Social Security (Jobcentre Plus Interviews for Partners) Regulations 2003
Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions; Labour)
My Lords, one of the reasons for not going down this path—this is not a debate that I would normally entertain—is that 50 per cent of lone parents smoke; they smoke because they are poor; they are poor because they smoke; and there is a heavy correlation between what they do as a result of that and their poor health and the poor health of their children, 75 per cent of whom suffer from respiratory illnesses.
What does the noble Earl suggest that we do about that? We do not normally shout about it or stigmatise people because of it. We try to raise levels of aspiration. We can introduce lone parents to nicotine help if that is what they seek and we hope that as a result their health and the health of their children will improve. If there is a sanction, how much of that is due to their smoking and how much of it is due to being denied a small element of their benefit? It is probably less than they spend on smoking each week. The average lone parent spends about £15 a week on cigarettes and the sanction is £10.
I do not know how we could conduct the research that the noble Earl suggests. I do not believe that it is technically possible. The noble Earl has an honourable record in challenging sanctions and he is absolutely right to press us on what we believe we are doing and on the implications. Without a sanction, all benefit conditions become voluntary. Why should anyone seek work—they could stay in bed, play the guitar, or whatever—if there is no sanction? They do not receive their JSA unless they are actively seeking work. Are we saying that all requirements associated with benefits should be voluntary?