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Lord Inglewood: I should like to go back over what I said before. When the Employment Service officer makes a jobseeker's direction he has to do so within the terms of the law. If that is broken he has to determine in his mind, according to the criteria to which I have already alluded, whether or not that breach has been made without good cause. It is only if he believes that the breach has been made without good cause that the matter is sent to the adjudication officer. The crucial point here is that it is on the basis of the decision of the adjudication officer whether or not a disqualification occurs. To that extent he is the first person in the chain, but he is not the first person for the purposes of appeal which is against the decision of the adjudication officer and which lies to the Social Security Appeal Tribunal. That appeal is the first time that, as it were, there has been a second opinion on the matter of whether the disqualification is appropriate but it is not the first decision that is made about the central criterion behind his decisionthat is to say, whether the breach has occurred. So the failure to follow the direction has occurred without good cause.
Lord McCarthy: How do the Government justify the factI am not suggesting that they should go back on thisthat benefit is not cancelled in this isolated instance until we get to the adjudication officer, whereas in every other case it is?
Lord Inglewood: The answer to that question is straightforward. In these instances there is a valid jobseeker's agreement in place and therefore an entitlement to benefit. The entitlement exists. Because the entitlement exists, the presumption is, until proved otherwise, that benefit is payable. That is the way the system works in this regard. That compares with arguments about availability for work and actively seeking work where we have not reached a position where an entitlement has been established.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: We pursued this point from the other end on a previous Committee day. We tried to get the fining and disqualification from benefit on the actively seeking work clause, which takes place before the judgment is made, aligned with what the Minister in another place very belatedly conceded should apply to those situations where people voluntarily leave work, possibly without good cause, or whatevermisconduct and voluntarily leaving work. It was conceded, I understand, because the length of time it tookgiven the sensitivity and the difficulty of some of the relevant evidencewas up to 20 weeks. Even the Government in their embarrassment did not believe that someone could realistically live for 20 weeks without benefit while they decided whether the charge or the doubt was well founded. Given that the Government have accepted the
Lord Inglewood: I come back to the point with which I started. The distinction between what we are discussing now and what we discussed on previous occasions is that we are talking about sanctions in respect of an action that has taken place, or is alleged to have taken place, after entitlement to benefit has been established. That is why in these instances, if there is an allegation of breach, the matter is carried forward in the way I have described.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: That cannot be right. I take the point that where someone voluntarily leaves work or where there is misconduct there is a notion of an offence that has been committed in the past and, as the noble Lord says, an entitlement to benefit has been established. But the same is true for someone on JSA in respect of whom, say, two months or three months on, it may occur to the employment officer, particularly if he has not yet met his target for referrals of doubt, that he is not actively seeking work as energetically as he should and therefore, though an entitlement has been established in the past in exactly the same way as my noble friend outlined, it is suspended and cannot be reinstated until after the tribunal or discussion has taken place. What we are trying to establish is that the parallels between leaving work on the ground of misconduct or voluntarily leaving work are identical to the problems associated with actively seeking work. In both cases an entitlement has been established. In one, apparently, the offence has occurred and one would have thought that benefit would have been withheld, but instead it continues. In the other case, which is merely a doubt, and one does not know whether an offence has or has not been committed, the individual is being fined in advance of that doubt being established as valid. We still believe that that is monstrously perverse.
Lord Inglewood: To say that they have a jobseeker's agreement cannot be true because we do not yet have a jobseeker's agreement. As we discussed on Tuesday, the point about the jobseeker's agreement, as the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, commented, is that there is not a contract. Therefore we are not talking here about any kind of contractual relationship. I come back to the point that I have made on two previous occasions. There is a distinction between cases where there is an entitlement already in place and those where there is a doubt as to whether an entitlement exists at all.
Earl Russell: I am very grateful to the Minister for that answer. Before we are through with this matter I hope that he can tell us a little about the jobfinder's grant, which sounds like a good idea. There was one sentence early in the Minister's first reply which nearly took my breath away. I believe that I have got his words right. He said that this was one of the necessary powers to ensure that unemployed people take the right steps. What arrogance! How do they know what are the right steps? Is it not really the voice of the nanny state and that the state knows best; and that the state's judgment of what is the right step for people to take is necessarily better than that of the person taking the judgment?
Before that can be true we need to hope for rather higher standards of adjudication. According to the report of the chief adjudicating officer, 41 per cent. of sample decisions last year were found to be defective. The chief reason given for poor standards of decision-making was insufficient evidence. Voluntary leaving cases were most likely to be made without sufficient evidence. Do the Government believe that they know what are the right steps when that is the standard of the evidence from which their knowledge comes? Do they really believe that they know exactly what jobs people can and cannot do better than they can ever know themselves?
There are certain jobs which, if I were directed to take them, my wife would burst out laughing so loud that I would not dare go near them. She would be quite right and the employment officer who directed me to take them would be quite wrong. Nor is it fair on employers to force people into jobs in which they are almost certain to make really bad mistakes. They could even be jobs on which the safety of other people depends. We shall be soon having alcoholics forced to take jobs as bus drivers and then we shall be told that that is one of the right steps.
Before we are through with this matter, I shall be grateful to the Minister for a reply to the question asked by my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby about the unemployment statistics. Are we going to continue having a claimant count? If so, is there going to be a clearly separate count, presumably based on the labour force survey, which will be quoted as the figures of the unemployed or are we going to be asked to believe that the statistics of those drawing the jobseeker's allowance are actually the statistics of the unemployed? I can assure the Committee that they are not going to be.
Lord Inglewood: The noble Earl again raises a number of important points. He began by saying that this is an unwarranted piece of activity by the nanny state in order to arrogate to itself the right to direct people in this regard. I understand the point he is making, but does he really believe that it is going to be right in reality? The whole concept at the core of the jobseeker's agreement is to try to ensure that the jobseeker and the Employment Servicewhich has a degree of expertise which, however jaundiced the view one might have about the state, the jobseekers themselves do not haveplan together to try to ensure that they can agree a series of steps which will be of help to the jobseeker.
The noble Earl gave some examples which rather spoilt his case because in many ways they were so extreme as to undercut a good point which he was trying to make. In the real world, given that there is expertise in the Employment Service, it seems to us that this is a sensible way of trying to help the person concerned to try to get a job by enabling him to tap in to an expertise which undeniably is there. The noble Earl said that the exercise of this powerI have attempted to explain how it is to be exercised in a legal contextwill lead to the dramatically disadvantageous conclusions that he described. I come back to the point I was making a few moments ago. The whole matter is triggered off where there is no good cause on the part of the jobseeker. Quite apart from the fact that the Employment Service, as a matter of practice, endeavours to behave sensibly with people when trying to help them with their jobseeking activities, if it does something which is ridiculous it will give the jobseeker good cause to do something different. In that event it seems to us that much of the concern that the noble Earl expressed is reduced.
A number of other points have been raised. The noble Earl made a number of comments about the poor performance, as I believe he described it in shorthand, in sending papers to adjudication. It is precisely because the Employment Service wishes to improve on its performance in sending documents to adjudication that its annual performance agreement has been achieved. We have already discussed it. It is not a target for disqualification, but for the Employment Service to try to do better as regards the matters to which the noble Earl referred than it has done hitherto.
There are two other matters. The first was the jobfinder's grant. That aims to encourage people who have been out of work for more than two years to take a job by paying them a grant to help cover any additional expenses that they incur on account of taking a job. I hope that that helps to define the matter for the noble Earl.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, asked about the Government changing the basis for calculating the unemployment figures. The Government publish figures based both on the labour force survey, which contains the criteria to which the noble Baroness referred, and on those claiming benefit. We publish both
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