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Earl Russell rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert ("subject to an undertaking from Her Majesty's Government that the pilot study shall include a study of the outcomes for
The noble Earl said: My Lords, it is always tempting to assume that business which comes before the House on a Friday is ipso facto unimportant. I must admit that I have occasionally given way to that temptation, but one must prove that one can occasionally resist temptation. That is why I have tabled an amendment to this Motion. I hope that it is in order for me to address, first, general questions about the regulations and then turn to the specific amendment.
The regulations which we are now renewing were last before us on 13th November 1998. In fact it seems that they will be a regular distraction for the ping-pong season. I asked then a number of questions to which I have not yet received answers. I hope that it is possible for the Minister now to provide answers to some of those questions.
First, why is there the introduction of sanctions for the over-25 group? There was no hint whatever in the Labour Party manifesto that any such thing was going to happen. As recently as 9th July 1998, a reply to my honourable friend Mr Keetch from the Secretary of State said that there was no such plan. The design document for the over-25s said that people will not be sanctioned for refusing the offer of a course. I asked a year ago what led to the decision to change that policy and introduce the sanctions. I should rather like an answer.
In DfEE News of 4th November 1998 it was stated that these programmes for the over-25s would offer the same high quality standards as for the under-25s--despite the fact that an employment option for the under-25s was funded at the rate of £2,000 per person, but for the over-25s only at the rate of £1,300 per person. I conceded last year that it is perfectly possible by the most remarkable exercise in efficiency to match the quality of those two things at the different prices. I wanted to know how that was done. I still want to know. I want to know it rather more than I did previously in the light of a Written Answer given to my honourable friend Mrs Ballard the day before yesterday. It demonstrated an underspend of no less than 90 per cent on this programme; and that £103 million had been returned to the windfall tax reserve. That would seem to be carrying prudence to the point of recklessness.
No doubt we shall be told, as Tom Lehrer would have put it, that it turned out there was a reason. I should very much like to know what that reason may be. It calls for some explanation. I asked a year ago whether any training was available beyond 13 weeks. That question is again one to which I should still like an answer. I also wanted to know why the Government brought in sanctions before appeal in spite of all that the noble Baroness and her noble friends said about that before the election.
I now turn to what has happened since the election. I have figures provided by the unemployment unit--I regret to say that I have none from the Government--of the outcomes of those who have left the New Deal for over-25s so far. Some 8 per cent of them have gone to unsubsidised jobs--not a particularly distinguished figure; 6 per cent have gone to other benefits; 2 per cent to other known destinations; and 6 per cent unknown. I hope there is at least some curiosity within the department about what has happened to those who are unknown. To anticipate my amendment for a moment, I should like to know whether there is a correlation between those whose outcome is unknown and those who have received sanctions. That could be rather interesting information.
I also want to know what progress has been made with monitoring discrimination--which is in some cases an obstacle to re-entry into the labour market--whether on the grounds of race, gender, age or any other relevant criteria.
The purpose of my amendment is to ask the Government to monitor the outcomes of those who are sanctioned, who are disentitled to benefit in whole or in part, and to find out after six months what has happened to these people; whether they are unemployed, employed, in prison, in hospital or other outcome; and, if so, what. It also seeks to find out what means of subsistence are available to them during the period of disentitlement: whether they are being supported by family or friends; or, if not, how; whether there is a correlation between those who are able to turn to the support of a family group and those who are not; and, if there is such a correlation, whether we are penalising those who have suffered a family breakdown for a second time.
I want to know how many people who have been disentitled have subsequently had their disentitlement reversed on appeal. When I find that one of the commonest grounds for disentitlement is for refusing a Gateway interview, that makes me believe that we should have known the outcomes of those disentitlements before we considered the gateway clause to the Welfare Reform Bill, which left this House temporarily last week. It would have been very interesting to know what the effects were when we were discussing this matter. Clearly this information was discoverable.
There are two possible views of what the effect of disentitlement to benefit may be. The first, one might describe in shorthand as the short, sharp shock view; it brings people to their senses, makes them pull their socks up, and so on. One might argue that that way the effect is salutary. The other, negative, view is that it might tend to lead people into crime, into illness and into disappearing into the underclass. There is a great deal of hypothesis available in this area; it would be nice to have a little bit of fact as well. Obviously both those hypotheses are capable of being true in part. It would be nice to know which parts were the larger.
Also, anyone who reads the Acheson Report must be aware of the link between low income and ill health. One would like to monitor the extent of that link in regard to those who are disentitled to benefit. If the link exists with a benefit income because it is low, one might imagine that it might exist a fortiori with no benefit, which is even lower.
The Government set targets as regards suicides. Regrettably, there has been an increase in suicides among males, especially young males. Again, one would like to know whether that coincides with disentitlement to benefit. It might perfectly well not, but it would be nice to find out. It is in the hope that the Government may have a certain amount of laudable curiosity that I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert ("subject to an undertaking from Her Majesty's Government that the pilot study shall include a study of the outcomes for those disentitled to benefit under Regulation 6, such study to include information on the means of support on which such people rely, on the proportion of those who six months later are (a) employed, (b) unemployed, (c) in hospital and (d) in prison, and how these outcomes compare with those not so disentitled.").--(Earl Russell.)
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her explanation of the statutory instrument. What are the cost implications of the regulations and what consultation has taken place with interested parties; for example, with the Benefits Agency, the Employment Service and the New Deal partnerships?
Much has been claimed for the New Deal, in our opinion much of it exaggerated. I and my colleagues in another place have serious reservations about the effectiveness of the New Deal scheme. As the noble Baroness will understand, we shall be vigilant in following up those reservations.
I was most interested to listen to the noble Earl's introduction of his amendment. We share his concern about the underspend. The reply referred to by the noble Earl suggested that it is the timing of the submission of invoices by the contractors--namely, for the year 1998-99--that caused some of the underspend. In that case, does the noble Baroness agree that the underspend should be very different now?
Also, it is stated that the numbers of people entering the New Deal programmes were lower than had been projected on the basis of the Government's unemployment assumption at that time. I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that we on these Benches predicted that. Is the noble Baroness able to tell the House how many participants in the New Deal have disappeared from the system without trace? I look forward to her reply. In the meantime, as is the custom of this House, I shall not vote against the regulations.
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