of considerable importance on which I should like to dwell for a moment while the process of osmosis takes place. Many people may be penalised for refusing to take part-time jobs which pay a very small amount of money because of benefit penalties which are a very great deal greater than the amount of money that they would have received from the job. That appears to me to be a rather excessive punishment and, whenever the Minister is in a position to do so, I should be extremely grateful if he could reply to my questions.

Lord Inglewood: The effect of current regulations is that people are not subject to sanction for refusing an offer of employment or for neglecting to avail themselves of a reasonable opportunity of employment if the employment concerned is for fewer than 24 hours a week. I can assure the Committee that the Government intend to continue that broad approach. People who refuse work that takes up fewer than 24 hours a week will not normally be subject to sanction. I hope that that gives a general reply to the noble Earl's question.

Turning to the other matters, the Employment Service operates in a reasonable manner—that is axiomatic to the debate—and, as I have already mentioned, it is not going to bring forward jobs which it considers inappropriate.

We have discussed many hypothetical examples which have not been fully fleshed out. While we may disagree about what would be inappropriate or reasonable, without having a full description of such cases it will not be constructive for me to try to give the Committee any lead about it. I dare say that in certain respects there is an unbridgeable gulf between us. Nonetheless, I urge the Committee to reject the amendment.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I have two points to raise. First, the Minister seems to think that he has said something significant when he dismisses an argument as being hypothetical, or dealing with a hypothesis. What the Minster calls a hypothesis is what we are trying to predict will be the consequences of the legislation. To refuse to discuss that is to take his legislation out of the real world and away from the people it will affect, and to deal with it—if I may use the term perhaps inappropriately—in an academic sense.

This is a Bill which will affect real people. We seek to predict some of the consequences of the legislation. Whenever we do so, the Minister, in desperation, uses the word "hypothetical". Of course it is hypothetical. It must be hypothetical because the Bill is not yet law, thank God! But when it is, it will affect real people. It will not be hypothetical. We fear that many of the things

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we have predicted will come to pass, therefore I hope that the Minister will not regard the word "hypothesis" as taking the argument one step further, but will try instead to address the issue.

We accept entirely that there may be people, and there were people, with children who can accept a wage that may be below, say, income support level, because it will be topped up by family credit. The Minister said that is not a real problem, because there are in-work benefits. But the case I put to him excluded such people. I am talking about a single person, or a couple, without children, not entitled to any in-work benefits such as family credit. Is the Minister saying that as part of the JSA such people should accept a job which pays below JSA level, knowing that they will be worse off? We must push the Minister on that point. Will a single person, or a couple, who will not receive a family credit in-work benefit be required to accept a job that pays less than the JSA? Should such people willingly make themselves financially worse off?

Will the Minister please answer that simple question? It is not difficult. It was asked in the other place on many occasions. The Minister well knows what the question is. So far the Minister has regularly ducked, weaved and failed to answer it. We, and the people outside, are entitled to that explanation. Are they expected to work at a wage below the poverty level of income support, knowing that it cannot be topped up by family credit if they do not have children?


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