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Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 116:

Page 62, line 5, after ("training") insert ("or benefits")

The noble Baroness said: I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 116 and 117, which we shall take together. These amendments have the support of the Disability Benefits Consortium.

The amendment seeks to broaden the scope of compulsory interviews which new claimants will have to undertake as a condition of receipt of benefits. In

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the Government's earlier consultation paper, Support for Disabled People (Cm. 4103), the single gateway scheme was described as,

    "The mechanism for ensuring that people, including those with a long-term illness or disability, are given a personal adviser who will help them assess information on work, benefits and other government services".

As currently drafted, the Bill describes the interview as "work-focused". That term has been defined by the Government as an interview,

    "conducted for such purposes connected with employment or training".

It was said earlier this evening--I make no apology for repeating it--that the term "work-focused" was misleading and did not reflect the objectives of the interview or the full range of support that should be offered to a claimant. The aim of these amendments is to make explicit the Government's earlier intention that interviews should perform the dual role of advising people with disabilities of the range of benefits to which they are entitled and, where appropriate, supporting claimants' efforts to find work.

The Disability Benefits Consortium is concerned about the description "work-focused", in that the Government place a disproportionate priority on getting people into paid employment at the expense of the provision of other kinds of support. We suggest that if that is replicated in the training of personal advisers and the evaluation of the success of the scheme, disabled people will be denied individualised support and access to valuable information about benefits.

It is simplistic to assume that welfare and work are either/or choices for many people with disabilities. Where paid work at some stage is a realistic possibility, it will often be necessary to work toward that goal through a support package that involves health, social services, education and training. People with learning disabilities may need job-coaching and the ongoing assistance of social services to take up employment. Those with sensory impairment may require communication support to try out employment. Personal advisers should take account of an individual's circumstances and act as a signpost to other avenues of support.

Severely disabled people who can work also need benefits to compensate for low earnings. They also need help with the extra costs incurred as a result of their disability. Welfare and work are needed to deliver a degree of equity between disabled and non-disabled people in terms of extra costs and reduced incomes. Personal advisers should encourage people to claim in-work benefits to which they are entitled. For people with profound and multiple disabilities, including mental health problems, the nature and severity of their condition may rule out paid employment. A recent survey by the mental health charity MIND investigated attitudes to employment and benefits among people with mental health problems. The largest category who commented on what would help them to get work said that poor health was the most significant barrier. Comments included, "I would if I was well" and, "I would work if they gave me enough time to finish therapy". We believe that if there is to be an interview

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for such claimants, it must focus on the welfare of the individual, including access to benefits, rather than solely on paid work. I appreciate that the Minister has given us considerable reassurances on that matter this evening.

In addition, others may find that caring responsibilities rule out paid employment. We believe that an interview will be beneficial to people in those circumstances only if the personal advisers recognise carers' contributions to society and centre interviews on the welfare of the carer. For many claimants, the benefits system is a source of confusion. There is evidence that people with disabilities do not claim the benefits to which they are entitled and perhaps are unaware of the range of support that is available. All claimants need up-to-date personalised advice on the appropriate range of benefits. That should be an integral component of the interview and made explicit on the face of the Bill. To that end, I beg to move.

Earl Russell: I congratulate the noble Baroness on thinking of these particular amendments. They precisely encapsulate the misgivings which many of us, most notably the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, expressed earlier this evening. People are very individual. Here we are dealing almost entirely with those who are already exempt from the actively-seeking-work rules. Therefore, there can be no question of skiving or scrounging. These are people who have perfectly good reasons for not going to work. They are individuals. Their circumstances are very different. None of us from the outside is able to judge them with great precision.

The language of the Bill, especially on page 62 at lines 7 to 11, explains why a number of us have had misgivings. It states that the interview is for purposes connected,

    "with a person's existing or future employment or training prospects or needs, and (in particular) assisting or encouraging a person to enhance his employment prospects".

From one point of view, those words may be viewed as entirely benign, but they sound rather as though everyone, however handicapped, is expected to have employment prospects. That impression may well be misleading. But if it is a misleading impression it might be in the Government's interests to dispel it.

In particular, the word "encouraging" is capable of ambiguity. In the sense that it is used in one-to-one, personal friendship situations, it is entirely benign; but there is another sense, with perhaps a faint suggestion of inverted commas involved, where it becomes very much the same kind of euphemism as the title of the caring Whip in another place.

The amendment encapsulates the difference between those two meanings. If the noble Baroness's amendment were accepted, the benign interpretation would clearly be intended. That, I think, would relieve a great deal of anxiety among a large number of people and might do a great deal to improve the Government's reputation and

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to persuade people like me to make fewer speeches on the issue. The noble Baroness might think that that was a rather good thing.

Lord Rix: The definition of a "one" interview should accurately reflect the broad range of functions associated with it. Two of the central functions should be simplifying the benefits claims process, and advising claimants what benefits may be available to them. I therefore see no reason why that should not feature on the face of the Bill, or why we should not at least receive one of these splendid assurances that we have heard from the Minister today.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Amendments Nos. 116 and 117 seek to widen the definition of "work-focused interview" set out on the face of the Bill. I share the intentions underlying the amendment, but I hope to be able to give noble Lords the assurances that they seek--despite the ironic intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Rix--in order to enable them to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Rix: The intervention was heartfelt, not ironic.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Again, I shall consider that. As I say, I agree with the intentions, but it may be worth spelling out a little further how clients will go through the claim process.

When someone of working age who is not in full-time work makes contact with the "one" service to claim benefit, he or she will need to go through an initial stage called "Start-up". This will be prior to taking part in a work-focused interview. The purpose at this stage is for clients to provide basic personal details, register their intention to claim benefit, and be issued with the appropriate claim forms. Giving people integrated, personal support at this stage will make it easier for them to access the benefits system.

One of the key elements of this early stage is for staff to identify whether there are other benefits to which the claimant may be entitled. Considering the training programme and the number of days spent in training staff to familiarise themselves with the full range of benefits and their entitlement, I am sure that that will not be overlooked by them.

Most people will then be required to take part in compulsory "one" interviews with a personal adviser. These interviews will be a more in-depth investigation of an individual's circumstances, and an exploration of the barriers that may prevent participation in the labour market.

Personal advisers will encourage clients to improve their employment prospects where relevant, even if they are some way off from being job ready; for example, if they have a very young child and may not be considering going back to work for several years yet. They will work with their clients to identify and take steps to overcome any barrier so that they are better able to seek work and to that end that second interview could well cover such areas as child care, housing, training and the availability of in-work support.

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Although this interview is primarily about identifying the barriers to work which a client may face, it will also provide a second and further opportunity for staff to explore benefit entitlement. For example, personal advisers will ask clients about any caring responsibilities that would make it difficult for them to look for work. I would expect in that situation that the personal adviser will uncover the fact that many people may be entitled to invalid care allowance which they are not currently claiming and will advise the client to make a claim.

Personal advisers will also ensure that clients are aware of the in-work support which is available through the tax and benefits system should they move successfully into work. For example, if a client has a disabled child, if they were to go into work and it was thought appropriate, perhaps because of the child's school hours, that they needed WFTC, then they would be entitled to claim double the level of tax credit under WFTC than if the child was not disabled.

As your Lordships will be aware, Clause 52 also allows for further work-focused interviews to take place throughout a client's time on benefit. These will provide further opportunities for personal advisers to ensure that people are aware of the benefits they may be entitled to claim. The personal adviser will also be the central point of contact for any queries the client may have about benefit.

Talking with lone parents who have gone through the New Deal, what has struck me time and time again is the way that they regard their personal adviser on the New Deal as a friend. This comes up quite spontaneously. "She has helped me do this; she has taken me shopping for work clothes; she has trained me in interviews; she has driven me to the interview; she has looked after the child while I have had the interview; she has been a real friend to me." This comes up time and time again. We hope to get the same culture into "one".

The reference to benefits in this amendment, I take it, must be wider than the relevant benefits referred to elsewhere in the Bill. As I say, both at the initial orientation interview and at the "one" interview we plan to use the interviews to provide advice on any benefits to which an individual may be entitled. If this encourages take-up, for example for ICA which has still not happened, we will be delighted.

I hope that noble Lords will agree that, in the light of these assurances, there is no need for the amendment. Obviously, primary responsibility for claiming the benefits will remain with the client, but staff at all stages of the process already play, and will continue to play, an important role in making sure that people do in fact claim the benefits they are entitled to. As I said, the entitlement conditions for the benefits which are available are an essential part of the training for every member of staff. At a quick look, it looks as though at least 13 days are spent on benefit entitlement and a further five on the CSA as part of the basic training programme.

I do not think it would be appropriate to go further and include a mandatory discussion about benefits within the definition of work-focused interviews. The

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intention behind the amendment--helping people claim benefit--will already be met through the service we are putting in place. As I pointed out, this will take place primarily at the start-up stage and further discussion at the work-focused interview may not always be appropriate. I hope that your Lordships will accept that under the "one" service we are ensuring that our staff put emphasis on helping people claim the benefits to which they are entitled. Secondly, joining up the employment service, the Benefits Agency and local authorities on one site will ensure that expertise about the whole range of benefits is available in one place. I hope, with that explanation, that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

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