Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, the noble Earl has said virtually everything that one can say about these amendments. I thank the Government because, despite all the qualifications, I accept that there has been some movement. There has not been much movement on training and how much movement there has been on "good cause" we have to wait until tomorrow to find out. However, at least there has been some movement. There is an indication that we have made some impact on what the Government say and for that we are extremely grateful.

I am looking forward, but not with much hope, to what the Government say about the amendments of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, because I commend them to the Government. They have the advantages which he states, but they are also a way of coming back to a theme which we have sought to make at different stages of the Bill—that is to say, that the jobseeker's position should be reciprocal. There should be something which is not merely what the jobseeker has to give when he signs the jobseeker's agreement, but which the Employment Service itself has to give in reply. In the noble Earl's definitions of "employment" and "training" there is something reciprocal which the service has to give to the jobseeker as well as what he has to demonstrate to the service. I shall be extremely interested to hear what the Minister says about those amendments.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I would like to begin with some of the points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. He made reference to training provided indirectly by TECs. It is the case that the training and enterprise councils do not normally provide training directly. It is provided by training providers under contract to the TECs and they are obliged to monitor the quality of what is provided. That is done through the contracts to implement quality assurance arrangements according to standards set by the Secretary of State. These standards are known as the TEC quality assurance supplier management. The acronym is TQASM which I cannot pronounce. The requirements apply uniformly to all TECs. TECs are also obliged, through their contracts, to take any action required as a result of quality audits.

I listened to the comments of the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, about the definition of "training". Obviously, we shall reflect on the comments which have been made. At the same time I ask your Lordships to reflect on the comments I made when I introduced the amendments. They go into some detail about what the Government propose in this regard.

I turn to the noble Earl's amendments. I thank him for the explanations he gave. I shall take each in turn and explain why we believe that they should not be accepted. As I said before, the overwhelming majority of people who become unemployed make every effort to find work at the earliest possible opportunity. There is an enormous turnover in the labour market. Over one-third of a million people leave the claimant count each month. Of those who become unemployed, about half leave benefits within three months and around two-thirds leave within six months. Therefore, for the vast majority of people the question of training and

15 May 1995 : Column 387

employment programmes is simply not an issue nor should it be a central feature of the conditions of eligibility.

For those who do become long-term unemployed, again the vast majority actually welcome the opportunity to improve their skills, re-examine their career prospects, and re-motivate themselves to return to the world of work. The issue of being required to take extra action does not arise.

Experience shows, however, that a small minority seek to abuse the benefit system and persist in ignoring the help available to them. Without benefit sanctions there would be nothing to protect the taxpayer and the national insurance contributor from such abuse. That is why separate sanctions are needed for people who refuse to take advantage of the help offered through employment training programmes. That is nothing new. Such sanctions have long been a feature of benefit legislation. Conditions penalising the refusal to attend courses were first introduced in the Unemployment Insurance Act 1920 and have been a feature of unemployment benefit legislation ever since.

Our intention is to prescribe specifically the employment programmes as we do now for which there should be a benefit penalty if a claimant refuses to attend. That is the sensible and clear solution to ensure that there is no doubt on the jobseeker's part or on the part of the Employment Service staff as to which programmes do or do not fall within the scope. On the contrary, the noble Earl's definition would lead to considerable uncertainty as to what did or did not significantly improve the claimant's chances of finding employment. Parliament, through its approval of regulations, must be able to decide whether programmes fall within the scope of Clause 18.

Turning to Amendment No. 106, I have given a firm and clear explanation of how we propose to deal with the definition of "training" for the purposes of 16 and 17 year-olds receiving JSA. We have tabled a series of amendments to that effect and there will be further similar amendments on tomorrow's Marshalled List.

The noble Earl's amendment proposes a variation on a theme. I should like to explain why we do not believe that that proposed variation would be appropriate. The amendment is very wide. It proposes that such training should be defined as training schemes that,

    "assist persons to select, train for, obtain and retain employment suitable for their ages and capacities".

I do not think that we would disagree with that as a general definition of "training"—indeed, as the noble Earl said, the words have been taken from the Employment and Training Act 1973—but we do not think that it will do as a definition for the purposes of JSA. As I have explained, what we want to capture in the definition is, essentially, government-sponsored training for young people, such as youth training and modern apprenticeships; and 16 and 17 year-olds will be required to register for youth training. The noble Earl's definition goes much wider. It has many of the problems of uncertainty and lack of parliamentary control that I have already mentioned in relation to the definitions of "training schemes" and "employment programmes". Is

15 May 1995 : Column 388

the noble Earl proposing that 16 and 17 year-olds should be able to register for any sort of training that meets his definition?

9.30 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the Minister says that my definition is very wide, but surely it is not as wide as,

    "such meaning as may be prescribed".

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as my noble friend and I have explained on several occasions, it is important both that we provide a clear definition so that people know what it means, and that we provide flexibility in the system as circumstances change over time. That is the important thinking behind the approach that we have taken in our definitions in this regard. How can we be certain about the quality of such training? We hear a lot from the Opposition Benches about the quality of youth training, but at least we have the ability (through contracts with TECs and other arrangements) to control the quality of youth training. In the noble Earl's proposed world, would there be any way of controlling that quality? Surely it would be a free-for-all—and I do not think that that is what the noble Earl wants.

We believe that the noble Earl's amendments are well intentioned but misguided. I very much hope that he will recognise that and withdraw them, bearing in mind the commitments that I have given. If he does not and if we divide on them, I shall have to ask the House to reject them.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 16A:

Page 3, line 30, at end insert:
("( ) Where consideration is being given to payment of an income-based jobseeker's allowance to a person under paragraphs 8 and 9 of Schedule 1 on grounds of hardship, any person whose income is such as to entitle him to income-based jobseeker's allowance calculated in accordance with section 4 shall be deemed to be in hardship.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a very simple amendment. Within JSA, for six months there is a contributory—that is, a non-means tested—benefit. If the employment officer has any doubt, JSA may be stopped unless the claimant is both vulnerable and in hardship. That is followed by means-tested JSA. Again, if the employment officer has any doubt, JSA may be stopped unless the claimant is both vulnerable and in hardship.

We tried—unsuccessfully—earlier this evening to put a definition of "vulnerable" on the face of the Bill. The Minister said that that will be done by regulation. But what of hardship? The point of the amendment is to try to understand why the Government need a concept of "hardship". We are arguing that, if people qualify for means-tested JSA, have they not already been means-tested, and does not the fact that they receive JSA demonstrate that they are already in hardship—or to put it as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, so tellingly puts it, is there anybody who has had means-tested JSA withdrawn who is not thereby in hardship?

15 May 1995 : Column 389

Let us remind ourselves of the rules of eligibility for a means-tested benefit. They are very restrictive: neither you or your partner may be in work; and you must have little or no savings and no other income. Once obtained, the level of JSA is extremely low. Again, let us remind ourselves of the figures. If you are 24, under 25, JSA is worth £36.80 a week or about £5 per day. It is worth £6.50 a day if you are single and over 25 or £5 a day each if you are one of a couple.

Most of us could live on £5 a day for a while, if we came to that benefit with well-stocked food cupboards, decent clothes, adequate furniture, heating and lighting, and water bills already paid for a quarter in advance. One can then survive. But if instead you are single, 24, in a poorly furnished bedsit, living from day to day, that £5 a day is all you have on which to live; for all food, clothes, toiletries, cleaning materials, heating, lighting and water. In addition, that £5 a day has to cover all broken pieces of china, any torn towel, any dead light bulb. It also has to cover the cost of seeking work, buying newspapers with their job advertisements, a phone card, postage stamps, the travel costs of bus and tube fares to interviews. At 24, £5 a day will, I guess—looking at my sons' budgets—buy you cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and chips for an evening meal, some instant coffee, and sugar, and one return tube trip at £2 to look for work. That is all it will buy, and after that you are still rather hungry and decidedly scruffy.

Being on benefit means that unless you can scrounge or shoplift, a new tube of toothpaste means missing a meal or an interview. You can walk, of course, but having your shoes resoled takes the money available for lunches for three days.

Will anyone here say that if you are trying to live on £5 a day for food, clothes, heating, and lighting, travel, job search work, toiletries—the lot—you are not already in hardship? If your Lordships agree with that, as I think you will, why in heaven's name is any further test of hardship needed except to humiliate the unemployed still further? I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page