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My direct experience is now 25 years out of date, as is, I suspect, the experience of many of us who bring experience to this Chamber, but the generality of that experience still holds true and the perspective of time reinforces the message. That is why I shall be pressing the Government in Committee concerning a number of issues relating to these questions. The danger is that the new regime of personal independence payments replacing DLA will force many unwell people to submit to the indignity of yet another examination with all the insecurity and distress that that causes. I am concerned that the Government's target is to cut the number of DLA claimants by 20 per cent when the assessed fraud level of DLA is only 0.5 per cent.
I fear that the Bill fails to address the central problem of getting people into work; namely, the lack of available suitable jobs. Job creation is a greater problem than unwillingness to work, particularly among young jobless people, and the challenge of getting appropriate work that is just not there for disabled people. The Bill needs to be amended to ensure that claimants with dependent children will not face sanctions if they are not able to work, and there is a need to challenge the Government's intention to limit the new ESA to just 12 months, even for people suffering from long-term or variable illness, which the Government admit will hit some 700,000 people. What will be the position of young people who have been disabled from birth since they will not qualify for the contribution-based element of ESA?
Finally, no one denies the need from time to time to review the welfare benefits system to simplify it, speed it up and make it fairer. However, what would be totally unacceptable would be for vulnerable and
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Baroness Stedman-Scott: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as CEO of the employment charity Tomorrow's People which aims to help people get and keep a job and to help them to focus on their destiny rather than their history. I hope that in relation to universal credit this Bill will help people to get extra focus on their destiny. In addition, before I joined your Lordships' House, I worked on the reports, Breakdown Britain,Breakthrough Britain and Economic Dependency, all of which were undertaken in conjunction with the Centre for Social Justice.
In my experience of working with unemployed people, they want to work. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, they do not need to be whipped. They want to be independent and to make the choices in their lives that they see those in work making. The difficulty comes when trying to make the transition from welfare to work when the system in place does not generate sufficient incentives to work. I draw noble Lords' attention to a conversation I had with a young couple a few weeks ago. They had a child. The mother of the child had a part-time job working 19 hours a week. She wanted more hours because she wanted to be able to do more for her family. She managed to get another job which meant an increase to 29 hours a week, and she took the increased hours at the weekend so that childcare could be managed. You would think that it was something to celebrate. In front of me, her partner said, "Well, if you didn't work, we wouldn't have to pay the rent". This is what we need the new system to stop. The principle of the universal credit is most welcome. It will simplify the current system, and I hope that the introduction of the new single taper, which will withdraw support as earnings rise rather than stop them altogether, will make the statement that work must pay a reality. At the moment, the withdrawal of benefits when somebody gets a job is all or nothing, resulting in people asking, "Why should I bother?". This, I hope, changes things greatly.
However, I urge the Government to make sure that the changes which will affect unemployed people under the universal credit are communicated effectively and professionally. We must turn every stone to make sure that they are fully conversant with the flexibilities and opportunities that are presented to them, and help and support them through their journey back to work. It would be a travesty if we failed to do this. It is critical that all front-line staff, either from the DWP or indeed the various providers that interface with unemployed people on a daily basis, are well trained and that there is no opportunity for confusion or lack of clarity on these significant technical and cultural changes.
The introduction of the universal credit is long overdue, but I fear that the question we have not asked is: how are we going to support our unemployed people in the most effective way during their period of
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Like many of your Lordships, I have received several briefings on this Bill. They raise some understandable concerns and I would just like to mention one: childcare. One of the greatest obstacles faced by people looking to return to the labour market is that of affordable, quality childcare. The provision of childcare is not covered in this Bill but it will seriously affect the ability of people to take a job if it is not in place.
I greatly welcome the principles behind this Bill but it involves major changes that will need to be carefully worked out. I thank the Minister for the consideration that he has given in the briefings to the feedback we have given him. My father had the politically incorrect job of furrier-he made fur coats. He said the advice his first boss gave him, whether he was making an expensive mink coat or one of less expensive skin, was always, "Measure twice and cut once". With all the proposed changes that this Bill brings to welfare reform, we would all do well to adhere to this advice.
Lord Touhig: My Lords, I will focus my remarks on Part 4 of the Bill, which will bring in a new benefit called the personal independence payment to replace disability living allowance. In particular, I will consider the impact of the changes on people with autism.
Disability living allowance is a key benefit for many people with autism, designed to meet the additional costs of their disability. The National Autistic Society has said that reform of disability living allowance could offer an opportunity to ensure that the needs of people with autism, who are some of the most vulnerable in our society, are better understood in the allocation of benefit. It has welcomed the increased focus on participation, communication and the ability to plan and make a journey, all outlined in the consultation documents on the reform as well as in the draft regulations. However, the National Autistic Society, along with other disability organisations, has serious concerns that the objective of a 20 per cent cut in projected spend on the award seems to be the main driver for change. If this is the case, a significant number of adults with a disability will lose out.
Our fear is compounded by the Government's stated intention to focus benefit on those with greatest need, which is yet to be defined, and with the proposed introduction of a new assessment process, including face-to-face interviews. Like many noble Lords, I share the National Autistic Society's concerns about the introduction of face-to-face assessment for the new benefit, particularly given the experience of the work capability assessment. The National Autistic Society followed a group of people with autism through the work capability assessment process and found that the medical assessment was a particular barrier to having needs fully and properly assessed. Face-to-face assessments for people with autism are problematic and can be extremely stressful.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates with and relates to another person. Areas of difficulty include an inability to understand the nuances of language, facial expressions or tone of voice, and a propensity to take everything literally. In light of this, an interview with a stranger asking questions that you may not understand or be able to answer accurately due to the language barrier is hardly the best method of assessment. But the many different types of communication barrier also mean that an assessor untrained in autism may not pick up on the difficulties faced by the person with autism or Asperger's syndrome. For example, if an individual on the autism spectrum has known about their interview for weeks, they may spend those weeks practising what to say in order to come across well in a way that will perhaps not truly reflect their actual communication struggles. They may come across as not having any noticeable communication difficulties and therefore be wrongly assessed.
People with autism also often lack insight into their condition and may not have a good understanding of what areas of their daily life they need help with. They could also fail to mention real areas of difficulty because they do not comprehend their importance or because they are eager to please. However, an assessor with no knowledge of autism is very unlikely to understand this. An effective diagnostic assessment of someone's communication skills would often need to be carried out over a period of several hours, across different days and in different environments. A half-hour session with a stranger is far too blunt a tool to make a proper and fair assessment.
There are particular concerns, as other noble Lords have already mentioned, about who will carry out these assessments and what training their staff will have with autism. How we can be assured that the staff who will carry out the assessment will have adequate training in autism? Autism is particularly poorly understood among health professionals in this country. Indeed, research by the National Audit Office in 2009 found that 80 per cent of general practitioners did not feel that they had enough knowledge and training in autism. Can the Minister explain what the Government intend to do to ensure that adequate and specialist training for assessors is in place so that adults with autism can have their needs comprehensively and fairly assessed?
Organisations representing people with disabilities have been encouraged by government pledges in Written Answers and in response to the disability living allowance consultation that they understand that face-to-face assessments are not suitable for everyone. Indeed, the Minister stated in Lords Questions on 10 March this year that where it is not "realistic, helpful or appropriate", the Government would not insist that applicants for personal independence payment be seen face to face. Could the Minister clarify what this means and commit to putting safeguards in the Bill to ensure that individuals for whom it is inappropriate are not put through face-to-face assessments unnecessarily?
As well as the limited timeframe, other factors make it difficult for proper scrutiny of the Bill to take place. The draft regulations provide no indications of
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I therefore have two further questions for the Minister. Will he commit the Government to introducing biennial reviews of the implementation of the benefit to ensure appropriate scrutiny of the operation of the benefits in place? Will he also commit to ensuring that all regulations relating to the personal independence payment will be subject to affirmative resolutions so that this House and the other place can be given the opportunity to scrutinise the regulations?
For the sake of public finances in the medium and long term, for the sake of the integrity of the new benefit, but-most especially and in particular-for the sake of many people on the autism spectrum for whom DLA is their only lifeline, I ask the Minister to seriously and comprehensively review both the process and the assessment criteria for the new personal independence payment and ensure that, when introduced, it will be fit for purpose.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, this is a very important Bill. It could well be a Bill which defines the coalition every bit as much as the Health and Social Care Bill. It certainly deserves the same treatment. At its heart is the introduction of universal credit, which brings together the majority of in-work and out-of-work benefits and tax credits for people on a low income, with the aim of simplifying the benefits system and getting people off welfare and into work. Allied to measures which limit the amount of time for which people can remain on contributory employment and support allowance, and benefit from more generous levels of support, this is the Government's flagship policy for addressing poverty. As such, by incentivising work and reforming a welfare system which has kept people in a state of dependency and out of work for too long, in making it pay to be in work, this would seem to have much to commend it. But there are losers as well as gainers.
Tony Blair is reputed to have asked what you had to do to save £1 billion on welfare and been told that a million people had to lose a thousand pounds. The Government's welfare reforms are aimed at saving £18 billion. That is an awful lot of people who have to lose a thousand pounds-or rather more if you want to reduce the number of losers. Many of these losers are disabled people, the most vulnerable in our society, whom the Government have pledged to protect. At this point I ought to declare my interest as a disabled person myself, president of the Disability Alliance and a vice-president of RNIB.
The enhanced disability premium and severe disability premium will not be replicated within universal credit. As a result, disabled people living alone without a carer will be worse off; without the disability addition, so will parents with disabled children who are out of work. Research by the think tank Demos has shown that, far from being protected from the worst of the
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The Government propose that the range of premia will be replaced by two additions reflecting the ESA components, and it is intended that the weekly rate of the support component equivalent will rise in stages from £13.40 today to £74.50. But the Disability Benefits Consortium estimates that if, instead of this, the severe disability premium and the disability addition were retained, a higher proportion of the childcare costs of disabled children were met and disregards payable to certain groups were made additive-so that, for example, someone who is both a lone parent and disabled was entitled to two disregards-the losers could be protected without resulting in extra cost.
However, this would undermine the entire logic of the scheme. Incentivising work means penalising the condition of not working, and making it, in the language of the Poor Law, less eligible. The most flagrant example of this is the proposal to time-limit contributory ESA to claimants in the work related activity group to one year. The DWP estimates that, by 2015-16, around 700,000 people will lose their entitlement to contributory ESA. On average, their income is expected to drop by £36 a week. About 60 per cent of these will be able to receive income-based ESA, but the rest will lose their benefit entirely if they do not meet the means test. Indeed, 400,000 will have to lose their benefit if the Treasury is to make the planned savings of £2 billion. The loss will be more for some than others, but it is estimated that 280,000 will lose their entire benefit, currently worth £94.25 a week.
There are five things wrong with this. First, in the great majority of cases, the people we are talking about do not want to be dependent on welfare. They do not choose economic inactivity; they are not the "undeserving poor"; they want to work. Secondly, their impairments often make it very difficult for them to do so. Thirdly, where this is not the case, or the difficulties can be overcome, prejudices, or sometimes just the reasonable apprehensions of employers, can present an insuperable barrier. Fourthly, in the current state of the economy, there just are not the jobs. In all these circumstances it can be quite unrealistic to expect people to find a job within a year.
The DWP has estimated that of those on contributory ESA and in the work related activity group, 94 per cent will take longer than a year to find work. Cutting off the enhanced level of support after a year is a breach of faith with people, many of whom will only have become disabled towards the end of their working life and will have paid their national insurance contributions for perhaps 30 or 40 years. Add to this the indignity of ever more draconian assessments by people who palpably do not understand the realities of disability-highlighted so graphically and eloquently by the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell and Lady Wilkins-and it is not difficult to understand the fear and anxiety being expressed by disabled people at the present time.
"I don't want to be declared not fit to work as I know there is work I can do despite the problems that Parkinson's can cause. But there is no guarantee that I will find a job in 12 months. It could take me much longer. I've worked all my life and have paid for decades into the system on the understanding that there will be support if I need it. To be told that all of this support could have an arbitrary time limit is both unfair and stressful".
There are many aspects of this complex Bill that it has not been possible even to touch on. Others have and will speak about them. I am afraid that I will have to disappoint my noble friend Lord Rix for today, until my review of the funding of mobility for people in residential care is further advanced.
I have concentrated on ESA because it is so emblematic of the approach that this Government are taking toward welfare. Ministers appear oblivious to what is happening at the coal face; instead, they proceed with all the messianic zeal of Poor Law commissioners, careless of who gets rolled over by the juggernaut of reform. Indeed, the casualties are a necessary part of the reform. We will need to see many changes before this Bill is fit for purpose, but nowhere more than in relation to contributory ESA.
The Liberal Democrats have a motion before their conference next week which opposes the time-limiting of ESA. I hope that our Lib Dem colleagues will be taking note and realising that there is more about this coalition's programme which needs eviscerating than its reforms of the NHS. I hope, too, that Ministers will be listening so that we do not have to regard the Conservative Party, this time with its Lib Dem accomplices, as the nasty party once again.
Lord Feldman of Elstree: My Lords, I am delighted to rise for the first time in your Lordships' House in support of this Bill. I should like to begin by expressing my thanks to the Members of this House for their kind and generous welcome. I should also like to thank all the officials and staff for their courtesy and unfailing helpfulness to me and my family, particularly on the day of my introduction. Finally, I must thank my two supporters, my noble friends Lord Harris of Peckham and Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise, both of whom have been an inspiration to me. They have in common a work ethic that drives them to commercial success and a strong sense of social responsibility that manifests itself in the time and energy they dedicate to their numerous charitable works.
It is a well known Jewish proverb that "God created man because he loves stories". This place, its traditions and its Members are all about stories-stories of our nation and stories of some of the extraordinary men and women who have graced these Benches. My story is far less interesting and important than the vast majority of them. Nevertheless, I believe that it contains a small message for this debate. At the turn of the 20th century, my great-grandparents came to this country to flee the pogroms and persecution of eastern Europe. They had nothing bar the few possessions they could carry with them and the values that they carried in their hearts. My grandmother, the youngest of eight children, to this day tells of the times they spent in their small flat in the East End, sharing one bedroom and two beds-girls in one and boys in the other-sleeping head to toe.
What sustained them in those difficult times, and enabled each of them to make their mark on this country, were three values in particular. First, they had a strong work ethic not only to lift themselves out of poverty but also because they understood that a person's work is central to their sense of who they are and their place among their community. They wanted to be the best that they could be. Secondly, they put their family at the centre of their world. It was the main support structure for the nurturing of their children and the care of the elderly. Thirdly, they understood their responsibility to the wider community; namely, those who could not work or take care of themselves either because they were too sick or too old. They took this idea very seriously and as their circumstances improved, successive generations, in particular my parents, have been involved in numerous charitable and social causes.
On both sides of the family, a common thread-if noble Lords will excuse the pun-was a connection to the clothing business, both in manufacturing and retail. I found out today that I share this history with my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott. More than 100 years later, I am still in this business, although I have to say that my parents did everything in their power to keep me out of it. I was privately educated and I attended a fine university. I trained and practised as a barrister in the chambers of the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner. As he may well recall, it was only after my father's sudden and unexpected illness some 15 years ago that I returned to the family firm. His advice to me at that time was clear and unequivocal. He told me to put my family first and to go and sort out the business. I am sure that my great-grandparents would have agreed with that.
By happy coincidence my co-chairman of the Conservative Party, my noble friend Lady Warsi, has a very similar story. She is the daughter of immigrants who arrived with nothing and built a successful business. She qualified and practised as a lawyer and before her entry into politics worked in the family firm. It has been my great good fortune to work with her and I thank her for her kindness and support over the past year.
The Bill before this House today is for good reason considered to be a central part of the legislative programme of this Government. It makes a start at dealing with a problem that has troubled generations of politicians and political thinkers across all parties; that is, the problem of long-term unemployment and a welfare dependency. The effects of this have been debilitating to millions of people in this country. As your Lordships are aware, there are families where no one has worked for three generations and almost 2 million children grow up in homes where nobody works.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has given this serious thought. In his years in opposition, he conducted detailed research through the Centre for Social Justice. The results of his research are clear and the values underpinning this legislation mirror almost exactly the values that my family brought with them from eastern Europe, to which I referred earlier.
First, the Bill recognises that it is absolutely essential to try to place the work ethic back at the centre of people's lives by making work pay for those able to
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Secondly, the Bill makes an important start in placing the family back at the centre of British life by addressing the couple penalty, which heavily penalises unmarried partners who choose to live together to bring up their children. Finally, it tries to ensure that the limited resources now available to the state are used to take care of those in society whom we have a duty to protect because of disability, sickness or lack of opportunity for employment.
In my view, these reforms are well thought out and built on firm principle. They try to blend practical necessity with compassion. They look to the underlying causes of problems in our society, which were manifested most recently in the rioting in our cities; that is, the sense of rights without responsibilities and the sense of entitlement without endeavour. I believe that this Bill will place us back on the right track.
In preparation for this speech, I was drawn to an article for the Times written by the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, as a reaction to the murder of James Bulger in 1993. He reflected on the appropriate response to that tragedy. The mood at that time was strikingly similar to the mood in the country today, that of uncertainty and moral introspection. He implored:
"The worst thing we could do now would be to get lost in an argument about who is to blame: the individual or society, politicians or religious leaders. What we need is imagination, not recrimination".
Baroness Meacher: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Feldman of Elstree, on his very pertinent maiden speech. With a legal background as a commercial barrister, the noble Lord's contributions to the House will surely be incisive and hard hitting. As the former managing director and chief executive of his family's textile manufacturing business, he brings invaluable commercial expertise, and as the organiser of the operations and fundraising for David Cameron's leadership campaign, he is clearly someone who expects, and achieves, success. Noble Lords, particularly Cross-Benchers, will I am sure gain great confidence if they find him on their side of an argument. Again, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Feldman of Elstree, and welcome him to the House of Lords.
I begin my remarks on the Welfare Reform Bill by applauding the Government and, most particularly, the Minister for some of the valuable reforms in this Bill, which include: the serious attempt to simplify the system-anyone who knows about welfare benefits knows the importance of that objective; the integration of the universal credit and Inland Revenue databases enabling truly automatic benefit adjustment-what could be more important?-in response to earnings
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As other noble Lords have pointed out, one of our great difficulties in debating this Bill is in distinguishing between the impact of the cuts and the impact of the structural changes. I believe that it is a combination of both that will threaten the stability of the lives of vulnerable individuals and the very fabric of communities. The housing benefit changes are among the most threatening. Many other noble Lords will address those issues and, therefore, I will not do so.
The new personal independence payment presents very severe risks for people with mental health problems. The Minister has been clear in emphasising that benefits will be focused on those in greatest need. Who can disagree with that? But we know that assessing people with mental health problems is far harder than assessing those with physical disabilities-in part, because mental health problems fluctuate from day to day and from week to week, as everyone knows. Atos and jobcentre staff have all been confounded by these problems. I understand from the Minister that the assessments for PIP will be based on, but different from, the assessments for ESA. This gives me some assurance but I remain most concerned about this issue. How many mentally ill people will be wrongly deprived of their benefits, with disastrous consequences? That is something we need to address in discussing the Bill.
I have been involved in a small way with the excellent work of Professor Harrington and a group of mental health charities to improve the descriptors used in the assessments. I am also aware of the planned improvements in the assessment process for ESA, using a report from the claimant's preferred clinician and having the final decision on ESA entitlement made by Jobcentre Plus staff rather than Atos. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that these elements of the assessment process for ESA will apply also to personal independence payments. I think and hope that they will.
In the end, the validity of the decisions about whether a claimant with bipolar disorder or agoraphobia should be entitled to PIP will depend considerably on intelligent decision-making by well trained and highly skilled Jobcentre Plus staff. My biggest fear is that, under financial pressure, the DWP will have underpaid, underskilled and overworked staff making these key decisions affecting people's lives.
In a discussion with carers of severely mentally ill people in east London last week, they talked about their recent reassessments for benefit and described being "terrified"-their word not mine-because the interviewers had no idea or understanding about the conditions with which they were dealing. One carer referred to a report following an assessment that completely misunderstood the mental disorder of her son. Can the Minister give some assurance about staff training and pay? You cannot get decent staff unless you pay them.
The Bill significantly increases the use of conditions and sanctions for claimants of employment and support allowance. We all know that there are individuals and families for whom a life on benefits has become the norm and for whom a strong conditions and sanctions regime is essential in their own interest to try to re-establish them in an independent life. However, such a system presents huge risks for people whose minds are not clear. A severely depressed claimant may not do what a severely physically disabled claimant would take for granted: open letters, read them, understand them, realise the need to respond and so on. For someone lying in bed wanting their life to end, none of these conditionality requirements will be met-and what then?
Certainly people using secondary mental health services most undoubtedly benefit from undertaking work-related activities, so much of this Bill is common sense and we all agree with the principles. The trouble is, when you look at the application the panic starts. Inappropriate conditionality and sanctions can easily be counterproductive and fairly disastrous. For this very substantial group of ESA claimants, the regime must be supportive, skilled but not frightening.
On a different issue, for this group of claimants the option of having the rental element of universal credit paid direct to the landlord is vital. I understand the principle of encouraging independence and getting people to pay for their own rent, but we have to find a way forward for this group and maybe others that noble Lords may highlight. Failure to find a resolution to this problem for this group will lead to more homelessness and hospital admissions. How many more psychiatric hospital beds can we afford?
The plan to limit contributory ESA to 12 months for people in the work-related activity group is a further matter of concern. The issue is perhaps assessment for the support group. If employers are not going to take people on, they will not get a job within 12 months. That needs to be part of the thinking in assessment for the support group.
I am running out of time. For claimants with mild to moderate anxiety or depression, the availability of good-quality CBT is going to be essential if the Government are to reduce radically the numbers of that group on ESA in a caring way. For people addicted to drugs or alcohol, special benefit conditions need to be established. Regular interviews and job applications simply will not work. I applaud the Minister for removing the provisions in the previous Welfare Reform Act, but we need to do more work on that group.
In conclusion, I hope we can agree solutions to these problems, without resorting to votes, through discussion and greater understanding. I look forward to working with noble Lords to improve the Bill and ameliorate the hardship which will, without any question, result if the Bill goes through as it stands.
Baroness Sherlock: My Lords, I want to examine the extent to which the Bill meets its objectives, particularly for families with children. My interests are in the register but I was a non-executive director
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The Bill describes a revolution in the benefits system. The Minister might look an unlikely revolutionary, but he said today that this is the most radical reform of the welfare system since its invention. So a revolutionary he certainly is. I wonder whether there is a poster of Che Guevara tucked away in his office somewhere in Richmond House.
I will back a system that does those things, as will many noble Lords, but we must test whether it will. First, will universal credit be simple? No. It will be unified but not simple. By bringing together so many benefits, the process of applying for universal credit may be more complicated for some people who want access only to limited parts. I understand that. It may be inevitable as simplicity in the benefits system is often bought at the expense of fairness. Child benefit is simple but not fair, certainly if that is all there is. Tax credits are fair but even I would concede that they are not simple. Finding a single system that brings together fairness and simplicity is a great challenge. In particular, it puts a premium on smooth implementation to balance the inevitable structural complexity. Having been involved with the development of tax credits, I freely offer the Minister some advice that was hard-won by me during my time in the Treasury. Each front on which you pursue reform in a major structural change increases the chances of one of them failing and the whole thing falling over. I would urge the Minister to take that to heart and counsel him to stagger the reforms. Start, if you must, with universal credit, but get that sorted first before even contemplating moving on to the CSA or abolishing the Social Fund or introducing in-work conditionality, otherwise we risk jeopardising the entire system.
Secondly, will universal credit make work pay and support people in work? Tax credits were designed to do just that. Working tax credit was designed around people in work. It was meant to look like work. It was run by the Revenue, paid through the wage packet, based on prior year earnings, with no conditionality other than a minimum hours rule. The treatment of savings was fair, like in the tax system. Nobody was debarred for having savings but income from savings was taken into account. In merging these two systems, as my noble friend Lady Hollis pointed out so eloquently, too often the lowest common denominator has won out.
Will a father saving for a deposit on a house who is eligible for tax credits be denied any universal credit once his savings reach £16,000? What about a mother who is getting a divorce and gets some of the proceeds from the sale of the marital home but not enough to buy again any time soon? She will be expected to run down those savings, feeding her family from them, and so never getting back on the housing ladder unless she marries someone else. She had better make sure he
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Let me highlight two worries. Many noble Lords have mentioned childcare costs. The options that the Government have canvassed are fairly unattractive because all reduce the maximum amount of childcare help that can be claimed. The Minister may correct me, but if either option is implemented, some parents could be worse off if they increase their hours. They could be trapped in part-time work, making it hard to lift the family out of poverty and some could even find that work does not pay at all. We need specific assurances from the Minister that work will continue to pay at least as well as now, even if you have high childcare costs, and that no one will be put into the position of being forced to work more hours without being given the money to pay for the childcare they will need in order to do that.
The second area I worry about is the proposal to leave help with council tax to the discretion of local authorities. If the DWP cannot control how much council tax help is offered, how quickly it is withdrawn or how it is means tested, how will it be possible for the Secretary of State's guarantee to be met? I should be grateful if the Minister could explain that to the House.
Will these reforms lift people out of poverty? Many noble Lords know that this week an IFS report has predicted that the people who will suffer most from tax and benefit changes are families, especially poor families with children, with the poorest decile suffering income losses of more than 8 per cent over the next three years. I want to look particularly at the effect of the benefit cap, so eloquently explained to us by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler. The charity Family Action has said that the cap is likely to push more families into poverty. The Children's Society has said that it will affect nine times as many children as adults, so it is clearly a measure aimed directly at families with children. I have heard this explained as being necessary to stop, for example, a benefits scrounger living in the kind of house that no decent working family could ever afford to live in. But if we think about that for a moment, it makes no sense. There are already limits in the housing legislation on how much housing help can be given, just as there are limits on every other individual benefit. So an overall benefit cap will have a particularly unfortunate effect on those who happen to catch more than one of those tripwires. If you happen to have more than two children and live in an expensive urban area, you are the kind of person who will be hit. A Parliamentary Answer in another place revealed ministerial estimates that around 70 per cent of those who will be affected by this are already living in social housing; they are already in the cheapest accommodation. Where are those families meant to go?
Finally, I want to comment on the proposal to change dramatically the child support arrangements. The Bill and the response by the Government to their earlier consultation document make it clear that the intention is to put significant barriers in the way of any single parent who wants to make a claim through the statutory system. Those who do make it through the gateway will have to pay a fee just to be allowed to apply for the money to which they are entitled in law. If they get through and the money is then paid through the statutory system, both parents have to pay a fairly hefty proportion of that money-private money-to the DWP for the privilege of getting what is meant to be paid by one parent to the other. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, made a clear argument on this. There is nothing the parent with care can do to influence the other party to pay directly or to co-operate other than going through the state. Why is she then to be penalised? This is money that currently she receives directly to feed, clothe and buy shoes for her children. Why should some of that money be handed over to the state, potentially up to 32 per cent of the total amount, simply because the other party will not co-operate? That seems to be dramatically unfair.
There are many other questions that are yet unanswered, and the hour is getting late. However, I want to flag some issues that will come up during the Committee stage. What will happen to passported benefits such as free school meals? What will be the effect of stopping the automatic payment of money for children to the main carer, usually the mother? What about disabled children-potentially as many as 187,000 of them, so the charities tell us-who could lose up to £1,400 a year? What of the impact on 17 and 18 year-olds?
I understand that we cannot get all the detail right and I heard the persuasive appeal made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, that we should ensure that we do not allow the best to be the enemy of the good. I have heard the Minister say in previous briefings that we must focus on the structure, not on the detail, and that there may be more jam tomorrow. But children growing up now will be affected in the future by the incomes of their parents today. The very least we must ask of the Minister is that he should demonstrate to the House how the Government will achieve their own goals of simplicity, making work pay and tackling poverty. If he cannot do that, we are entitled to ask whether the revolution is justified. Perhaps the poster of Che Guevara should come down.
Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, from 1999 to 2001, I served on the New Deal Task Force of the then Department for Education and Employment, and thereafter from 2001 to 2007 I served on the National Employment Panel in the newly formed Department for Work and Pensions. When I look at Britain, I see a country that is so wealthy that we have been able to spend 50 per cent of our GDP on public spending-spending approaching £700 billion a year which enables every citizen of this country to access a welfare system and public provision that provides free school education, free health at the point of delivery, and access to all
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Given our economic situation, the Government are of course trying to bring public expenditure down, but I believe that they are making cuts where they should not be. It is not appropriate, for example, to make cuts in our defence expenditure or to harm our competitive advantage in areas such as higher education. But in the area of welfare the Government are doing absolutely the right thing in attempting to reduce the giant burden of these costs, which have been escalating over the years. It is an area where, in many ways when standing back from it, a detached observer could quite reasonably ask, "Why, during the boom years until 2007, was welfare spending increasing? Why, with the advances in medicine and health, were more and more people claiming disability living allowance? Why, when reports from the Office for National Statistics show an increase in the number of workers in the UK who were born abroad from 1.9 million to 3.5 million since 1997, were there just 25,000 more British-born workers in employment in 2009 than there were in 1997?".
During my several years working in welfare reform, it became very apparent to me that the system we had created in this country was too complicated and had resulted in a culture of welfare dependency and a culture of welfare entitlement, as the noble Lord, Lord Feldman, said in his excellent maiden speech. It was a system where, more often than not, it did not pay to work, as all the benefits combined often yielded more of an income than working. Also, the risk of taking a job and losing those benefits-in particular, housing benefit-along with the enormous bureaucracy involved in getting all the benefits back in this complicated welfare system, was a huge deterrent to working. The Government's universal credit will try to address this, but is it going to be able to deal with the benefits trap? The Government's plans have already been criticised for the way in which they are trying to phase in centralised control of housing benefit. At the moment these are dealt with by local authorities, but in future they will go through the universal credit. Are the Government going to be able to administer this in a fair and practical way?
Another shocking observation during my years of working in welfare reform was that our labour force in the UK showed a huge reluctance to move in order to get a job, or even travel to a job-sometimes as close as going from one borough to another in London. Do the Government believe that their proposals are going to help improve the mobility of labour? After all, we have millions of European Union workers in this country who have travelled thousands of miles to get a job.
Along with simplification, one of the objectives of these reforms is to reduce fraud and administrative costs. But to me this seems like Groundhog Day. I remember that 10 years ago we had the formation of the Department for Work and Pensions with exactly the same objectives: delinking education and employment by putting social security together with employment. Those objectives were noble and logical. As people came in to collect their welfare support, you would be
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Where are our priorities when we are cutting the higher education teaching budget by a few billion pounds, resulting in student fees being tripled and cutting one of this country's key competitive areas-one in which, along with the United States, we are the best in the world? In our biggest spending department, these figures would be lost in the roundings. The Government's implementation of universal credits and all these reforms is going to require huge new IT systems. Given the track record in implementing giant IT projects-let us look no further than at the NHS-and to reinforce what was said by the noble Lord, Lord German, do the Government really believe that they can deliver all they are promising for the £2 billion that they have budgeted?
I also remember that some of the best and most effective delivery of welfare to work initiatives was by private sector firms. However, it is unclear what the Government's plans are in regard to using the private sector to deliver their reforms. What are they?
Throughout my experience working with the Government in welfare to work, we used to refer to the "Australian Example". I had the opportunity to meet Prime Minister John Howard, who personally explained to me how his Government made what they thought would be an unpopular decision by clamping down on the abuse of their welfare system and bringing in tough measures of getting people who could work into work, including compulsory voluntary work while they were on benefits looking for work. They found that the working, tax-paying population were really happy and supportive of the Government's toughness-the scheme ended up being popular. Therefore, it is no surprise that a recent ONS survey showed that 53 per cent of people in this country believe that the current welfare system is too generous. That has gone up from 38 per cent a decade earlier. This should give our Government the confidence to pursue their proposals. From my experience in welfare to work, there is no question but that a working society provides, in every way, a healthier and better life; that work is not only necessary to provide and contribute to society but is good for people as such.
One of the recent Indian high commissioners here remarked to me that, in his experience of having been a diplomat around the world, he felt there was a lack of hunger and drive in this country. Although we are the most amazing and resilient country in the face of terrible adversity and tragedy-which is something that has been proved for centuries-if we look in the mirror, we will see that our welfare system now has one out of four working-age adults not working. As things stand, work often does not pay. On the other hand, we must make sure that those who genuinely cannot work-those who are disabled-are looked
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Do the Government really have confidence that what they are proposing will not only drastically reduce this multi-billion-pound area of spending, but produce a system that provides support for those who cannot work and makes sure it does all it can-in a fair and firm manner-to ensure that those who can work do work; and that work pays?
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, I welcome this Bill and there is a sound premise in what I say. It has noble intent; it seeks to simplify a very complex system; it seeks to decrease bureaucracy in the assessment of benefits, which has gone on for far too long; it increases transparency; but most importantly, as we have heard, it incentivises work. There is that look on a person's face as they secure their first job, and we in this House-indeed within Parliament-must seek to do all that we can to facilitate that particular hope. I also believe that it is timely to tackle the benefits culture which, unfortunately, does prevail in many parts of society. For these reasons, I welcome the principle of the universal credit. It simplifies and confronts a creaking system before it breaks down. Most importantly, it ensures that claimants aspire to do more-it incentivises work. In very simple terms, taking six income-related benefits and replacing them by one is surely to be welcomed. It reflects and tests individual circumstances.
For this evening's debate, I wish to focus on two elements. The first is children and childcare support. My maiden speech in your Lordships' House was based on the need for parenting, because it determines success in early life. Early intervention is something that we have debated quite widely in the House. I know that the Minister and the Government have already said that they will continue to look at supporting children and child support, and I know that the Minister has done so. However, I would also like to hear from him that he recognises the valid and genuine concerns which have been raised over the support for, and needs of, families, in particular support for childcare, which can vary very considerably depending on where you are in Britain. Childcare support in London is markedly different from support in other parts of the country. I totally accept that the aim of the Bill is to incentivise work and to ensure that a family benefits from parents who are in work, not out of work. We need to ensure that it does, and that when both parents are working, whatever the family unit, they are not financially worse off as a result of childcare costs than if they had remained on benefits.
The second element is disability living allowance. Aside from my business interests, I spent 10 years in local government as a councillor. I have been involved in different parts of council work. However, one of the most rewarding elements is looking at our elders in society. They have done their bit and contributed to
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I do not wish to keep your Lordships' House long, and I know that we will be discussing many matters in much more detail in Committee. However, let me reiterate that I welcome this Bill. Welfare reform is required. I also maintain, given the contributions that we have already heard from many noble Lords, across all sides of the Chamber, that this Bill will be enhanced during its passage through your Lordships' House by the customary reasoned, measured and persuasive arguments that we see in this House. I welcome the Bill as it proposes the necessary reform of our welfare system, based on noble intent and research, and driven by the need to make our benefits systems work for the people who need it most; and because, ultimately, it is geared at incentivising work. In my view, it is both timely and necessary.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, this is a very complicated Bill. It is not very easy to understand since so much detail is left to regulations or to decisions by the Minister. What is clear, however, is that the Government are intent upon utilising the so-called reforms to get people into work rather than living on benefits. It is therefore not possible to consider welfare reform without reference to the economic environment in which it has to operate.
Ministers seem to find it surprising that some people find it more lucrative to live off benefits-which are not exactly large-than to take one of the jobs on offer. That indicates to me that we have a low-wage economy in this country. Small employers-and often larger ones-will often complain about employment law, but these employers are benefiting from low wages, and the taxpayer is subsidising employers who do not pay a living wage. I would make employers pay higher wages-after all, better-paid employees would spend more money and thus stimulate the economy, and there would be less reliance on benefits. I speak as a former trade union official of course, and I do not expect this Government to agree with that.
A civilised society does its best to provide support for vulnerable citizens and for those who from time to time in a working life require some form of assistance. Our present system originated with the Beveridge report following the Second World War, and subsequent Governments have generally supported that system. It does, however, need simplifying. Far too many people do not claim benefits to which they are entitled: there
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The Government seek to replace a range of benefits, as we know, with a universal credit, and there will be additions for disability. The work capability assessment will be used to assess eligibility for disability additions. Disability organisations have expressed concern at the proposed use of the WCA to assess disability additions. They say it is a blunt tool with which to measure barriers to work; it often inaccurately assesses disabled people as fit to work when they are not able to do so.
There is however a particular issue here, which requires a response from the Government. As we know, the Government clearly want people to work if they are capable of undertaking it. However, I have recently been informed that the Remploy factories which exist to provide work for hundreds of disabled people are being threatened with closure. There was a crisis meeting about this in Scotland last week, but this does not only apply in Scotland: Remploy factories throughout the UK are apparently threatened with closure. These factories provide a supportive environment in which disabled people are able to cope and to earn a living. So on the one hand we have this Bill, with the clearly expressed intention of getting disabled people into suitable work, and at the same time there is the closure of the main and highly respected employers in an era of low employment. These employers offer precisely what one would expect the Government would want to maintain. It is therefore hardly surprising that the unions-including my own, because we organise the Remploy staff-are very angry. Can we have a statement from the Minister about the Government's intentions here?
I return to the issue of universal credit. I understand that it will be accompanied by new conditionality regulations and stricter sanctions. Claimants will have to comply with these in order to receive benefits. The fear on the part of many of the people who are disabled and have written to me is that this will result in a worsening of their conditions. The Government also intend to replace the disability living allowance with the personal independence payment. Again, there appears to be provision for a six-month qualifying period, which could leave many struggling to survive financially until accepted, and again, much of the detail is apparently to be in regulations.
A part of the Bill which has led to much correspondence is that related to housing costs. The Bill gives the Government a new power to introduce cuts to the amount of benefit people can receive if they are deemed to have additional space in their council or housing association home. For many, a spare room is a necessity. Moving to a smaller flat or house may simply not be possible. It will do nothing to cope with overcrowding-a particular problem in London-and this could hit many disabled people,
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It is similar to the other policy to which the Government are attracted, under which housing benefit is related to the market rate for the area concerned. This would result in large areas of London becoming places where only the very well-off could live. In my area, for example, the rent in a housing association home or a council flat is in the region of £150 a month. Similar sized accommodation in the private sector will cost £500 a week-clearly beyond most low-paid working families. This section of the Bill must be thoroughly examined.
There are many other aspects of the Bill to which we must pay attention-benefits for single and separated mothers; child benefits; benefits for the young-but I am sure that there will be the opportunity in Committee and at Report to deal with the issues about which many of us will have received detailed briefings from many organisations.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden; her experience is always of great value to the House. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Feldman, on his powerful maiden speech, which will repay careful study.
I arrived at this debate with a 15-minute speech as is allowed under the Companion but, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, announced that we only have seven minutes I have cut the first eight minutes of my speech. Unfortunately, that was the half of the speech that was a paean of praise to the Minister of State, so I am left with seven minutes which will look really quite critical. That is not my fault; it is the business managers wot did it.
This has been a very good debate. It is a shame that we are only getting seven-minute contributions, because it is a very complicated Bill. I acknowledge, as others have, the energy and enthusiasm of the Minister of State. He really has put an enormous amount of his own personal time and energy into this, and so have the Bill team. I concur with others who say that we have all been able to get access to some of the complications and technicalities because of the efforts that they have made in making information available, and I hope that will continue.
I hope that we will take this Bill into Grand Committee. In Grand Committee we would have a much better chance of looking at the relative benefits between gross and net tapers-some of us spend time thinking about these things-and we could have a much better quality of consideration, particularly of the technical aspects of this Bill. However, we need time: there is no equivalent of seven-minute speeches in Committee. We have got to do this seriously, so I look to the Minister of State for support when he is confronted by the business managers to get the time that we need. If he does not give us the time, I promise him we will just take the time, so it is better to continue with his idea of co-operation, which he has been absolutely splendid in
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I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, when she said that she detected the fingerprints of the Treasury all over this; we have both been in this business for a long while. I agree that the structure and the architecture of the Bill are perfectly defensible-I will say a word about that in a minute-but it is at risk of being prejudiced because of the degree to which these cuts have come on the back of it. I perfectly well understand that the Treasury needed cuts because the universal credit proposed in the Bill needs funding to pump-prime it. It has not got as much money as dynamic benefits. The dynamic benefits report of 18 months ago was very compelling: it is a very robust argument about what can be achieved if you invest in the system and have tapers that really make a difference and make work pay. It is marginal as to whether this Bill will actually achieve its objective the way it is currently cast. It is open to other Governments of course, and as my noble friend Lord German was saying we have some expectation that once we get through this period of austerity, which you cannot ignore, then we might get into a better position where we can make the Bill even better than it is at the moment. The Treasury's influence is malign, and while I myself am in favour of supporting the architecture I will do everything I can within the Committee structure to mitigate some of these cuts.
I have a word in passing about the pressure group community, which has been very good at supplying information to us in a very useful way. I counsel them to think about mitigating this Bill. Understandably, some of them are taking very high-flown positions, as if there was no economic difficulty and this was all dead easy. That is what they are there to do, and I do not criticise them. I have read all their briefings, but I have not been able to respond to them all because they have been coming at me like stuff out of a cement mixer for the last two or three weeks. I am sure that is not unusual and that all my colleagues are in the same boat. However, I counsel them to spend some time thinking about how they might help the Committee mitigate some of the worst features of the Bill in how it bears down on benefit expenditure.
This point has not been mentioned before: while it is of course a simplification to collapse benefits into the universal credit-I support that-because of its technical difficulty the benefit system will not be simple after it. I implore the Minister to make sure that he takes full advantage of the capacity of the Social Security Advisory Committee when it comes to the regulation-making stage of this Bill, because it has great knowledge in length and in depth. It has a wealth of experience, is objective and does excellent work. I have some amendments in mind for the Committee where we might think about how to integrate the work of that social security committee even better into our considerations of the Bill, because it is not just the Committee stage that we are dealing with. We will be having regulations and affirmative debates for many months and years, and the SSAC has a track record which we ignore at our peril.
I counsel the coalition Government about overclaiming. I do not really mean the Minister of State, but there are people talking about a revolution. However, integrating working-age benefits between those in work and without it is dead obvious. It is said that this is all a great revolution but people such as Professor Roy Sainsbury at York have been talking about it for years. There are a number of different ways of doing it, so there is actually nothing new about any of this. Universal credit plus the work programme is very important but let us just keep the heid, as my granny used to say in Glasgow, and not get too carried away with it.
I want to talk briefly about how we capture the volumes of money that are being spent in the welfare system. It is sensible to invest in social protection. The well-being of our population is something that I am prepared to spend money on but we talk about it in the abstract-in billions of pounds. If it is looked at in terms of the public sector percentage spend or indeed as a share of national wealth, I do not think that the spending is out of control. It has certainly ticked up in a way that Governments cannot ignore and therefore I support some bearing down on the current levels. However, when we talk about it we should be talking about the percentage of public spend. The number of pound notes in every 100 that we spend on welfare should be looked at more carefully because that gives us a much better idea of what these systems are costing. The public know nothing about the relative costs of the different benefits, so public opinion is not a helpful guide on that matter.
The IT situation concerns me; I have said that to the Minister of State privately. I have been involved in some of the past reforms and they have all fallen over when they go up in scale. The pilots always work and the professionals who design these things are always very clever and convincing. However, when it goes United Kingdom-wide-when you scale it up from a few hundred thousand cases being put through a computer to 60 million-it falls over. Doing this over the next two years is impossible. That is my view and I hope I am wrong. I have said that to the Minister in spades and his enthusiasm is still undimmed. I am lost in admiration for his confidence in what he is doing but I think it is wrong. If it all works by 2017, I will buy him a drink and apologise-and from a Scotsman, a drink is actually quite something.
I want to finish with a single thought. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, my noble friend Lady Tyler and others made impassioned pleas about the benefit cap, which is a step too far for me. I give the Minister fair warning that I cannot support the benefit cap as it is currently cast and I hope that he will look at it very carefully. There are lots of reasons: for example, 70 per cent of those people are in social housing and 206,000 children will be the people who will carry the can for it. However, for me it is actually a question of principle. We have a system of entitlements in our social security system and, if you have the entitlements, you get the benefit. Here is an arbitrary system coming in and overlaying that by saying, "Well, you may well be entitled to it but we think it's too much". Parliament should not let that pass without some comment because it cuts straight across everything that we have known in the social security system since I started coming to
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This is an important Bill. We have to be careful how we implement it. We are looking at an economy that is performing poorly, with inflation and people's household domestic costs rising. The social rental sector is getting worse, not better. Yet there is one situation for households in this country that would be worse than dependency, and that is hopelessness. If we are not careful, some of the low-income households in our country will be subjected to hopelessness as a result of some of the measures in this Bill.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, in his concern that the traditional practice of reasonably sized contributions from noble Lords has once again been put aside and a meagre seven minutes advisory per speaker suggested in its place. I notice that he has gone well over that time limit, which gives us plenty of opportunity to follow his example. There will clearly be a great deal to do in Committee and at other stages of the Bill in your Lordships' House-not least as much of the Bill was apparently not discussed at all during its passage in the other place.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this Bill, with its principal aim of simplifying benefits and making work more attractive and much more worth while than living on benefits, is that practically all welfare rights pressure groups, think tanks and involved charities and many individuals are theoretically in favour of such an approach. Rightly so, as who would want a system which continues to encourage family dependency if jobs are genuinely available and wanted?
The snags emerge when we begin to look at the detail, particularly when families and children-even more important, when disabled adults and children and those with mental health learning difficulties-are involved. The closer one examines the huge volume of evidence, including many individual histories written in fairly despairing terms, the more obvious it becomes that the most vulnerable and least able to cope will be hardest hit. Even though there may have been some unnecessary scaremongering, the concern of many third-sector organisations and others working with such families will be to hear reassurance from Ministers as to how clearly essential and necessary support will be maintained. There is also the problem that unless the local authority finance for these essential services is to be ring-fenced, a localism approach may indeed be creating a postcode lottery.
I shall mention one or two issues. On housing for example, the plan to require those in receipt of public support to move to different accommodation if they have an unused bedroom is one concern. The noble
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There is also a need to look at other issues that will affect the likelihood of those with caring responsibilities obtaining a job and at the effect of recent positive measures. It is good news indeed, for example, that the Government are actively involving and encouraging third-sector participation, not least by ensuring that when both sectors are competing for caring contracts, the system does not allow the public sector a tax advantage.
The change in the retirement and pension age will also have a huge impact. As we know, Ministers are eager to raise the retirement age even earlier, but closing the gap between men's and women's retirement age also means that women must work longer and therefore will have less time for any caring role. Finding jobs that will allow time for disabled caring responsibilities will become increasingly difficult unless more positive action is taken. Have the Government, for example, thought about a scheme that would reward businesses that make special efforts to provide flexible working opportunities for such families? I would be glad of an answer from the Minister.
Again, frankly, the likelihood of older women, whether carers or not, being able to find jobs, full or part-time, into the intermediate economic future will be minimal, and that situation needs facing. Barnardo's and its associates, which have sent your Lordships detailed briefings, are also concerned about a number of problems. Family and friend carers, for example, who are bringing up a child who would otherwise be in local authority care, should, they think, be exempted from conditionality requirements under universal credit for a year. Also, from October 2011 carers will have to be available to work when the child is five rather than seven years old, with all that that means for extra childcare costs. Childcare costs, as the Minister knows, are seen as a major obstacle to women working. So, as the Bill progresses, it will be increasingly important for the Government to convince voluntary organisations and family and friend carers that the combination of their proposed changes will not result in even higher numbers of children in care and higher overall costs for the state.
I make one final point: there will be a great need to ensure that it is the main carer of the child, the vast majority of whom will be women, who will continue to receive whatever allowance is due to the family. This is an issue of particular concern for Platform 51 and other such organisations and is vitally important when one looks back to the past and realises that this sum has often been the only money the carer has had in order to ensure that the family is fed.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, on the one hand, the Government must be gratified that they have received almost universal support for the final objective of the Bill: the simplification of the whole welfare system. On the other, they must be quite concerned that it has probably provoked an almost unprecedented amount of lobbying on the actual implications for particular groups of benefit claimants and for the system as a whole. The whole experience in life, for most of us, is that simplification costs money, at least in the short term. Yet the Ministry is attempting to do this at the same time as delivering to the Treasury significant savings in order to offset the deficit. It is conceivable, and desirable, that in the medium to long term this will produce savings because the incentive to go back to work will be greatly increased, and therefore those on benefit at the margin will not be on benefit any longer. However, that will take a long time, and in the present economic and social circumstances, the effects of those changes will take the Minister well beyond the point where the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, has just offered him a drink. At least four years needs to be added to 2017 before we will be able to see the long-term benefits. That is the problem that the Government are in.
I want to concentrate on one aspect of the Bill-and maybe draw some conclusions as to how to manage this process-namely housing benefit and related housing matters. I have always taken an interest in housing benefit. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, referred to his maiden speech. My maiden speech referred to housing benefit and how we needed to reform it. Not a lot has been done and, as the noble Lord rightly said, the cost has significantly risen. There is, however, a difference between housing benefit and many of the other benefits that the Government are attempting to wrap in to the universal credit system. Some of the entitlements are the same, and it has some of the dysfunctions of the other benefits, but the amount spent on housing benefit is based not on the individual circumstances of the claimant, or his or her household, but on the circumstances of the housing market, or the quasi-housing market, in the area in which he or she lives. It is therefore different from the other parts of the benefits that we are folding in and it is a little difficult to propose, as a major feature of the Bill, that housing benefit should be treated the same.
There are other aspects of housing which are dealt with in the Bill. Reference has already been made to the issue of requiring benefits to be paid to the claimant rather than allowing the option of paying them direct to the landlord. I can never understand why Whitehall always thinks that if you leave more of their own money to the poor, they will manage it better. It never happens with the rich. For many poor people, having direct deduction from their benefit into their rent and council tax is the equivalent of our more bourgeois use of direct debits and standing orders. Many of our own abilities to manage our finances would be seriously undermined were we not to have that facility, but many of these people will not have the full range of bank accounts to help them with whatever they might wish to do.
Reference has also been made to council tax benefit being separated from housing benefit. That is complicated for people who have hitherto applied for both on the same basis and could lead to unfairness and to different local authorities operating it in different ways. They are, of course, effectively retaining the same basis of housing benefit for the pension part. Creating a housing credit element of pension credit will actually retain that proposition for those households who are of pensionable age, but of course that could mean differential treatment for the same amount of income for equivalent households in equivalent properties. Combined with other government proposals on altering the eligible rate criteria and effectively introducing a target for social rents in housing associations and council property of 80 per cent of the market rate, this will actually cause extreme difficulty in many areas of housing stress, particularly in central London but also in other cities and in some rural areas as well.
In other words, as the noble Lord said earlier, we are going to pay them less than they are entitled to on some notional formula of a target and then of a cap. Meanwhile, of course, the whole benefit system is changing and the provision of social housing is also being covered in a different part of the legislative jungle, the Localism Bill, which we have been debating in recent days and which abolishes the life tenure for social housing; introduces a new system, in parallel, of affordable rents and requires a local authority to have tenancy strategies; and, indeed, changes the whole basis of social housing finance by abolishing the housing revenue account arrangements. It also does other things such as diluting local authorities' responsibility for homelessness.
In all these interventions in the housing market there is a completely transformed situation against a background whereby every part of the housing market is seriously dysfunctional. The statistics summarising this were repeated in proceedings on the Localism Bill; namely that the formation of households is running at twice the rate at which new dwellings become available. That affects the whole range of housing tenure. It therefore affects the poorest who are attempting to retain or gain access to all three main areas of housing tenure and raises some very basic questions.
Government intervention in the housing market has shifted over the past 25 years from supporting the supply side, through the supply of council housing and home improvement and regeneration grants, to supporting the demand side by paying individuals. At the end of the 1980s the ratio was 80:20 in favour of supporting the supply side; it is now 80:20 in favour of supporting the demand side. Is that sensible? Should we not rethink the whole of government intervention in this area, certainly over the medium term? I suggest that the Government take the provisions in this Bill on housing benefit, the provisions in the Localism Bill on social housing and related matters, the changes that they are proposing in relation to planning to make housebuilding easier, put them all together and look at them carefully to determine what the totality of our housing strategy should be. If they did that, it might be easier in the long run to incorporate whatever
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Lord Morris of Handsworth: My Lords, we can all agree that an effective welfare system must be designed to promote the basic well-being of those in need. Rightly, the state demands a quid pro quo-work for those who can and support for those who cannot. However, this arrangement is not as balanced as it might sound because for the balance to be maintained work must always trump welfare, but that demands that there are jobs for people. With unemployment at 8 per cent or more, cutting benefits to make work pay is not a joke for those who are unemployed and struggling to find a job. Of course, there will always be people who try to beat the system. However, to give the impression, as did the Chancellor, that the unemployed see welfare as a lifestyle choice is plainly wrong.
I want to concentrate on the impact of the Bill on the housing sector. I declare an interest as chairman of Midland Heart Housing Association. I start by looking at what is described as "actual rent". Actual rent is the amount paid by a tenant irrespective of whether they are in the social or private rented sector. The Bill gives powers to the Secretary of State to set the level of housing benefit with no regard to the actual rent being paid. For many housing benefit means the difference between sleeping under a roof and, in some instances, sleeping on the pavement. These new powers for the Secretary of State will have two significant consequences. First, the gap between the benefit paid and the actual rent charged will put at risk security of tenure for many. Those who rely on benefits and cannot afford to fund the shortfall will have their independence and choice further reduced. The reality will be a greater risk of people being forced into poor quality overcrowded homes or being trapped in a cycle of homelessness.
The second downside is that the gap between benefit and actual rent will mean uncertainty for social housing providers who will be left on the horns of a dilemma. What do they do? They have the choice between evicting tenants or funding the shortfall, which in turn will leave less capital to build much needed social housing. That is the dilemma which will be faced by many social housing providers.
The new draconian measure in the Bill-the underoccupation penalties-will mean that the Government can cut housing benefit for social housing tenants who have an unoccupied room. According to the DWP's impact assessment, this will affect an estimated 670,000 social housing tenants, more than half of whom are disabled. Many disabled tenants live in adapted, specially designed, supported and sheltered housing. Will they be evicted and, if so, where will they go?
Finally, I wish to say a few words about the Social Fund. Much could be said about that fund and other benefits but no doubt our discussions in Committee will be informed by noble Lords' practical experience. They have the expertise to deal with these issues and ensure that a Bill emerges from Committee which meets the Government's objectives of cost reduction and supporting those in need. The Social Fund supports families and individuals in crisis when they need financial assistance. However, the Bill abolishes the discretionary Social Fund and replaces it with local provision. This vital safety net for families in severe crisis should be made into a duty on local authorities. If they are to deal with that issue, the provision needs to be secure. There is a view that this fund should be securely ring- fenced to avoid it becoming a Social Fund postcode lottery.
In conclusion, much has been said, and much will be said in Committee, with the aim of improving the Bill. However, I repeat that an effective welfare system must promote the basic well-being of those in need. Sadly, as the Bill stands, it could destroy the safety net for the very people it seeks to protect. The responsibility lies with your Lordships' House to ensure that that does not happen.
Lord Patel: My Lords, before I come to my main points, I should like to make a brief comment on something that the Minister said in his opening speech. He spoke of the impact of the proposals on people with cancer, mentioning Professor Harrington's review and saying that he had listened to advice from organisations such as Macmillan Cancer Support. As welcome as the Minister's reassurances are on the Government's commitment to readdressing the anomaly between how people undergoing different types of treatment are dealt with, he is, I am sure, aware that this is a very different issue from another about which Macmillan has said it is seriously concerned: the time-limiting of employment and support allowance to 12 months. The concern is not that people will not be supported while they undergo treatment but that the Bill pays no regard to how long cancer patients take to recover sufficiently in order to be able to return to work. It is about this that I should like to speak.
The Government's proposals to time-limit contributory-based employment and support allowance to 12 months are unfair and wrong. They will leave thousands of cancer patients without financial support at a time when they need it most. Before going into the impact that the proposals will have on cancer patients, I shall outline the kind of people we are talking about. Of course, people who are terminally ill or so severely debilitated that they are in the support group will be protected, and so they should be. I am talking about cancer patients who have undergone debilitating treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy and are in the process of recovering from their illness.
In my experience, 12 months is simply not long enough for many cancer patients to be well enough to return to work. Yes, survival rates for cancer have improved, and for many it is no longer the death sentence that it once was, but it still takes a considerable time for a person recovering from cancer treatment to
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There are also serious psychological barriers that patients have to overcome in order to be able to return to work and to support themselves. Of course, cancer patients have a particular incentive to return to work-for many, a return to work is a return to normality-but in order to do so without further risk to their physical or mental health they need the right support and they need time.
Those who have incurable cancer and are in the last two to three years of their life, but who are not yet defined as "terminally ill", often find themselves in the work-related activity group, with no prospect of recovery. However, the Government are still proposing to take support away after one year. In defence of this proposal, Ministers in the other place have highlighted that, after one year, those who lose their contributory ESA will be eligible for continued means-tested support. But what does this mean in reality?
Many in this House will already be aware of the concerns raised by Macmillan-about which I wrote yesterday in a letter to the Times-about the serious financial impact that the change will have on many cancer patients. Macmillan has warned that an estimated 7,000 cancer patients a year, too sick to be expected to work, will lose up to £94 a week as a result. This is because anyone who has partner and who earns as little as £150 week will not be entitled to anything under the means-testing rule.
In addition to my opposition to this proposal, I also have grave concerns about how the Government intend to implement it. First, it will be retrospective. Come April 2012, anyone who has already spent a year or more in the WRAG will lose their contributory benefit immediately. Secondly, the 13-week assessment phase will count towards the time limit. Thirdly, the Government's proposals have not taken into account those with a fluctuating condition. Any time spent in the WRAG or assessment phase will be aggregated and count towards the 12-month period.
Despite the overwhelming arguments against Clause 51, the Government are pressing ahead. It is not because rigorous analysis has shown that 12 months is sufficient time for patients to be ready to return to work; the Government's own figures say that 94 per cent of people will need the benefit for longer than a year.
This is not the only worrying aspect of the Bill, which passed through the other place unchanged. Some proposals, such as the reform of the disability living allowance, will further increase the financial pressures on people diagnosed with cancer by ensuring that they have to wait twice as long before they can get crucial support with extra costs related to their condition. CLIC Sargent, the charity for children with cancer, has raised concern that the Bill is particularly hard on 16 to 18 year-olds with cancer, who will effectively be treated the same as other adults despite being far less likely to have financial independence.
Every day, 10 families are told that their children have cancer. Treatment begins straightaway, and so do the side-effects. A study found that 83 per cent of families incur significant extra costs, with 68 per cent experiencing worrying financial difficulties. Several aspects of the Bill impact negatively on 16 to 18 year- olds. The examples are: the extension of the qualifying period; changes to the disability living allowance; removal of the youth conditions for employment and support allowance; and changes to the disability premium within child tax credit, income support or universal credit.
Perhaps I may illustrate the impact of the Bill with the story of Lucia, a young lady whom I met and a person of great presence, courage and fortitude. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia when she was 15 years old. She was unable to walk more than a few metres. She was admitted to hospital. A day later, she began two-and-a-half years of chemotherapy.
All her treatment was received 40 miles away from home, with her family travelling at least once a day to care for her. While she was an inpatient, her family was informed by a CLIC Sargent social worker that they might be eligible for DLA. Although they were initially reluctant, financial pressures, with Lucia's mother having to give up work, meant that they had to apply for a grant. Their application was successful only after an appeal. That was in spite of Lucia being unable to walk and reliant on a wheelchair, needing help with personal care, having to travel five days a week for treatment and being occasionally admitted to hospital. It was also in spite of the added cost of food, transport, clothing and home adjustments.
Being diagnosed at 15 and needing treatment at 18 meant that Lucia fell between child and adult categories. After a year of DLA, she was awarded a lower rate, as her treatment was deemed less intense. That was despite there being no change in her health status or treatment. Who makes these decisions and how are they made?
Now, four years after her treatment has ended, she needs help again. Although her leukaemia is in remission, the treatment has left her with bone damage in her knees, rendering her unable to walk or stand for any length of time. She hopes that her claim for DLA will be successful.
I hope that the Bill can be amended to reform the system for 16 to 18 year-olds, alongside reform of that for under-16s, and to extend the qualifying period of six months. I know that the Government are looking at this, particularly as it applies to cancer patients, and I hope that the Minister will have some positive answers. I hope to bring forward amendments in Committee and that other noble Lords will support them.
Baroness Donaghy: My Lords, I shall concentrate on the potential impact of the Bill on self-employed people, with perhaps a few words on kinship carers, referred to earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler.
The coalition has acknowledged that the self-employed are a group which "is often difficult to map". We still have no clear indication of how they will be treated by
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The coalition Government have previously stated that they encourage a more dynamic private sector. Encouraging more people to go into self-employment will help to guarantee the long-term economic growth of the UK economy and offers opportunities to reverse the current high levels of unemployment. How will the universal credit affect self-employed people and what measures will be taken to ensure that it does not act as a disincentive to set up a business? Under the current system, someone who starts up as self-employed will be entitled to full working tax credit as long as the work that they are doing is seen to be in expectation of payment-the business has to be reasonably viable. The universal credit will deem people to earn the minimum wage even if they have been unable to take a wage out of the business during the starting-up period. That means that people will lose money if they start their own business.
The only incentive here is to give up or slip into the informal economy. How often will the self-employed be expected to fill in tax returns in order to receive the universal credit, as their working hours will be outside the PAYE system? How will the Government minimise any extra work for small businesses? The Government will know that various organisations have raised concerns about the proposals for the self-employed. Citizens Advice has said that,
It has outlined a telling case study where one woman would be £61 a week worse off under the new system. The National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers and the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group believe that the Government should use a similar model to that already used for working tax credit which, by using a measurement of self-employed profit within the tax system, takes account of loss-making periods and investment in premises, equipment and machinery for business.
I have some appreciation that putting this on the face of the Bill might hinder flexibility. However, when the regulations are eventually produced and if they do not tackle the issues that I have raised-namely, avoiding disincentives to self-employment, reconsidering the proposal of the minimum wage as an income floor and facilitating the collection of information about
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We need an indication at least of intentions towards this group of people-an outline of what the regulations might say, an assurance that the definition of income from self-employment in universal credit is aligned with that used in the tax and credits system, and an absolute assurance from the Government that they are on the side of entrepreneurs.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, is committed to the other parliamentary business at this time, I want to say something about kinship carers-a subject that she would have covered in more detail. There are around 200,000 kinship carers in the UK and an estimated 300,000 children who would otherwise be in care being raised by family members. Many such carers will be affected by the conditionality requirements and the cap on benefits. This will unintentionally undermine many kinship carers' capacity to care for the children by requiring them to look for work, increase the hours that they work or cap the benefits that they can claim. If only 5 per cent of the children in kinship care were to enter the care system, it would cost the taxpayer £500 million every year. It costs £40,000 a year per child to be placed in independent foster care.
Kinship carers should be exempted from conditionality requirements under universal credit for 12 months after the children move in. The increase in the state pension age for women from 60 to 66 will mean that an increasing number of older grandmother carers will be expected to be available for work under the conditionality requirements. These people are taking on responsibility, not avoiding it. The Bill should present an opportunity to support kinship carers not add new barriers. Thank you.
Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I will limit my remarks to the parts of the Bill relating to the proposed universal credit and the benefits that it replaces. In doing so, I will focus in particular on the long-term unemployed.
I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that our benefits system is broken. Indeed, from the comments made by others today, it seems that many noble Lords agree. As it stands, it establishes dependency, destroys incentives to work and entrenches poverty. That is not good for the people who receive benefits, it is not good for the people who pay for them, and it does not say a lot for the political classes presiding over the system.
The evidence shows that public opinion about our benefits system does not divide along party lines. The simple fact is that too many people who get up every day to go to work see their neighbours and others who are like them in nearly every way except that they do not get up and go out to work because they do not think, apparently, that they have to. Allowing that to happen has had a profound impact on our society in
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When we get to the Committee stage, I hope that we do not lose sight of this bigger picture because the Bill-the new universal credit, the benefit cap, which I support, the work programme and the changes that will make work pay-may finally be the first step on the road to recovery. I say first step because, while I support the Bill, I see it as only a framework for us to build from. I know that some Lords might not agree with me, but I am pleased that much of the detail will be covered by regulations and secondary legislation because I am sure that we will need to experiment and trial different aspects of the Bill over the next few years. This applies particularly to the conditions and sanctions that we set and the way that we categorise claimants.
Some people get a bit windy on the topic of conditions and sanctions, but I genuinely do not understand why. If we accept, as I think we do, that people are only reacting rationally to this current system of welfare-some people are playing the system that we have created because they can, not because they are inherently bad-if we change the incentives so that it pays to work and we apply firm conditions and sanctions to the receipt of benefits so that they are not seen as a soft option, surely people will respond just as rationally. Why would they not? My concern is making sure that the conditions that we set go far enough so that they provoke a radical shift in rational behaviour.
During our scrutiny over the next few months, we will debate anomalies and we will want to mitigate the risk of unintended consequences. During this time, we will also hear of many hard cases. Of course, we must listen and make sure that the benefits system is able to respond to them with compassion and respect. However, let us not forget the old truth that hard cases make bad law. If we build the new system by using the exceptional as the benchmark for the average, the new system will be as broken as the current one and it will not help those it is intended to support.
The Bill gives us the opportunity to show people who have been on benefits for a long time that we want to help them and that we are serious about doing so. It gives us the opportunity to show that helping people means getting them to the point where they can earn their living and other people's respect. Indeed, anyone earning their living, in whatever kind of job, not only earns other people's respect but deserves it. Just as importantly, this Bill allows us, finally, to show those already trying hard to earn a decent living that they are the ones doing the right thing.
We need, of course, to combine welfare reform with economic growth, real jobs and better education for our children. I believe that this Bill is a big step towards correcting our welfare system, which has been broken for far too long. For that reason I support the Bill.
Baroness Gale: My Lords, I will be focusing my speech on the impact that the provisions of the Bill will have on people with Parkinson's and their carers. I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Parkinson's Disease. My concerns are that the Government's reforms could mean that people of working age with Parkinson's will miss out on the financial support on which they now rely. Nearly 10,000 people of working age with Parkinson's receive disability living allowance and a Parkinson's UK survey of 2010 found that the DLA was used by people with Parkinson's for absolute essentials. For example, it pays for the extra cost of electricity for heating the home, for support and help in the home and for transport costs. They describe it as a lifeline.
The Government propose to replace the DLA with a new benefit for those of working age, the personal independence payment. The focus of PIP will be on those with greatest need. That includes moving from the existing three DLA care rates to only two and it is possible to surmise that people with Parkinson's on the lower DLA rate are more likely to lose out completely. Will the Minister give an assurance that no one with Parkinson's who currently receives the DLA will lose their benefit and that the important benefits to which the DLA is linked, such as the blue badge or the mobility scheme, will now be linked to the PIP?
This is not the only way in which the reforms will impact on those with Parkinson's. By wanting to reassess everyone of working age who receives the DLA and then reassess people routinely, rather than make indefinite or long-term awards, the Bill clearly fails to recognise the nature of a progressive, fluctuating condition such as Parkinson's. Most people with Parkinson's are already on indefinite awards of the DLA and that is in recognition that their symptoms will not improve. To put them through a face-to-face reassessment and periodic reviews will cause anxiety and distress. As someone with Parkinson's put it, "This is a recipe for continual harassment". Will the Minister assure your Lordships' House that people with Parkinson's will not be put through the anxiety of face-to-face reassessments if sufficient written evidence already exists and that, once in receipt of PIP, anyone with Parkinson's already receiving the highest rate of PIP should not be subject to periodic retesting? Face-to-face reassessments are notoriously inaccurate for people with fluctuating conditions. People report that the assessor sees them on a good day and assumes that that is how they are all the time. Under the new proposals, assessors will not take into account life-limiting symptoms of Parkinson's, such as problems with getting out of bed, moving around indoors, the risk of falls, and night-time care.
"Don't let the government take DLA away; it's too good a benefit to lose, and a lifeline for disabled people. DLA can continue to be improved, and refined to meet any requirement. Just don't let them take it away, or abolish it, just because they couldn't save enough money by keeping it".
During the Summer Recess, I had the privilege of shadowing a Parkinson's nurse in Bridgend for a day. She really impressed me. She was so dedicated and it was easy to see that she loved the work she does. I asked her whether patients had said anything about the Welfare Reform Bill and the DLA. Her answer was that they are petrified. A briefing I received recently-like other noble Lords I have received many briefings on this Bill-ended by saying:
People with Parkinson's are incensed about how people receiving benefits, such as the DLA, are being portrayed in the media, yet are fearful of being reported as frauds just because they have had a good day. One man said:
"I am sick to death of the Government, certain UK newspapers, et al 'informing' the nation that 'there are so many lazy people who are not ill'. I have been called a 'fraud' just because I have had a good day. Anyone who is jealous of me, or thinks I am lazy, can have my DLA, as long as they take the Parkinson's with it. I have worked all my life. I have paid into the system for an insurance I hoped I would never need-but unfortunately I do. I wish perhaps that people would just think about that".
What sort of coalition Government is this that people in this country are petrified and terrified of these proposals? I have never heard anyone speak this way about any government proposals or about any Government. People might be unhappy or they might not like something but on this people are saying that they are petrified and terrified. Something must be wrong for people to feel this way. I hope that the Minister will reflect on what people with disabilities such as Parkinson's are saying as it is a progressive illness for which there is no known cure. People do not recover from Parkinson's.
As their illness progresses, people with Parkinson's generally have carers. Often it is a family member or friend. Informal carers stand to face a double whammy under this Bill as a carer's allowance is dependent on the person with Parkinson's being eligible for the higher or middle rate of the DLA. The Government have done little to make the situation any clearer for carers about which rate of PIP might be linked to the carer's allowance. Can the Minister give an assurance to carers that both new rates of daily living PIP will lead to eligibility for carer's allowance so that no carer will lose out in the change from the DLA to the PIP? Please give them some hope so that they can continue with their caring responsibilities without all these unnecessary worries.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, I declare an interest as a non-executive director of Hyde Housing Association, as described in my entry in the register. I am also a trustee of Hyde Plus, the social regeneration charity established to provide practical assistance to some of the most vulnerable of our residents. We are a
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Before I begin on the substantive parts of the debate, I pay tribute to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Feldman. As an immigrant who arrived on these shores some 75 years after his grandparents did, I recognise the values he spoke of extremely clearly. They are the values that many immigrants who come to these shores identify with. They will be affected by some of the provisions of the Bill. It was a fabulous maiden speech and I hope that we will retain the values articulated in it throughout our deliberations on the Bill.
This is a radical reforming Bill, designed to leave Britain's welfare state in a better state than we found it. However, its success will be measured ultimately both through its emphasis on an increase in the efficiency of the system-and surely, when one looks at the figures of what we spend, we can come to a consensus, as I think we have today in the House, that there is an element of waste in the system-and on its foundation in fairness. In his book Them and Us, Will Hutton defines fairness in Britain as a belief that one should receive one's due deserts in proportion to whatever good or bad one has contributed. However, the emphasis must be on proportionality, and that is what on the whole the Bill does, although I have some reservations.
You cannot have fairness without accepting that life deals with us through lady luck. Those who have had the luck of a healthy life, good educational opportunities, and the good fortune to have had economic independence to make the right employment choices, are there to a great extent through their personal capabilities-I am a liberal, so you would expect me to say that-but also because of who they are and where they were born. Recognition of the element of luck in framing our lives demands that we contribute to the ill luck of those who have not enjoyed the things that we have. It was this recognition that led Beveridge-yes, I am from the party of Beveridge-to design a welfare state safety net. In the intervening years, the safety net has turned into a web of increasingly intricate, incomprehensible and untransparent rules that absorb huge amounts of the time of benefits officers, legal advice centres and other bureaucrats, while the people who need the safety net are turned into mere recipients of what are known as "entitlements".
We know also that capitalism needs to have a relationship with concepts of justice. Just as personal worth and effort cannot be the whole story of success, so, too, we know that injustice is not a given. Much of it can arise from the lottery of life, and it is our duty to act on it and to reduce it. This is why the Bill is so important. We know that it will impact on vast numbers of people, some of whom will undoubtedly be disadvantaged in the short term by its changes. However, moving to a universal credit will be fairer and simpler, thus freeing funds in the longer term to spend more wisely. It will also work to reduce disincentives. I also welcome the change to make payments monthly, which will assist households in budgeting and prepare them for the monthly payment regime of those in employment.
My particular area of interest in the Bill is housing in general, and social housing in particular. In her opening remarks, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, referred to the dearth of small household units. Other noble Lords referred to the overall shortage of social housing. We also know that, because of demographic changes in the composition of households, such as rising population and rising longevity, the pressure for additional social housing located in the right parts of the country will continue. We also need to acknowledge the wasted opportunity under Labour in times of plenty of not addressing the chronic overall undersupply of housing in this country. Housebuilding fell in 2009-10 to its lowest level since World War I -137,000 units. The required supply is around 200,000 units per year, according to the IPPR, leaving a gap of some 63,000 units.
The social housing sector has seen similar underinvestment, with years of diminishing investment by taxpayers in the affordable housing that is an essential element of the safety net. It is against this backdrop of tighter government grants, alongside a tightening of credit in the capital markets, that housing associations are asked to provide more affordable housing. One change-the withdrawal of the payment of housing benefit directly to landlords-will impact significantly on the social housing sector. Arrears are bound to increase with direct payments to residents. The level of risk that housing associations incur will rise. If predicted income is not guaranteed or readily quantifiable, the price of money borrowed by RSLs will also increase. Credit agencies will downgrade our status and borrowing for building in certain parts of the country might rise by as much as 100 basis points. The Government's stated desire to increase the supply of housing-in particular social housing-will not therefore be met.
I understand that the Minister is contemplating reducing the risks to housing associations by stepping in after four weeks of arrears to revert to direct payments to social landlords. This would be welcome, but would entail greater bureaucracy for both RSLs and the DWP. Its impact would have little effect on the capital markets' or financial institutions' assessment of risk, and therefore on borrowing costs. Several questions also arise from the proposals concerning choice, efficiency and value for money. I look forward to debating this point with the Minister in Committee.
A further issue concerns the household benefits cap. My noble friend Lord German today set out the relevant figures for households both with and without children. While I understand that the Government arrived at a cap of £26,000 per year on the basis of median income, this is far too blunt an instrument to do credit to what is in many respects a good Bill. We cannot find it fair to use a straitjacket to measure household costs, irrespective of where the household is, how large or small it is or what alternatives its members have to substitute income through employment and related means. I hope that factors such as actual housing and transport costs will also be taken into account to allow for regional if not local variation in the setting of the cap.
This bold Bill, with its radical restructuring of welfare, is very welcome. However, it is in the conviction that the scrutiny of this House will improve it further that I look forward to debating it in Committee.
Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, I understand the need for reform of the welfare system, and I support a system that is more simplistic and better able to deliver what is required to those who need it. I am pleased to hear that the most vulnerable and those in greatest need will get the support they deserve, but it must not be at the expense of others who need it to live equally.
My concerns cover a number of areas. Like many in your Lordships' House, I have been contacted by many disabled people who are terrified that this is the first step towards an insurance-based, perhaps Americanised system which will further discriminate against those in need. I am concerned that the Bill will leave a significant number of disabled people in a precarious position where they do not get the help and support that they require. Under the new system, those people may not be considered disabled enough to be supported, but may be considered by society to be too disabled to play a full part in it.
As many disabled people as possible should be in work, but many will still experience discrimination in the workplace, will be in the lowest paid jobs, and will struggle to reach their potential without support. The new system may provide those in low-paid work with a higher earnings disregard, but it looks likely that a narrower group will be able to access this than those currently receiving the disability element of working tax credit. We need to ensure that this group is able to make the transition into real work and to have the right support until this is possible. I believe that the ethos of support needs to change. Perhaps now is a good time. Until now, to get support has been about proving what you cannot do. We need to look at what people, whoever they are, can achieve if the correct mechanisms are in place.
Disability is not homogenous. Even two people with the same impairment-for example, with my level of spina bifida-will have very different needs, depending on their upbringing, on where they live, on their education and on what support they have around them. The Joseph Rowntree Trust has estimated that it costs 25 per cent more to be a disabled person in the UK due to housing costs, aids, transport, et cetera. Being disabled puts a great burden on the individual and their families.
The media coverage of disabled people is already varied. Disabled people are either portrayed as athletes or as work-shy benefit scroungers. There is not much in the middle. The reality is that we know that the rate of abuse of the current system is 0.5 per cent. From my own personal experience, I know that if I am recognised as "the one who used to be the athlete" or as someone in your Lordships' House, I am generally treated extremely well. However, if I am seen as "that woman in a wheelchair", or more usually, "that wheelchair", then my treatment can often be somewhat less favourable. Recently, on returning to the UK by air, I had a difficult experience, when I was left sitting
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I am very concerned that the 20 per cent cut to working-age DLA expenditure, although estimated at £1.3 billion, will affect the care and mobility support that disabled people can access, and increase reliance on council services. I have great concerns that this could radically change people's ability to work and push the problem into other areas, such as health.
Those who will fall outside the system could be pushed into a ghetto from which it will be hard to escape. I wonder how far away we are from a point where we have the "deserving disabled", who require support, and the "undeserving disabled", who are left in limbo. Growing up, I did not see many disabled people. They existed but they were locked away in schools and care homes-and I never want to return to that. We have to ensure that disabled people are still allowed to be independent.
Take me, for example. I am relatively healthy-perhaps not as fit as I used to be. Without the support of DLA I might have been able to learn to drive at 17, but I would not have been able to afford a car or insurance. I would not have been independent. I would not have moved away from home. I would have found it nearly impossible to go to university and I would have struggled to become an athlete. Because of the support that I had then, I am now able to give back. I am fortunate that I am now in a position to buy the equipment and support that I need, but 99 per cent of disabled people are not.
If we are to support changes, much more needs to be done to ensure that discrimination in the workplace disappears and that there is an improvement in public transport, which outside London is not generally that accessible. If I want to travel by train, I am meant to book the exact train time 24 hours in advance. Can anyone imagine a non-disabled commuter having to do that every single day? This is the unseen reality that disabled people face.
Like many in your Lordships' House, I am concerned about the DLA removal from residents of council-funded care homes. Many disabled people living in residential homes use this component to pay for either a mobility aid, such as a wheelchair, or travel costs to see family and friends. If this is removed, we remove people's freedom. I listened to the Minister's opening remarks and look forward to future discussions in this area.
We must also have faith in the PIP assessment process and, as was clear from listening to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, disabled people do not. Many of these assessments are complicated, but they must take into account all the medical evidence that is available and use the best documentation. They must ensure it is done properly the first time, and that the use of appeals is not a delaying tactic in providing the support required.
I also have concerns about time-limiting ESA to one year. I will refrain from commenting now, with the constraints on time that we have, but I acknowledge
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Yes, we are in tough economic times and there is a need for change, but we need to ensure that these changes help disabled people fulfil their potential and not hold them on the first rung of the ladder.
Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill: My Lords, I too would like to raise an issue of grave concern to the families of adults with an autism spectrum condition. The National Autistic Society estimates that there are 350,000 working-age adults with autism in the UK, of whom just 15 per cent are in full-time employment. This Bill will have a profound impact on their lives.
Many of these adults are relying on disability living allowance, which under these proposals will be replaced by a new benefit of personal independence payment. The proposal to cut £1 billion from the projected spend on disability living allowance over the next three years is causing them and their families alarm, as my noble friend Lord Touhig has mentioned. As one parent of an adult with Asperger's syndrome says:
Families are especially concerned about the new assessment criteria and descriptors to receive the new benefit. They have grave doubts as to how the new assessment process will work and about the standard of training of the assessors. As one mother of an adult son with Asperger's wrote to me of the PIP assessment:
People with autism suffer four main areas of difficulty, which are worth restating: all forms of social communication; recognising or understanding other people's emotions and expressing their own; understanding and predicting other people's behaviour; and sensory issues which can greatly impact on their ability to function at home and especially in the workplace. These difficulties make finding and retaining employment very challenging. Those with autism have a need for routines and an aversion to change. Periods of change cause a great deal of anxiety and can be very difficult for them to manage.
These are the reasons that people with autism and their families fear that the proposals in the WRB, however well intended, will result in real crisis for many who are struggling to participate and integrate into everyday life. The Government should not underestimate the cost of medium and long-term impacts that would be caused by people with autism losing
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The National Autistic Society estimates that over 60 per cent of adults with autism rely on their families for financial support and 40 per cent live at home with their parents. Sixty-three per cent of adults with autism report that they do not have enough support to meet their own needs. As a result of this lack of support, a third of adults with autism have developed a serious mental health problem. The parents of these adults live in fear of what the future holds for their children when they are no longer alive to care for them.
This Bill is in danger of reducing the independence, standard of life and dignity of these we as a humane society have a basic duty to protect. Many people have contacted me, as they have contacted other noble Lords, about the proposals in this Bill to express their fear of what it will mean for their lives. I have been struck not only by the severe difficulties they face but also by the sheer determination they express to get on and live useful, independent lives to the best of their ability with just a little help from the state.
If we are to learn from the mistakes of the past, the Government must acknowledge the genuine concerns of those families caring for and supporting their autistic adult members. They need to recognise that everyone with an autism spectrum condition will present differently. Some of these adults are more able than others but they all have autism, which affects them in vastly different ways. The Bill needs to reflect this reality.
There are a number of faults that need correcting. The National Autistic Society believes that the descriptors do not adequately reflect the complexity of autism conditions. This could mean adults with high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome would not qualify under the criteria and would be unfairly affected. The draft regulations do not take into account some of the specific needs of people with autism and, as a result, a significant number of adults with autism will fail to qualify for the new benefit.
There are omissions from the criteria for adults with autism. Safety and the ability to understand hazards and danger are not spelt out in full in the draft regulations, and nor is the fact that some adults with autism display challenging behaviour that may result in damage to property, yet it is unclear how these would be taken into account in the current criteria. A one-off interview is not an effective diagnostic assessment of autism-spectrum conditions. Such conditions can change over hours and in different environments. Face-to-face assessments will add unnecessary anxiety to the individual, who has probably already been subject to numerous assessments and tests, as my noble friend Lord Touhig has already so eloquently explained. The pressure group Act Now points out that the purpose
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I urge the Government to consider three important improvements. First, the Bill should include an offer of a communications advocate; secondly, it should provide for a proper and detailed transition plan individually tailored to each person's needs, which is vital for people with autism; and thirdly, where expert reports are available, they should be used in place of a face-to face assessment and the intense anxiety it creates, and adults without such reports should be assessed by an appropriately trained professional who understands autism. If the Government are serious in their efforts to achieve a better system then surely they must build a structure that truly helps our citizens to lead fulfilling and rewarding lives.
Baroness Flather: My Lords, I found this Bill very difficult to understand. I have no experience in this field, and I am not connected to any organisation or to any of the issues that have been mentioned by many noble Lords, but, like everybody else, I have received a great deal of correspondence and I have tried my best to read as much of it as possible.
I have always felt that our welfare system should first and foremost be looking after the most vulnerable. That goes without saying. What is the welfare system for? It is to look after those who need it most. What many of us resent is feeling that it is sometimes used by people who should not be using it. It is sometimes used fraudulently, and we sometimes see people who are fit and healthy not working when jobs are available. If there are no jobs available, that is a different matter, but they have preferences and say that they will not take this job or that job, but taxpayers should have some preferences as well about who they would like to pay for.
As far as the vulnerable, the elderly and the disabled are concerned, I wholeheartedly support all of what has been said, and I look forward to the amendments that will come up to improve the Bill. My husband is very disabled, although fortunately we have not had to depend on benefits, but every little bit that he gets is helpful. It is very sad when one partner in a couple is disabled and gets worse and the other partner who tries to be a carer gets older. That is our case, because I can no longer look after my husband.
If somebody has drug dependency, they are on benefits and they also get paid for their drugs. What reason is there for them to get off drugs? Not only are they treated as disabled but they have their drugs paid for. There is no incentive to get off drugs. These sorts of things worry me, and I hope that they will be looked at.
I was extremely pleased to hear the Minister say in his opening remarks that the benefits of a person who takes a job will be protected and their universal credit can be reinstated if the job does not work out, because I have often felt that people are afraid to take a job because they are afraid that it will be very difficult to
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I want to introduce an utterly controversial idea. I expect that it will not find much favour, but it has been on my mind, and I am often controversial in what I say. I feel that people should not be getting the full raft of benefits for any number of children. I feel that the first two children should get a full raft of benefits, the third child should get three-quarters and the fourth child should get a half. I say this, especially after the recent riots, because we need to give responsibility for bringing up children back to the parents. It is very easy to produce a child, but it is not very easy to bring it up. I hear parents saying, "The school should teach them that," or "The school should do that", as if the state should take care of everything. The school has so much less time with a child than the parents do. I think it is time to make parents responsible for at least some part of bringing up their children.
The minority communities in this country, particularly the Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis, have very large numbers of children and the money that follows the child is an attraction. Nobody likes to accept that or to talk about it because it is supposed to be very politically incorrect. Well, I am politically incorrect, and there is no doubt that six or seven children give you a far larger income than three or four. I think it is about time that we stop people using children as a means of increasing the amount of money that they receive or of getting a bigger house.
In the countries of origin, these people-Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and even Indians-have large families because there is no safety net. When you get old, it is only your children who are going to look after you. That does not apply here. Every old person will have their pension and will be looked after. It is time to introduce the pattern of this country and to tell people that they must start following it. At the bottom of the education league tables are the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, and top of the league are the Chinese and Indians. Indians have fallen into the pattern here. They do not have large families because they are like the Jews: they want their children to be educated. This is the other problem: there is no emphasis on education in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi families. If there was, there would be no problem. But we have a large number of young people, particularly young men, who have very few skills and very basic education and they are not really skilled to do any work even if the work were available.
It concerns me that we do not say anything, we do not do anything and we do not send any message that this is not acceptable. Having a child is easy; bringing up a child is difficult. The recent riots have told us that parents need to take responsibility for their children.
Lord Boswell of Aynho: My Lords, I welcome the Welfare Reform Bill. I believe that it represents significant progress in social policy. In particular, it will help to make work pay-an aim that is clearly shared by all sides of this House.
It is estimated that the Bill has the potential to lift 350,000 children and 600,000 adults of working age out of poverty. It will eliminate six separate benefits and reduce the opportunity for fraud and error. These are great prizes and strategic advantages. Of course, I accept that any changeover on anything remotely like this scale cannot be ideal. Whatever benefit system we have is governed by the inexorable iron triangle of the number of people covered, the rate of taper on the withdrawal of benefit and the overall Exchequer cost.
In this case there are also particular issues of timing. The first is the need for overall cuts in public spending, particularly on programmes that are prospectively exploding, like DLA. Even if the change to universal credit is going to incur substantial upfront and continuing costs, we are spending for the advantage we get. There is never an ideal time for reform but at least we have the opportunity now and the courage of the Minister and Government to devise the architecture and grasp the nettle of the basis of this change.
Another factor, of course, is that the labour market is soft but, even so, the private sector has shown some potential for creating additional jobs, just as in parallel we must support those who are coming forward to employment. There are also loose ends to be tied on the administrative side, as there are interactions with many other benefits-for example, for carers who remain formally outside the system. At the same time the universal credit is going to sweep up previously discrete benefits like housing benefit, which attempt to cover the many and varied circumstances of our lives; for example, outside the benefit system there are annually over 10 million job changes and some 3 million changes of address.
Finally, the system has to be made conceptually administerable and, through IT, technically deliverable. Like many other Members of this House, I have received extensive, thoughtful and sensitive briefings from outside bodies rehearsing a wide variety of difficulties as they see them. I accept that my noble friend the Minister, who spoke with a great deal of sensitivity and care today, is working hard to expose the issues to us and to deal with the problems as they arise, and also to explain the rationale of government decisions where there may be hard decisions to take. To be fair, I think many of the objections that have been laid have been in relation to potential notional future setbacks rather than immediate issues.
However, rather than delve into detail now, I shall just indicate my particular interest in families with children. Children are at best indirect beneficiaries of the benefit system; they cannot make their own choices or be autonomous. On enforcement of child maintenance support, I incline to the view expressed by the Select Committee in another place, and echoed eloquently by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern this afternoon, that parents who have done their best should not be penalised by an administrative charge even if it means taking more off delinquent parents who have not been prepared to comply. More widely, the pattern of childcare costs varies very sharply, particularly regionally and in London. It would clearly be wrong to sanction lone parents when childcare costs for them are unaffordable.
As a former chairman of the Conservative Disability Group, I should also record that I am bound to be taking an interest in many of the disability issues that have been discussed in the context of the Bill. I will also, as an ex-Education Minister, want to say a little bit about the 16-hour rule and the changes there, and about some of the awkward transitions and interaction with the education system. I also note a point that has been mentioned by other noble Peers today about the transfer of discretionary payments to local authorities. Whatever the conceptual case for this-and Beveridge, who is often quoted, wrote a book before the First World War on the possibility of using agents for discretionary payments-if we remove the element of discretion from the Social Fund, other than simply for the budgeting of loans against expectation of benefit, we need to ask what the future of the Social Fund is. I think Ministers have sort of said something about that, but I cannot see why a clutch of regulated benefits would need separate badging.
If we are going to secure an overall beneficial outcome from the Bill we need to proceed very carefully and with no false sense of haste or triumphalism. This is perhaps my main message to Ministers. I hope that they will pay particular attention to the possibility of overlapping dates-not everything needs to start at once. They should also pay attention to the vital transitional arrangements. There needs to be within the regulations enacting the Bill sufficient flexibility if not to reverse direction-which I do not seek-then at least to be able to flex and modify policy as detailed inputs and wrinkles are revealed. We also need to build up an improving picture of the overall impacts; for example for disabled people, in the context remembering that some of their support is passported through the programmes of other government departments or agencies while their physical services, on which they may well depend, are also inevitably subject to budget stringency and present difficulties.
All this, however, is no counsel of despair. I believe strongly that the Bill provides a basis for dynamic change by tilting the scales from dependence to properly supported and incentivised work. This can bring both social and economic benefits, but if we are to scale this Everest of achievement, we cannot do it in one bound from our present base camp. The Bill sets the objectives, but it does not by itself represent the achievement. In this process, including the long and very full Committee stage we need, we will have to work out where we are going, and every step in the implementation of this must be well considered for its consequences and systematically secured as we move from base camp to camp 1 and up to the summit. In doing that, however, it is the right thing to do and we must be resolute in pressing its direction.
Lord McAvoy: My Lords, we have had a number of really excellent contributions from very experienced people this evening-in particular from my noble colleague Lord Kirkwood, whose contribution was certainly worth listening to. I intend to concentrate on housing and hope to cut two or three minutes off my speech, and if the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, would regard those few minutes as off-setting his, I hope he will
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Like many colleagues, I, too, have a number of briefing notes, particularly from Scotland. There was one from Sense Scotland with which I certainly agree. It said: "We are concerned that the focus in the Welfare Reform Bill as proposed is on cutting costs rather than on the principles of a fair and equal society, although reference is made to fairness in the proposals without specifying what it means for people in their day to day lives". We have been told this evening that the country cannot afford to pay for benefits; we have been told that the country is in a terrible state financially, so therefore these measures have got to be taken. There was not a word about the bankers, not a word about the people in the financial world who brought this situation about and still get their large bonuses, not a word about tackling them. It is all about tackling the people on benefits; that indicates the priorities of the Government.
As for under-occupancy, I was brought up with my mother from the age of seven and we lived in a house which, in the current situation, would have been taken from us. We would have been forced to move because of the under-occupancy rule. We would have had to leave the community in which my mother and I were born and brought up. God knows where we would have gone or the condition of the house to which we would have been sent.
The under-occupancy rules will result in a large group of people being prodded and poked out of their houses and made to go elsewhere because they cannot afford to stay. Their housing benefit will be cut because they allegedly have been given too much. I am not sure whether the Government realise that the social engineering in which they are participating will create a large group of people who will be alienated from and by society. They will be treated differently and as people who are not quite of society or of the country. Severe discrimination could take place and it would be criminal. I will be blunt. The situation will affect people who have no understanding of how a whole swathe of working class people live. I am no social liberal and do not condone benefit fraud-I am quite hard-line on that-but I have to say that, measured on the scale of the situation created by the bankers and financiers, this is an overreaction. This is setting up an Aunt Sally. It will single people out and society will pay a price for it.
I am well aware of the limitations of this place. I support this place as a revising Chamber and not as a place for defeating the Government of the day. The
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In short, I hope, as the noble Baroness said, that we get change. I feel frustrated and angry about the owner-occupancy rules but I accept the limitations of this place. I hope that the two minutes that I have cut will go some way to helping my colleagues.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, in the brief time available, I should like to address the principle of universal credit, the impact of the Bill on foster carers, and the training and support of staff dealing with adults with mental health issues. There will not be time for me to speak about housing benefit but I am concerned about the impact of the changes on families, although I welcome the introduction in the other place of a commission to look at those changes. I believe that I am right in that.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for so eloquently putting the principle of universal credit and explaining its importance in getting adults into work. My noble friend Lord Bilimoria, among others, spoke about the importance of work to the soul and to the spirit. I have no doubt that there is work and work, but in terms of breaking the isolation that many people experience and of giving people a sense of purpose and feeling that they have a contribution to make, work is very important to our society. That aspect of this Bill is extremely welcome and has been too long delayed.
Perhaps I may give an example. Tomorrow evening, at the Tallow Chandlers Hall, some of us will celebrate the work of the National Grid young offender programme. Over the years, it has trained more than 1,500 young people from the criminal justice system. It has taken them into employment as fork lift drivers and pipe layers. Among these young men, reoffending has reduced from 70 per cent to well below 7 per cent. For the first time, many of them have found in their mentors-older men who have taken an interest in developing their skills-a kind of father figure and a good, positive male role model. One sees these young men, perhaps fathers with young children, and thinks to oneself that they will be there for their children and will set the right example. Of course, this will also take families out of poverty.
Several years ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, talked about the importance of ensuring that mothers get into employment. If mothers are employed, it is far more likely that their daughters will themselves enter employment in their teenage years. There is so much to welcome in this aspect.
I am concerned about the impact on foster carers. Children are taken into care because of abuse in their family, which may include neglect, or because of particular disabilities they may have. Sometimes they have to be fostered because of the impact that the care system
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I turn to social work support. We still have a shortage of social workers and variable quality, though it is improving. We still have social workers tied down, spending 80 per cent of their time on paperwork rather than dealing with families. I welcome the attention that the Government have given to the concerns of foster carers. I welcome the letter from the Minister, Tim Loughton, to Robert Tapsfield, the chief executive of the Fostering Network, the voice of foster carers in England and Wales. He assured him that the Bill will not have an adverse impact on foster carers. Robert Tapsfield met the noble Lord, Lord Freud, recently and I welcome the statement yesterday evening addressing a number of his concerns.
Two outstanding issues remain. One concerns the under-occupancy penalty. I would be grateful for the Minister's reassurance that foster carers will not be penalised. They need to keep one or two spare rooms for their foster children. I would also like reassurance about staff. There should be statutory guidance on training them to deal with foster carers. They are a small group within the larger system and need particular attention and treatment.
I shall say a little more about staff who deal with mental health issues and foster carers. My noble friend Lady Meacher spoke eloquently about the need to care for often vulnerable adults and to train and support staff properly. I was grateful that the Minister arranged for my social worker colleague to speak to Ross James in his department about training and supporting staff. The culture of the organisation is so important in terms of ensuring that people continue to show compassion and understanding to these vulnerable groups. One looks at the success of the Youth Justice Board over the past 10 years and how the treatment of young people in the criminal justice system has been turned around. At the top of that institution is a board whose directors include the chief executive of the Children's Society, Bob Reitemeier, and a judge from the youth court, and it is led by a former chief executive of a local authority. These are people who know social care issues well.
If one looks at the immigration system, where there are perhaps similar issues about encouraging people to return to their country of origin if their asylum claim has been disallowed, there is again experience on which we can draw. We can also learn from mistakes, such as at Yarl's Wood, where the prison service was given charge of these families with their children without any input from the social care arena.
This sort of work can be draining for people on the front line-we see this particularly in the health service -and they need support. They become so fatigued that they can no longer use their discretion in an appropriate way. They must not be overworked and underpaid in the way described by my noble friend. I would be grateful for an opportunity to meet some of
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I conclude by saying that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, pointed out, we need to give people in this situation the confidence to go into work. Most will want to work and to break the dreadful culture of dependency. Work is important to the human spirit. It combats isolation, which can lead to all sorts of mental health issues. It is important for people to feel that their life has a purpose. I welcome the Bill and the principle behind it, although I have many concerns about its application. I look forward to working with colleagues and the Minister in Committee.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I am rather tempted to start my speech with that part of his speech that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, left out. Be that as it may, many noble Lords have made the point that this Bill starts the greatest single reform to the social security system since 1942. I note that the Minister and indeed Barnardo's, in its excellent brief, called it "radical". I would call it revolutionary. It is not, of course, that there have been no reforms since 1942. We have, though, arrived at a system that is costly, confusing and error prone both to the potential recipients and DWP staff. I agree completely with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, in her plea for good training of DWP staff. My noble friend Lord German and my former temporary boss, my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, also made the point about the difficulty of operating social security for recipients and DWP staff alike.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Feldman, in his excellent and philosophic speech, and to the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for speaking on this point. A little later, in paragraph 22, the report makes the point that:
Of course we would not use these exact words now, political correctness being what it is, but the points are nevertheless well made and form the basis of this Bill. The Government, very naturally, want to steer as many benefit recipients as possible into work, a policy which was adopted by the last Labour Government. That will not be easy as people are wedded to their current entitlements and the various add-ons and passported benefits that have crept into the system over the years. We have heard about many of them in this debate, not least from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter.
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