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Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I begin by reaffirming our support for the principle of the work-focused interview. It is our belief that everything should be done to help and encourage into work anyone and everyone who can work. But this amendment allows a narrow and carefully defined category of certain individuals, not a broad range of people, the choice of whether or not to attend a ONE interview.
Those individuals already face considerable challenges in their everyday lives. They include individuals who, if they were able to work, would not be work-shy. Others, as carers, are already working arduous uncertain hours, often undertaking extremely difficult tasks. These individuals are constrained from working because of their disability, bereavement or caring duties, not because they do not want to work. We believe that for those individuals, compulsion is simply not necessary, appropriate or justifiable.
Those individuals should be encouraged to attend a ONE interview, but on an entirely voluntary basis. We urge the Government to encourage them and thereby afford them the same opportunity as everyone else. If that is done on a voluntary basis, it will contribute to their self-worth and self-esteem, and that must be right. It would give them confidence, a crucial ingredient for entering the world of work, through choice as opposed to making it a requirement of the law to attend.
We are already aware and expressed in Committee our real concern that the whole thrust of ONE has conjured up fear and raised considerable alarm among many people who are terrified at the prospect of not performing in an interview which is work-focused due to their disability. They fear that they will somehow fail, be penalised, and perhaps lose their benefits.
Noble Lords may recall that I suggested in Committee that the terminology "work-focused interview" is not at all helpful. "Personal development interview" would, in my view, be much better a way of describing what is at hand, not least because the Minister has striven to reassure us that the interview in fact concerns rights and benefits as much as work.
Indeed, the ONE learning assessment framework manual for advisers concentrates almost entirely upon benefits. In Committee and on Report we rehearsed the arguments against compulsory attendance at a ONE interview, particularly for the disabled. There was suggestion that we were somehow seeking to deny opportunities to those individuals. This amendment would provide them with choices--not threats--and with opportunities.
Further, I recall, for example, that the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, believed that we were questioning the very value of interviews. Far from it, my Lords. We are extremely aware of the value of interviews. We do not support the dragooning of certain individuals who, if they are in receipt of disability living allowance or
Earl Russell: My Lords, this is a good amendment. I believe that nothing goes deeper in the divisions between this party and new Labour than the issue of compulsion. When we discussed this matter in Committee, the Minister put forward an extremely powerful and carefully argued defence of compulsion to which I listened with great interest. The central principle of what the Minister said was, "You don't know what you don't know". She argued that people should be made to attend in order to receive information. But the Minister's principle that "You don't know what you don't know" cuts both ways. Of course, there is a great deal about people who have disabilities, who are carers, who have carers to look after them, or who have been recently bereaved which cannot be within the knowledge of those arranging the interviews.
The case against compulsion comes under two headings. The first is the compulsion to attend the interview, which, formally, is all that is in the Bill. The other is the possibility of mistaken decisions being reached at that interview. I agree entirely with the Minister that many people with disabilities are capable of doing extremely valuable work. Any Member of this House who denies that has not attended recently. But we need to know each disabled person as an individual because we all know that what two people with an outwardly identical handicap can manage to do despite that handicap is not the same. There is a mental factor in this which is perfectly genuine and not always understood.
Similar reasoning applies when one is dealing with pain. Nobody really knows how much pain other people are suffering. I have even known family doctors make quite grave errors on this point. It is very difficult indeed for someone who has never before met a person who is in pain to reach an accurate decision on whether that person feels too much pain to be able to do what is required of them.
When we deal with carers, we must consider not only the interests of the carer but also the person who is being cared for. If your mobility is limited or if your mental state is disturbed, you have a very high degree of dependence on your carer. You may be faced with the fear of an interview which may take your carer away from you and cast you into a quite unknown
With regard to bereavement, I refer to the extremely powerful speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, when we discussed the bereavement allowance in Committee about the length of time it may take in some cases to make the necessary adjustments. One cannot know without being inside somebody else's skin which people can make it quickly and which people make it slowly. Lady Seear once said that it is not right to require people to go straight from graveside to job centre. That is one reason why we on these Benches support this amendment.
Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I have considerable sympathy for, particularly, the second part of this amendment which refers to carers. I wish to add a few comments to what noble Lords have said. I shall speak briefly and only to that part of the amendment.
I believe it is sometimes difficult for people to understand that those with heavy caring commitments are still extremely interested in having a job outside the home. That is not only for financial reasons but, perhaps even more importantly, for psychological reasons. It is not always easy to remain in that type of relationship at home, constrained as one often is. Therefore, carers want to move into the job market. However, that has to be handled extremely sensitively.
I made the point previously to your Lordships about sensitivity and training that the people who conduct the interviews must have. Also, the way in which the interviews are--if I may put it this way--marketed to those who may be involved is extremely important. I believe that we must be very careful how we deal with such interviews.
On the other hand, however, I can think of some instances in which compulsion to attend an interview has been beneficial to carers. In particular, I think of carers in a New Deal programme in the north west which the Carers National Association conducted in partnership with Centrica. They specifically targeted carers to persuade them to enter Centrica's workforce. Their first efforts to bring in the carers were not at all successful because the carers could not understand that they were the people who should be encouraged to come into the workforce. It took much more aggressive marketing to say, "Yes, we do need you", to involve the carers in that particular programme. I am happy to say that it is now extremely successful.
Therefore, as the noble Lord said, it seems that the key issue is to treat people as individuals, to think about their psychological as well as their financial needs, and to think about the way in which the
The amendment seeks to exempt from compulsory work-focused interviews three groups of claimants: those who receive disability living allowance or attendance allowance; those with caring responsibilities of 35 hours per week or more; and those in receipt of widows' and bereavement benefits.
The arguments for inclusion of those groups in the provisions of this clause are essentially those that I have used with your Lordships throughout the course of this Bill. It is a key principle of our welfare reforms that people should be treated as individuals and not be put into a box, as my noble friend said, which carers do not believe applies to them. We want to move away from that rigid categorisation which says, "If you are a disabled person you have no interest in working. Therefore we shall not encourage you to think about the opportunities", and so on. Yet we know that 8 per cent of those on DLA are in employment.
If we are to make progress in moving those at risk of falling into the twilight or the edges of our society because they live on benefits which do not give them the full quality of life that they would wish, we cannot afford to deny them the help that our reforms will offer them.
I turn now to the amendment. I shall speak to each of the three groups in turn. First, obviously the reference to attendance allowance is unnecessary because attendance allowance is payable only to those who have attained pensionable age. The clause does not apply to anyone over the age of 60. As we made clear when we introduced an amendment on Report, there is no requirement that pensioners should attend work-focused interviews. Only pensioners are eligible for attendance allowance.
DLA is payable to people who, because of their disability, incur additional costs in relation to their care or mobility needs. Its recipients include, but are not limited to, those with the most severe disabilities. For example, someone who receives DLA may have acute intelligence, acute skills and enjoy general good health, but may be a paraplegic and may therefore need higher rate DLA in order to qualify for a Motability car, which then gives him the very mobility he wants. That person may be an extraordinarily effective addition to the labour force but the amendment would wipe out the invitation to that person to come in to the work-focused interview.