Clause 2 — Work-related activity: income support claimants and partners of claimants

Part of Welfare Reform Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 3:50 pm on 10th November 2009.

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Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (the South West), Regional Affairs, Minister of State (the South West), Department for Work and Pensions, Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (South West), The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 3:50 pm, 10th November 2009

I thank my predecessor, my right hon. Friend Mr. McNulty, from whom I have inherited the Bill, my noble Friend Lord McKenzie of Luton, for his excellent stewardship of the Bill through the other place, and Members of both Houses for their scrutiny of the Bill, as I now seek to guide its journey to a safe conclusion this week.

In disagreeing with the Lords amendment, I shall also speak to our amendment (a) in lieu and the other Lords amendments in this group with which we agree. It will help the House if I give some brief background. The House will be aware that our policies for lone parents are based on the idea of family-friendly working. We rely on two key principles-that work is the best route out of poverty, and that parents, especially lone parents, must be allowed to fulfil their responsibilities to their children.

On the former point, we are mindful that the longer people are out of work, the more difficult it is to get a job. It is therefore vital that support be provided early, to help address the barriers to work. That is what we mean by work-related activity. We do not mean work; lone parents will not be required to take up employment until their youngest child is seven. We mean training, CV writing, help with literacy and numeracy and financial advice-overcoming a range of obstacles that often hold people back from helping themselves. Indeed, we mean the range of support offered so successfully in the new deal for lone parents, which has got 625,000 lone parents into work in the last 11 years. But it is equally important that this support must be convenient. It must come second to the welfare of the child, and depend on locally available affordable childcare. It must also allow time to drop off and pick up children from school and nursery.

Foremost in the amendments is the requirement that the well-being of a customer's child is always taken into account when a personal adviser and a parent agree the steps that they will take to prepare for, or move into, work when completing an action plan or, for lone parents with older children, a jobseeker's agreement. Here we apply a definition of well-being found elsewhere in legislation that takes into account a child's physical and mental health and emotional well-being; protection from harm and neglect; education, training and recreation; the contribution made by them to society; and their social and economic well-being. These are covered in amendments 8, 27 and 54.

There has been much debate on good cause, and what is considered to be good cause for failing to undertake a work-related activity. As a result we have taken the opportunity to outline in primary legislation some of the most important things that should always be considered when deciding on good cause for failing to undertake work-related activity. Claimants of income replacement benefits will not be directed to undertake medical or surgical treatment to meet their work-related activity requirements. However, the amendments permit such customers to undertake such activity on a voluntary basis with informed consent. We feel that that is important, especially where an individual has a health condition that is in itself a barrier to returning to work. As a result, we believe that they should receive, on a voluntary basis, the appropriate help and support to make a return to work possible, such as counselling or physiotherapy if that is something they and their adviser agree on.

To ensure that customers are not penalised if they change their minds about the decision, we would allow them to fulfil their requirement to undertake work-related activity by completing another activity on their action plan. This change is covered by Lords amendments 9, 15 and 58.

Also, after listening to the views of both Houses, we have decided to introduce amendments to make it clear that good cause considerations must take into account the availability of childcare. In practice this already happens, but we want to put that principle beyond doubt and ensure that it is protected for the future. This is covered by Lords amendments 10, 26 and 78.

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