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Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 77:


The noble Baroness said: My moment has come! In moving this amendment, I speak also to the amendments grouped with it in my name.

The Committee will be aware of the Report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. The committee has been painstaking in its scrutiny of the Bill, for which I am grateful. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, will convey my thanks and appreciation to the committee, of which he is such a striking and senior member.

The committee in its report made a number of recommendations, one of which concerns the enabling power at Clause 9(1)(a). Paragraph (a) provides a power to add by regulations to the list of benefits which are sanctionable under the loss of benefit provisions at Clauses 6 to 12. The committee was of the opinion that that type of change was sufficiently important to warrant primary legislation. I can reassure Members of the Committee that the Government have no intention of making sanctionable any of the benefits currently exempt from the sanction by virtue of Clause 6(8). Paragraph (a) of Clause 9(1) was included in the Bill to provide future proofing against any change to the structure of the benefits system; for example, the creation of a new benefit.

We take seriously the concerns of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee and after consideration we agree with its recommendation. Therefore, Amendment No. 77 removes paragraph (a) from the Bill. As a consequence, any future addition to the list of sanctionable benefits will require primary legislation. Amendment No. 78 makes a consequential amendment to subsection (4) of Clause 9 because the removal of subsection (1)(a) makes it redundant. Clause 10(3)(a)(i) is also made redundant, and is deleted by Amendment No. 80.

I hope that the Committee will welcome the amendments, which follow the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Astor of Hever: I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the amendments. The Government have listened to the advice given in the fifth report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, in particular the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. We welcome the amendments.

Lord Goodhart: I, too, welcome the amendments, as do my colleagues on these Benches--absent though most of them are! The Government have listened to

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what has been said. Future proofing is unnecessary because any new benefit will be introduced by primary legislation. That will be the opportunity to add it to the list of benefits which are not sanctionable. I am grateful to the Minister for tabling these amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 78:


    Page 15, line 29, leave out subsection (4).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 10 [Loss of benefit regulations]:

[Amendment No. 79 not moved.]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 80:


    Page 15, leave out lines 42 and 43.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 81:


    After Clause 10, insert the following new clause--

ANNUAL REPORT BY SECRETARY OF STATE

(" .--(1) The Secretary of State must make an annual report to Parliament on the effects of reduction or withdrawal of benefit under the process contained in section 6.
(2) Such report shall include information on--
(a) the means of subsistence available to those so sanctioned;
(b) the incidence of homelessness among those so sanctioned;
(c) the incidence of imprisonment among those so sanctioned; and
(d) the death rate among those so sanctioned.").

The noble Lord said: For a long time and in a number of different situations, my noble friend Lord Russell has pressed for more information about the effects of benefit withdrawal. As yet, he and I have had no such information and are not satisfied that proper and adequate research has been done on the effects of benefit withdrawal in terms of increased crime, homelessness, health and death. We believe that if research were done--admittedly, the sample is small--the withdrawal of benefit would show significant adverse results.

In those circumstances, we believe that if benefit withdrawal is included as a penalty under the Bill, the fullest information should be provided about the consequences on those who suffer it. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I was a little surprised to see the amendment tabled in this way, given that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, raised it fairly in the closing part of his Second Reading speech. Although I did not have time to address the matter as fully as I would wish, I wrote to the noble Earl on 25th January giving the Government's view. I had hoped that that would meet his concern. I do not know whether there is anything in the letter with which the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is uncomfortable or wants to challenge.

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I have assured the noble Earl that we intend to monitor the effects of the sanction, as we would monitor any new social security policy, particularly one designed to combat fraud. I have specifically given an undertaking that as well as looking at the sanction's effectiveness as a deterrent, we shall also monitor the economic impact it has on individuals' lives, including the adequacy and accessibility of hardship payments. I have also given the noble Earl my undertaking that monitoring will take particular account of specific groups of claimants, including those recently discharged from prison.

We constantly monitor the effect of sanctions. We have done so for labour market sanctions and we have agreed to do so for the community sentence sanction introduced in the previous social security Bill. However, we need to bear in mind that the number of people who may be affected is considerably smaller under in this Bill than for either of those sanction regimes. We do not envisage the fraud sanctions being applied to more than 500 people in any year. Those without other means of support will be able to access hardship payments after two weeks at the longest.

Obviously, the effects of sanctions were meant to be experienced, but, equally, while they might generate a degree of hardship, a 20 per cent cut in a person's income does not cause "destitution". I would not accept words such as that. The people about whom the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, are concerned will experience a two-week delay before a hardship payment is made. I find it difficult to understand how we can conduct meaningful research into the relationship between two weeks without benefit and such significant life events as homelessness, imprisonment or death.

I wondered yesterday how, if I were asked to carry out such a research project, I would go about it. I find it almost impossible to conceive. It would depend almost entirely on the alternative resources people might have; the family support available to them; their usual diet; their standards of health; their expenditure patterns; how much they drank; how much they smoked; whether they were on drugs; what they spent on travel; and how much any or all of that was genuinely discretionary and could therefore be used to offset their penalty. It would also depend on the quality of their existing housing, given that housing benefit was not normally removed.

One would have to know the answers to all those questions and weigh them in a sample of, at most, 300 to 500 people going without benefit for two weeks. The group going without such benefit might be even smaller. In terms of effects on health, it is hard to know how to relate imprisonment and death to two weeks without benefit without knowing a claimant's state of health beforehand; what other means of support he had; what his eating and drinking patterns were; and so forth. One could not do it. Research based on a fortnight's withdrawal of benefit would not be plausible and meaningful.

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Importantly, we shall monitor the effects of the sanction in order to see whether it deters people. We hope that it will. I ask noble Lords to temper their expectations of what can be delivered given the small size of the group. It will be hard to identify statistically valid information about trends. As the measure is designed to act as a deterrent more than anything else, the indication of success, as my noble friend said earlier, will be a fall in the number of people to whom it may be applied. That would be a more meaningful statistic.

I could argue at length about the nature of social policy research but, as envisaged, I do not see how research on the effect of withdrawal for a period of two weeks of hardship payments, with some degree of a cut in benefit, can produce detailed information which would be meaningful and academically respectable. One cannot connect two weeks' loss of benefit with factors such as imprisonment and death. It is just not possible. I realise that normally I would be arguing this matter with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who is happy to cover the field of social research. If the DSS were kind enough to offer me such a task I would suggest that it reviewed its thinking on the matter.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Goodhart: I do not entirely agree with the Minister about the difficulties of statistical analysis in this matter. I accept that one has to look into the circumstances of the people concerned to find out why they have died, been imprisoned or whatever. It is not very difficult simply to look at the figures. One may find that people entitled to hardship payments are not claiming them for some reason. If one found that the number of people on whom benefit withdrawal has been imposed was at a statistically higher rate than through death or imprisonment or loss of home, one would certainly want to look in more detail at the causation. If one finds that there is no significant difference, then one does not take the further steps. If there is a significant difference, one then looks at a cross-section of individual cases to see why there is a much higher rate. That seems to me to be both legitimate and possible.


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