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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: It was 161,000.

Earl Russell: I am most grateful to the Minister. It was 161,000, so my recollection was at least ball-park accurate.

That is quite a lot of people. The report has done a certain amount of work on their housing; it has done none whatever on their source of income or visible means of support. The majority of these people are not dead; clearly they must be making a living out of something. It is material to assessing the effect of what we are doing to know whether these people are sponging on friends; whether they are begging in the Strand; whether they are, as some people do, pushing drugs in order to make a living out of that; whether they are selling their bodies; whether they are taking part in crime. Among 16 and 17 year olds disentitled to benefits in South Glamorgan, the word "shopping" normally means "shoplifting". I remember the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, once reproving me for being "shockingly cynical" simply for quoting that factual observation. But if that is their situation, that is their situation. Shoplifting concerns not only them but adds on average 1 per cent to supermarket prices. So if we do not all pay for it one way, we all pay for it another. That is a principle which applies to a great deal of legislation.

I have no idea of the respective scale of these various ways of coping with disentitlement. I do not know very much--I hope the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, with his Centrepoint experience, may tell us a little more--about what happens to disentitled people in the way of houses. The CHAR report on youth homelessness was not particularly encouraging in that respect.

There is substance in the point made by the Demos report that if people are marginalised, especially in youth, it takes them a very long time to work their way back again; the disadvantage lasts all the way through life. There is a possibility that apart from any hardship--to which we should not be indifferent--there may be a severe loss to the Exchequer.

The Department of Social Security has always said with some pride that it monitors the effects of all its policies. In general it lives up to that claim. However, on the effects of disentitlement, I do not understand how the Department of Social Security can monitor the effects of its policies if it does not know what those effects are. That is the central thrust of the amendment.

I admit that the methodology of the necessary research will be extremely difficult. However, if we look at some privately commissioned research--the South Glamorgan TEC study; or the Nottingham young people's benefit campaign report; or some of the studies published by the Bridge project in the University of Edinburgh; or the MORI report on 16 and 17 year olds published in 1991 by the DSS--the methodological difficulties can to an extent be overcome. Before we go

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ahead with a measure like this it would be a good idea to try. We really should know what we are doing when we do something like this. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe: I have considerable sympathy with this group of amendments in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. In principle, the single work-focused gateway is welcome. It builds on the principle behind the jobseeker's allowance, which we instituted when in government. However, with the Government's present proposals, there remains a huge question mark over whether in practice they will achieve what they set out to do.

This group of amendments in essence asks the Government to hold back this Bill, pending an opportunity to discuss and review the pilot schemes. Will they be a success or a failure? Can we really assess within the time-frame the degree of success, or otherwise, of these pilot schemes? How will they work, particularly for the disabled, who will need an enormous amount of support and reassurance in order to cope? How will the training of personal advisers develop over the long term and how will the Government realistically resource people who are suited to this level of responsibility as personal advisers in sufficient numbers for the long term?

On these Benches we believe that we should all have the opportunity to discuss and debate the results of the pilot schemes before the "one" process, which is now referred to, is fully implemented for the long term. If we do not properly analyse where this process is going and how the pilot schemes are working, we believe that the Government will run into serious difficulties for the long term, in the same way as they are now finding themselves in difficulties with the New Deal for lone parents. In that regard, after two years the New Deal for lone parents still has a success rate of only one in 10. Each job created by the scheme costs nearly £15,000.

This clearly shows that at present the Government's Welfare to Work programme is simply not working. Although compelling people to attend interviews is welcome to some degree, it will not be the "magic bullet" that Ministers pretend. These amendments also deal with what lies on the other side of the single work-focused gateway. What happens if claimants fail to attend an interview? Is an interview all that is required before settling back into the benefits system, for some, for the long term? What happens to those who fail to turn up and have their benefits reduced? And reduced by whom and by how much?

As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has said, there are a number of questions and technical points which need to be addressed. Do those who do not turn up or remain outside the system end up on the street? Is that the Government's intention? We think not--in which case it makes sense now to pull back and reconsider while the pilot schemes are under way. We are now reading in the press references to a wish and a will on the part

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of some members of this Government to now--and I quote from the Independent of 5th July 1999,

    "undertake a wholesale review of welfare",

with a pledge from Mr Robin Cook to "look again", for example, at the way in which disabled people would be interviewed at job centres. If that is the case, we welcome it, although we question why the Government have gone this far if they are still so uncertain about the sensitivity and the fairness of the single gateway process. Perhaps after considering for 18 years in opposition how they might change our welfare system, they now feel under pressure after two years in government to move ahead without enough consideration of the likely consequences.

We ask the Government to think again about these processes. Indeed, I shall be returning to some of these points, and others, in connection with later amendments. We urge the Government to proceed cautiously and to listen carefully to the arguments that are being put forward, both as regards further clarification of the process and for making proper allowances, in particular for the disabled, at every stage of the process.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Davies of Coity: This is a Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill, and that, of course, requires reform of welfare. The cornerstone of the Labour Government is to take people off welfare and into work. I see this interview process as supporting that. People will be interviewed and will be given some opportunities of finding jobs which previously seemed out of reach. It is a question of providing them with choices--not threats--and with opportunities. Of course, it is a not a golden bullet and the Bill will not be a magic wand, but it is a start to taking people away from dependency into independence and finding them jobs.

There are lots of disabled people out there who are currently claiming benefit and who would like to work. Opportunities are not available to them. If the interviewing system will provide them with opportunities they never thought they would have, that has got to be good. Lone parents and single parents, mainly women, would like to have a job but they cannot find work which also enables them to cater for their home responsibilities. This interview process will give them that opportunity and there is no suggestion here that, if you do not get a job arising out of the interview, you will lose benefit. There may be some related discipline as regards taking the interview and putting some of your benefit at risk, but that is only for the purpose of the interview. It seems to me right and proper, if we are to get people off dependency on welfare and into work, that every opportunity is explored. That has to be a very good thing.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: Like my noble friend Lady Buscombe, I welcome the principle of the single gateway. On this occasion I shall confine myself to speaking in support of Amendment No. 164, which was the last of the batch of the amendments to which the noble Earl spoke.

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Its effect is to ensure that the new gateway interview pilot schemes are fully and properly assessed before the regulations are finalised. I commend the Government for taking part in pilot schemes. It is always a brave government who do such things. When I was a member of the Social Security Advisory Committee, I was always pressing some of my colleagues to take part in pilot schemes and was very relieved when they did so. I am also aware that people like me, who press governments to take part in pilot schemes, often then go one step further and make a government's life difficult by saying, "But now we want to see the results of the scheme". That is precisely what I intend to do today.

The pilot schemes are intended to last for three years. We were told that in June, last month, four were to be launched. I wonder whether the noble Baroness the Minister can tell us whether they were launched and, if so, in which particular areas, so that we know which types of claimant are benefiting from those schemes. Have we any news of them so far? Of course, after such a short time progress is bound to be limited, but I am aware of the diligence with which the Department of Social Security monitors pilot schemes. The call centre and the private voluntary sector pilots, we were told, will be launched in November 1999. Can the Minister confirm that is still the target date?

The Royal National Institute for the Deaf is asking why the Government are rushing into national implementation as early as April next year. At that stage it thinks that we will have only preliminary findings on the basic model pilots. The initial findings of the call centre and the private voluntary sector pilots will not be available until next summer, and the final evaluation reports on all the pilots naturally cannot be published until 2002. In that interval one is aware that the Government are pressing ahead with more than one model of single gateway system, so that different people will be subject to different methods of interview. In some areas, it will be the generalist adviser model, despite at the same time running pilots with dedicated personal advisers for lone parents and disabled people.

Will the Government consider accepting the RNID recommendation that the national implementation of the single gateway should be delayed until the Government have been able properly to evaluate whether the specialist or the generalist personal adviser model is the more effective?

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