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Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her very detailed and compassionate response to the amendment, and I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this very interesting debate. I share the views that were expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that "work-focused interviews" is not a very good name for what my noble friend has described. If personal development were the key issue, the situation might be different.

My problem is that I do not like the notion that the people referred to in the amendment, who are rather vulnerable, should have to attend an interview on pain of losing their benefits if they do not do so. It is that element of compulsion that I dislike about this section of the Bill, but if the administration of this section will be as described by the noble Baroness, then it is unobjectionable. It is reasonable that people should be encouraged to come in and be spoken to about their personal development and training opportunities. The problem is that that would be against the background that if they do not come in for the interview they could conceivably lose their benefits.

In view of the very detailed explanation given by the Minister, and the fact that there will be no further opportunity to consider this matter under this section of the Bill, I feel inclined to see how it works out in practice. If the interview is a personal development interview instead of a work-focused interview and if the emphasis is not on people losing benefits if they do not show up, then that will be a very good move.

A great deal more could be done to market what is available. People do not always realise what opportunities are available. There should be marketing of the interviews and an explanation of what they involve. Sometimes people are wary and afraid when summoned to an interview. We do not want people to stay away because they are afraid and then lose benefits as a result. If the Government intend to pursue this in the way indicated by the Minister, that would be satisfactory to most noble Lords, including my noble friend Baroness Pitkeathley, whose support I value. In those circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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7.15 p.m.

Lord Addington moved Amendment No.8.


Page 64, line 25, at end insert--
("(g) for carrying out a full review of the effects of the interviews and decisions connected with them on specific groups of claimants, to ensure equality of treatment and consistency of standards and to disseminate examples of good practice, such review to--
(i) include consideration of the effects on those with disabilities, black and ethnic minorities, and those whose first language is not English, and
(ii) include consultation with relevant bodies, to include the Disability Rights Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and organisations of, or representing, people with mental health problems;
and to take place not less than one year and not more than two years after the day on which this Act is passed.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are returning to the idea of obtaining the right type of information from these compulsory interviews, and the question of training and support for the people who conduct the interviews. We have been round this course several times. The amendment will enable the correct information to be extracted from those people who are being interviewed.

We propose a review process whereby the information gathered is assessed by those who know it from the special groups. I have always said that these interviews potentially have two edges. I should like to see the right type of interviews conducted for the right groups.

We can talk about this for a long time, but I have consistently expressed the fear that the people who conduct the interviews will not be properly trained. The noble Baroness has assured me that they will be well trained. I have countered that assurance by asking whether they will be trained in the right areas and asking about groups with mental health problems. The noble Baroness has addressed this point, for which I thank her. She has been in touch with charities which have in turn been in touch with me.

The amendment would extend the process further in identifying best practice and where it does not work. I am asking for a process of review that would identify where things are going wrong. If the process is carried out properly, we shall be able to enhance it. The problem that we all fear is that, if we get it wrong, people's lives could be utterly destroyed. The noble Baroness has acknowledged that potential danger. The amendment would allow a review of the process as it develops.

I hope that the noble Baroness will respond favourably to the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, we welcome the amendment. It adds a safeguard for cross-cultural awareness. It is vital to consider the training of advisers and the effect of the process upon black and ethnic minorities, which have not yet been mentioned

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in discussion of the Bill, as well as those with disabilities and those whose first language is not English.

Much depends on the administration of the Bill and particularly the training of advisers and the sensitivities displayed by those advisers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, stated, it is very important to see what happens in practice.

If the Government decide to reject the amendment, what guidance will be given to personal advisers on how to respond to people from minority communities with such problems as those highlighted in the amendment, particularly those whose first language is not English?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham : My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and I are reading Amendment No.8 in the same way. It seeks to place an obligation on the Government to undertake a review of the impact of work-focused interviews and the decisions taken by one's staff and asks us to consider the effect on people with disabilities, those from ethnic minorities and those whose first language is not English. The amendment, as I understand it, is concerned with reviewing information on the progress of this initiative and ensuring that it is handled professionally and made available. However, the noble Lord also spoke about the adequacy of training of personal advisers.

Lord Addington: My Lords, if we do not take on board what is going on, we shall not know how to change the training. That is what we are getting at. If mistakes are being made in training, or one party has it right and another has it wrong, we shall not know. It is a matter of disseminating information about training.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I take it that the noble Lord is saying that we need the research in order to get back a learning loop. The simple answer to that--I can cut a couple of pages here--is yes; we are placing great emphasis on collecting and publishing a whole range of information. It will be one of the most closely monitored initiatives I can think of, other than perhaps the Child Support Agency.

We shall be collecting information on areas such as the number of people who go through the service and are referred to a job vacancy; the number having their interviews deferred; why the deferral occurred; how long for; information on those failing to take part in an interview; the appeals decisions and so forth.

In addition--this is more pertinent because the first is simply a collection of numbers--we shall be conducting a full and comprehensive evaluation of the pilots which will have qualitative as well as quantitative elements. It will assess whether the pilots led to an increase in the sustainable level of employment by getting more people into work; it will also--this is pertinent to what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was saying--seek the views of clients regarding the actual level of service that they received.

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Personal advisers will be interviewed to ensure that lessons are learnt to help to make the service we offer more effective. Again, much of the qualitative information will be broken down so that we understand whether the impact on the ONE service for each of the main client groups differs from that overall picture. We shall also be monitoring the effect of disentitlement. The evaluation data and the current survey will allow us to see what is happening.

The amendment also seeks to ensure that key organisations, representing people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and people with mental health problems are consulted in the review process. That is already happening now with the training and will continue to happen as we roll out the scheme. We shall get their advice and experience as we look back at our work. For example, the ONE consultation forum gives national organisations representing disabled people, carers, lone parents and people with mental health problems the opportunity to discuss emerging issues with Ministers and senior officials. At a national level, the BA Annual Forum and the Disability, Homelessness and Ethnic Minority Forum have begun to run two-way sessions on the operation of the ONE project, bringing together officials and delegates of all the major organisations representing those clients.

We also have local networks of supervision. I could go on and on. But I hope that noble Lords will be assured that not only are we collecting what I call the traditional statistical material of numbers, outputs, through-puts, sustainable job levels and so forth, but we are also going into the area which quite rightly concerned the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, in relation to the quality of service to clients; their views on the quality of that service; the degree to which we are being supported and sustained by the voluntary organisations and the degree to which all that can be fed back into training. Yes; we are doing it in spades! I hope that when we see some of that research coming through noble Lords will be able to join with us in feeling that this is a worthwhile new development by government.


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