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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am addressing the amendments that are grouped with this one, No. 2: Amendments Nos. 5, 96B and 96D. I am attempting to address the points that were made and am dealing with the point made by the noble Baroness about IB tests.
As I said, many people would score a point or two in the test, but that does not mean that they are necessarily particularly vulnerable to hardship. Those who do not qualify for a disability premium but who have a serious health condition would indeed fall into a vulnerable group. We do not believe that we should go further than that and include everyone with a minor health problem.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked me about young people who are the homeless victims of violence or are otherwise destitute. She suggested that they should not have to wait for an AO decision without benefit. Claimants in these categories do not have to wait for an AO decision on a claim. They can qualify with a severe hardship direction. That is the Secretary of State's decision and is a completely separate issue from the one that we are currently considering.
I recognise that this is a sensitive area. But these are matters that will be dealt with in regulations and which will require, I have little doubt, fine tuning over time in order to deal with new problems as they arise and difficulties that we may wish to address. I can tell the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that I have already undertaken to look at provisions for women in refuges. I cannot go further than simply to repeat that commitment. I am of course willing to consider all the points made by noble Lords and to look at whether there is a genuine case for extending any of the provisions when we come to the regulations.
However, what I cannot do is accept that people should always have access to benefit whatever their action or status. I have said on a number of occasions that in order to qualify for this benefit a person has to meet the principal qualifications; namely, to be available for work and actively seeking work. We have gone a long way in the running of the system to attend to those people who are in particularly vulnerable groups, and we shall continue to do so in JSA. However, to go further and to put on the face of the Bill the suggestions set out in the noble Baroness's amendment would be wrong. If the noble Baroness does not withdraw her amendmentI understand that she feels strongly about many of these issues and therefore she may notI hope that my noble friends will vote against it.
Earl Russell: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I wonder whether he will be kind enough to say that he will write to me when he is clear about what is to be done on the issue of women's refuges.
We have two areas of disagreement with the Government. I have to say that our fears have not been allayed on either. First, on the issue of doubt relating to Clause 5(2) (a), I noted the Minister's words. He said that JSA was a conditional benefit and the claimant must satisfy the conditions for it. We agree. But when a doubt has been raised, we do not know whether the claimant has or has not satisfied the conditions. We shall know that only after adjudication. That is the size of the gap between us; namely, that the Minister persists in believing that to fine someone in advance of their case being heard is acceptable within the conventions as well as the ethic of natural justice. We shall return to that point.
The second point that the Minister made related to what heI shall not say "dismissed" because that sounds too cavalierlabelled as "matters of detail" so far as the groups were concerned. That was his phrase. I do not think that these are matters of detail at all. The groups concerned would not regard as "matters of detail" whether or not they are regarded as vulnerable. That phrase was perhaps a little unfortunate.
We are dealing here with some of the most marginal and vulnerable groups within the group that is potentially and actually unemployed. We are dealing with women who have been abused and who are in refuges; with people who are coming off incapacity benefit, even though they may have received invalidity benefit for many years, and who are frail, worried and apprehensive; with young people who have come out of care and who are on the streets; with carers who may look after someone for 15, 20 or 25 hours a week; with people who are themselves marginalised and vulnerable or who care for such people. That is not a matter of detail at all. It is at the heart of this Bill. If we as a society cannot make decent minimum provision for such groups, I am afraid we should be ashamed of ourselves.
At the end of the Minister's speech, to which I listened very carefully, I am still left totally confused as to what groups the Minister will regard as vulnerable and therefore who will become so through the regulations. So far as I could see (I ticked off the list as he spoke) those who are pregnant or have a dependent child will be covered by vulnerability. Foster children were not mentioned, but I imagine that the same would apply. The Minister shakes his head. Is he saying that the definition does not apply to someone with a foster child? I presume that in this case a foster child is treated as a dependent child; the
He had a query about carers, but went on to say that a carer has been defined as either someone engaged in caring for over 35 hours a week and entitled to ICA, or alternatively as someone not receiving ICA because he or she does not care for someone for over 35 hours a week but who is nonetheless regularly caring. That definition will affect a jobseeker's agreement because the employment officer has to recognise that condition, as we have all accepted, and it can simply be cross-referred into this amendment; there need be no problem there.
The Minister agreed illness, physical or mental disability confirmed by a registered practitioner. He said that he would write to the noble Earl and, I hope, to others of us in regard to the situation of women in refuges. As for those who are homeless, is the Minister saying that such people are not vulnerable when they are living on the streets and are under the age of 18, coming from a history of community and residential care? Are those people not vulnerable?
It seems that the two groups that the Minister is not willing to cover are, on the one hand, those who are homeless and on the streetsparticularly those who are under 18 and who are potentially vulnerable, as we know, to prostitution and criminalityand, on the other hand, those coming off disability or incapacity benefit who have some partial disability and therefore some points but who are not registered as vulnerable. That seems to be the difference between us. Is the Minister really saying that those two groups are not vulnerable and should not be covered? Do your Lordships believe that someone who has enjoyed invalidity benefit and has now lost it, particularly if they have a mental health problem which is not necessarily easy to diagnose, is not vulnerable? Is the Minister really saying that somebody who is under 18 or is homeless is not vulnerable and destitute? Is the Minister saying that? I cannot believe that your Lordships share such a view or believe that such groups are not vulnerable.
The Minister has gone a long way towards accepting the list but not those two groups. I do not understand that. Before I decide what to do with the amendment, perhaps I may ask one further question. He said that the definition of vulnerability will come through regulation. Specifically, will the regulation under this clause be by affirmative procedure or not? Can I have a reply to that question?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, with the leave of the House, if I heard the question aright, I believe I am right in saying that all the regulations to do with JSA in the first six months when we are setting it up will be by the affirmative procedure, as I recall. It is for a little further on than we are today. But that will be the case; thereafter, of course, it will be the negative procedure. I hope that that helps.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, with the leave of the House, the point has not been raised before. Probably a little further on we can raise it again, but I am happy to try to be helpful. Let me be clear that at the first time of setting out these regulations, they will be by affirmative order. Thereafter any change adding or subtracting will be by the negative procedure. I think that that is perfectly clear.
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