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Lord Wise moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 6, line 26, at end insert:
("( ) The following are examples of reasonable steps for which provision may be made under subsection (2)—
(a) voluntary work which enables the claimant to improve his prospects of gaining employment;
(b) part time study which enables the claimant to improve his prospects of gaining employment.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the main purpose of the amendment is to encourage Employment Service staff to recognise the benefits of voluntary work and part-time study as a means of obtaining a return to work. Many already do, but the amendment will ensure that a consistent approach is adopted in all parts of the country.

It has already been amply demonstrated in previous debates that what unemployed people want more than anything is a paid job. They do not see volunteering or part-time study as a substitute for paid employment. Many see both as a step towards a paid post. Others see volunteering as a constructive way of filling the time not taken up with job seeking and, happily, it often leads to employment. As has been shown in previous debates, often official training schemes and voluntary work

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enable almost equal percentages of people to return to work. I am sure that the same will be shown to be the case with part-time study.

While voluntary work carried out by unemployed people involves no extra cost to the state, it can be of enormous benefit to the community and lead to jobs in fields not previously considered by the jobless. For example, Shipley Volunteer Bureau recruits more than 50 per cent. of its volunteers from the unemployed with the co-operation of the local employment office. More than 50 per cent. of those have gone on to paid employment, many of them to posts within the field of care in the community. This has been due to the experience they have obtained while working with voluntary schemes.

Another example which the National Association of Volunteer Bureaux gave me—I make no apology for relating such instances—involved a hairdresser in the Spalding area who went to her local volunteer bureau after being unemployed for 18 months. She was at a very low ebb. She helped out in a charity shop and at a day care centre for the elderly, both of which she enjoyed. However, after helping at a local training agency for the disabled for two weeks she had a paid job within days caring for patients with mental health problems. She undertakes this difficult work with energy and enthusiasm and still finds time for occasional voluntary fund-raising as a thank-you to those who helped her when she needed it.

One final example comes from someone in Gwent who was compelled to give up work for four years to care for her mother suffering from Alzheimer's disease. After her mother's death she found it difficult to get back to the work ethos. However, she was encouraged to become a hospital volunteer. When the volunteering co-ordinator gave up her post, this lady obtained it. Understanding the difficulties of the unemployed, she has aimed to encourage her volunteers to take advantage of training courses to increase experience. Among her successes are one who has become an auxiliary nurse and another who has obtained a clerical post. Another volunteer is seeking to obtain the qualifications and experience to become a medical social worker.

It is because of success stories such as these that I hope the amendment will be accepted. Some of the examples I have given come from relatively small organisations. Other noble Lords may give examples of larger organisations offering more structured training. However, both types of organisation offer valid paths back to employment, which I hope that the Minister will appreciate. I must again emphasise that in the examples I have given none of the volunteers saw their voluntary work as a substitute for paid employment and continued their job search while volunteering.

I thank the Minister for his letter, which I received this afternoon, in which he reiterated the Government's recognition of the value of voluntary work and that they would reflect further on this issue. At Committee stage my noble friend stated that he recognised the value and importance of volunteering in the community. There can be no doubt that voluntary work can both help unemployed people to stay in touch with the labour market and provide an opportunity for them to maintain

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and develop their skills while looking for work. Having heard what he said, I was then at a loss to understand why he could not accept the amendment that voluntary work should count as a positive outcome from a Restart interview. I can only think that it may have been because the claimant remains unemployed and my noble friend feared that it diluted the focus in JSA of helping people back to work as quickly as possible.

The amendment takes account of that objection by suggesting a more constructive way of recognising the legitimacy of voluntary work as a step towards actively seeking work. It is a modest measure which focuses on encouraging unemployed people to take up voluntary work and part-time study, thereby greatly improving their prospects of finding employment. In so doing in no way does it detract from the main purpose in JSA of helping people back to work as speedily as possible. In fact it aids that purpose and, as I said, ensures that a consistent approach is taken in all parts of the country. My examples show what can be achieved with the co-operation of the local employment office.

I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Chorley: My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment, which I strongly support. As chairman of the National Trust, I must immediately declare an interest.

At the re-committed Committee stage, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, was good enough to quote a small example of the use the trust makes of volunteers in its conservation work in the Lake District and our ability to pass our young volunteers on into full-time jobs through our work programmes. I thank her for mentioning it. I have many other equally successful examples—dozens—but, with an eye on the clock, I shall write to the Minister with those details.

The trust now has 30,000 people a year regularly giving a significant amount of their time to our work. In terms of work done, it is worth over £6 million a year to us. The volunteers are of all ages and skills. The long-term volunteers—the people about whom we speak today—often work for three to four days a week for periods of three months or more. Every year there are hundreds of those young people going through our work programmes. That, I submit, is not negligible. They receive training and a curriculum vitae of real work experience. It is real work and it ends in real jobs—two points made by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, during the Committee stage. The great majority of them—some 80 per cent.—end up with a positive outcome. That is our experience: that 80 per cent. obtain a job. I submit that that is not negligible.

I should like briefly to mention the European Social Fund, which has been an important factor in progressing National Trust projects with long-term volunteers. In 1994, ESF funding enabled us at no direct additional cost to the trust or the Government to involve 117 long-term volunteers in structured work experience and training placements which in many cases led to national vocational qualifications and other accreditation. I urge

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the Government to consider measuring both ESF schemes and volunteering against a set of measured criteria in much the same way as they already do for their own training schemes.

The point has been made to me over and again that those young volunteers are well qualified from school or university but that they have this difficult first step: to get real work experience and practical skills on to their CVs. It is difficult for those of us like myself who entered the job market 40 years ago, when one could walk into almost any job one wanted, to appreciate the difficulty of that first step.

But why put the issue at risk? The noble Lord, Lord Wise, explained some of the problems and why the amendment is necessary. Indeed, it is with some reluctance that I intervene at all. My natural habitat, if I may put it that way, is with heritage and environmental issues. But I felt that I had to respond to the plea of our hard-pressed staff. It is a madness to put this doubly useful activity at risk. I have to say, and I do so with reluctance, that we already find that we are being tripped up by officialdom and red tape. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, put the matter rather more politely. What the Government say may be absolutely fine in theory, but it is what occurs at ground level that matters. We need the amendment to combat red tape.

I read with interest the interchange between the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, at the re-committed Committee stage. The noble Lord stated that the only difference between them was one of emphasis. That to me meant that he rather agreed with our argument. I hope therefore that the new wording of the amendment means that we can secure agreement—if he will forgive the phrase, that we can agree a "positive outcome". It would be a great help.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I support the amendment and Amendment No. 21 which is grouped with it.

One of the most useful things that voluntary work can do for an unemployed person is to keep him in the habit of taking part regularly in some form of useful activity and in the disciplines of that activity. When one is unemployed, particularly for a long time, it is very easy to slip out of the self-discipline of getting up in the morning, travelling to one's place of employment and then getting on with the job conscientiously all day.

I work for a voluntary organisation, a charity. It is no use charities or voluntary organisations having volunteers who sit around chatting, drinking cups of tea and doing nothing all day. The type of people they want are those who are prepared to roll up their sleeves, get on with the job and work conscientiously all day. That is also the kind of person an employer wants. If someone can leave a charity with a good report, he or she is far more likely to get a job and stop drawing the jobseeker's allowance.

The second part of the amendment concerns unemployed people or jobseekers who are undertaking part-time study. It is also extremely important that they should be allowed to continue their part-time study course, complete it and obtain qualifications.

Amendment No. 21 deals with those who are undertaking a course of study that is relevant to the prospects of obtaining employment where the claimant

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has completed at least half and is within six weeks of completing his course. Again, that is extremely important. For a long time the Government and other people have been saying that what the country needs above all else is a trained and skilled workforce. The amendment helps to produce that.

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