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Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that comprehensive explanation. It allays some of the fears I had. I shall look very carefully at the explanation in Hansard tomorrow. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5 p.m.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 114:


Page 60, line 7, at end insert--
(“( ) for determining the training to be provided to persons by whom interviews are to be conducted, which shall include training in the principles of personnel management and job placement, in types and incidence of mental and physical disability and in recent developments in coping with time;")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as we stated very clearly in Committee, we on these Benches welcome the principle of ONE, the single-focus gateway to work. However, we have been talking about the principle. The problem lies in the detail. The amendment therefore again specifically refers to the training of the personal advisers who will conduct the interviews.

As we understand it, the recipients of benefits must turn up to ONE interviews. The interview is extremely important and therefore it is important that those attending the interview fully understand what they are in for and that the interviewer is able to cope with a broad spectrum of recipients. The interviewers' job will be extremely tough. They have a tough timeframe within which to carry out the interview, sometimes as little as an hour. It is important that the personal advisers involved in the interviews really understand some of the sensitivities with which they will be faced in the broadest sense, particularly with regard to the

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disabled and others who will feel very upset and disturbed by the fact that the interviews are compulsory.

I am grateful to the Minister for forwarding to me a copy of the learning assessment framework; I have read it in detail. It presumes a considerable amount of expertise and knowledge. I appreciate that. In the framework, the accent appears to be--quite rightly in many senses--upon benefits. I understand--the Minister made it absolutely clear in Committee--that the interview is not only about work but also about opportunities for benefits. I am grateful to her for sending me that information. However, we feel strongly that the level of expertise which the advisers will need to retain and develop in a very short space of time is crucial in terms of the ways in which the advisers will be trained. We accept that many of them will not be starting from a nil base; that many of them are already trained to some extent. However, the amendment makes particular reference to those people with mental and physical disabilities; they will need very special treatment and attention during the interviews.

It is important that I give an example. Multiple sclerosis is often completely invisible in a person. If a person with multiple sclerosis is in remission but is put under stress by fear of the compulsory interview, the consequence could be that the stress will trigger off another serious illness. We feel that the more pressure we can apply from this side of the House with regard to the level of expertise and training which is to be carried out, the better.

In Committee, the Minister made clear that during interviews the advisers will be able to call upon other areas of expertise. However, if personal advisers will have ready access to a wide range of support services--the Minister stated that the advisers would not themselves need to be experts but would need to know when to bring them in--and the interview is really one interview, how will the adviser know what kind of expertise to call upon until the interview is taking place? Surely it will be too late then to call in the experts. Perhaps the Minister will be able to advise me in regard to that matter.

Although I have some sympathy with the principle behind Amendment No. 115, which is very similar to Amendment No. 114, it is important that we question the wording of it. It states that the training of personal advisers is,


    “to be conducted by people with direct personal experience of mental illness".

I have a legal background. I have read the amendment time and again. Surely, it is saying that the training is to be conducted by people who have themselves a history of mental illness. I therefore cannot support

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Amendment No. 115; I do not think it is accurately worded. I am sure that it does not reflect the intention of those who tabled it.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I have been told by the noble Baroness, who is legally qualified, that my amendment is defective. I will, of course, defer to her if that is the case.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I cannot believe it!

Lord Addington: My noble friends will undoubtedly form an opinion about whether it is appropriate. There is a direct thrust to this amendment rather than the broad-brush approach taken by the noble Baroness.

As the noble Baroness said, the best one can realistically hope for from a general person conducting a ONE interview, especially where no warning is given beforehand, is that that person is expert enough to know the limitations of his knowledge. I believe that that is what the noble Baroness was driving at. One of the most difficult tasks in assessing disability is realising what you do not know and backing off. I hope that those who will conduct the interviews will have more success in that field than people have in virtually every other field--medicine, teaching, and so on. I have heard of an enormous number of cases where people have been struggling and have not known whether they should become involved or pass the case on.

In sport, knowing when to keep the ball and when to get rid of it generally marks out the great player from the average. That is equally true of those who give advice. It is important to know when not to give advice and to defer rather than give bad advice. That is the crucial thrust behind the noble Baroness's amendment and underlies everyone's concerns about the interview. In Committee, the noble Baroness gave a considerable amount of assurance about the amount of training that would be available. I doubt whether she will ever be able to provide enough training to be able to handle these matters.

A point was raised as to whether the ONE interviews could be extended. I assumed that they could be. I assumed that the one-stop interview was merely a starting-point--and, it is to be hoped, the finish in the majority of cases. The option of an interview is in the structure and I hope that it can be used.

Those who have mental health problems, almost by definition, have the greatest degree of difficulty as regards their perception of their own case. All the problems that we have previously referred to are magnified. Someone who suffers, for example, from severe depression is incapable of taking a clear look at his or her situation, even when confronted with the necessary information. Surely, it must be necessary to involve someone with expertise. That is why I have added my name to Amendment No. 115. If the wording is not correct, I am happy to accept that. The point is that some real expertise should be found.

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I know that the noble Baroness wants this provision to work well, as do we all. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In certain pieces of government legislation such wishes have led us at least as far as purgatory.

Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, we are dealing with matters for which the regulations “may" make provision, that is to say, the draftsmen have an element of discretion. However, it is reasonable to indicate on the face of the Bill the issues which, as legislators, we regard as important. That is why I support Amendment No. 114. The role of the person who conducts the interview is extremely important. If the interview goes wrong, there could be serious difficulties. It would be wise to refer to that element of training in the Bill.

It should be particularly borne in mind that the percentage of those with mental illness who are in work is substantially less than it is for those with other forms of disablement. I believe it is about 12 per cent of those with severe mental problems. The present reforms may make possible an improvement in that figure. So the present reforms are a move in the right direction. However, we need properly qualified interviewers in order to maximise the chances of a good result. Therefore, I support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we discussed the first of these amendments at an earlier stage. I was then able to offer some assurances to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. I have subsequently provided her with additional information.

The aim of the training, as I made clear in Committee, is to create a group of people able to support and advise clients with a very wide range of needs. An extensive training programme is therefore essential. However, this programme needs to recognise both the skills that many staff will bring to their new posts and the range of additional, specialist support to which personal advisers can have access where that is appropriate.

Although we recognise that the quality of the training is crucial to making the ONE pilots work, we cannot accept this amendment. Identifying only three or four, albeit important, subjects in legislation, and requiring all personal advisers to be trained in those areas, would reduce the flexibility we need to give every member of staff appropriate training. In addition, we consider it essential that all ONE staff, not merely the personal advisers, are allowed access to the same high-quality training packages.

I appreciate that this is, in part, a probing amendment on what is clearly a very important subject. I should therefore like to reassure the noble Baroness as to the importance that we place on providing suitable training for ONE staff. As I made clear in Committee, the average member of staff working for ONE will carry out well over 200 hours of learning before taking up his or her post. That equates

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to nearly seven weeks. In addition, all advisers will be required to work towards a professional qualification in advice and guidance, at least to NVQ standards.

Some of the training will focus on enabling staff to provide good-quality benefit advice; other aspects will cover the administrative processes that staff need to undertake. However, we have recognised the clear need to ensure that staff are given adequate training and support in handling a wider range of clients than they currently see and for a wider range of work and welfare related issues. That means appropriate learning opportunities for staff to ensure that they can give client groups with special needs a high-quality, sensitive service.

The help that key voluntary organisations have given to our officials has been invaluable in that respect. As I mentioned in Committee, we have developed training in the needs of special client groups in association with organisations such as MIND, the National Schizophrenic Fellowship, Scope, Mencap, Gingerbread and the Carers' National Association. I had intended to give further details of what we are doing to help to take account of the needs of people with mental illnesses. As that amendment, which I thought was important, was not moved, I have not been able to set out our proposals. All of the organisations involved have spoken to ONE staff at training events and have provided extremely useful background information on the needs of the groups they represent and what the ONE service needs to give them if it is to prove effective. That knowledge has been incorporated into an on-line information system, which all personal advisers will be able to use in the course of their work.

All ONE staff without thorough knowledge of disability issues are being required to undertake a disability awareness course as an essential part of their training. The course is now being thoroughly updated, both to take on board the additional information that has been made available to us and to build on the best of the existing training material used by the Employment Service to train disability employment advisers. Again, we will ask organisations that represent people with disabilities and mental health problems for their views, to ensure that we are providing staff with appropriate and helpful material.

I hope that that has reassured your Lordships that we are treating the issue of training extremely seriously. We are investing considerable money and effort to offer training that will enable ONE staff to provide a high-quality service, focusing on both the employment and the welfare needs of clients.

I do not believe that these amendments will allow us the flexibility to respond to individual training needs. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, will not pursue her amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, was right when he said that, however much we invest in training, disability, particularly mental health disability, can be such a complex area that we cannot hope to achieve the necessary skills, even with the extensive training that is proposed. In particular, staff may not know the range

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of problems until the ONE interview takes place, and by then those with appropriate skills--including those who can offer advocacy help--may not be at hand.

There will, in fact, be two interviews. There will be the start-up interview, in which basic information is taken. It is hoped that the major ONE interview will then be arranged within a couple of days of that. If the disability emerges, as it should normally do--I accept that it will not do so in all circumstances--at the start-up interview, staff will ensure that those with the most appropriate skills will be available at the second interview. If such people are not available, the interview can be deferred either at the convenience of the person being interviewed or in order to make sure that appropriate help is available. I fully accept that only a consultant in certain areas of medicine could have the full range of knowledge. But we are doing our best to ensure the opportunity, first, to train and provide skills to staff and, secondly, to ensure that those trained and skilled staff are available to help those with particular disabilities and special needs.

I shall be happy to write to noble Lords on the issue because I have not had the opportunity to give much of the information I was going to give the House and I am sure that noble Lords would wish to have it.


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