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Baroness Williams of Crosby: I should like to follow on from what the noble Lord, Lord Dean, has just said. It is another Committee point which I hope the Minister will address when he comes to reply to the amendment. However, having heard the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, it seems to me very likely that the Government will accept this group of amendments. I very much hope that they will. On all sides of the Committee and in all political parties we have made slow, agonising and constructive progress toward reintegrating disabled people into our midst, not least as a result of the work of voluntary organisations such as the one headed by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. It would be a great step backwards if we did not recognise that disabled people, whether for mental or physical reasons, require more assistance to get work than do the rest of us.
Having said that, I want to raise a detailed Committee point, which is rather close to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dean. It is with regard to paragraph 33 of the memorandum from two departments. In that paragraph the departments submit that there can be exceptions made in the case of the test of availability for work. They in fact specify that the disabled form one of the groupsthey also mention people with specific religious convictionsfor whom availability of work can be restricted because of the condition of the
Therefore, I ask the Minister whether he can give the Committee an assurance that the qualification which applies in the case of availability for work will also apply in the case of actively seeking work, for the reasons that have already been put forward so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. If the Minister cannot give us that assurance, I fear that the disabled will be among the victims of the Bill, which I am sure is not the intention of the Government, nor indeed of any other part of this Committee.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I can understand the thinking behind the three amendments and the points made in the debate on them. The amendments and many of the points made seek to recognise that the circumstances of people who have a disability need special consideration. I should like to assure the Committee that we want to include, not exclude from JSA, people with disabilities. To that end, we have given a commitment to take the needs of people with disabilities into account in drawing up the JSA labour market rules. Because of that commitment, I believe that these amendments go too far and should be rejected. Perhaps I may explain why.
As I have said on a number of occasions and no doubt I shall continue to say it, it is important that those people who are claiming unemployment benefitsthat will include the JSAshould keep in touch with the labour market and make every effort to get back to work. We recognise that disabled claimants may face particular difficulties in making themselves fully available and actively seeking work. That is why we intend to carry forward the current provisions in unemployment benefit and income support. Those will allow a person with a mental or physical condition to place restrictions on the nature, hours, rate of remuneration, locality or other conditions of employment which he is prepared to accept, where those restrictions are reasonable in view of his condition. My noble friend Lord Swinfen asked me specifically about the restrictions on availability. As I said, the current arrangements will be carried forward. The acceptability of restrictions on availability will not depend on the individual demonstrating a reasonable prospect of securing work. The restriction should simply take into account his or her medical and physical condition.
Similarly, the actively seeking employment rules will continue to take account of the steps that a jobseeker has taken to find work in the light of his circumstances. Physical or mental limitations are just one of the factors that are taken into account when assessing whether the steps that he has taken are sufficient to meet the condition. I hope that that answers the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams.
I believe it would be wrong for the law to treat people with disabilities as though they were not able to seek and find work. That would send a negative message, when we all want to send positive messages both to jobseekers with disabilities and to prospective employers about the importance of recognising the abilities of disabled people. It would risk overlooking a wealth of talent and skills which many people with disabilities have to offer. No more than any other jobseekers do people with disabilities want to sit around waiting for a job to fall into their lap or for someone else to find one for them.
My noble friend Lord Swinfen was concerned about people who are eligible for IB but who actually want to opt for a JSA. Of course they can do that, and I think I have already answered him in another debate in that respect. I think his question is: would their disabilities then be taken into account, having been in that position and having come across to JSA when the agreement was being made up, especially concerning availability and actively seeking work?
Lord Swinfen: If my noble friend would allow me, he knows that this month incapacity benefit has come in and that a disabled person may not qualify for incapacity benefit if he is considered not disabled enough. What I am concerned about is that he may not then be allowed a jobseeker's allowance because the other officials might consider that he was not capable of getting a job. I do not want that kind of disabled person to fall between two different sets of civil servants.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I apologise to my noble friend. I understand both sides of the coin and will address both sides of the coin. I actually thought he had posed the question I was trying to answer, and so I apologise. However, I shall carry on because I think it is important. People who are disabled may be perfectly able to do a whole spectrum of work and may in fact be eligible for IB but may not want to take it. They want to get back into work or to find work. In those circumstances, as I have said, officials in the Employment Service will be taking these disabilities into account when they decide on the availability aspect and on the actively seeking work aspect. I appear to be answering a question I have posed myself, but it is a good question even though I do pose it myself.
I should have thought that anyone who actually made that decisionI do not want to stay too long on IB but to move along to JSAin order to get a job was going to be actively seeking a job and would not have too much difficulty in coming to an agreement with the disability adviser about the steps that he could take to get that job. That leads me on to say that we shall be ensuring that those who are leaving incapacity benefitand this is my noble friend's pointwill receive extra
Lord Rix: If I may just clear up one point with the Minister, I was of course referring mainly to people with a learning disability. They are the people who have the greater difficulties in finding jobs.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I was just coming on to say that I did not know to what extent that could be split between different forms of disability in the widest sense. But I have now heard the noble Lord's point twice about people with learning difficulties having special problems and I shall certainly discuss that with my colleagues and officials when we go over the various matters which have been raised today.
I now come to the point which my noble friend actually put to me and which was also put by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, about the person who fails the IB test and goes over to the Employment Service and asks to be put on to JSA. In those circumstances, could the JSA officials say, "No, you can't come here; you're disabled"? I think I have answered this question before in at least two debates: once on the regulations on IBin fact, twice on those regulationswhen I tried to make clear to your Lordships that the two benefits will be so aligned that no one will fall between two stools. If someone does not satisfy the IB test, the Employment Service cannot refuse them access to JSA on the grounds that they are disabled. So there is no double jeopardy there, and I hope that that assurance will help your Lordships.
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