New Clause 1 — Jobseeker's allowance
Food Labelling Regulations (Amendment)
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington, Labour)
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I want to come on to that. I have trawled the different pieces of research the Department has undertaken to find evidence for developing this policy and establishing its potential success.
I have been trying to discover the genesis of the policy. I looked back to some of the debates in this House and some of the policy statements Ministers made in the mid-1990s. In 1996, the Conservative Secretary of State, Mr. Lilley, told the Conservative party conference:
"I can announce a revolutionary fourth step in our welfare to work programme.
For the first time, we will be involving the private sector in helping people move into jobs. Private firms will compete with Government teams."
In 1996, they introduced "project work", as it was called, which contained a compulsory work element for claimants of benefits of up to 13 weeks for those unemployed for two years or more. This sounds familiar, does it not? However, at that time, although it was compulsory, participants received an extra £10 week on top of the jobseeker's allowance for participating in the scheme, so there was also an incentive. The reaction at the time from my right hon. Friend Mr. Prescott, who went on to become the Deputy Prime Minister, was condemnatory. He said that under that Government, who had said in 1979 that Labour was not working, unemployment had now grown to 2.5 million, even on the Government's fiddled figures, and that their proposals were a form of Workfare involving chain gangs and that they were not the same as proper jobs. It was, therefore, condemned outright at that point by the person who went on to become the Deputy Prime Minister of this Administration. Another Labour Member said that the Government's Workfare proposals were taking us back to the days of the work house. It was not satisfactory then, and I do not believe that it is satisfactory now. It was condemned outright.
What is the evidence? What judgments have been made? Reference has been made to some of the expert studies. The DWP commissioned the Centre for Regional, Economic and Social Research to conduct research on workfare programmes in Australia, Canada and the US.
The resulting report concluded:
"There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers."
"Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high."
That is exactly the scenario that we are facing.
I looked again at what was said by Mr. Freud, who, as a former investment banker, is obviously well experienced in poverty and welfare. He designed some of the proposals, but he did not specifically recommend a "work for your benefit" scheme; he recommended additional conditionality. Whatever happened to him? I believe he is about to be appointed to the House of Lords by the Opposition to lead this legislation through on their side and perhaps try to introduce yet more draconian proposals.
The other review on this aspect of the Bill was carried out by the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, which published its report on
"We are not convinced that the current design of FND will discourage the creaming and parking of customers on the programme."
That refers to the private sector. The Committee, too, referred to the DWP's research and the finding that Workfare was the least effective means of getting people into work in weak labour markets; so it is difficult to see where the supporting evidence to justify this scheme has come from.
The one body that the Government appoint to advise them on social security is the Social Security Advisory Committee. Its chair, Sir Richard Tilt, submitted his views, saying:
"We have seen no evidence to suggest that any of the contemporary 'workfare' models are likely to be effective in Great Britain".
In addition, he said that Workfare schemes would be
"creating an additional stigma for those who are long term unemployed".
That finding was reinforced by the Child Poverty Action Group, whose concern is that the scheme is unlikely to achieve much more than the stigmatisation of a small group of very vulnerable people.