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Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 119:


After Clause 53, insert the following new clause--

ANNUAL REPORT TO PARLIAMENT ON WORK-FOCUSED INTERVIEWS

(" .--(1) The Secretary of State shall report annually to Parliament on the operation of the work-focused interviews, with specific reference to--
(a) the number of those moved from the interviews into work; and
(b) the number who, having moved into work, leave work after--
(i) 6 months, and
(ii) 12 months.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall take into consideration the following--
(a) the number of interviews which are postponed, deferred or cancelled,
(b) any cost implications for businesses, and
(c) the levels of fraud detected.

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(3) For the purposes of subsection (1) the Secretary of State shall consult--
(a) all relevant non-governmental organisations,
(b) all businesses involved with the operation of the work-focused interviews, and
(c) any organisations which the Secretary of State may think appropriate.
(4) The period for any consultation under subsection (3) shall be three months.")

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is extremely important. It requests an annual report to Parliament on work-focused interviews. Given the importance of that whole process, there should be proper monitoring of how it has developed and of the successes and failures of the initiative.

The Committee will note that the amendment asks for a number of points to be covered in that annual report. We ask that:


    "The Secretary of State shall report annually to Parliament on the operation of the work-focused interviews, with specific reference to--


(a) the number of those moved from the interviews into work; and
(b) the number who, having moved into work, leave work after--
(i) 6 months, and
(ii) 12 months". The amendment states also that:
"For the purposes of subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall take into consideration the following--
(a) the number of interviews which are postponed, deferred or cancelled,
(b) any cost implications for businesses, and
(c) the levels of fraud detected.


    (3) For the purposes of subsection (1) the Secretary of State shall consult--


    (a) all relevant non-governmental organisations,
    (b) all businesses involved with the operation of the work-focused interviews, and
    (c) any organisations which the Secretary of State may think appropriate.


    (4) The period for any consultation under subsection (3) shall be three months".

We note that the pilots presently being conducted will last for three years, but we think it is very important to have a proper and full evaluation of those pilot schemes before full implementation takes place. We stressed that earlier this evening, but in relation to this clause, it is extremely important that a number of points should be set out clearly on an annual basis, starting with the results of the work-focused interview pilot schemes in the first three annual reports to Parliament.

I stress that we welcome the work-focused gateway. It builds on the principle behind the jobseeker's allowance which we instituted. But we question a number of practices and procedures which have not been set out on the face of the Bill. We want to know that this initiative will achieve what it sets out to achieve.

In relation to local authorities, we believe that the proposals as they stand give too much scope to local authorities to show discretion in postponing interviews or simply not having them at all.

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At present, claimants have to spend a minimal amount of time in contact with Benefits Agency workers. This new system will place an enormous amount of additional work on those workers. Under the new system, Benefits Agency staff must allow up to an hour for interviews with claimants. That will put a massive strain on an already over-burdened system. With the opt-out provisions in the Bill, the choice which will face Benefits Agency staff will be either to undertake the interviews and have a huge backlog or to postpone, defer or cancel them. We believe that that is an uncomfortable choice for them to have to make.

We have consistently pointed out that compelling people to attend interviews, although welcome, is not the panacea Ministers pretend. It is what lies on the other side of the "one" initiative that matters. The whole idea of the work-focused gateway depends on the availability of jobs. We believe, therefore, that our reference in the amendment to reporting on how the interviews impinge on the workforce and on the success of placing people in work is important.

Over the past two years, policies implemented by the Government have increased the burden on business by nearly £40 billion. The introduction of the minimum wage, the social chapter, the working time directive, working families' tax credit and the new Employment Relations Bill are all increasing costs for employers.

We believe that we should know those costs on an annual basis. Over the lifetime of this Parliament, this Labour Government are introducing around £40,000 million in taxes and regulatory burdens on business. Those burdens relate to the windfall tax, the Budgets of 1997 and 1998, the national minimum wage, the working time directive, the introduction of works councils and parental leave. That all adds up to a total of £39.3 billion. Again, that has a direct impact on the whole focus of getting more people into work. We want more people in work, but we believe that the cost implications for businesses cannot be ignored. We believe that the costs should be stated in an annual report to Parliament.

The figures that I have given represent an average of £10,788 for each business in the UK. As 98 per cent of all businesses employ fewer than 20 people, that represents a significant burden for most. We believe that these measures are all working counter to the Government's alleged objective of getting people back into work and we severely question how effective the work-focused single gateway will be.

Further--I referred to this earlier--although in theory the New Deal for lone parents was a good idea, we do not believe that it has been the success described by the noble Baroness. However, many among the minority of employers who have recruited staff through the scheme admit that they would probably have taken on the youngsters anyway without the need for an expensive state subsidy. We therefore have to question the extent to which we pay in order to get people into work. Tesco, for example, has opened 23 new stores in the past 12 months and recruited around 14,000 staff but only 22 "New Dealers".

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We believe that there is a contradiction in terms. Again, that is the reason for our Amendment No. 119. On the one hand, we have a work-focused interview while on the other hand provisions in the Bill include recipients of incapacity benefit and severe disablement allowance being compelled to attend interviews. Those benefits, however, are, by definition, for people who are not able to work. We certainly believe that engaging disabled people in the gateway and encouraging them to work is important and right, as do the disability organisations. However, it is also crucial to ensure that genuinely disabled people are not pushed into situations and interviews for which they are not well enough. We have referred to that already tonight, but I stress that an annual report to Parliament should make reference to whether such initiatives are a success in terms of the compulsory aspect of the interview.

It is therefore essential that sensitivity and care are taken in calling genuinely disabled people to interview and ensuring that they do not simply receive a letter stating that they have to attend a work-focused interview or they will not receive any benefit. I appreciate that the Minister has given us some reassurance on that point tonight, and we are grateful for it.

We believe that cost and training should be monitored on an annual basis. We suggest that the cost of implementing the "single gateway" will be huge. We have estimated that employing the personal advisers alone could cost up to £100 million. The Government will also have to ensure that the personal advisers are fully trained and qualified in order to advise properly the range of individuals with whom they will be in contact. Too many existing job centres are inaccessible to disabled people and do not have the facilities to provide information in Braille or on tape. This, together with the fact that untrained staff are trying to assess the potential of people with a wide variety of disabilities, could lead to a shambles.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I do not want to invade the noble Baroness's speech, but we discussed whether premises will be accessible to disabled people when we considered a previous amendment. I thought that I gave assurances then that the noble Baroness found satisfactory.

Baroness Buscombe: I do not mean to be too repetitive, but it is important to explain why we have moved Amendment No. 119. It is important to monitor the success, or otherwise, of the whole process. We accept the Minister's reassurances about access, but an enormous cost will be involved. That cost factor--forgive me if I have not been clear on this point--will make an enormous difference to the overall cost of the initiative and we believe that we should have access to that information.

We have a right to receive a report on an annual basis. It is important to amend Clause 53 to allow Parliament to scrutinise closely the effectiveness of this welfare reform. That is why we believe that the amendment should be placed on the face of the Bill. We must ensure

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that all the aspects to which we have referred are expressed and monitored through an annual report to Parliament. I beg to move.


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