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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Claimants will acquire the entitlement to incapacity benefit by virtue of their score on the all-work test. As the noble Baroness will know, we are not changing anything on that issue; for example, if a person scores 15 points or more on the all-work test for physical disability, he will be entitled to IB; if he has a mental health incapacity, the score is 10 points. That is not changing. There is a Chinese wall between a person's entitlement to benefit and a personal capability assessment.

One of the big criticisms of the all-work test--the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and I were shoulder to shoulder on this when it was first introduced--is that it concentrates on the negatives. It concentrates on the things that people cannot do--they cannot put a hat on their head; they cannot lift a bag of potatoes; they cannot do this and they cannot do that--and they score points accordingly. One of the criticisms that has always been made by the disability groups--and which I was making on behalf of those same organisations when I was sitting on the Benches opposite--was that the test did not show what people could do. It did not show whether they had

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the capacity to do other things and could move on to other areas of work with appropriate support and training.

If someone in a HGV driving job developed major back problems, for example, and could not continue driving, it is possible that with retraining there may be some other, more clerically based jobs that he would like to do and be happy doing. The all-work test will simply ensure his entitlement to IB; the personal capability assessment will, given the nature of his situation--his disabilities and so on--discuss with him what he may be able to do. Whether he chooses to take up any of that advice remains entirely up to him.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for that explanation. I wish to consider the matter a little more. Perhaps I may suggest that it will be referred to again under Clause 56. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 99:

Page 59, line 21, at end insert--
("( ) Regulations shall provide that a refusal by such a person to undertake work proposed at such an interview shall not, of itself, lead to a loss of benefit entitlement.")

The noble Baroness said: I should say at the outset that I have no quarrel with the general concept of a single gateway into the benefits system. I accept that it remains a complex system, even after attempts to simplify it. Many claimants have no idea of their entitlement, particularly older claimants. If a single gateway implies the establishment of a proper counselling service designed to ensure that claimants are fully aware of all the options open to them, including benefit entitlement, it can only be a welcome development. Of course, I also agree that people should be encouraged to take suitable employment. This would, of course, imply a fairly sophisticated training programme for the staff who will have to operate the scheme. I hope that arrangements will be in place for that to happen. I welcome the noble Baroness's assurances in that respect.

However, it seems to me that there may be problems. If there is an agenda at the back of all this designed to get as many people as possible off benefits, the temptations for the officials operating the scheme would be to pressurise people into taking employment, no matter how unsuitable or underpaid. I am particularly concerned about lone parents of young children. In fact, I wonder whether mothers of children under five should be expected to attend for interview at all. During one of our debates in the House about lone parents, an assurance was given on behalf of the Government that lone parents would not be compelled to take up employment.

Given what appears in other parts of the Bill, I sometimes question whether those who think up policies believe things have changed for women far more than they actually have. In a recent pilot scheme

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aimed at getting lone parents into work, which was conducted in Cardiff, it was noticeable that the only women who pronounced the scheme a success were those with professional training, for whom well paid jobs were available. The majority, who were not in that category, could see nothing in it for them.

Noble Lords have spoken about the disabled. I agree with the concerns that have been voiced. Again, I welcome the assurances given by the Minister in regard to some of those concerns.

As I read the Bill, it seems to me that people already in receipt of benefit could be summoned for a work-focused interview. Many people may feel scared or intimidated by the invitation to attend such an interview and may possibly not attend, thus risking the loss of benefits. The middle classes are used to dealing with officialdom and, generally speaking, are not intimidated by it. It is not always the same, I fear, for the ill-informed or the ill-educated.

If, therefore, the scheme is, as the Government have so often described it, a move to try to show claimants the range of options--and not to pressurise people into taking any sort of job, whether unsuitable, ill paid, perhaps a long way from home or with inconvenient hours and various other drawbacks--and if it is not a move to get people off benefits no matter how, it would seem reasonable to include something like my amendment on the face of the Bill.

I should not like to see this country moving in the direction of the United States' workfare system. Although I am sure that much can be learned from America, it must be recalled that it seems impossible for it to do anything about the increasingly dangerous underclass which exists in most major cities and which has become totally alienated from normal society. The Government have rightly proposed policies aimed at avoiding that kind of social exclusion. They should continue that philosophy by supporting my amendment, which stipulates that the regulations shall provide that a refusal by a person to undertake work proposed at an interview shall not of itself--I emphasise that--lead to a loss of benefit entitlement. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: I have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, said. We understand the point the Minister has made many times that there will not be compulsion but, like the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, I remember some of our exchanges on the issue of single parents. There is a middle ground--a very undistributed middle--between being compelled to work and being allowed to continue to receive benefit. There is an area for feeling under pressure, under encouragement, under constant suggestion, under the instillation of a sense of guilt. All these things make a difference to people.

I do not know whether the Minister saw an article in the Observer just over a week ago about the missing millions. These are people who have disappeared from the benefit rolls and from most else as well. One of the people the Observer talked to said that he had gone off benefit and disappeared--he did not explain how he made his living; one might wonder--because he was

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tired of being made to feel a drain, no good, a burden on society and so forth every time he drew benefit. That is a wonderful example of the law of unintended consequence. The noble Baroness's amendment draws attention to that danger.

We need an assurance not only that people will not be compelled to work, but that it will be recognised that in the end they themselves--especially those with young children and if they are exempt from the actively seeking work rules--are the best judges of whether or not they ought to be working. That is a vital point of recognition of individuality, without which bureaucracy can become extremely burdensome.

I am very glad, too, that the noble Baroness said what she did about the United States. The United States has achieved a great deal of saving on its welfare rolls. I believe that 3 million people have disappeared from those rolls. We do not know what has happened to those people but we do know, when we consider the costs to the United States' and state treasuries, that the prison budget has taken up the slack left by the welfare system. That is a very expensive system. Concern for the taxpayer, if nothing else, would make it quite important to avoid it. So when one is thinking about pressure one ought to think about all these possible unintended consequences.

Where one is dealing with people with physical handicaps, who have occupied a great deal of our debate today, one should accept that very often they can judge what they are capable of doing when others cannot. To take as one example back conditions, there are many people who on some days can do a great deal of work. On other days they really cannot. No outsider can really judge that, and unless there is this recognition of people's individuality the whole thing will be a misery. I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, for drawing attention to precisely these points.

Lord Rix: I welcome this amendment because it would require any government considering a more radical approach to compulsion to bring forward primary legislation in order to introduce such a change. We may be aligning ourselves a little more closely to our European neighbours in terms of monetary policy, but when it comes to social policy transatlantic influences are clearly evident, as underlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden. There are a number of more radical US models of compulsion which I am certain that Parliament would want to scrutinise very carefully before their introduction in the United Kingdom is even contemplated.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Buscombe: I rise to speak in strong support of this amendment. We accept that people should be encouraged to take up suitable employment but we question, as have the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, the pressure that may be put upon people to take up work, remembering that we are talking about a single gateway,

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which has that emphasis on work. In particular we have referred to lone parents with young children, those who are disabled and those recently bereaved.

Reactions to the Government's proposals for the single gateway from pressure groups has largely concentrated, as we have heard earlier, on the measures to compel benefit claimants to attend interviews as a condition of claiming benefit. I suggest also that it has to do with the pressure which may follow naturally on attendance at an interview. In an article for the Independent responding to an earlier article by Alistair Darling on the single gateway, Martin Barnes, Director of the Child Poverty Action Group said:

    "The benefits regime is tough already, don't make it tougher. CPAG agrees that for those who want to and are able to work, paid employment is a route out of poverty. But work is not, and should not be made to be, an option for all--there must also be genuine security and dignity for those without paid work. The issue of the adequacy of benefits should be addressed by Alistair Darling, not ignored. Benefits can help prevent poverty, even if the causes are many and complex".

Also, in a press release responding to the Bill, Gingerbread, a pressure group representing lone parents, welcomed the fact that lone parents would have access to accurate information about work, training and work-related benefits. Gingerbread, in a press release on the welfare reform Bill on 10th February 1999, expressed its concern over certain aspects of the proposals for the single gateway, and in particular whether the interview would be carried out by an adviser with expertise on the specific needs of lone parents, such as childcare and training needs.

Gingerbread also argued that for lone parents who had recently been through a separation pressure could add to an individual's stress. On the issue of lone parents and work, it argued that lone parents should be able to make a choice about whether or not they work, based on the needs of their children. They said that parenting was important work, with a long-term benefit to society. It must be made clear that lone parents will not have to work. They will only attend an interview to receive information.

That point brings us to what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said in relation to compulsion in connection with interviews. It should also be impressed upon personal advisers that there has to be a really careful balance struck between the need to encourage people to feel positive about work and also about the need to accept that there are many people on benefits now who, for good reason, wish to remain so, particularly lone parents, the disabled and those recently bereaved.

A number of examples have been raised this afternoon as to why compulsory interviews should not take place. I think there are many more examples. I would particularly refer to multiple sclerosis, where sufferers from that disease can often go through a long period of remission. When in remission they would be perfectly capable of taking up a job, but I would hope that the Minister can give reassurance that the personal advisers would understand that such remission is for an unforeseeable period, and that the patient, though feeling well at the interview and able to take up work, may within days or weeks, or overnight, have relapsed

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into a state in which he or she is simply not capable of working. Therefore in supporting this amendment, we are asking for an enormous degree of sensitivity in relation to the whole interview process. As has been said earlier, we thoroughly support the principle of the interview but we would want to be reassured that nobody would be put under pressure to accept a job where that would be unreasonable.

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