Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2002
MP AND MR
80. I am just making the point that it was only
seven per cent then so there would have had to have been a very
startling increase for it to be ready in December. We will be
interested to see that. I am asking these questions because obviously
you have got the Pension Credit roll-out next autumn and you are
trying to hit a huge target group, it is 4.1 million of households
who will become eligible, but at the moment, as you know, the
take-up for the MIG has been really distressingly low. I ought
to say at this point that I acknowledge there are good things
about the MIG and the Pension Credit but the real weakness so
far has been the take-up, has it not? Up to a third of those entitled
to receive the MIG have not been receiving the MIG. I would like
to ask whether you are confident you will hit your 67 per cent
take-up target by 2004 for the Pension Credit?
(Mr Smith) Obviously I very much hope that we will
not just hit the target but exceed it. I think it is worth stressing
here that there are some questions around the measurement of take-up
in this area on which we are doing further work. What you really
need to do is to compare and link the survey responses which are
often taken to estimate the extent to which there is not take-up,
you need to cross-reference that really with administrative data
on whether people really are eligible in order to narrow the range
of estimation around what the extent or lack of take-up is. All
I am saying is as well as doing everything we can which we must
do to promote take-up it is helpful not least to inform the ongoing
discussion and evaluation of performance to be accurate in measurements
81. Just a quick supplementary. At this time
of year you usually release the income related benefit take-up
figures but you are studying take-up generally. Do you know when
you will be able to release those figures?
(Mr Smith) I have no reason for thinking that it will
be on any different timetable than it normally is.
82. The point is that it already is on a different
timetable because they are usually released in September but you
are studying it so you are not able to tell us when you will be
(Mr Smith) I think it is best if I give
a note to the Committee on that.
83. I have a couple of issues. Can I first of
all raise the question of recruitment of staff in London and the
South East where I know that you have a few problems, particularly
in The Pension Service but more generally. One of the issues I
raised with Alexis Cleveland before was to do with the citizenship
requirement for civil servants. The way that it is presently arranged
one in six Londoners are excluded from working in your Department
even at the most junior clerical job, often in the languages that
are needed to deal with the people making the claims. They are
excluded from working for the Department simply because of the
fact that they are not British or Commonwealth citizens . Have
you any plans to try and look at that and see if that can be changed?
(Mr Smith) There is obviously a wider issue for the
Government and public service recruitment than simply our Department
here. I agree with you that it is an important issue you raise.
The Cabinet Office is aware of the difficulties nationally with
restrictions placed on recruitment to the Civil Service and they
are pursuing options for lifting those.
84. Can you give us any idea when we are likely
to hear the result of that investigation of options?
(Mr Smith) I am not in a position to put a particular
timetable on it but I will go from the Select Committee and discuss
this further with colleagues in the Cabinet Office.
85. The other issue I want to raise with you
in this context is looking at the Invalid Care Allowance and the
changes that are coming in. A lot of pensioners are very confused
about this. Benefit has been extended to pensioners who are not
on full pensions, as it were. Part of the problem is I do not
think the changes have been explained to pensioners properly.
The alterations to the rules are not being properly understood
by pensioners and some advisers think that anyone over 60 or 65
can now claim entitlement and then they find that they are not
entitled to it if they are on a full pension. Can you explain
what has been done to try to clarify which pensioners can now
claim ICA. Has there been any thought given as to what the cost
would be of extending it generally to pensioners rather than the
restricted extension there has been and the general principle
that pensioners who are beyond the income support level but caring
for others are not getting any extra help at all to do that?
(Mr Smith) I think the first point I would stress
is with the development of the dedicated Pension Service, both
through the advice we give through the pension centres and the
call centres and through the development of the local services
as well, we will have a better network there for disseminating
accurate information to pensioners and, indeed, will be better
placed to be able to respond to their enquiries on precisely these
sorts of issues. If it is a case of examining the guidance that
is given or the way that we disseminate leaflets and information,
I am very happy to look at that.
(Mr Dismore) There are two issues, one is getting
information out and the other is that pensioners who are carers
who will probably not qualify for any official help may think
that is an injustice.
(Mr Smith) We do not have any present proposals to
change the policy. I take on board the argument you have made.
86. A couple of years ago at the Party Conference
there was an announcement that we were going to have a health
and safety bill to deal with a whole range of issues and we also
had to update legislation because it has not been updated since
1974. Things seem to have gone very quiet since September 2000.
What progress has been made towards a health and safety bill?
I am not expecting you to give a gracious speech to the Committee,
but are we likely to see legislation in the near future on this?
(Mr Smith) I think that amounts to pretty much the
same question. I cannot anticipate the announcement of the legislative
programme. I do, of course, appreciate the importance of making
progress in this area, particularly on Crown immunity.
87. Apart from the very detailed issues, which
I will not press you on now, there are two or three very important
key questions about health and safety law, one is to reflect the
changing nature of work and the fact that many people do not work
in the traditional employer/employee relationship, there are self-employed
people and home workers who are excluded from all, if not most,
health and safety legislation. There is the question of Crown
immunity, which there is increasingly concern about. The other
one is the extent to which private prosecutions might be allowed
in the health and the safety legislation without the consent of
the DPP. They are all very key fundamental questions which go
beyond the detail. I was wondering whether you can give us any
idea on the views you have on those three issues?
(Mr Smith) They are all very important for the reasons
that I gave you. As I said, I am not in a position to confirm
what we will be able to do and when by way of legislation in these
areas. I might say more generally though that I believe with the
responsibility for the Health and Safety Commission coming to
DWP there are obviously positive opportunities which we should
be making the most of for collaboration between our role more
generally in the labour market in good employment practice and
the work of the Health and Safety Commission in relation to the
workplace. Whilst we have overall sponsorship responsibility for
the Health and Safety Executive obviously there are other very
important areas in relation to transport, nuclear safety, and
so on, which will remain the responsibility of the secretaries
of state in those areas.
88. The last point is the question of corporate
killing, I have been asking questions about this since I first
got here in 1997, and I have been campaigning since long before
that. I brought my own Ten Minute Rule Bill on this a couple of
years ago. As a response to that the Government did set up an
inter-departmental working party to produce a consultation document,
we got response to the consultation two years ago and ever since
then it has been analysing the outcome of that through the inter-departmental
working group. Your Department is now involved in that process,
can you let us know when there is likely to be any progress on
that issue, because it is one that is causing a lot of concern
in the outside world, particularly in the context of transport
accidents, obviously more widely as well.
(Mr Smith) As you refer to the Home Office being the
lead Department I had best confer with David Blunkett.
Mr Dismore: It was a manifesto commitment.
89. Can you tell us what discussions you have
had, if any, with the Health and Safety Executive in regard to
the possible Fire Service strike that we may be about to see,
particularly about nuclear power stations and industry? They,
I understand, are the body that will take the decision whether
public safety is compromised by those fire strikes. Can you share
anything with the Committee?
(Mr Smith) The Department is, of course, represented
in the coordination and discussions which take place in government,
not least with the Cobra Committee and, of course, the Health
and Safety Executive is supplying appropriate advice. As I said
earlier in relation to nuclear safety and transport safety there
is an important interest for the responsible departments as well.
That advice is being supplied and it is being acted upon.
90. I would like to ask a few questions on employment
in the New Deal. The Committee was genuinely grateful for the
generally positive response you gave to our inquiry on the Government's
Employment Strategy. One of the general thrusts of our argument
is that the New Deal should be made universal, instead of having
a number of specific schemes there should be more flexibility
of delivery of the New Deal with more discretion for advisers.
You said in your reply you were actively considering moving in
that direction. Could you tell us the time scale you plan to bring
proposals forward and if you could outline your general thinking
in considering those proposals?
(Mr Smith) Thank you for your kind remarks and we
welcomed the Committee's Report. We are examining not only the
role of advisers and the discretion that they have, which I think
is a useful lesson we have learned, not least from the experience
of the employment zones, but also more generally how we might
simplify the New Deal programmes. I think they have been a great
success. Earlier on I was referring to the New Deal for Lone Parents,
the New Deal for 25 plus and the New Deal for Disabled People
we have been rolling out. I think from the perspective both of
the client and indeed from the perspective of employers it is
perhaps an unnecessarily over-elaborate array of options and variants
and we are therefore looking closely and as quickly as we can
as to how it would make sense to rationalise. The adviser role
is very important in that we are developing the advisers' discretionary
fund anyway, which gives them up to £300 flexibility to deploy
resources in a way that can most immediately help someone overcome
barriers to moving into work. We are moving quite quickly ahead
on all of this.
91. Does that mean sometime this year or slightly
more medium term?
(Mr Smith) There is not that much of this year left
now, I would say next year would be more practical.
92. One of the things I was surprised by in
the inquiry was low effectiveness of education and training options
in getting people into work. From our visit to America I was struck
by the great focus in the institutions we visited there in getting
people into work, are you satisfied with the job outcomes, education
options and the way that education training is delivered in New
Deal or do you think we should be moving towards giving people
more general skills?
(Mr Smith) Yes, people certainly need to have the
basic skills and the soft skills. Of course, as far as basic skills
are concerned the screening and the opportunity to require people
to go on remedial programmes is important. On the question about
the effect of the full-time education and training option, I think
this has been an issue since the beginning of the New Deal. Whilst
we tried earlier on to ensure the sort of courses that were available
were really geared towards the labour market, I think too often
people were on courses that might have been getting them a good
outcome qualification but perhaps were not taking them that much
closer to the labour market. This has already been changed with
the opportunities we have opened up in the programmes for employers
who offer in-house training, for example, through the availability
of shorter, more work focused courses. I do think, coupled with
the soft and basic skills which you rightly say are important,
that is the right direction in which to go. Training and skills
have a very important part to play in helping people into jobs
but it is important that it is actually meeting real demands and
the labour market is linked with progress into a job and is not
simply filling time as an alternative to someone taking a job.
93. Where people do require longer training
or more intensive training, is there a case for allowing advisers
to lift the 16 hour rule, which is the amount people can study
without losing benefit, on an individual basis as part of the
greater discretion that you are looking at?
(Mr Smith) There is obviously a case for looking at
it. I would not want to prejudge what conclusion one could come
to. It is important that the benefit system is not there as a
system to support people in study. You would have to be very careful
of opening up an expectation that it might be used in that way.
As I said earlier, when you actually analyse the statistics, training
often is not as good a route into a job, or a better job, as is
sometimes supposed and the best route into a job is to go and
get a job.
94. You said earlier that where appropriate
you thought there was a responsibility on government to look at
the rights and responsibilities agenda and there has been some
speculation that there will be an extension of conditionality
in the proposals that you bring forward. Can you tell us which
areas you are looking at in respect of conditionality?
(Mr Smith) We have already got the mandatory programme,
the Step-Up Programme, and so clearly we will want to learn from
the experience of that. I think we can also review how well the
sanctions regime is working as well.
95. Finally, given what you were saying earlier
about the importance of recruiting people into the public sector,
do you think that the public sector has done enough to take on
New Deal trainees?
(Mr Smith) It is variable, to be quite honest. We
need to keep up the impetus to do more.
96. One of the things that we will need to think
through a bit more carefully is the results of the motions last
night which will allow the carry over of Bills. Can I just leave
you with the thought that as a Committee we are quite keen to
look at potential pre-legislative scrutiny, pieces of legislation
within the Department, as appropriate. I would just like to leave
that thought with you. I understand you cannot anticipate the
Queen's Speech but if there are pieces of draft Bills or pieces
of legislation that you think can benefit now we have a longer
period before the axe falls at the end of the legislative process,
that is something that we will actively encourage you to consider
in the future. You might just like to reflect on that.
(Mr Smith) I very much welcome that invitation. I
think pre-legislative scrutiny opens up very important opportunities
for the executive and the legislature to work in a very constructive
way, so I will examine that.
97. Finally, can we make the plea that you arrange
for a less thrilling year over the next 12 months. It is a facetious
way of making the point but there has been a welter of change
in the Department and maybe there is a case for doing nothing
for the next three years, although that is hard for you because
I am sure you want to set your own goals. I think the policy makers
at the strategic level in the Department do have to have a care.
There are so many pilots going on just now that it is impossible
to find an area in the United Kingdom which is not already subject
to a pilot to do another pilot in. There is a serious point about
letting policy work that has been done bed down before we move
on in new directions. I am sure you are conscious of that.
(Mr Smith) I take it and accept the advice. When we
have the scale of change in our organisation, in our IT systems,
in the redeployment of personnel and we have these big delivery
changes we have on Pension Credit, the Pension Green Paper, Child
Support, Housing Benefit, childcare, Jobcentre Plus roll-out,
what we need to do to focus more help on the hardest to help in
our labour market interventions, the Pension Service, Universal
Banking, it is a very, very big and demanding programme out there.
I am sure for the year ahead, as well as the policy issues we
have to address in areas such as pensions, that ensuring we get
delivery in all of these areas is going to be a very important
focus of my activity.
Chairman: That is a very good point on which
to end. Secretary of State, thank you very much.
10 Please refer to the supplementary memorandum from
the Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Committee, para
9, Ev 19. Back