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Earl Russell: My Lords, I support both amendments. In dealing with benefit for young people we must remember that they are already receiving a reduction. As soon as a benefit penalty is imposed, they are subject to a reduction of a reduction and the situation becomes severe. It was somebody in precisely that position, as I mentioned earlier, who told a CAB office in north Wales that he would rather be in prison where he could afford a bed and occasionally put on the electric light.

It is not sensible to subject people to the sort of hardship I have described. And it is not sensible, when people are already disentitled, to subject them to longer periods of disentitlement. During those periods they build up debts which may be a millstone around their necks for years, even if they involve sums which other people may regard as trifling. They have no resources with which to pay them off and the longer they are disentitled the bigger grow the debts. I hope the Minister will think seriously about the amendments.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I support the spirit behind these amendments. I am not sure whether the percentage or the term is right; but in replying my noble friend must give the House an indication of what percentage and term the Government have in mind for these reductions otherwise I do not know how we can go on.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I fully appreciate the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, was making; but I fear that I do not agree with her and I do not suppose that that will come as any surprise. What we do agree over most emphatically is that most 16-17 year-olds are keen to better themselves and take their obligations seriously. They will, as a result, quickly be offered, and accept, suitable training or other

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assistance. But, a small minority abuse the system. Clause 16 provides a means of dealing with this. We have seen in Clause 15 that it gives the Secretary of State the power to revoke the direction if it appears to him that the 16-17 year-old has failed to pursue or has rejected training places or other assistance. Clause 16 provides for his personal rate of JSA to be reduced by a prescribed amount for a prescribed period if he subsequently reapplies for a direction.

Our intentions in this area were set out by my honourable friend the Minister of State for Employment in another place, and I shall repeat them for your Lordships' benefit. We intend that if a 16-17 year-old turns down a suitable training place or leaves such a place early without good cause, they will receive a penalty of a 40 per cent. reduction in the personal rate of JSA for two weeks.

The Government believe that is a fair but realistic penalty. The noble Baroness invites me to defend 40 per cent. against 10 per cent. and two weeks against one. To be effective, a sanction must appear as a real deterrent. But we must also recognise the particular circumstances in which we are seeking to make the sanction work. I do not think that a 10 per cent. reduction would be a deterrent, neither do I think that one week is sufficient. Is the noble Baroness really suggesting that a penalty which in many cases would total less than £3 is really sufficient to the purpose? A 40 per cent. reduction would certainly be noticed and I do not deny that. But we are limiting the application to two weeks. It will not go up to four weeks for a subsequent offence as it would for an adult in a similar position, and I think that is an important recognition of the position of young people.

I should like to remind the House that the purpose of sanctions is to deter: if they are effective, they will not be used. The arrangements we have made will ensure that no young person unwittingly falls foul of this rule. A young person who is new to the guarantee group will be allowed once to turn down any offer of training or leave any course early, as I have explained before, whether or not they have good reason for doing so. And, of course, if they do so subsequently they will be able to argue—as we have newly made clear in the Bill—that they did so for good cause.

This is a new provision, designed to deal with the abuse that in a minority—I admit that it is a tiny minority—of cases is increasingly creeping into the system. We are seeking to act against those who turn down offers or leave training and apply for a new direction the next day, which in practice they may do without fear of penalty. It is important that young people are aware of their responsibilities if they are to receive benefit. This is not a means of support for life. It is a helping hand while they find their feet on the career path. It is not acceptable in my judgment for such young people to refuse or walk out on the opportunities that are provided for them.

I believe that, taken together, the government's youth training guarantee, backed up by these clear sanctions and the safeguards and protection I have described, now and at other stages of the Bill, represent a fair and

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balanced package of measures for young people. I hope that your Lordships are reassured that there is adequate protection for 16-17 year-olds who refuse, fail to pursue or leave training places. I hope that the noble Baroness can withdraw her amendment.

Earl Russell: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, is he aware that he is very lucky not to have read out that reply rather earlier in the day?

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the new details that he has given us. He talked logically and calmly about a group of people who, frankly, do not have the calmness or experience of the Minister or most Members of your Lordships' House. We are talking about young people who will probably be in a degree of turmoil. Many of them will feel rejected.

The Minister said that the provisions are balanced and fair. I do not accept that. There is to be a 40 per cent. cut in a benefit which is already low. If that sanction is applied against a young person I suggest that it will be regarded as a message of rejection; not of trying to help or to give a hand-up to those young people as they attempt to deal with their difficulties and their refusal of a training place.

We must remember that the group with which we are dealing cannot, by definition, have a record of swinging the lead or of trying to find a way around the system. They are new into the system and new to potential employment. Such a group must be given particular attention and shown understanding. That is why the amendment has been tabled. A young person can turn down a training place once. I do not know where that gets us because it is saying, "You are allowed one mistake and then that's it; penalties will be applied". I find the Minister's response unfeeling and unacceptable. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 70 not moved.]

Lord Henderson of Brompton moved Amendment No. 71:

Page 14, line 15, at end insert:
("( ) In determining whether the amount of a young person's jobseeker's allowance is to be reduced under the provisions of subsection (1) regard shall be had to the welfare of the young person concerned.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Minister has spent a great deal of time and trouble trying to argue the details of costs and benefits, giving percentages and other such things. This amendment is of an entirely different order from the two amendments that we have just discussed and which were spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean.

Amendment No. 71 merely asks that in determining whether the amount of a young person's allowance is to be reduced,

    "regard shall be had to the welfare of the young person concerned".

We know that,

    "High heaven rejects the lore

    Of nicely calculated less or more".

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I am not asking the Minister to calculate here; I am asking him to think and to feel. There are young people, perhaps without his ken, who are badly treated when they are young by their parents, foster parents or, say, an uncle; or who suffer perhaps simply because of the sheer misery of being a child of an unemployed person or of a person who is imprisoned and who cannot help his children, as I am sure the noble Lord would like to help his own. I am asking the Minister to reflect on how difficult children can be even when they are brought up in well-ordered houses like his own and mine, and with the benefit of an income. I am asking the Minister to remember those other children when he is dealing with his own children of 16, 17 and 18. I am sure that with his own children the noble Lord has experiences similar to mine, but not, I expect, with grandchildren, as I have.

We are talking about children at a very difficult age. Indeed, they are probably even more difficult at 16, 17 and 18 than at three and four and they require every possible consideration from their parents. Those parents may not exist. The children may be in foster care or in care. Very often, such children have no friends to speak for them except those in the social services or possibly in the probation service.

I am asking that where children are destitute of the ordinary love and care which I have no doubt the noble Lord would lavish on his children of that age, they should be treated with special care, and that their welfare should be taken into account by the employment officer and anyone else who has some authority over them. I know that an employment officer is not supposed to have authority, but he wields the whip. Children who are in the parlous condition I have described should not be treated with a whip; they should be treated with kindness. The amendment seeks to encapsulate that principle into the Bill.

As I am not asking for something which will cost money, which seems to be the only gauge by which the noble Lord can answer any questions in this House, perhaps I might appeal to his heart instead of his head. Otherwise I feel that these people, who are often literally destitute and devoid of any help or comfort, should have some obligation towards them laid upon the shoulders of the employment officer. It is for that reason that I beg to move.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, we are pleased to support the amendment. It is a matter that has been debated previously, and, as the noble Lord said, it is not an area that costs money; but it is one which will probably have a profound effect on young people. I know that when the young 16 or 17 year-old is in the employment office the rules are made clear to him. I know that the JSA to which young people are required to agree and sign up to will be explained to them thoroughly, but the employment officer dealing with a young person will not necessarily know that person's real personal circumstances, the difficulties he may have, or the turmoil he may be going through.

Whereas the Minister may take the view that the Bill will fully cover the issue of a young person's welfare, it is essential to have that on the face of the Bill. If there

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is a discretion in the Bill as it stands at the moment to take the welfare of the young person into account, there is also the discretion not to take it into account.

We are merely saying that when the young person is faced with a potential reduction in benefit, before the decision is finally taken—before the young person is sent out of the office having been told that the benefit is cut—the welfare of that young person is taken into account. It is not over-dramatising the position, or over-egging the argument, to say that it could make the difference in that young person being pushed into the twilight zone of our society. We all too often see young people wandering the streets. In many respects, that will determine the rest of their lives.

I hope that the Minister will agree that the amendment in no way distorts the financial implications of the Bill, takes away any kind of authority from the individual employment officer or reduces the Bill's overall impact. It merely requires the welfare of a young 16 or 17 year-old (a child) to be taken into account when his benefit is being considered.

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