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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I support the amendment. It is the first amendment of a group of amendments with the dreaded arrival of regulations where there is no indication of what they will lay down. It is the part of Clause 4 to which the Select Committee on Delegated Powers drew the attention of the House. It asked that great care be taken by the House over this clause.

We shall come later to another group of amendments—age-related allowances—upon which this also has a bearing, but at the moment I shall just keep to the one clause which is affected by the failure to put on the face of the Bill any indication of what someone's entitlement might be.

The House may like to be reminded that in Schedule 1, paragraph 9, to which the amendment refers the,


which means prescribed by regulations with no clues for the rest of us as to what that rate might be, and—


    "for it to be payable for a prescribed period".

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There are no clues for the rest of us as to what that period might be. We are in effect consigning most of our disadvantaged fellow citizens to an unknown rate for an unknown period in a way which does not enable the House now, or at any later time, to debate whether it is enough to live on.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, has tried to give some kind of definition in the amendment, which we support, so that there is some indication of what is meant by hardship by relating back to the present levels of income benefit. It is at least an attempt to put on the face of the Bill some guide posts as to what the amounts may be.

I hope that when he responds to the amendment the Minister will be able to say something other than what is on the face of the Bill—which is virtually an open-ended non-commitment, to coin a phrase—about what will be the position of the people who are already suffering hardship as a result of the operation of Schedule 1, paragraph 9, which leaves the matter wide open.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, this amendment would effectively remove the test of hardship from hardship payments for all income-based claimants who fail to meet the entitlement conditions. The noble Baroness will not be surprised to hear me say that this is not acceptable to the Government. The hardship payment arrangements in JSA strike a balance between protecting taxpayers from subsidising those whose unemployment results from their own choices and protecting the vulnerable from hardship. The claimants who are dealt with under paragraphs 8 and 9 in Schedule 1, to which this amendment refers, are people who are required to look for work in order to receive benefit. If a person is not genuinely available for work, or refuses to look for it, he is not entitled to receive a benefit for people who are jobseekers. The only basis on which payments are to be made to such claimants is to protect those who are in vulnerable groups. Other claimants have a choice; if they want to receive benefit they must make themselves available for and start looking for work.

The test imposed by the amendment is simply that the claimant satisfies the income-based conditions for JSA. Let us remember that someone can have capital of up to £8,000 and still satisfy the means test for income-based JSA. The claimant could be doing some part-time work, as could his partner. That is not what we mean when we speak of hardship.

Under JSA, it will be for the adjudication officer to decide whether to award benefit on grounds of hardship. He will take into account all the circumstances of the case, including alternative access to funds and capital. We shall be placing in regulations the core criteria which adjudication officers must take into account when considering the question of hardship. This is currently left completely to discretion, with guidance from the chief adjudication officer. But we consider that it must be right for a benefit of last resort to take into account individual circumstances. That is the way in which hardship will be determined, not by an absolute financial limit.

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There will be in regulations core criteria which the adjudication officers must take into account when considering the issue. That ought to be a step forward. I hope that with that explanation of our intentions the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, it is too late tonight to do anything other than withdraw the amendment. However, I remain completely unconvinced by the Minister's reply. He drew a distinction between hardship and the JSA allowance on two criteria. The first was that the claimant or his partner might be in work. Of course, under the JSA a single person can keep only £5 from that work and a couple £10. We are not talking about large sums; it is only £5 extra for a single person in part-time work. As regards capital, if a single person has more than £3,000 he will not receive the JSA. As regards a couple with £3,000 to £8,000, £1 is deducted each week for every £250. That will quickly eat away at any residual capital.

The amendment is not as the Minister described—to seek to remove the test of hardship. We are trying to define the test of hardship by aligning it with eligibility for receipt of the JSA. We are saying that the JSA is a means-tested benefit. It is a minimalist benefit, but it takes into account a very modest amount of saving and a very modest disregard of £5 for an individual. The JSA is a means-tested benefit on which one is barely able to live for any length of time, which is why we have such pressure on the social fund.

It is amazing to say that over and beyond that we need an even more grudging test as regards an income on which to live and below that of the JSA, which already sends people into debt collectors hands, disconnections and the Social Fund loan trap. I wish that the Minister would depart from giving hypothetical examples and move into the real world. He would then see what it was like to try to live on less than £5 per week, which is what he is signalling people towards. At this time of night I have no choice but to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.45 p.m.

Clause 4 [Amount payable by way of a jobseeker's allowance]:

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Brougham and Vaux): My Lords, in calling Amendment No. 17, I should advise the House that, if Amendment No. 17 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 18.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 17:


Page 3, leave out line 34.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment, which is in my name, is grouped with Amendments Nos. 18 and 19, which cover the same point by a similar route. I have no strong preference as regard the drafting of the amendments. The point which they all address is the age-related structure of benefit—the lower benefit for the under-25's.

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The Minister will know that that has never been acceptable or clearly intelligible to us. A number of justifications have been put forward for it. I believe that the current justification is that those aged under 25 are alleged to have lower wages.

First, we do not see why that is at all relevant to what we regard as a subsistence benefit. It does not cost any less to live if you are under 25. A pack of butter in the supermarket costs exactly the same whether you are 25 or 70. It does not make sense to argue that younger people have less need for a subsistence benefit. In fact, the contrary is often the case.

The Government's justification in terms of lower wages really does not seem to make any sense at all because, after all, a good many groups earn wages lower than the average. None of the other groups on that list is singled out for a lower rate of benefit. We should think it outrageous if they were. Why are young people different? Why is there this discriminatory provision? The young widely regard it as that and it is causing a great deal of resentment.

It also seems to me to be falling for the concept of the average. Averages do not eat; people do. If the average of a group is below that of other groups, it does not mean that any particular individual is in that position. Even if it were a justification, which it is not, it would be thoroughly misconceived because it does not consider the needs of individuals, which is what the benefit system is all about.

There is a good deal of evidence that the basic level of benefit is low enough to make living extremely difficult. The National Consumer Council report, Your Food, Whose Choice? has a great deal of evidence on that, as does the report from the National Children's Home. But, if it is difficult to live on the ordinary rate of benefit, it is even more difficult to live on the rate of benefit for the under-25s.

I hope that the Minister will not return this evening to the argument which claims that young people can all live at home, because by this time the Government must surely have learnt that, in the real world, a great many of them cannot. From time to time the Minister must have watched birds throwing their young out of the nest. He must have observed, from the rather pathetic first attempts at flying, that that is occasionally done rather prematurely. That weakness among bird parents is shared with human parents. The vast majority of teenagers who live away from home do so because their parents have thrown them out or, as I believe my noble friend Lady Williams said earlier this evening, because of abuses of a type which would make none of us argue that they should continue to live at home.

It is really not reasonable to insist that teenagers should live at home. If the Government were really serious about that argument, they would extend the child premium for income support up to the age at which they believe people should cease to be continually living at home. I have asked them to do so many times, but I have met with very considerable resistance. When the Government withdraw that resistance, I shall believe that they mean what they say about living at home. But

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as they have not withdrawn it, I do not believe that they mean what they say and I hope that they will not say it again.

I shall leave the House with one case of real hardship. It relates to a young man of 18 in Nottingham who was living on the lower rate of income support. He came under the supervision of the probation service because he had been caught stealing in order to pay his poll tax. If that young man had not been law abiding, he would not have needed to go into crime. That is the sort of thing that the Government push people into by having a rate of benefit which is really too low for subsistence and which has no rational justification. I beg to move.


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