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The House listens with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. He brings great experience of Northern Ireland to bear on our debates. He was the leader of the main political party in Northern Ireland and what he says is always of importance to us.
In a sense, we have already moved beyond the amendment and I believe that I put the Government's position clearly in the debate on Second Reading yesterday. I do not want to trespass further on the time of the House by going over the same arguments. However, I listened with interest also to the noble Lord, Lord Cope. As his friends in the other place said, this issue is one with which they would like to deal when the settlement Bill comes later, rather than during debate on this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, made the important point that a "Yes" vote in the referendum is likely to change the mood in Northern Ireland such that things will become possible which perhaps today are not possible. I agree that there is an importance in all this and I take to heart the important contribution of my noble friend Lord Fitt.
I thank all Members of the House for enabling this Bill to go through quickly. The reasons for haste are well understood, but I appreciate the way in which all Members who took part in the debate contributed to a rapid outcome so that we can have the Bill on the statute book quickly. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, my purpose today is to seek approval for amendments to the jobseeker's allowance (JSA) regulations which will allow us to take forward measures for the New Deal for those aged 25
Noble Lords will be aware that a manifesto commitment was given that, as part of our Welfare to Work programme, we would introduce a New Deal for people aged 25 and over who have claimed JSA for two years or more. There are two elements of this New Deal: first, an entitlement to an employer subsidy of £75 per week for up to six months; secondly, opportunities for people in this group to study full-time for up to a year on an employment-related course while on JSA.
Noble Lords will no doubt also be aware that we intend to pilot further measures for this group. Those were touched upon in the Budget announcement on 17th March. However, the regulations before us today do not concern the development of those pilots. I intend, therefore, only to deal with the regulations necessary to bring the two elements already developed for introduction in June 1998. To introduce the employer subsidy requires no legislation. The regulations deal with the legislation necessary to offer full-time education and training opportunities to those eligible for the New Deal for the 25s and over.
To provide those opportunities we propose to adopt an approach broadly similar to the JSA Workskill pilot approach, which was started under the previous government. The House will be aware that we extended those pilots in September 1997. We intend to amend the main JSA regulations so that the people in this New Deal group will be able to receive JSA while they undertake full-time employment-related education and training courses. They will be excused from the normal requirements to be available for and actively seeking work. We believe that alongside existing provision from the Employment Service and training and enterprise councils and local enterprise companies, the job subsidy and this measure will provide the opportunity for this group to pick up new skills or refresh existing ones. We also believe that it will work as an added incentive for employers to recruit from this group. That will mean that people in this particularly disadvantaged group will have a better chance of finding work.
People in this New Deal group will be able to apply for a full-time education or training course for up to one year, though we expect in practice that many will want to take job-focused courses of shorter length. They will be able to undertake a wide range of courses, most of which will lead to an approved qualification. They will normally be able to take courses up to and including NVQ level three standard; that is, broadly A-level standard. However, to maximise flexibilities for this age group of whom some will have substantial work experience and high qualifications, people will, in particular cases, be allowed to take courses at a higher level. The regulations place the condition that all courses have to be employment-related. That is because
We expect these opportunities to be welcomed by people in this New Deal group. From those that do take advantage of this measure we will expect their commitment to attend and make satisfactory progress on their courses. To discourage the few who might be tempted to relax or lapse on their course once they are excused the normal JSA attendance arrangements and job search rules, there is a potential sanction in terms of loss of JSA for two weeks. We want people to benefit from the considerable flexibility we propose to the JSA rules to allow them the opportunity to study full-time.
There is one additional regulation in this package which relates to self-employment. This does not only apply to New Deal participants--although it is relevant to the New Deal for young unemployed people, where self-employment is one of the options available--but applies particularly to an anomaly in Scotland. It will benefit all JSA claimants preparing for self-employment programmes in Scotland. Under the current regulations, not all JSA claimants could be treated as actively seeking work when they are preparing to take up a place on a self-employment programme. Because of the existing regulations in Scotland, JSA claimants who are preparing for a self-employment programme which is not provided by Scottish Enterprise or Highlands and Islands Enterprise are not treated as actively seeking work. The proposed amendment will allow all JSA claimants, including New Deal participants, to be treated as actively seeking work for up to eight weeks, when preparing for self-employment programmes in Scotland which are funded directly or indirectly by the Secretary of State for Scotland, in addition to those provided by Scottish Enterprise or Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
These measures are only part of our approach to the New Deal. We shall be shortly laying other regulations which will extend the employment option of New Deal to include self-employment. Broadly speaking, these are two measures and I hope that they will be acceptable. I hope that the explanation has helped noble Lords. I commend these regulations to the House. I beg to move.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. I have two points on this matter concerning the question of balance. The first relates to the support which is to be given to the over-25 year-olds as against those below that age. Much of the Government's thinking on this some time ago was based on the idea that the level of unemployment among the younger members of the young community would remain very high and the provision was designed to deal with that problem. But in fact the trend has been rather more steeply downwards, as I understand it, for that group than for those who are in an older age bracket. I wonder whether the Government's proposals here have
The second is a more general point as to whether the provisions made for full-time education and training for the New Deal create a reasonable balance as regards the entire expenditure on the programme. My understanding is that it is only about 10,000 or so who may benefit over the lifetime of a parliament. That would seem to be a relatively small number given the scale of the overall expenditure on the New Deal project as a whole. I shall be grateful if the Minister can comment on those two points.
Earl Russell: My Lords, we on these Benches warmly welcome the principle of what the Government are doing. We have some reservations--some of significance--about how exactly they set about it. The Minister will not remember the many hours when his noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham and I slogged through the night fighting against the 16-hour rule. They were really hard fights. It is a very great relief that we are not going to need to have those fights again. It was a rule that discouraged people from trying to better themselves. It discouraged them either to get a job in the first place or to get into a better qualified job where they could make themselves rather more useful. That always seemed to us to be rather stupid.
For the over-25s the Government exempt them from the jobseeker's allowance rules if they are engaged in full-time employment-related education or training. That is a constructive measure. But they have to confine themselves to courses for only up to one year.
Here there is a disadvantage. My honourable friend Mr. Webb, speaking about these regulations in another place, referred to one of his constituents who had taken up a two-year course in cabinet making. He assured the House that it was not of the Westminster variety. At the end of the first year of the course the man was made to give it up, although he achieved a distinction in the first part of it, because he had been offered a temporary part-time poorly paid job as a van driver. That did not seem particularly useful. Because it applies to courses up to one year, my honourable friend's constituent is not going to benefit. That is very far from being an isolated case.
I received a letter yesterday by sheer chance from one of our councillors in Swansea concerning someone in his own ward. I referred this case to the Minister's office and I hope that the Minister is provided with an answer to it. A single mother enrolled on a three-year nursing course. She received a bursary, but was turned down for housing benefit, council tax benefit and family credit because the course for training to be a nurse is not classed as work. Therefore, the changes, together with the single-parent changes, make her £45 to £50 a week worse off plus £17.50 a day for child care.
One would have thought that it might have been in the public interest for that person to qualify as a nurse as it would have been for my honourable friend's constituent to qualify as a cabinet maker. One of my son's closest school friends was recently caught by the
That leads me to wonder whether, with a qualifying period of two years' unemployment before one can come into the scheme, it may to some extent act as a perverse incentive because there are people with a perfectly serious sense of vocation for a job that needs qualification but who will be unable to get the qualification unless they remain unemployed for two years.
If one's vocation is really genuine and serious, one may take that. It is not necessarily going to be in the public interest. So will the Government think about whether a shorter period of unemployment might qualify people to take part in this rather generous scheme?
I also ask the Government to look at the interface between this scheme and the actively seeking work rules. My honourable friend's constituent, as he said, was pushed off a course paid for by one department to meet the rules of another department. As so often, one wants to say to government departments "only connect". But if one pushed that they would set up an inter-departmental committee which would become known as the Howard's End Committee and be chaired by a not quite sound civil servant called Howard. It is a very difficult job.
We shall have to think about protecting people who are on these courses against attempts to get them to take dead-end jobs. I take the Minister's point that they must do the courses properly. I understand why there is a benefit sanction if they do not. I ask the Minister to read the speeches made in the last Parliament by his noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham about the case for arguing that people should not lose benefit before appeal. They were very powerful speeches. I hope that the thinking they represent is not now lost inside the Government.
It is worth their while to think about whether the burden of proof about attendance on a course should be placed on the provider rather than the claimant if for no other reason than that the provider is usually rather better provided with records. I hope that the Government will think--as, I hope, things improve--that the budget for this scheme might be improved. It is a little disproportionate compared with what is made available to the under-25s.
I am very glad indeed that this scheme does not include an element of compulsion. It is for the people who want to do it so that they are taken out of the actively seeking work rules rather than being deemed to be actively seeking work when they are not under the Humpty-Dumpty clause of the Jobseeker's Act. But it leaves one wondering why the under-25s are being treated as lesser breeds without the law, but that is a matter for another occasion.
My right honourable friend Mr. Ashdown once drew attention to the plight of young people sleeping in shop doorways, only a width of plate glass away from advertisements for jobs they will never have the skills to apply for. We now have a beginning of addressing that problem. I welcome it warmly, but it is only a beginning. I look forward to the next instalment.
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